Saving Sindbad

A surveyor suggested the scrapyard for an ice-class trawler from Norway, but the owner restored her anyway, in tribute to his father
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A welder at Front Street Shipyard works on the steel hull of the 80-foot Sindbad. 

A welder at Front Street Shipyard works on the steel hull of the 80-foot Sindbad. 

In 1962, the Beatles released their first single, “Love Me Do.” John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. The Telstar satellite beamed the first live television signal across the Atlantic. Also crossing the Atlantic in 1962 was the brand-new yacht Sindbad, making the first passage of a voyage that’s still underway 56 years later. This past summer, Sindbad was relaunched at Front Street Shipyard in Belfast, Maine, after an 18-month refit.

Based on the hull of a North Sea trawler and built of steel and aluminum in Norway to endure icy conditions in the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans, Sindbad was one of the first yachts to be launched by Romsdal Shipbuilders. In the 1960s, Romsdal was based in the United States at Peter Varney’s Lido Yacht Sales in Newport Beach, California. Apparently, Varney felt that rugged, go-anywhere vessels were just what yachtsmen needed on the Pacific Ocean. His ad in the January 1962 issue of Sea and Pacific Motor Boat shows profile drawings of four North Sea trawlers from 52 to 97 feet. (Romsdal built a 37-footer, too.) One was the 80-foot Sindbad.

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SPECIFICATIONS

LOA: 80 feet
LWL: 69 feet, 3 inches
Beam: 20 feet, 4 inches
Draft: 10 feet, 6 inches
Weight: Approx. 80 tons
Power: Caterpillar 3406 diesel

Varney was still running Romsdal ads several years later, and at that time, 20-plus Romsdal yachts were built at Norway shipyards. Sindbad was designed and built at the Eidsvik yard at Uskedalen, about 50 miles southeast of Bergen, on the Hardanger Fjord. The yard produced mostly fishing and commercial boats, with only two yachts, Sindbad and a sailing vessel, listed in its post-World War II build records. This trawler was the only vessel Eidsvik built for Romsdal. Most of the Romsdals sold in the United States were delivered on their own bottoms, as was Sindbad, and many are still sailing today. The passage from Bergen to Newport Beach is about 7,800 nautical miles—a good shakedown cruise for any new boat.

Now in her sixth decade, and after many owners, Sindbad is not much different in general appearance than she was in 1962. The most obvious difference is the loss of her fore and aft masts, used primarily for handling small boats and stringing radio antennas. Today, there’s a hydraulic davit serving the boat deck. A taller, more stylish mast has replaced her squat stack, with exhausts inside and radar scanners and other communications devices mounted outside. But many unseen details have changed over the years, and the most interesting modifications occurred once the Reilly family took ownership of the boat.

JB Turner of Front Street Shipyard

JB Turner of Front Street Shipyard

John Harvey Reilly Jr. bought and refit Sindbad in the early 1990s. His business was refrigeration (his father, J.H. Reilly Sr., founded United Refrigeration in Philadelphia in 1947), but his real love was boats and cruising. He owned Sindbad for about 20 years and enjoyed “experimenting” with things on board, according to Front Street Shipyard President JB Turner.

Most of Reilly’s efforts worked, but some didn’t. However, one thing Reilly did that makes him more than just a tinkerer was this: He designed an effective bulb for Sindbad’s bow, something that’s tricky for even a trained naval architect.

A bulb projects forward of the vessel, below the waterline at the stem, and acts like a miniature hull, generating its own waves that interact with and reduce the size of the ship’s bow wave, lowering resistance. The bulb has to be shaped just right for the speed of the vessel—in the case of Sindbad, for her cruise speed of 8 to 9 knots. Bulbous bows add efficiency to long-range vessels that operate at a mostly constant speed, usually reducing fuel burn by as much as 10 to 15 percent. Deviating from the design speed turns the bulb into, literally, a drag.

Sindbad’s extensive refit took about 18 months. 

Sindbad’s extensive refit took about 18 months. 

Unless a yacht will be used for constant passagemaking, the cost of designing, building and installing a bulb on an existing vessel, versus the savings in fuel, is more than a typical owner would undertake. But John H. Reilly, Jr. was not your typical owner. He designed a bulb, had it built and welded on, and then found that it didn’t work. So, he designed and built another; that one didn’t work, either. The third time, though, was the charm: The boat’s current bulb does exactly what it is supposed to do.

Reilly died in May 2012 while his other yacht, a 106-foot Burger, was in the middle of a refit at Front Street Shipyard. His son, John H. Reilly III, worked with the yard to finish the job, then decided it was time for Sindbad to get an update, too. There was rusting of the steel hull, especially below the waterline and in the chain locker; corrosion of the aluminum superstructure, particularly under the teak caprails; and a need to repair or replace almost all of her systems. Although the younger Reilly’s surveyor said not to spend a dime on the boat, suggesting the scrapyard instead, Sindbad was his father’s boat. He wanted to fix her up.

The younger Reilly asked Front Street to take on Sindbad after work on the Burger was complete. The Reilly family had selected this yard because it had the right space, equipment and skilled staff for this type of project. Founded in 2011 on the site of a defunct sardine factory, it has enough indoor shop space to handle vessels up to 160 feet in length, and it’s equipped with 485-, 165- and 60-ton hoists, along with a 30-ton hydraulic crane. In 2016, the yard won the Refit Excellence Award at the Refit International Exhibition & Conference for upgrades to the 123-foot Palmer Johnson Axia, an aluminum sailing yacht built in 1990. Front Street also builds new yachts to 200 feet.

Sindbad stayed at Front Street for 18 months. Turner told Reilly the vessel’s condition wasn’t bad enough for the scrap heap, but the boat did have its problems and it would need serious work. The engine room, for instance, was in dire straits. Turner’s crew had to cut a hole in Sindbad’s side to remove everything but the single Caterpillar 3406 diesel. The generators, watermaker, chillers for the air conditioning, wiring and piping all came out. The space was sandblasted and repainted; then new and repaired systems were installed. Some machinery, including the windlass, was so old (or unique from custom construction) that Front Street’s machine shop had to fabricate replacement parts.

Sindbad’s extensive refit took about 18 months. 

Sindbad’s extensive refit took about 18 months. 

Sindbad originally had twin Volvo Penta TMD96B diesels linked by rubber belts to a single propeller shaft fitted with a Hundested controllable-pitch propeller. Two engines were likely used to provide redundancy for ocean passagemaking. (Fishing trawlers typically have a single diesel with a controllable-pitch propeller.) But at some point in the past half-century, the twin Volvos were swapped for the single Cat, leaving the controllable-pitch propeller and the Hundested gearbox. Front Street’s technicians replaced the old drivetrain with a conventional gearbox, a shaft and a four-blade, fixed-pitch prop fitted into a nozzle to maximize thrust and maneuverability.

In the final stages of the refit Sindbad was finished, keel to masthead, with Alexseal coatings, but Reilly wanted to maintain more of a workboat look, so he asked the yard not to fill and fair the hull like a yacht’s. (That decision would also save a lot of work hours.) Reilly also insisted that the interior receive minimal fancying-up. He wanted Sindbad to be a “guy’s boat,” Turner says. So, the Front Street crew cleaned up the galley and replaced the sole, but the joinery stayed pretty much the same.

Since her relaunching this past summer, Sindbad has been cruising between New England and her homeport of Barnegat Light, New Jersey. She’s expected to head south in the fall, bound for the Caribbean and more ocean adventures.

Much of the boat’s machinery, including 
parts for the windlass, had to be fabricated. 

Much of the boat’s machinery, including parts for the windlass, had to be fabricated. 

Ice Class Defined

Although a yacht, Sindbad was built to meet Det Norske Veritas (DNV) ice-class standards—not unusual for vessels made in Norway. She wasn’t intended to break heavy ice, but to operate in loose ice or plow through thin ice. DNV standards for ice class call for heavier-than-normal steel plating, especially in a belt around the waterline, where ice impact is most likely. The stem must be redesigned to resist impact, and the frames, stringers and other internal structure beefed-up, too. The running gear must also be stronger than normal. An ice-class vessel is built tougher all-around, and that could be the reason Sindbad is sailing, 56 years after launch.

This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue.