Roberto Labrador has sailed most of the Seven Seas. He knows the Caribbean, has doubled Cape Horn and sailed across the Atlantic, voyaged from Cape Town, South Africa, to Western Australia and from China across the Pacific. He started his impressive sailing career about 15 years ago, when a friend was going into the U.S. Army, leaving behind a truck, a dog and a boat.
“I took the boat,” the 50-year-old New Yorker says. “The only boating I’d done was a few rides on the Staten Island ferry and a couple of cruise ships. I ended up the owner of a Dufour 2800.”
Labrador got onto the boat and proceeded to learn by doing. “I raised the mainsail with the reefing points tied in. I didn’t know what they were, so I cut them off,” he recalls. Sailing around New York Harbor, he fought the currents, ran aground and dodged container ships. But there was something about the sea that wouldn’t let him go.
Labrador joined the Huntington Yacht Club on Long Island. He took classes from the American Sailing Association and found crewing opportunities via the internet. A 27-day passage in the Caribbean was the clincher. “I got a taste for blue water,” Labrador says. “The fun begins for me when I lose sight of land.”
Along the way, Labrador outgrew the Dufour. “It’s a nice boat and I recommend it highly,” he says. “But I wanted a boat that I could take around the world. That’s something I’d like to do at some point in my life.”
He chose a Tartan 37, a classic sloop that Sparkman & Stephens designed in the 1970s.
“I was looking in the 37- to 40-foot range, not too big, and I had a friend who’d had a couple Tartans, including a 37,” he says. A talk at the Annapolis boat show on refitting the Tartan 37 gave him the idea for redoing a boat of his own. Labrador talked to more people about the Tartan brand. “It seems there’s one at just about every yacht club,” he says.
In 2015, Labrador found his boat, a 1981 Tartan 37 in St. Augustine, Florida. The price was $42,000. The next step was to remake it according to Labrador’s needs. During the past two and a half years, he and Project Manager Todd Brice of Yacht Service Ltd. in Amityville, New York, have turned the centerboard model (Hull 355) into “the ultimate Tartan 37 refit.”
“I took all the lessons I had learned, picked the brains of different skippers, looked at what worked and what didn’t work, and put it all into this boat,” Labrador says.
The 35-plus-year-old boat was stripped to its bare hull. The project included fixing a hole in the hull and removing, inspecting and refastening just about every fitting. Yacht Service Ltd. installed a new engine with a custom access hatch cut into the cockpit sole; a generator was installed where a water heater once went; and a new propane locker was added. The rigging was redone and new sails were ordered. Wiring, plumbing, paint, varnish, woodwork—it all got a going-over.
“I helped strip the boat and then turned things over to them,” Labrador says. “We started with a list of ideas and products and went from there. We got to know each other, and it seemed to go well. Along the way, I realized Todd was putting as much of his heart and soul into the project as I was.”
Brice says it was a challenge fitting the electronics and gadgets into an older boat, “but it was a really great project, and it’s something we’ll look back on. Our people took pride in it, and it shows.”
The Tartan 37 relaunched this past July with a party.
“Am I happy with the result? Absolutely,” Labrador says. “It has far exceeded my expectations. It’s a little overwhelming to know that such a great piece of sailing hardware actually belongs to me.”
Now it’s time for some shakedown cruising. And next year? “I plan to go south,” Labrador says. “Probably the Caribbean.” After that, who knows?
LOA: 37 feet, 3 inches
LWL: 28 feet, 6 inches
Beam: 11 feet, 9 inches
Draft: 4 feet, 2 inches (7 feet, 9 inches down)
Rig: Masthead sloop
Hull Type: Fin keel w/centerboard
Sail Area: 625 square feet
Auxiliary Power: 32-hp diesel
Designer: Sparkman & Stephens
Builder: Tartan Yachts, Fairport, Ohio, 440-392-2628, tartanyachts.com
The Tartan 37 is a high-aspect masthead sloop with 625 square feet of sail area; an optional “tall” rig added 20 inches to give it a 53-foot, 8-inch-high mast. The Tartan’s hull shape has a straight raked stem profile and cutaway forefoot. The underbody is modern, with a fin keel and centerboard combined with a spade rudder. (Tartan also offered a scheel keel with a 4-foot, 7-inch draft and a full-keel model with a 6-foot, 7-inch draft.) Equally efficient as a cruising or racing boat, the sloop garnered a reputation for performance upwind as well as off the wind. Known for its well-protected cockpit, the boat is ideally suited to foul weather, with handrails and molded nonskid decks. Construction is end-grain balsa coring with solid fiberglass in high-stress areas. The Tartan 37’s cabin layout has space to sleep as many as six people: There’s a V-berth forward with an insert; settees in the main cabin that are convertible to berths; and a double berth aft. The cabin is finished in teak veneer and trim with white Formica bulkheads. The enclosed head compartment has a wand-type shower. Auxiliary power options included a 32-hp Universal 40 or a 44-hp Universal 50 model. Fuel capacity is 47 gallons.
The Tartan 37 made its debut in 1976 and, more than 40 years later, is considered a classic among 20th-century designs. Marine surveyor and designer Jack Horner called it a “soundly constructed, nicely finished, well-mannered yacht.” With almost 500 built, it’s one of several successful designs that Sparkman & Stephens produced for Tartan Yachts, beginning with the Tartan 27 in the early 1960s.
This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue.