DIY project and the launch of a lifetime

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When Michael and Vicki Kormos of Shelton, Conn., decided to expand their cruising plans to tour the world after retirement, they knew they were going to need a bigger boat.

"We had done a trip from Toronto to South America between 1991 and 1992 in a 35-foot Niagara, but we decided we wanted something larger," says Michael, 60, who is a semi-retired director of information technology for a gas pipeline company.

It took 15 years, but a Connecticut couple has finally launched this Bruce Roberts design they built themselves.

They sold the Niagara 35 and decided they would build the new vessel themselves. It would be less expensive, they reasoned, and they would know how to fix it properly if anything went wrong.

"I tend to be foolishly fearless," says Michael. "I've built little stuff before, like kayaks and home furnishings, but building a boat was a completely new experience."

In 1994, the couple began building a 40-foot steel ketch based on a Bruce Roberts design at Captain's Cove Seaport in Bridgeport, Conn., the same location where the Tall Ship HMS Rose was restored in 1985. Michael says Kaye Williams, of Captain's Cove Seaport, allowed him to build his boat on their property.

"A guy like Mike is quiet and serious; I knew he'd get the job done," says Williams. "I've built a lot of boats myself, so I understand the passion."

Michael started boating when he was 20 years old, racing Lasers on Lake Ontario, N.Y., and when he married Vicki in 1974 they went through a series of smaller vessels until they found the 35-foot Niagara, a Mark Ellis cruising design.

"I was so happy to find something Vicki could live on that was big enough [so] she wouldn't be constantly seasick," says Michael.

Michael and Vicki Kormos

Building the new boat was originally estimated as a five-year project, which began to expand over time. Both the hull and deck are steel, and she has a 13-foot beam and 6-foot draft. The main mast measures 61 feet. She is equipped with a 62-hp Yanmar diesel, and the sails are from Kappa Sails in Westbrook, Conn. Michael estimates she has about 2,000 pounds of wood in her - a combination of cherry, mahogany and teak.

"We're just finishing up the woodwork in the interior, which we are doing in cherry," says Vicki. "We would've done it in teak 15 years ago, but now it has become incredibly expensive."

On the new boat they wanted a separate cabin that could be closed off, as opposed to the Niagara's more open cabin. They also wanted two heads, says Vicki.

"When we had the one on the Niagara, it would get clogged with salt water and then you were out of luck," says Vicki, a computer systems and business analyst. "We knew what we wanted on a boat because we had the experience of cruising."

Vicki says she wasn't much of a boater before she met Michael, but soon became accustomed to the cruising lifestyle and supported Michael's decision to build their own boat.

"It was challenging and interesting," says Vicki, who helped Michael with the construction. "I learned an awful lot about welding and that type of thing."

Vicki primarily helped with the woodworking but also helped with the plating and other tasks.

"She has been an active participant in it," says Michael. "She helped with the initial plating of the hull and painting, and just dealing with rooms full of things like winches for 15 years."

Michael says boat gear filled their small condo. "I mean, the stove for the boat was in the corner of our bedroom for two years," says Michael, laughing. "The fact she could tolerate me and the messes I made was just as important as the work she did."

The key to finishing the vessel was staying focused, says Michael. The project took up almost every weekend, some vacation time and evenings. The couple estimates they have put in about 16,000 hours of work and between $100,000 to $120,000 in building the boat.

"There were times when I thought that I bit off more than I could chew and I wanted to throw in the towel," says Michael. "But I stayed determined."

The couple saw their dream realized last August when they launched their boat at Captain's Cove Seaport.

"It was totally awesome when it actually floated," says Vicki. "The scary part about the launch was whether it would float the way it was supposed to. It looked wonderful."

The couple plans to head out this fall, once the interior is completed, toward the Caribbean, a Panama Canal transit and then into the Pacific with an eye toward New Zealand and Australia. They haven't decided what route they'll take from there, but it will either be via South Africa or the Suez Canal. Estimated time for the trip will be three to five years.

The current front-runner for the boat's name is Pelagic Dream."It's been quite an adventure," says Vicki. "Without [Michael's] intense interest, this never would've got to completion."

This article originally appeared in the Connecticut and New York Home Waters Section of the March 2010 issue.