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Local yard refits a classic sail-racer

Tenacious, the 61-foot Sparkman & Stephens made famous when media mogul Ted Turner sailed her to victory in the infamous 1979 Fastnet Race, was recently in Connecticut being refitted for her new owner, Jan de Vires. The work was done at Brewer Pilots Point Marina in Westbrook.

“She needed some work, but I bought her because of her design and her history; for her comfort and speed,” de Vires says. The 60-year-old Dutch doctor and sailor plans on racing Tenacious in Fastnet 2009, the 30th anniversary of her fateful win.
While at Pilots Point, Tenacious was handled by a crew that has extensive experience with the boat. Rives Potts, general manager of the marina, says Tenacious’ owners have sailed her to Pilots Point for periodic “tune-ups” for more than two decades.

“Tenacious has been brought to us every three or four years for work,” Rives says. “It’s sort of been a cycle. When [Turner] owned her, he’d come here. When Warren owned her, he’d bring her here, too.”

Warren Brown, a Bermudan expedition sailor and Tenacious’ owner after Turner, brought the sailboat to Pilots Point in September for repairs. Potts says Brown owned Tenacious (although he renamed her War Baby) for 23 years. During that time he sailed her on numerous Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, and is noted for having set the Marion-Bermuda Race record with her in 1989.

But, Potts says, Brown was forced to sell his beloved sailboat.

“He sold the boat against his will,” Rives explains. “His health hasn’t been so good and his family has strongly suggested he sell her. The boat has been for sale, on and off again, for a number of years.”

Once Brown found a suitable new owner for Tenacious, Potts and his team went to work. They revamped the electrical and mechanical systems, having removed three 90-gallon barrels of dead wiring. They installed new refrigeration, heating and cooking systems, removed the generator, repaired the 85-horsepower Perkins 236, cleaned the water and fuel tanks and went over the rigging. They also re-welded plates in the boat’s aluminum hull.

“Our guys are real familiar with the boat and we were given control to do what we thought was needed,” Potts says. “We knew how much Mr. de Vires cares for this boat. We got in there and did it right.”

De Vires caught his first glimpse of Tenacious in the late 1970s. It was a cloudy, rainy day, he says, and she was sailing in the English Channel, off the Isle of Wight.

“I looked upon her again and again,” says de Vires. “I thought she was beautiful. And then she was gone, out of sight. That was the beginning of it. That’s when I fell in love.”

As years passed, de Vires says Tenacious never left his mind. In 2000 he discovered the boat was up for sale. Despite his desire to own Tenacious, de Vires held back. It wasn’t until last July that his interest became serious.

“I kept telling myself it would be too expensive and too much work,” he says of buying Tenacious. “But last summer when I saw her for sale still, it being Sparkman & Stephens’ 75th anniversary year, I told my wife I had to get on a plane. I had to have the boat.”

This summer, de Vires will ship Tenacious to Holland where he will complete her restoration and begin sailing her. In the next few years, he plans to assemble a crew to compete in the Fastnet Race in 2009. And, it turns out, he already has an interest in one person in particular: Potts.

“He invited me to be part of the crew and I said I’d be happy to do it,” says Potts, who crewed Tenacious during the race in 1979.

“[De Vires] seems like a very worthy owner. He handles the boat well and overall he absolutely loves the boat.

I think Tenacious is going to have a good future.”