"The Four As of Annapolis" - Amanda and Andy Fegley, son Alexander and daughter Aurora - toured the canals of Europe for two years in 2000- 01 aboard a steel 53-footer converted from a 1947 fireboat. That experience was so satisfying that it has called for a longer repeat cruise.
The Fegleys have five years to plan the journey, which will include crossing the Atlantic in their 44-foot DeFever displacement trawler, once written off as a total loss after a fire at sea aboard a cargo ship nearly destroyed it. The Fegleys will cruise canals without Alexander, now 20, and Aurora, 17, who presumably will be starting on their own life cruises.
As liveaboards, not vacationers aboard chartered canal plodders, the Fegleys look forward to striking up acquaintances as they move along at a leisurely pace, learning more from canal residents about where to go and what to do. The last tour covered France, Spain, Belgium, the Channel lslands and the Netherlands.
Certainly a book should be in order for the stylish Amanda, who is a writer and fluent in French. Andy, a marine electrician and electronics wizard, will work his trade as they explore the floating life overseas while in their manageable early 50s.
One new destination will be Scandinavia. They will certainly be drawn back to the Netherlands and the water-based community of Java Island on the north side of Amsterdam, "where the really interesting folk go to rest and reside beyond the hassles of too much supervision and bureaucracy," Amanda Fegley wrote in her e-mail accounts. They met "the delightful Jan, a welder who gave up the working life to rebuild a big fishing vessel." He hosted musical sessions in his fish hold and Andy jammed with his trombone. "And there was also a bonfire roaring inside the stern cockpit, laid on a bed of earth and shielded by the steel hull. Only in Amsterdam."
This second stage of their cruising lives began formulating in 2006 on a bit of a whim, when Andy Fegley spotted the burnt wreckage of a yacht in Baltimore harbor, laid up and filled with seasons of rancid rainwater, scary growths and strange creatures. During its 2002 delivery to Baltimore, welders on a container ship accidentally started a fire on deck, which destroyed two other shrink-wrapped yachts from a Taiwan builder of the DeFever 44. Fegley saw a potential canal cruiser beyond the burned-out hull and bought it for 5 cents on the dollar at auction. (He prefers not to say how much he has invested in his now-rehabbed vessel.)
The yacht now has a lower superstructure for negotiating canal bridges and to present a lower profile for the Atlantic crossing. In effect, getting rid of the superstructure of what was once a new $700,000 flybridge cruiser was handled by the fire. The single 215-hp Cummins 6BT diesel, generator and other mechanical installations were pristine. The hull also was sound, enabling the boat to travel under its own power from Baltimore to Annapolis four years ago, where it was hauled and trailered to a construction tent outside of town and a new yacht slowly took shape.
When the boat was wide open to the keel, it was totally exposed to the elements for a full year. "Ten laborers spent a weekend filling up two large dumpsters before we launched her and left under our own power in May 2006," says Fegley.
The Fegleys were aboard for the delivery, along with a diesel mechanic - just in case. "We got a lot of strange looks from other boaters, since our vessel was a fire-charred hull with no cabin," says Andy Fegley, who is 48. "The trickiest part of the trip was docking it at Sarles Boatyard in gusts of 30 knots." The vessel is named YES, after Fegley's firm Yacht Electronics Systems in Annapolis.
He turned the rehab job over to Jim Overton of Christianburg, Va., who has resurrected other fire- and water-damaged vessels. "I had worked with Andy before, so I knew what to expect," Overton says. "He is a knowledgeable boatman with a clear understanding of the cost, time and labor involved in such a project." Dismantling began in October 2006 and was finished by spring. This summer, Fegley began wiring and completing the interior, which has a two-stateroom layout.
Overton says fire-damaged vessels that have been neglected for long periods of time can be harmed more by weather than by the fire. "All the bulkheads and woodwork were rotten to the core, having been open and submerged in filthy water from rain and snow for long periods," he says. "I spent three months removing foul, gross debris. It was the most disgusting part of the operation, encountering all sorts of nasty, creepy crawling things."
The boat has been considerably upgraded, including the use of Coosa, a synthetic fiberglass-
reinforced foam, instead of wood, in high-stress sections because it will not rot. The plywood of choice in other areas was a high-grade okoume. Some deck sheets, saturated and encased in epoxy, are up to 2 inches thick. Because this vessel will cross the Atlantic, everything was beefed up, including smaller, thicker windshields and windows.
They met with a few surprises when they began tearing apart the interior and discovered that some construction techniques in Taiwan are quite different from those in the United States and elsewhere. "What remained of the interior was nicely done from a visual standpoint, but one never knows what could be covered over, however nicely, until you start tearing it apart," says Overton, who prefers not to go into the surprises found.
In the meantime, the Fegleys have plenty of time to shake down the boat and enjoy cruising the Bay at the same time. But who knows - Andy Fegley, with his insatiable curiosity, may come across another vessel written off as a total loss, presenting him and Overton (and Amanda) with yet another challenge.
Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.
This article originally appeared in the August 2010 issue.