DB: Beth Leonard and Evans Starzinger sailed their Shannon 37, Silk on their first circumnavigation in 1992 for three years and 40,000 miles. For their second circumnavigation, they sailed Hawk, a 47-foot aluminum Van de Stadt Samoa design from 1999-2009 through the high latitudes by way of the Great Capes. They have sailed Hawk 75,000 miles.
The first circumnavigation is documented in Beth's book, Following Seas.
Stories from their travels on Hawk are in the book, Blue Horizons.
And in my opinion, the best book on outfitting a cruising boat is the Voyager's Handbook, written by Beth Leonard.
You both a very well known in the cruising community, thank you for taking the time to talk to MBQ.
After a circumnavigation on a fiberglass boat why did you chose aluminum for Hawk?
B&E: Most people guess we chose metal for strength, as we planned to go to the high latitudes. But in fact we picked it because we could make the decks absolutely leak proof. Our experience with fiberglass decks was that after two or so ocean crossings the boat had worked enough that at least a few of the fasteners through the deck would start leaking. There are zero fastener holes through Hawk's deck. Everything is either welded on, or machine screwed to blind tapped plates that are welded on.
We picked aluminum over steel both because it is less maintenance, and because it can produce a better performing/sailing boat. You just don't have to keep after rust the way you do on a steel boat.
We have members building their own boats, you chose to have a hull built for you by Topper Hermanson and to finish the boat yourself. At what point of construction did you take delivery?
From the outside the boat looked complete - deck hardware and mast all installed. Inside it was close to a bare hull. The foam was sprayed in, and the major bulkheads were in and the engine was installed, and I installed a head and two sea bunks, but otherwise it was just a bare foam cave. We had an igloo cooler for food and I strung up some lines as hand grips to get to the head and sea bunks. And we sailed it like that offshore from Florida up to Annapolis. She sailed very, very well, and Evans tried to talk Beth into just adding a couple beanbag chairs and going like that, but Beth insisted on a galley and settees and nav deck and proper storage, etc.
How long did it take to complete?
Evans had done some furniture building in school, so he knew what was involved to do a really fancy interior. He told Beth that we could take five years to do a really fancy interior with dovetails and hidden joints, or we could put a practical, easy-to-clean and easy-to-maintain interior in in less than a year. We both decided we preferred sailing to boatbuilding – which is not always the case. We have met many people who took years to build a boat, and when they got out there they discovered they really did not like cruising. We knew we loved cruising and wanted to get back to it as soon as possible.
In the end, the hull took two years, and then it took us about nine months to do the interior. Then we untied the docklines and sailed up to Newfoundland.
Beth I remember you saying this was your first experience with using power tools?
Yes. I had no experience using power tools, and was more than a little intimidated when Evans got sent off on a three-month trip to Russia leaving me to put in the ceilings. But instead of even getting to work on the ceilings, I spent most of the summer with an electric bread knife in 90 degree heat and 90 percent humidity in the Chesapeake carving off the excess foam insulation. By the time we were finished, I was pretty comfortable with more than just bread knives – I got used to handling radial arm saws, band saws, and drills.
What did you use for insulation on Hawk?
Three inches of sprayed-on fire resistant closed cell foam, with a paint barrier over it to prevent moisture getting to it. It has worked perfectly and is still perfect today. It does not seem to have absorbed any significant/noticeable amount of water. The only thing we would differently is to try to get a contractor who could have sprayed it on more smoothly.
Evans could you tell us about your choice of bulk head material?
The whole boat interior is made of cored panels. There are various cores (honeycomb and foam) and various skins (Mahogany and fiberglass) used in different applications. These panels were about 3x the cost of plywood, but made the boat lighter, and are totally rot resistant, and are much easier to handle during construction.
How did you isolate the dissimilar metals on deck?
Mostly we used Phenolic pads and bushings. Where we screwed into blind tapped holes we used helicoils set in red loctite.
The topsides of Hawk are not painted., which can be a benefit of aluminum hulls. Have you been happy with this choice?
Absolutely, one of the two best things about the boat (the other is the hard dodger). Bare topsides takes absolutely all the stress out of docking along pilings and rough fuel docks. You just don't have to worry about dinging them up. We often come alongside docks with no fenders down and just put them in place after we are tied up. One of Evans’ few regrets is that we did paint the coachroof and dodger. But Beth preferred that, even in retrospect, since she doesn’t do the maintenance. Bare aluminum is blisteringly hot in the tropics.
What was your paint system for the bottom and deck paint?
The boat was sand blasted and then a couple coats of a Devoe epoxy metal primer, and then the bottom paint (we were originally using a tin based paint when it was still legal, but are now using Pacifica Plus), and the deck paint is a factory floor coating (Durabek) which is a very nice and durable non-skid but does not look very 'yachty'.
You have a Van De Stadt Somoa design, what are some of your favorite things about this design?
The hard dodger is the design's single best feature. It looks nice and offers excellent protection. That is a surprisingly rare combination. Other than that, the boat sails really well, almost at race boat performance levels and much better than the vast majority of cruising boats.
Is there anything you would change about the design?
We would have gotten a slightly smaller boat, perhaps 42', if we could have but this was the smallest design that had the 'perfect' hard dodger.
Do you have any advice for maintaining an aluminum boat or a cruising boat in general?
That is a huge topic. Generally we made a fundamental decision to keep the boat extremely simple. This vastly reduced both the initial cost and the ongoing maintenance work load and we have never missed any of the 'conveniences' we left off. That goes double with an aluminum boat, where the single best thing you can do is keep the electrical system extremely simple, especially with minimal AC current. This avoids the potential problems aluminum can have with bad electrical systems.
Just to give you an idea, we don’t have a watermaker, refrigeration, pressure water, A/C, SSB, powered winches, or an installed generator. Since most of our sailing has been in cold water, we use the bilge to keep food cold most of the time. We use hand and foot pumps for water, and we have a Refleks drip diesel heater that gravity feeds out of its own tank. All of that means that we have minimal electrical draw which allows us to have a very simple electrical installation but with lots of battery capacity.
Do you have any suggestions about outfitting a boat for cruising, and anything in particular related to an aluminum boat?
Keep it simple is our best advice. Beyond that, keep it affordable. We see way too many people who end up with more boat than they can afford and not enough money to go cruising. Far better to downsize the boat at the start than to end up having to sell it because you can’t afford to keep and maintain it.
You two are not cruising full time now and Hawk is moored near Annapolis Maryland. Could you tell us about what you two are up now, and what plans you might have?
We have four parents all alive, between 75 and 85, and we want to stay close by where we can help them until they all pass away. So, Beth is working as Director of Technical Services at BoatUS, and Evans has been CEO of two start-ups, and has been sailing up to Newfoundland for the summers.