Despite her blue water record, the Contessa has a couple of design faults, main one being the cockpit drains in the original version are below the waterline and with weight of the engine and an extra crew member, the drains were subject to back-flow. We moved the drain holes aft, above the waterline, so they will drain out the transom.
Next we built new cockpit seats on top of the originals, and filled and glassed it all in. This had the effect of filling in most of the cockpit combing backrests, but that problem as been solved by having a new double stern rail made (yet to be fitted) and I can lean back on the middle bar of the rail and it acts as a backrest substitute.
Not only did we remove the the original cockpit drains, but all through hulls below the water line have been removed, filled, and glassed over. I will be powering her initially with a 9.9hp outboard, and eventually hope to reduce that to a smaller 6hp. One of my main joys was removing the inboard engine, much to the consternation of some sailing friends. Choose your own craziness I say. I look at Folkboats (which the Contessa is a very close relative) in all different parts of the world, successfully powered by small outboard engines. Not having to deal with through hull fittings, hoses, and all the crap which goes with keeping an inboard running- that spells “joy” to me.
All deck fittings have been removed and will be replaced. I now have just about all the new fittings (been slowly accumulating them over the past two years as budget allowed) and they will be all on before launching. I am glad I did this as most of them were not in good shape, with corrosion and questionable sealant adhesion. The lifeline stanchions and backing plates were in especially poor shape. Initially I did not have a full cover on the boat, so whenever it rained I found the starboard chain plates were leaking. These were also removed as of course with a junk rig you do not need chainplates, nor any of the traditional rigging wire and turnbuckles because of the course the mast is unstayed with a junk rig.
There have of course been changes made to the interior with a new mast step nearing completion. Its been built all the way down to the keel and then built up to meet the base of the mast,. All the trim was in poor shape, so we have made new trim out of some rough sawn Rimu timber that I got at a good price. It has varnished up beautifully and will be installed soon.
One of the photographs shows Lewmar 70 Ocean hatch dry fitted as well as the chart plotter in the old companionway “arch” area. The altered hatch area is a vast improvement. The second poor part of the Contessa design is that there was no bridge deck – at least not on my early 1971 model – which the new companionway has sorted. The new configuration is vastly easier to get in and out of the boat and should also make her much drier below in a seaway – the Contessa is what they say a ‘wet boat’ – quite a common feature of these type of older designs – but that doesn’t mean she wont sail well.
Head room is 5’8″ under the cabin top ‘hump’ aft – which is just a tad less than my overall height. I didn’t want a big boat and compared to my previous boat, she is a palatial down below. Still, modern “Cruisers” would / will be incredulous how “small and cramped” she appears to them down below. Each to their own.
PANGO will be fitted with junk rig. The original all plain sail area under Bermudan rig is 304 square feet with full main and no.1 genoa, and you can see in the sailplan I have been able to cram on 330 square feet. In the future I may replace the mast and reconfigure the sailplan to accept another 30 or 40 square feet – alas, funds do not allow a new mast at this time. The beauty of the junk rig is of course one can reef in a matter of seconds (all from the cockpit) so I am not concerned about getting caught out in a blow with too much sail up.
So, as I near the end of the refit/refurbishment I still have a bit to do in the last couple months – but most of the hard work has been done and have mainly just painting and bedding down fittings to go, albeit that takes a lot of time.
This hasn’t been a cheap exercise, but I’ve always wanted a Contessa, and she should serve me well in the years ahead, initially coastal hopping, and then for longer voyages offshore solo, which is my ultimate aim. Another bonus of such an extensive refit is that I really now do know every nook and cranny of the old girl. My boat builder friend told me she has been laid up extremely well. Not bad for a boat built in 1971.
Sailing. Boats. The Sea.
Even for the most land bound of us, those three words sequenced together or not, conjure up a mix of excitement, fear for some, wonder, mystery and a host of other adjectives for others.
I’ve been trying to get to sea for years. I mean, sure I live in New Zealand where even at its centre you are never more than a couple hours drive to the coast – and then you are at the sea, or at least at its edge. What I am talking about is really getting out to sea, in my own boat, sailing away. Finding The Way Out There.
I’ve owned boats before. But for various reasons sold them on. Now I believe I have found the right boat – at least, the right boat for me now.
PANGO, as I have named her, is a Contessa 26. Many Contessa 26’s have have done major ocean passages, a few have circumnavigated. That alone is no recipe for success. People have crossed oceans in bathtubs, and inflatable boats. Windsurfers. Logs probably too. Size is not the issue. I have been told and read many a time, its not the boat its sailor aboard it. I don’t doubt that for one minute. But I wanted a Contessa 26 anyway, and I got one. They are rare as hen’s teeth in New Zealand, being mainly found in North America and Great Britain. I think there may be just one other around these parts.
For the last two years since I purchased her, I have put PANGO, – with the help of a semi-retired boat builder – through a complete refit and refurbishment. More on that in later posts.
The photograph is just after her arrival at Westhaven Marina, Auckland from Great Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf, where her former owner kindly delivered her from.