About The Boat

A Little Background On Ithaka

Photo of Ithaka at anchor in Panama Ithaka at anchor In Panama.

Ithaka, the 1992 Shearwater 39 that Douglas and I purchased from Gary and Bridgette Back in 1999, has given us a great deal about which to be proud since we brought her home to Newport, Rhode Island. We've been fortunate to be the owners of a boat that's been built by and for someone as meticulous, as clever, as tasteful — and as picky — as Gary Back. But we can claim no credit for the achievement of this boat except for one: After seven grueling months of boat shopping, when we stepped aboard this vessel, we had the good sense to buy her on the spot.

Ithaka was strongly constructed of fiberglass at the Nebe Boatworks in Hout Bay, South Africa, under the critical eye of Gary, who told us — imagine how this would play at any other boatyard — that he went to Nebe to oversee the work of the craftsmen every single day of the building process. Gary could do this because he'd just sold his family business — a large metal-furniture <T1> manufacturing company — and he wanted to enjoy the process of building the boat that would take his wife and young children on a cruising sabbatical before he started a new business enterprise. Gary, a master craftsman who likes to rebuild Maseratis as a hobby, then worked with Nebe to finish the interior of the boat, bringing his expertise in metals and systems to the task of fitting it out with an array of impressive custom stainless-steel work of an extremely high standard.

The Shearwater name has always been synonymous with strength and beauty. In 2002, the Shearwater 45 (a larger version of the 39, and essentially the same boat only elongated) won Cruising World's prestigious Boat Of The Year Award for its strength, high building standards, sail handling abilities, and fine craftsmanship.

Ithaka was designed by naval architect Dudley Dix to withstand the heart-in-your-throat conditions of his home waters around the Cape of Good Hope. Dix, a winner of Cruising World's design competition, and a successful designer of racing and cruising boats, says his inspiration for the Shearwater is the work of Bruce King, Bob Perry, Chuck Paine, John Cherubini, and E.G. Van de Stadt. The pleasing lines of Paine and Cherubini are particularly evident in Ithaka's pretty sheer and strong tumblehome.

Photo of Ithaka at the dock at Tortugal Marina in Guatemala Ithaka at the dock at Tortugal Marina in Guatemala.

Douglas and I, not normally traditionalists, were delighted to find that Dix also likes his boats to go fast. Underwater , Ithaka sports a sleeker underbody than one would expect from her clipper bow, rugged bowsprit, champagne-glass stern, and oval bronze ports. With her modified fin keel, she weighs in at a trim 20,000 pounds, has a 5'10" draft and a 12'10" beam, and carries a considerable sail area on her cutter rig. She's been a real champ in heavy weather — very steady, solid, nimble, and remarkably dry both on deck, and in her protected cockpit. She's a real sea boat.

The Backs cruised the boat for four years from South Africa across the Atlantic, up the coast of South America, through the Caribbean, and then up the coast of the United States, where they sold her to us in Annapolis. According to the old saying, the day you buy a boat and the day you sell it are the two happiest in your life, but when Gary walked away from Ithaka that last day in Annapolis, I thought his heart would break from the grief of selling a boat that had become so much a part of his life.

As Douglas and I worked over the winter and spring to get Ithaka and ourselves ready for our own departure, time and again we discovered examples of Gary's dazzling execution of engineering ideas, and his impressive installation of systems. We're also grateful to him for sharing his expertise with us via email from South Africa in those early days — although we suspect he was compelled to stay involved mostly to ensure that we didn't ruin anything on his boat! So far, we seem to have met with his approval.

Ithaka Takes Us On A Voyage Of Discovery

Photo of Ithaka's tiller pilot Ithaka's autopilot is a simple and dependable system of hooking our Autohelm 4000 up to our Monitor self-steering gear.

In the early summer of 2000, after owning Ithaka for only the winter, Douglas and I set off on a six-week shakedown sail from Newport, Rhode Island, up through Maine to the border of Canada. This voyage really introduced us to our boat and to ourselves — we hadn't even known how to use our radar or change the oil when we left. By October, we were a far more knowledgeable team, and we set sail south, reveling in the American landscape, and stopping in New York, Atlantic City, the Chesapeake, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Finally, from No Name Harbor in Key Biscayne, we waited for relentless Christmas northers of winter to die down, scurried to Key West and set off south across the mighty Gulf Stream, watching the coast of the United States shrink astern.

That first year took us to the forbidden delights of Cuba, the fast-paced tourist traps of Mexico, and the stunning reefs of Belize, where for two months we swam for hours every day over coral beds crawling with lobster. For hurricane season we tickled Ithaka's almost-six-foot draft over a six-foot bar and motored 26 miles inland, tucking into the jungle protection of Guatemala's Rio Dulce — "sweet river" in Spanish. We immersed ourselves in Guatemala, studying Spanish, and backpacking all over the country. Looking back on it, year one was a learning year, and Ithaka was a remarkable teacher. Strong and sure, she kept us safe, forgave us our shortcomings, and time and again protected us from some mighty storms. When the going gets tough, this boat is steady. We have always felt very safe aboard her.

Year two took us to Honduras's Bay Islands, with their justifiably world-famous reefs, then east around the shoulder of Honduras to the remote Vivorillos Cays. From there we stopped at the tiny islands of Providencia and San Andres and finally landed in the rain forests of Panama. From the tarantula in our bed, to the boa constrictor in our cockpit, to the castaways we discovered on a spec of a mid-ocean islet, it was a year of wonders. By the end of year two, we knew our boat like the backs of our hands, and we were so happy that we'd had the good instincts to select her among all the others we'd inspected. Her systems were first class, meticulously installed and labeled, and there was a logic and organization to the boat that we were grateful for time and time again.

Year three took us to the most beautiful colonial Spanish city in the Americas — Cartagena, Colombia, with its dramatic architectural spires and steeples, streets overhung with verandas draped in flowers, and inexpensive gourmet restaurants. From the magic of Cartagena, we explored the remote San Blas Islands of Panama, where Kuna Indians live on distant sandy cays, and practice the rituals of a culture unchanged in generations. The setting is as beautiful as any imagined in paradise; the people shy, innocent and welcoming. We lived among the Kuna for five months, and miss them still.

After refitting Ithaka with some new instrumentation, and some lusted after systems — most notably our new Spectra watermaker — we cruised through the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Jamaica, and then an offshore voyage down to Panama and Colombia. We reconnected with our Kuna friends in the San Blas, sailed to Cartagena, then took the path less traveled and explored the Colombian coast. From there, we sailed north, through Honduras, and up to the United States.

Today, we look back to where we started and we're amazed. Seeing remote countries from the deck of a boat such as Ithaka is a perspective we came to love. It allowed us to tread softly in the cultures we visited, feel the rewards of self-sufficiency, carry the comforts of our beautiful home with us, and imagine with excitement what would come next over the horizon.

Ithaka's 2005 Refit

In 2004, we needed to come back to the United States because Douglas's mother was in failing health. Instead of storing the boat in Central or South America, we decided to sail her back to the U.S., so we could keep Ithaka with us. After all, she was our home. While we were in Rhode Island, we hauled the boat out, and upgraded several of Ithaka's systems.

  • We installed a new 15 gph Spectra watermaker
  • We installed new speed and wind instruments, Icom 802 SSB, new VHF, and new radar
  • We gave her a totally new paint job (cream hull, Interlux green bottom paint, dark-green waterline stripe, shiny gold cove stripe, and gold-leaf name)
  • New gelcoat in the cockpit
  • New PYI dripless shaft gland
  • New beige Sunbrella canvas covers, bimini, dodger
  • New cutlass bearing
  • New transmission
  • New lighting system throughout
  • New head, hoses, and holding tank
  • New injectors on engine, new alternator, and water pump

Ithaka was surveyed in October of 2004 by William Coker III of Entre Nous Marine Services in Virginia. He found her to be "in very good to excellent" condition, and determined her "fair market value" to be $225,000. He determined her "estimated replacement cost" to be $450,000. This survey is available to interested parties.

The Beauty Is In The Details

Here are a few interesting boat details that make Ithaka unique, and that are shown in pictures here, as well as throughout our various logs:

Photo of the main saloon, looking forward from the galley. The main saloon, looking forward from the galley.

Ithaka's Main Saloon: A beautiful living area with an open and elegant feeling. Trimmed in Burmese teak, bulkheads are solid Canadian rock maple tongue-and-groove paneling. There is a straight settee to starboard, opposite a U-shaped settee to port . Lee cloths are on two settees for safe sea bunks. The boat can sleep seven. Two water tanks, holding 120 gallons, live under the two outermost settees. All cushions were custom-made in 2000, by S&S Fabrics, and covered in washable Chinese-red chenille . Bronze oval ports, and a large, varnished butterfly hatch overhead let light stream in, and give excellent ventilation. Teak-and-maple sole throughout, with a great deal of storage under the floorboards, and behind all settee cushions. There are deep cabinets and bookcases behind each settee.

Photo of the V-berth looking aft. The V-berth, looking aft. Above our heads is a big harch for great breezes at night.

Wide V-berth: Sleeps two. Overhead hatch and two bronze ports. Cabinetry built in to the side and under the V-berth holds clothing and shoes. Large storage areas under the bed for storm sails, spares, etc. Bookshelves on both sides of V-berth. Rock maple surfaces, teak cabinetry.

Guest Cabin: To starboard, aft of the companionway, a double bed offers comfortable sleeping for two, with a great deal of storage space underneath. Teak cabinetry and hanging lockers. Two ports.

Galley: A very functional, safe, and comfortable place to cook, at anchor or underway. When sailing gets boisterous, it's easy to lean back against the counter behind you to avoid falling — a very secure galley, with grab bars. Lots of counter space. Thanks to the engine placement, a counter tops the engine compartment, making a perfect place to assemble recipes, do projects, or spread out a chart. Also, there's an extra-deep double sink, an engine-driven under-the-counter refrigerator/freezer system, and a separate "day fridge" above it.

Photo of Ithaka's galley area Ithaka's galley is spacious for a 39 footer.
Photo of the navigation desk that sits across form the galley The navigation desk sits across from the galley.
Photo of pantry and seaberth Here is the entrance to a small cabin on the port side. We use it as a pantry, as it has sliding cupboards for great food storage.

Pantry/Seaberth: The port cabin, aft of the galley, creates a perfect pantry area, where we stored almost all our food for a year in handy sliding-door cabinets. Everything is easy to access and, most important, easy to see. In addition, this room can be used as an extremely secure seaberth (foam mattress included). Also in this cabin is the wet locker, the emergency tiller, the National Airborne Technologies GPIRB at the ready, the bolt cutters (with greased sock over the blades), a foolproof sight gauge for the 80-gallon fuel tank, and an access door to the large storage area beneath the companionway ladder — we used this storage area for all our coiled lines, and all our engine spares and filters. Under the sea berth, we kept all our dry stores in the roomy bins.

Spares: Ithaka has a vast supply of spares, including starter, alternator, injectors, autopilot, refrigerator parts, head parts, watermaker rebuild kit, and a spare propeller. She has a massive engine-parts inventory; you could rebuild this engine with what's onboard.

Interesting Details:

All headliner panels are easily removable, constructed of thin marine plywood painted gloss white; they are securely held in place with heavy-duty Velcro. When pulled down, there's immediate full access to the deck-hardware backing plates and wiring for easy servicing.

Photo of Ithaka, under her forward awning, at dawn Ithaka, under her forward awning, at dawn.

A power take-off extends out from the front of the engine compartment under the settee in the main saloon. This installation permits the independent and secure mounting of an additional large alternator.

Ithaka has ample storage for extended self-sufficient cruising. Spares and tools have their own roomy double cabinet across from the head. Mounted at this cabinet is a strong vice-grip system for securely working on projects. There is terrific storage in the head for all personal items for extended cruising. Ithaka's lockers, cabinets, and bilges are deep and plentiful.

The clever removable companionway ladder hooks onto the stove's safety bar when we're working on the batteries, or getting lines from their hooks — this is a terrific safety feature when we're underway. Behind the ladder is easy access to two in-line fuel filters, an electric fuel pump, and the battery boxes. Jamie Surrette at Rolls advised us about upgrading our battery bank, and he was on the mark. Following his good counsel, we added recombinant caps, which capture and recycle the condensation, requiring fewer refills. When the tops of the boxes are clamped in place, they vent out the stern.

After unclamping it, the galley countertop over the engine compartment slides aft for easy access to the Yanmar. If needed, the engine box also can be entirely removed, completely exposing the engine for maintenance — a wonderful feature.