Nathan and I bought our Compass 47, Ultima, in April 2019 after searching for the right boat for years. Shortly after the purchase, we spent 8 months refitting her in a yard at Spring Cove Marina in Solomons, MD. The refit took months longer and cost more than planned as is often the case, but we now have a home that we can take to faraway places safely and comfortably.

What are we getting into?

The first thing one should do when preparing for a refit is knowing what you’re getting into. Compile a list and figure out if each job is within your budget. Does your boat need major fiberglass work, do keel bolts need changing, do standing and running rigging need to be replaced?

Knowing what you are getting into will help prepare you for the amount of labor and the costs involved. These will be higher than expected but even knowing this can prevent you from getting overwhelmed and feeling defeated.

In over your head? You’re not the first!

Don’t get in over your head. Know what your skills and abilities are, as well as what you might have to learn. Nobody is born knowing how to fix boats, it’s a bunch of random, mixed bag of knowledge that must be hard-won by reading, learning from other sailors, watching videos, and sometimes trial and error.

You can do it…

That being said, you most likely won’t find yourself doing something that has never been done to a boat before. Thorough research may not provide all the answers, but it can set you off in the right direction to complete a project that first seemed daunting, if not impossible.


Do not pay a yard for something you can easily do yourself. We almost paid the yard to paint Ultima’s bottom and when I decided to do it myself, all it took was a few days and saved us $2,000.

I was so happy with the results of taping, painting a couple of black coats of Interlux Micron Extra, and finishing that I had begun prematurely bragging to everyone who looked our way.

Painting Ultima’s hull saved us a bundle.

When we finally put the boat in the water shortly after, we looked down. I had forgotten to paint the 3-inch and about 2-foot long section of the top of the rudder. “Oh well, I guess you’ll have to scrape for barnacles more often there,” the yard manager says, as we all laughed about my height (5 foot nothing with shoes on!) and that I simply didn’t realize that paint would go at the top of something I can’t reach. 

…but maybe sometimes you shouldn’t do it.

On the other hand, when I wanted to change the dripless shaft seal, I had no idea what I was doing and I was very happy to pay the marina to do it so I could watch and learn. All too often I find myself trying to fix something without the proper tool for the job but, we do have most necessary tools aboard. You can’t always carry every tool imaginable and you will inevitably have to do something the hard way, but hopefully, you can do a little better than trying to replumb your head with a butter knife and a nutcracker.

You’re not alone. Even if you are doing most of the work yourself, toiling away on your project boat alone for long, hot sweaty hours can take a physical and mental toll, even if you have a partner or people to help once in a while.


You can be proud of the finished job when you sweated over it yourself!

There are sure to be others around you in the same yard or marina doing refits. Talk to these people! Not just because you need to pull your head out of the bilge for some human contact every so often, but they might have ideas you haven’t thought of, suggestions for how to complete a project, stories of how they did it.

True, it may seem that everyone you talk to will have contrary methods or different opinions on how to do something. You often just have to go with the way that makes the most sense to you. They might also share gems of information that can not only be helpful, but save you tons of money and headache later.

During our refit, Nathan chatted daily with the owner of a magnificent Tayana 55. Unprompted, the Tayana owner suggested taking our windlass to a nearby mechanic shop where they restore anything with a motor.

About two weeks and a couple of hundred dollars later, the windlass was in near brand-new condition complete with new paint job and replaced motor mount bolts which had sheared off.

Nathan and the windlass. Talking to the neighbors probably saved a lot of money…and a hernia!

Had Nathan not talked with the neighbor, he would have been doomed to discover how bad the windlass was the first time we anchored. We undoubtedly then would have spent thousands on a new windlass after breaking his back pulling the anchor up by hand.

Momentum Is King

The most important thing to do during a refit is just to keep working. If you need to spend a day just oiling and organizing your tools while you think about how to proceed with the next step of a project, then so be it.

Accomplishing small tasks every day adds up to the completion of huge projects before you know it. If you can just get one thing done for your boat every day then you are well on your way to getting out there sailing, which is why we all have boats anyway.

Just remember, any day spent working or playing on a sailboat is a good day.

The rewards of all that work!
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Vivian Vuong
Vivian is a writer and photographer who lives aboard Ultima. Along with her husband Nathan, they run offshore training passages in partnership with John Kretschmer Sailing. She loves to document her journeys, cook underway, and go to places she can't yet pronounce.



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