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CAL 31 sailboat thread "Mystic", formerly CAL 29 sailboat build/refit "Traveller"


Red Skull Member
May 22, 2020
Member Number
Washington, NC
This story started a few years ago when I changed jobs and worked on the water for a living, I decided I loved the water and wanted a sailboat to maybe live on one day. I figured I was single, nothing to lose, and most people that live on a boat are either retired and too old to enjoy it, or lost everything in a divorce and had no choice, so I went for it, but I had limited budget. So I went shopping and found a 29 foot sailboat within a 200 mile radius of me on craigslist, paid 2800 dollars for it, and went to work. Here's the boat as it was when I bought it.




The owner I bought it from was living on the boat in dry dock in Deltaville, VA, and he smoked like a freight train apparently. He said the motor would turn over, which I confirmed, and that he had installed a new pointless distributor on it, which I also confirmed, but that it needed a coil to fire, so I took him at his word and spent months working on other stuff with the boat, basically getting it seaworthy before bothering with the engine.
One big thing I learned the hard way by searching within a 200 mile "as the crow flies" radius, is that driving to the boat on weekends was 4 hours one way, due to all the tunnels, bridges, and avoiding all the big water in VA. So I'd buy parts and stuff, plan out weekends, and go camp on the boat working on it a weekend at a time. I got the bottom repainted, fiberglassed over where the toilet that was no longer on board anyway would have dumped into the water, because that's not legal anymore, and and basically did major cleaning inside.
I also renamed the boat from "My Sanity" to "Traveller", which is the name of Robert E. Lees warhorse. Painting it orange and calling it General Lee seemed a bit overboard.



The history on these boats is kind of interesting, they used to be great racing boats apparently, and from what I can find online, they started building them in 1970, but this one is apparently from 1969, and no hull number I can find, just a Maryland hull number given to it, so I'm left to wonder if I have a prototype or something? After cleaning everything up on board and all, getting the hull repainted, etc, i brought a buddy along one weekend that knows more about old carbed motors than I do. I'm a damn good diesel guy but old carbed motors I wanted a second set of eyes. We put the new coil in that it supposedly only needed, and turned it over and got nothing. With Mike's help, we figured out the distributor wasn't working as it should, and with a quick internet search figured out that the way the previous owner had wired it up, he needed key on for radio to work. If you leave the key on with that distributor, you burn out the ignitor in it within minutes. So another failed weekend. I ordered the parts needed and waited again for weather and all to go back.
EDIT: We also intended to rebuild the carb that weekend, and pulled it off to put the rebuild kit in it, and found it completely corroded inside. It may well have worked, but by this point I was dead set to get this thing home. I bought a new carb, new water impeller, new alternator, new belts, and whole new electric fuel pump system, so that next time I went back I could get it running no matter what.
Edited to say maryland, not a Masshole hull number.
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Weather and work kept getting in the way for a while as I gathered EVERYTHING I could think of to be sure I could get the boat home. I also knew at this point that the previous owner had done some sketchy wiring, so I eliminated all circuits on board except what the engine needed, and the bilge pump, but didn't bother to put a switch in the cockpit to flip on easily, which would bite me in the ass later. I finally went back to the boat on a Saturday morning, got driven there by my mom cus all my friends couldn't be bothered with it, I put her in a hotel while i worked on the boat saturday and sunday, to be launched monday morning. I got it running with the new carb and new ignitor in the distributor, put battery powered lights on the railings for navigational lights, and stocked up with food and water for what I learned was going to be at least a 4 day trek down the intracoastal waterway (that 200 mile radius kicking my ass again), but I was launching no matter what.
The storm sunday night stalled and waited til monday morning, I delayed launching by 2 hours but left anyway, never having sailed alone before, and took a chance out into the Chesapeake Bay. I'll have to come back and edit to show launching pics. I thought I had them ready.
Right on looks like got the old girl back on the water so how did it go

Pics are out of order, launching pic is last. I don't know how to fix it now but whatever. After hearing the engine run on land for about 15 minutes on Sunday, I still planned to launch Monday at 8 am, because the weather Sunday night was supposed to blow through and leave fair weather Monday morning. The storm stalled, so Monday at 8 was howling winds, rigging whistling, etc, so I delayed the launch and instead of motoring to a nearby dock as planned to fuel the boat, I drove back and forth with gas cans and fully fueled the boat, and filled an extra 15 gallons worth. From what I knew of the rating of the motor, it should only burn a gallon per hour, with a 20 gallon tank, I should have easily made it to Coinjock, NC, the next easily available refueling stop.
I was terrified of the Chesapeake bay part of the trip because high winds cause ocean height waves out there, but higher frequency. 4 to 6 foot seas on the ocean can be far enough apart to float over the swells and not get beat to death, just not a comfy ride for people that get seasick. 4 to 6 foot on the bay is a long ass kicking day.
At 10 AM I finally said fuck it I'm going or not at all, and had them launch the boat. The winds were still bad and from the North, but supposed to die down. Nobody else was stupid enough to launch that day so when I was in the water, and they knew I'd never seen this boat float, hell most of the marina employees who hadn't worked there more than 5 years had ever seen it in the water either, so they offered for me to tie off to the dock and take all the time I need to be sure she floats, check out the engine, etc.. I went below, the bilge wasn't filling, the engine cranked and didn't run hot after ten minutes, in fact it was running cold, so I pulled dock lines and took off.
In the Rappahannock river I did ok, but when I went due East in the bay to hit my channel marker to turn South I got beat to holy hell. The boat was rocking so hard, I quickly learned that no matter how well you secure shit inside the boat, you didn't do it well enough, and damn near decided to turn back, but the weather was supposed to calm, and waves weren't coming over the sides, just beating the shit out of the boat, so I kept going.
Things gradually improved as I kept going but when I turned South I learned of a flaw in the design of these sailboats and their bilge pumping system. With a heavy following sea, waves splash through the little drain hole at the back of the cockpit, and since I'm motoring she's squatting a little in the back anyway, so over the course of many hours I'm gradually taking on water, and the bilge pump switch is down below, hence the mention of my oversight on that earlier.

EDIT: Carrying on. Traveled South down the bay for hours, and the bay is big enough that watching the shore for progress seems like I'm going nowhere even though my app on the phone says I'm moving at a good pace. I see from the cockpit that the bilge is slowly filling with water, easing up to the floor level of the boat, but I can't let go of the tiller because of the rough seas, or I'll go out of control and get kicked sideways and beat hard again by the waves. I keep motoring along and finally in the afternoon I'm at the intersection of two major shipping channels in the bay, I'm close but not quite where I can turn West and go towards the James river and the tunnel underneath, but I see it on the horizon, and finally the water in the boat is beyond my comfort, so I go down below to hold the bilge pump switch after shifting to neutral. I go below and immediately the boat is sideways and rocking hard again, I'm pumping the bilge, and the microwave inside falls on me from the rocking..I put it where it belongs and it falls on me again, still pumping..I get the bilge dry and go back to the cockpit and holy shit..the hard rocking slammed the rudder to one side, with the tiller between the storage lockers, and it broke the tiller off at the base, and locked the rudder to one side..
So now I'm totally freaking out, no steering, rudder jammed, and in two shipping channels in a 29 foot boat and might get run over by an air craft carrier or something..I totally lose my shit for a few minutes, throw the microwave overboard just to watch it sink...(it sunk thank God, or i might have jumped in after it to be sure the bitch sunk) and call Boat US to ask for help. They answer and dispatch a local tow guy who calls, but when he calls another wave suddenly unjams the rudder, so i say give me ten minutes, i'll call you back, the rudder just unstuck..I put what's left of the tiller back in the bracket and with twine and duct tape I'm able to steer again. So I call back and tell him for now I'm functional, and heading towards where his base is, if i have any further problems I'll call again.
By this time I've drifted for about an hour, already took off two hours late, so I cut the corner through water that I knew was deep enough for my boat, but that I'd learned earlier the hard way was littered with crab pots, etc..so I go straight for the James river tunnel, dodging floats for pots, and making up time..The pic of the big ship was after I had crossed the tunnel finally, and was safe out of the bay. I then turned into the Elizabeth river and passed aircraft carriers and all and it was getting dark, I was on the phone with my old boss who was tracking my location through my phone app, and it was too dark for me to read my charts anymore, so I went by his reckoning, and finally found a place safe to anchor for the night, at almost 9 pm, which is the pic in the dark. I went ot the front of the boat, threw out the anchor, and fell asleep right on the deck for about an hour before i got cold and went inside the boat. I didn't know it at the time, but I'd accidentally made it to mile marker 0 of the Intracoastal waterway, which was my intended destination.




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Hell yeah!!!!

Loving the story so far. You're a braver man than me. I'd be scared shitless out there solo on a boat you have minimal time with.

Looking forward to updates
Hell yeah!!!!

Loving the story so far. You're a braver man than me. I'd be scared shitless out there solo on a boat you have minimal time with.

Looking forward to updates

Just finished the rest of the story of day one
Na.....don't edit the old posts. Just post new ones. Less scrolling for my lazy ass:lmao:

done editing now, those pics were mostly day one, figured put the story with the pics. the one pretty one with calm seas wasn't day one, i'll get to that one later though lol.
done editing now, those pics were mostly day one, figured put the story with the pics. the one pretty one with calm seas wasn't day one, i'll get to that one later though lol.

Dude you have balls of steel... I would have been freaking out. I woke up my 7 month old from laughing too hard when I read the part about you throwing the microwave overboard to watch it sink 😄:lmao:
So on the second morning, I woke up to this view, and figured out that I was accidentally at MM0 of the intracoastal waterway, as I'd intended on my course plotting. I ate a quick breakfast and pulled anchor and took off about 7AM and fell in behind another sailboat going my way. I knew this time of year boats going south were to be few and far between, so I fell in with this guy and caught up to him at the drawbridge pictured here, drifted close enough to talk to him and found out he's done this trip many times, and knew how to "time the bridges". Sometimes you travel a little slower so when you arrive at the bridge it's opening, sometimes you go a little faster so when you get there it's opening, so he agreed to keep in radio contact with me and we'd travel together to Coinjock since it was our shared destination for the day. I followed him through all the bridges and lochs and had no issues, but towards the end of the day saw my battery was dying, the alternator had shit the bed. No biggie, I had a spare one, but needed to make it to a dock to change it, because the channel is too narrow to pull over to fix anything. So I called him on the radio and asked that if i fell behind, know my engine had died and please come back to drag me. He agreed and let me run ahead so that if I died he could come past and throw a line and drag me, so I hauled ass for Coinjock. I made it there, no problem, the last pic shows me docked there after two days on the boat. I became somewhat of a celebrity at the dock restaurant when everyone learned that I'd taken a 50 year old boat that hadn't seen water in at least 5 years, heard it run for 15 minutes, and already went 150 miles with it and through the Bay even. I got bought a lot of shots to retell that story that night lol..I was hungover as shit the next morning swapping the alternator.
Day 3. I was hungover as shit, too many people bought me too many drinks to rehear my story over and over the night before, and it was still being spoken of as i went into the store in the morning to buy ice for the ice box. I got the boat cranked, and had learned from boaters going north that I could make a short day of it and stop before crossing the Albemarle sound, or I could do as planned on my trip and go up the Alligator river to where it ends and the canal is dug between it and the Pungo River. I wasn't sure which I would do at the time as hungover as I was, and slightly paranoid at this point since I'd lost steering first day, and alternator the second. The only comfort I got was that when I refueled at Coinjock I'd burned basically exactly the amount of fuel I should have, so I knew with the refueling and the jerry cans that I could make it the rest of the way on gas at least.
I went through a few hours of winding waterways surrounded by basically swamp on both sides, and passed the last safe anchorage before going into the Albemarle, I'd decided to go for it, and that day was the most beautiful calm water you can imagine. Once in a lifetime experience. I couldn't tell where the water stopped and the sky started for most of the day. At this point I was glad I'd done it all alone, because everyone I'd asked to come with me pussed out, but I regretted that I was seeing this stuff and nobody to share the experience with. Day 3 was for sure my favorite day. When I hit the Alligator river the wind picked up and it got choppy again, and had to wait for a drawbridge for quite a while, but I made it up the Alligator and anchored that night in a little spot outside the Waterway in about 8 feet of water.
I'd mentioned earlier that the boat has no toilet of it's own any more because it flushed right into the water. I'd brought along a portable shitter thing, and after the steak and alcohol from the night before, by now I'm really kinda needing to shit. I really didn't want to shit in this thing and have to clean it though, so I tried to just go to sleep and forget it, cus next day I'd be able to hit a dock at Belhaven and shit. I went to sleep and I started dreaming about taking a dump, was about to shit myself and woke up :lmao:
​. I contemplated shitting over the side of the boat, but I knew if I fell overboard I couldn't get back in, so I put a grocery bag in a little trash can on board and shitted in that, then weighed the bag down with a broken mirror from the hard rocking from day one, and threw it overboard. Sorry to you environmentalists. After that I had the most peaceful night's sleep I've ever had in my life. 50 miles in all directions from any artificial light, gently rocking on the boat. It was perfect.
Pics are from the Albemarle Sound. Was the most beautiful, peaceful thing I'd ever seen.
Day 4, last day of the trip. I had considered, and really kinda thought, that it would be a 5 day trip, but Thursday morning I woke up after a beautiful night's sleep sunburnt as hell, because I'd put on sunscreen at 7 am every morning, and motor the boat for 10 hours per day, never leaving the tiller. Unless I totally shut the boat down, even in calm water, I couldn't leave the tiller because it would torque steer to the left. So every day of this trip, I'd gather snacks, water, etc to sit right near me and my phone with a navigational chart app that works like google maps in your car, but for the waterways. That morning I was so sunburnt already that I rigged up a bedsheet that was left by prior owner of the boat as a canopy for myself to stay out of the sun. Then I went into the canal between Alligator River and Pungo River. When I did, the channel here actually started putting mile markers in the channel, showing me, besides on the app, that I was making great time, and decided that morning that I'm going all the way to Washington today to get out of the sun and rest on Friday. Initial plan was to stop in Belhaven and maybe refuel then anchor out again, and do the 4 hours to Washington Friday. So I motored along uneventfully, mostly, besides having to radio communicate with some rather large barges, to steer around each other, and some apparent Navy Seals or something in heavily armored, fast moving boats that I've never seen before and can't find on the internet, going the opposite way. I got out into the Pungo river and the weather was fairly decent traveling South, but when I turned into the Pamlico sound heading West, I had the same issues as I did on day 1 in the Chesapeake bay. Following sea beating the shit out of the boat, slowly flooding the bilge, etc.. I just kept at it making slow progress at about 6 knots, ignoring the flooding bilge this time because pumping it out had broke steering on day one. I was like fuck it I'm gonna make it even if water is knee deep inside when I get there. Finally after a few hours of that beating, about 3:30 or so, I passed a narrow part and a Northwest turn where the winds and waves calmed, and I traveled in relative peace to the dock in Washington, called the dockhouse on the radio and they came out and helped me tie off and all, then I went below to pump the bilge. There was water about 6 inches deep in the floor of the boat but got that pumped out. At this point, sunburnt, tired, etc..I just locked up the boat and walked away from her, saying to myself, "I don't even want to see it again for a few days at least" i went to a store to buy more Grizzly wintergreen longcut, because I'd run out the day before, and I felt like the world was swaying under my feet, but figured out that it was just me from my 4 days of sea legs lol. I went home that night and when I tried to sleep, I couldn't, because the bed wasn't rocking...I really considered getting up and driving back to the boat to sleep, because it was that bad.. next day I was right back on the boat, a friend and his wife heard I'd arrived and wanted to go out on the boat, so of course there I was again out on the boat lol. I went back to shore that night to sleep too, but it took damn near a week to get used to sleeping on land again. I was told I looked like I'd been stranded on a deserted island because I was so burnt and peeling by that point. It's still the greatest adventure I've ever been on, and I wouldn't trade that experience for anything in the world.
I assume you didn’t tell those friends what a death trap you successfully navigated for four days they were riding on until AFTER you took them out.
So after the boat was home for a while I stripped the inside to pretty bare bones to redo the inside. The interior paint was peeling when I bought it, and it was cigarette stained to hell and back. I pulled everything inside that was feasible and started sanding to get a fresh start on the inside.
Edit; first two pics are the boat as I bought it, last 3 are during sanding.
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I also pulled all the foam board insulation that the prior owner had installed to keep the boat cooler on land during summers, and sanded behind all of that, then started repainting. In the third pic you can still see how grungy the original interior was if you look through the doorway at what should be white ceiling beyond.
I think it would be cool if some of that was painted with glow in the dark paint.
A few more pics of the painting the inside, then the new job I started kinda stalled things for a while, and buying a motorcycle and spending my free time with that. Then I finally started getting into the core stuff of the overall goal. To get modern day 110 volt wiring inside the boat, instead of everything run on power strips like previous owner had it. In 1969 when you plugged in your sailboat it was to charge the battery and that's all. I bought multiple books on how best to do it all, and how charging from shore power links your DC system to the AC system and can cause issues with eating annodes, etc., so I decided the shore power system will only run AC, fridge, microwave (if I put another on board), phone charging, etc. A solar panel will charge the house batteries. I also dug into tracing the many years of hack wiring that had melted a few ground wires in the past, ruined the distributor the previous owner had installed, and basically made me run the boat 250 miles home with nothing hooked to the batteries but the ignition system and fuel pump on the way home. Everything else on the trip was stick on, battery powered, inside lights and navigation lights so that the boat wouldn't burn to the waterline while I slept inside it on the trip. I'm still in that process, because a freak storm last fall beat the boat up pretty bad against the dock and broke a mast spreader, and then the uneven tension broke the other mast spreader. They were made of wood and I'm sure half rotten anyway, so a buddy of mine is welding me new ones out of aluminum to put up there so I never have to worry about that again.
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Another interesting quirk about this boat, and countless others of it's age, is the engine in it. It's a Universal Atomic 4. It's a gas powered 4 cylinder very similar to a Willy's Jeep engine, but was originally designed for small Navy landing craft, life boats, etc. it then became very popular in sailboats for a while, but people were wary of them, because if you didn't keep the blower running in the engine bay apparently gas fumes from leaky fuel hoses sometimes ignited and burned some boats. Diesels then became the norm in sailboats. These are dead nuts reliable though and just about everything for them can still be bought through Moyer Marine. I can post up more info on the engine if anyone is interested.
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Feel free to post up more info. Free antiquated rotten sailboats are pretty readily availible around here and I might need to know more about that engine someday. :laughing:
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Feel free to post up more info. Free antiquated rotten sailboats are pretty readily availible around here and I might need to know more about that engine someday. :laughing:

You're right, older sailboats can go for damn near free, I almost got a newer version of mine for 500 dollars because it had partially sunk once and ruined the interior and flooded the engine. I was going to use parts off of it to upgrade certain parts of mine, but that deal fell through. I only paid 2800 for mine.

I could be totally wrong, but my thinking on why sailboats fall so far in prices compared to power boats is because for one, most people don't want to learn to sail, or they are more about the hurry up and get somewhere in a fast boat than enjoying the trip to get there. Also, I think sailboats are kind of like expensive cars. Rich people buying a sailboat want a new one, not a project, so the prices go from very high to fairly low in a hurry.
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