They had never owned a boat, but they had the dream of buying one — a sturdy, durable, classic-looking sailboat — and cruising off into the sunset.
James and Cilla McGarvey have the boat, it’s in the water, and they’re just about ready to go. The North Carolina couple — he’s a retired educator in his early 60s — are living part-time aboard the 1969 Cheoy Lee Clipper 36 cutter-ketch they bought in 1997. With a lengthy restoration almost complete, the couple has set their sights on more distant horizons. “We both had the dream of living and cruising on a sailboat,” says James McGarvey. “Our vision was to [first] fully restore her.”
The Cheoy Lee Clippers were designed in four lengths (33, 36, 42 and 48 feet) by Bill Luders and built by the Cheoy Lee shipyard on the Pearl River in Hong Kong. Built between 1968 and 1988, the Clippers caught the wave of sailboat cruising that swept America, and the design’s salty, retro, wood-highlighted look helped. Cheoy Lee, founded in 1870 in Shanghai as a commercial builder, helped pioneer fiberglass construction and in 1977 built the world’s largest fiberglass vessel at the time, a 130-foot motorsailer. It remains a major player in boatbuilding today.
The Luders-designed Clipper, popular some 35 to 40 years ago, is known for its good looks and solid sailing qualities. The cutter-ketch rig, with its twin headsails, offers lots of sail-setting options, the layout below is traditional, and the boat is trimmed in teak. “Lots of teak,” says McGarvey.
The couple actually started out looking for a cruising sloop and spent a year searching the East Coast with no luck. They found the Cheoy Lee through a co-worker who had the boat on Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vt. He kept asking the couple to come up and see it, and they eventually relented. “As we walked on the dock where she was berthed and we saw her lines, we knew this was the boat we wanted,” says McGarvey. “The Clipper has very traditional ‘shippie’ lines and looks great with the Sitka spruce spars.”
The boat, which had been prepared as a charter vessel by its previous owner, was in “fair shape,” according to McGarvey. The price was $35,000. “The owner had started upgrading her, but the old teak decks leaked and needed replacing. And [he’d done] a fair amount of work on the old Westerbeke diesel auxiliary engine.”
That still left a pretty extensive to-do list. And here’s some of what the McGarveys did to get their Clipper in cruising shape: installed a bronze windlass; painted the hull and cabin top; installed new bronze port lights; built cabinetry in the galley; replaced the counter top, sink and refrigerator; and built new hatches. There’s a new teak deck, coamings and dodger in the cockpit, new davits for the dinghy, and a roller furling system.
Along the way, the couple became so enamored of their boat that they started the Cheoy Lee Association, an owners groufp that shares sea stories, photos and useful information (www.cheoyleeassociation.com). “The association now has 1,500 members from over 60 countries,” says McGarvey. “And we have information on many of the 60-plus models that Cheoy Lee produced over the years.”
Members already out cruising in their Cheoy Lees can inspire their fellows, people such as the McGarveys, who are ready to take to blue waters. “Many members have crossed oceans and circumnavigated with the Clippers,” says Mc-Garvey. The couple’s plan is more conservative — so far. “We plan on cruising to Oriental and Ocracoke [N.C.] as our first trips, then branching out to South Carolina,” he says.
Meanwhile, the boat is tied up at the marina on the Neuse River, looking better every day. “We still love to just step back and look at this boat,” says McGarvey. “She is so good-looking. One does not buy a Cheoy Lee Clipper for speed, space or ease of maintenance. One buys this boat because she is one of the most beautiful sailboats ever designed.”
The Clipper 36 is a distinctive-looking vessel, with its traditional lines, rig and abundance of teak. The hull shape starts with a tall clipper bow and a deep forefoot. The full keel (with about 5,400 pounds of ballast) gets deeper moving aft, with the maximum draft of 5-plus feet well past amidships toward the keel-hung rudder. The stern tucks up well off the water to a wide transom. The versatile masthead cutter-ketch rig’s twin headstays can carry a variety of sail combinations, including the “jigger-and-jib” setup favored by owners of the boats. Auxiliary power comes from a single 40-hp diesel.
The Clipper 36 was designed with two interior layouts. Both have a master cabin forward with an adjacent head with sink and wand shower. The galley is at the foot of the companionway, handy to the cockpit. The three-burner stove and large sink are to port, with the icebox/chart table to starboard. The primary difference in layouts is in the main cabin. One plan has a pilot berth on each side, over a settee, with a folding dining table on centerline between. The other plan has a single berth and settee to starboard, while the table is offset to port to form a dinette that converts to a double berth.
You can never tell where a Cheoy Lee Clipper 36 will show up. A search of the online classifieds turned them up in the Pacific, Great Lakes, Caribbean and points between. Prices ranged from about $60,000 to half that. A 1970 Clipper in Hawaii was selling for $55,000, with new sails and dodger, new keel bolts and rigging. Extras included cabin heat and a hot/cold water shower. In Michigan, a freshwater 1971 model “in great condition” was listed at $57,500. It came with an eight-sail inventory, a Zodiac inflatable with 6-hp outboard and full electronics. A recently upgraded 1977 Clipper (new fiberglass deck, redone brightwork, new deck plates, chainplates) was selling in the Caribbean for $49,900. The bargain boat we found was in South Carolina — a 1969 model that’s logged about 30,000 offshore miles and is in need of some “cosmetic work.” It was selling for $29,000.
Steve Knauth is a contributing writer for Soundings Magazine. This article originally appeared in the January 2008 issue.