Boats & Gear

VINEYARD VIXEN 29: A Special Friend For Sale on Narragansett Bay

Ave Marina

I’ve recently received word from Tim Murphy--my ex-shipmate, ex-roommate, and ex-co-worker (from my brief tenure at Cruising World magazine), that he is selling his 1974 Vineyard Vixen 29. I am quite familiar with this boat, named Ave Marina, as I helped Tim sail her from Rumery’s Boat Yard in Biddeford, Maine, after he refit her there round about 1998, down to Newport, where we were both living at the time. It was one of the most memorable short deliveries I’ve ever made, a proper odyssey in miniature.

The boat was pretty much a wreck when Tim found her in some Newport backyard , as she’d been badly damaged in Hurricane Bob in 1991. Lots of flooding through her hatches and chainplates, but no core saturation anywhere, as the Vixens never had any coring--just solid fiberglass laminate everywhere, even in the deck. Tim had her hauled up to Rumery’s, as his old childhood sailing buddy, Brian Harris, was running the place then. (Big-time small-world sailing connection here: Brian now manages Maine Yacht Center in Portland, a favorite haunt of mine, and in between running Rumery’s and MYC was a hot-shot shore manager for a few solo-sailing Open 60 campaigns, including Alex Thomson’s first Vendée Globe bid.)

Tim wrote a story about this refit for Cruising World, way back when, and if you’re interested in the details and might like to buy the boat, I’m sure he could show this to you. What I remember about it is that he lured his then-girlfriend Marina (now his wife and mother of his child) into helping him, and there was lots of grinding and fiberglass dust involved. Marina, typically, was very cheerful about this.

I remember too the engine, which wasn’t functional, had been removed rather than repaired, as Tim is a purist at heart. The boat, however, didn’t quite float on her lines without it, so it was put back in, essentially as ballast. Finally, when I first met the boat, after Tim and I arrived in Biddeford to begin the delivery home, I definitely recall the interior had been gutted. All the interior fiberglass pans that formed the bones of the furniture were still in place, but most of the joinery and trim had been stripped out.

Because we had no engine and there was no breeze inland Brian agreed to tow us down the Saco River and out into the Gulf of Maine with the yard’s skiff. I don’t really remember what conditions were like during our sail down to the Cape Cod Canal, but I do remember feeling challenged by the boat’s working galley. This consisted of a top-heavy camping stove that we set up on the cabin sole and held upright manually (or sometimes with our feet) whenever we wanted to cook or heat up anything.

Saco tow

Brian tows us down the Saco River

Tim steering

While Tim steers

We arrived at the canal entrance in Sandwich in the very early morning while it was still dark and anchored off the beach to catch some sleep while waiting for the tide to turn in our favor. Any vessel going through the canal is required to do so under power, and we’d worked out a clever scheme to comply with this rule. That is, I brought along my inflatable Zodiac dinghy and also my antique 4-hp Evinrude outboard. Not too long after daybreak, after the tide turned, we inflated my dinghy, strapped it as tight as we could alongside Ave Marina, and mounted the outboard on its transom. We then hauled back the anchor and practiced maneuvering off the beach, with me running the outboard in the dinghy while Tim managed Ave Marina’s tiller.

Dinghy tug

Preparing to run the canal with my old Zodiac as a tug

We soon were quite proficient and so turned confidently for the canal entrance. As soon as we were inside the entrance breakwater, however, the strong current, even though it was going in the direction we wanted, sent us spinning totally out of control. I revved the little Evinrude as hard as I could, and Tim sawed back and forth with the tiller, all to no avail, and we only barely managed to squeak into the aptly named Harbor of Refuge without smashing into a set of huge pilings.

Feeling exhilarated, we tied up at a dock inside the basin and started puzzling over what to do next. Our ponderings were soon interrupted by a Massachusetts marine patrol officer. He had noticed the lack of numbers on our bow and so felt compelled to accost us and asked to see the boat’s papers. But we had no papers: no title, no registration, no insurance, no documentation, no nothing. Tim and the officer walked off down the dock together discussing this sad state of affairs, and as I watched them I suddenly remembered: we also had no engine, so we weren’t actually required to have any registration.

I was very eager to explain this, lest Tim had forgotten to, but I could see the officer was scowling a lot so decided it might be best not to confront him with legal double-talk. Tim, ever the diplomat, managed to assuage the man in any event, and I think may have even produced some scrap of something that passed as a sales receipt to prove he really did own the boat.

This still left us with the problem of how to get through the canal. We hailed a towing service on a handheld radio and learned they were much too expensive to be useful. So we resorted to begging and soon found a friendly couple on a Beneteau First 42 who were about to transit the canal and were happy to drag us along behind them.

Canal tow

Through the canal at last!

Once clear of the canal’s west end we were cast loose at the head of Buzzards Bay to find the inevitable southwest afternoon sea breeze blowing firmly against us. Except this was more than just a sea breeze, and by the time we’d beat down to Cuttyhunk there was a fierce thunderstorm brewing up. We donned foulies and reduced sail and just as we were consumed by the tempest found ourselves much closer than we liked to a huge cruise ship that was heading out the bay. In an instant visibility went down to zero as we were pelted with rain and wind, and for what seemed an eternity we stood in as close as we dared to the reef trailing behind Penikese Island off Cuttyhunk’s northern shore. Finally, when we thought the cruise ship must be clear of us, we tacked back across the mouth of the bay.

Somewhere in the middle of that board there came a moment I will always remember. Though the thunderstorm was still raging, visibility abruptly increased to perhaps a mile or so, and suddenly there was revealed to us, as though through a time warp, a square-rigged ship not too far off our starboard beam running under topsails down toward New Bedford. Then just as suddenly the wrack filled in again and the ship disappeared.

As I remember it the storm finally abated sometime around sunset. Afterwards the wind shifted into the northwest and we were left sailing on a fine close reach the rest of the way to Newport. I have another vivid memory: of taking my turn on the helm that night, and having no compass to steer by, and feeling the wind and the boat balanced against each other so precisely that this was no bother. The boat knew exactly where it wanted to go.

Kate painting

Tim’s daughter Kate rolls on some antifouling

In the slings

Ave Marina in the slings

Narrow beam

A slim-waisted girl indeed

With Donna and Halsey

Fancy shot here! That’s Tim on Ave Marina in the background, Donna Lange on Inspired Insanity in the middle ground, and Halsey Herreshoff on Rugosa in the foreground

Fingertip control

Tim (looking a bit older now) demonstrates Ave Marina’s fingertip helm

Which is the thing about this boat. She sails like a witch. By modern standards she is heavy and under-canvassed (not a bad feature in thunderstorms, I might point out), but she is also narrow, with very fine ends (at both ends), which is a very neat low-resistance seakindly trick that modern yacht design has forgotten about almost entirely.

Because she sails so well Tim has never bothered rehabilitating Ave Marina’s engine and in fact removed it once again when he found she trimmed out perfectly sans engine with people in the cockpit. He tells me the interior isn’t much improved since our jaunt together, though there is now a gimbaled sea-stove for cooking on. He has upgraded the 12-volt electrical system and installed LED lighting; he also has fresh Sunbrella fabric on the settee cushions. A while back wrote a bit on the boat’s pedigree for Boats.com (you can check that here) and you can also watch this video he made of Ave Marina sailing herself:

Ave Marina Self-Steering from Tim Murphy on Vimeo.

His current asking price is $13.5K. He can be reached at 401-440-8493 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

If you’re looking for a boat that can be immediately used as a very handy daysailer, but can also be easily upgraded to a very worthy pocket cruiser, I can highly recommend her.

VV29 drawing

Specifications

LOA 29’7”
LWL 23’0”
Beam 8’6”
Draft 4’6”
Sail area 365 sq.ft.
Displacement 8,600 lbs
Ballast 3,240 lbs
D/L ratio 315.55
SA/D ratio 13.96
Ballast ratio 38%

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