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From Charter Boat to World Cruising: The Refit of Blue Buddha – Part I

Warning. This is long. Not just long for 2024, when everyone is used to 18 second tik-toks and 280 character stories. It is long for even for a traditional 2010 blog post. I could have broken this down in many parts, but no one reads blogs anymore so the reality is that I wrote this post 1) to reflect on what we accomplished in the last 3 months and 2) as a resource for other charter boat owners who will go on the charter-to-cruiser refit journey. Hopefully this post helps them visualize what is ahead and plan accordingly. 

So the TLDR is: we took our boat out of charter and completed an ambitious 3 months refit that included more than we thought was possible. 

The long version:

I’m sitting in the cockpit of Blue Buddha while docked in North Sound Marina in Antigua while the helm and cockpit weather enclosures are getting installed. Once this is done, we will head over to Bird Island to celebrate the end of a grueling 3 month refit and feel like cruisers for the first time since we moved into the boat 4 months ago. 

It’s been a while since we updated this blog. In the last 12 months, we left our jobs, moved to Antigua, “survived” the Dream Yacht Charter phaseout process, moved into the boat, moved the boat to Sint Maarten (SXM) and completed an overly ambitious refit.

Leaving our house on January 2nd, 2024. After years of planning it finally happened!

But it is done and Blue Buddha is finally starting to look like a world cruising boat. 

So here is the summary of what it took to convert Blue Buddha from a charter boat to a proper cruiser catamaran. 


The plan

We planned this refit for years and began working with vendors early last year. In most cases, this helped expedite the process as most vendors are booked many months in advance. We also had a long list of DIY projects that took significant planning as some items we needed for the project could not be obtained easily (or cheaply) while on the islands.

In general, our original refit plan included the following items, although as you will see below, the real refit ended up being 10x larger.

Original refit items:

  • New solar arch built by FKG Marine in SXM
  • New lithium conversion and electrical refit by NOMAD in SXM
  • New Dinghy and outboard 
  • New Sails
  • New refrigerator options
  • New Radar (Blue Buddha did not have radar)
  • New bowsprit for light wind sails
  • New watermaker
  • Conversion of forward stb room into a new master utility bathroom
  • Remodeling of aft stb room by removing the head and building a new closet
  • Remodeling of nav station

As we planned for the refit, we decided to ship a large crate (8x4x5ft) to Antigua with 1400lbs of items that were too expensive or difficult to obtain in Antigua or SXM. This crate included our new watermaker, new outboard, winches, bowsprit, new sails, and endless boxes with miscellaneous items from towels to powertools. 

In retrospect, we should have not shipped the crate. Instead, we should have either purchased everything in SXM or shipped the individual items directly to SXM using the various inexpensive freight forwarding companies that operate on the island. I actually do not believe we saved any money by shipping the crate to Antigua as it was extremely easy to buy things from US vendors and ship them fairly inexpensively to SXM. 


The Phase Out

The first part of the refit was conducted in January in Antigua as we went through the “phase out” process with Dream Yacht Charter (DYC). I believe this was a complete waste of time as most of what DYC did was of such poor quality that it had to be redone in SXM. The phase out story is worth its own post because it was a nightmare that is still not finished and will likely end up in a U.S. court, so I will save the full drama for some other time. 

Nonetheless, we paid for a surveyor to fly from SXM to Antigua to conduct a pre-phase out survey. We then met with the DYC lead tech and he made a list of all the items that needed to be completed during the phase out (most of them were not completed). In fact, during the phase out, DYC did the following: welded a crack in the dinghy davits (had to be redone in SXM), fixed the keels after a grounding (had to be redone in SXM), fixed some electrical issues with the outside refrigerator (we had to remove the entire fridge in SXM) and a few minor miscellaneous minor fixes. This took a full month in Antigua. At that pace, we would never have left Antigua if we had waited for DYC to address all the critical items on the survey. So we decided to compromise. We identified just a few major critical items that DYC agreed to finish in SXM. We then took possession at the start of February with the agreement that DYC’s SXM office would finish the phase out (they never did). When I get more emotional distance from this I will write a post about the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly of having a boat in charter with DYC. 


The Refit

We spent the following 3 months in SXM doing extensive work on Blue Buddha and working with a number of vendors to complete a variety of projects. The SXM refit included the following:

PROJECTS COMPLETED BY VENDORS

New Stainless Steel Solar Arch (FKG Marine – SXM). We had a new solar arch fabricated by FKG and they did an amazing job. We decided to have the arch built to support 3 x 400W panels ‘long side’ to the boat. This limits how much the panels protrude to the back of the boat and allows the design of the arch to be supported fully by the existing dinghy davits without the need for additional poles installed in the sugar scoops. We really like the clean look of our new system without the sugar scoop poles. 

New Dinghy Davits (FKG Marine – SXM). The original Lagoon dinghy davits were corroding from the inside leading to a crack that opened across the entire main horizontal pole. For years, we asked DYC to replace them as we think this should have been a warranty item and DYC was responsible for warranty repairs. They never replaced them but instead had a welder put a new weld on top of the crack. Nor surprisingly, by the time we got to SXM the new weld had pitted and it was severely corroded because the welder in Antigua didn’t even polish the weld. “Shit work” in a heavy Guyanese accent is what the lead welder at FKG said of the DYC “fix”. The FKG team inspected the weld poles and discovered many other cracks likely from defective stainless used by Lagoon. The davits were beyond repair so FKG built a new davit system and we could not be happier. 

New Helm Bimini Pole (FKG Marine – SXM). One of the poles that supports the bimini was not fully attached after a botched job done by DYC. So this pole had to be replaced and reinstalled. 

New Shrouds (FKG Marine – SXM). During our refit, the surveyor found that the shroud covers were seized to the swages and were full of water. The shrouds were severely corroded and they likely needed to be replaced. DYC conducted a rig inspection during which we were not allowed to be present. I had never seen a rig survey report, but even I knew the “report” DYC provided me was substandard. Not surprisingly, the DYC inspection did not find anything wrong with the shrouds and didn’t even mention the severe corrosion. We accepted the boat pending a new rig inspection conducted in SXM. The inspection done by FKG was much more comprehensive. It found severe corrosion on the swages and a crack under the corrosion (the DYC inspector didn’t even remove the surface rust though it is standard to check the integrity of the underlying material). At the end, FKG replaced the shrouds and now we can have peace of mind that the rig is new and in seaworthy condition. 

Full Electrical Refit (NOMAD Marine Solutions – SXM). We worked with Adam and Max at Nomad to complete a massive electrical refit. There is a reason Nomad is so often recommended as one of the top marine electrical companies in the Caribbean. Nomad was simply excellent and we highly recommend them if you need electrical work done in SXM.

The electrical refit included:

  • 6 x 400W solar panels for a total of 2400W. 3 panels were installed on the new arch and 3 on the coach roof.
  • 2 x 3000W Victron 220v inverters for a total of 6000W peak power.
  • 4 x 300Ah Epoch lithium batteries for a total of 1200Ah.
  • 1 x 1500W 120v inverter (Although our boat is 220v, we added a 120 inverter and a few 120 plugs for the various 120-only items we have on the boat.) 
  • Added a Cerbo GX display and connected all systems to the Cerbo, including our fresh water and diesel tanks. We now can monitor everything, including seeing more accurate measures of our water and diesel tanks from the Cerbo and our phones! 
  • Added a 250Amp Balmar high output alternator on the starboard engine plus a Zeus external regulator. This produces 200 Amps of power with the engine at 1500RPM. This new alternator is connected only to the house bank, while the port engine charges both starter batteries. 
  • Added new soft starters in all Aircon units. We can now run the port side Aircon units from our batteries. Each uses about 500 Watts when the compressor is on. 
  • Added a Mabru 12v Aircon unit in our master bedroom. This is much more efficient than the 220v units and we will be able to run this unit overnight. 
  • Added a 12v switch panel that allowed us to separate some DC loads. For example, we can now turn off the inside refrigerator for defrosting while leaving all other fridge units on. 
  • Nomad also simplified our AC loads. Instead of separate Aircon and House AC systems, we now have a single AC system requiring a single plug when on shore power. 

New Helm and Cockpit Enclosures (Just Canvas LTD – Antigua). We had Janina from Just Canvas in Antigua design and built a new set of helm weather enclosures and full sun shades for the cockpit. Having good weather enclosures in the cockpit is critical for long passages as it allows the person on watch to stay at the helm even in inclement weather. Most importantly, if for some reason our autopilot fails and we need to hand steer in inclement weather, having such enclosures would make that process possible and not a complete nightmare. We also now love our sun shades on the cockpit, which not only provide shade during the afternoon, but also helps control the heat in the aft cabins. Just Canvas was recommended by our fellow Lagoon 42 owners Tiki Tour and we could not be happier with her work. She was amazing.

Removed generator (Natty (Norton) – SXM). Natty, a local technician, helped us remove the generator so we could use the space for other things: the watermaker and more storage. With our new solar/lithium/alternator setup, we don’t need the generator. Removing it eliminated one major system that needed to be maintained and removed 700lbs of weight. We hated our generator, it almost killed us one night at anchor when it “ran away,” and we are so glad we got it out of the boat. 

Fiberglassed unused thru hulls (Peter Hoff – SXM). The many changes we made to the boat left several thru hulls unused. For our non-boat-people readers, thru hulls are holes in the boat that allow water to come in and be used for different reasons such as to flush the toilets or cool down the engines. We had Peter Hoff, a local structural fiberglass technician, seal all the unused thru hulls with solid fiberglass. 

Redo all DYC keel repairs (Peter Hoff – SXM). During its life in charter, Blue Buddha was grounded leading to some damage to the keels. DYC repaired the damage. Unfortunately, when we hauled out in SXM and had the repairs inspected, we found several problems with the old repair. We had Peter Hoff remove all the previously repaired fiberglass that was defective and rebuild the keels correctly. The good news is that now our keels are stronger than the original keels that came from the factory. 

New barrier coat and antifoul (Bobby’s MegaYard, Cole Bay – SXM). After a couple of months in the SXM Lagoon, it became clear that we needed a new bottom job for the boat. After much research, we decided to shift from ablative paint to hard paint given our cruising plans for the next 2 years. We used Interprotect 2000 as barrier coat and Pettit Trinidad HD as antifoul.

PROJECTS COMPLETED BY US (DIY)

You would think we spent the last 3 months coordinating contractors. While playing project manager across various contractors can be a full time job, we had our hands busy completing a large number of projects that we could do ourselves without professional help. These projects included:

Sailing/Performance Related Improvements

Installed new sails. We shipped a set of five custom-made Zoom sails and completed the installation process. 

Replaced all running rigging. Most of the running rigging (ropes) in the boat was at the end of its life so we replaced almost every line, including all the halyards! So yes, I (Nestor) had to go up the mast so many times by the end we looked like professional riggers. In fact, one of the riggers at FKG joked that I could get a job there. 

Installed new bobstay padeyes with reinforced fiberglass. While the boat was in charter, we ran our spinnaker from the bow padeyes without a bowsprit. But now we have a set of code sails that require the bowsprit. This process required us to reinforce the glass where the new hull padeyes would be installed. This was quite a challenge as the location is deep in the forepeak of the bows. I later learned a technique from Peter Hoff (laminating the “plug” outside the bow before installation) that would have saved me hours and much aggravation. 

Installed new Dyneema bobstays and new Forespar bowsprit. As part of the bowsprit project, I spliced new Dyneema bobstays and installed a new bowsprit that is slightly larger than the factory one. 

Installed two new aft winches. We shipped two large manual winches for the spinnakers. The installation was fairly easy and each was completed in less than one day. 

Serviced, replaced, and added helm clutches. During the running rigging replacement project, we discovered that several of our helm clutches were not working correctly. So we removed most of them, serviced the ones that could be serviced and replaced others. We also added a brand new clutch for the new permanent spinnaker halyard. 

Fixed topping lift attachment point. The aluminum point at the end of the boom where the topping lift is attached was about to fail, which is unfortunately a common issue with this boom design. I created a much stronger attachment point for the topping lift by splicing a new Dyneema loop and put it around the boom. I used the outhaul padeyes just to keep the loop in place but all the pull force is on the Dyneema loop. I mention this because some L42 owners have made the mistake of putting the topping lift on the outhaul padeyes. Those padeyes are designed for shear force and not the pull force created by the topping lift. 

Installed new Flexofold propellers. We installed the flexofold propellers soon after the local Yanmar dealer serviced our saildrives. We got lucky because the caps of the original propellers were seized and the technician ended up having to cut the cap to remove the old propellers. Once the old ones were removed, installing the new ones were fairly simple as Flexofold has great videos and instructions. Since the installation, we’ve motored over 100 miles (SXM to Antigua passage was an upwind motorsail!) and the props have worked perfectly. 

Electronics/Electrical Improvements

Installed new radar. Our boat didn’t have a radar, so I installed a new HALO 20+. This was a relatively easy process except for the installation of the new radar frame, which required me to drill holes on the mast for new rivets while hanging from the halyard. Fun times!

Installed new wind sensor. The wind sensor on our boat was defective. DYC initially kept claiming that it was a calibration issue but we know now the techs had no idea what was wrong and didn’t do any testing to determine the source of the issue. They were supposed to replace or fix the sensor at SXM but they never did. In the end, the problem was that the electronic board of the old unit failed so I ended up having to replace the entire unit with a new one. 

Installed new depth sounder. DYC was also supposed to replace our broken depth sounder but never did. This was a very easy but much needed job. 

Installed new AIS. After closely considering the Cortex AIS system, we ended up keeping it simple with the reliable B&G NAIS 500 system. Farily simple installation as we used the VHF antenna splitter, which saved me another trip up the mast.

Replaced all fans. We replaced all the old fans with Sirocco II fans. 

Replaced engine LCD displays. Our Yanmar engine LCD displays at the helm were severely sun damaged and you could not see the tachometer information. We purchased two replacement LCD displays from the local Yanmar dealer and ventured on what seemed like a difficult DIY project. It ended up being one of the easiest projects we did. We just simply had to unplug the old displays and plug in the new ones. 

Water and Plumbing Related Improvements

Installed new Seawater Pro water maker. This one was one of the most ambitious DIY projects but ended up working out perfectly. We installed the main unit in the old generator locker and used the generator conduit behind the nav station for all cables and hoses. We also used the old generator thuhull for the salt water intake.  

Redesigned and reconfigured plumbing for bilge pumps and shower drains (dry bilges!). One unfortunate plumbing issue in the L42 is that the bilge pump shares a thru hull with the shower drain pump via manifold. Unfortunately, this leads to shower water ending in the bilge despite the use of a one way valve in the bilge pump line (which actually should not be there and I removed it). We ended up reconfiguring the plumbing for both hulls by giving the bilge pumps dedicated thru hulls. I removed the manifold and instead had both shower drain share a thru hull via a T connector and did the same for the sink drain hoses. 

Installed all new plumbing for stb forward cabin transformation. As we are transforming our stb forward cabin into a utility bathroom, I needed to run new water lines to feed the new sink and the new washing machine. It was surprisingly easy as the sink in the stb aft bathroom (which I removed – see construction section below) was connected to a Whale Quick Connect junction. So I simply disconnected the old sink lines and used those connections to start a new branch of lines that go to the forward room.  

Replaced kitchen faucet. We wanted a spray faucet so we replaced our old one. Luckily, by the time I ventured into this project I was quite familiar with the odd 25mm lines that Lagoon uses and the various methods to connect the 25mm to NPT faucets and Whale Quick Connect fittings. So this project was fairly easy. 

Installed 0.5 micron carbon filter on kitchen faucet. While the watermaker produces extremely clean drinking water, we often filled the boat with local marina potable water, which is less trustworthy. So got an idea from a fellow L42 member (Michele T) to install a 0.5 nominal micron carbon filter under the faucet. This size filter is rated to remove the smallest parasites and bacteria not observable to the naked eye. Although some viruses may still make it, our water is much cleaner than what I am comfortable drinking at restaurants (do you know how those ice cubes in your drink were made?). If guests want even cleaner water, we also have a handheld UV light (Steripen).

Installed a new washing machine.  We installed a super efficient, cheap and light washing machine designed for use in small apartments. It weighs less than 40lbs and uses 300W of electricity! It looks like a toy so the jury is still out as to how long it will last before needing replacement. I installed it in the forward starboard room and used the old Aircon drain thru hull as the drain line for the waste water. So far it has worked perfectly!

Replaced bilge pump attachment for both hulls. At some point DYC replaced the bilge pumps but the new ones were a different size and did not fit the original pump foot casing that attaches to the bilge. So the new pumps were just loose which reduces their utility as the sensor needs to be located as close to the bilge floor as possible. The fix was easy and involved just removing the old pump foot casing and securing the new one. 

Serviced all electric heads. All of our electrical heads (toilets) needed servicing. We changed the seals on all heads and cleaned/lubricated all systems. 

Safety/Utility Improvements

Installed a new trampoline net. We replaced our old hole-filled trampoline net with a new one made by Multihull Nets from Florida. After watching several installation videos, the process was quite easy. For those considering this change, I highly recommend that you purchase the installation kit that includes the premeasured Dyneema lines, gloves, and a pair of extremely useful pulling tools. 

Installed new chain and treated anchor. DYC gave us the boat with 100ft of chain, which is too short even if we planned to just stay in the Caribbean. Given our Pacific ambitions, we purchased and installed 300ft of galvanized steel chain. We also treated our anchor with some epoxy primer and cold galvanizing paint, which hopefully keeps the anchor looking decent until we are at a place where we can get it re-galvanized.

Installed new safety brackets for escape hatches. The Goiot escape hatches of this boat model were recalled due the risk of the glass detaching from the frame. The fix included installing some brackets. DYC installed them a while back but they did such a poor job that 3 of the 4 brackets fell off. DYC was supposed to replace the hatches during the phase out but, now you know the story, that didn’t happen. So we got new brackets fabricated by FKG and we installed them properly. This is still a temporary fix as we want to eventually replace the hatches with new ones prior to going to the Pacific. 

Replaced saloon window hatches. The saloon forward window hatches were leaking significantly and the frame was corroding under the paint. The only solution was a full replacement. This was an intimidating project that was actually much easier than it first looked. The old hatches came out easily and after proper preparation of the surface, the new hatches were installed without issues. Now we have no leaks or corrosion!

Installed sailrite shade covers on saloon windows. Most L42 owners get “sun glasses” or shades built for the saloon windows. We chose instead to go with a cheaper alternative that we learned from our friends in SV Sonder. Yolanda made templates of each window and then cut sunbrella shade cloth to size. She then installed the cloth on the inside of the window by squeezing the edges in between the window and the frame. The end result is amazingly effective and quite easy/affordable. It is not as effective as the outside shades, but the difference is not worth the price of the custom made shades. 

Replaced vent seals for all deck hatches. All of the deck hatches were leaking as their seals had never been changed. We started this process by first changing the seals of the vent caps screws that were the source of many of the leaks. We still need to change the full hatch seals but we ran out of time in SXM so that will be a job for Grenada. 

Replaced stanchions with taller ones. This was one of my favorite DIY projects. The original stanchion of the L42 are too short which reduces their utility. I purchased taller stanchions. The replacement was a bit tricky. The stanchions are secured to the boat by sitting on a base and tighten via an allen screw that connects the stanchion to the base. However, the location of the locking screw holes for the new stanchions did not match the old stanchion. So I had to drill new holes in the new stanchions to complete the project. This project taught me that not all drill bits are created equal and that drilling into thick stainless requires some serious drill bits! 

Installed new Dyneema lifelines.  As part of the stanchion project, I also replaced the old stainless wires with Dyneema lifelines. I chose a very simple and inexpensive solution for the fittings. Essentially one end of the life line was spliced to a thimble and the other end to a small snap shackle. The snap shackle was attached to one end of the stainless rails while the thimble was lashed to the other end with 6mm Dyneema cord. The lashing allows me to tension it as the Dyneema stretches without the need for expensive turnbuckles. 

Assembled an offshore ditch bag. Yolanda did a ton of research to decide on the ideal offshore ditch bag content given our cruising plans and crew. This, and the content of the medical kit, is worth its own post as it is a complex project with many decisions to be made. At the end we ended up with a kit capable of sustaining us for 7-10 days while waiting for rescue. Of course, we hope that we will never have to use this kit but it will be there if we ever need it.

Assembled offshore medical kit. Given her health care background, Yolanda was also in charge of all decisions related to the size and content of our offshore medical kit. The kit is mostly complete with almost everything you need for emergency medical situations while offshore. The only items missing are the prescription drug kit and the defibrillator, which we will get when we get to Panama.  We decided to wait until Panama for the prescription kit mostly to extend the shelf life of the prescriptions. While in the Caribbean, we have access to pharmacies in every island if we have an emergency, so we need the kit primarily for when we get to the Pacific and start cruising the remote atolls.

Installed new boat logo graphics. Yolanda was in charge of designing our new logo. Although we love the old logo (we still use it in this website and in other materials), it was not ideal for a boat logo as the letters were too small and too complex to read from a distance.  So Yolanda designed a more readable new logo and had Imagen Graphics (Cole Bay, SXM) print the graphics. While we were on the yard, we were able to use scaffolding to do the installation ourselves. We also got new boat name letters printed and added our home port (Ann Arbor, MI) to the transom of the boat. 

Construction Projects

A major part of our refit plan included a massive remodeling of the starboard hull and the navigation table. Unfortunately, given the other million more critical things we had to do (as seen above), the construction projects took a back seat and I was able to just get started. The rest of the project will have to be completed in Grenada between August and November. 

Nonetheless, we made major advances in some of the most difficult aspects of the remodeling project, including:

Completed demolition of the forward stb cabin. This was by far the most fun project because it was much easier and faster than anticipated and the impact was immediate. In a single day, I was able to remove the entire forward cabin furniture and bed leaving the hulls exposed. 

Added new floor bulkheads in the forward stb cabin. The next step was a lot more complex. I added new floor bulkheads to increase the rigidity of the hull and provide the support for the new floors. I made the bulkheads with 1 inch structural honeycomb laminated and tabbed with epoxy and 1708 cloth.

Tabbed and glassed bulkhead between forward cabin and forepeak. There are only two structural bulkheads on the forward section of the boat. One is the wall separating the forward cabin from the forepeaks. The second is the main bulkhead that extends from one hull to the other under the saloon windows. Surprisingly both bulkheads were not glassed or tabbed into the hull and were just joined with Plexus. So, after consulting with Peter Hoff, who knows the Lagoons in and out (he is one of the few techs in this area skilled to do the 450 and 400 bulkhead repairs), I decided to glass the plywood with 1708 and epoxy and tab the bulkhead to the hull. My plan is to do the same structural improvement to the port hull in Grenada.  

Installed new honeycomb floor on forward stb cabin. For the next step I installed a new floor structure. I used structural honeycomb laminated with 1708. The floor is as solid as the plywood original floor but about 30% of the weight.

Started demolition of stb aft head area. Unlike the forward cabin, the demolition of the aft bathroom was much more difficult and slow than anticipated given the amount of fiberglass used throughout. In the time I devoted to this project, I was able to remove the main wall that enclosed the bathroom. I also removed about 60% of the floor but ran out of time before I have to give the room to the electrical projects as it is in this room that we installed the batteries and most of the electrical systems. 

Removed stb aft head and holding tank. The final project I was able to complete in this phase was removing the head unit itself and the holding tank.  Removing the holding tank was quite difficult both because it is a gross stinky project and because it meant decommissioning a lot of black water hoses. I could have left the storage tank in its place but removing it will allow me to increase the size of the upper section of the shower significantly which will add comfort when showering. 

And that is all we did in the last 3 months. Looking back this seems like a ridiculously long list of projects to accomplish in 3 months, but we really wanted to get to a point where we felt we could enjoy the boat safely before heading down islands to Grenada. 

Part II of the refit will be primarily focused on completing the renovation of the starboard hull. We hope to start in August when we get back to the boat after spending a month in Michigan. So look for a Refit Part II post in November!

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