There’s this boat: Mary Powell

20 Aug

march 119s

It takes many years of diligent saving and personal sacrifice to afford the boat of your dreams and cruising adventure. Or, you can limit your selection set to what fits into a ready budget, and trade years of anticipation for years of cruising.

That’s what Steve Dolman did. His modest sloop, Mary Powell, was not a candidate for swagging at a boat show or splashing across a magazine cover. But the simple monohull was kinder to the budget, and it meant he could go- soon. We met Steve in Mexico, hung out again in Tonga, and caught up recently once more in Malaysia. What does one man’s perfect cruising boat look like? Steve took the time to answer a few questions for me.

Tell me about Mary Powell.

She’s a Discovery 37, designed by Peter Hatfield and built in 1970 in Richmond, BC. They were built for just a few years by ICL engineering.

How did you find her?

Just by fluke, with a broker in Sidney, BC, looking for an economical blue water cruiser. At the time, I was also looking at C&Cs. Glad that didn’t happen (keels have a habit of falling off!). It had been sitting for three years after death of the owner; kids used it a little, not much, and it hadn’t been maintained. Mostly, it just needed TLC, nothing major. I put $38,888 (Canadian) into the boat.

Tradewind sailing

What were your major upgrades?

I put in a windlass, and HF radio, radar, autopilot. All the other basic essentials were there.

What makes her special to you?

Actually didn’t like her much at first, but it was what I could afford. The choices were to blow the budget on the boat, and go back to work, or buy a cheaper boat and go cruising. She grew on me and by the time I got to Fiji I wasn’t jealous of anyone. The boat is the right size, the right investment, I know her inside and out and know she can just about anything handle anything.

What kind of preparation did you do?

I hit almost every gale in the Georgia Strait that winter to make sure that if anything broke it broke there. If you call mayday you’ll have traffic jam in 15 minutes! Ice pellets at 35 knots make a special sound on a full sail, but a lot of fun.


Tell me what you like most about her.

Her ruggedness. She’s been on rocks and reefs. She’s got a bare lead keel – no fiberglass. Three times it’s happened, and each time we got off unscathed, despite bumping and bouncing. Just a spade rudder, there’s no skeg. And, she’s pretty fast; we keep up with the 42 footers of the world.

What don’t you like about Mary Powell?

All funds and focus have been on hull, rig, and engine, but that’s the stuff that counts. The interior is still very 1970s! Mary Powell could stand everything cosmetically. No change to layout, just make it look a little newer.

Do you know much else about her history?

It was registered in Victoria by the first owner, who had her for nine years; the second owner for twenty seven years, and I’ve had her ever since September 2007.

sailboat canada mary powell lighthouse

Mary Powell is a modest boat, but she and Steve have put down a respectable miles. He crossed the Pacific in 2010, then sailed up to Japan and across the North Pacific back to British Columbia. By 2013, he was back down in Mexico and preparing to head out across the Pacific again. It was such a treat to hear from him a few months ago that he was in Bali, and wondering if we’d be able to get together. The cruising world is small, and it’s great when it comes around again.

Sitting on Totem in Langkawi, Malaysia, Steve and I talked longer about what’s next. He’d like to get back to Trinidad, where he was introduced to sailing as a teen and has fond memories from his youth. But after criss-crossing the Pacific a couple of times, he’s hoping to explore Southeast Asia a little longer before continuing west.

Fair winds Steve- I wonder what corner of the world we’ll get to see you in next?

Gonna-go readers know we love it when you read this on the Sailfeed website.


  1. Pingback: There’s this boat: Mary Powell | Sailing Totem

  2. Melissa

    It’s too bad folks aren’t this charged up when it comes to conquering real life issues happening all over the world at this moment.

  3. John

    Steve – thanks for adding detail to the now infamous C&C keel comment. No apologies are needed – you made an offhand remark and the C&C faithful understandably responded.

    Enjoy your new lifestyle. The point of the article continues to inspire others.


  4. Andrew

    READ THE ARTICLE PEOPLE! The format for this article was Q&A. If Behan reports anything but the answer then she discredits her work. Thanks Behan for sharing it like it is. It’s not your job to make everyone happy. Neither should you filter or fact check the answers of your guest. His answer is his answer. This article and Steve’s statement was about his state of mind during his decision process. Steve’ s statement (right or wrong) is not the point its the concept of looking back on his decision and having no regrets in the choice he made to go with what he had. It is apparent many of the comments came from people who didn’t even take the time to read the article.

  5. Joe DB

    This quote “At the time, I was also looking at C&Cs. Glad that didn’t happen (keels have a habit of falling off!)” would go a long way towards making someone looking to sail a C&C afraid of taking their boat anyplace beyond swimming range of home, let alone offshore. You can imagine the owners of said boats were not happy to read it because it IS NOT TRUE. The C&C Smile is a trivial annoyance that is easily repaired in about 10 minutes with a big socket wrench. From 1977 to 2014 I have had to do it exactly one time and it cost nothing but a few minutes of my time. My boat is not babied either, she has been thousands of miles offshore in rough conditions and even sailed through a hurricane.

  6. Jamie Gifford

    OldSteveH – Seriously? The writer was quoting someone, so you trash the messenger? And who the hell would think that comments about keels falling off is witty or cool??? How dumb is that!

    It’s sad to see sailors dumping on sailors –AGAIN. So Steve Dolman made a flip comment for the blog that he’s genuinely apologized for – he’s a great and yet imperfect sailor. If you think that’s so offensive, you would’ve gone postal with the nastiness of being called irresponsible parents endangering children’s lives, as we were because of the “Rebel Heart” mess. Stupid, baseless assertions that we chose not to reply to. What’s the point? (Though I thought of proving my salty prowess by spouting off how many sea miles I have to prove something to someone somewhere)
    For the record, my wife, “the writer” isn’t perfect either, but does a wonderful job at sharing and promoting the sailing lifestyle. And I know it’s inspired more than a few people to venture out over the horizon. Still I cannot grasp the disconnect between on-the-water sailing communities that are positive, sharing, and socially fun while internet sailors migrate to nastiness and pissing contests. Clearly the most perfect sailors sit staring at a computer screen, but sailors on the water have the most fun.

  7. Steve Dolman

    The comments “baseless assertions” are correct…the fabled “smile” is what I was talking about…and only one particularly distraught owner…and I am no expert on hull construction…including C&C hull construction…my sincere apologies to Behan and to C&C faithful for the confusion…

    For the Record: I still believe C&C yachts to be among the finest and most beautiful craft afloat.

    For Andy: My Discovery 37 has a fin keel with a spade rudder. The fiberglass keel box is bolted and glassed to the hull with the bare lead keel bolted to the bottom of that…6 ft draft. The keel box contains a 70 liter stainless fuel tank.
    regards s

  8. Rick Brass

    Bob, you really should retread the Boat/US article you cite. The boat with cracks in the hull forward of the keel was a Tartan 3700 not a C&C design. And says that Tartan had taken steps to address build quality issues in hull numbers 56 to 119.

    The article does mention core problems with three late model C&C boats designed by Tim Jacket and built between 1999 and 2007. No keel problems reported and fixes were in progress.

    The article is more about poor customer service from the previous management at Fairport Marine than about a rash of boat problems.

  9. Joe DB

    The boat in this article was made in *1970*. I doubt this person was cross shopping a 1970 boat and BRAND NEW TARTAN-C&Cs. C&C has been making boats since the 1960s. Tartan took them over and made some boats with issues that got fixed. NOT ONE KEEL FELL OFF – unlike a few brands I could mention – and this has not one thing to do with the C&Cs the buyers of a 1970 boat could afford.

  10. Jack Brennan

    The keel came off my old C&C 25.

    Of course, it happened when it was driven ashore on Key Biscayne, Fl., during a 120-mph hurricane called Wilma.

    On the positive side, it apparently sailed itself all over Biscayne Bay during the height of the storm with no apparent damage until it hit shoal water. Many other sailboats that broke free were overwhelmed and simply disappeared.

    Jack Brennan
    Former C&C 25
    Shanachie, 1974 Bristol 30
    Tierra Verde, Fl.

  11. Bob Dolan

    OK, so Dolman’s quote that C&C “keels have a habit of falling off” was a gross exaggeration. At the same time, C&C skippers labeling the claim “drivel” seems a blatant attempt to sweep a real problem under the rug.
    Tartan and C&C owners did report having ‘structural problems’, as documented in The Advocate — Consumer Protection article in the December 2010 issue of BoatU.S. Magazine.
    Based on that article, a more precise statement might have been, “No keels fell off because the owners were alerted to that danger by all the water coming into the boat from cracks in the hull around the keel.”
    I have to believe the C&C skippers would have been better off just enjoying Behan’s post instead of dredging up an old problem that many today knew nothing about.

  12. stephen Thorne

    Behan, it looks like you were repeating a statement which is incorrect or you got your quotes wrong? Either way I would assume you want to maintain the integrity of your blog and correct the error.

  13. Andy

    uh oh! The C&C owners forum is here!

    I believe Behan was quoting the owner of Mary Powell and his own opinion regarding C&C’s. Also, considering the Discovery 37 is a full keel he may very well have the same opinion about all bolt on fin keels, as many people seem to.

  14. Tim

    ” C&Cs. Glad that didn’t happen (keels have a habit of falling off!)”
    Wow one statement renders your complete article as drivel

  15. Joe DB

    I have owned a C&C since 1977. The keel remains on. I have *never* heard of ANY C&C keel falling off – ever.

  16. Jack Fitzgerald

    Dear Behan

    I have owned my C&C 39 TM since 1975 having sailed her well over 100,000 miles and the keel remains firmly attached. We have 4 other C&C yachts in our area, all of the same vintage as mine. All have their keels firmly attached as well. Suggest that you put a little more effort into your research before making comments such the above.


    Jack Fitzgerald
    C&C 39 TN
    HONEY (1974 – hull # 69)

  17. Rick Brass

    On behalf of the 600 or so C&C owners who participate in the mail list at (which Practical Sailor has rated as the best owner support site on the Internet), I’m writing to take exception to the comment about the keels on C&C boats falling off. Or at least to point out you poor performance at fact checking.

    If you look at the past 10 years or so of discussions I don’t think you will find a single incident of a C&C keel falling off. You WILL find several mentions of boats being run up on rocks or reefs, occasionally leading to damage to the fiberglass keel stub to which the keel is through bolted.

    You WILL also find mention to what we affectionately call the C&C smile. – which is a crack that opens up on the leading edge of the keel to hull joint if you do not torque the keel bolts according to the manufacturers recommendation every 6 or 8 years. But that is a maintenance issue common to all boats with a bolted on fin keel.

    And you Will also find a few dozen comments or links from folks who have circumnavigated or crossed oceans in boats from under 30 feet to over 40.

    Before you malign a brand that has historically been one of the highest quality, best sailing, and durable sailboats available please check you facts.

    Rick Brass

  18. Dennis

    C&C keels fall off???? News to me. C&C’s are very well built boats. Never heard of a single incident of a keel falling off a C&C. Mindless drivel.

  19. Andrew Burton

    Behan, I don’t know why you say “I was also looking at C&Cs. Glad that didn’t happen (keels have a habit of falling off!)” C&C do not have a reputaion for having “falling off” . You may be thinking of the fabled C&C smile, but a minor crack where the lead joins the hull is a far cry from “falling off.”
    I’ve never heard of a keel falling off a C&C, unless it was a result of placing the boat in a situation that would destroy a boat even as robust as the Discovery.
    C&C, another Canadian builder, have a well-earned reputation for building very good boats, as evidenced by the many examples from the 70s and 80s that, though raced hard for much of their lives, are still cruising around the world and looking good doing it.

  20. Steve

    Baseless assertions that C&C keels fall off are just that, baseless assertions and cause nothing more than rumours and misunderstandings. I’ve yet to hear any reports of a C&C keel “falling off”. All signs point to them being well built boats that have lasted the test of time. Reporting false rumours and hearsay like this is irresponsible.

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