There’s this boat: Mary Powell

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 British Columbia native 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 after he’d come south from the Salish Sea, 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
Departing Langkawi – 2014

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.

16 Responses

  1. I love this post! Go & go now! It’s the experiences that matter, not the stuff (ok, the stuff is also important, but mainly for SAFETY reasons and little else). Thanks for the thoughtful reminder!

    1. thank you Laurie! that, really was the point of this piece… go with what you have, not the dream boat in that future “someday” that might never come- as illustrated by an exceptionally nice and experienced guy. 🙂

  2. C&C keels fall off?!?!?!
    I have owned a C&C since 1977 and the keel is on. I have actually NEVER heard of a C&C keel falling off. Could you please either retract that or tell us which C&C keels have come off.

  3. 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

  4. Great stuff! We agree! Go now! 🙂 We decided on a trawler, but sold the houses and moved aboard. Just beginning the ever-increasing range of trips that will lead to other continents. Cast off while you are able. Love following your stuff. – Jay and Karen Campbell

    1. Love it Jay- trawler, sloop, barge, whatever, it’s all about being on the water! all the best in your adventures afloat. 🙂

  5. Hi Totem’s
    Got to agree better to be out there DOING IT on a boat thats not your dream boat.Its got to be better than working yourself half to death striving for your ultimate boat and be to old /sick to go out and enjoy what you have dreamed and TALKED about for years.
    How do you really know just what you require until you have been there and done it. Until you have had a little bit of experience then the boat you really need is driven by speculation / desire and these days by Slick marketing
    Go on, do it on something you can afford now !! There is always time to Refit or up grade on the way to make a boat meet your needs / desire (and they will change on the way believe me) and the fact is there is always a bigger flasher boat With more toys in the bay than yours But they are still in the same bay ! Thats just a fact of life.(in the cruising world Dying with the most toys doesn’t automaticly make you the winner) Some of the happiest people we have met cruising had the most basic of boats coupled with the best of attitudes were just havin a fine time thank you

    Regards Mark

    PS:I did actually take my own advice.We cruising for 6 months before going back to Work and the real world before changing the boat and heading off again 5 years later we have been out for 3 1/2 years and loving it.Were about to go back to the real world get the kids thru high school and make some more money and do it again, Its a great merry go round to be on.

    the doors still aren’t hung in the new boat yet. Maybe someday it will happen (sigh)

  6. Great post.
    I too opted for the do it now, then later. But I lucked in, I did get the boat I wanted, She is an Irwin 43 CC MKII. She is a bit big for Me because I am single, but she can be handled solo but I prefer having at least one more person aboard for long legs.
    The secret of finding your perfect boat is research, research, research.
    I had other boats in My life, they were all good, with ups and downs, but I learned from all of them.
    When I was ready to make the move to what most likely will be My final boat, I search high and low for a boat that would serve My needs. I had criteria s that needed to be met, and I would not compromised on any of them. Of course I did came close to compromise, for the simple fact I was getting tired to look for her, 3 years of constant internet search, multiple trips to look at prospects, quite a few haul-out inspections, paid for quite a few surveys and so on.
    I finally found Ete Infini in Curacao 6000 miles away, she was a good priced boat, with a good prior owner history and in good conditions. I had seen other Irwin 43’s at twice the price and in deplorable conditions, So if it does not feel right, or you have doubts. keep on looking, your perfect boat will be out there. A boat after all is like a woman, you have to date a lot in order to find the one that you will spend the rest of your life with. Fortunately for Me at least I found My perfect boat, but yet I am still searching for that perfect companion that will share those perfect sunsets in a paradisaical setting. And no, I will not compromise there either.
    A boat is an extension of yourself if not part of yourself, there is no perfect design, or perfect material, that fits every one, just what fits you personally, your budget and cruising plans.
    I am not yet fully retired, I still have to work 6 months a year ( My pension is one summer away) I keep Ete Infini in Guatemala (RioDulce to be exact), I am still upgrading her every year, and eventually she like Me will eventually be ready for full time cruising.

    1. What a great story about finding the perfect boat for *you* – thanks for sharing it. Hope you find that partner to share sunsets with too!

  7. Man, the ability to blog and self-publish is so much better versus when I left! Loving your site. I left Morro Bay, CA in December of 2002 in my Pearson Ariel, which was all of 25′ 7″. I had read up on the Pardey’s books, and go small, simple, and now was ingrained into my head. I worked after graduating college to buy her and fit her out. Boat cost $5K and fitting her out $17K. Ouch… if I had only known then what I know now… Ha!

    I crossed into Mexico with plans to summer in Costa Rica. Along the way I met so many amazing people and had the time of my life: from squalls to being becalmed, colliding with a whale, drinking Mexican moonshine, and pretty much running out of money top my list. I decided to turn around somewhere close to Acapulco after a barepole sleigh-ride, at times touching 10 knots. I was tired and more importantly, totally broke. So I sailed (bashed) back up the coast

    And now here I am years later, lovely wife and an adventurous 21 month old, on the doorstep of another boat. This time she’s got actual standing headroom (I’m 6’2″), is much bigger, drier, and comfortable. Plus I’ve sailed on her for 6 months as crew, so I am familiar with her. I think finding the right boat is about putting “it” out there first. The desire to sail has been building for a few years now, and as I reached out “there”, I was offered – unbeknownst to my former captain/owner that I was looking for a boat – a pretty amazing opportunity. I’ll be heading down to Mexico this December to have a looksy, survey, and make sure everything is in order. If all is well, another year to work, save, and prep, and then we plan on doing a winter in the Sea of Cortez before bringing her up the coast. Pac Northwest has been on my mind for a long time, and it’s high time to get it done.

    Thanks again, and please keep publishing information on kids and cruising. I was just thinking perspective parents who want to cruise would be a great market to tap into, but it looks like you’ve got that handled 🙂 But yes, my wife loves to read what other people have actually done versus what I tell her it will be like!

    Best Wishes,


    1. Todd, it’s true, self pub is a world different now- we benefit so much from what others share, and hope to do the same in return! Sounds like the stars really aligned around this boat for you, I hope you’ll tell me how it’s going later! PS- tell your wife to email me anytime, and also, fwiw we love honey. 🙂

  8. Hi, just found your site today and have enjoyed what I’ve read.I want to go cruising but it seems a daunting challenge to just prepare for. How do you know;the right boat(the more research I do the more I need to learn+too many opinions),needed equipment(vs luxuries),cost(Pardey’s vs millionaire),skills(talked to circumnavigators who are still learning), etc,etc,etc. I guess that is part of the journey and why more people don’t do it,but will read more to try to glean some wisdom. Thanks and fair winds

    1. @ Ron.
      A boat can always be bought and sold if it is not the one, yes the wrong boat could be costly. But the biggest obstacle, in My view, is that people fail to go for it. I heard it so many times “I wish I could do it” and then people die in their beds not having done anything in life. The big push off is always the biggest decision one will make. If you truly
      want to sail. to it, do not postpone it for ever. As I always say, better a bad day sailing, then a good day slaving at work 🙂
      Good luck and remember, keel down and sails up LOL.

    2. Hi Ron- I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed what you read today! To make the steps to cruising less daunting, it might help to break them down into a few different categories of things to do (boat, skills, gear, etc.) and then keep those present and work on them… without feelign like you have to have it all done yesterday. And, know that many people don’t do all the “right” prep and are just fine. I’m happy to help with Q&A anytime. Getting ready is part of the fun!

Comments are closed.