There were two things I disliked about my 1987 Pearson 39-2 from the outset—the anchor locker and the forecabin.
The former was a shallow tray, long enough to accommodate the 25-pound Danforth that came with the boat, its 20 feet of chain, and 200 feet of nylon rope, but at 14 inches it wasn’t deep enough for an efficient drop from the old Simpson Lawrence windlass, which worked but would be underpowered for my planned upgrades.
The forecabin had its own small en-suite head with a vanity, toilet, and a little overhead stowage, but I found the V-berth annoyingly short and cramped and too narrow at its foot.
To fit the en suite in, designer Bill Shaw had to push the bunk forward so that its foot ended up under the anchor tray. Much of the head of the berth was taken up by the head compartment’s bulkhead, so with two people in it there would be an issue getting in and out.
It smacked of design by focus group—who else would think two heads in a 39-footer was a good idea Shaw must have had his share of complaints, because in the next model year the forward head was scrapped and replaced by a simple vanity, which made the forecabin much more spacious.
Still, the boat was a bargain, and the large aft cabin was roomy enough for me. Its lack of ventilation would not become an issue until I took it south. On passage, I would sleep in the salon. The main head aft was plenty big enough to shower in, so the forecabin and head were only used for storage and the occasional crew.
The anchoring system was a different animal. I like to anchor, and I’ve done enough of it to have a firm idea of what works and what doesn’t. I wanted to replace most of the rope rode with chain, I wanted a bigger, better main anchor, and I wanted a better windlass. But what to do about that shallow tray? It would accommodate the 150 feet of chain I wanted to add, but the extra weight would be carried too high and too far forward for my liking.
I went over various scenarios with Jim Thomas, anchoring guru at Imtra, importers of Lofrans and Muir windlasses. It would not be too difficult to cut out part of the bottom of the tray and make it deeper, but it still would not be deep enough to avoid having to knock down the “castle” or pyramid of chain before it backed up into the hawsepipe. It would also impinge on the already tight space between the tray’s base and the V-berth. I almost decided to route the chain to the area under the V-berth via a length of 2-inch ID (inside diameter) hose, but that would have effectively divided the bunk and made it even less comfortable.
In the end, that issue became just another can to be kicked down the dock. I bought a Muir vertical windlass, and after much measuring and some fingers-crossed drilling installed it with the motor in the forecabin to keep it and its cable connections away from salt water. The hawsepipe fed into the anchor tray, which now accommodated 150 feet of 5/16 G4 chain and 200 feet of 5/8 nylon rope. The chain terminated in a new 45-pound Manson Supreme anchor, which fit nicely in the original bow roller. An aluminum Fortress kedge anchor replaced the original Danforth with its bent shank. Instead of foot controls, which I distrust with a passion, I installed in the forecabin a handheld windlass controller that could be passed out of the forward hatch when needed.
Of course, this arrangement was far from perfect. Dropping the anchor was no problem—the chain rattled merrily over the bow roller with no issues. Raising it was another matter. It involved kneeling over the windlass, raking the chain forward in the tray with one hand every five seconds or so as it came up. The inherent stupidity of this arrangement was highlighted when I got my harness tether caught in the chain gypsy one windy morning. Could a finger or hand be far behind?
Nevertheless, it all sufficed until I had gotten more pressing projects out of the way. When I sailed from Florida to Guatemala’s Rio Dulce, where I would spend the hurricane season, it was time to carry out the plan I’d been hatching for a couple of years. Leaving in situ the large hanging locker and small bank of shelves opposite the head, I would remove the V-berth and demolish the forward head, add a half bulkhead a foot abaft the anchor tray, and have a larger, offset pullman-style bunk built. I would gain a large stowage locker under the new bunk, retain the existing under-bunk lockers, and luxuriate in my new quarters.
I would also move the windlass aft just far enough for the chain to drop into the large locker I would create, thus locating its weight farther aft and lower down in the boat and eliminating the need to wrestle with the castle.
I would like to say I carried out all of this myself, and had I not been in the Rio, which is well stocked with competent tradesmen working for a fraction of U.S. prices, I would have. Instead, I decided to take the easy approach and contracted out some of the work. First, though, while the boat was on the hard getting a bottom job I removed and sold the almost unused toilet in the forward head, stripped out the holding tank under the V-berth along with the sink and its cabinetry, and took out the sink and toilet intake through-hulls and glassed over the holes. I left the intake seacock in place for the deckwash pump.
Working down below in the tropical heat was no fun, so I left it to the contractor to remove the non-structural head compartment bulkheads and the rest of the built-in structure. Inevitably, between my very rudimentary Spanish and the carpenter’s non-existent English, things got lost in translation. I’d hoped to reuse some of the existing joinery, only to find it had been stripped out and discarded. In its place, I had a full-width, half-height bulkhead glassed in where the head of the V-berth had been, and another one 4 feet ahead of it, forming the aft wall of the new anchor locker. This took care of my structural concerns.
The original forward bulkhead that formed the foot of the V-berth was also left in place. Between this and the new bulkhead forming the new foot of the V-berth, I now have a full-width, full-height anchor locker, with a 4-foot drop from the hawsepipe to its bottom. The upper section of this bulkhead is non-structural and can be removed in a couple of minutes for access to the windlass and chain—which also means that all that hardware is now nicely hidden from view while you’re hanging out in the cabin.
I had to relocate the windlass 6 inches aft so the chain drops into the locker rather than the tray, and I plumbed a hose into the new bulkhead to drain water into the main bilge. I also had a Sunbrella cover made for the windlass, so very little water gets down below via the hawsepipe.
A year on, I am still delighted with the conversion. The forecabin is now a large and extremely comfortable sleeping/relaxing space. Admittedly, the bunk is rather oddly shaped, but at 7 feet long, 4 feet wide at the head, and 3 feet wide at the foot, it works for me. I’ve gained valuable stowage in the process, namely a huge under-bunk locker on the footprint of the head compartment. I’d never had any concern about losing any structural integrity up forward—in fact the boat has gained an extra bulkhead. I still have some finishing work to do, but that can wait.
The new anchor locker could easily accommodate twice as much chain as I have, and the old anchor tray now holds all my docklines, snubbers, chafe gear, and a deckwash hose. Best of all, I can deal with my anchor without worrying about jamming my windlass with a pile of chain—which in turn means a better night’s sleep.
I’ve been asked if I worry that my modifications have lowered the boat’s resale value. My answer is that I don’t care. I’ve finally got it the way I want it, and that’s all that matters.
Former SAIL Editor-in-Chief Peter Nielsen is cruising in the western Caribbean and always optimizing his Pearson 39-2.