Sailing SV Empress - How we Bought our First Live-aboard Sailboat!

In the middle of the sweltering afternoon heat of the South Florida Keys, we stood and watched nervously as our long-envisioned dream started to rise up out of the water. Empress had been sitting in the water for a little over two years and we had no idea what we might find when we finally lifted her out.

Our new sailboat, SV Empress, being lifted out of the water for the first time in at least two years!

Our new sailboat, SV Empress, being lifted out of the water for the first time in at least two years!

Having been traveling together all over the world for more than four years, getting married and building a successful business together, we are now taking the next huge leap in our traveling lives - moving aboard our own sailing boat to explore the seas.


This dream to sail the world started about two years ago in June 2015, when a brief encounter with a small leisure catamaran was swiftly followed by a 5-day offshore passage from Panama to Colombia, via the San Blas Islands. Even though there was little-to-no wind to push Ave Maria, the 50 foot classic sailboat we were travelling on through the water, leaving us with the noise of the old diesel engine instead, the experience of living on board and sailing from one beautiful destination to another was enough to get me hooked, thinking and talking about nothing else for the next two years!

On Ave Maria in the San Blas Islands in 2015

On Ave Maria in the San Blas Islands in 2015

As we continued to travel by land and air, all over South America, the USA, Europe, Asia and Australia, I never stopped thinking and talking about sailing. When I found any spare time I would trawl for sale listings, forums, and sailing blogs, or go out of my way to walk past a marina just so I could look at all the boats moored up there.

Fourteen months of this window shopping and daydreaming eventually led me to Marmaris, on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, where I completed my RYA Competent Crew and Day Skipper qualifications. On board a Dufour 42 Classic, we sailed 175 miles of Turkey’s beautifully challenging and changeable coast and coves, learning all necessary aspects of sailing, navigation, and safety.

On the RYA Day Skipper sailing course in Turkey

On the RYA Day Skipper sailing course in Turkey

With the expert instruction of a sailor with more than 50 years sailing experience and countless miles behind him, I left Turkey with a RYA qualification and one very big step closer to living my big dream! That was in October 2016 - Fast forward to today, on the 28th of May 2017, and we have finally achieved that dream - our own 40 foot live-aboard offshore sailboat, Empress!

How We Found Our Sail Boat

Ever since I first started talking about having our own sailboat, I was fairly certain I about where I was going to find it - The one place we have been to where I’ve seen the most boats (in amount and variety) all in one place - Florida! Whenever I was searching online for boats for sale I would notice how many of them were located in Florida, at some incredible prices too! Florida has everything necessary for a healthy boat market; great weather, beaches, and it’s surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico! Florida is also one of the most popular retirement destinations for Americans from the northern states (aka ‘snowbirds'), so many boats make their way down here for their owner’s golden years until they pass away or are unable to sail anymore. Another reason is the material modern bats are made out of; fiberglass pretty much lives forever, so very few old boats ever disappear anymore. Simply put, there are more and more boats out there, with fewer buyers, so it’s a buyers market. There are other reasons too, but that gives you some idea!

Having finally achieved our goal to travel together to all 7 continents in the world, including Antarctica, we decided that the time was right to move onto the next stage of our travel plans. We flew to Miami at the beginning of May 2017, with the intention of visiting every boat yard we could find in search of the right boat for us. Despite our visions of weeks trawling abandoned old boats standing in lonely boatyards (or boneyards), most unlikely ever to see the water again, our search turned out to be shorter than we expected, much shorter!

The Cal 39 we looked at in Miami - Not for us!

The Cal 39 we looked at in Miami - Not for us!

As soon as we arrived in Miami, we drove to Dinner Quay Marina, where found a very presentable Cal 39 for sale. We met the owner and viewed the boat, but ultimately it just wasn’t the right boat for us. That same evening, as I was browsing another endless list of for sale ads, one boat, in particular, jumped out at me, a 1971 Finnrose 40, something we had never heard of before. a quick search online found nothing about the Finnrose 40, but I did find several references to the Finnrose 37 and 45, both heavy displacement, long keel, offshore cruising boats, designed by an English designer, called Angus Primrose and built in Turku, Finland. Looking at the lines of the boat and the deck profile, it was hard to believe it came out of the early 1970’s, as it looks much sleeker than most boats of that decade. The interior, however, was perfectly 70’s, with cabinets built of dark, wood-veneered plywood and some lovely green mosaic tiles in the galley!

We drove down to see the boat the next day and met with the owner at a boat yard in Marathon, Florida Keys, where Empress was tied up to a small jetty in the access channel. We found out that she had been sitting there for over 8 months and for over a year in Key West before that. The previous owner had bought her in 1985 as the second owner and sailed her until he became ill and passed away. Before he did, he gave the boat to his close friend to take care of or find another home for. After a short inspection of everything I could think of and a quick look at the massive pile of history and paperwork that had been kept since new, we shook hands and agreed to take her on. Before we knew it, we had transferred the title into our name and we were officially the new owners of a 40-foot sailboat!

All About Our Sail Boat - SV Empress

I couldn’t find any information on this so-called “Finnrose 40” and it turned out that there is a very good reason for that - there is no such thing as a Finnrose 40! Despite all of the paperwork on the boat saying Finnrose 40, they only ever made a 37 foot and 45 foot model of this boat. It turns out that Empress is actually a Finnrose 37, with the stern modified and extended by about three feet, to increase the length at the waterline! This really makes no difference to us at all, other than to make it a bit cheaper to dock, lift, store and paint. Since you pay by the foot for all of these things, we’ll go back to calling her a Finnrose 37!

Underwater she has a 3/4 keel profile, with a cutaway up to a protected propeller and skeg-hung rudder at the stern and a draft of about 5 foot 10 inches. The hull and deck are built from fibreglass, which turned out to be around 1/2 inch thick at the waterline, increasing in thickness as you go down towards the keel. We found this out by removing the old through-hull fittings for the old marine toilet and holding tank. This is an extremely solid and well-built boat, the kind that is just not built anymore. The cockpit is very deep and well protected, with wheel steering, connected to a Raymarine Smart Pilot system. The rig is a masthead sloop with a gold anodised aluminum mast and standing rigging that appears to be in good shape. We’ll get a survey done before putting the sails up in strong winds.

The simple and reliable, Perkins marine diesel engine!

The simple and reliable, Perkins marine diesel engine!

The engine is a Perkins 4018 50HP diesel, which is pretty much the most reliable engine you could have in a sailboat, providing it’s been maintained properly.

The interior is in good useable condition but it’s very dated and the dark wood veneer makes it gloomy to be in, so we decided to paint everything white, then paint a variety of bright Miami Beach-style colours throughout to really brighten it all up. Up front is a v-berth which makes a good-sized double bed, the sofa a table on the port side can fold down to become another double berth, then the single sofa on the starboard side works as a single berth.

Empress up "on the hard" in Driftwood Marina, Marathon and the Volvo XC60 we were using!

Empress up "on the hard" in Driftwood Marina, Marathon and the Volvo XC60 we were using!

S/V Empress Vital Statistics:

Make and Model - Finnrose 37

Year Built - 1971

Designer - Angus Primrose (GB)

Built By - Oy Fiskar, Finland

Built in - Turku, Finland

Length Overall (LOA) - 40 feet / 12.20 meters (originally 37.24 ft / 11.35 m)

Length at Waterline (LWL) - 30 feet / 9.14 meters (26.97 feet / 8.22 meters)

Beam Width - 10.93 feet / 3.33 meters

Draft - 5 feet 10 inches / 1.78 meters

Construction - Fibreglass

Keel Type - 3/4 Long Keel with Skeg-Hung Rudder

Rig Type - Masthead Sloop

Engine - Perkins 4018 Diesel 50 HP

Navigation - Furuno GPS

Steering - Wheel Steering

Autopilot - Raymarine Smartpilot 6001

Cooker - Force Gimballed Gas Stove and Oven

Freshwater system - Electric pump with electric hot water boiler system

Fresh Water Tankage - 80 Gallons

Diesel Fuel Tankage - 40 Gallons

Number of Berths - 5 comfortably - 2 double and 1 single

Number of heads (toilets) - 1 marine head and sink

Dinghy Tender - 8 foot “Fatty Knees” (copy) fibreglass sailing dinghy (no engine)

Moving In With The New Toyota Tundra.jpg

Overall Condition and Current State

The boat had been sitting in the water for around two years when we found it, so we expected there to be some work to do. Overall it was in pretty good shape, with a few things that we could see needed to be done. When we had her hauled out though, we found out what really needed to be done!

Below the water, the hull had a whole coral reef growing on it, complete with clams, oysters, sea cucumbers and who knows what else! Once the boat was put up on her stands and ready to work on, we found out that there was a bit more to do than just a cleanup!

Our Plans for Empress

After initially writing a huge list of all the jobs we would like to do to improve Empress and make her the perfect boat we know she could be, we realised that the list was just getting longer and longer. If we tried to complete everything on this list before we put her back in the water and started living aboard, we would end up on dry land for months, when we really should be enjoying the sailboat life - time for a new strategy!

Instead, we took the long list and split it into two separate lists:

1st List - Jobs that must be done out of the water, now!

2nd List - Jobs that can be done later, while we’re floating.

The first list suddenly became a lot smaller and perfectly manageable within the month we allocated to being in the boat yard. The 2nd list is still pretty big, (and growing every day, with each new idea we have!) but that’s ok. Having spoken to a lot of people who own boats and many who live aboard, there are always jobs to do, things to fix and upgrades to be made. This is part of the fun of living on a boat - you always have projects and can take them at your own pace!

So, with that, here is the list of jobs that we have decided to tackle while Empress is on dry land in the boat yard:

The Dry Land To Do List:

Hull and Exterior:

  • Minor fiberglass repairs and fairing

  • Change through hulls and fill in any unnecessary ones

  • Undercoat and antifouling paint below the waterline

  • Fit a stern arch for solar panels and wind turbine


  • Paint all dark wood veneer in white base coat of Kilz Original Primer, then paint with bright, Miami Beach colours, from Behr Paints

  • Make a super comfortable bed by modifying a special memory foam mattress, from

Boat Systems:

  • Check all electrical systems for safety and integrity.

  • Install a smart solar panel & wind turbine system, from GP Electric.

  • Remove marine toilet and holding tank system - Replace with a composting toilet from Nature’s Head!

  • Empty the bilge, remove any debris and oily water - get it clean!

  • Redesign and replace insufficient bilge pump system, with two tiered pumps, float switches, and water level alarms. Power by battery array, charged from the engine, solar/wind, and shore power.

  • Check gas system and service.

  • - Minor repair to lower rudder support - Replace worn bushing.


  • Engine and transmission service - Change all oils, fluids, and filters.

  • Replace transmission and throttle cable

  • Install new Mantus anchor - 65 lb (29.5 kg), with rail mounting bracket.


  • Repair and paint tender dinghy

The Rest of Our To-Do List:

  • Replace 2 x worn/soft floorboards

  • Install new floor covering, from Infinity Luxury Woven Vinyl

  • Replace wall linings throughout, from Infinity Luxury Woven Vinyl

  • Replace headliners throughout, from Infinity Luxury Woven Vinyl

  • Replace all interior soft furnishings

  • Paint top sides

  • Install new bow and stern railings

  • Navigation - Check existing Furuno GPS unit and add chart plotter. Service Raymarine Smart Pilot.

  • Have all standing rigging checked and tuned

  • Fit outboard motor to dinghy tender

  • Install Roller Furling headsail

This is just the beginning!

So here we are, standing in a boatyard and looking for the first time at the full magnitude of what we have gotten ourselves into... Well, we asked for it and we have never been shy of a challenge, especially in the name of excitement and adventure!


Every one of the jobs on this long list will form a project that we film, write and publish about, so you can see exactly what we do and how we do it. We hope you'll follow this next stage of our adventure, from the boatyard to a mooring on the water, learning to sail and finally, starting to sail around the world!

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SAILINGKach HoweComment