Aluminium Sailboat: United Forces Part 1

Our travels through Europe take us to Italy, where we check out and thoroughly inspect an interesting Aluminium sailboat. We take all our previous experiences into account and hope for the best.

Looking for the perfect match

Our trip to Norway was great but unfortunately not successful, so our search continued. We looked through hundreds of ships in daily research, sometimes until deep in the night, and were able to narrow down the search further and further.

Ships come in many shapes, colours and materials. The most important component of a ship is of course its hull, which can consist of fiberglass, wood, aluminium, plastic or steel, for example. Some materials are more suitable for long journeys, others less so.

Aluminium as a hull material

Aluminium is an interesting material for blue water cruises, since It is an extremely robust and light metal. It can withstand a lot and is relatively easy to repair (assuming knowledge of the art of welding).

Advantages of Aluminium

One of the greatest advantages of aluminium is that in the event of a collision it can absorb a large part of the kinetic energy introduced. It will simply deform before it breaks.

In addition, it does not need any paint. Unlike steel, it does not rust when exposed to oxygen and moisture. On the contrary – an aluminium surface forms a layer impermeable to air and water over time. This process is called ‘passivation’.

These and other properties make aluminium a highly attractive hull material for sailors who want to go on the big trip. Well-known manufacturers of aluminium sailboats are Alubat, Reinke or Garcia Yachts.

Disadvantages of Aluminium

However, one has to consider that aluminium as a metal is relatively non-noble and a good electrical conductor. Therefore, it is quite susceptible to bimetal corrosion, the “pitting corrosion”, with water as the electrical conductor (electrolyte).

For example: In case of improperly carried out electrical installations or damaged cables, electricity can flow from the less noble aluminum to a more noble metal in the newly installed components. This results in degradation of the aluminum, leading to this dangerous corrosion. Holes in your Aluminium sailboat are logically the last thing you want in your ship.

A Garcia Exploration 45 aluminium sailboat
A Garcia Exploration 45 aluminium sailboat – lovely, but not exactly in our price range
The biggest problem of aluminium sailboats is corrosion
Corrosion in an Aluminium tank – not lovely at all! Photo ©

Enough with the theory

(Which is important for the next chapter of our story):
It so happened that Carmen came across exactly such an aluminium sailboat. It was a Reinke Hydra of 46 feet (14m), “Viribus Unitis” (eng. United forces) was her name. She was stationed on dry dock in San Giorgio di Nogaro in the north of Italy, south of Udine – a stone’s throw from Switzerland.

A self-made sailboat

Although she was at the lower end of our size conception, she still seemed to be extremely spacious. A feature of Reinke is that the ships are usually delivered to the buyer as a shell, and are then completed in-house. In Viribus’ case, however, the interior was indistinguishable from a series ship. All the woodwork in the interior had been made in a highly professional manner.

Viribus Unitis, a decent aluminium sailboat
Viribus Unitis

Our first impression

3 cabins were on board, a large aft-, a front-, and a small but very nice side cabin. And most importantly: A spacious deck saloon combined with a second saloon next to the galley in the lower ship were available and ensured great spatial separation. The engine room was huge because the ship was equipped with two engines. If one engine should fail, you still had a second backup, but also twice as much maintenance work.

On top, the Reinke impressed with her spacious deck. There was plenty of freedom of movement and her deep and therefore well-protected center cockpit.

On the road again

We got in direct contact with the two Austrian owners which was also very positive. We just had to make the trip to Italy! An appointment was made with the owners, packed our belongings and drove the long way to San Giorgio di Nogaro. Once arrived, we checked into an extremely average hotel.

…they had beer!

The visit to our first Aluminium sailboat

The next morning it was time and we could visit Viribus Unitis. First we showed up in the wrong marina and had a coffee there. Soon after we finally met one of the two owners at the gate to the correct marina. Viribus was on dry dock, an impressive appearance.

She had a bilge keel!

With a bilge keel, where there is normally only one keel fin, there are two shorter keel fins. Reinke is a shipyard from northern Germany, where the wadden sea and tidal range are big. If a ship is equipped with a bilge keel, in addition to smaller draft, this also has the advantage that you can basically let the surrounding area dry out around you. Your boat then stands on the two keel fins on the sea floor. If the water rises again, you can easily ‘water your boat with the tide’.

Is there collision damage?

As could be seen in the photos we received in advance, the hull seemed to have suffered from a collision. Some parts of the hull were carelessly painted over, and no one knew exactly what was underneath. Iñaki had a thickness measuring device with him, with which he first examined the entire hull for its thickness. The thickness of the aluminum shell was around 8mm, which is absolutely fine.

Iñaki testing the thickness of the aluminium sailboat Viribus Unitis
Iñaki working his magic on the hull between the two keel fins

A spacious deck

As expected, Viribus was easily accessible on the deck. Without any obstacles, the cockpit was spacious, very deep and thus protected against waves. All the important lines could be operated with just a few hand movements. The current owners have also built a beautiful helm by hand.

Leaking windows

The only drawback (of which we were immediately made aware of) were the leaky and damaged windows of the beautiful Aluminium sailboat, especially the ones of the deck saloon. These had to be replaced.

Looking good…

As expected, the interior of Viribus made a great impression. The three cabins were very cozy and spacious. Everywhere in the ship there was plenty of storage space, which is extremely important on long sailing journeys. Everything was in good condition and the owners had put a lot of good work into the ship.

A galley renovation is due

Only the galley needed a major renovation. It was rather designed for quiet day trips instead of large, irregular waves on the world’s oceans. If the ship moved unexpectedly, you could fly in all directions through the salon. The galley was installed in a corner and there was no way to support yourself in the back.

Refrigerators and/or freezers?

In addition, a classic refrigerator was installed instead of (a) freezer(s). This is more a waste of energy than anything else. The cold air ‘falls’ out of the refrigerator each time it is opened.

Gimbaled ovens – a must on offshore boats!

The gas cooker also had to be upgraded. Instead of being mounted on a gimbal, it was fixed into a countertop. When considering hot water, oil and other ingredients being used in a kitchen on a sailboat the same as anywhere else, a gimbaled oven installed aftwartships only has advantages. The owner of the ship can use the oven safely, because it can compensate for the heel of the ship in this suspension. In our opinion, having a cooker in a fixed position is not only impractical, but even potentially dangerous, regardless of where you navigate. We have often observed this on sailboats situated in the Mediterranean.

Comparing (the) different galley layouts

A gimbaled stove, compensating for the heeling of the boatPhoto © chefonaboat

Compare the galley of our Milagros with the one on Viribus Unitis, and you’ll know what we mean when we say that we would have to rebuilt the galley:

The U-shaped galley of Milagros: top-opening freezers, gimbaled oven, and protection against movements of the boats in almost all directions
The galley of Viribus Unitis: set in a corner, classic fridge, oven fixed into a countertop

Have we found a bargain Aluminium sailboat?

Long story short: except for the galley, we were very impressed with Viribus Unitis and saw a lot more positives than negatives. It quickly became clear that we would go into price negotiations. Should we agree with the owners, a second visit would be forthcoming. Together with a marine surveyor we could once again thoroughly check Viribus Unitis.

The days in Italy were long but still passed quickly – presumably because of the great Italian cuisine, among other things. We were already on the long drive back to Switzerland. During the journey, we were busy making plans for what we would do with Viribus Unitis, should she one day belong to us.

Pati, do you know where our sailing adventures will take us?

Sailboat purchase procedures

The preliminary contract

With our buying motivation started the usual procedures for purchasing a boat:
The first step was to set up a preliminary contract as an offer, which the owners of Viribus Unitis had to accept in advance so that as a second step, a survey of the vessel could be carried out. All findings from the inspection would be assessed and used in the price negotiation. Defects could either lead to a price reduction or the owners could fix them before the sale.

Looking for a marine surveyor

As soon as the owners had accepted the offer, we received the rights of advanced sale and an inspection date could be set. This required a lot of coordination, since not only an inspector with free capacities had to be found, but also the owners of Viribus as well as we wanted to be present. With such an inspection, which often takes 1-2 days, you get to know a ship very well. Since “normal” marine surveyors are often generalists, you may also want to call in an expert for the rigging and a mechanic for the engine as well, both of which, of course, ideally have to be available on the same day.

No sooner said than done. As soon as we arrived at home we started preparations for the second visit.

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