The Legend of Plumbelly



This, my friends, is a small boat with a very large reputation. The reason I’m blogging about her right now is that she happens to be for sale. Unfortunately, I’m getting a bit long in the tooth, but for a certain sort of sailor–you must be young, footloose, and maybe just a little bit crazy–this represents the opportunity of a lifetime.

I first met Plumbelly many years ago while passing through Bermuda, and the sight of her lying against the wall at Ordinance Island stopped me dead in my tracks. This is not an unusual reaction. I don’t know if mere photography can convey just how charismatic this little vessel is, but if ever you see her in the flesh–and flesh is indeed the word for it, as there is nothing plastic about her–you will at once be lost in mad fantasies of micro-gaffer ocean voyaging.

 Her owner at the time was a young man from Maine named Daniel Bennett. He was a busy fellow, a boatwright and carpenter, and the mere fact of his being Plumbelly‘s owner somehow meant that Bermuda’s rather strict rules regarding the employment of foreigners didn’t really apply to him. He had places to go, people to see, jobs to do, and we didn’t get to talk much. All he really told me then was that his boat had been built many years ago on a beach in Bequia. And this small bit of information, needless to say, only helped burn the image of Plumbelly deeper into my consciousness.

The next time I met the boat was in the fall of 2004, when I saw her tied up alongside the dock at the Atlantic Challenge Foundation in Rockland, Maine, where I then kept my dinghy. Standing beside her was her new owner, another young carpenter named Patrick DiLalla. We both had a little time on our hands, thus were able to talk at length. Patrick was palpably nervous, but also quite excited. He had owned the boat less than a year and was about to take her offshore, by himself, for the first time on a passage from Maine to Bermuda. He had only been offshore once before in his life, when he sailed as crew aboard a Seguin 44 in the Marblehead-Halifax Race the year before.

By now I had some sense of Plumbelly‘s pedigree and notoriety. Two years earlier, while interviewing Reid Stowe for a story in SAIL, he and I had discussed the early stages of his ocean sailing career and he immediately cited Plumbelly as a major influence. He met both her and her original owner, a young German cruiser named Klaus Alvermann, in the early 1970s in New Zealand.

Reid at the time was living aboard a tiny plywood cruising boat named Vlaag with that boat’s owner and creator, Ivo van Laake. Both Ivo and Klaus had sailed to New Zealand aboard their respective micro-cruisers by way of Tahiti, where they spent time hanging out with Bernard Moitessier, who had just completed his legendary one-and-a-half non-stop circuits of the planet aboard Joshua, after blowing off what seemed to be a certain victory in the epic Golden Globe Race. If you study Moitessier’s account of his voyage, The Long Way, you’ll note both Ivo and Klaus are referenced. Klaus is the one who first uses a flare gun to try and execute the rat pestering the small community of cruisers lying stern to at Papeete, but then later concludes it might be best to feed the rodent instead. Ivo appears in the appendix, where the self-steering gear he designed for Vlaag is described in some detail. It so happens that the self-steering vane that still graces Plumbelly‘s transom today was originally built by Klaus under Moitessier’s tutelage during those salad days in Papeete.

As for Plumbelly herself, Klaus did indeed build her on a beach in Bequia during the mid-1960s. He had help from a local boatwright named Loren Dewar, but he eyeballed the design himself, without plans, and fashioned all the wood that went into her by hand without power tools. She was named Plumbelly because she looked a bit rotund to the boatbuilding pundits who roamed the Bequian beaches in those days. She was launched on December 21, 1965, with the help a few of Klaus’s local friends.

After cruising Plumbelly up and down the W’Indies for a while, Klaus headed west for the Panama Canal and the Pacific Ocean beyond it in December 1968. This was the beginning of two complete circumnavigations that he sailed during the 20 years he owned her.

What Plumbelly did for Reid Stowe was inspire him to build a boat of his own. He in fact built not one, but two–the first was a diminutive Wharram catamaran called Tantra that he sailed across the Atlantic and back with Ivo van Laake as crew; the second is the huge 70-foot schooner Anne he is currently sailing solo in his 1,000 Days at Sea Mars Ocean Odyssey. There is no way of telling how many others Plumbelly may have inspired over the years, no way of knowing how many feats of nautical impudence the sight of her may have prompted.

The next time I saw Patrick was in Bermuda, not long after he finished his first passage aboard his new boat. He had not had an easy time of it. He sailed out of Rockland on a Sunday in mid-October, took three and a half days to reach the Gulf Stream, where he got clobbered by a strong nor’easter. “It was like hitting a tree stump when you’re skiing in powder,” he told me. The boat was knocked down twice in one night, then again the morning after, and Patrick was reduced to bailing madly by hand, as his bilge pump got jammed with debris. But he had faith in Plumbelly: “I told myself as long as I don’t fall off, everything will be alright.”

In all it took Patrick 10 days to reach Bermuda, including one full day he spent hove to. The boat’s staysail traveler got a bit mangled, her masthead light was lost, a spinnaker pole got busted, and one jib was shredded. Other than that, Plumbelly was in great shape.

Aside from the ordeal of sailing there in the first place (as Mark Twain once put it: “Bermuda is heaven, but you must go through hell to get there.”), what most struck Patrick about his voyage was how he was received upon his arrival. “Everyone here knows and loves this boat,” he told me. “I was becalmed just outside the entrance to the harbor, and they immediately sent the pilot boat out to tow me in. Then there were 20 people standing at the dock shouting as we tied up: ‘Plumbelly! Hey, Plumbelly!'”

Among others who took a special interest in Patrick because of the boat he was sailing was my good friend Philip Anderson (known to many on the island as Phoopa), who has followed Plumbelly‘s several arrivals and departures from Bermuda over the years.

“You don’t choose a boat like Plumbelly,” Philip told me. “She chooses you, and I think Patrick is a very worthy successor to Daniel. In fact, he’s done better. The first time Daniel came in here he had a broken boom, a broken gaff, and a broken bowsprit and it took him over two months to make repairs.”

In the few years that followed Patrick and Plumbelly went missing for a while from the New England-Caribbean cruising circuit, and when I passed through Bermuda in the fall of 2008, Philip remarked on this. “I am a little worried,” he confided to me. “We haven’t seen Plumbelly here in a long time.”

But she was fine, of course. As I found out last spring, when I once again bumped into Patrick in St. Georges, it turned out Plumbelly had lured the lad across the Atlantic and back. For Patrick these were his first and second transatlantic passages, but for Plumbelly they were transat numbers 27 and 28. Again, as when he first appeared aboard her in Bermuda in 2004, Patrick found that where ever he went–in the Azores, in Portugal, Morocco, the Canary Islands, and even in the remote Casamance region of Senegal in West Africa–people recognized his boat.

This past fall at the Newport boat show I ran into yet another fan of Plumbelly‘s, author Richard Dey, who is, among other things, an unofficial historian of the West Indies yachting scene. He believes Plumbelly is the first Bequia-built boat to have sailed around the world and knows for a fact she was one of the first boats to transit the Suez Canal when it reopened in 1975 after the Yom Kippur war. He has shared with me an account (published in 1980 by the Slocum Society in Volume XXIV of their journal The Spray) he wrote of Klaus Alvermann’s life and his voyages aboard the boat. In it I find that Plumbelly‘s fastest passage under her creator’s command was “one fantastic week” in which she covered 1,120 miles in seven days, or an average of 160 miles a day, which is phenomenal for a heavy boat (5 tons, reputedly) with a waterline length of just 22 feet. Plumbelly‘s “greatest test,” according to Dey’s account, came in December 1971 when the boat was rolled by a freak wave about 100 miles north of New Zealand while Klaus was sleeping below:


Klaus heard a terrible noise, he says, “and then the boat suddenly didn’t go anymore.” With all her gear thrown on top of him he couldn’t get up and had to wait until she came back again–“It took 15 seconds, I counted them, and they were a long 15 seconds.”

On deck he saw he hadn’t lost anything, “only the staysail was not there anymore.” She had shipped “maybe a bucketful of water.” Klaus says he doesn’t forget “how, as I was lying there, she righted herself and went on going all by herself.”


In other words, the boat is very strong, which is not true of most traditional Bequia-built boats. They were built for inter-island commerce and were expected to last only a few years. Plumbelly was conceived from the keel up as a bulletproof bluewater boat. Her construction is very heavy, with a heavy pine deck and topsides, 2.5-inch cedar frames on 11-inch centers, and silver balli (a Guyanese hardwood) below the waterline. All hull planking is at least one inch thick.  Her interior is small, with just sitting headroom; her auxiliary powerplant is an 8-hp outboard motor; her head is a bucket, and her water tanks consists six 5-gallon jerry jugs. For serious voyagers only! Comfort fiends need not apply.


LOA (with bowsprit and rudder): 29’9″

LOD: 25’9″

LWL: 22’0″

Beam: 8’9″

Draft: 4’6″

Sail area: N/A

Displacement: Approx. 5 tons


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34 Responses
  1. susan meller

    I met Klaus Alvermann and Plumbelly 44 years ago in the Galapagos Islands.
    Nice to see that she’s still cruising.
    What about Klaus?

    1. steve

      I met Ivo in Lahaina in 1972 when he came in from Tahiti in Vlaag. Heard stories of his sailing and would like to see how accurate they are.

  2. Hello Susan! Thanks for the comment. I don’t know about Klaus and what became of him. If you send me a message via the Contact Charles button below I can send you an e-mail address for someone who might. Cheers!

    1. My cousin, Greg “Tux” Tuxworth, introduced me to Klaus in the early seventies on the island of Bequia. From my research, I found that he died in Germany while living with his sister many years later. I was unable to discover the cause or the exact date, but I am sure it was the same Klaus Alvermann that I had briefly known. He also designed and built a house on Beguia in the shape of a conch shell that reportedly was impervious to hurricanes. He was a hell of an architect.

  3. Charlie Doane

    In response to Mark below: Follow the link at the top on the words “for sale” and you will see she is indeed still available. Looks like the price has dropped quite a bit, too! Go for it, guy!

  4. Alison Welch

    My boyfriend/partner Chris and I have just become the newest owners of Plumbelly. I went to Maine with him to see her and to finalize the deal. Due to work commitments we were unable to bring her home to Nova Scotia ourselves and are now waiting out Hurricane Irene for Pat to bring her here. We managed to get out on her for one evening sail in Rockland Harbour and she is as wonderful as I thought she would be. I can say that Chris is most suited to step into the line up of deserving seaman to take the helm of this soul-filled vessel. He will sail her as much as she can take as he one to really make use of his boats…she won’t spend more than a few hours tied up unless he is off at work. We hope to bring her home to Bequia for her 50th in 2015! It is a new chapter for Plumbelly and for Chris and I…I hope we spend many many memorable days aboard her.

    1. Seth Rosner

      OMG! I’ve just reread my ost and see that it has an incorrect telephone number – correct # 518-587-4802. As and when you see this, please do call.

  5. Charlie

    Response to Alexis below: Hi! I recommend you get in touch with Richard Dey, referenced in the post up there. He may well know what Klaus is up to now. You should be able to contact him through his website:

  6. Stewart Dewer

    This article brings back many memories to me! My dad built this boat and I spent many hours helping my dad to build her. I have a photograph (B&W) of her with just frames. Glad to hear she is still around.

  7. susan meller

    Richard Dey informed me that sadly Klaus died of cancer in 2009. He was living with his aunt in Hamburg.
    But Plumbelly cruises on…

  8. I so enjoyed my six years sailing on Plumbelly, and my friendship with Klaus. It was a further delight to have her continue in my life as Pat kept returning to Rockland, Maine, where I now live. I hear that she is again for sale (sail?) in Nova Scotia, listed on Craig’s list. I am planning to put together an article on her this winter, as I finally have some time to do such a thing. Nice to find all you fellow lovers of the boat, she taught me much.

  9. phoopa

    who ever will be the new owners of plumbelly one thing you need to know, she knows the lane to bermuda. Never lose faith in her, but be mentely and body ready. Sailing plumbelly WILL make you a real sailor if you not already.When you arrive in Bermuda drop anker close to custom and the town will know plumbelly is back in town. plumbelly got friends in bermuda

  10. miroo

    Hallo Klaus,

    viele Jahre vergingen .., denoch kann ich unsere Begegnungen in Frangipany, Bequia, wirklich nicht vergessen!
    Es ist mir nach wie vor – eine au

  11. Christopher Poisson

    I live in Ft. Lauderdale and have a 13-foot Bequia two bow built by Loran Dewer about 1977. He was building two boats from the same set of rib forms. The sister to my boat was reportedly sold to a museum in the states…or at least that is the story I heard. Stewart Dewer – feel free to contact me if you have info on the second boat. Thanks. Chris Poisson

  12. mike blom

    I have an old march 1985 copy of sailor magazine with an article about Klaus and Plum Belly. Kept it as a bit of inspiration. If the current owners would like it or a copy it would be fitting.

  13. Charlie

    @mike blom: This is a note for you I received from the son of Loren Dewar:

    Dear Mike,
    I am not the owner of Plumbelly, but the son of the shipwright who built her. I would very much like to read that article and wonder whether it would be possible to e-mail me a copy.
    Many thanks in anticipation.
    stewart Dewer

  14. Seth

    Charlie and Mike, not possible that the son of Loren Dewar built this boat. Plumbelly was built by Klaus Alverman. I know because I met him on the beach in Port Elizabeth on Bequia in February 1966. He was a friend of my friend and client, the writer Clifford Irving and his wife Edith. Klaus was living aboard Plumbelly, anchored in the bay and I halloed him. He rowed in to the beach, then rowed me out to Plumbelly where we had a tot of rum. He told me exactly how he had designed and built her himself right there on the beach. Next day we sailed over to St Vincent for a brief visit, then back to Bequia where I had taken a room upstairs in the little shop in town. I have a photograph I took of Klaus in the bar of that shop.

  15. Charlie

    @Seth: I don’t think anyone is claiming that Stewart built the boat. The story is that his dad Loren helped Klaus build the boat. I respectfully submit that Klaus telling you that he built the boat (while drinking rum, no less) does not rule out the possibility of Loren’s having also played a role.

  16. Dennis Gleason

    I didn’t know Klaus. Never met him, but when I arrived on Bequia in 1976, on board a Swan ’48 named “Content 3,” for a twenty-one day stay, I heard plenty about him. The skipper of Content was my cousin, Greg Tuxworth, who was a truly gifted, world class sailor in his own right and he knew Klaus very well. The legendary stories of Klaus were shared daily over generous shots of Rum at the Frangipani bar, which Klaus had designed and built. One of the stories was, that Klaus had built an unusual house somewhere on Beguia that was designed like a conch shell and could withstand any type of hurricane force winds. I understand that Klaus died in Hamburg, Germany in 2009. What a shame. I would have loved to have hoisted a few glasses of Mt. Gay Rum at the Frangipani and listened to his tales of life, love and sailing his beloved boat, “Plumbelly,” around the world.

  17. Joe FEDER

    Hello, does anyone knows what became of Klaus? I am making a film doc on the West Indies vessels and would like to tell the story of Plumbelly.

    I met Plumbelly in Djibouti ( red sea) in 1974. Klaus had just come across the Indian ocean and found a job as an architect in town to replenish the ships kitty. Klaus sold the boat to may be Dan, and started getting involved in Horses in the US. later, in 1997 the lady who ran the Frangipani in Bequia told me that Klaus was back in Germany and as playing with his computer Quote/unquote…. I had his Email address, send him many messages, never received an answer.

  18. Seth

    @Charlie – five years later and how time flies! You were of course right. Klaus did not build Plumbelly without help from Bequians who, afer all, know something about boar-building as Bequia was once a center of boat-building for whales.

    I was truly sorry to read that Klaus had passed. What a life story!

    Wonder if Plumbelly is available today. I’ve been dreaming about a Hinckley Bermuda 40 that’s on offer on the West Coast. Plumbelly would be a different kind of dream!

  19. Ian Hancock

    I remember Klaus on Plumbelly and Ivo Laake on Vlaage in Auckland NZ in the early ’70s, and Ivo and another cruiser did their laundry at my flat. Unfortunately they also decided to use it to tie-dye a spinnaker. My land lady was VERY unimpressed! I heard that Ivo disappeared at sea somewhere along the way.

  20. Bob rocco

    I purchasesd the vlaag from ivo in ’72 Lahaina for
    $1500 was an amazing first boat for me . I didnt know anything but learned alot in 3 years then sold to steve Auga man
    From there its unknown
    Ivo had sailed from berkley to Nz stayed a year backtracked to maui via tahiti where he stayed next to motisier then left to maui with Maya
    Meeting ivo was like another worldly experience amazing boat too dry bilge plywood 19′ 650# cast iron keel bernard wrote about the wind vane steering ivo made from scrapes m

  21. Bob rocco

    Ivo had revamped the vlaag from dereliction in berkley then sailed 9000 miles ending on maui’72 19′ no standing headroom very well balanced and dry
    was built in okazaki boat yard #4 of the kingfisher design marine ply no glass dry bilge
    Kenichi Horie sailed the same design in ’62 japan-San Fran
    The book is Koduku

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