PRE-LOVED - The Little Mermaid

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MARK ROBERTSON never dreamed he would end-up owning a two-masted sailboat, but after a tip-off and a couple of trips to the US he returned with the Danish-built ketch <I>Sea Mist</I>

PRE-LOVED - The Little Mermaid
PRE-LOVED – The Little Mermaid
When I was a kid I loved watching a TV show called Adventures in Paradise. This popular series featured a guy named Adam Troy as he sailed around tropical waters on his sailboat Tiki. This beautiful, two-masted schooner really put a hook in me. I spent the next number of years dreaming of such a vessel, but without ever thinking that it would be possible to have something like it — at least without a huge price tag and a crew of five to look after it.

Come forward a bunch of years and an old American mate of mine pointed me towards a gaff-rigged Sea Witch ketch that was for sale in the USA. It looked like what I wanted, and was a more friendly size for a family or a couple to sail. So, after a few emails and a phone call or two, I flew to the US to take a look and possibly buy.

Unfortunately, she was very much neglected and I returned home disappointed. I knew that these boats were very rare and the chance of finding another one, or at least finding one in good condition was unlikely. I found a few lookalike boats, which were not as good, and like the first one, they too were well neglected.

A few months later I found another Sea Witch ketch called Sea Mist, and from what I could tell it had been very well looked after. Another visit to the USA found me aboard her and a beautiful day for sailing on this beautiful boat found me in love, and making an offer to purchase.

A very thorough survey revealed a most excellent vessel, and so I committed to buy her at the end of 2008. Of course as luck would have it the GFC hit right between me committing to buy, and when I had to pay for her and the shipping costs — all in US dollars, and at a time when our dollar was falling away.

Buying a 54-year-old wooden boat from the USA is not a simple procedure; there is the physical action of organising a survey, deregistering, removing from the US Coast Guard register, shipping, import procedures etc. But one thing I didn’t count on was how awkward our quarantine people would be.

"Angelman had a love of the old clipper ships, and with that flavour in mind he penned the Sea Witch ketch concept in 1937"

Despite having discussed the proposed import with AQIS (Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service) and their advice that she would have to be fumigated, they saved some news for me until Sea Mist arrived in Melbourne. And that was, at their discretion, they may decide to ultrasound the entire hull or may even decide to burn her. Apparently this is an option they reserve for all wooden vessels over 15 years-old.

After a lot of fast talking and constant calls to different people, they eventually agreed she was in beautiful condition and they would allow me to take her to an independent quarantine station for fumigation (read more expense and double handling). Eventually Sea Mist made it back into the water, the masts were stepped, she was re-rigged and I could relax once again.

A gaff-rigged ketch, Sea Mist was designed by well-known naval architect and shipbuilder Hugh Angelman in California. Angelman had a love of the old clipper ships, and with that flavour in mind he penned the Sea Witch ketch concept in 1937.

Sea Mist was built for a Los Angeles surgeon in 1957. His ancestry was Danish and he believed the Danes were the best shipwrights in the world, so he had her built for him by the Danish shipwright Jansen Ship Yard. She was made from the best materials available, and to exacting standards.

The hull comprises 1-3/8in planks of African mahogany, bronze fastened and beautifully constructed. Sea Mist is traditionally rigged with dead eyes and lanyards, and has a beautiful clipper bow featuring a mermaid figurehead. The figurehead was a gift from the shipwright to the new owner, and so she was christened Lil Havfrue, which is Danish for Little Mermaid.

Lil Havfrue had four owners before me, the third of which changed her name to Sea Mist. As Sea Mist she had a long history of sailing from Los Angeles to Catalina Island each weekend, and did this for about 40 years.

A couple of years ago I was contacted by the son of the shipwright who built her. He somehow tracked me down via Wooden Boat magazine in the USA, and they told him I now owned her and gave him my email address. He explained he had the original blueprints and photos of her under construction and when she was first launched. He suggested they should stay with the current owner, and would I like to have them? On the subject of being original, she still has her original crockery, silverware and fittings, like kerosene navigation lamps, which incidentally have never been lit as she has electric nav lights as well.

Sea Mist has all of the trimmings you would expect from a ship of her calibre. Teak decks, beautiful teak rails, and the most beautiful looking stern. The ships wheel is not original, and in fact came from a retired US Navy warship. It is a real piece of art. In fact the whole boat is a piece of art.

Down below is a high-gloss interior, a mix of African mahogany and contrasting teak, with high-gloss white paint. The sole is holly and teak, and with a folding teak table she has all that you need. A good size refrigerator, gas stove, and 240V shorepower for the charger and Australian power outlets. Sea Mist can sleep seven with fold-out bunks, although the double beds are not huge, and the single bunk in the forepeak is pretty tight and cosy — I guess people were smaller years ago!

Sea Mist is very easy to handle — even with my all-girl crew of wife and two ambivalent daughters. Despite the extra hands, I usually find myself handling all halyards, sheets, and anything else you can imagine. Sometimes it is just easier to do it yourself. With sails set she is a real picture and an eye-catcher as she cuts through the water. We have never sailed without other boats coming from miles around to have a look and comment on her.

Due to intensive travel commitments, I am asking for expressions of interest in Sea Mist’s sale to the next custodian. She is lying the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron, St Kilda. Enquiries and offers can be emailed to


BUILDER: Jansen Boat Yard, Denmark
MATERIAL: African mahogany and teak
TYPE: Gaff-rigged ketch
LENGTH OVERALL: 49 feet (36 feet on deck)
BEAM: 13ft3in
DRAFT: 5ft6in
FUEL: 385lt
WATER: 770lt
ENGINE: Perkins diesel

It goes without saying that Sea Mist is a stunning-looking sailboat. The white-hulled Sea Witch gaff-rigged ketch is Danish-built from a 1937 design based on the lines of a clipper ship, her sweeping arced deckline rising to a bow figurehead and prominent bowsprit. Constructed in mahogany and teak, she is regarded as a piece of art, above and below deck, by her owner, who adds she is easily sailed by a family. A rare find, SeaMist will have you living the dream.

From Trade-a-Boat Issue 424, Mar 2012.

Want more? Check out this beautiful, pre-loved fibreglass cruising yacht.


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