Older? Smaller? OK!

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The photos of Helen Marie accompaying this article are by Richard During, a boating friend of the Lehmanns and a professional photographer.

New boats are glamorous and catch everyone’s attention. Just check out any major boat show.

I’m always ready to kick off my shoes and spend quality time inspecting the latest from the major manufacturers. But, for me, the attention-getters at the last couple shows were the fleets of quality used boats—and their price tags. Clearly, the secondary market still reflects the state of the nation’s economy.

This prompted hours of musing about quality older boats I have known and admired that are available for a fraction of the cost of a new boat. It’s been a strictly intellectual exercise; I’ve owned my 42 Grand Banks for 21 years and have no plans to replace her with any other craft, new or used.

I’ve embarked on this nostalgia trip several times, and one sparkling little boat always comes to mind first.

We met Lee and Rosey Lehmann and their 34-foot, 1976-model DeFever Passagemaker at the Echo Bay Resort (now known as Pierre’s Echo Bay Lodge & Marina) in British Columbia about three years ago. It was love at first sight for me, and, as it turns out, it also had been for the Lehmanns. Helen Marie is a grand boat.

Friends of the Lehmanns first bought the DeFever in 1990 and called her Wanderer IV. She was in “poor condition,” and Lee helped them update and improve the boat and install a new 135hp Perkins 6.354 diesel engine. In 1994, Lee and Rosey spent weeks on board as guests of their friends, first in Southeast Alaska and later in southern British Columbia and the waters of Washington State.

“During that time, we had great weather and fishing and fell in love with Alaska and the little DeFever trawler,” Lee stated in an article he wrote for DeFever Cruisers, an owners’ group.


Lee and Rosey bought the boat from their friends in 1995. The “new” Perkins now has 6,300 hours on the clock. The Lehmanns spend three or four months aboard the boat each year, cruising north through British Columbia and on to Alaska “when we can get there,” Lee says.

“The decision to take over the Helen Marie was an easy one,” he adds. “It is not often that one is able to buy a boat on which you have had an opportunity to specify and install a lot of the equipment. We have never been disappointed we made the choice.”

Thousands of boats bear the DeFever name, but none was built by Art DeFever, the San Diego designer whose work with heavy, ocean-going fishing boats in the 1950s influenced his yacht designs. The 34 Passagemaker and a 40-foot tri-cabin sistership were built by Jensen Marine in Costa Mesa, California. Other yachts bearing the DeFever name first were launched by builders in Mexico and Taiwan, and DeFever-labeled boats now also are built in China.

Helen Marie is a sedan-style boat with an upper deck that extends over the aft and side decks. Some builders would describe her as being a Europa-style boat, but DeFever and Jensen didn’t use that designation on this vessel.

Guests sleep on a convertible settee in the saloon, but, honestly, the 34 Passagemaker is a couple’s boat. The Lehmanns have cruised with guests, but Rosey emphasizes “they have to be pretty good friends.” And, she adds, “Two weeks is about the limit.”

Lee’s sister occasionally becomes a welcome third member of the crew. “She’s good company,” Rosey says.

The helm is to starboard in the saloon, opposite the galley. A V-berth stateroom and the head are forward. She has a flybridge with helm and space to park an inflatable dinghy.

The Passagemaker has a round-bottomed displacement hull, with a deep keel. Her beam is 12 feet 3 inches, and her draft is 3 feet 4 inches. Typical of DeFever designs, she has a raked stem and flared bow. The Lehmanns like to fish, and Lee is at ease maneuvering the boat around rocks and along kelp beds close to shore, because helm controls are easily reached from the side deck.

“You can cruise to Alaska in a smaller boat,” Lee says. “There are two open-ocean crossings and other spots that can get very rough at times. We try to watch the weather carefully…

“Although the little 34 DeFever has a round bottom and will roll in a beam sea, we have never felt unsafe on her.”

Helen Marie normally cruises at 7 knots, burning 2gph. She carries 300 gallons of fuel in two tanks, giving her long legs. The boat has a 3kW Onan generator that is seldom used; she has propane galley appliances, and a 100-amp alternator on the main engine will recharge the bank of golf cart batteries.

Jensen built 24 of the small Passagemakers; Helen Marie is the 23rd. So, one may show up on the market occasionally.


Helen Marie is just one example of the cruising opportunities offered by older, quality boats, from Albin to Willard. The Willard 40 is an exceptional displacement cruising yacht built in California by a company known for heavy-duty military craft. Unfortunately, not many were built, because the Willard yard usually was crowded with vessels needed for national defense.

I’m not talking about grand classic yachts designed by famous naval architects, museum pieces best run occasionally to boat shows. I’m endorsing older production models that still have a lot of cruising potential to offer owners.

The market is full of quality oldies. As the owner of an old Grand Banks, I know there are many on the market, from woodies to newer fiberglass yachts. Tollycraft built thousands of boats, from small runabouts to 65-footers, in more than three decades of production. The speedy 26 is a hot item for weekend jaunts; a variety of Tollys in the 30–40 size range make fine cruisers.

Internet brokers list thousands of candidate boats. One good source of information, both in print and online, is Volume 2 of PowerBoat Guide. Published by Ed McKnew and Mark Parker, the book tells all about motoryachts and trawlers.

Obviously, many candidate boats will show aging problems and will require work to make them reliable and attractive again—Helen Marie is a good example. A budget for an older boat should include cash for repairs and improvements, and for hiring the best hull and systems surveyors available.

I called the Lehmanns at their home in Kent, Washington, to catch up on their cruising and learned that they soon will move their home—and boat—to the Skyline neighborhood of Anacortes. They’ll be just a few miles from my home, and that means I’ll get to see Helen Marie more often.