While researching motorsailers available for charter, I found an ad for Burma, a 58-footer designed by Richard O. Davis. After contacting her owners, Michael and Debbie McMenemy, I flew to Maine to get a firsthand look at this classic motorsailer.
The boat is located in Brooklin, Maine, a remote stretch of beautiful land bordering the Eggemoggin Reach. Perhaps best known as the home of the renowned Wooden Boat school and magazine and the Brooklin Boat Yard, a custom builder of large wood sailing yachts, it is also home to the Atlantic Boat Company, builders of the Duffy line of Downeast cruisers. Many small boat builders and restorers are found along the pine-lined driveways that lead to the shore. To say that Brooklin is the center of Maine boatbuilding might not be far from wrong.
It is this reputation that brought Michael, Debbie, and Burma here in the first place. Michael, a longtime fan of motorsailers, had come across her as she was offered for sale in Oxford, Maryland, by her second owner, who had quickly tired of the commitment required to maintain a wood vessel of this pedigree.
Burma was designed by Davis and built by the Henry Nevins yard for Frank Bissel, who owned and sailed her for more than 30 years. Michael and Debbie originally purchased the boat on the East Coast and planned to ship her back to California for renovation and to cruise her in the Pacific. After discussing their plans with the surveyor, it was suggested they ship the boat to Maine first for renovation by one of the many wood boat shops in the region. After reviewing a number of boatyards, Michael chose Billings Marine, located in nearby Stonington, Maine. He hired Maynard Bray to supervise the project.
Both Michael and Debbie fell in love with the area. Since then they have kept Burma on a mooring in Brooklin and have spent the last 21 summers living aboard, cruising, chartering, and maintaining this remarkable boat. My wife, Sue, and I met the couple at the dock on a beautiful day. They suggested an overnight trip aboard Burma.
We left the mooring in Benjamin River and headed east to Blue Hill Bay. The wind was light to moderate, and the seas were almost nonexistent. Due to the calm conditions, we were not able to gain any benefit from the use of the jib and loose-footed main, so they remained under cover. Michael said he uses the sails mainly during offshore passages, where the seas are larger and the courses longer. He deploys them to reduce rolling and to improve fuel economy.
The boat motored smoothly along under power alone. We cruised quietly at 1450 rpm, making 8.9 knots and using 0.75gph; not bad for a comfortable cruiser displacing 72,000 lb. I measured sound levels throughout the living spaces of the boat. The low readings I recorded ranged from 63 to 70dBA. I think this was a result of the inherent acoustics of a wood boat.
After passing through a series of islands and thousands of colorful lobster pots, we tied up to a can in Galley Bay on the east side of Bartlett Island. The island is privately owned, but two cans are available on a first-come, first-served basis. For the next 24 hours, I felt we had stepped back in time. The pristine shoreline of boulders and pine, coupled with the exquisite interior appointments of a yacht built by hand over 50 years ago, created an experience unparalleled in my lifetime of boating.
Burma's hull design features a unique combination of a double-ended hull and a wineglass transom. She is planked in 1-1/4-inch mahogany on 3/8-inch cedar. She is double planked in the typical Nevins style, using butt seam construction—perfectly fitting planks with no caulking in between. The mahogany planks are set on 2-1/2-by-2-inch sawn oak frames with no. 24 bronze screws. Her decks are 2-1/2-inch teak planks. After 58 years, she is in virtually mint condition.
Her interior, finished in the classic Herreshoff style with semi-gloss white painted surfaces, raised-panel solid wood doors, and highly varnished mahogany, was complemented by traditional lighting fixtures, solid brass hardware, and exquisite fabrics. The McMenemys have left little unattended to in the last 21 years of ownership. "We follow the 80/20 rule of restoration," said Michael. "In the total scheme of restoration costs, that final 20 percent will cost you 80 percent of your total budget."
We spent the afternoon reading, relaxing, and rowing in a beautiful peapod dory that serves as Burma's cruising dinghy. Later in the evening, a full moon framed by the round bronze porthole provided the crowning touch as we wined and dined in the cozy saloon. As I retired in the comfort of a crisp white sheet and a warm wool blanket, I could hear the call of loons and the breathing of dolphins circling the boat.
I awoke early the next morning and quietly stepped into the dory to greet the rising sun. As I rowed about a half mile into the center of the passage, the only intrusion into the silence of nature was the staccato rhythm of an outbound lobster fisherman's diesel engine. I took a course outside the head of Galley Bay, refreshing my rowing skills with gleaming sweeps. The joy of rowing a proper pulling boat is unmatched. I glided by the sun-drenched shore, returning to the bay and toward Burma. There she sat, looking as elegant as a yacht can be.
After breakfast, Michael pointed Burma's bow toward the distinctive peak of Blue Hill. We entered the pretty harbor, dodging the junior fleet of sailors heading out for a day of training and admired the summer cottages interspersed among the rocks of the shoreline. Our abbreviated schedule required that we return to Benjamin River, but Sue and I agreed that a few more days would have been not only desirable, but essential to experiencing everything Burmahas to offer. I could not recommend this cruising experience more enthusiastically, particularly for anyone who is even remotely interested in a motorsailer.
LOA 57' 6"
LWL 47' 6"
DRAFT 6' 3"
DISPLACEMENT 72,000 lb.
MAST HEIGHT 55'
FUEL 530 U.S. gal.
WATER 300 U.S. gal.
HOLDING TANK 40 U.S. gal.
GENERATOR 3.5kW Phasor
ENGINE 671 GM diesel
CRUISE SPEED 8.9 knots
MAXIMUM SPEED 9.4 knots
RANGE AT CRUISE SPEED 1,300nm
DESIGNER R.O. Davis, 1948
BUILDER Henry Nevins & Co., 1950
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Michael and Debbie McMenemy