November / December 2019


A home-built charter schooner

Hugh and Julie Covert, along with volunteers, built HURON JEWEL to Hugh’s design over just three years. The Coverts use her to operate a charter business out of Drummond Island, Michigan.

A 60' schooner would be a big project even for a fully staffed boatyard, but HURON JEWEL, launched in 2018, wasn’t built by a professional crew. She was built by designer Hugh Covert and his wife, Julie, assisted by a diverse assortment of volunteers with experience ranging from extensive to non­existent. This summer I had the chance to spend a few days aboard, daysailing around Potagannissing Bay, hoisting and furling sails, ballantining halyards, coiling lines, and even taking the wheel occasionally. Now, sitting in the spacious main saloon with Hugh and Julie after another day of sailing, I have to keep reminding myself that it took them only three summers to build this 60' schooner—less time than it took me to build my 18' beach cruiser.

Hugh doesn’t seem to see anything exceptional about it, though. “Lots of people say, ‘I couldn’t possibly do something like that.’ Sometimes you’re right,” he says. “But you’re definitely right if you have that attitude.” He pauses, looking for a better explanation. “If you’re passionate enough about it, it’ll happen.”

HURON JEWEL is proof of that. For two-and-a-half years, Hugh focused completely on building the schooner, assisted by a number of volunteers who stepped in at various stages. Meanwhile, Julie worked full time, helping with the build during her time off, and handling business details to set up the chartering operation they were planning.

“It was really rewarding to wake up in the morning and say, ‘Honey, we have a schooner to build’—no matter what the weather is,” Julie says. And weather was a factor. HURON JEWEL was built in an unheated boat shed on Drummond Island, just off the eastern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Winters there bring short days, frigid temperatures, and lake-effect snow that can shut down roads and bury houses to the eaves. And Hugh and Julie live in an off-grid island home with no road access.

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