I was sailing down the inner channel of Marina del Rey under a beautiful red sunset when Nills, one of the crew members on my boat, pointed out an unusual and unique-looking 40-foot gaff-rigged wooden cutter tied to the end of a dock. Its classic appearance was a stark contrast to the modern fiberglass boats that dominated the marina. She was clearly a vessel from a different era, with a softly curved sheer line, high white topsides, a traditionally laid teak deck and pristinely varnished wooden spars.
“See that there? My friend Alejandro owns that boat,” Nills said. “Her name is Bequia, and she used to belong to Bob Dylan.”
I had no idea that Bob Dylan was interested in boats, and besides that, I’m a wooden-boat builder, so I had to get a closer look at this beauty. Nills gave me Alejandro Bugacov’s phone number, and a week later, I was sitting in the boat’s salon eating lunch with him while hearing about how she came to be.
Bequia, originally named Just Now, was built in 1976 by California native Chris Bowman on the Caribbean island of Bequia, under a canopy of almond trees on a beach. Despite the fact that Bowman had limited knowledge about wooden boat construction and had never built a boat before, Bequia was extremely well-made. At the time, Bowman was 25 years old, relatively new to the Caribbean scene, and learning how to be a charter boat captain. Not a person with a large ego, Bowman was able to push away any feelings of intimidation and apprehension, and surround himself with a team of excellent local shipwrights.
To start the project, Bowman first developed the architectural lines, which he based on a 32-foot sloop by Sam Crocker, a Boston-based naval architect who designed more than 300 vessels, mostly during the first half of the 20th century.
Bowman relied heavily on the boatbuilding experience of his shipwrights and chose to finalize his design without performing the traditional stability calculations that would normally be executed by a naval architect. He did, however, keep by his side Howard Chapelle’s book Yacht Designing and Planning, which he referenced often.
The construction of Bequia began in 1976. Bowman secured the large greenheart timber needed for the keel and lead ballast; it was salvaged from a decaying, beached English schooner. The hull was built using wood cut from local trees, and silverballi from Guyana. The 60-foot-tall mast was made from wood that had once belonged to a schooner that wrecked near the island of Bequia. While his crew carved the large, heavy frames and planked the hull, Bowman—with the help of his father, who was back in California—sourced the deck fittings and hardware for the rigging from marine hardware stores in southern California and a salvage shop on St. Barts.
After completing the construction of Bequia, Bowman flew home in winter 1977 to visit his parents. While catching up with a childhood friend in Los Angeles, he was introduced to Bob Gilbert, the builder of Bob Dylan’s home in Malibu. Impressed by Bowman’s story of building a boat in the Caribbean, Gilbert proposed that Bowman design and construct a 65-foot schooner that would be called Water Pearl. This new boat would belong to a partnership made up of Gilbert, Dylan and Bowman.
But before Water Pearl was completed, Gilbert left the partnership and traded his equity in the schooner for Bowman’s Bequia. Gilbert then had the boat shipped to Los Angeles, where he improved her spartan interior and modified some of her deck arrangements—replacing the tiller with a wheel, for instance.
After completing Water Pearl in 1980, Bowman, his wife and their daughter moved on board and began promoting the boat for day charters when Dylan was not using her. The partnership worked well. Dylan never had to worry about the management or operation of the boat, and when his busy tour schedule allowed, he could fly down to explore the Caribbean islands with Bowman. For Bowman, cash was solid and a special friendship with Dylan was formed. Water Pearl worked as a charter boat throughout the Caribbean until she sank in 1988 near the Panama Canal after striking a reef.
Some years later, Gilbert, who knew of Dylan’s love for the sea, was looking to change boats and persuaded the musician to buy Bequia. Sadly, without Bowman around, Dylan was less motivated to go sailing. After eight years of ownership, Dylan sold Bequia to Angel and Steve Lopez.
Years later, Angel—an avid Star-Class racer—invited Alejandro Bugacov, another Star-Class racer, out on Bequia for the annual Los Angeles One More Time Regatta. No stranger to wooden boats, Bugacov became smitten with Bequia.
“I didn’t know much of her history at that time, but I was sure I should have her,” he said. “I saw in her the potential of being a cool boat, one to take to Catalina, to do daysails with friends. I thought that her really large teak deck area and comfortable cockpit would make her a nice place to be while at anchor.”
Four years later, in 2016, Bequia was for sale. Bugacov, along with his boat partner Scott Sullivan, purchased her. According to the marine survey and inspection, cosmetically, the boat was in rough shape. However, she was in excellent structural condition.
Originally from Argentina, Bugacov grew up in Rosario, a city located 170 miles northwest of Buenos Aires on the western bank of the
Paraná River. Encouraged by his father, he started sailing when he was 8 years old on a plywood Opti. Soon after, his father bought a Petrel sailboat with cotton sails before upgrading to a Grumete, a 24-foot wooden sailboat designed by Germán Frers Sr. Bugacov came to America to study physics and is now a computer scientist at the University of Southern California.
Eager to return Bequia to glory, Bugacov and Sullivan first hauled her to be repainted. They hired the yard to paint the bottom but did the topsides themselves. Initially, a local shipwright helped with some of the woodwork, but Bugacov and Sullivan quickly stepped in, learning how to do most of it themselves. They did hire a woodworker to help repair elements of the mast, and a friend (the late Doug Steele) helped tackle several engineering tasks.
“You always want to make the boat better,” Bugacov said. “My ambition is to preserve her as much as possible and make sure she is always ready to sail.”
For Bugacov, Bequia is more than just a stewardship or passion project. She allows him to share his love of sailing with his four daughters, all of whom live in Los Angeles. The oldest, Helena, was on the University of California Berkeley sailing team. His youngest, 11-year-old Alexandra, is an Opti racer who has competed in regattas in New York, Oregon and Italy. Bugacov himself raced in the Star Worlds in Marblehead, Massachusetts.
Bequia, he says, is perfect for family weekend excursions to Catalina. Her heavy displacement and full hull ensure that the 30-mile sail to Isthmus Cove from Marina del Rey is smooth and comfortable. If the wind is fair, he prefers to sail around the island’s northern tip to enjoy the pristine, uninhabited windward side. Going the extra distance takes an additional 90 minutes, he said, but it’s worth it for the experience of mooring in picturesque Cat Harbor.
Bugacov tries to sail Bequia at least once every other weekend. The pandemic put the family’s racing plans on hold for the past two years, but Bugacov and his daughters plan on getting their race crew back together so they can hoist the topsail and set the spinnaker in next summer’s classic yacht regattas. He also hopes to sail Bequia to the reclusive Channel Islands one day.
This article was originally published in the February 2023 issue of our sister magazine Soundings.