Thursday, March 8, 2012

Serenity or the Millenium Falcon?: How to Choose a Sailboat for You (Part 2)

When I left off, I had described some of the decision points in choosing a Cal 28 as my first liveaboard. A 28 foot boat is not everyone's cup of tea, but was a great platform for me to learn about this livestyle, to test the waters in a practical and financially feasible way, and to just get out there.

Fast forward to 2007. The SeaWitch was on the hard in Florida, gutted out and undergoing a significant refit (I'll share how we sank her in another post. The story is too good to be true). My wife and I had relocated to the island of Guam for work. My wife happened upon a classified ad for a 1978 Tartan 37 going up for sealed bid auction on the naval base. I took the chance to survey her and submitted a bid for $6000. Most people, rightly, would have turned away at first sight. She had sat on a mooring buoy for the last ten years neglected. The marina just wanted her gone. Little did they expect a hustling lieutenant would win the bid and ask to keep her in the same marina. Ha!

Underneath the grime and reef growing beneath her, this boat was great. Here's what caught my attention:
1) Proven circumnavigator. Two times in fact. With a deep lead keel (7 foot draft), she was made for bluewater travel. And the brand reputation was strong. My survey showed all the major components were in good shape structurally. I had a significant amount of equipment I could bring over to outfit her. While the SeaWitch's anchors were undersized, the cabin stuff wouldn't be. A stove is a stove.

2) Size: At 37 feet, she is probably nowadays considered a "small cruiser", but she didn't feel like it. Just the right amount of space for store kit for long periods of travel, easy access to goods for convenient living aboard, and for me, head room. A full six feet throughout. The layout was also pleasurable to be in. I had a comfy quarter berth to myself for singlehanding, the V-berth was comfortable at anchor for us as a couple. There was a great navigation station which could double as an office. The settee was roomy enough for socializing, but small enough for safety. And the cockpit proved the perfect size for friends.

3) Circumstance: No one knew the pedigree of the Perkins engine, as it hadn't been turned over, and the starting circuit was out. I was OK with this, as my plan was to power her with my Yamaha 9.9 long-shaft dropped from a special bracket. Later, I wanted to convert to electric propulsion. The boat needed sweat equity, but I had two years while stationed on the island to put that in.

So in this case, I feel like I found a diamond in the rough. A great quality boat at the fraction of the price. Most were selling at $50K stateside. What conclusions could we draw from this?

- It pays to troll the classifieds. I see plenty of great boats come up on Craigslist all the time. It's a matter of being ready when the opportunity strikes. That's how I got my current boat for free!

- If you are going to pay a small price, there's probably a reason. Refits cost money and time. More time than anything. But, you have a necessary period of learning all of the boat's inner workings and systems in an intimate way as you go through these processes.

- Be prepared for skepticism. No one believed I'd actually complete the work I outlined. Every weekend at the marina was one of passer's by stopping to say how unrealistic the plan was. While my plan changed, I did get her out of the marina and spent one of the best spring's of my life cruising Micronesia.

- Sometimes its simply fate. We still question how we came to make this decision, and I feel there is a big "chance" factor in here. We were in the right place, right time, right offer, and boom, we had a big boat. Sometimes though, you jump on a deal and immediately something "better" comes up. This "new" find is cheaper, better condition, has a better feature, etc. It's hard to not have buyer's remorse, but I think the most important thing any boat owner can do is make sure you love her before you purchase, then be a good husband or wife and make the marriage last! There will always be other boats, there will always be that latest great feature. Remember Capt. Mal Reynolds: Love keeps her afloat...or in the air, but you understand.

Be happy with what you have; contentment is a hard fought, but worthy, state to be in.

Since I've got lots of topics on my mind, and wish I had tons of content here, my next post will be about something more practical. More to come, and thank you for reading!