My best friend Bob decided he was ready to become a boat owner and go cruising. NOW! Upon hearing this news, I was simultaneously elated and afraid…very afraid. Bob isn’t the best candidate for boat ownership. He will be the first to tell you that he is not mechanical. In fact, the term “handy” doesn’t even come close. To be totally honest, Bob is a Luddite.
Anyone who has ever owned a sailboat, or has cruised their sailboat knows that you have to know something about just about everything in order to have a safe and enjoyable voyage. It’s just possible that Bob will prove us all wrong.
Since he’s crewed all over the planet, I knew that Bob had decent sailing skills, but a cruiser needs to have more than just sailing skills. A cruiser needs to be able to trouble-shoot engine problems like smoke appearing in the salon or overheating. A cruiser must be able to manage energy usage and batteries, and even alternative energy production via the wind generator or solar panels. Cruisers have to make sure that every single system from sails and rigging to heads flushing are working in peak form or suffer the consequences. Would Bob be able to learn all these systems in time? Would he want to?
It was a question that would have to take a back seat because Bob called late one night from Northern California to tell me that he had found “The” boat in San Diego and was thinking about buying it and leaving along with the Baja Ha Ha Cruisers Rally like the next day!
“Whoa!” I told him. “You haven’t even seen this boat!”
“But it’s an Ericsson and it’s only $3000!” said Bob.
The ugly truth is that Bob wanted to find a boat for under $5000 and it had to be “ready to go!” Bob really believed that he could find this boat. He told me that he had done his homework. He had looked in old issues of Latitude 38 Magazine and had been checking CraigsList and saw that boats were being listed at one third the price that they had been selling for just three years ago. The time was right for Bob to find his first boat.
I admit, I was skeptical at first. I started looking on the “other coast”, on CraigsList, and anywhere small older boats were listed. He asked me to look at one right next door to where we had first had our little boat, in Fort Lauderdale’s Sailboat Bend. The owner had advertised the Catalina 27 “in great shape!” (Yeah, if you’re a 14 year-old boy with no parental supervision!). I took my husband along, a working Captain and my very own “Mr. FixIt.” Jann was the sole reason we were able to cruise for five years on a 40 yr old sailboat.
Once onboard, I could barely stand being below deck. Even with the portable air conditioner going full time, it was so musty that I ended up with a asthma attack and I don’t have asthma. It wasn’t even close to “ready to go” cruising.
Meanwhile, Bob- out on Left Coast -was so convinced that he could find his boat that he was signing up crew! It was time to have a serious talk. Just for good measure, I put Jann on the phone. Jann expressed his concern for Bob and explained how much trouble he could get into sailing down the Baja coast. We had done the same trip twice. Once with the Ha Ha, as crew and once in our boat. Bob just wasn’t ready and it was too risky a trip to take in a boat that you had just bought. Jann explained how much safer it would be to sail Biscayne Bay, The Keys and then, once he was feeling confident, perhaps the jump the Gulf Stream and cruise the Bahamas. (In hind sight, it was the right move as a boat was actually sunk by whales this past week as the Ha Ha fleet headed south in Mexican waters).
That did the trick. Bob thanked us for our concern and agreed. He would get together a list of boats to see and fly to Florida. His crew flew across the country too, still hoping that he would find the perfect little boat.
The Search: Miami’s Underworld
What transpired next was surely a life lesson as well as my mantra: “If you put it out there into the Universe, you will indeed get it!”
We looked at more Catalina’s, a couple of Morgan’s and entertained a Dufour up in Fort Pierce. Almost all of them were over Bob’s $5000 budget, but none were “ready to go.” A friend of a friend had a “great little Morgan 28.9 with new interior.” We drove down to look. He was helping buddies bring in rented Hobies on the south side of Rickenbacker from newbies that couldn’t yet figure out how to sail them into the wind. The seller (as I will kindly refer to him) offered to take us out to where it was anchored in Marine Stadium.
“How?” I asked.
“No problem! We could swim out to that sailboat anchored out there,” he said, pointing to a little boat about 500 yards offshore, “and sail over to it.”
“Well, I don’t really want to get wet,” I replied.
“No worries, I’ll paddle you out. I can tow you in my dinghy,” he said.
And so he did. He put his fiberglass dinghy in the water. We all climbed in while he attached a line to his surfboard. Then he climbed on and paddled us out to his sailboat. The little boat wasn’t in very good shape but he put up the mainsail, started the outboard and off we sailed, under the causeway and over to his other boat in Marine Stadium.
It was a nice little sail but the boat wasn’t worth all the effort. It needed too much work and for some reason, the guy selling it thought that it was actually worth the $7000 price tag! Good luck with that. The Seller motored us over to the fuel dock and we walked back to the car.
We looked at a ’72 Catalina 27. It was anchored out just off the Miami Yacht Club and was a liveaboard boat though it had sails. “Currently used as a efficiency (sic) on the water but likes to go sailing,” the CraigsList ad read. “Needs a little TLC.” Bob liked it but Jann didn’t. Returning to the dock in a neighbor’s dinghy, he told Bob that it was a definite “No!”
“The mast is bent,” said Jann.
Finding ‘Plan B’
Finally, we all drove back north to see the little 1969 Morgan 27. It wasn’t anything like the newer (1977) models. It was pre-Out island, spacious and in much better condition that all the others for sale. This owner had taken very good care of her and had recently repowered the boat and bought new sails to make her sail (and sale) ready. This boat was indeed “ready to go.”
There was only one problem. The price tag: $8000.
Ouch! “I gotta spend what?”
It was “Come to Jesus” time for dear Bob. He new that the seller had to meet him half way between what he could spend ($7000) and what the seller wanted ($8000). After monopolizing this sweet man’s time for two days, Bob was ready to make a decision. And it was a BIG decision! It would turn out to be the most money Bob had every spent in one day or one month, the truth be told. Bob is officially the most miserly man on the planet. You would think that by age 46, he would have improved, but some things never change. But not only did Bob buy the best little boat in a bad economy, but Bob also got everything he would need to set off on his cruise in record time. He just had to provision, buy some diesel and go! Amazing!
For $7400, Bob got a really great old boat with a new engine, new sails, all the cruising gear, including a wind generator, charcoal grill, tons of tools, spares, even a GPS! Adding a fiberglass dinghy and oars that he bought from a good friend of mine for $250 and a BoatU.S. towing insurance package ($150), an inflatable kayak (hey, everyone needs a boat toy!) ($100) and provisions ($150), Bob and crew sailed away for under $10 Grand.
Now they are headed south, for the Keys, the Bahamas and possibly as far as the DR!
For all of you out there who think that sailing and cruising are a rich man’s sport – well, there’s hope!
And to all of you who are trying to sell your boats, Get Real! Take a look at what others are selling in the same price range and be willing to negotiate. And get your boat ready to sell. Don’t show it in poor condition unless you’re ready to hold onto it for some time.
Finally, please post photos because no one will bother calling (Please, please don’t forget your phone number), unless you post photos!
I hope that my next boat buying experience goes as smoothly as his. The time is almost here.