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Monday, June 2, 2014

The Sanity in Trading an Appreciating Asset for a Depreciating Asset; or Be Careful What You Ask For; or Boat Shopping With Dummies

In moving from dreaming the dream to actually living the dream, the process was a little sketchy.  I think we thought/hoped we would sell the house and like magic, the right boat would be waiting for us, and as we stepped on board a chorus of celestial beings would let us know "this is the one."  For those of you who have been through this process you are thinking, "yea, fat chance" but what did we know; let me tell you, we learned and are continuing to learn quickly.

Moving out of the house was more difficult than I had anticipated.  No, no, there was no nostalgic reminiscing or tears at leaving our home of 26 years full of good and not so good memories.  No, difficult in the sense that even though we had an estate sale, garage sale, gave a truckload to one charity and four carloads to other charities we still had a mountain of stuff/ crap.  We had dragged our heels on all of this not because we were lazy, well not too lazy, but because we have been to this opera before and in our case the ending was tragic with the deal of the house falling through, so we took a skeptical, wait-and-see attitude; big mistake.  The result of that plan put us working from 0630 Wednesday straight through to 0830 Thursday morning with closing at 0930 that same morning.  Around 0030, we had filled the 5x10-storage unit.  By 0445, both of the dumpsters were full as was every inch of each car save the driver's seat and we were stacking items in our neighbor's driveway and on their porch.  Somewhere between the time the storage was full and the dumpsters had a fly's-ass worth of room in them we discovered a closet we had forgotten, full of stuff we put in there to be sure to take.  Oh did I mention, I had a fever and stuff was coming out of both ends of me all day and into the night.  I was beginning to think God was telling me something.  Well somehow, we made it to the closing, signed the papers and later that afternoon we had more money in the bank than ever in or lives.  The plan (I know, man plans God laughs) was to stay at the neighbors (the ones with all our stuff in their driveway) that night and leave for my brothers in Aubrey TX the next day.  Well after the closing and I made a trip to the UPS Store to return our UVerse stuff and the credit union I went back to my neighbors and passed out until 1900hrs. That evening Jo came in at some time and lay down but I am not sure.  The next day we spent emptying most of the storage unit and reorganizing it, gaining enough space that all that would not fit could go in Jo's car and mine would hold what we were taking boat shopping.  So now its Saturday morning and we head to my brothers, get there in time to see my nephew graduate from University of North Texas and headed out Sunday for Florida via a crappy Best Western Hotel in Mississippi and an even worse Comfort Inn in Tallahassee; life on the road.   Three days later, we were in Lauderdale By The Sea at the Horizon Hotel with money in our bank account and a whole lot of good intentions.  We had a list of boats we thought we wanted to see and were eager to go. 

We crossed in to Florida along I-20 and stopped at the visitor's center.  I took opportunity to call our broker with whom we had been visiting for the past several years about different boats. All along, our plan was to identify catamarans that 1) we could afford (read as: not new) and 2) had enough headroom for my 6'6" lumbering frame to fit in without too many head scars.  I have determined that sailors, by in large, are not tall people since finding adequate headroom meant going bigger (i.e. longer and wider) and older in our hunt for our floating home.  We had taken every opportunity we could fit into the budget to either charter or at least step on board every catamaran in our price range we could during this process, and while frustrating to our broker, it did help us decide what not to look at. You may or may not be aware that our home port, Lubbock Texas, is not a place where you would find too many boats to examine; in fact there are exactly 0, and while you would think the Texas Coast would allow more boat-looking opportunities when it came to catamarans we ended up seeing 1 catamaran there and she was new (read unaffordable) so didn't really count.  NOW, had we wanted a monohull (I explained the difference back in one of my earlier blog entries) you would have still zero in Lubbock, but many on the Texas Coast.  I had actually broached the subject of looking at monohulls, and we stepped on a few at boat shows but it was a non-starter for Jo.  All the cats were either down in St. Martin's, Tortola in the BVIs, or in Southern Florida.  Since we could drive to Florida we headed there first with passports in hand, ready to fly off to St. Somewhere if need be and that brings me back to the visitor's center and a phone call to our broker.  The person we have always been working with is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge, truly one of the most fascinating people I have ever met, he is also one of the busiest people I have ever met between owning one of the most notable catamaran brokerages in the world and developing a line of cruising catamarans.  Our phone call reached him right as he was about to leave for St. Martin's and other stops in the islands and then off to Philly and then off to… well you get the idea but he was determined to get us a boat to fit us.  Therefore, I emailed him the list of boats we had found online and he arranged for his senior broker in Ft. Lauderdale to show us some boats, problem being that this broker (who we very much enjoy working with and are still currently working with) was in town; he had the morning of one day available.  This turned out to be a whole day but still not a lot of time. Working with a Broker has it pluses and minuses, but since this was the first time for us to buy a boat that didn't fit on a trailer and would have to sustain us in a fluid environment it made total sense for us.
    
Now if you equate selling a boat to selling a house you would be correct in many aspects of the process with two distinctly different aspects.  First, in real estate you often hear the mantra: location, location, location, with boats the same is true but with a different twist on the adage.  When most people look at houses they look in neighborhoods they want to be in whether for schools, nightlife, prestige, etc.  Boats, on the other hand might be spread all over the place located at the dock in someone's backyard who might not even be the owner, out of the water sitting on the hard behind locked gates, on the hook (anchor) out in the middle of a bay or lake, there aren’t any "boat lots."  We went from downtown Ft. Lauderdale, to Boca Raton, to Key Largo, to Jacksonville, to White Stone VA to our "locations."  The other big difference is that while most houses for sale have lock boxes with keys in them getting into boats involves a different set of showing instructions with each one that might even involve being met at a dock and taken out to the boat in a dinghy. We also spent a lot of time on each boat crawling around and looking at everything knowing that getting a second look would be time consuming and maybe not even possible.  We would spend on average two hours on something 44 feet long.  You take so much time because you are buying a home that is designed to take you where you were not designed to go, the open ocean, and could, if not seaworthy, kill you in the extreme.  We arrived at the first boat, a Lagoon 440, priced suspiciously low for this model and after just a short while on board we discovered why.  Now water and sailing go hand-in-hand in sailing but the goal is to keep the water out of the boat or else bad things tend to happen from, let's say, sinking, to, as in this case, mold and dry-rot.   Even our broker was amazed at how bad of shape this boat was in, we still examined every inch but moved on.  We moved on from there to see a Grainger 47, a semi-custom boat that was amazingly big but had spartan sleeping accommodations and was 100k over our budget (he wouldn't be a broker if he didn't show us something we couldn't afford.)  Even though it was way out of our price range, we spent more than an hour on her filling out our spreadsheets.  Yes the spreadsheets.  We both follow an online newsletter and Face Book page entitled The Boat Galley, one of the articles chronicled the author of the sites' purchase of their new to them Gemini Catamaran.  They shared their as well as another sailors' check list for shopping so we used their 2 to create our own and filled one out on every boat.  Three pages on everything we thought we should look at, examine, measure, and record.  Helpful to Jo in keeping all the boats from mashing up together , and to make sure we actually took note of each thing we had thought was important, not just assumed we noticed it.  Web site listings often give apples-to-oranges descriptions and , surprisingly, leave out all the unappetizing stuff.  From the Grainger it was off to Boca to see a Leopard 42 that was on the hook in Boca Lake. We wanted to see her more for how we might fit on her than as a purchase since she had not been imported into the U.S. and hence was not for sale to U.S. citizens in U.S. waters.  OK so here's another difference from real-estate, boats might be flagged (registered) in other countries and each country has its own rules as to what procedures, import duty, and taxes are required to sell a boat to someone in another country.  You can re-flag a boat if all the proper duties are paid and regulations are met.  This Leopard was flagged in the BVIs, owned by a French citizen with a Bahamian wife, and sitting in Boca Raton FL in the US of A.  All of that aside, the boat was lovely, well cared for by someone who knew and appreciated boats.  While Jo and I were poking around, our broker and the Leopard's owner were conversing in rapid fire French and even though Jo and I had listened to part of a Pilsner method tape on basic French we had no clue as to what was being said.  His Leopard was anchored out in Boca Lake so it was a dingy ride out and back but it was nice to be on the water.  Except for the fact that the boat was overpriced and not for sale to a US Citizen, I might be writing this from the cockpit of our Leopard in Boca Lake.  After a quick lunch, it was off to what we had hoped would be the best for last, a Fountaine Pajot Bahia 46 rare owners version.  What's an "owner's version?"  Good question!  Many if not most production cats are built for the charter trade in exotic parts of the world.  Their average use is a week long charter 9-10 months out of the year, crewed with either a professional captain and crew, or bare boat where the charterer serves as captain.  They are mostly owned by private owners who, in exchange for a Charter Company such as The Moorings chartering out their vessel to cover the costs of ownership,  get to use it several weeks a year and at the end of the contract can either sell the boat or take over the full use and costs.  The difference in charter versions and owner's versions comes in the sleeping and head a.k.a. bathroom (head)/shower accommodations. With a charter version, the emphasis is on how many paying people you can get on board so they have at a minimum 4 cabins, 2 in each hull, each with a small head/shower combination.  An owner's version will have one hull (side) dedicated to the owner with a separate shower stall and head, spacious berth (bed) and often a couch or office area.  The other hull would be set up like the charter version to accommodate guests.  So an owners version is the more sought after in the used boat market and what we ideally wanted.  We had first seen a Bahia in Key Largo on one of our "will Fred fit" trips.  She was being repaired and updated by a French Ex-Pat who had the skills and a passion for working on boats.  His was a four-cabin version designed for the charter trade and represented some sacrifices on our part but she was long, sleek, and most of the systems from rigging to engines were new.  We spent part of two days looking at her but in the end when he was ready to sell her, our house had not sold, and she was quickly sold.  Back to present day.  So it as with some excitement and anticipation that we headed through the condo security gate where she laid to board this Bahia.  OK, I admit that last sentence sounded like it was from a cheap romance novel but in a way, there is that kind of anticipation.  However, like I suspect is true with internet dating, the picture did not match the reality. Not that the pictures of the Bahia were doctored, they weren't even pictures of THAT Bahia!  They were taken from one for sale down in St. Martin.  But it was closing time in the bar (country song metaphor) so we decided to take a look anyway.
 
As it turned out, she was a 4 cabin version converted to a 3 cabin version, sort-of.  She had an industrial sized transformer to convert the originally wired 220v to 120v and a battery bank big enough for a small ship in the Navy.  There was also evidence of structural damage and I couldn't stand up in the shower, and…we woke up the next morning and realized we needed to be choosier around closing time.  It was now after 1700hrs in non-metaphor land, our broker need to go deliver an offer to a client, and we were deflated and needed a drink. 
  
We went back to the hotel to regroup.  There was still the Leopard 45 in Key Largo we were scheduled to see on Friday, and we were waiting to hear back from our original brokers' assistant.  As I turned out there was a music festival in Key Largo that weekend so I went on line and grabbed the only overpriced room I could afford but only for Thursday night, I need to mention the room was pre-paid, un- refundable, but we were going to see the Leopard on Friday so ery'-tin-cool.  We finally heard back from the assistant to our original broker after many attempts both by me and the broker we were working with to text and call him only to find out the Leopard was under contract and not available to be viewed, but we had a pre-paid hotel room so off to Key Largo off  we went.  When we were last there, the French Ex-Pat turned us on to a bar / restaurant along one of the docks named Sharkeys.  So at least we could go to Sharkeys, drink too much beer and have very fresh fish and shrimp, which is what we did.   We also thought this would be a good time to regroup and spend time on the internet researching boats in the Caribbean.  Well the hotel had wifi, it just didn't work in our room, so that plan was shot too but there was Sharkeys.  On the road back to Ft. Lauderdale, we had no boat, no prospects for a boat, and no place to stay.  We called our broker and arranged to meet for breakfast Saturday morning to develop a plan of action.  We also booked a room in a nice hotel with excellent wifi and went to work.  Digging deeper I found a custom-built boat located in Ft. Lauderdale that I wanted more information about.  We also looked for boats in the Caribbean and Bahamas and were ready to do some flying, but there was that custom boat in Lauderdale…  After meeting for breakfast Saturday morning in a funky restaurant called The Floridian complete with a Cuban waiter who had the energy of a Chihuahua on speed we developed a plan.  We would try to see the custom boat on Sunday, Monday at the latest, then Jo and I would head for White Stone VA via Jacksonville FL to see boats in both locations.  Then we would come back to FL, find a long-term rental within 100 miles of Ft. Lauderdale and settle in for the hunt.  But first, the custom boat.  Sunday came and went, Monday came and before it went we heard from our broker that the boat would not be available for showings and even though a week later it is still listed as for sale, the owners do not want to sell after all; well crap!  At least we got time at the beach and pool and attended a lovely church service at an Episcopal church in Ft. Lauderdale.  We were reassessing everything, boats, plans, our sanity, and budget.

Maybe now is a good time to talk about budget.  While it is said, that BOAT really stands for:  "Break Out Another Thousand" or is defined as a "hole in the water in which you throw money" that’s selling it short.  If budget is a concern (as it is since I have still not hit the lotto) then that becomes a limiting factor.  We, mostly Jo, were determined to enter this chapter of our life debt-free so financing was not an option if even possible since we now had no collateral on land like a house and the boat you are buying is not considered collateral.  We had the equity out of our house with savings set aside for the expenses associated with finding, surveying, and refitting the boat. Now while $260,000 (our budget) sounds like a lot of money, in the world of blue-water catamarans it was fairly small change and there appeared to be a lot of us boat paupers out there shopping.  Now if we had wanted a monohull the budget would have allowed us to buy close to a new boat but as I have discussed in previous entries a catamaran was what we wanted/needed.   As Captain Ralph was fond of saying, with a boat there are three factors: speed, comfort, and price, the catch is you only get two of the three.  For us, that meant if the driving one was price then if we went for speed all we could afford was a boat not meant for ocean cruising, well at least comfortably, or comfort, and of course we are going for comfort, but we don't get speed.

Back to the hunt!  We took off for White Stone VA where we planned to see a boat no longer in production that has as many critics as fans but was highly recommend (the brand not necessarily this boat) by someone I respect and whom I will hire and his wife to help Jo and I acclimate to the lifestyle and learn all the systems on whichever vessel we end up with.  Before White Stone, a stop in Jacksonville was on the agenda to have a look at a 47-foot Nautitech, a performance catamaran at a decent price so what was wrong with her.  We have learned (again) that is the first question you should ask yourself: if the price is that good there is something they are not telling you in the ad.   To be fair, the Nautitech was not in as bad a shape as the first boat we saw, the Lagoon 440, but she represented a lot more work than we wanted to do and besides when the engine throttles are attached to the hull with duct tape that to me is not a good sign so back on the road we went and made it over the state line into Georgia.  Now for all their "wackiness" in Georgia, at least I-95, were some of the best roads we had traveled on to this point.  The next morning we flew through Georgia, went through South Carolina bypassing the infamous 'South of the Border', and ended up on the North Carolina / Virginia border.  A side note if you will.  It continues to amaze me that I can drive all day and still be in Texas but eight hours on the road in the east and I can make it through three states and on the border of another, and, the further north I go the faster I can fly through states if not for the constant traffic.

That evening in North Carolina, we finally got viewing instructions for the cat in White Stone, a Dean 440 Espace.  I needed to call the listing broker and he would meet us at the boat that was located on a dock located in the back yard of the owner who was off at his other home in Colorado.  I don't have one home and this guy has two and a boat; damn lotto!  The next morning I punched the address in White Stone into the GPS and we were off to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.  Now our broker told us that he had clients last year who looked at this boat and she was too much work to get her into cruising condition for them and they eventually bought a Dean 3 years newer and 60-70k more expensive.   There is a real consideration to be had between buying all you can afford and maybe a little more but having to do less work on the vessel in order to live out your dream and buying what could be referred to as a "project-boat."  In workshops on buying multihulls, the presenters often encourage those in attendance to consider a newer and smaller boat in that fits in the budget and represents less work.  That thought has been present in the back of my head throughout this process so it is with some trepidation that I approach this "project" boat.  It should also be said that, to us, living the dream was more important than waiting for the dreamboat.  We met the selling broker whose office was in Deltaville VA about 30 minutes away and spent all the time he had looking around.  He was very straightforward with us about the history of the boat and some of the known issues as well as his experience on smaller Dean Cats off the Cape of Storms (Cape of Good Hope) from his native South Africa where the Dean was built.  First off, she did not look like other cats.  Her mast was raked aft (back) 7 degrees instead of straight up-and-down and while most cats have a large forward trampoline area, which is nice for lying out on or sleeping but really is to reduce weight, the Dean had a mostly solid foredeck with small tramps.  As I was asking the broker questions Jo gave me the "thumbs-up" which made me nervous.  While Jo tends to focus on the positive aspects of the boat, you know I found everything I thought was wrong but she was the best we had seen, well the best we had seen for sale to U.S. Citizens in U.S. Waters.
 
One night while on the drive up north I began looking at boats for sale by owner and found a Leopard 43 located in Northern Maryland / Southern MD.  I contacted the owner and the plan was to go from the Dean to the Leopard then head back south for personal business in Manteo NC and then a visit with Jo's stepsister in Mebane NC and a chance to once again unwind with some back porch sitting and wine drinking.   As we headed to Maryland, we kept talking about the Dean and the possible possibilities she represented.  So we pulled over, texted the listing broker and arranged to see her the next morning, did a U-turn and headed back to the White Stone area to find a place for the night.  Over a dinner that night of fine Chesapeake shellfish and Yuengling beer, we made a list of pros and cons.  The next morning we met the Dean's broker for the second time at the boat knowing his time was limited so we were as efficient as we could be.  We looked at things like rearranging the berths to make a semi-island berth for the owner.  We rooted around more in the cabinets looking for mold and more signs of abuse.  We took pictures of all the "problem" spots so we could send them off to our broker.    But the biggest issue I had with the boat was the lack of holding tanks.  I am now going to discuss the ever important but not dinner table subject of dealing with human waste.  There are few things more disgusting than a clogged toilet and because of that, sailors are very temperamental when it comes to what goes in the toilet.  My rule is, if it didn't go in you, it doesn't go in the head.  This means unless you are in the habit of ingesting any and all forms of paper or personal hygiene products you are asked to discard them in the wastebasket provided.    Agreed, that left unattended things might get a little ripe so we try not to let that happen.  The other subject not for the table is what happens to what does go into the head.  In most of the world solid and liquid waste is pumped directly overboard; this is why I don't run the water maker or swim if the anchorage is full of boats.  However, in this country and many U.S. Territories the dumping of waste either via the head or by direct deposit is illegal.  Waste must go in something called a holding tank that, hopefully, is designed to hold it safely and odor free until it is pumped out.   My RV-ing friends know all about that.  If one of the many state or national organizations  who are charged with enforcing the rules catches you not conforming to this rule within 3 miles of the U.S. coast line they will be happy to issue you a healthy fine.  The Dean was built in South Africa and as such did not come with holding tanks.  The current owner met the letter of the law by installing one 8-gallon holding tank that services only one of the 3 heads.  Unbelievably, that single dilemma on this boat kept me up most of the night trying to figure out a work around.  Really, 8-gallons, one high fiber meal and you need a pump out.  We really didn't want to spend our days in U.S. waters either holding it in, which at our age isn't an option, or plan our cruise from holding tank to holding tank.  I was ready to walk away but Jo and our broker was sure we could find a fix; remember, Break-Out-Another-Thousand!


Let's talk about falling in love.  Now some (idiots) out there believe in love at first sight.  I will give you lust at first sight but love, well that's something deeper more meaningful, it takes time to grow and fester, I mean flower.  This particular boat, for me, wasn't lust and wasn't love, but there was something that was intriguing, something that kept us going back and discussing possibilities; we were falling in-like.  We never did go see the Leopard and just when we thought this might be the one, a new temptress appeared in my Gmail inbox, a sleek Leopard 43, 6-years newer and with all the bells and whistles, however, like a temptress to a middle-aged man her costs were too high and even if we stretched every penny she was out of or league, well bank balance.  We took the weekend to think about it, said the final goodbye to a wife of a dear friend and headed for respite in the hills of North Carolina.  Monday was Memorial Day and even though our broker's main office was closed, we knew he would be working, so we called him and instructed him to make an offer on a 2002 Dean 440 Espace.  The owner was in his other home in Colorado Springs so a lot of electronic back and forth and tense as well as heated moments ensued over the next few days but as of this moment, we are sitting in Deltaville VA, waiting for a survey (like a home inspection but more detailed and on and off the water) and if all goes well, by early July we should be sitting in a boat yard adding holding tanks getting ready to splash the, then, newly christened s/v Lizards On Ice.  So stay tuned for the next chapter of this exciting tale of insanity.

A Few Pictures of Jabulo soon to be renamed Lizards on Ice; why you ask, well what is more out of their element that a couple of Lizards on Ice!

Dean 440 Espace 

Dean 440 Espace Port View

The Admiral The Spreadsheet and tape measure 

The Navigation Station so we don't get too lost

The Pointy Thing a.k.a. the Mast 

A Proper Gally

The Front End or as we call it the Bow

The Back End or the Stern



1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful saga! It needs to be published in some cruising journal for others too faint of heart to go your route. The plumbing thing is most interesting. As an RV person, I totally understand the problem. But I'm thinking the solution on your craft will be most interesting. Seems like a tank of any size would mean the head would have to flush uphill - a pump of some kind. Then when unloading, does the boat do the pumping or does the land hose? I'm guessing a second pump would be needed to offload. So two pumps and some serious plumbing in a narrow difficult space, that's already beautifully finished. If done when it was built, I'd think they'd just partition off a piece of lower hull.
    As with so many things, it's a matter of scale, isn't it? As Jody winds down her last week of school, I busy myself with gearing up for our summer motorcycle-camping trip with piles of gear and lists of more. No spreadsheets needed just yet! When someone asks how long we'll be gone, and I say 7 weeks or so, they are amazed. You guys are setting out for 10 years!
    I've found Deltaville on the VA map. We'll be in the Williamsburg area for a few days near the end of the month, we can exchange numbers by email if you like. I didn't notice AC in the specs. I guess it takes too much power and you probably don't need it where you plan to go. I've got to get my outside stuff done early today because it's to hit 101 or 102 today. Wow, it's 79 in Deltaville already. . .only 75 here. We're going to be hot on this trip until we get north of NYC.
    Break a leg with the survey! Hope it's all good news. . . .Don

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