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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Part 12: You Got To Kiss A Few Frogs

Well, I  seem to recall that at the end of the last blog entry we were in Deltaville, VA, had picked a boat, picked a name, had a sailing program sketched out, and were waiting on a survey of the vessel.  Those of you who follow me on face book know what happened next but for the rest of you it can be best summed up with the old saying: Man Plans, God Laughs. Not to be sacrilegious but in this case God laughed His/Her ass off.  The survey was a learning experience to say the least.  We started at 0830 at the boat and by the time we had finished at 1830 we were exhausted, overwhelmed, and facing some serious questions (not to mention near two grand poorer).  We learned about hull blisters, no not one or two but enough to entirely cover the two hulls.  We learned about wet cores and how, left to their own, bad things tend to get worse.  We learned that when an owner knows that his boat is about to be surveyed (he had two weeks' notice) and he fails to commission the water system or fill the water tanks prior to the survey there is probably a reason, such as, one of the tanks leaks and the water pumps don't work.  For my more technically advanced readers who have vessels with an auxiliary engine we confirmed our belief that the raw water intake should have an in-line strainer, and we should not depend on the impeller to do the job.      Other pearls of wisdom learned for our two grand, when you turn on the LPG gas to test the stove and oven and you smell gas, you don’t get to test the stove and oven.  Just because the inventory says something is there or it works, doesn't mean it is either there or it works. Well I could go on but for the sake of your enjoyment and my blood pressure I'll let the above lay the ground work.  I also remember talking about love and lust in the last blog entry, and the idea of being "in like", well at least I meant to.  Yes I know I could go back and read what I wrote but I am feeling bad enough about my decisions so why punish myself any more by reading my dribble.  Whatever the case may be, what I wrote, dreamed I wrote, or wish I wrote, like is not enough, love and lust are critical elements. At the end of the day we were facing a boat who needed a lot more work than we had ever dreamed possible. It was not just the money, in fact, the owner lowered the agreed price another $25,000 giving us the boat for considerably less than we had thought possible, why then am I not writing from the deck of that boat?   Well if I were, it would still be in a boat yard in Deltaville VA waiting for blisters in the fiberglass or gelcoat at the worst, barrier coat and bottom paint at the best to dry, and that is if the leaky water leak discovered could be repaired without removing a head and the port cabin floor.  We had planned on putting $50,000 into the boat above the purchase price but we could easily be looking at $100,000 or more not to mention 3-6 months out of the water in hot and buggy Deltaville; this was not how we envisioned the dream to begin.  We had some decisions to make, first, JABULO, yes or no and second if not that boat, what boat?  We needed to take into consideration our budget and what was available to us at the time.  We needed to judge our tolerance for pain and disappointment and did we want this enough to continue or to just say that we gave it a shot and it wasn’t meant to be, we were meant to be dirt-dwellers (no offence to my land based friends.) 

Well we quickly decided that 'this boat' was not 'THE BOAT', but we were not ready to give up on THE Dream and after a quick look at the postings we knew that if we continued to look in our budget range we could be facing more disappointment so we decided to augment our budget with a little help from our or a bank.  Now this should have been no issue, I mean, we had just paid off a house, have financed several cars, and paid off our credit cards each month but two congress men named Dodd and Frank wrote some legislation that for some reason the do-nothing congress did something and it was made law.  Now I really don't know what all it says, and I am sure it was mostly necessary since there is a law about jailing crooked bankers but the one little part, I am sure an amendment put in there by some senator from some landlocked fly-over state like Nebraska or Kansas (that’s for my friend Mary Houswirth Norman) that forbid U.S. banks from financing liveaboard sailors; you have to live on land, or at least rent something land-based; it apparently does not apply to motor homes otherwise known as landyachts!   So we rented a place on land, we have a lease and we have even stayed there since we signed said lease, so we applied for a little bit to help and although it took about every kind of sworn statement and document we could produce and some we couldn't we got approved…… except there was one more document the bank decided it needed and that was a power bill with our name on it for our new domicile.  We are  sharing the house and the primary resident has all the bills in his/her name so this would mean we needed to cancel service in his/her name set it up in ours, pay the bills - (a 30 day process at best!), and then make the bank happy, maybe.  OK so the bank didn't really need to lend us money for their bottom line, they are getting rich enough without our meager interest; (insert you favorite expletive here _____________________). 

Part of the loan process required us to actually apply for a loan for a specific boat and it needed to be a U.S. flagged vessel, in the U.S., not just U.S. waters but contiguous U.S. states preferred; this made our task more difficult so I picked a boat I had never seen in  Puerto Rico.  Yes I did pass geography and I know PR is an island and not one connected to the lower or is it from down here the upper 48 but it was my big FU moment to the bank.  It turns out there was a boat in the 48, in FL in fact, but I am getting ahead of myself.  We left VA headed back to FL, funny as it seems, I actually missed FL.  Before we left VA, I noticed a Leopard 46 for sale in St. Petersburg FL at a price that put her in our new target range, in fact, it was the lowest priced 46' I had seen so I contacted our broker who contacted the sellers broker and we had a date to see her set, we just had to get from Deltaville VA to St. Pete FL in 2-1/2 days.  All was going well until; in every horror story there is an 'until'.  We had been in crawling traffic on I-95 due to an accident, after an hour we were back up to speed except the Jetta would mysteriously lose power and then regain power without losing rpm's.    Hello Mr. Google!  Mr. Google directed me to Johnson & Johnson Import Repairs near Durham NC so in we limped and after one afternoon and part of the next morning we were back on the road.  We never came up with a definitive diagnosis but the best guess was a gummed-up throttle body.  If that was it or not it worked until later in the story.  Now we were behind on our quest for the next boat so we did a very long 600+ miles to get within striking distance of St. Pete's and the Leopard 46 by our arranged time.  Our broker had called the owners' broker and knew someone else wanted to buy the boat but there was no contract so we met with owner who showed us around his boat and told us his and his families story.  After a good 90 minutes or so we had crawled around everywhere and I fit everywhere and it appeared to be the perfect boat.  As we were about to board the owners' dingy to head back to the boat he, the owner, informed us that there was indeed a contract on the vessel.  I said "written signed paper?"  He said "yes."  Remember the broker said "NO." To add insult to injury the sky opened up shortly after that with one of the ever present squalls that dominate the FL coast in the summer.  We found a rest/bar with wifi (I am finding the search for wifi as important as the search for clean diesel, water, or cheep rum)  and contracted our broker who was not happy at the sellers broker but we decided to put in an offer on this 46 just in case the other one fell through; at least we would be in line.  During that time it became necessary for one of us to get back home to Lubbock ASAP after spending an afternoon helping our broker move a boat from the marina it was being worked on to its home marina; at least it was some relaxing time on the water, a treat we hadn't had in a long, long time.  The next morning I dropped Jo off at the Tampa Airport and I headed to Lauderdale via Alligator Alley to look at a boat our broker and my wife had no intention of me buying but it was the right price and I wanted to look at another boat, besides it gave me a chance to have breakfast at The Floridian in Lauderdale with our favorite waiter, the Chihuahua on speed.  I had also planned on flying to Puerto Rico to look at the boat we had used for financing purposes with the very real intentions of making an offer as a back-up to our back-up on the Leopard 46.  The PR boat was represented by the same broker group as the first 46, the one without a contract that had a contract, yup, those guys.  Well surprise, surprise, there was a contract on the PR boat too this time so I headed driving by myself the 1700 miles to Lubbock. 

The trip to Lubbock was a good break and it allowed us to get E settled in a new home with a new provider, a move that has proven to be a godsend.  It gave us the chance to help daughter #2 through some difficulties and allowed a visit to my dad in Colorado and Jo's family in Houston since we had a rental property there.  Of course just because we were geographically as far away from boats as we could get almost didn't mean we would stop looking.  While there the Leopard 46 in St. Pete went to the first contract so we had nothing lined up, but there was this boat in Grenada West Indies that was U.S. flagged so we made an offer.  This boat was listed by one of the other agents from the same firm as our broker so he had more of a history on the boat than we might have gotten had it not.  On paper the boat looked like a good opportunity and in reality might have been.  The "might have been" part had to do with delamination and water intrusion in the vessel that had been fixed.  OK for those you who don’t know the term delamination, it is important.  You see when most modern boats are built out of fiberglass (FRP) not wood.  There is an outer and inner layer FRP with a core of some other material.  Some of the newer more expensive boats use foams, some carbon fiber, but a good number use end-grain balsa that is often resin infused, which is light and surprisingly strong.  The outer and inner layer of FRP and the core material are then sucked together (vacuum bagging) to create the hull, deck, bulkheads, etc. forming a laminated surface but when that bond breaks down, usually form poor workmanship or water intrusion (like physically breaking through one of the outer layers) you get delamination.  However it happened, the boat in Grenada had suffered some kind of delamination which led to water from the outside getting into the inside.  OK, on the surface (or in this case below the surface) this sounds like a pretty big deal and it is, but, if repaired correctly it can be overcome.  It is the 'repaired correctly' part  that needs to be verified.  We made an offer with a deadline to respond.  The owners (who live in Boston, just saying) waited until after the deadline to counter, now the game was on.  When this all began the vessel was on the hard, i.e. out of the water, and EVERYONE knew from the contract provisions that we were willing  to pay extra to have a hull survey done once we came to an agreement on the price to verify that the intrusion was properly repaired and there was no more wet core material.  Now if I were that owner, I would have done that myself and made it available to anyone interested in my boat but as I may have mentioned, they were from Boston, just saying!  I had contacted a surveyor and his partner who had done the insurance survey on the damage.  Even though the results of the survey are the property of the person paying for the survey there is some public information and that gave us some more information.  Negotiations drug on but while we were in Houston I got a call from my broker that we were within $5,000 in price but for reasons no one could explain, the boat in question had been put back in the water, splashed as it is called, making it impossible to survey the hull without it being hauled back out of the water then set on the hard long enough for it to completely dry out again (4-7 days.)  Of course the owner said this was scheduled and since we had not reached an agreement he went ahead and authorized the boat being put back in the water and no he would not pay to have it re-hauled out or stored on land.  By this point Jo and I had become fairly paranoid when it comes to boat peoples' actions, especially owners and this was just a little too, too coincidental and our broker agreed but wanted us to not over react; yeah me overreact, HA!  Well after a good bit of back and forth we decided to submit our final offer that included the stipulation the owner haul out the boat back out and leave it on the hard no less than 7 days at which time it could have a hull survey and only if that was positive would I fly to Grenada for a pre-purchase survey and sea trials.  Our deadline for Boston Boy came and went again so we decided to move on.  Besides, there were no flights available in or out of Grenada for all of August, and no ferry to the island, not that there are that many during any other months but between Carnival and Med Students returning to school every seat was taken.   The up-side of this is we may have avoided a disastrous boat, another JABULO, the down-side of this is we may have missed out on a wonderful boat is a perfect location.  Given all the facts in play we decided to pass this one by though and continue our search.  I have to agree with my former neighbor, I never thought it would be this hard to buy a boat!

We had to formulate a plan, this meant a making a list with options, numbers; circles and arrows and diagrams on the back…..  The plan we decided on was to pack a couple of bags and fly to the Virgin Islands and not come back without boat papers!  I did some research, came up with a list of boats in the British Virgin Islands and looked at flight and hotels.  Our desire was to just stay in the BVIs but as with Grenada our trip coincided with their two week long version of Carnival that celebrates Emancipation and of course all hotels were booked.  There was also a tropical system that was in its beginning stages off the coast of Africa.  So, change of plans, fly to St. Thomas in the USVI, stay there until we can get a hotel in the BVIs and search via the ferry for boats.  We found a condo online to rent for 11 days and things were falling into place.  I remember as a kid flying on an airplane, it was magical.  You got dressed up, people were nice to you, and gave you food and even though you were flying in something relatively "new" technology you were excited and couldn't wait for the adventure.  Have any of you flown recently?  Well if you haven't let me tell you times have changed.  I hate to fly, not that I am scared of crashing or my luggage being lost (well maybe a little of the luggage thing) but because the "event" that has become flying has so devolved into being one step above cattle herding except you pay for the privilege of being abused.  Last time I checked, paying another person to abuse and humiliate you was against the law except in Amsterdam and Nevada.  It begins with the Chinese menu that is purchasing your ticket.  You know, one for column (a) you have baggage well that will be $$ and one from column (b) you want an aisle seat, well that will be $$$-per leg of your trip; well you get the idea.  I made basic reservations on an American based Airlines  that would be three legs to get us from Lubbock to St Thomas.  For my "basic" ticket I got my selection of this middle seat or that middle seat so I started my "upgrades."  Not being what one might call petite, an aisle seat is most desired and since what is good for the goose… I was not going to leave my bride stuck in the middle.  So that was anywhere from $58-$62 a leg for two non-middle seats so column (a) just cost between $174 - $186.  You are going to be gone how long?  You need to take clothes with you, well have we got a deal (add-on) for you here in column (b).  At least the airline we were flying didn't charge for overhead space, that would have further deflated my Spirit for flying. Well fingers were flying on the adding machine and totals were reached and our "basic" ticket, which was no real bargain, was now anything but basic.  Oh yes, we were only booking a flight one-way which you would thing would be half as much as a round-trip ticket, but you would be incorrect in that assumption.  At this point smoke was coming out of the calculator and my ears as I looked at the computer screen and then I saw it; Business Class that for these flights was also First Class.  There is something about the words 'First Class', I bet that's why they use it instead of 'pay-us-more-to-get-there-on-the-same-plane' class.  In this case however, the more was only a couple of hundred and came with conformable seats, leg room and free food and booze, you got three free checked bags, each up to 70lbs!  You know the saying, "how will you keep them down on the farm after they've see D.C.", yup the same is true of First Class vs. Stowage I mean Coach.  I knew there was a reason that I resented those people sitting in First and Business Class.  Yes it could be because the flight attendants bring you hot towels, snacks, meals and drinks, the adult kind and don’t ask for a credit score or your first born.  Yes it could be that the seats are comfortable even for someone my size, but what I really think it is, is that you know how bad those poor bastards in the back have it and they can't even come use your head.  Like many things in life, this will undoubtedly be a onetime thing and I will be forced to take the long walk of shame back to the back, but for one flight (well technically three legs so three flights) we were First Class!

OK back to boats.  Remember this is about boats and we were 0-2 when it came to boats.  We did still have the option of the boat in Granada as the owner had come down to out price point but I had turned a little sour on that deal and we set off with our new list.  The first boat we were going to look at, Caribbean Dream,  just happened to be anchored for a day just a quarter mile walk from the condo we were staying at in Red Hook U.S.V.I, a quarter mile down a narrow steep hill with no sidewalks, curbs, or shoulders, and drivers that didn't care if they hit you or not all in tropical oppressive heat.  The only thing worse was the thought of the walk back up the hill to go home with the drivers coming with gravity aiding their speed as they came at you.   We met one the owners at a local restaurant/bar at 10am.  Now we had done some research on this boat, like the others and the model hadn't been what we were thinking of.  She was bigger than we had wanted, more complex, and had engine rooms that took a contortionist or someone much smaller and more flexible than me to get into.  I saw a post from the owner a while back on the Leopard owners' group and had corresponded some.  He and his wife had read this very blog and knew some of the issues with the Dean in VA and she went about measuring things and he assured me that there were holding tanks as well as gave me a wealth of information.   We did one of our spreadsheets with all the information we could gather on the boat off the website had our tape measure and camera (although we never seem to take any pictures) and we were ready to see this as one of several boats we had planned to see.  The owners took us back to the anchorage in their dingy and the visit/inspection began.  The owners toured us through their boat and while not unheard of, it is usually the seller or our broker that is showing you the boat.  We knew that the boat had always been a crewed charter boat, always with a professional captain and crew and had never been a bareboat (no professional captain usually) charter.  In fact, we had reviewed their website and she was a high-end charter complete with chef who was also a massage therapist.  Both were scuba instructors and he was a dive master so the boat was loaded with dive gear; everything was First Class.  Being set up to be a once-in-a-lifetime vacation adventure for most folks it did lack some of the items we would want in a cruising boat; but most of that was easily, if not cheaply added later.  She was however, the cleanest, most well taken care of boat we had seen up to this point and we were duly impressed.  You might ask, why didn’t you stop your search there?  Fair question but for two big issues; maybe three.  First the aforementioned engine access.  Boats are complex, big boats are more complex and the engines, even though it is a sailboat, are helpful in providing safety in maneuvering in and out of a harbor, to or off a mooring (although a skilled sailor can do this under sail), charging the batteries since you supply your own power, clawing off a lee shore, and simply getting from point A-B , when there is no wind or it is from the wrong direction which it always seems to be.  There are two diesel engines in most catamarans, cooled by seawater passing through a heat exchangers and then exiting the boat as wet exhaust.   That means there are at least two holes in your boat to let water in, in an controlled manner.  Controlled is the key word, for be it uncontrolled, well let's say your day got a lot wetter and more expensive.  Being our oceans are not as clean as they used to be, there is also the possibility of other peoples garbage being pulled up into the heat exchanger that helps cool the engine (if it gets that far) and making your life harder and wallet lighter.  Now I'm not even mentioning fuel filters, systems and the havoc water in the diesel tanks can cause or the half a dozen or more other holes in your boat designed to let water in and out, in a controlled manner.  It's enough to say  access to all those things are critical but space is limited and what is given over to mechanical room is taken away from living space.  The other issue was the berths (beds) and would I fit (head to toe) and would we have to climb over each other to get in or out of the berth.  Ideal is an island or semi-island berth with lots of room to get in and out of either said at the foot as well as from part of the sides.  Also, some berths are 4'-5' off the floor and some aren't.  Here the fit was questionable, we would have to climb over each other, and if you fell out of bed it was a long way down.  The final thing was the head/shower.  A lot of newer boats have separate heads and shower arraignments while most of the older and almost all of the boats used in charter have the head and shower combined and they are just a little larger than in an airplane (even in First Class).  We had wanted a separate shower/head arraignment but in this model that was only found in the owners version.   So we took the ferry from Red Hook USVI to West End BVI where the broker of another boat picked us up and took us to see the first of the two boats we were scheduled to see that day.  Now this one had been a bareboat charter boat and was pretty basic in equipment, however, for a charter boat she was in very good shape although the heads had not been thoroughly or effectively dealt with and if you know boats you know that smell.  It had four semi-island berths low to the floor and separate showers, she also had headroom to spare.  Her name had to go, MARTHA R, owned by two brothers one of whom passed away recently and most likely named after their mother.  She was a Lagoon 420 with relatively new engines and low engine hours.  The engine rooms were outside the main living area in the steps up the back of the boat called sugar scoops.    You might ask, why didn’t you stop your search there?  Again, fair question and in all honesty I had intended it might be "our" boat, but it was heavy, boxy, and with the exception of a few points of sail very slow.  She would really be considered more of a motor cruiser, which is fine and she could take us around the world very comfortably.  As she was in a charter fleet, the company would have preferred if we had agreed to leave her in charter, at least long enough to fulfill her 2014-2015 obligations but that would mean no boat for us from mid November through the new year and into May.  Now we could say no and would have if we went with her.  She was comfortable, what some call a floating condo, but damn it I fit everywhere.  We walked from there to over to another charter company who had the same model for sale as the boat in Granada except it was a four cabin charter version instead of the owners version. In all honesty we were looking at her mainly to see if we should continue on the boat in Granada, but, if she would work, she was a lot cheaper and could be done without the assistance of a bank.  She too was a bareboat charter vessel being readied to be placed in a hurricane hole for the rest of the storm season.  In that process all the sails and anything that could catch wind are removed.  This particular hurricane hole is used by several charter companies and is what a good hurricane hole should be, windless, surrounded by mangroves so it is buggy, and completely cut off from the ocean swells.  She was ok, also had a number of charter commitments for which it was implied, that if we didn't agree to honor them we would be responsible to pay any upgrades needed to move charterers to other boats, yeah right!  If you asked, "why didn't you stop your search there" then you aren't paying attention. We spent a respectable amount of time on her, but mostly talked about the Leopard 47, the boat we saw in Red Hook.  We knew she had been moved back to the BVIs, to a marina which is rated for hurricanes accepted by insurance companies (very important) so we called the owners to see if it was ok to go look at her again since our memory was foggy on a couple issues.  So we grabbed a cab and went to Village Cay Marina to look for D dock; ok there is no D dock, that’s why you don’t let the deaf man take the directions, it was B Dock.  We had limited time since we needed to make it back to West End and catch the ferry back to Red Hook but we made the best of the time we did have and mostly visited with the owners and an owner of a predecessor of the Leopard 47, the Leopard 45 that is the same boat except for 2' added to the sugar scoops that gives it a smoother ride.  We asked a lot of questions and just had a relaxing afternoon.  Of course we felt a little bad knowing that the owners were trying to get the boat closed down for storm season and they were scheduled to fly out to Hawaii in a few days to start a life on land but no one seemed rushed except we had that last ferry out to catch so when the time came we were shown where to catch a cab and off to the West End and except for me failing to formally check out of the country before I got in line for our ferry the ride to St. John where we checked back into the U.S. of A. was uneventful but long day and we were exhausted.  There were at least three other boats in Tortola to look at and it is not a cheap ride.  First of all the round trip ferry is around $120, then you have to pay $20 per person to leave the BVI and a cab ride from West End to where the boats are is around $28 so it all adds up but for now we just grabbed a cab to go up the hill, $8 +tip, and a drink.  Now thankfully the condos at which we were staying had a bar/grill and a nice pool, it was also a short walk to the beach so we decided that the next day we would just chill by the pool, eat and drink at the bar and forget about boats; yeah right!

Next Time:

The conclusion to this thrilling, exasperating, frustrating, and expensive quest.  OK spoiler alert, if you follow me on the Face Book you know the conclusion but read it anyway, I need to justify my efforts with her who must be obeyed.  

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