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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Part 13; And the Winner Is?

The Envelope Please.........

Well at the end of the last part of this, hmm the adjective escapes me so let's use thrilling, adventure we had just looked at the first three of the list of boats we had here in the Virgin Islands to look at.  We had made it back to Red Hook and were floating in the pool debating the virtues of food, beer, and water, not in that particular order as I recall.  Our debate resulted in the desire for all three so over to the bar/grill we went.  Now I should say, we seldom go anywhere without cell phone or iPad, especially if there is the possibility of free wifi so both of these we had. Remember, we were taking a "chill day" no boats, well except that’s about all we talked about, well except for the aforementioned, beer, food, and water (that’s the proper order.)  Our discussions centered on what fit best, what boat was the best cared for, and what might be best for us.  I am sure I mentioned that this process is not at all like anything on land.  There are no test drives as with a car or motorhome, hell, you probably even get to test drive a horse.  If we had wanted to test drive any of these boats we would have had to charter it for the day or week, which costs money.  It makes a certain amount of sense; imagine asking for a "test sail" on several boats as a way of getting a few afternoons on the water for free.  It is not cheap or a simple thing to take a large sailboat out so you best know what you are looking at and for.  As I mentioned in earlier episodes, we had chartered several different cats on vacation, none of which we were now looking at, and felt we knew what would work for us.  It really came down to two boats; MARTHA R the Lagoon 420, very roomy with lots of headroom and in fair shape but slow and already contracted for charters when we would own her and CARIBBEAN DREAM, a Leopard 47 just ok on headroom, berth arrangements, and systems access, but very well cared for and very livable.  Both were big boats!  Even though the Lagoon was technically 5 feet shorter than the Leopard, because of her design she was very high off the water and had a lot of volume.  There was also the Leopard 43 Owners Version in Granada that was still a possibility as a third option but after seeing a 4-cabin version of the same boat in the BVIs it was slipping fast off the list.  Price-wise the boat in Granada and CARIBBEAN DREAM were close and MARTHA R was listed for about 30k less than the others were.  If you are buying something like a car that can be a big price difference but for a boat like we were looking at, not that great (he says only half-seriously), it's only money right?  We looked at the spread sheet we make for every boat we were considering, we talked about compromises and what we thought we could live with and I think when it came right down to it, there was a fair bit of emotion involved as well, (beer, right?) so we made a call to our broker, Alexis and made an offer on...  Ok if you follow me on Face Book you know the answer so please don't shout it out for the few who don't know it.  We made an offer on CARIBBEAN DREAM, the Leopard 47. 

Now, how to get this done. Alexis sent us some paper work that we had to get the condo office to print for us to sign and then emailed it back to us and we emailed it back to Alexis.  While all of this was happening Alexis had called their broker, letting them know there was an offer coming.  The couple who owned the boat were moving to Hawaii in just a few days and there was an urgency on both our part and perhaps theirs to get this done before then so a process that moves painfully slow moved remarkably fast.  Within 24 hours of making the official offer, they had countered and we had countered their counter, and they had accepted pending sea trials and survey.  Remember the boat in Grenada, remember me talking about how difficult it was to get there because of  carnival and med students returning, well the offer was made negotiated and accepted on Thursday 31 July, and that Saturday the Festival that is the Celebration of Emancipation of the People, a 3 day legal holiday in this country so everything is closed - got into full gear on Saturday 2 August and Monday 4 August, the town was shut down for the first and largest of the parades, you know like Mardi Gras just without the drunk frat boys and bare chested party girls.  To recap, Thursday deal accepted, Saturday thru the end of the next week nothing happens in Road Town or most of the BVI; but what about Friday 1 August?   Usually it takes about a week to arrange a survey but beginning Thursday, with some suggestions we were able to arrange a survey with someone who will be your advocate and point out all that might be wrong with the boat.  I went through several back in VA on JABULO finding the right one, and as it turned out the highest recommended surveyor in the island had left for France and South Africa where he also lives and works just that Thursday, however, his partner, who just happened to be the former quality control and production manager for Robertson & Caine who builds the Leopard brand catamarans was available that Friday and in less than 24 hours he had our credit card and we had a survey scheduled for 0830 Friday, 1 August in Road Town, Tortola, BVI; one small issue, we were not in Road Town, Tortola, BVI, we were in Red Hook, St. Thomas, U.S.V.I, so back down the hill to the ferry.  Knowing how long surveys can take, we were pretty sure there would be no way to get back to Red Hook that night so we went looking for a hotel room, during the start of the 60th anniversary of the Emancipation Festival.  Alexis was in St. Maartin (yes, it's French, spelled with 2-As) and although just 100 nautical miles away they were nautical miles and that meant it wasn't as simple as driving from Lubbock to Amarillo. So, we had some challenges.  Alexis made a flight reservation and looked for a hotel, both Alexis and I started searching for a hotel with two available rooms, one for us, one for Alexis. I scored with the hotel at the marina where CARIBBEAN DREAM was docked, problem, just one room and one king bed, so we arranged for a rollaway and later a room with two double beds became available so we grabbed it and if it came down to it, we could share; not ideal but it would work.  It occurs to me, I am missing one small detail; Bertha was coming to town, no not your Aunt who gives you ridiculous Christmas gifts, no, as in Tropical Storm Bertha; no problem Mon, what's a little wind and rain?

Friday comes and there is a lot to do and to say we were on edge would be an understatement.  We made it to the 7AM ferry, bought a roundtrip ticket to return Saturday and were busily filling out the paper work needed to leave one country and be allowed entry into another.   It is all very serious and the good folks at immigration in the BVI take it very seriously so it must be correct.  There are two ports of entry via passenger ferry on Tortola.  One a short walk from where the boat was and one on the other end of the island and the ferry went to the second but not to worry, Alexis had gotten in and rented a car so he could pick us up and save us that cab ride.  So off we went, Red Hook to the West End to Road Town to the owner's broker's office to sign more paperwork to CARIBBEAN DREAM, the surveyor had already started; sometimes island time is accelerated.  As I said earlier, our surveyor had been the production manager for all the Leopards including this model and in fact wrote the owner's manual for this boat and his inspection stamp was still legible on the fuel tanks.  He knew the boat in St. Pete we had wanted and told us all the reasons we should be glad we didn't get that one and gave us valuable insight as to the construction of this boat.  He also clued us into the hull number, that is number x of y built of that model.  CARIBBEAN DREAM is hull #42 so all you Douglas Adams fans out there should be geeking out right now. The haul out went well, systems that were checked, checked out ok with a few minor maintenance issues, the wind was up in advance of Bertha coming to town so the sea trial although short went well, and even Alexis was amazed with the condition of the boat.  By the end of the day, we had some more information and were waiting on even more (the official survey) so we could finalize our decision. Tropical Storm Bertha was starting to gain strength so Alexis tried to get a flight to St. Maartin that night, which he did until it was cancelled and then he didn’t, and Jo and I went and had some of the best pasta we have had in a long time and then walked back to the hotel exhausted.  I woke up early the next morning as I often do and went down to the restaurant and bar, which is an open-air arrangement, as are many things down here.  Sometime during the night Bertha blew into town, the wind was howling, and the rain was coming down in sheets causing visibility to be nonexistent.  I sat at the bar with a cup of coffee overlooking the dock and CARIBBEAN DREAM watching her strain against her lines but hold tight.  The marina where she was docked is considered hurricane safe so most insurance companies will accept it as a hurricane hole so except for the worst storms it should be safe.  I later learned that these islands are often spared the worst storms because they are really the 'Blessed' Virgin Islands not 'British' Virgin Islands.  All that aside, I was sitting there, riding out my first tropical storm watching my future home get blown around.  Then it occurred to me, how would we get back to St. Thomas?  I went into the office and of course, there were no ferries running.  Later that day all the entry ports in the U.S.V.I were closed so another night in Tortola, except no room at the inn; so we wait; wait on the storm, wait on the ferry, and wait for a hotel room to maybe open up, wait!  A lyric from a Jimmy Buffett song kept going around in my head: no plane on Sunday maybe be one come Monday… Most of the day we spent watching the rain and the wind and the boat, then at some point it became clear that we had no place to stay that night but luckily the bar/restaurant manager made a few calls and got us booked into the Tropical Suites Hotel, trust me, not nearly as fancy as it sounds, although it was entertaining that the two night guys really wanted their picture taken with Santa Claus so I was happy to oblige.   The next morning Bertha had decided to visit Puerto Rico and the other islands and eventually died out in the North Atlantic.  In Tortola, life was getting back to normal so we grabbed a cab for the West End and the ferry to take us back to St. Thomas.  After any storm, wind, rain or snow, that closes down stuff the next couple of days are insane transportation-wise and the ferry docks were packed with people anxious to make it off island to catch a flight to wherever they spend the other 51 weeks of their year.  Add to that the "instant access" to goods and services we seem to expect in our lives and some people don't understand that it don’t always work like that.  On the up side, pissed-off travelers railing in the face of reality does make for entertaining viewing from those of us who have accepted reality.  On the down side, you cringe when they are from your home country.  To the people in immigration, responsible for processing us out of their homeland, being an ugly anyone does nothing to speed up the process.  Our ferry back to Red Hook took extra time too as we made an extra stop in Jost Van Dyke to pick up some stranded passengers and then changed ferries in St. John, but eventually everyone got to where they were going; well at least we did. 

The next step in the boat buying process involves acceptance, rejection, or conditional acceptance of the vessel/yacht (AOY).  You usually have a week after the survey is in your hand and if anything major was found could go back and negotiate with the seller for an allowance or for them to fix what is deficient.   We were not expecting much to be wrong and indeed there wasn't.  Some corrosion on this valve, some rusted hose clamps, and other stuff along that nature.  The other thing about the AOY is if financing is involved, then that, along with your insurance must be in place before the AOY is done.  OK, some phone and internet time and we are good to go, except; remember Bertha?  Well she was not done with us just yet.  The U.S.V.I and St. Thomas in particular seem to set the 'low' standard for infrastructure and for several days following Bertha there were rolling blackouts throughout the islands because only one of their three power generators was working and of course, those blackouts always seemed to hit right during peak business hours.   Jo was in charge of the bank and I the insurance.  We had already been approved for the boat in Grenada for both insurance and the additional funds we would need to make this a reality so no problem Mon, right!  Insurance, after a few corrections and changes as well as a lot of paperwork to sign without any way to receive/sign/send it was working out.  Since the time limit for our approval on the funding for the boat in Grenada had run out, we had to reapply, which we did the night we got back from the survey. That shouldn't have been much of an issue; we were approved before so now it's no big deal; right?  Well in one of the brief periods that we had power, we received an email informing us we had been denied, WTF.  OK so let us call them, except the rolling blackout that had left our portion of the island had now hit the one and only AT&T tower on the island so we waited until we got a signal and hoped we would have a window of opportunity between blackouts.  When we were finally able to get through, we were told we had been approved, what!  After some back and forth it turns out the official notification for the funds running out on the Grenada boat just happened to reach us on the heels of the application for the new boat.  Great, we somewhat mistakenly thought, all the ducks were in a row, except!  Seems our lender did not play the marine finance game the way our broker's home office thought it should be played.  The bank would only cut a cashier's cheque and we could pay extra to have it sent overnight delivery to the brokerage that held the escrow account, but the brokerage would only receive a wire transfer and did not want to deal with a cheque.    After a god deal of back and forth the brokerage agreed to take a cheque, but hold up the funds for 10 days while it cleared thus slowing the process down and so we went ahead and  transferred the bulk of the purchase price into the escrow account, waiting on the rest to clear banking channels.  Now its rum drinks on the afterdeck and smooth sailing, well except for the paper work, for which there was another fee and another person somewhere in Nebraska.  I am not going into the details but it was a longer than necessary process I thought but we are that close to the finish line let's play along.  A couple of things that might have slowed it all down were the fact the boat was owned by an LLC charter business in the BVIs and we were changing the flag an documentation to US flag and USCG documentation.  Add to that the sellers, who had to sign, notarize, mail back paperwork were now living in Hawaii and a hurricane was about to hit the island they now lived on.  So we did what we had become accustomed to, we waited.  Not very patiently, but what was our choice after all?

In the mean time, while all this was going on, the rental on our condo in Red Hook expired.  We could have extended it but instead decided to move over to Road Town, back into the hotel where we stayed for the survey, actually back into the same room.  This meant all the extra baggage needed to be ferried over to Tortola, transported to Road Town, and hauled up four flights of stairs in the hotel.  Even though we could see our new home sitting there, we could not step foot on her until all the paperwork was done and we closed.  So on 8 August (which happened to be my 59th birthday) we checked out of the USA and checked into the BVIs.  The women who had processed us the last time into Tortola remembered us and gave us 30 days on our visas with instructions of how to get them extended.  The people at the hotel remembered us and a round of "welcome back home again" were exchanged and we were just a few hundred feet from our new home, waiting… again. In reality the wait wasn't quite a week and on the 15 day of August, just about 3-1/2 months after selling our land based home, we moved aboard our floating home, and we are therefore known as Fred & Jo of the s/v CARIBBEAN DREAM, and we had no idea of what we had gotten ourselves into or in for; but that's for later installments.


Looking in to the helm

Our Front Porch

View from the port bow aft

Our back deck

One of two aft cabins

One of two forward cabins

One of four head/shower combos

In the sallon ice box and freezer

Our galley 

Sallon table and seating

The family car hanging in its garage

The haul out; a real pucker moment

One of two diesel engine rooms; no space for tall fat men

Factory layout
Tropical Storm Bertha from the Village Cay Bar

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