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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Part 14: Be Careful What You Ask For

Before we start, you might notice a change in the title to include Just A Couple Of Lizards On Ice
Lizards on Ice was to be the name of the Dean 440 we first thought of buying but wisely walked away from.  When we bought Caribbean Dream the name fix and besides, to remove from everywhere in the boat as superstition dictates would have been a pain in the ass so we stayed with Caribbean Dream.  However, we are still like Lizards on Ice totally out of our element trying desperately to gain our footing as we adjust to our new life on the water.  If you are on Facebook please go and like the Lizards On Ice page where I post frequent and unedited comments.  OK, lets get going:

When we left this adventure we had bought a boat, so all that really needs to be said is we sailed off into endless bliss where life is simply swinging on the hook, sipping tropical drinks, and enjoying cool breezes as we sail carefree from anchorage to anchorage.  At this point some of you are saying "ok, I buy it, I want it";  anyone who has owned and day sailed a boat are saying " maybe but…,"  and those who live on a boat are calling " Bull-s*^#!"  Living on a boat, especially as complicated a boat as this one, is hard.  I think the ideal boat owner is no more than 5' tall (except their arm can stretch to the deepest bilge,) weighs just enough to keep from getting blown off the deck, has an in-depth knowledge of anything mechanical, plumbing and electrical,  is a wiz with all technology, and is double or triple jointed.  Oh, I missed one, has an endless, I mean endless supply of cash.  If you know me, you know I am none of those things, but with enough cash you can sometimes hire someone who at least knows what they are doing or is double-jointed.  Now before we proceed, lest you think I am complaining (maybe I vex a little) I will quote a saying about fishing that applies equally to boats, and that is: a bad day of fishing beats a good day at work anytime!

There was a movie back in the 80's called 'The Education of Rita'; I never saw it but somehow remember the title; well this is 'the education of Fred & Jo.'  Moving on to the Caribbean Dream and attempting to not make it a Caribbean Nightmare is an ongoing process.  First there was surviving the paperwork maze that was involved and continues.  Then there was actually closing the sale and getting the keys. Next comes figuring out how to turn an ex-charter boat into a home and of course what is all this stuff and what does it do and its corollary; why isn't all this stuff doing what it should be doing?  Sorry, I forgot one; is there supposed to be water in there?   So one by one we are tackling these things, learning the answer to questions and learning what questions to ask.  OK so paper work.  As a former Chairman of a University Department I am overly familiar with the concept of paperwork and it is nonetheless frustrating in the tropics, or maybe wetter is all.  We hired a person to handle the paperwork involved with the close of the boat and the documentation of the vessel.  To set the stage, the paperwork guru is in Nebraska, the current owners were riding out a hurricane in Hawaii, our broker's office is in Philadelphia, we were sitting in a hotel in Road Town BVI mere steps from the boat that was sitting peacefully in her slip in the marina.  To complicate matters further, the boat was registered as an LLC in a foreign country owned by U.S. citizens.  Now none of this is unique to anyone involved with the process except us who were now significantly poorer in our bank account and as ok as it was, were tired of the hotel.  Daily we checked, and daily we got "maybe tomorrow" as an answer; this is a phrase we will become intimately familiar with.  So once we knew the funds had transferred we moved our stuff onto the boat (well outside in the cockpit) and waited for the keys.  Needless to say, we got the keys and opened the boat and that’s when it hit me, I am, no sorry, WE are responsible for this, all of this!  If it breaks, we are the ones who fix it or pay to have it fixed and while I felt comfortable fixing a house on land, in a house surrounded by water my comfort level was somewhat less, a lot less.  This is an important fact to consider if you are thinking about following the thorny path we have taken.  All the skills you may have developed working on your house or building scenery mean very little on a boat.  While that is a bit of an overstatement, at least you know how easy it is fix on land but on the water you have to factor in that if you do it wrong your home may sink.   One of the former owners, who both have been a great source of help and information,  told me I would be overwhelmed at first; she was underselling it!

Caribbean Dream was and is a well maintained boat but we found little things that needed attention as well as regular scheduled maintenance items that needed to be done or a part that is not in stock, maybe tomorrow mon!  Throw away all rhyme or reason on how to budget as everything is a negotiation and everything is in done in cash.  In the States credit might be king but down here it will cost you and extra 6%; 5% from the vendor and 1% from your credit card company for making a 'foreign transaction' (even though the US dollar is the local currency).  This results in a lot of trips to the ATM.  I started keeping a ledger of boat related expenses and it is sobering.  When we started looking at boats all the experts and those who thought they were experts said to set back 25% of the total sale price for upgrades and repairs, at some point I will get out the abacus and see how close we are to that.  Now a lot of the expenses we have incurred might very well have been just from pure lack of knowledge and in trusting "experts" and I am sure we will become more discerning in the future.   I will say, the majority of people who have worked on our boat have been open and willing to teach me what it is they are doing, it's just the pace at which things happen that is maddening.   I do think some of them charge more though if I watch or ask questions.   In the theatre there is a fast and ultimately  hard deadline, i.e. opening night.  On a boat there is no opening night unless you are a charter boat and you have  paying charter guests arriving  the next day.  Because of this there is a definite pecking order with the big charter boat fleets at the top, the crewed charters next, and the cruisers (that's us) are at the bottom of the list.  One of the things we knew we needed done was a bottom paint job.  This meant a trip to the boatyard and time out of the water for both CD and us.  We hadn't even gotten the boat out of the slip and we were looking at taking her out of the water.  We thought that we would motor her out of the slip, go on a pleasant little cruise for a couple of days.  Run the water maker, test out the systems, swing on a mooring, you know, have some fun.  While not quite the voyage of the s/s Minnow, it weren’t no Love Boat.  First, in our rush to get out we went too soon after a big storm had passed through and the Sir Francis Drake Channel was more like a washing machine than a river, with waves going every direction.  We quickly learned what wasn't secure.  It had been 4 years since we had chartered and rusty didn't even begin to describe our skills or lack thereof.  Picking up a mooring pendent began to take on the appearance of one of Dante's levels of hell but in the end, we managed to get moored and we were the only boat in the bay.  Privacy, quite, and a breeze!  The next day we wanted to actually sail so up to the foredeck I go only to find that there was a lot I missed in preparing the boat and getting the sails ready… but eventually it happened, the mainsail went up, the jib unfurled and the engines went off.  We sailed most of the day except for when we needed to motor around the West End.  We wanted to test the hook (anchor) at Sandy Cay but found the National Park Service had installed mooring balls so after a short but failed attempt to pick one up we motored over to a bay on Jost Van Dyke.  It was Sunday, off-off season and one of our favorite places, Sidney's Peace and Love (we need both by then) was closed but we made something for dinner and silently ate, read, looked at the stars, and went to sleep.  One of the goals we had on this trip was to use the water maker.  The instructions made little sense and the former owners had sketched out the process but it was confusing.  We tried the first night and nothing.  It was late and I was fed up so we waited until the next afternoon when we could call and talk to one of the owners who now live in Hawaii which is 6 hours behind us here in the BVI's.  He was helpful but in the end, no luck, except I managed to add a lot of water to the engine room and there was water and oil coming out of the high pressure pump head; not a good thing.  He gave me the number of the person who installed it and we thought it would be as simple as taking your car in for service, HA!  Turns out the water maker guru was on holiday (back in England for 3 wks recovering from heat stroke and exhaustion)  and they simply took the phones off the hook - so in the immortal words of Eric Cartman: screw you guys I'm going home. 

'Home' in this case being the marina from whence this little adventure began.  There was a lot of tension on/ in our floating home as both of us were unsure of my docking abilities, especially with the wind blowing 15 knots out of the SSE.  Panic gave way to sheer terror as I pushed the wheel one way and then the other and put one engine in reverse and the other in forward only to have the boat spin the other way all while the wind is having its way with me.  Plenty of instructions were coming from the dock from people ready to grab lines, much of it conflicting, and I wondered if I just went below would it all go away, I started clicking my heels together but the nightmare didn't end until the Captain of another boat asked if I wanted him to help back CD into her slip (yes, you have to spin 90* in place, then go in straight backwards); hell yes, no ego here, well at least not right now.  With a few quick and decisive maneuvers Dave swung her into the berth, he was like a boat whisperer.  We got the lines secured and everyone went back to their tasks, the show was over but the ribbing never ends.  In the process, I had left a dent with a small crack on the hull and some paint from the dock on CD's starboard hull; did I mention I was going to the boatyard soon, one more project. Lots of advice followed both from those who knew what they were talking about as well as the barstool sailors watching from happy hour at the marina.  Later Dave came over and explained where I went wrong (there was no 'where I went right') and gave me some helpful pointers.  To her credit Jo figured it was best to go do some shopping, have a swim, get a root canal, anything was better than being on the boat.  As for me, well, I just sat down and contemplated the question: what now?  At that point if someone had come up an offered near what we had paid for the boat it would be sold but I knew I had to breathe in, breathe out, and move on because we had a date at the boat yard coming up where I got to back her into an even narrower slip with concrete walls on either side.

Next time:  Do we stay or do we go and I got the lowdown no good boatyard blues.