Saturday, April 22, 2017

Ten Years Ago ...

Transmission on the engine
Ten years ago, I quit my last “career” job. I had bought an old sailboat that I foolishly thought I could escape with by that fall. Three boats later, though it’s been frustrating, and more than occasionally painfully slow, the good ship, sv Emma, and I are on the cusp of ocean sailing. Toward that end I now have fuel tanks and a transmission to go with the engine that I found a couple months ago. The pieces are assembled and ready to be installed.

The next big project is the standing rigging. The engine will get dropped into the boat and the mast taken down on the same day, with the same crane. The mast will be inspected along with the standing rigging and all the related bits and pieces -- tangs and shackles, etc. I expect to replace much of the hardware bits and
Emma in the yard
all the wire rope. After that all my boat projects are small and medium sized. At some point next year, Emma will go back in the water and we can sail occasionally while the last projects are finished.

Nevertheless, it has been a slog. Many times I’ve questioned just what I was trying to accomplish. My resume is a wreck -- as if that mattered to me anymore. In the last ten years, besides trying to find the right boat, I’ve tried to find the right kind of work. Working full time, I had boat money to spare, but not much time for boatwork. When I worked part time, I got lots of boatwork done but didn’t have the cash flow to sustain it. The key to my success has been that I’m simply too stubborn to quit. And I am actually quite comfortable with my ‘bombed-out’ resume; it is a solid reflection of my dedication to the boat project over my career.

My first boat had a good pedigree but turned out to be more project that boat. It only took me six years to figure that out. The second boat was a good, seaworthy boat, but she was a little bit small. I knew I would outgrow her sooner than later, but she was going to get me out of the Great Lakes and to a few islands at least.
The first boat, a Cape Dory 28

After I helped deliver a Westsail 42 from Stony Point, NY to Florida in 2015, I knew that I had to have a Westsail of my own. I’ve told both stories previously, but after sailing Alex’s Eleanor, I found my Emma, a 32 footer, floating at a mooring in Miami. 

I used to look at used sailboats online like some guys look at porn. I still bump into used boats through some of my sailing-related Facebook groups. Every once in awhile, I’ll see a bargain, or a well equipped boat, and feel that tug of doubt. Do I have the right boat yet? Why am I doing all this work on land? Why am I not sailing? Eventually, the answer always comes back to “yes.” I absolutely have the right boat for me.

My second smaller boat, Bella, had the advantage of being in the water. I sailed her like crazy in 2014! Escaping with that boat, a 27’ Albin Vega, would have been like living in a nice camper. Doable, certainly. Emma, my current boat, is a big, heavy girl. She is roomy and stable with an unquestionable reputation for
Bella, photo by Sherry
safe, long distance ocean sailing. Living aboard her will literally be my retiring to a nice apartment. Further, refitting Emma -- all this work -- is the perfect expression of my used boat philosophy.

The reality of my situation is that I was never going to afford to spend tens of thousands all at once on a boat. Further, a used boat will always come with some surprises. Surprises can be tedious, and more often than not expensive. One oft-quoted rule of thumb is to plan on spending half again what you just paid for a used boat to get her ready for serious sailing. The more you spend on a used boat, you might expect fewer surprises. However, they wouldn’t be surprises if you could expect them. Even brand new boats can have surprises. I just read about a recent batch of brand new catamarans with immediate osmosis issues in the hulls. I bought Emma so cheaply, all these numbers, ratios or rules of thumb are not much use.

Rowing out to Eleanor, 2015
Even now with an engine and transmission bought for her, I only have about $12,000 invested in my boat. There are boats out there, of course, for $10,000 or $12,000 that can be sailed away today. The purchase price, however, does not include the cost of the proverbial surprises. It’s a bit more than $4,000 a year to keep her at a dock or in a boatyard. I’ve not added that into the total investment as is would be a wash between my boat or another.

Rather than spend 10 or 15, or even $50,000, I bought the best hull I could find; a well proven design in good shape. When I re-launch her, she will almost be rebuilt: new engine, new rig, new bowsprit and boomkin, new galley, new cushions and upholstery, and a refreshed interior. I’m not saying I can beat every surprise, but nearly all of the typical surprises will have been addressed. When she’s back in the water, I will have around $22,000 invested -- along with gallons of sweat equity. A Westsail 32 was recently listed for sale here in Florida. That boat is well equipped and a couple years younger than Emma. They are asking $52,000.
My Emma in Miami

This is my philosophy: buy the best hull you can find and refit her well; take care of the potential surprises. Especially, if you can do most of the work yourself. When Emma and I take off, I will have a rock solid boat under my feet. I will know the boat and her systems inside and out. I can’t wait to show her around.

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