Sunday, April 27, 2008

Boat Shopping

It's been a great weekend. I got to ride my motorcycle to go shopping for a boat with my favorite person in the whole wide world. It just doesn't get any better than that (well maybe if we were shopping for a catamaran in the Caribbean). We originally went to the local marina to look at a 1985 Catalina 27 that was on craigslist. That boat was a total disaster project boat with so many wasp nests in it that it would have taken 2 weeks just to clean them out. Exit stage left, and fast. On the way out we strolled by some guys having way too much fun on a boat drinking beer around a barbecue. I asked them if they knew any other boats that were for sale and they pointed to one across the way, another Catalina 27, but this one in substantially better condition. Here's a picture of a similar one:

We had a nice long chat with the owner who said he wasn't actually quite ready to sell, but it would probably be soon. This works well with us because we need to downsize some rolling stock before we can buy the floating stock. On the way up to the bikes we met another person working on a boat who sent us in the direction of another boat for sale, a Com-Pac 27. Here's a picture of a similar one:

We don't have any actual pictures of this boat because it's been in bright blue shrink-wrap for the last 2 years. The owner hasn't had any time to sail it so it's been on the hard wrapped up to protect it. The shrink-wrap has a nifty little zippered door though that lets you climb a ladder and get inside. This was a truly amazing boat that has obviously been extremely well cared for. The owner has done all the maintenance lovingly, down to the little fabric covers for the teak grab rails on deck and the little draw-string blinds on the brass portholes. We spent an hour with the owners while they told us all of the work they've done. They have bought another bigger boat that is waiting on the Chesapeake for them to retire in a few months. The inside is beautiful with lots of brass and teak and the layout is perfect for weekends for 2 (and an occasional guest). So now the move to downsize the rolling stock inventory has become a little more pressing, and I guess if the boat is still there when we're ready that we'll make an attempt to buy it. Oh by the way, the name is a wonderfully appropriate "Nomad".

Sunday, April 20, 2008

MEGA yacht

To all my High School teachers and faculty who thought I’d never amount to anything; we almost bought a yacht today. And not just any yacht but a MEGA yacht. Really, a 1980, 30’ CnC Mega yacht. It’s the biggest sailboat one can buy that still fits on a trailer.

That turned out to be the problem. Fitting on a trailer means that it has a maximum beam of 8 feet. Also, to keep it from sitting too high while on the trailer the keel retracts up into the center of the boat. (This has the added value of making the boat easy to re-float should some bonehead of a captain try to sail it in shallow water.) Unfortunately to accomplish that little feat the middle of the already narrow cabin is filled with two compression poles, a lift motor and jackscrew, and a well box for the keel to retract into that is taller then the water line, (so the boat doesn’t sink). The boat also has smallish windows that are set really high in the cabin making the inside seem a bit more cave-like than other boats which, in my limited experience, are pretty cave-like already.

The Mega also has a tiller and not a wheel. It seems that real sailors prefer a tiller and so most small sailboats (less then 30 feet or so, and some that are longer) are so equipped. But I’m basically a pilot who is pretending to be a sailor and pilots like control yokes. (Well, we like sticks and throttles as well but I’ve never seen a sailboat with a stick.) It isn’t a deal breaker. We may end up with a sailboat that has a tiller and I may even find I like it better than a big old chrome wheel. But for now I still dream of standing behind my wheel to steer and one can’t stand behind a tiller. (Maybe that’s why sailors like them?)

Of course a careful review of our financial situations suggests that having a “yacht,” (even a little one that is half my age or more and needing some work) floating at a pier somewhere will be a bit of a reach. Downsizing the rolling stock around here will be necessary if there is to be any floating stock. The Saturn needs starter work. Melanie’s car needs tie-rods (or something). The house isn’t done. Sooner or later though, if a person is actually going to live on a boat, well, that person will actually have to buy a boat. And if that same person actually wants to learn how to sail eventually he (or she) will have to point the skinny end of a boat out toward the water where the waves are running and the wind is blowing, and make it happen.

Even though we didn’t buy today and we may not be buying anytime soon, we did gain some real insight into just what we are expecting out of a “starter boat.” We also spent several hours getting to know some pretty nice people. And somehow I feel like we turned a bit of a corner. For a couple of hours anyway, we weren’t just contemplating buying a boat someday and maybe living on one some other day. We were looking at “this” boat; clambering around actual rigging and sails, asking all kinds of questions, pounding on a hull looking for soft spots, and deciding if we should write a check. We were wondering if we could spend long weekends living in “this” cabin, keep “these” systems running, and make “that” thing work. It was all kind of fun.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Purely by Chance

So there I was in Gulfport for the evening with nothing much to do. I had a pretty nice dinner on the company and walking some of it off seemed a good idea, particularly since the dock behind our casino is filling back up with boats. There were a lot of masts sticking up in the air and I started walking up and down the docks scoping out various sailboats. (Not a bad way to spend an evening.) Some were still in disrepair from the hurricane. Some were obviously just kind of tied up and forgotten, collecting dirt and bird doo, rust spots and spider webs. One or two were just pristine, glowing in the setting sun with scrubbed decks and gleaming metal work. Their dock lines were tight with the end dressed off in coils and their bumpers hung perfectly straight. A couple of the boats had people on board, long distance cruisers maybe? One was running his wind generator, which was surprisingly noisy.

The last dock had two enormous masts near the end. The first was attached to one of the pristine boats, an absolutely gorgeous, 50 foot or so, pride-and-joy for someone. Much to my delight the last, tied off at the very end of the dock, marked a Prout 45; the exact Catamaran that Deb and I have been lusting over for the last couple of weeks. As I admired its lines a light came on and I watched a guy poke his head down into a hatch, then grind on a starter trying to get the port engine to light up. A generator was quietly running in the background. He noticed me standing there, we traded, “good evening’s” and then next thing I know I am invited aboard to poke around. The two guys on board were brothers, one a retired helicopter pilot, the other a working tugboat captain. They had been contracted to deliver the Cat to some doctor in Stillwater, TX and had just come aboard themselves that afternoon. They had hoped to get the port engine running, but it looked like they would be using wind and the starboard engine to get to their last port of call.

They also both lived on sailboats of their own and spent most of their days on the water. We toured the boat, talked about systems and breakdowns, traded some stories, and basically just had a good time. The retired helo driver had spent three years with his wife, cruising the southern Caribbean. During that time he saw Catamarans slowly taking over the fleet, and says that now, at any given port and any given time, Cats make up more than half of the boats on the hook. Sometimes, he says, mono hulls are the distinct minority.

Anyway, it was an evening spent the way I would like to spend a lot more. The boat tugged gently at its lines, the breeze whispered through the rigging, pelicans swung by overhead, and the occasional splash from somewhere out in the dark water punctuated the night. I got up early in the morning and looked out my hotel window at the dock, but the sun was already up and the Cat was long gone. Someday…