Thursday, May 14, 2009

Step One: Get the Boat

We didn't actually start out looking for a new boat. It just sort of happened. We had a boat. I had owned it before, got it in my divorce, and brought it with me to our relationship. And we had a good time sailing her. Hayden and I did a couple of nice cruises to the Gulf Islands and spent some days sailing around Puget Sound on my old O'Day 302. But it was clear after our last trip that it was never going to be our boat. And it was clear that with our increasingly busy work and travel schedules, we wouldn't be sailing much this year anyway.

So we decided to sell the O'Day. Piece of cake two years ago. But there we were at the end of the sailing season, in a massively depressed economy, with boats being repossessed and padlocked to the docks at our marina. Maybe selling a boat wasn't such a great plan?

Meanwhile, we started looking around for potential candidates. What kind of boat would be a good match for us? We knew we wanted a boat that was solid, salty, classic, and that had a little sex appeal to it. And we knew we wanted something small. A pocket cruiser.

One of the first boats that caught our eyes was a Pacific Seacraft 25. It was for sale in Port Townsend (still is, as of this writing) and at a good price. I called the broker and tried to work something out. I didn't want to put our boat on the market and wait. How about a trade? Our O'Day had a bigger potential market, even in the quickly dying economy. It was worth more. It had better equipment. Give us the Pacific Seacraft 25 and sell our O'Day.

No deal. The owner wanted nothing to do with it. Oh well. We tried.

So we kept looking. We found a Contessa 26 in British Columbia but it never really struck us as the right boat. To be honest, we were still fixated on the Pacific Seacraft. We tried a few more times. Trade and cash?

My dad even got in on the action at one point and offered to loan us the cash to buy the PS 25 while we waited for our boat to sell. This led to a trip to see the PS 25 with dad in tow, where learned that the boat needed at least a $4,000 overhaul to get the engine running. With an asking price of $15,000, we would now be looking at spending $20,000 and being left with $10,000 worth of work to do. No thanks.

Weeks later I get a phone call from the broker representing the Pacific Seacraft. Still no deal on the trade, he says, but I have a client looking for a modern 30 foot cruiser with good accommodations. Would we be interested in selling?

Um. Yes. Yes we would be interested. Girl Child #3 (that's how we keep track of all four kids: a simple numbering system) spent a weekend offloading the years of crap we had accumulated onboard, cleaning the winter mildew off of everything, and basically getting her showroom-ready. Give an 8 year old a rag and some spray cleaner and look out, man! That boat was looking good, and I will admit that I had some momentary thoughts of keeping her now that all of the gunk was washed off.

While we did have to go back and forth with the buyer a bit, we finally ended up selling the O'Day for what I paid for it way back in my previous life. I spent a glorious February day delivering our former boat to Port Townsend and I walked away...

Boatless. No marina fees. No insurance. No maintenance. We quickly realized that this is not a bad thing after years and years of dumping money into paint, haul outs, new sails, new canvas, engine repair, and everything else.

But not for long. In my daily trolling on Craigslist (and not the "Casual Encounters" section) I stumbled on an interesting ad:

For Sale. 1979 27' Cape Dory. Inboard Diesel. Good sails. Needs some work. No email. Phone calls only. Make offer.

While on the phone with the broker who sold our boat, I mentioned the Cape Dory. He still wanted to sell me the Pacific Seacraft, but he told me that another client of his looked at the Cape Dory and thought it needed too much work but that someone could get it for a song.

I can't sing. But I can make a low ball offer.

My first visit to the (sadly) nameless Cape Dory 27 in Port Townsend was greeted with a late winter snow storm and an arctic northerly wind of the type that freezes the snot to your nose and the tears to the corners of your eyes. You can't really tell from this picture, but trust me, it was nasty and cold out. But there she is! Beautiful lines, a spotless hull, and ready for someone to love her. The previous owner, we came to learn, hadn't sailed her in 5 years. He came to the marina once a week to run the engine and pump out the bilge. The neglect showed. The rope halyards were stiff as wire, the docklines were tied in permanent knots. Every nut and bolt appeared to be welded by corrosion to what ever they were supposed to fasten. The engine, due mostly to neglect, looked even older than its 30 year age would warrant. Rust, rust, and more rust. I can see why he had trouble selling it.

But underneath the neglect was the boat we were looking for. Something we could get cheap and something that we could get back into shape on our own. Before I left the boat the first time, I was already prepping a list of projects and doing some estimating in my head. New wiring, new charger, new AC system, new hot water heater, new pressure water system, new propane system. The interior and exterior wood would need refinishing. The upholstery has to go. The stove needs to be replaced. The rigging could use an upgrade. In the 2 hours it took me to get home, I had compiled quite a list.

When I got home and showed Hayden the pictures, we realized we had found the right type of boat. Smaller than our last boat, but big enough to be comfortable on a long cruise. Easy to sail and maintain. But with enough projects to get her ready to sail that by the time we were done, we would really own the boat together.

For the second visit to the boat we went together. It was a nicer day this time to be sure, and Hayden quickly saw what I did: a great old boat that needed to be taken care of.

Boat Buying Tip: When someone has been trying without success to sell a boat for over 5 years, you can pretty much walk away with it for any price. The owner just wanted to be done. He wanted out. After a couple of weeks of thinking about things, I called him up and offered him $6,000 less than he listed it for. I couldn't get the offer out of my mouth before he accepted. Damn. Now we owned a boat again!

A week later we delivered a check to the owner (who dragged us to the bank to verify the funds and made us sign all sorts of forms he was convinced he needed...old guys are really afraid of fraud, I realize. Has this guy been taken by a few too many schemes in his day? I mean, we had a freakin' cashier's check and he still made us go to the bank with him!) and we took the keys.

Our boat.


Next up: Step Two: Getting Her Home!


  1. Nice boat! Nice project for the two of you to work on together. Happy sanding, etc.

  2. You are a good writer. I enjoy you sense of humor. Good luck.