Sunday, May 11, 2008

When it rains it pours...

It just seems I have to bite off more than I can chew, sometimes, and in this case it's all a good thing. My ankle is healing well, and I am able to hobble a bit without crutches, so I'm diving into three weeks of packing for my move to the new townhouse. Should be in by the first weekend in June. Finished up some of the essays I've been writing - only one to go - and I've been spending a whole lot of my free time boat shopping.

The plan to sail the Caribbean can't wait forever. I'm not getting younger, so I figure I'll strike while the my imagination is sizzling. Trying to find the right boat is never easy, as all my sailor friends know. The fact that most of us have owned more than one boat - some of my friends have owned several boats - reveals how hard it is to accomplish the elusive goal of finding the right boat. ... geeze, maybe there isn't one out there.

We all start by narrowing down choices, which I've been doing. First, new or used. Well, my budget is not that big, so new is out of the question. So I'm looking for a good used boat, preferably something that someone else has upgraded for cruising already.

Second, what stuff do I want on a boat? The most basic considerations include a boat from which the rudder will not break off when I inevitably strike a coral head, run aground, or otherwise run over something I ought not, so I don't want a spade rudder, I want a skeg-hung rudder. It should also have a relatively shallow draft so that I can anchor close in when I find sheltered spots, so a fin keel will not do. Finally, it should be sea-kindly, which essentially means something that will not rock and roll at sea or at anchorage. So I'm looking for a boat with good "motion comfort," something over 30.00 on Ted Brewer's comfort ratio scale, which means a fairly heavy displacement.

Next, it's a matter of equipment, the essentials including radar, some sort of plotter, autopilot, single-side band radio (SSB) or the like plus a VHF, a stereo/CD player, a good engine (newer the better with low hours), good fuel and water capacity (a water maker wouldn't hurt), a good battery bank, good refrigerator/freezer, electric windlass and good anchors with chain, roller furling, lines led aft to the cockpit, a dinghy with outboard (davits wouldn't hurt), dodger and bimini, an EPIRB or GPIRB and liferaft. There are other things that I might add, and I figure I may have to put new standing rigging and new running rigging on most boats.

All this said, the third step is to actually find the boat you want out of the hundreds of makes and models on the market. Since I've been looking for boats for at least a decade just as a matter of day-to-day life, I'd already narrowed the field a bit. But a lot of the boats I liked and had even sailed were not cruisers. To be sure, some of my friends have gone cruising on boats generally considered to be "coastal cruisers" - Beneteaus, Catalinas, C&C's, Islanders - but none of these boats have skeg-hung rudders, they generally have deep fin keels, and they are fairly light displacement boats. Having sailed Beneteaus and Jeanneaus in the Caribbean, I'm convinced I'd rather live for a length of time on heavier more solidly built boat.

Fortunately there is a great resource for folks searching for a cruising boat and wondering what to look for in one. John and Amanda Swan Neal have been sailing and cruising since the 1970s, and for the past several years have run Mahina Expedition, leading "sailing and navigation training expeditions around the globe" and offering "offshore sailing seminars and boat consultation services." Their boat selection guide is an invaluable starting point for choosing a cruising boat. Drawing from the over 200 boats they consider capable to superb ocean cruisers, I spent many hours searching and other online and published resources (Sail, Sailing, Practical Sailor, Bluewater Cruising, etc.) to eliminate and narrow my choices.

Once I'd narrowed down a range of boats, I turned to to see what was actually on the market. At first I searched the whole country, but since my cruising ground is to be the Caribbean, I finally focused my search more on boats on the eastern seaboard, the Gulf coast, and the Caribbean itself. It would have to be one hell of a deal to buy on the Pacific Coast, since it would be a long trip to sail to where I eventually want to spend my time.

Among the boats I've looked at seriously are the Gozzard 36 (I fell in love with the relatively new Gozzard 37 at the boat show four years ago), the Hallberg Rassy 36, the Morris Justine 36, the Cape Dory Intrepid 40, and the Cabo Rico 34, 34/36, and 38. None of them are cheap boats, and by looking at these I've pretty much limited myself to a boat ten to fifteen or more years old. Since I've been part owner in a Cal 39-2 (1980), I know how expensive over the long haul an older boat can be, but I also know that new boats cost a lot more than just the purchase price.

So, where am I? Well, I won't jinx anything by saying what I'm looking to make offer(s) on, but I'm at the loan application stage, talking to brokers about individual boats and asking lots of questions to find out what's on the boats and what's not (the written advertisments are never complete), and close to making offer(s).

Fun, fun, fun...stress, stress, stress...and I can hardly wait!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi James,
Cruising the net for Cabo Rico info, I came across your blog site and enjoyed reading about your mental summer-saults that I too have been making. So I am very curious if you took the plunge and purchased the fine looking vessel you showed in the pic. I'll keep checking back to hear how it goes.
Fair winds and big funds,
James B
Mariposa - Ericson 27
Santa Rosa CA

6:38 PM  

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