I Bit. Now It’s Time to Chew

Here we are, a third of the way through the month of June, and I’m still in Annapolis. Not that that’s a bad thing — Annapolis is a great town and I enjoy being here. But the plan has always been to take Further and head back home to Plum Island for the summer, and to sail on the Atlantic as opposed to the Chesapeake. So why am I still here?

Well, a couple of reasons. And in the spirit of open honesty, I’m here to admit that those reasons are procrastination and fear.

I’m still checking off items on Further’s to-do list, and a lot of those things I really should have — and certainly could have — taken care of over the winter. But some of that procrastination was based on misguided faith in the boat and systems that I purchased.

For instance: I was under the impression that the dinghy that came with Further was in decent shape and just needed a few patches. But I couldn’t make those fixes during the cold weather of the winter so I waited until spring, at which point I realized I was not having success fixing the dinghy. I took it to the folks at Annapolis Inflatables who let me know that no, the dinghy was in sad shape. So finding a decent used dinghy took a while (and thanks to Jesse at Fawcett Marine who hooked me up with an Apex inflatable in great shape).

Similar situations arose with many other to-do items, and compounding my procrastination was the island-time mentality in the sailing community here in Naptown. Seriously, if you want to get that “mañana” or “soon come, mon” vibe without going to the tropics, just come to Annapolis and get involved with the boating industry. “I’ll be able to look at it this week” means they’ll get to it in two-plus weeks. And even the seemingly honest accounts — “We won’t get to it for three weeks” — means you have to chase them down after three-plus weeks so they’ll look at it. A lot of this is due to the fact that the marine-related companies around here are swamped with work, but some of it is definitely due to a laid-back attitude that surprised even laid-back me.

The other factor delaying my trip north is the challenge in finding experienced crew able to make the journey. And that has actually raised some very ominous specters for my longer-term dreams.

I have every belief that I could take Further north by myself, but for a first journey offshore in several years (for both boat and me), going solo is not especially smart. Simply keeping watch for the entirety of the trip — much of which is spent crossing the shipping lanes going into and out of New York City — would be an exercise in ultramarathon endurance. And it would be a hell of a lot smarter and safer to have others aboard to help with sail trim, steering, navigating, anchoring/mooring and so forth.

I’ve sent out a couple of group emails to friends who are experienced sailors but no one’s schedule permits them to make the run. And I have some fear — or rather, a nervousness — about making the journey home on my own. I’m nervous about the seasickness I always feel on my first evening at sea after a long time ashore. I’m nervous about crossing all those shipping lanes. I’m nervous about dealing with the tidal currents in the Delaware Bay and the Cape Cod Canal. I’m nervous about dealing with the mouth of the Merrimack River and the currents upstream in Newburyport where Further’s summer mooring awaits. I’m nervous about dealing with all of the systems on board Further when (not if) issues arise. And I’m especially nervous about dealing with all of them alone. Sure, plenty of people sail around the world solo in all sorts of contraptions. Sure, I know what I’m doing and Further is strong, solid boat that can cross oceans without batting an eye. But I’m still nervous. I’d like to have some help along the way.

There. I said it: I’m scared/nervous/fearful.

And going forward from a few-day trip back to Massachusetts, I’m nervous that I’m SO close to my dream but won’t be able to realize it because I can’t (or don’t want to) do all of this on my own. I’m wondering now if maybe I’ve bitten off more than I can chew with regard to the whole cruising dream. Is Further too much boat? Can I really go and chase those adventures I’ve dreamed about since I was a teenager? I always figured I might have to go solo for stretches, but I was optimistic friends would want to join up for some of the fun parts; indeed, that’s one of the reasons I wanted a boat with two separate cabins. I also figured I’d meet similarly minded people along the way (and I may yet) but now I’m not so sure. And I’m now grappling with the fact that as much as this has been my dream, and as much as I’ve wanted to do this — even solo — for so long, now I’m thinking that maybe doing it solo isn’t really what I want. That maybe even this curmudgeonly old loner might prefer a little more people time than he likes to admit.

I’m confident that I just need this one trip under my belt and everything will fall into place: my sea legs will come back, I’ll rediscover that joy I feel when I’m offshore, my adventure-lust will come back full force and my deal-with-it attitude will enable me to address anything that might arise on board in the future.

It turns out the procrastination was the easy part; that just meant a delay. No big deal. But the fear, well, that’s created a big obstacle to a short trip and a lifelong journey. I’m dealing with that every single day right now. Stay tuned.

(Note: This post also appears over at my personal site.)

Buying a Used Sailboat: The Real Costs

The old adage is that the best two days of a boat owner’s life are the day he buys the boat and the day he sells it. Having gone through only the former (thus far), I can say that the day one buys a boat IS a fantastic experience, filled with wonderful emotion and joy and happiness and excitement.

But as with every high, there is the inevitable comedown afterwards. In the case of buying a boat, that typically comes in the form of boat assuming its well-known role as a money pit. Caveat emptor, indeed.

I had read over the years that the buyer of a used sailboat should plan on spending about 50 percent of the purchase price AFTER buying the boat. The money is typically spent on repairs of old equipment, upgrades and adding personal touches. And in the case of Further, I’m finding out that what I read is true. I’ve also found out that there’s one other source of money-sucking in the case of Further: false advertising.

I started dealing with yacht brokers in late 2011, after my return from a summer of crewing aboard Polar Bear in the far north Atlantic, when I started looking for a sailboat of my own. And in those seven years, I’ve dealt with three brokers. I can honestly say that only one of them I would trust as far as I could throw a horse. The other two were little more than glorified used-car salesmen. The most recent example, the one who represented the seller of the boat that became Further, was so full of shit, and his listing for the boat even more choked with feces, that if I ever see him again I cannot be held responsible for my actions.

Buying a boat is not unlike buying a house: you make an offer, go back and forth with the seller, and when you come to an agreement the boat/house is inspected by a professional. Then you haggle a bit more based on what you learned.

Further passed all the tests. I took a couple of grand off my offer after the surveyor said there was an electrical smell in the engine. There were a few other, mostly minor, things but nothing you wouldn’t expect from a 32-year-old boat.

A more in-depth exploration of the engine failed to turn up any electrical issues. In fact, the engine got a pretty good bill of health. But so many other things have come to light in the six months I’ve owned Further that it’s starting to get downright disheartening.

The electrical system was a complete disaster. I should have known something was up when I asked the previous owner, an electrical engineer who owned his own company, about a mysterious dial in the cabin ceiling. He said he’d tried to trace it but didn’t know what it was. Though that dial remains a mystery, the electrical panel had to be completely redone, and you don’t want to know how much that cost.

If only the dinghy I bought held air like it did in this listing photo…

Similarly, the dinghy that came with the boat turned out to be beyond repair. I should have explored the dinghy more thoroughly and taken another couple of thousand dollars off the price but it’s too late now. The outboard for the dinghy needed work but it has been saved.

The canvas on board — a dodger at the front of the cockpit to keep things protected in stormy weather and a sail cover — also turned out to be so old that it turns to dust if you look at it too harshly (let alone put your hand on it when you stumble; in that case, your hand goes right through).

And the electronics suite — radar, chart plotter, VHF — are all so outdated that when the first two gave up the ghost, there’s nothing to do but buy all new equipment. And in the case of the VHF, it’s such an old model that it can’t be reprogrammed to transmit my information in the case of an emergency but rather still transmits the old owner’s data. Result: need to buy a new VHF.

There were other decrepit items on board as well (the water heater was rusted to the point of uselessness, the refrigerator is a complete P.O.S, the hatches leak a bit, etc.), all of which have to be dealt with in one form or another. But you can be sure the form typically involves an expenditure of money.

Now, canvas and electronics are not necessary for safe and happy cruising. Neither is a fridge or a water heater. But they are ingredients that I enjoy and wanted and, I thought, had paid for. Nope. Instead, the expenses have built up beyond what I expected. Not to the point of abandoning the dream but at least to the point of discouragement. When I’m ashore or even just tied up to the dock, the gremlins get into my head and whisper all sorts of disheartening things, sometimes sending me into a funk. Thankfully, that funk dissipates when I head out onto the water aboard Further, proof that, as Isak Dinesen wrote, “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.”

Shakedown Cruise, Part II

(Part I of Further‘s Memorial Day (mis)adventures is right here.)

Sunday Kinda Love and Further rafted up together in Sue Creek. Further’s portholes (more on them later) are visible in the white line running along her hull.

It was sunny when I woke Sunday morning so after a nice, big breakfast I set about doing a variety of chores on the boat: securing the solar panel that had been jarred loose when the powerboat bumped it, laying out the asymmetrical spinnaker to run its lines, reflaking and covering the mainsail on the boom.

And in an effort to increase the air flow through Further’s cabin, I opened a porthole in both the forward cabin (mine) and the aft cabin (where Meghan slept). The portholes are stiff, solid windows in the hull of the boat that are held in place when closed by screw-down plastic handles. They’re made that secure because by being built into the hull (as opposed to the cabintop) they are frequently awash when Further is heeled over while sailing. If a porthole were to open while at sea, it would be a bad thing. The previous owner had some screens that were sized for the portholes and held in place by Velcro. The Velcro on the portholes was long gone but I could still wedge the screens into the windows to keep the bugs out. And the resulting breeze blowing through the cabin was delightful.

Kathy returned to our raft-up in her own dinghy and after hanging out for a while asked me to run her into the Baltimore Yacht Club for a meeting. Doing so would enable me to bring the dinghy back and have it handy if we wanted to go anywhere — which I planned to do later on when I went ashore to use the yacht club’s showers.

Not long thereafter, however, the western horizon started to darken. Like: a lot. And when it started to rain, it rained HARD. Like: Florida hard. The rain drops were big and pelted the boats with a ferocity that made me a little nervous, to be honest, so much so the yacht club buildings were just silhouettes seen through a curtain. Lightning crackled all around Sue Creek and thunder rumbled in a steady cadence.

The five of us piled onto Sunday Kinda Love, whose cockpit Renee had outfitted with a full canvas-and-isinglass enclosure that kept us dry and comfortable while we talked and enjoyed the weather show outside.

(We were fortunate. Not far away, in Ellicott City, Maryland, severe flooding was decimating people’s lives.)

At one point, I went back aboard Further to check on her starboard cabintop window, which I had rebedded and recaulked on Friday in an effort to stop some leaks. It was the third time I’d tried to fix the damned window and I was cautiously optimistic that Friday’s hot temperatures had enabled the two-sided rubber tape between the plexiglass window and the cabin to really stick. Likewise, I was also hopeful that the caulking had filled the gaps and formed a waterproof barrier around the window.

Nope. In fact, the leaks were worse than before. Sigh. So I quickly set about placing towels beneath the drips and I covered the outside of the window with a tarp. I’ve had problems with the windows (and also the two forward hatches) leaking during normal rainstorms in the past, and under this tropical-caliber rainstorm the dripping was constant and fairly strong.

But the leaks weren’t the biggest problem. When I first went aboard to check the windows I realized that I’d left the portholes open.

The forward cabin was fine: the angle of the hull created an overhang so there was no rain coming in the window. But the aft cabin had a lifeline stanchion right above it that acted as a dam and forced the rain running down the deck to cascade overboard — straight into the aft-cabin porthole.

Thankfully, most of Meghan’s stuff was stashed away from the waterfall coming into the cabin, and after shutting and securing the porthole I piled her stuff in the galley. Her sheets were wet; they got hung over some doors. And the mattress below the port was soaked; I pulled it out and set it in the main cabin to dry. And then I spent most of the afternoon and evening cleaning up the mess.

So for the second day in a row, what could have been just a semi-normal event — running aground Saturday, dealing with the window leaks Sunday — turned into a stress-inducing semi-emergency. Unlike Saturday’s line in the prop, the porthole situation wasn’t a threat. But it sure felt like yet another event was going against me in my quest to be a successful and happy boat owner.

Fortunately, Renee and her crew were kind enough to share the dinner they’d made so I didn’t have to deal with that. Which was a good thing since Further’s cabin and galley had wet stuff strewn all around drying. And that paid off: by the time we all called it a night, the mattress had dried sufficiently that Meghan could use the aft cabin. In fact, she was still asleep when I woke up Monday morning and started moving about the cabin.

Motoring back to Annapolis on a gray Memorial Day.

Monday morning was gray and damp, with mist and fog filtering down from a low overcast. After breakfast, and after securing everything in the cabin, we disengaged from Sunday Kinda Love and let the light breeze push Further off. We motored out of Sue Creek, rounded the point in front of the yacht club (keeping to the correct gap so there was plenty of water) and started down the Middle River toward the open Chesapeake.

After rounding the buoy that marked deeper water off Hart-Miller Island’s northern point, we turned south and tried the headsail. There wasn’t enough wind so we rolled it back up and kept on motoring. The tide was going out so we got a really nice lift on the way back to Annapolis: we did nine-plus knots most of the way home and made it in four hours. I didn’t do a great job getting Further back into her slip but eventually succeeded, and after securing all her lines, Further’s first expedition was completed.

So what was the final tally? Well, I got some experiences that will help me in the future. I endured some strong inconveniences that were a pain in the ass. And I enjoyed Further’s first outing as the vehicle to take me out on the waters of the Earth in search of new places, new friends and minor adventures. Motoring down the Middle River on Monday morning summed it up for me: I was out in the middle of a gray, wet mist. The views were nothing special and there weren’t many boats around. The vast majority of people around the region were warm and dry in their homes (or stuck in traffic on the Bay Bridge) but I was outside getting damp.

And I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I enjoy being out in it, so to speak. I’ve always been happiest when I’ve been out there, be it in the mountains of Utah, on the rivers of Alaska or somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean. And in recent years (decades?) I’ve become complacent, settled, lazy. Yes, I faced some inconveniences on this excursion, some that could have caused profound problems, but I dealt with them. And in fact, they turned out to be experiences that contribute to me living the life I want. The journey continues.