WTFIUWTB — Part II

So where IS my head at these days? Where HAS my life been recently?

As I posted yesterday, I’ve been working at a yacht brokerage here in Annapolis. I took the job in November and spent the winter struggling to get the firm’s website up to date. I’ve mostly succeeded, completing a project they’d started in spring of last year and then let languish. But still, dealing with nitpicking and not being able to get sign-off on simple, must-have items is frustrating, to say the least. The combination of an inability to make a decision (or constant changing of minds) on our part and piss-poor communication and marginal skills on the part of the developer the firm had hired way back when made for a painful process through the winter and spring. And I’m kinda over the frustration that has lingered on into the summer, especially since it’s all been 1099 work so there’s no steady pay let alone benefits.

And I already covered the fun ’n’ games I’ve enjoyed as I’ve tried to sell boats in yesterday’s post.

Through it all, I’ve been doing the job-search boogie. I’ve sent resumes out on jobs that seemed like fits in locations ranging from Seattle to Florida, San Diego to Maine. And let me tell you: it has been humbling.

For starters, with all due modesty I can only assume I’ve been subject to ageism. Several positions that were spot-on fits for my experience and expertise never even garnered so much as a “thanks, but no thanks” response. Other places did send that response, which perplexed me because, again, the jobs were something I already had experience doing, and there aren’t a lot of people who’ve done the job of digital director at a broadcast TV station. To combat the ageism thing, I reconfigured my resume with the help of an HR director friend in an attempt to sorta hide my age. But if anyone spends just a tiny amount of time doing the math, they can figure out that I’m at least 50. Well, all I can do is keep plugging away.

One position that seemed a particularly good fit was a marketing manager position doing all the digital media for the New York Yacht Club. Sure, I might have seemed too senior for the job in the hiring manager’s eye, but I explained how, at this point in my life, combining my avocation with my vocation would be ideal. And to be home in New England? Perfect! I even, with the help of a friend, tracked down the communications director for the club who, it turned out, is a fellow Dartmouth grad (a few years after me). I sent him a personal email, which he replied to very soon after saying that were still gathering candidates and to be patient. I’ve still never heard so much as an automated “thanks for applying” response let alone a “thanks, but no thanks” email. And the job is still posted on the NYYC site.

I have made it to the interview stage in a few instances. I did a phone interview with a nonprofit in Florida, and while the thought of living in South Florida generally makes me break out in hives, job was with a fishing- and ocean-centric organization so, again, it was a chance to apply my skills to something of personal interest to me. I did three phone interviews with folks including the org’s president and then…crickets. Not even a “thanks, but no thanks” email (are you sensing a theme here?). That position also remains posted.

I actually made it to an in-person interview with an online-commerce company. That it was located half an hour from my home on Plum Island made it very interesting to me, even if it wasn’t right in my wheelhouse. Could I have done it? Yes. And I believe I’d have done it well. They at least had the decency to inform me that I was no longer in the running. And I got to see some friends back home while I was up there.

Finally, I’ve made it to an in-person interview with a nonprofit in D.C., one that is personally interesting to me given its focus and its activities. I’ll actually be going for round two next week, so stay tuned.

So what does all this have to do with taking to the ship?

Well, one of the factors in my quest to sail away is, like everyone else, finances. I’ve been eating up my retirement fund chasing this dream and, to put it bluntly, I’ve pretty much exhausted that fund.

So there’s that desire-to-eat thing goin’ on. There’s also the desire to be DOING something again, contributing my abilities to something of value. I get fired up when I see a job that seeks to apply my experience set to a topic about which I’m passionate. They’re rare, but as I detailed above, they are out there.

But then I ran into that boat while paddling yesterday and it was clear that he had accomplished what I long to do, and he’d done it with nowhere near as good a boat as mine. No, he wasn’t doing it glamorously, but I have no interest in glamor either. So it’s doable. The question is: do I dare? I don’t have an answer to that question yet.

There’s one other, not-at-all-minor factor in all of this and i all of my life, and that’s the house at Plum Island. My brother has been living there for two years now, most of which I’ve spent down here in Annapolis. None of the work is getting done on the house and I don’t know what my brother’s plans are — mainly because when I ask him, he doesn’t know what his plans are. But we can’t live there together and neither can afford to buy the other out. So we’re in a bind.

The thought of selling the house, of losing the house and losing Plum Island, literally breaks my heart. But I don’t know what other options there are. To that end, I sent my brother a letter last week saying I believed it was time to think about selling the house. I haven’t heard a word back yet.

I’ll be heading north in a week or two (to have my car, still registered in Mass., inspected) and hopefully my brother and I will have that discussion. Like most discussions in my family’s history, we don’t get to the hard topics very well. Instead, we devolve into chats about sports or the weather or other trivial crap. But getting the disposition of the house sorted out would go a long way toward me being able to sort out my next steps, and that would go a long way toward clearing up the taking-to-the-ship question. THAT’S why all of this navel-gazing is relevant.

And I realize that by posting this here for all the world to see I might be jeopardizing my employment prospects with some of the mentioned entities, but I’ve been trying to be more open with the issues and challenges in my life, and this whole ball of wax is THE issue and challenge in my life right now. That’s why I’ve barfed it up onto this page and I guess we’ll see what happens. I will, of course, keep you posted.

And in the meantime, I’m going to try to log some sail time (if the weather here in the Mid-Atlantic would cooperate) and get back to writing in this space about Further (I actually DO have a good story to share about Further…another time) and boats and sailing and boat life. Thanks for indulging me and stay tuned.

WTFIUWTB — Part I

Several months ago I got an email from a hockey buddy of mine with the subject line, “WTFIUWTB.” That was shorthand for “what the f*** is up with the blog?” and referred to the fact that I hadn’t posted anything here in some time. He is gearing up to take his powerboat (boo!) south and abroad so he was following this space in case there was anything he could use in his planning.

But the other day I noticed that it has again been some time since I’ve posted. And while it’s true that not a whole lot has happened on the “taking to the ship” front, there have been some events of relevance, so let’s get caught up, shall we?

I wrote in May about my efforts to gain a foothold in the world of yacht brokering. It’s been an entertaining several months on that front and it’s gone about as well as you might expect when it comes to me and sales. That’s not to say it’s been a failure, but it sure hasn’t been a success. Yet.

I picked up one set of clients — a pair of brothers and one of the brother’s wife — when they sold the boat they’d owned for a decade and were looking for an upgrade for the next decade. They walked into the office the day they closed on their sale because we had two Catalina 470s listed and they wanted to see those. I showed them those, and some other boats, and we were off to the races.

Their requirements were centered around being able to accommodate three couples, so two cabins and an easily convertible salon settee, and a generator/air conditioner system that would enable them to stay comfortable on the Chesapeake during the summer months. They wanted performance, and they harbored dreams of maybe, just maybe, one day heading out of the bay.

Over the course of the next couple of months, they stayed focused on Catalinas and Beneteaus in the high-40-foot range. A friend was selling her 44-foot Jeanneau which would have been perfectly suited for their needs — and I knew the boat personally, and knew what the owner had done to care for and improve the boat. Nope. They had no interest in looking at Jeanneau or Hunter boats (but they were very into Beneteau and Catalina…go figure).

In late April I showed the husband and wife a beautiful Tartan 4400 that was on the hard in the marina where my office is. And as I expected, they liked it a lot. It was at the upper end of the price range that they had originally cited, a price range that had lowered over the course of our explorations, but still, they called it a stretch. Thing was: I knew the owner had payments due on the new boat he’d already ordered, so I thought we could get it down right into the heart of their originally stated price range AND they’d get an amazing boat, too.

And they really liked it, especially the wife.

What wasn’t to like? The boat was beautiful and well cared for, with basically no use. It had been on the Great Lakes its whole life, with its only foray into non-fresh water being the trip to Annapolis and the Chesapeake’s brackish water. It had brand new sails — like, CRISPY brand new — and a bomber generator and a/c system, and an engine with very little time. This boat offered performance, comfort and ocean-crossing capability. And if they took care of it and just cruised the bay, they could probably get back what they paid for it in 10 years.

After a lot of hemming and hawing, they made an offer — an embarrassingly low offer. “Lowball” doesn’t even begin to cover it; “insulting” might. The seller countered; the buyers countered again and, lo and behold, we had an agreement.

I was stoked! My first sale — and it was going to be upwards of $300K!

Then the buyers scheduled a marine surveyor to do the inspection and sea trial. He was a guy with a reputation for putting a price value on everything that was deficient in a boat — a practice forbidden by the surveyor’s association, but this guy wasn’t a member so he didn’t abide by their guidelines. It also turned out that this surveyor is the guy who’d done my buyers’ boat — on behalf of their buyer — they had just sold, and had been, let’s say, very meticulous.

That trait, coupled with my buyers’ nickel-and-dimeyness, made it clear to me what was going to happen: the surveyor was going to find a bunch wrong with the boat — EVERY boat, new or used, is going to have some things “wrong” with it — and the buyers were going to cut that value off their offer, to the point where I kinda hoped the seller would tell them to f*** off.

Survey day came and the selling broker, a bigwig in the national yacht brokers’ association, didn’t have the boat fully ready, despite the calls and emails and in-person discussions I’d had with him raising the preparedness. To say I was pissed would be an understatement.

Then, after the dry-land portion of the survey, when we got the boat launched and into the water, the a/c wouldn’t work. The engine wouldn’t start. The engine alarm malfunctioned. Various other systems didn’t work properly. All this on a boat that had been in the spring boat show here in Annapolis in April. WTF?!

A boat-systems expert was located and came to the boat. He got everything working…mostly. He fixed the a/c with, get this, a rap with a mallet. The engine starter had a loose wire. He couldn’t get the turbo on the engine to work, but everything went well enough that we eventually took the boat out onto the bay for a sea trial. We even had enough breeze to sail! On top of that, we actually flew the spinnaker — that NEVER happens on a sea trial. And, as mentioned, the sails were brand, spankin’ new: the main and genoa had been used ONCE. The spinnaker had never been used.

Still, the survey went well and the buyers seemed to like the boat. God knows, it was a better boat than they’d owned, and better than anything else they’d looked at. Yes, there remained some issues that the survey and trial had brought up, but I gotta tell you: the surveyor was fair, honest, open and completely above-board. My fears about him based on what I’d heard from other brokers were unfounded. I would have no qualms about him doing any survey in the future. And if I were buying a boat I’d definitely call him.

After the boat was tied up, the selling broker knew what needed to be fixed. And the surveyor and I talked with the buyers about which aspects were important and which weren’t — and as I told the buyers, the selling broker was already on the phone with the owner before we’d left the marina about those items. Whether he sold it to our group or to someone else, those things needed to be fixed.

And the surveyor’s list was also fair, open and unsurprising. With that report in hand, the buyers asked for the repairs and an appropriate reduction in price — all legitimate requests.

But they also asked for some items that hadn’t been on the boat in the first place. WTF?! That’s like asking for a new, extra sail or a watermaker to be added. If it wasn’t on the boat when it was listed then you can’t ask the seller to put it on there. What, he’s going to sell you his boat for less money than he asked for AFTER making it better than it was when you saw it?!

Well, as of this writing, most of the repairs have been made and the remaining items will get done this week. Then we’ll do another, shorter sea trial, hopefully next weekend, and everything will check out. And at that point, the deal will finally go through. But given the nature of my clients, I’m still not counting any chickens until they’re hatched.

I’ve had another brokerage situation that has been equally, um, entertaining. It’s a listing for a 30-year-old Beneteau that a colleague was going to list. The boat is currently priced at $27,500, and that’s a stretch. The only reason we’re repping a boat that cheap is because the owner bought a brand-new Island Packet yacht from said colleague (garnering him a nice big commission), so we’re helping him get rid of this boat.

Which hasn’t been easy. Said colleague gave me the listing as something for me to get started on. While I appreciate the gesture, it’s hard to sell a P.O.S. And the owner is, from what I’ve gathered, kind of a douche. He’s been doing some work on the boat himself (fine) but he’s been dragging his feet all off-season on it. It’s hard to sell a boat when the lining on the cabin ceiling is peeling off. On top of that, he really didn’t know what he had, at least based on what he told us. He said it was a 1986 Beneteau 35s5. Thing is: Beneteau didn’t make the 35s5 until 1988. So yeah, basically, we’ve been flying blind when it comes to help from the owner.

I say “we” because the colleague does all the contacts with the owner. I’ve done all the selling. And while the boat is an old boat, it’s still a good boat for what it’s useful for. Case in point: I showed the boat one weekday evening to a young man who was looking for something to live aboard. His roommate was moving out and he’d lived aboard a sailboat for a summer when he was in school and thought this was a good way to kill two birds with one stone. It is, but this isn’t the boat for that. So I showed him several boats online that would be better fits and sent him on his way.

Three days later I met a couple a few years younger than me who currently own a small Catalina and were looking for a step-up boat, something they could spend the next two years learning how to operate and maintain systems, learn how to cruise and get fully dialed in before he retires and they buy THE boat in which to go cruising. This guy had such the right mindset that he said he considered any boat he bought for this role to be a sunk cost (no pun intended) in the process of getting to cruising.

This boat would be perfect for that role. High enough performance to be fun, small enough to handle, and it also has three cabins so their young son would have his own space. A couple of days after seeing it, he called me and said he wanted it, but that he was heading to Boy Scout camp with his son for a week. Could we hold it? I said we couldn’t, but that I would keep him posted if anything happened. On the way home from scout camp, he stopped by so his son could check out the boat. And before he drove away, he left a deposit check.

A week later, after perusing the boat’s maintenance logs, he bailed out, citing the fact that the engine had overheated and had a couple of other issues in its history.

Did I mention the engine is 30 years old?

What did he expect from a 30-year-old engine? A virginal history? The irony is that the engine runs just fine and would have given him was the opportunity to tinker with a small, easily manageable engine, the perfect way to become your own diesel mechanic at a low cost. Oh well.

So that deal exploded. What bummed me out more than losing the commission (a thousand bucks…big deal) is that I got really fired up about the whole process when the guy and I were looking at the boat. Like: it was so obvious that this was THE right boat for what the guy wanted to — in stark contrast to the would-be liveaboard kid — that I got fired up. I was so psyched that I didn’t mind getting up at oh-dark-thirty on a Saturday morning and I didn’t mind missing my weekly breakfast with friends to show the boat. It was worth it to know that I was going to be able to help this guy live his dream. Yeah! Apparently…not so much. Oh well.

In recent weeks I also managed to find a buyer for a beautiful, ocean-going catamaran (I’m not much of a catamaran guy — other than old Hobie Cats — but I’d buy this one, for sure) that just had her survey and sea trial today. Thing is: the buyer was working with a colleague of mine from our Florida office, so it’s his sale. The listing brokers (my bosses) hadn’t found a buyer for the boat since I’d been with the company, and the colleague with whom the buyers had been working sent them up here to look at a boat that I knew after talking to them for a few minutes they weren’t going to like. So this boat has been sitting around for ages; I got it sold. But hey, I’ll get a pat on the back and maybe a beer when that colleague is here for the fall boat show. Yeah, I’m a little chapped about it.

On the positive side, a listing I picked up for a Contest 36S, a Dutch-built (like Further) boat whose owner bought it in Connecticut five years ago and has been cruising the East Coast and the Caribbean since, arrived in Annapolis last night. I expected him sometime this week and noticed him while paddling my SUP on Back Creek this afternoon and finally got to meet the owner/captain after exchanging a lot of emails over the past several months.

We hit it off nicely and he’ll be around for the next month-plus while he cleans up the boat and gets her show-ready. And I’ll try to find him a buyer.

But what was really interesting to me was that while touring his boat it occurred to me: he’d been doing everything I want to do, and he’d been doing it on a smaller, lesser boat, than I have. My jib is on its last legs? So is his. He has shit strewn everywhere in his boat? So do I. He couldn’t mount a solar panel above his bimini? Neither can I…but he figured out a way to mount it on the lifelines along one rail, something that I can do on Further as well. And he only has crew sporadically? Sounds familiar. But doesn’t he have a windvane autopilot unlike me? Nope. He analyzed it, as I have, and decided it was too expensive. And he found that up to really honkin’ wind speeds, his electronic autopilot (one like I have) worked fine.

Basically, he is living proof that I CAN do what I set out to do. I just didn’t have the chutzpah to take the plunge last fall. That was both chastening AND encouraging. I finished the rest of my SUP paddle by thinking about what was really on my to-do list to be able to go.

And THAT is where I will leave this post for today, because that will segue very nicely into a post tomorrow about where my head is at based on where my life has been at (recently).

PS: To the friend who coined the title for this post: I blocked your email address after all the inane political shit you were spamming me (and others) with. I’ll unblock it in a day or two and see how it goes.

UPDATE: I unblocked said friend and the spam resumed pretty much immediately. At least this stuff wasn’t political but jeez…it’s like being on my father’s email list again. Action taken: blocked again.