Crew-finding Fiascoes

Last night’s full moon was glorious from the foredeck of Further.

Here it is, the last few days of June, and Further is still tied up to the marina in Annapolis. I had hoped she’d be bobbing at her mooring in the Merrimack River back home in Newburyport, Mass., in mid- to late-May, so I am now a month-plus behind schedule.

Some of the delay has been due to various projects that needed to be done on the boat. But by far the biggest impediment has been my inability to find any crew who can join me for the sail north. I tried reaching out to friends with sailing experience but no one’s schedule has allowed them to get away yet. One friend-of-a-friend who, I was under the impression, was unemployed and ready to go ASAP told me yesterday that he was ready to go…after July 10. That revelation sunk me into a deep funk that I’m hoping will lift a bit as I write this post and get things off my chest.

There’s an added tragedy to the saga as well: This week’s weather has been perfect for the offshore leg from Cape May, N.J., to Rhode Island. I’ve been watching the weather forecasts for a while now and had hoped to be headed north by yesterday or today, but obviously that’s not the case.

It’s now at the point where I am contemplating making the trip singlehandedly. Going solo is very do-able — plenty of people are sailing around the world by themselves right this moment — but not prudent, especially since I haven’t been offshore in a few years.

The full moon was even nice when walking back to Eastport over Spa Creek draw bridge after an ice cream cone in Annapolis.

But I am so jones-ing to sail on blue water, to see the ocean, to anchor in a spot where I can jump off Further into the water and not worry about the health implications, that I’m almost to that point.

One friend wisely counseled patience, pointing out that another couple of weeks is no big deal, and also pointing out that I enjoy Annapolis. All of that is true, but on the other hand, it’s time to GO. If I were sailing locally more often, that would be one thing, and several times recently the conditions have been perfect — except for the fact that the water level in my cove was so low that Further was stuck in the mud (this despite the assurances of locals that such conditions NEVER happen in the summer). So yeah. Time to go.

These are all first-world problems, I realize, and I apologize for my whining. I mean: I just finished reading a book by a woman who’d been diagnosed with stage IV cancer; my “problems” are not even problems; they’re scheduling challenges. So again: my apologies.

But if you have any interest in going for a sail, experienced or not, gimme a shout. We could do it one fell swoop: Annapolis to Newburyport would take about four and a half days. Or we could break it up: I’d like to head straight from Naptown to Block Island, stay there for a day or two, and then head home. Or if you’d like to join for one or more shorter legs we could even break it up a bit more: a day to the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal; a day from there to Cape May; two days offshore to Block; a day from Block to somewhere on Cape Cod (or a side trip to Martha’s Vineyard?); a final day back to Newburyport. Whatever works best for you, I’m game. I would counsel that if you’ve never been offshore, you start out with something shorter and closer to land. Things can get monotonous when you’re out there for more than a few hours. Just sayin’.

And if it doesn’t work out and I don’t get home until mid-July, well, come along for a day sail out of Newburyport or maybe even a journey down to Maine. Seriously. I’d like to join a gathering up in Penobscot Bay the last weekend of July and would love to have company along for the trip.

Again, if you’re interested in any of this, drop me an email at the Gmail address listed on this site. Thanks!

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.”