As of 2006, neither Jenny nor I had ever set foot on a real sailboat in our lives. I played around in a sunfish once when I was about 15, and Jenny had done so a few times when she was 12. So sailboats weren’t even a consideration for us... They seemed like some mysterious and complex machine that you’d have to really love to enjoy (true, it turns out). When we decided to live aboard we looked for the biggest, fattest, cheapest powerboat we could find. I was starting grad school, we didn’t have but maybe $500 saved up... and that is a stretch. We soon found a big wreck of a Carver Mariner 33 that was alive and floating for $11k, already in the marina we wanted to live in. Perfect. A simple personal loan and we were aboard, and giddy about it. We immediately fell in with the local sailor crowds and spent some time on their boats sailing around the harbor for free. Then we’d try to scrape up the $100 it would take us to go run around the harbor islands for the weekend, stinking of exhaust, listening to the engine drone, and rolling in the wakes. We knew immediately that sailboats were more our styles. Damn, shoulda figured that out a few months sooner. We were still happy nonetheless - just living and being on the water was great. We had both fallen in love with the ocean and ocean life.
Only about six months had went by and we’d been paying down the carver loan pretty quick when our friend was forced to sell his Ericson 35 mk-II, Madrigal, due to health reasons. We knew he was in distress about getting it sold and he told us how cheap he’d let it go for..... $6,500. He had gutted the interior of all but the bulkheads and cabinets. All the trim was in a giant pile in the galley. The water and electric systems were new, but sparse and primitive. The layout of the boat was small, and the sails didn’t fit right. But she had a bright shiny new yellow paintjob and we were sold. haha. Suckers we are, but suckers in love. We bought Madrigal that same week. And truthfully, i embellish a bit, she was in better condition than that. The motor (atomic 4) had just been rebuilt and all new components added. He gave us all kinds of new equipment still in boxes he had yet to install.
Money was still tight, but for now we had the “right boat”. We managed to sell the carver pretty quickly and condense all our boat debt down to an easily managed size. We were quite content for about a year, and then, as the sailboat bug really got into us and we really started to get into the lifestyle, the urge to go cruising for a long period of time started setting in.... and here is where the story gets hairy....
We are big fans of Don Casey’s theories which are along the lines of “GO NOW GO! GO! GO! AS SOON AS YOU CAN! IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOUR BOAT IS SMALL! JUST CRUISE NOW!” Annie Hill has cruised the world over a number of times on very cheap money... but we were still paying on our simple little Ericson. So as much as we like those theories we didn’t want to leave for cruising until 2 things happened: 1) our boat debt was gone 2) our home business of indexing could be sustained from aboard to facilitate long term cruising. In the meantime, living and working from the dock for 2 people and a dog in an Ericson 35 really did start feel small. I can’t quite stand upright. I hit my head a lot. So despite the advice to go and go now, we kept our eyes and ears open for big giant cruisers (40+ feet) that might be a bit more comfy to live dockside in. Of course, the catch is that we have no cash to pay for one, and we refuse to take a big loan that would tie us to land jobs for eons.
So we’d reached a pickle. Buying a big cruiser would tie us to land. No good. Staying dockside in the Ericson had gotten a bit frustrating. So we resolved to go cruising this fall, 2010, right about now in fact. So we spent the summer doing a number of things. First and foremost Jenny quit her land job, and started absolutely pouring herself and her time into indexing. It worked. Our business is doing very well, and although it’d be a tight budget we could cruise on it... We also paid the boat off earlier this spring, so that our boat-debt free goal was achieved (hooray for cheap boats and fixing them up ourselves!). While Jenny was furiously indexing all summer I began furiously prepping Madrigal for departure. We picked the mast off, and installed all new LED mast lights (we had no mast lights at all before). We put in a new battery bank and new inverter systems and a big giant alternator and we put in a composting head and we got new water tanks and and and and... LOTS of time and money went into getting the boat ready to cruise this fall. It was really fun, and I learned a lot along the way.
One of the last major projects pre-cruising was to haul out, paint the bottom, and install a lightning grounding plate. What a miserable set of jobs that turned out to be. We found over 100 blisters that magically were not there during our survey only 2 years ago! grr. We spent 10 days living in a blacktop parking lot in a 95-100 degree heatwave over fourth of July week. Suck. Jenny indexed away inside the sticky, stale boat all day while I ground away at fiberglass and toxic paint underneath her all day. Even the nights were hot and sticky with no reprieve from the boatyard and no friends nearby in this strange little waterfront parking lot we found ourselves now residing in. At least we had each other.
Yeah, Jenny got pregnant. It wasn’t entirely unplanned. We had wanted to start cruising first and then have a kid, but we had decided that if a kid happens sooner instead we will just alter the plans a bit. Well, obviously, it is happening sooner. So we’ve decided to stay in Boston at least until spring (kiddo is due March 25th). It is most likely that we will not be thrilled about the idea of going cruising with an infant come May 1st, nor does the idea of cruising with a 6 month old seem like it will be appealing next Oct... We may be wrong on those assumptions, but if I know us (and I do) those assumptions are correct. So, we are back to living dockside for another 2 years or so.....with a growing family aboard. Back to the bigger boat search. This Ericson is rapidly shrinking!
Luckily, like I said earlier, we’d been keeping an eye out this whole time, occasionally looking at bigger boats that might be a steal of a deal. Watching craigslist for cheap boats, trolling yachtworld for oddities that may crop up, looking at friend’s boats, etc etc etc... all the while knowing that one day we’d have a kid or two and want more space. We were looking in the $30,000.00 range, which you likely all know is nowhere near enough money to get a good solid reliable 40+ft cruiser.... not for most people anyhow. I knew it was possible, just gotta wait for it and keep a sharp eyeball, while knowing that a LOT of work is going to have to be done to fix it up.
So what have we looked at?
Tanton 43 cat ketch.
The first large boat we looked at seriously was a Tanton 43 cat ketch. Wow did we fall head over heals for this boat. The layout is perfect, the rig is simple, the draft is shallow enough to be useful coastal, the boat itself heavy enough to be useful offshore, the engine access fantastic, the stylings to our liking, etc etc etc. Sadly, they are typically 80-120k boats. The one we found was craigslisted at 85k and needed a LOT of work. We liked this boat enough to offer him 50k (yes we were willing to accept the loan for how much we liked this boat) but he was dead set on his 85k, despite the vast amount of work needed to make a finished boat out of her. Fiddlesticks. Back to the drawing board.
This is certainly the smallest boat we’ve looked at as an upgrade from a 35. A friend of ours has an Ericson 36c and the amount of interior space versus our 35 is astounding. Nice 3 cabin layout. We can already attest to the sailing qualities of an Ericson, and the thoughtfulness of Bruce King’s designs. The thought of staying small-ish for dock fees and repair fees is appealing and 36c certainly comes closer to our budget, often selling in the 30-40k range. There is one sitting in the woods in Maine. You can find it on Yachtworld, listed in the low 20’s. It has been sitting in those woods for over a decade now. You can imagine what has to be done. The owner is insistent that it is worth every bit of 20k. I doubt this, severely. We bantered back and forth a bit, but for a boat that is not really “big” we decided not to pour our time into it. If we ever have a 2nd child we’d be in the same boat-too-small spot again.
Allied Mistress 39
The Allieds are awesome. I love their.... sense of purpose. Built for a task: sailing and sailing comfortably. No frills. Looks like a bathtub, but lovable for it. Of course, they hold their value. I’ve seen a couple that are priced low enough, but they are just nasty in terms of rot and what needs to be ripped out/fixed rearranged. Just can’t seem to bring myself to pay 30k for something that needs such a vast amount of help even after that price. We saw a good one down in Georgia on craigslist, at a good price, but still out of our league.... gotta keep looking.
Again, we enjoy our Ericson greatly, and have a good respect for the brand. The Ericson 39 is not the perfect boat because it lacks a 3 cabin layout, but the quarterberth/pullman is quite large, and with a little ingenuity could be privatized a bit. So, when an e39 hit the market for dirt cheap nearby to us, we give it a look. Beautiful flushdeck boat, apparently quite fast for its day. But man, this boat was soaking wet inside and out. Luckily it was raining the day we viewed the boat and we were able to see that it was also raining inside the boat. What a wreck, and a shame. Too much damage was already done for me to consider paying anything substantial for that boat. Even free it’d be a tough sell. I hope somebody picks her up and restores her though, could be a beautiful boat again.
Formosa Peterson 46
The Kelly Peterson 46 is an amazing boat, but they are priced accordingly. Fast, with an awesome safe center cockpit, and a nice 3 cabin layout. The Formosa version was a ripoff of this same design, made in the formosa yard with their typical lack of supervision. The one we looked at was 80k and it had severe structural damage. Even if he’d have taken 40k for it, it wouldn’t have been sail-able for 2 or 3 years and even then I’d be sketched about the whole thing. Keel damage, deck to hull damage, rudder damage, engine of dubious quality and unknown hours... ucghk.... Sadly, I just can’t pay 40k for a boat that needs so much work.... this is turning into a recurring problem.
Pan Oceanic 38
We have a friend who is selling his PO38. Asking 50k (maybe its sold by now, haven’t looked in a while) I think its a great deal. He has done some amazing work to this ultimately stout and seaworthy beast of a 38 footer. But the 38’s aren’t for me. Too much of a motorsailer and a layout that didn’t feel right. No real sleeping cabins... It’d be too weird for a family to arrange sleeping quarters. The PO43 and PO46 are some of my favorite boats though. I’ve always kept an eye out for one, but never seen one anywhere near the right price. I’ve been in love with that flush deck pilothouse look for a while. I think one PO46 sold in the PNW last year for around 60k, but it’s decks were completely shot and needed a rebuild.... to the point of that being listed on the YW listing. Again, so much work for something that costs so much initially.
Tartan TOCK 41
The Tartan Offshore Cruising Ketch was another boat that we came close to taking out a loan to purchase. They are fairly rare, with a bizarre but awesome layout. The aft cabin is 22’x13’ and is unbelievable! It is the main living area, with a v berth and a pullman up front acting as the sleeping quarters. It would be a fantastic family boat, aside from the very close sleeping quarters. Being a Tartan, it is of dependable make and quality. It was a tempting boat because for the 50-60k it would have cost, it needed the least work of all we’d seen. A new electrical system and a bit of deck fitting rebedding might have set this boat to being just about perfect. But again, even 50k is a staggering initial cost to us, and would require a loan that we detest the idea of. Eventually, we decided to let this one go. Beautiful boat though.
No offense to the Gulfstar owners who read this, but Gulfstar’s reputation as a less than stellar manufacturer is no secret, especially in their early years. When we learned we were having a child, we went into panic/nesting mode and decided that maybe we should look at a cheaper brand of boat. Perhaps finding a Gulftar fixer-upper would provide a cheaper initial investment and allow us to upsize quicker, yet leave us with the ability to put more money into the fixer upper half of things. We looked at a, get this, $5,000.00 Gulfstar 43. You couldn’t have paid me $5k to take that boat. And then, I still wouldn’t have been too happy with it in the end. We stopped looking at those pretty quick, after just that one.
Trawlers in general
Yes, we even looked at some trawlers. We love sailing, and we love the “free ride” aspect of it. A friend of ours spent a couple years cruising, and when he decided to come home to Boston from the Virgins all it cost him was couple weeks at sea. Not bad. That said, some trawlers are beautiful and you can’t deny the livability and space provided in the same footage as a sailboat. Nonetheless, the prices reflect it. So that idea was quickly scrapped.
And then, a couple months ago, something interesting happened. I found a Craigslist ad in Rhode Island with text as follows: “Sailboat 45 foot - free. Custom - molded fiberglass hull with balsa cored deck - 70% complete; includes mast & boom. I'm too old to complete. Ready for last primer then your favorite boat color! FREE for the taking!” That and a couple small pictures of an unpainted hull sitting in the bushes was all it had to offer.
Ok, yeah right. I’m assuming this is a giant wreck of a boat that somebody started, didn’t know what they were doing, screwed everything up, and then gave up. Then, they probably let it rot for a decade or two and now they have to get it out of there for some legal reason. Nonetheless, in the spirit of keeping a sharp eye out for deals, I sent an email asking for more info. Can’t hurt to be a keel kicker. Turns out the boat is a Creekmore 45, a big heavy full keel cruiser with a good reputation in design and hull quality. The hulls were made in Florida, and then either owner finished or sometimes finished by a yard in Rhode Island. This one was purchased as a new hull in 1980 by a man named Henry Whited. Henry was 50 years old, recently single, and planning to sail around the world. He did a fantastic job over the next 9 years building a rock solid interior. First he designed a perfect layout -almost exactly like the Tanton we loved so much, except with a flush deck and an indoor steering station like the Pan Oceanic design we love so much. The perfect melding of two great ideas (in our book). Before doing any construction, he laid 1 inch of fiberglass insulation on the inside of the hull, then glassed that in. Then he laid wood over that. That is some fantastic liveaboard friendly insulation. The bulkheads are teak and all the trim is oak. The cabinets/lockers are lined with pine. It looks beautiful.
Well, in 1989 Henry met his next wife, Birgitta. He put the Creekmore aside and built a new house and restored two other boats instead. Henry is a busy man, and quite talented with design and construction. Putting the Creekmore aside was not a sad thing, but a happy thing. He had a new wife and they daysailed together on their restored Pearson 30. They still do so. In the meantime, Henry has taken fantastic care of his beloved Creekmore. He put an elaborate tarpaulin system in place and every time it rains he checks for leaks. He’s kept the mice out of the boat. It looks like he just stopped working on it last week. It’s amazing. Even keeping it up is a lot of work, and having just turned 80 years old, Henry is tired of caring for it, and simply wants to see it get a good home with somebody who will finish it. Again, amazing.
This is not to say that the boat doesn’t need work. It needs TONS of work. The engine is still new, uninstalled from the mid-eighties (That can be good or bad, haven’t decided yet. We may or may not use this engine. Gotta look into it further). There is no electrical inside. There is no plumbing inside. The trim is not yet finished. A couple cabinets are still not finished. The steering mechanisms are not yet installed. Worst of all, there is no lead in the keel yet. Eek.
The advantage is that we aren’t paying $30-40k for a slimy old boat that needs to be disassembled before it can be reassembled. We are paying nothing and we have a fresh start. I can install electrical components the right way. I can plumb it how I want it. I can set everything up exactly how I want it. It is the barebones layout and structure that we have dreamed of, and everything else I can build to suit.
I realize this may take forever and a day to complete. The big deal will be getting the engine and the lead ballast in place. After that she can be painted and launched. The rest of it is all amenities -electronics, water, toiletry, etc etc. These can be done from living aboard it already. Even the sailing systems can be put on hold for a while until livability is situated first. So really, it might not take too horribly long to get aboard. She is being trucked up to a local boatyard for cheap, and can sit there for six month long periods on a very short dollar while I bring her up to speed.
I know this could be a $70,000+ project to finish it, but I really don’t believe it will be. If I paid top dollar for everything yes, but I’m not that guy. I have friends in marine junkyards and friends who do restoration and mechanic work. We all know how to find cheap stuff for boats, and we look in awe at the people who hire out the work to have their boats refinished. Man alive would that be expensive... I can’t even imagine hiring people to do the work. But me, I know how to bargain hunt. I already have almost 10,000 pounds of lead lined up for only a few grand cash. Not bad. There are many parts that we are buying from Henry... things he bought for the Creekmore but never installed. He had planned to sell all those separate, but for a couple thousand dollars he is giving us all kinds of good crap...steering systems, wheels, sta-locs, lead molds, stainless bar stock, brand new self tailing lewmars, engine equipment, propane oven, new bomar hatches, just all kinds of stuff....... plus it has a new mast, new boom, and 5 brand new sails. I don’t mind sweat equity, and really, I love doing this kind of stuff. It is fun and it will provide a good home in the end. I won’t pick a number of how much I think it will cost. The range is too great. It all depends on what I can find where and when.
One last thing I wanted to say about the stylings of the boat is that Jenny and I really always have been suckers for the non-typical “yacht” --especially on the interior. That isn’t to say we don’t appreciate the fine stylings of our Ericson, or the amazing teak work of the old Taiwan boats, or the perfect joinery of a Hinckley, but we’ve always been drawn to those boats with a bit of homemade flair. They have a special warmth and a lovingness that is permanently embedded in them by their makers. Often times, people do a terrible job at it and the home built boats look simply bad inside.... but even those are awesome if you ask me. I think though, that we found a perfect one. Henry spent TEN YEARS(!) on that woodwork, and it shows. It has a down to earth, home built feel, but still looks nice and manages to remain classy. If you ask me, it’s perfection in design and execution.
In the end, I think we got a good deal. After all, $1.00 for the the title to a “new” boat is hard to beat, especially after all the $50,000.00 pieces of crap we saw. It will be a lot of work, but we are going to love this boat-- we already do. We will have a large and comfortable home for our kid(s), and we’ll have a boat that is well worthy of living aboard anywhere we want to.
As you can see, the boat is now here in MA, about 20-30 minutes from the marina we are living in for the winter. It is all shrinkwrapped up, with it's own staircase and we even made a shrinkwrap shed next to the boat. Work is coming along nicely, but I'll save that for another post!
Jenny made this quick video as a tour of the boat: