It has been a long journey to get here. We are beginning to build what I hope to be the last boat: a highly modified Wharram Narai MKIV catamaran. No, seriously, it will be the last boat. There! I said it out loud, and it is so. How long do I expect it to take to build the plywood 40-footer? Two years. How long will it actually take? Who knows. My predictions of the time it takes to do things are never very accurate, but I am always hopeful.
Twenty-some years ago, I purchased my first sailboat - my first boat, in fact - a 1966 Cal 30 sloop. It had been neglected on the hard in Norfolk, Virgina for seven long years, and three different owners who had never moved the boat from the cradle in the boatyard. I didn't know much about boats, and I knew even less about sailing, but that was not going to stop me.
You see, the dream started in a small dorm-style room in the Aleutian islands of Alaska when I was temporarily assigned there in the military. By this time, I knew that I did not like the military, but I didn't know what I did like or what I wanted to do with my life. I had lived independently for several years before joining the service, and the structured environment of military life simply did not suit me. Each evening after my watch, I would retire to my room and write down my wants. It took a couple of weeks for me to finally boil it all down, and I eventually determined that traveling the world is what I wanted.
I then started to work out the financial side of traveling the world and quickly became dejected. The costs were simply too high. Australia was one of the places that I definitely wanted to visit, so I chose the land down under as my test case, especially since it was about as far away from Virginia (my home station in the military) as anywhere else on the planet. At the time, a round trip flight was about $2000. Three weeks of vacation time for such a trip I considered to be the minimum allowable, especially considering the total cost for such a trip. Once I added in hotel, food, inland/coastal travel, and other expenses, the $5000 price tag was simply out of reach for such a short trip.
Then I asked myself: what if I really like it in Australia? What if I want to stay longer? What if I want to move there for a short period? This really changed the entire dynamic. Now the costs really added up. I would have to return to my home, save more money, sell everything, quit my job, move to Australia, find a new place, furnish it, get a job, get a car, etc., etc., etc. This simply was not an option for me. Then I asked: What if I spend $5000 for a three week trip somewhere and I don't like it, or find no joy in the place? Now I have just wasted $5000. What if I move to a place based on a three week vacation, only to find out three months later that I despise the place? The expenses for such travel were beyond my young twenty-year old ability.
It took a couple more weeks of chewing on the subject, when following some meditation, the idea of a boat popped into my pea brain. You see, I was thinking power boat. That is what I grew up with. My grandfather had fishing boats when I was a kid, and my dad had purchased a Bayliner cabin cruiser when I was in my late teens. I knew I could live on a boat. I knew without a doubt that it was more than possible even though I had never done it before. So back to the calculator I went. It didn't take long for me to push that idea aside once I calculated fuel costs to motor a boat from the United States to Australia.
A couple of days went by, my dreams dashed, when following another meditation session the idea of a sailboat jumped into my consciousness. YES! That was definitely the way to go! Sailboats had cabins, galleys, heads, and storage just like power boats (I assumed this, even though I had never been on any sailboats), and they were propelled by the wind. And you know what? The wind is free!! FREE, I tell ya! It didn't matter that they were slow(er than power boats, such as the 30' Bayliner cabin cruiser with which I was familiar.) I was not going to be in any rush. I would be traveling as a way of life. I could figure out a way to deal with the lack of speed. But more importantly, if I got to a place that I liked, I could stay longer since the boat was my home. If I didn't like the place, I could simply leave with my home surrounding me and propelling me to the next destination.
And so it began. The day after returning to Virginia from Alaska, I went into my local grocery store to look for any magazines that had to do with sailing. I didn't expect to find any, because why would anyone be interested in a magazine that dealt with sailing. In fact, I could not fathom that there were more than a handful of people in the world interested in sailing. I mean, sailboats are so freaking slow, and no one wants to go slow, at least not intentionally (this from the mind of a 21-year old male who enjoyed all forms of motor racing.)
On the second row of magazines, there it was in all of its glory: The March 1992 issue of Cruising World magazine.
This magazine started my quest for a suitable vessel, a progression that forced me to evaluate myself as much as I evaluated the numerous sailboats over the course of the following year. I started by seeking out the boats I saw in the glossy ads of Cruising World and SAIL magazines: Hunters, Beneteaus, Jeanneaus, Hylas, Morgans, and Catalinas. I started big, looking only at those boats 50' and above. It took several months for reality to set in. Not only could I not afford a new boat, I certainly could not afford a 50-plus foot long boat. So I lowered my expectations (not by much, but it seemed as if I were giving up the world at the time), and started looking at used boats in the 40' range. Again, months went by before the harshness of reality took hold of my stubborn mind.
I finally came to the difficult conclusion that I could not afford any of the boats that I had been pestering the various yacht brokers to look at. I realized that a boat mortgage was just as bad as a home mortgage, and that if I did do such a thing that I would still be anchored firmly to land in order to pay for my home. I would not be traveling as I wanted, but instead working for 15-20 years to pay off a boat. I choked down the horribly bitter pill and kept my eye out for seaworthy boats under $15,000. This proved to be quite difficult as the boats I found were either far too small, in terrible condition, or both. But then I remembered the old neglected Cal 30 sitting in the parking lot of the boat yard. I had last looked at it nearly a year before when I first started on my journey to buy a sail boat. I had dismissed it then because it was not polished like the boats in the ads of the magazines. It was old. It was smaller than I wanted. It didn't have the class of the shiny yachts. But, it was close to my price range at $18,000, and the brokerage next to the boat yard had told me that the boat had been sailed single-handed from Hawaii to Virginia, via the Panama Canal, in less than two months. So it was certainly seaworthy. I decided to take another look.
When I arrived, the boat was still exactly as I remembered. A clean solid fiberglass hull, full keel with cutaway forefoot, composite decks, tiller steered, sloop rig, large v-berth full of bags of sails, and a spartan quarter sawn mahogany interior devoid of any electronics, save an ancient VHF with no display and a few toggle switches to change the channels. The price had since been lowered to $12,000. I spent a few days going over the boat, using my hard won knowledge of boats over the past year of searches, to evaluate it as best as possible. I made an offer, and the owners accepted.
For $7,865.00 the strong thirty-footer was mine. It came with free launch, and the mechanic would finally commission the Atomic 4 gas engine he had rebuilt five years and two owners prior. I put fresh bottom paint on the hull before it was launched, and the mechanic assisted me in getting the boat into the slip at Willoughby Harbor Marina. Maybe he suspected I was clueless, but I was not going to let on that I was.
And so it began.
In a later post, the details will emerge about my close encounter with a submarine during my very first ever sail.