For one blissful month, we believed we had found our sailboat. Our offer was accepted, the survey went fine, and Jack, the current owner, had started the woodworking punch list we requested be finished prior to closing.
The hour was nigh to get our hands dirty. We were responsible for completing the plumbing, which included connecting two water tanks, a galley sink, a hot water heater, accumulator, two bilge pumps, deck washdown and an assortment of other electric and foot pumps all pushing hot, cold, potable and fresh water around the boat in one big harmonious hydro-circulatory system.
Kirk and I are not plumbers. We decided to put in a composting head, as that meant one less plumbing sub-project we had to worry about (not to mention all the other benefits of a composting toilet). We decided to make due with a solar cockpit shower and forgo one inside the boat — which, I think, with each additional chilly outdoor rinse, our dissatisfaction with the arrangement would skyrocket (but, who knows, maybe we’d somehow permanently numb our thermoreceptors and start diving into frigid Lake Michigan on the daily).
Besides the plumbing, there was a laundry list of other projects that needed doing. By us. Which we had agreed to — because Jack said he couldn’t complete himself due to physical immobility, anyway — for a reduction in the asking price. This would be good, we thought. Doing the work ourselves would give us a much deeper understanding of the boat: how this particular boat’s systems operated, how all of her parts were put together, and hopefully a better idea of how to fix things when they broke.
We started spending every day at the boat. We cleaned the million sawdusty surfaces. We organized spare wood, hardware and tools. We removed and took home all dozen of the newly re-upholstered cushions and Pullman berth mattress to save them from work zone abuse.
In an effort to understand the systems, we dove into all corners of the boat. We spelunked in lazarettes, squished into lockers and squeezed behind drawers. We traced wires, tubes and pipes. We mapped current systems and sketched layouts for systems that didn’t exist yet. Kirk started using task-management software (designed for software development) to keep track of our mounting nautical to-do list.
Everything was moving along swimmingly.
Then, one morning, the phone rang. “I know Jack planned to meet you at the boat this morning.” It was Mary Beth, his wife. “Jack fell down the stairs last night.”
Jack was carrying two giant packages of Costco toilet paper and paper towels. Unfortunately, he didn’t manage to cushion his fall on the cargo. “Incredibly the doctors didn’t find anything amiss,” said Mary Beth. “But he’ll definitely be on bedrest for four or five days.”
We carried on the next few days hashing out plumbing plans, running errands to Menards and Kendor Marine, and doing a handful of odd jobs Jack asked of us like sanding the companionway handles and cleaning the metal hinges for the chart table.
Five days later, we ran into Bob & Debbie, friends of Jack’s. Bob and Jack have sailed together for years and help each other out on their respective boats. “Jack went into emergency surgery this morning,” said Debbie.
Jack’s limbs had gone numb. After taking an ambulance back to the hospital, a doctor found four cracked vertebra. One wrong move might have paralyzed him.
“They fused the vertebra together,” said Bob. “He’s going to be laid up for a while.”
Back surgery. On a 70-something-year-old.
Inside the boat, amongst open tool boxes, extension cords, and hatches stacked here and there, Kirk and I sat down on the bare settees.
“What does this mean for us?” said Kirk.
I shook my head.
Our plans collapsed like dominoes. Jack wouldn’t be able to return to the boat for months. There’s no way the boat would be ready this summer. The boat wouldn’t see water for another season.
The sheer amount of boat work piled up in my head, growing to impossible heights. My mind spiraled. “If we buy this boat, who knows when we’ll be able to sail,” I said, my voice cracking.
I dropped my head in my hands.
* * *
We sat side-by-side on the couch at my parent’s house. Both laptops open, sailboat listings pulled up on both screens.
“Are we really doing this again?” Kirk said.
I sighed. It felt like we were starting completely over.
It was tempting to think the universe was conspiring against us. It made me wonder if this whole boat thing wasn’t meant to be.
But really, we weren’t starting over. Yes, we were starting a new search for another boat, but all the searching we’ve done thus far wasn’t for nothing.
We’ve learned so much in our search for a boat over the last year. (And through all the years of armchair internet searching.) With every boat for sale we’ve seen, the better we’ve understood what our ideal boat will look like.
And then we almost drove to Florida.
“Kirk, look at this.” I pointed to a listing in Palm Beach Gardens. “A catamaran — for under $50k.”
A cruising catamaran for under fifty thousand dollars is a dodo bird. In all of our searching, catamarans that cheap were actually rotting in a boatyard or sinking at the dock. This one, crazily enough, looked decent. Ready to go, even.
There must be a catch.
We called the owner. He had bought it the previous year from a guy (from Wisconsin, no less!) whose family had owned it for 15 years. Apparently this cat was a one-off, was built like a tank, and can’t sail to windward worth a darn. Most cats sail poorly to windward, but this one was especially handicapped. On the plus side, it had 7.5’ of standing headroom in the hulls. WHAT. It was currently in the water, and supposedly ready to cruise (downwind, of course).
Our spirits lifted. Maybe other boats are out there…