It’s said (ad nauseum) that the two happiest days of a boat owner’s life are the day you buy the boat AND the day you sell it. I was pretty happy when I sold my last cruising boat, about ten years ago, after it sat on the hard for two years when my life took a sharp turn away from the water and into the unexplored wilds of having children. It was a great boat—a 1979 Bristol 35.5—that had taken me and my friends (and future wife) all over the Chesapeake Bay, up to New England, and down to the Caribbean. Like any boat, there were a lot of good times and important learning experiences wrapped up in it. But it had reached that age where the jobs list gets longer and more serious, and can keep you awake at night. And when you don’t have time to shrink it, or time to sail the boat much to compensate for the pain of constant maintenance, it is time to sell. I’ll buy another boat, maybe, I thought, when my kids are older and the time is right.
That time arrived earlier this year. I hadn’t realized it, but I was hanging out with my friend Ivar, looking at the inviting vistas of the Rhode River, south of Annapolis, and he casually said, “It would be fun to have a sailboat.” Bing. Something clicked in my head—a switch that, like a fuse, tripped due to a sudden surge of energy and insight--and within five minutes we agreed to buy a boat together. Our wives were admirably indulgent. Our children were admirably curious. The wheel had turned full circle, and I was back to the part where the happiness comes from a boat that is on its way in, instead of on its way out.
Of course deciding to buy a boat is the easy part. Finding a boat, purchasing it, and then getting it from wherever it is to wherever you want it to be, is the harder part. While I had not been actively thinking about owning a sailboat for ten years, apparently my subconscious had been hard at work. As soon as the decision to find a boat had been made, my brain served up the type with almost no active cogitation: a racer/cruiser that I could mostly cruise with the family, but was capable of being raced offshore in the Annapolis-Bermuda Race or the Annapolis-Newport Race. Ivar, who wants to take a sabbatical in a few years to go on a big sailing adventure with his family, was agreeable, provided I would be willing to buy him out if, and when, he needed to move on to a proper cruising boat. No problem.
With the genus of sailboat settled, I turned to a boat-buying tool that hadn’t existed in 1990 when I bought the Bristol: the internet. My subconscious had also semi-selected the exact boat it thought I would eventually need, a shoal-draft Beneteau 36.7. But I had never set foot on a 36.7 so I threw up a thread on Sailing Anarchy asking whether there were any other racer/cruisers I should be looking at in that size and price range. I got tons of informed feedback, but nothing anyone said changed the analysis my subconscious used to spit out the 36.7 recommendation. I was also encouraged by both the enthusiasm and generosity of the 36.7 owners, who detailed the modifications they had made to make their wives and kids happy, and offered plenty of offline expertise. So it was on to yachtworld.com to find a (somewhat rare) shoal-draft 36.7 (which draws 5’ 10” instead of 7’ 2”—a crucial distinction in the Chesapeake Bay).
One was on Long Island Sound, but was a Hurricane Katrina rebuild. I sent one of my new 36.7 buddies the paperwork on the rebuild. He sent it to one of his buddies in the boatbuilding industry. The word came back: “Do not buy that boat.” Another was a 2002 model, up in Kingston, New York, which is about 100 miles up the Hudson River. It didn’t have any spin gear, but otherwise it seemed just right. How much should I bid? Well, my 36.7 buddy, who had lost his shoal-draft 36.7 last year in Hurricane Irene, had bid on the boat before deciding to buy a deep-keel version that was better set up for racing (he worked out a deal with another owner to swap the deep keel for a shoal keel). He told me what he had bid, and what the counteroffer had been before he moved on. So I knew the price I could get the boat for, and the price was right. After a little back and forth with the owner, an agreeable dentist who mostly daysailed and beer-can raced the boat singlehanded (and never spent a night aboard), and a survey, Ivar and I were the new owners of Moondust. Last week, we drove up to Kingston to bring her down to the Chesapeake Bay. We went on a brief sail with the owner and surveyor. The boat was quick and easy to sail. We spent our first night aboard. It was a very happy day.
Ivar Takes Manhattan
It took four days to motorsail Moondust down the Hudson to New York City, pick up some offshore crew, sail down the New Jersey coast to the Delaware Bay, pass through the C&D Canal, and then take her to her new home on the Rhode River. When the sailing was good, we sailed, romping in past Cape May in a building easterly that pushed us along at 10-plus. We made mental lists of the things we’d like to tweak, and worked out all the best places to sleep, sit, and eat. Learning a new boat is always a pleasure, especially when you don’t come across any ugly, or unanticipated, characteristics. Delaware Bay, running dead downwind through the snaking shipping channel, with lots of shipping around, caused some stress. And when we finally popped into the Chesapeake Bay and entered the home stretch, we were greeted by a 20-knot southerly, gusting to 30, with perfectly square 4-foot, boat-slamming waves. After beating our brains out, and beating the boat up, for a few hours, we did the smart thing and headed for the quiet of the Magothy River and spent a relaxed, restful night, to let the strong southerly blow itself out.
This is the main idea.
The next morning we slipped under the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and cracked open a round of celebratory beers. An hour later, Moondust, having tasted saltwater for the first time in her life, was in her new slip.
I don’t know if and when we will ever sell her. I don’t know if we will be happy when we do. That doesn’t matter. All that matters right now is that there is a sailboat in the slip again.