Ever since my Father took me sailing in his dinghy at the age of 12 in a gravel pit in England, I’ve dreamed of taking my own boat out into the wide-open ocean. But for one reason or another I’ve delayed, prevaricated, and generally found excuses. Of course we’ve gone sailing. A week in the BVI’s here, a honeymoon in Tonga there, nothing to complain about. But it’s not the same as just dropping everything and setting sail on your own vessel.
Then one winter about three years ago, when we were coming back from a vacation and getting ready to go back into a particularly nasty work situation, I blurted out: “If this doesn’t get any better, we should just sell everything and go sailing”. Much to my surprise I didn’t get much push back from the family. Of course that’s probably because I can be a right pain in the rear when I’m unhappy and everyone was probably fed up with me. But for better or worse, the seed was sown and the idea began its evolution to reality. Books about boats became my nighttime readying. Jimmy Cornell’s “World Cruising Routes” became my bible. And in every free moment I went online to see how other people did it. Emma-Kate (my wife) referred to it as “boat porn”.
Then finally a real opportunity presented itself. My company was being sold, the kids were 6 and 9, and we all decided to do it. As we the company was sold and my job went into “transition” we sold the house and did what is arguably one of the worst financial transactions in history: sold a valuable apartment in Manhattan and used the money to buy a hole in the water that is otherwise known as a boat.
All those sleepless nights reading and looking at (boat) porn ended up pointing me towards a Catamaran: they are more comfortable for the family, they go faster, they are (now) very safe. But Catamaran’s have their weaknesses. As I read more, I found that I liked two kinds of boats: really sexy new ones:
To the left is a Chris White 57 and on the right is the cheapest Gunboat (a 48). Two of my favorite current designs.
But I also found that I had a soft spot for older catamarans. Particularly Wharrams. Below is my all time favoriate Wharram: An Islander 55.
Of course there was no WAY I could afford the sexy new ones, so I started looking at the older boats. And after deciding for a variety of reasons that the Wharram’s were not for me, I finally fell in love with a French beauty: a 1991 Lagoon 55. If it’s not too much of an oxymoron for a catamaran, I’d say she has “classically” good looks and dimensions. Below is a pic from the original sales material.
But of course she was too much money. Nearly twice what I had budgeted. But after negotiating a steep discount, and carefully counting my marbles again, we closed. I wired the money. And that’s when the troubles began.
The first thing I did was have the engines looked over in more detail. A blown turbo charger. Ugh. A leaking transmission! Why weren’t these things picked up on survey? Had to fix those. And I hired some locals to refinish a couple of fiber glass cracks. That alone cost the better part of $15,000. OK. Only 15 “boat units” as everyone told me with smiles on their faces.
I took a deep breath, got a group of four friends to join me:
Captain: David Puchkoff
First Mate: Steve Kahn
Crew: Paul & Marc Bricault
We all flew in to pick her up in St. Augustine Florida and sail her back to New York. (Westbrook, CT really, but I live in NYC.)
When we got there boat wasn’t ready. And more troubles were being found by the minute. The generator wasn’t working. More engine problems. A Yanmar expert was called in. They even damaged the boat taking it out of the water and then charged me to repair it. (That doesn’t seem right does it?)
After a dramatic 48 hours of trying to fix things with glue and string we decided to limp out of port. Not exactly the glorious sail I was looking for, but I knew that if I could just get the boat “home” I could get to work making her mine.
We left Florida late in the day on Friday. And headed into the Gulf Stream. Wouldn’t you know it, the wind was on our nose and the Gulf Stream was strong. In other words, the wind and the current were exactly opposed to one another, which meant tacking and using the engine, in short, steep confused seas. No one was feeling great. And then the bilge alarm started going off. For you rookies that means that there’s water pouring into the boat from somewhere AND THAT’S NOT GOOD. Worse the bilge pump didn’t appear to be working. We dove into the bilges (yes, there was that much water) and fortunately I had the forethought to buy an extra bilge pump. So as two of us were manually pumping water out, another was replacing the pump. We got it all switched out. And the water level began to subside. But where was the water coming from? Someone had the wherewithal to taste the water and reported that it wasn’t salt. So good news/bad news. No hole in the boat, but we are running out of water! (The leak was in the water tank: not to worry, we had lots of extra drinking water in containers.) God Bless Steve Kahn for getting up multiple times in the middle of the night and repeatedly fixing the bilge pump. Even after he vomited all over it. And god bless Marc Bricault, who found the leak, replaced a hose clamp and fixed it.
There was a moment the next morning when I thought we wouldn’t make it and we’d have to pull in to one of the Carloina’s and start working on her there. Although we fixed the leak, the batteries were terribly low. And everyone was worried that more things would go wrong. But in the end, after turning off everything, even the auto pilot and turning on our one good engine, the batteries slowly limped back to life (so much for the wind generator).
By now my crew was well bonded. They had got along well in the first 48 hours as the boat was being repaired. I had given them my credit card and told them to go to West Marine and make sure we had “all the essentials”. I guess I’m lucky, because when I tell that to my wife nothing bad ever happens. But my FRIENDS: Damn, let’s just say that I’m now a gold member at West Marine, and I’ve been awarded courtesy memberships to all kinds of new places (BoatUS). But it was the disasters of the first 36 hours on board really sealed the deal. We were one close knit group. Paul dedicated himself to fishing. We’re pretty sure he hooked a tuna but we couldn’t reel it in. In hindsight it would have helped if I’d slowed the boat down to less than 9 knots. But what’s a rookie to know? We didn’t actually catch anything until we got close to Long Island and the Blue Fish started biting (they’ll bite at anything). Well that’s not exactly true. Paul did manage to catch the life raft after the auto release deployed the damn thing. I’m taking them off the transom and putting them into a locker somewhere for future (non) use.
Paul and Marc had done a splendid job shopping so although we didn’t get to eat much fish, they cooked gourmet means for the entire journey and by the time we got home we were all happy.
But for me. That was just the beginning of the financial storm.
I don’t think I’ll admit how much money I’ve actually spent upgrading Ondine. But I will say this. Originally, I thought I’d spend about $30,000. And here’s a list of the things that I’ve done. You can do the math and figure out what it costs. You can buy me a beer if you get it right because I surely can’t afford to buy you one anymore!
Not including the engine work and fiberglass work that was done in Florida. The folks at Pilots Point Marina have done the following for me:
• Converted Crew Quarters to Storage/Laundry facility
• Converted Crew Head to shower
• Converted Workroom to Sail Storage
• Replaced all the cabin house windows in the salon (they were leaking)
• Replaced all the hatches throughout
• Added Solar Power
• Completely gutted all of the electrical systems including engine alternators, batteries (6x8D), inverter, 100v panel, and all the bits in between.
• Added two new six man life rafts
• Replaced the dinghy with an 11ft 25hp (two stroke) Avon RIB
• Added Inmarsat Fleet Broadband 150 Satellite internet and phone system
• Electronic charts (Navionics) and chart plotter for my Mac (MacENC) and iPad (iNavX)
• AIS system
• Replaced the SSB antennae
• Added a WiFi amplifier
• Repaired and refurbished all six sails.
• Replaced most of the moving parts in the windlass.
• Replaced all the cushions and covers in the salon and cockpit area
• Installed a propane system and replaced the electrical stove with a propane stove
• Spent INSANE amounts of money making the refreigeration systems work, fixing the rotton wood due to leaks from the fridges, and replacing the generator driven system with a 12volt system. (This was the one item where we kept on finding more and more wrong.)
• And my personal favorite item – and the single largest bill on the invoice – a Spectra water maker
And now. As I write this, I think we are just about ready to start. It feels like I’ve had an adventure just getting this far.
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