Ah, what a great word. I’ve had several notable transitions in my life, each one with their unique challenges.
1993: Transition from grade-schooler in Rhode Island to high-schooler in Western Pennsylvania. Begin realizing “Wicked awesome” should not be used in every sentence.
1998: Transition from farm kid mucking out the family barns to midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. Realize city-living isn’t the worst thing out there, but appreciate coming home more and more.
2002: Transition from midshipman to liveaboard sailor & now Ensign in the U.S. Navy. Sail from Baltimore, MD to Charleston, SC and later Fernandina Beach, FL. Realize what it’s like being a real adult on my own!
2005: Transition from solo to couple. Realize how little I know about relationships now that I’m married!
2009: Transition from active-duty military overseas to unemployment to my first “real” job stateside. Realize how challenging juggling multiple priorities can be. Double down on being a good husband.
2013: Transition from cozy DC-based civilian life to deployment in Africa with the Navy Reserve. Realize how resilient our family is.
2015: Transition from DC suburb and Federal job to rural country living while working from home for a CA-based start-up. Realize I’m losing control of too many spinning plates.
I didn’t check the stats, but I don’t believe I wrote any blog posts last year. Not for lack of material or commentary, but for differing priorities. I tell folks 2015 was “The Year of Too Much” for us. Buying a house, selling, a house, four international trips, changing jobs, sick family, blah blah blah. All the normal things that happen to a person.
Also, my creative focus has been on getting my first novella out the door. I just finished the first draft after stalling for two years. And I really want to see it through.
I’ve also spent time thinking of “what do I want this to be?” Frankly, let’s call a spade a spade. I’m out of this game for the time being. I was out in 2009 when I stopped living aboard. I have no intention of being a full-time, or even part-time, live aboard in the near future. There’s a new generation of entries into the field, and the mediums have changed. I love watching the videos of SV Teleport on YouTube. And reading the great dialogue being put out there by Bob at Boatbits and Volkscruiser and Teresa & Ben at Sailing Simplicity. They are out there living it today, and have a much closer relationship to many of these topics.
So as I can, I’ll continue to tell my story here. It’s one perspective in the bigger swimming pool of available thoughts. And I won’t lose sleep over how frequently I post! I’ll call this a noble experiment. And do my best to leave my content up and available for everyone in the years to come.
Transitions are great opportunities to reflect, to take stock, to cut things away, or add news things in. I know I’ve done all of those.
I’ve been swamped lately, by my own choice to some extent, with selling a place, buying a place, moving, and travel for my two careers. If anyone ever questions a “normal” life with the typical U.S. dreams and aspirations… I’m a case study in why you should think otherwise. But as they say, happy wife, happy life.
I’ve had the opportunity to be over in Stavanger, Norway, and took the following photograph of the harbor near my hotel. Live aboards… they’re everywhere!
Always someone around
The following article, detailed with further correspondence by Dave Z over at Triloboat, was a fascinating read this week:
While the original author, Michaela Popperton, has a more finely tuned “system”, this was effectively how we changed over from a Cal28 that I originally lived aboard out of college for three years to a Tartan 37 in 2007, followed by a move back stateside in 2009. I was sad to leave Persephone behind in Guam, but at the same time I didn’t feel like I was completely starting over again; I simply had to find a new shell to put my sailing kit.
The interesting part of this article is the two-part nature: there is a piece of philosophy in how she chose, deliberately, to live this particular lifestyle, and a second piece that is practical in nature.
There’s no reason one would have to consider every purchase in light of moving from boat-to-boat over the years, but certainly there is something to be said for buying a few things of high quality, high usefulness, and high return-on-use, and saying “These are mine, and will continue with me wherever I go, no matter what.”
Some things I still have, effectively in my kit bag (so I can always take them sailing with whoever):
– Handheld GPS
– SPOT man-overboard personal beacon
– Onyx kayaking PFD
– Gill sailing gloves
– Prescription sunglasses w/ polarization and strap
– Wide bottom coffee cup
– Carabiner’d water bottle
I also have a galley kit which has changed boat-to-boat, as well as a pretty decent sailboat tool bag. No need to change what works.
I also took advantage of one of her points on trailer-sailors. The Ruby Doobie is actually a combination of two hulls: an original Aquarius 23 that I stripped down extensively to outfit a better condition Balboa 23 that came my way for free.
One could do worse than this philosophy on sailing. An intentional move, say for one-to-three years, with the idea of building a good usable kit and saying “Hey, I can punch at any time and still walk away with something for my time” is something to consider.
Here’s to hoping for a little bit of slack in my future. I have a few articles in the hopper about our Tartan 37 purchase, my galley kit, and some odds and ends. If you’re still reading, cheers! Hopefully there’s something valuable here, even if it’s not consistency!
What struck me is the selling price of this particular Columbia 36. In 2002 I paid $8500 for my first sailboat, a Cal 28. $8000 still feels like a lot of money, relatively speaking, but I tend to agree that the benchmark prices have steadily dropped over time. Partly due to inflation, partly with these vintages of sailboats aging further.
I’ve got a few things in the hopper. A post on risk assessment, sailboat head options, galley considerations, the story of purchasing our Tartan 37 in 2007, and more. I’ll try to continue our structure of a Sailboat Sunday analysis and Commentary as I can.
Thank you to all who have commented. Great to see others with experience on those particular models adding to the collective knowledge base out there. It was also a good reminder to clarify the intent behind the Sailboat Sunday posts. While I’m not looking to buy at this time, someone may be, and these analyses are a good exercise in “What if?” assessments. And who doesn’t like talking about boats?
I’ve missed my mark for the past two weeks now! Bad Travis. Unfortunately we’ve been occupied with getting a move set-up on top of a full spring. Hopefully my intentions can met real life head on, and I’ll be diligent in posting once again!
“I have not always chosen the safest path. I’ve made my mistakes, plenty of them. I sometimes jump too soon and fail to appreciate the consequences. But I’ve learned something important along the way: I’ve learned to heed the call of my heart. I’ve learned that the safest path is not always the best path and I’ve learned that the voice of fear is not always to be trusted.”
― Steve Goodier
Two days from landfall in Yap, 2009. A busy skipper communicating via Ham radio. Twitter? What?
Listening to those around you…
When the idea of living aboard a sailboat first came to me, it was early 2002. The internet was alive, but just beginning to grow. WordPress, as a content engine, wasn’t even on the horizon. “Blogs” were not around, although the first beginnings were present. So where did one turn to for information? The library had some books, mostly written in the days when sextants were the only navigation tool available. Various sailing periodicals were in distribution, but you had to spend $20-40 a year for a subscription, followed by 30-50% of the pages being filled with advertisements.
In the years since, the information revolution washed over all things, including the sailing community. With tools like Blogger, WordPress, and others, everyone now has a voice. Which is great, on the one hand, because the conversation has more depth and breadth. It’s also more challenging to find the “right” answers because it’s a sea of voices, and easy to get overwhelmed with analysis paralysis.
Over the last twelve years I’ve fine tuned my intake stream for information. And many of the books I’ve collected over the years have found varied use; some are well-worn, some only read once through. Below are some of the resources I’ve used at various times, with a piece of context with each. Many are free. Some are available at modest cost (and in the case of print books, maybe a used copy or previous edition would yield most of the same value). If I were starting over again, fresh out of college, looking to live another adventure, I’d consider:
Dove: I read this at age thirteen and knew I’d be living on a sailboat someday. Excellent story of a young man finding his way by sailing around the world. A movie was made later on; not sure of the quality.
Voyaging on a Small Income (Annie Hill): I’ll chock this up to both motivation and technical knowledge. Once I was already living aboard, Annie’s way of conveying information through stories had a profound impact on my life. And the technical knowledge (especially for someone just starting out) was excellent.
Blog of S/V Estrellita 5.10b: Great log of their on-going voyage. There are many (MANY) voyaging blogs of various quality. Some folks are great about sharing their adventures. Some use a blog as a continuous letter home. The content varies. Estrellita is one of the few sailboats I actually keep up with; they have great things to say.
Blog of Webb Chiles: Let’s all hope we’re still sailing with the same vigor as Webb at his age. Excellent lifetime of sailing behind him and more ahead. Many different boats.
YouTube series of Yacht Teleport: If this doesn’t get yo motivated, I don’t know what will. Great to see a pair of professionals using their skills to inform others about the live aboard lifestyle.
Sailing Simplicity: Ben and Teresa have lived (and continue to live) and fantastic adventure, sailing solo (together) and now together-together. Both a source of motivation, great technical content, and for me (at least) a flash-back to ten years ago and the carefree life of simple living. If you are a female reader, I can’t recommend Teresa’s work enough. Excellent.
Cruising Handbook (Nigel Caldwell): As a senior at the Naval Academy I bought this book at the local Barnes and Noble as a way to indoctrinate myself into the idea of living aboard. I knew I wanted to; just needed to find the requisite knowledge to back up my sailing experiences till then. This book has always had a place on my shelf. Not necessarily comprehensive in every subject, but a great broad brush stroke of most all major skills necessary to bring a boat from point A to B.
This Old Boat (Don Casey): Again, one that I’ve always kept on my shelf. One of the greatest gifts living aboard taught me was a wide range of necessary skills to repair goods. There was always an opportunity waiting. Don’s book gives excellent advice on a variety of skills, and each chapter typically includes an example project to hone those skills with. I can’t think of many things you wouldn’t learn enough to started with via this book. Obviously the internets have added a great deal of specific examples of folks doing many repairs/upgrades/improvements. But Don’s book forms a solid basis to begin from.
Attainable Adventures: John and Phyllis have been experimenting with a different model for their information exchange (much of their site is now via paid subscription), but for many the price is well worth it. The group of writers providing content at Attainable Adventures is phenomenal. And for me, the draw (initially) was information about high-latitudes cruising. They provide sound information and experiences for others to consider when cruising in a challenging environment. Recognize they are in a different place than most starting out (relatively expensive, purpose-built sailboats for the cruising envelope they are in), but the information is applicable to most every sailor.
Volkscruiser: At the other end of the spectrum, maybe, is Bob’s purpose-driven site on ideas for minimalist cruising. And I use minimalist in a good way, and maybe because “budget” feels icky. It’s not bad at all; it’s exactly how I started and would continue to advice folks getting into the game to go. Great considerations on boat selection, skills, and general musings. I also read his original blog, BoatBits, which provides some interesting commentary. I love Bob for the fact that he’s one of those folks acting as the thirteenth man: “Everybody is moving in this direction; why? Something may be wrong.”
Voyages of Ming Ming: As a proud down-sizer to a 23 footer, Roger’s travels on Ming Ming (and now Ming Ming II) are phenomenal. Consider this also a technical information website; his upgrades/refits to bring older Corribee designs up to speed for high latitude cruising are amazing.
Atom Voyages: Also a technical information site, but one with significant sea-story vibe. James Baldwin is still living the life.
Keep Turning Left: If you want to while away the time watching YouTube, I can’t recommend Dillan’s video series enough. He is doing a slow, deliberate circumnavigation of Great Britain, in several boats thus far. As a professional, his editing is amazing. And the length of the show lends itself to a good lunch-time break.
Tim Ferriss’s Four Hour Work Week and Four Hour Chef: Not only would 4HC be a great book to have aboard for the cooking lessons, but the idea of deliberately managing time and other resources, and purposeful learning, were great influences on me and my successes. He also has a great podcast with some phenomenal guests.
Zenhabits: If you know Leo Babauta, and take only one thing away which is necessary for living aboard a sailboat: Clutterfree.
Ideas for “Work”
When I was first living aboard it was as a working professional. You can imagine a Naval officer has some commitments to keep, like showing up for work in uniform. So my lifestyle was framed around this aspect of my life. That said, there are many who mold their sailing lifestyle around their work. A few resources that come to mind:
Ramit Sethi: He’s a thought-leader in today’s online economy, but his advice is pretty sound. I can imagine several business ventures working out from a mobile platform like a sailboat, even with connectivity being a challenge to overcome.
Fizzle.co: The guys here provide some great advice on getting online businesses up and going. In my imagination I can see a productive 20-something on his or her Columbia 29, sitting at a laptop, pulling wifi from a shoreside establishment, and working on their business. Completely within the realm of possibility.
And several others. One thing I’ve changed over the years is recommendations for magazines. Frankly, that market has not done well. Most of the big names you’ll see on the shelves at West Marine are becoming more and more… well, worthless. Lots of advertisements, lots of product placement, little of value. The occasional cruising story to give some inspiration, but a lot of it is focused on chartering or buying the latest-greatest production boats on the market. I have enjoyed Good Old Boat and Practical Sailor at various times, but with so much online, I’d rather just save my money.
I know many of you came from some of these blogs, but I hope there’s something to spark some inspiration this week. Or keep the spark going. Or reminiscence about days of old. Or just put a smile on your face.
What are you reading? Give a shout out to your favorite resources in the comments.
Trolling for sailboats the other week lead to an interesting find; an Allmand 35 listed for $7500. In the last Sailboat Sunday post we discussed an arbitrary and invisible line called “thirty feet”. Every once in a while, something will pop up for less than $10K (our fictional budget) that is over 30 feet in length. In this case, a sailboat that fits nicely in the middle.
I tend to agree, based on personal experience and observing several other liveaboards, that a well designed sailboat between 33 and 38 feet in length is a sweet spot. Small enough to comfortably single hand, not too hard on length-derived service costs (slips, haul-outs), large enough to provide unique spaces for life activities, reasonable chance of finding something with headroom (at six feet tall, I have a personal desire for this), and plenty of storage for reasonable needs.
Why do I say this?
My personal experience living aboard our Tartan 37, Persephone, led me to find it the perfect size. Safe and comfortable at sea too.
In Charleston, I had one neighbor on a Catalina 34; similar experience, in that he had everything he needed and incentive to leave it that way!
In Fernandina Beach I had a Westsail 32 as a neighbor. Again, great sailboat layout and one happy guy.
Search across the web for those who are out there: Webb Chiles (Ericson 37, She 36) and Bob Wise (Cal 34).
So let’s see what’s for sale this week. In the Annapolis Craigslist, I found the following:
From the reference data, the Allmand 35 tri-cabin model has the following stats:
Length: 34′ 9″
Beam: 11′ 8″
Draft: 4′ 8″
Displacement: 15,100 lbs
Ballast: 4300 lbs
Fuel tank (stock): 40 gals
Water tankage (stock): 95 gals
What makes this a good potential liveaboard?
Bottom line: size. When approaching a decision like purchasing a home, especially a sailboat as a home, one needs to consider many factors. One factor I use is the “what can I change and what can’t be changed?” factor. Example: there’s no point in imagining a townhouse will ever become a stand-alone house. Without significant financial investment (i.e., buying the townhouses around you, knocking them down,e tc.) you will always have a townhouse. With sailboats, what are those factors you can’t easily change? Dimensions are certainly one of them. At this price point, and knowing what I do now, I’d consider this a reasonable trade-off. Plenty of space to enjoy now, and a targeted plan of how to restore systems over time if I was tight on funds. This is based on previous experience as well; our Tartan 37 sold for $6500 without a working engine.
The five foot draft means this vessel is capable of doing most all of the regular cruising grounds found in the East coast of America. Caribbean jaunts are definitely possible. And ocean-crossing capability is available with some additional planning and assessment. Rather than a “starter” boat, this could conceivably be a long-term home investment.
At first glance, much of the vessel appears in good condition. Stainless rails topside mean less maintenance. A nice enclosed cockpit area means additional living space (and a buffer against the snow if you lived aboard in northern climes). Some water damage below that needs looked to, but nothing impossible to overcome.
One feature I enjoy is the tri-cabin layout. V-berths are fine for sleeping in port, but not much good at sea. I much prefer to convert them into purposeful storage (sails, Rubbermaid totes, etc.). A quarterberth (a berth in the aft quarters of a sailboat) provides good motion when at sea, and quick access to the cockpit should something be going on. In this case, the aft cabin would also be fine for in port use, meaning no changes to sleeping arrangements while going to sea.
And the midship placement of the sink means a great galley layout for cooking both in port and at sea.
Price: Based on our fictional $10K budget, this vessel does push us right up to the edge without much margin. That said, this particular listing tells me that much of the sailboat is probably in good condition (relatively speaking) so that I only need to focus on a few significant items to be live aboard ready.
Engine: As mentioned, the seller assumes the engine needs full replacement. A qualified diesel mechanic would be a worthy investment to better make that call. If possible, we’d like to salvage and reuse what’s available, and as long as repair of the Yanmar is budgeted appropriately, it may be a worthwhile investment in time (not getting out there) versus money (using up our budget and saving for any additional needs). If this truly is a case for total replacement, then several options open up. This vessel is likely too big to effectively do an outboard-in-well setup, but one option could be a drop-down outboard such as Yves uses on his Alberg 30. Alternately, this could be a candidate for electric conversion, assuming the prop and drive shaft are in good condition. Or be ready to jump on a good engine replacement. As mentioned though, I’d consider this a reasonable purchase with a plan to sit in port for a year while steadily saving up for that engine replacement.
Floor: The cabin sole is listed as water damaged, and we’d need to see the extent of that. If the stringers (cross-members that support the floor) are in good condition, then replacing what’s there with a good solid plywood (marine grade or some of the well-bonded signage stock) and a non-skid floor covering is an option. I’ve successfully used an adhesive-backed vinyl with a tough tread pattern before; easy to install and maintain.
As mentioned, the engine story needs told first. I’m 100% a fan of those who sail purposefully without engines. They can become a crutch. That said, for many they are also a worthwhile aid for convenience and an alternate propulsion.
Secondly, this boat isn’t that old (1984), and so many systems are probably in reasonable condition. I’d take the time to conduct a good solid hand-over-hand walk-down of the major systems (electrical, freshwater, engine) and create working diagrams of the components to see what needs replacing, what needs cleaning, and what works just fine.
Sometimes a sailboat in this size range falls on the market, priced at a few thousand dollars, and it’s a turd. Lots of work necessary to get it into reasonable condition, definitely not sailaway ready. Truly where the term “Boat – bring out another thousand” comes from. That said, this particular vessel is one of the few that, for various reasons, comes in under $10K and is likely a good deal. Well appointed models may go for as much as $20K. So this could be considered a good invest. The potential downside being, if you make the purchase and start the work necessary to rehabilitate her, you are running down a clock called “interest in sailing”. If you know you have the long view, you can push through that period of time. But if you’re unsure, you may run the risk of loosing interest and then being the next person listing on Craigslist. And we wouldn’t want that!
In general, and at this time, I don’t intend to go into a lot of the philosophy one might have going into a liveaboard situation. There are plenty of places you can find that for yourself. Various cruiser forums abound with people’s thoughts on the matter, both the high level “for or against” and the very detailed “I’m thinking about this specific situation and want some opinions” variety. There is a mindset among those who chose to make a floating hunk of fiberglass (or other material) their dwelling place. The world will also have opinions about that choice, ranging from “Oh my goodness I wish I could do that” to “Oh my goodness your a full-time bum”.
I especially appreciated those who said (or implied) that I was obviously too poor to afford a different living arrangement. Regardless of income or anything else, how do you explain to someone that you “chose” to follow a path less traveled?
As I read Bob’s words above, I reflected on the importance of understanding why I chose to live aboard. My personal belief is that intention matters in everything we do. I’m less likely to feel critical about someone’s stupid decisions (or the outcome of stupid decisions) as long as they are intentional in nature. Who do you feel worse for: the gal who invests it all trying to prove a hypothesis about cancer research, or the guy who foolishly loses all his money at a casino? Both are risks. One is calculated.
For myself, getting into sailing and living aboard while I was young (22) was intentional. I wanted to learn new skills, challenge myself, and live an interesting life. It paid off in spades down the line. During all of my subsequent job interviews, I never once heard “Oh my goodness, you took time off of the rat race to go sailing? We don’t want folks like that.” Instead, it was almost always “Holy cow, you did that? That’s amazing.”
The family that purposefully trades the 9-5 for a two year sailing excursion to spend time with their kids, exposing them to new adventures, is doing something intentional.
The couple who retire and then take their sailboat, lovingly maintained over the years, on an excursion to points south, are doing something intentional.
Just like we’re seeing in the tiny house movement, these kind of intentional stories abound. Even so-called circumstances, if approached in the right manner, can be decisions of intention. So what if your life situation changed due to events out of your control? What are you going to do about it?
Live a life of intention. You’ll be happier for it.
Once again, life keeps holding me back from getting a good post it! And once again, like the Columbia 29 I profiled, this particular vessel came up again on Annapolis Craigslist. So fate suggests we should talk about it.
Any introductory book on cruising/sailing will have some discussion about hull form. It’s one of the easiest ways to distinguish sailboats from one another, and visually is most apparent when out of the water. As you may have guessed, it is also apparent when in the water from the perspective of performance. Different hull forms perform differently in different conditions. Each is a trade off of factors, with no “right” answer. That said, there are sometimes “better” answers for particular situations. The key components in evaluating hull forms, based on my naval architecture experience, are:
1) Hull section (i.e., if we cut a boat in half width-wise, what shape do we see?)
2) Keel attachment method (external vs. internal ballast, and the attachment method)
3) Rudder configuration
Each design factor deserves it’s own post, and I’m sure others have commented extensively on the subject. But for our purposes, consider these factors as we look at the following offering:
First, at 32 feet, the Galaxy gets us into a magical land called “over thirty feet”. In the sub-$10K category, this is a magic number to achieve. Why? Well, many sailboats built in the 1960’s and 1970’s were marketed as weekend family cruisers, and most were between 25 and 29 feet. While there’s nothing specifically wrong with this, the designers faced unique challenges. How do you fit everything a family might want for a “weekend” cruise in a small enough package to make it financially viable? Sacrifices were made, such as trading purpose-built storage for berths. To maintain visually appealing lines, most had low cabin heights, making the interiors challenging for tall folks.
Over 30 feet in length though, and now you get into an envelop where you can make some effective trades in terms of interior space use. I highly recommend “Voyaging on a Small Income” by Annie Hill, who advocated that their home-built 34 foot flat-topper, “Badger”, was about the perfect length. Not too long to incur unreasonable fees for length-derived services, yet easy to handle by one or two people. And big enough, compared to the high-twenties sailboat club, to make living aboard a reasonable experience.
Secondly, the hull form gives us a reasonable trade-off. While the fin keel requires some care (both in terms of maintenance and inspection to ensure a good strong fit and caution in sailing to prevent grounding), the skeg-protected rudder is a positive find. Especially in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay with crab-pots all over.
Lastly, the interior (as mentioned in the listing) isn’t too bad. Let’s see the details.
The Galaxy 32’s molds were sold and later used as the base for the Paceship 32. Bill Tripp developed both designs.
Factors to consider:
Certainly lots of things to wonder about with this specific boat, such as:
1) Price: This particular sale is from a sailboat non-profit who have listed the vessel several times. They are not looking for a project; they are looking for some cash in hand. This could mean a good deal for the prospective buyer, but will also mean the burden of restoration falls in those hands. At the same time, for our typical fictional budget of $10K, there’s plenty left over for a few well made purchasing decisions.
– Engine maintenance: Since this vessel already has a diesel inboard, we’ll assume it’s in reasonable shape and needs a good looking over. If it appears to need significant work (i.e., more than a mechanic giving it a tune-up after inspection), then we’d need to consider the inboard vs. outboard-in-well conversion discussed with the Columbia 29.
– Interior appointments: things likely all need a good scrubbing down (Simple Green, a bucket, and scrubby), but the cushions and other seating material, curtains, etc, may also warrant replacement.
– Navigation: a basic navigation kit would go far to bring this vessel up to reasonable cruising shape.
2) Liveability: Many sailboats built around this timeframe were designed for cruiser/racing. Meaning, the vessel could compete on the weekly race course (with appropriate handicaps per the class rules), but also suit a family for fun weekend sailing. The fin keel of this model jumps out at me as a racing design feature, which may mean the interior headroom is limited. Not a bad thing, but something to consider. Like my Cal28, I’d consider some kind of dodger setup to add at least one interior place where a person could stand at full height.
Let’s assume our fictional budget of $10K and enter into a “What-if” scenario. The sailboat looks reasonable during inspection: it needs a good hard cleaning, but is structurally in good condition. Interior components are bonded together, fiberglass tabs are in good shape, and there’s no significant water damage. The engine is checked out by a local diesel mechanic who can turn it over; components are all in reasonable shape.
Engine: As mentioned, we’ll have someone do a service on the engine, cleaning the injectors and fuel lines, check compression, and any other maintenance. We can handle many other items, such as checking/cleaning strainers, giving it a de-greasing, and other simple labor. Bottom-line, once splashed, we want high confidence that the engine will be there to support us. And I’d purchase a model-specific manual as well as a basic diesel maintenance handbook, such as Nigel Caldwell’s.
Anchoring: Assuming like so many sailboats that the Galaxy only comes with a questionable danforth “lunch hook”, I’d consider what was needed to provide a suitable anchoring system for coastal cruising. In my mind, I’d need six components:
Suitably sized all-around anchor, such as a generic plow-style.
Long-length of galvanized chain as a primary rode (80′ or more).
Short-length (15′-25′) of galvanized chain to weight-down the secondary anchor rode.
(2) long-lengths of nylon line (100′ or more): the first for augmenting the primary chain rode and the second for the secondary anchor rode.
Shackles/thimbles to fasten everything together.
Having cruised successfully on 80′ of HT chain in a bucket from Home Depot, I’d feel comfortable doing so again. Many resources are online to size anchor chain and nylon line.
Electrical: Bob over at Volkscruiser wrote a great piece on the availability of certain kit for cruising which has come down in price in the past five years. In this case, using my fictional single dude from the Watkin 27 post, the minimum requirements for power aren’t too outlandish. For south of $1500 we could have a small solar array, clamps, wiring, two deep-cycle batteries, charge modulator & monitor, and LED’s for the entire rig, along with LED navigation lights.
Navigation: As mentioned above, we’d need to consider what a minimum navigation kit looked like for this vessel. Assuming again that we’re cruising coastal, staying in port for extended periods for work, and would only consider significant off-shore work with a more thorough evaluation, I’d suggest:
Either a waterproof iPad case & iPad with Navionics OR a 5-7″ standalone marine chartplotter. I could go either way.
Handheld VHF radio, and maybe consider an interior-mounted base unit with antenna on the mast.
Bedding: along with the consideration of interior cushions and “apartment therapy” things, I’d also take a look at a nice 4″ memory foam topper, cut diagonally to support the V-berth or doubled up on one of the settee berths along with a quality sleeping bag. Perfect, easy to stow and use bedding for cruising.
Galley: One of my favorite reads was Tim Ferriss’ The Four-Hour Chef. With a copy of this, a skillet, a pressure cooker, a good santoku knife, and a set of Target flatware and dishes, I’d happily head across any ocean. Especially with a stainless kettle and Aeropress for coffee, along with the Hario hand grinder.
I could see a very enjoyable post-college, first-job, using-for-sabbatical scenario with this vessel. Over a few years it’d be a good platform to figure out “Do I really like this enough to consider something bigger/newer/better/whatever?” Or learning that this really is all you need to do some amazing cruising and lead a “World’s Most Interesting Man” lifestyle. I recall reading about a group of friends just out of college purchasing and refitting a Newport 30 for just such a plan. This would be nearly identical. As always, take the above with the appropriate grain of salt, as it’s one person’s opinion and not gospel.
What did Malcolm Reynolds of the hit TV series Firefly and Han Solo have in common? Well, I’d venture to say they both loved their ships. And that is a very important part of owning your floating home; if you don’t love her, she’ll be worth less than that dollar menu hamburger. After all, love keeps her afloat…or in the air.
That said, there are several factors which influence the decision of which sailboat to buy. The most important thing to remember is this: there is no perfect boat. I repeat, there is no perfect boat. Every boat is a compromise between these factors. The key is to know where you’ll compromise, how much you’ll let those factors change, and your will power to let that be OK.
Money: Let’s get this out of the way. A sailboat will cost you money. The question is, how much up front, and how much to keep her? We’ll continue to delve into the holistic finances of sailboat living over the lifetime of this site, but looking from 10,000 feet, you need to think through:
How much will my purchase cost be, including any taxes, registration fees, and broker/dealer commission? You need to know the immediate cost if you agree to buy.
What are the average operating costs going to be? It’s usually best to think of these in terms of per-foot costs. Slips are typically priced on a per-foot basis, as are hauling out fees to get her on land for repairs, some insurance products, and others. This is also the place to think through the totality of your live aboard experience. If you don’t know where you’ll keep a boat, you’ll have a harder time making a rational decision, especially on size.
What are the estimate costs to complete necessary and desired improvements? There’s going to be something, it should be prioritized, and you’ll most likely be 50% off. But these are real costs too.
This post was previously setup as a high-level synopsis of all of our sailboat purchases, but I’m re-purposing it into a detailed look at my 2002 decision to buy my first live aboard, a Cal 28 flat-top named SeaWitch.
My new bride and I while I was moving off.
A Bored College Student
Well, maybe not bored, but unsatisfied. March of 2002 I took off with my girlfriend for spring break in London. A topic of conversation was my plans after graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy. Like my classmates, I would soon graduate and gain a commission as a naval officer, specifically a submarine officer. My next duty station would be Charleston, SC, to attend nuclear power training. Many of my friends were looking into various living situations: apartment complexes, buying a starter home, the decision of living alone versus roommates. Decisions every college grad will face. In my head, these seemed like perfectly fine things, but I really wanted to do something different.
A project mentor planted the seed in my head about living aboard a sailboat. His girlfriend and he were doing the same thing. He had many good things to say about it. Thus, after returning from England, I got to work doing my research. A guy in my unit grew up on the Chesapeake Bay and had a small 19 footer. I could take a look and maybe even spend a weekend aboard just to trial run things. I began checking out sailing books from the library, and spent hours searching through the limited online offerings from fledgling websites of cruising. My roommate was on the sailing team and had some thoughts as well, and my previous summers sailing for professional training helped frame some of my thoughts.
Fundamentally, I worried about the following things:
1) How big or small of a sailboat did I really need?
2) How much boat could I afford (both initially and on-going)?
3) What hurdles existed between sitting in my dorm room and being a “successful” live aboard?
At the time, several significant challenges existed which have largely been mitigated over time. Things such as:
How do you find sailboats for sale? The local classified ads in newspapers and the beginnings of some online brokerage sites were all that I had available. In the end, it was foot work and driving which led me to the Maryland Marina in Essex, MD, where I did my first surveys and eventually bought Seawitch.
How to purchase a sailboat? Thankfully my person bank had several options for boat loans, and my personal savings helped to supplement.
How do I figure out all of the unknowns? I made a few “blind” purchases of recommended cruising books, hoping to gain the knowledge necessary to answer my unknown questions, and relied heavily on the experiences of others gained through conversations and the internet’s early forums. Much of it was valuable, much of it was suspect. I had to sort out a lot of chaff.
Finding My New Home
In April of 2002 I arrived at the Maryland Marina on a reasonably warm Saturday. In hand were color printouts of several boats they had for sale via their business webpage, a small toolkit with tape measure and flashlight, and a notebook. Sadly, digital cameras were not really as available, and I may have brought my super awesome Canon ELPH with drop-in film.
I asked the manager if I could spend a few hours looking over the sailboats in question. No worries, he said, and tossed me keys to each of them. The entire afternoon was spent crawling over each of three offerings, probing the recesses of bilges and under lockers. I learned a bunch that day, including:
Finding a sailboat under 30 feet with headroom for a tall guy was practically impossible.
Finding a sailboat in my price range over 30 feet was also unlikely.
The smell of musk in a locker would be ingrained in my mind forevermore.
While it would eventually feel much smaller, a 28 foot sailboat on stands looks huge.
After noting as many of the features as I could during my personal survey, I returned the keys and asked for contact information for two vessels. The Cal 28 had risen to the top of my short list.
A Cal 28 on the hard; similar to the one I found in Maryland
The Cal 28 sailing (note the dodger over the companionway; something I always wanted but never got around to)
After two phone calls and another afternoon going over the boat with the owner, I made the decision to buy SeaWitch for the sum of $8500 (2002 dollars).
Back to the factors listed above, I financed my first liveaboard, so thought of things in terms of both monthly and total costs. SeaWitch was sold to me for $8500. Taxes and registration came out to around $400. I was responsible for the launch fee, since I would liveaboard on land for several months due to my work schedule. $400 for launch and getting the mast back up. The seller paid the seller broker fee, and I was not represented by a buyer’s broker, so no fee there. Total initial outlay: $9300. My note was for slightly more, with a monthly payment of $230.
At 28 feet, my per-foot costs remained pretty reasonable. My slip in Charleston, SC, was around $10/ft plus metered electricity. This averaged $30-40 per month. Cable TV was included (although I’m a proponent of doing without that burden), and for internet I needed a telephone line for dial-up, adding another $30/mo. Total cost to have a slip, parking spot for my car, electricity, water, phone and cable: $350/mo. This is $4200/yr
My plan was to haul out every other year to do maintenance on the bottom and tackle any odd jobs. Asking around the marina, I reasoned the total cost for haul out, storage on land for a week, and launch, would be around $500. There was a yard I could do my own work at (becoming rarer these days), which would have saved me some money. Including bottom paint, total bi-annual cost: ~$1000.
If you amortize that, I needed to save about $40/month for that cost.
Lastly, upgrades. All the normal items came with the boat: sails, engine, safety gear to pass a USCG inspection, and some interior accouterments. But to make her a liveaboard, I needed a number of “home” items, including dishes and kitchen ware, bedding, painting the interior, some rugs, and several small pictures and knickknacks to call it a home. I was also moving to the South, and I quickly realized living without A/C there was trouble. Then it turned to winter, and I needed to buy a couple of heaters. These small costs can add up quickly; like several hundred dollars in the first couple of months. I also had a running list of marine upgrades to better the boat itself: changing out from a portapotti to a marine head, adding better sail controls, and the worst offender: maintaining, and then replacing, the Atomic 4 inboard engine.
By the end of the first year aboard, I had spent an average of $300/mo on these kind of “extras” that ballooned out of control. Again, I hope to cover some of my “lessons learned” in future posts to discuss items I purchased, why they did or did not work, and the actual value of them.
One of the Best Decisions of My Life
Ultimately, the decision to move aboard was probably one of the best in my life. Some of the reasons were tangible, but most were related to those influential experiences a young man or woman can have.
I learned very quickly what a spending plan was and why I needed to keep to it. Owning your own home has costs and they must be managed.
I learned to become more self-sufficient and a generalist. You can’t call the landlord and complain about a broken water pipe; you need to fix that quickly or else you’ll sink! Living aboard provided many opportunities to learn new skills, practice new abilities, and make decisions that had significant consequences.
I learned to ask for help. While I tried to do as much as possible on my own, I also had a community of sailors surrounding me who were readily available for help and advice. I learned more that first year from them than anyone could possibly gain through reading magazines, books, or articles online.
I learned about myself. During a handful of significant experiences, such as grounding the boat, a fire aboard, several near-sinkings, and facing the choice of sending my delivery crew home and continuing on solo, I had more opportunities to grow and learn about who I was than every before. These seminal experiences ultimately helped shape who I am today, and continue to be a source of positive influence on my life.
In a future post I’ll detail the same process that led to shifting resources away from the Cal 28 and towards a new future with our Tartan 37, Persephone, over on the island of Guam.
Note: Due to the poor timing of technology, most of my pictures of SeaWitch were either on film or my first digital camera, which were destroyed during several events later in life. I hope to recover some photos from friends or otherwise and add to this post later if possible. The glory of having a camera on every phone these days; one forgets how convenient that really is.
While I’ve been delayed in writing this, the post on Craigslist continued to be available. Perusing the internets for a fun sailboat to highlight I found this ad for a Columbia 29. The basic specifications:
1964 Columbia Sailboat Model C-29
1997 15 hp Honda Outboard – runs great
Presently on the hard
Includes five jack stands
What makes this a good potential liveaboard?
Well, a few things stand out to me. First, at 29 feet, this is slightly larger than the Cal 28 I lived aboard, making me just a little bit size jealous. It’s a good length for single-handing, and the layout down below appears to be usable in the same capacity.
Also, the hull form is something you won’t find being used much in newer vessels. A decently long keep with a protected rudder. See the layout drawings found at one of the Columbia 29’s owner websites here.
Some of the data on this model:
Length Overall 28′ 6″
Length Waterline 22′ 6″
Beam 8′ 0″
Draft 4′ 0″
Displacement early 7400, late and MkII 8400 lbs.
Ballast (lead) early 3120, late and MkII 4100/4120 lbs.
Fuel Capacity (with inboard) 12 gal.
Fresh Water Capacity 35 gal.
Sail Area 382 sq. ft.
Head Room 6′ 0″
Power – Concealed outboard well (standard), Inboard 8 HP Palmer (optional)
Note that last point, a big seller for me: an outboard well. In this case the specific boat had an outboard mounted on an external bracket. Not bad, but not great either. In my estimation the outboard well is one of the most unappreciated features in these 1960-1970’s era sailboats. Check out James Baldwin’s excellent builds over at Atom Voyages for examples of this feature being added in after market.
Factors to consider:
Certainly lots of things to wonder about with this specific boat, such as:
1) Price: given the low selling price ($1500 at the time I’m posting this) my spidy-sense is kicking in. Part of the price is due to a desire to sell quickly, but this also likely means there’s equipment missing or in need of replacement. Much like the Watkins 27 we looked at early, I’d look into what basic equipment is already provided and the state/health of these things. If I had a fictional budget of $8000-$10,000, there’s probably a lot that could be done. Such as:
– Buy a good gallon of epoxy and fillers to tackle any fiberglass projects that would crop up. It’s easy to learn to use, and given the vessel’s age there’s likely a number of holes and areas which could benefit from some structural loving.
– Electronics: I’d like to think I’d be cautious, but given the age and potential budget, there’s probably a lot that could be done to add some modern conveniences where they are absent. A good depth sounder, compass, and maybe a small chart plotter wouldn’t break the budget and could be found used on eBay or with further Craigslist searching.
– Propulsion: given the low price, I might consider changing out the engine. The 15hp would likely fetch something when sold, but a newer model high efficiency/high thrust long shaft would be a nice-to-have feature and probably better mileage. Brand new with controls and such it may run into the $3000 range, but is worth the money.
– Liveability: Much like the Watkins we covered, some self-sustaining gear to provide a better liveaboard situation, such as solar or wind power, possibly an additional deep cycle battery or two for house loads, and maybe a DC-powered freezer/fridge unit.
Of course, the trouble with low-price fixer-uppers is being honest about the need-want decisions. A diligent owner could really stretch their dollar and get a lot of boat for their money. At the same time, it’d be easy to sink a bunch of cheddar into low-priority fixes or conveniences which don’t improve the value or utility of the vessel.
In closing, there are a few other Columbia 29 resources I found. Given this one is on the hard, in a perfect setting to give it a good survey and dig into any problem areas, there’s a lot of potential for this particular vessel and this model in general. Sta y tuned for the next installment.
In an effort to become more consistent with posting, I’ve wanted to get into a rhythm with a basic post format. One that stuck in my head was to write about the most enjoyable time waster I know; trolling Craigslist for new sailboats! I can’t explain the pleasure that exists in researching all of the “What if?” thoughts that come with finding a diamond in the rough. Sometimes the sailboats are in great shape and could sail away today. More often, they need some love and tenderness to be brought back to their full potential. And in those cases, there’re many examples where a frank discussion on prioritizing could be beneficial.
The structure of these posts will attempt to do a few things:
1) Describe the “avatar,” or situation and person who might be looking at this particular style of sailboat.
2) Describe why the particular sailboat in question could make a good potential live aboard for that situation.
3) Key factors to consider for the person looking into the sailboat.
4) And lastly, a few recommendations for first steps after the sailboat was purchased.
I’m a 23 year old college graduate, just out of a computer science program and moving to coastal North Carolina for my first job. I’m just about 6′ tall, like to run, and enjoy playing video games on the side. I learned to sail while in college, but haven’t ever owned a boat before. I’m looking for an adventure post-college, and figure this may be a good way to spend a few years before moving on to my next gig.
A Classic Coastal Cruiser
The Watkins 27 first came to my attention in 2009. I was in the process of selling our Tartan 37 over in Guam, but sitting around in Maryland waiting for my new job to start. It was killing me. The thought train circling my head kept saying “Well you could just buy a sailboat now, mooring it out in the Chesapeake, and enjoy unemployment for a bit.” I knew I wanted something smaller than the Tartan 37, and the 27-30 foot range was ideal. Then a Watkins came up.
Size: 27′ long, 10′ beam, 3’8″ draft, and 6’2″ headroom
Equipment: All the standard sailboat gear (head, alcohol stove, fridge/cooler, 2 way VHF radio, AM/FM/CD player…)
Engine: Yanmar YSM12 with some recent work completed
Sails: Main sail, storm jib, genoa
Bonuses: Garmin GPS 2006C with navigation cards; wheel steering
What makes this a good potential liveaboard?
1) Headroom: When analyzing a sailboat purchase, consider all of your decision factors with this criteria: what can I change after I purchase the boat, and what am I going to be stuck with? Two in particular are headroom and draft. Without substantial modification, these will be fixed and unchangeable. The Watkins is one of the few sailboats under 30′ that boasts this kind of headroom. And as a 6′ guy who lived aboard a 5’10” Cal 28, I can tell you how enjoyable having that kind of flexibility is.
2) Draft: Along the same lines as headroom, this boat draws just less than 4′. Perfect for cruising the barrier islands of North Carolina and more than capable of cruising up or down the East coast of the U.S.
3) Equipment: For $6K you’d get a Yanmar diesel engine. In the end, if a sailboat has a working diesel engine, you are probably better off keeping it and maintaining it in good condition than changing it out. I personally subscribe to the philosophy of Yves Gelinas’ Jean de Sud and James Baldwin, and enjoyed several sailboats converted from gasoline inboards to gasoline outboards. I wouldn’t consider a replacement diesel unless it was a great deal, for this particular size and age of sailboat. After all, you could likely spend over $10K in a new installation, more than the cost of this boat in the first place. But, with a working diesel you could consider some well thought out upgrades to make sure it lasts you a good long time.
4) Build/Layout: The Watkins is a pretty solid coastal cruiser. It has a wider-than-average cabin, good coamings in the cockpit, and (to me) appealing lines. One of the nice conveniences to sailing, wheel steering, is included in this model. And the arrangement below decks would support having a computer station in the settee, using the table.
Watkins 27 Layout
Factors to consider:
Other than the typical survey checklist, a few items I’d be concerned about during my in-person inspection:
Engine condition: Again, one of the appeal factors is a good condition diesel engine. I’d want to know how it was used, maintained, and what the state of the entire system is (fuel tank, hoses, exhaust, cooling, etc.) When in doubt, have a mechanic come by to assist.
Steering cables: Duck into the cockpit locker with a flashlight to inspect the condition of the steering system. While steering by wheel is convenient, replacing the cables is not. That said, it’s completely within the realm of the do-it-yourselfer to replace these cables if necessary. Keep an eye out for cable wear, broken strands, and corrosion on the turning blocks and quadrant.
Sails: The listing didn’t specify, but this is a pretty stock set of sails. Check for wear and tear, fit (raise them up to verify the size is accurate), and for versatility: how many reef points does the main have? What condition are the batten pockets in?
Most of the equipment list is pretty stock for a boat of this vintage. One should expect to see the typical boat gear necessary to get out and about safely. This post isn’t meant to be exhaustive of a pre-purchase survey, and a well informed buyer will do a thorough job of inspecting the entire boat.
Power: Depending on the context, being self-sufficient in power production is the next step I’d make. Solar panels on the stern or sides of the pushpit railing, or on deck, would make a big difference. A wind generating system may also be valuable depending on the intended location.
Dodger: In this case the boat came with no additional covering, and I’d posit that a dodger should be the first item on the list. At anchor or in port a simple boom tent could be rigged to reduce heat from sun glare, but a dodger would allow full headroom and movement even in increment weather. And be a luxury when sailing out of Cape Fear into the rolling surf!
These are my thoughts, not gospel. Each person’s situation is unique, and each sailboat is different. Just because something is possible to do, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the only way to do things or even the best way! Consider these good entry points and thought-drivers.
So… any other sailboats you re interested in? Shoot me a note in the comments and I’ll keep my eye out in the Craigslist listings. Stay tuned for the next installment in two weeks.