Go Big Or Go Home

On Schweitzer Mt. outside Sandpoint, ID - 5/10/17
Reacclimation can be a slow process

April/May 2017

United States – Washington State and Idaho

The second biggest mistake that we feared making was getting back to the States after departing Southeast Asia and not being able to get out again.  We felt the greatest danger that could potentially lead us down this road would be getting obogged down in the unsuccessful search for the perfect boat.  However, acting on the pressures we felt from not wanting to make that second biggest mistake could certainly place us at high risk of actually making the biggest mistake possible (outside the potential for bankrupting ourselves buying that perfect boat)…this was the very real concern that we would end up buying something that wasn’t the right boat.  Oof!  Perfect is a ghost to chase.  Right is not only graspable but also a necessity.

We recognized that both knowledge and information were our greatest ally, especially considering we didn’t have the experience to help us make informed choices.  Although it seemed almost every single person we talked to, every forum we visited, every book and article we read had differing opinions (often conflicting with each other), we continued to try to digest every single tidbit of information we could uncover.

The most prudent (certainly the most typical) approach probably would have been to get out on sailboats relentlessly for the better part of 2017 and learn a lot of the knowledge and skills that would apply directly to making a better purchase decision.  However, it seems we often prefer the road less travelled; and so, as you may have already surmised, we decided that we would take a different approach – an approach we learned about almost 15 years earlier which had first planted the sailing seeds in our imagination…

Tack? How do you do that?
  Around 2003 we went boat diving in the Hood Canal with a company run by Don Coleman.  At the time, we were still new divers counting our dives in double digits.  After a fantastic (and freezing) day diving with wolf eels and giant pacific octopi we sat at the dock and listened to Don tell the amazing story of how he had acquired the sailboat he and his wife had been living on for years.
Don, who at the time knew almost nothing of sailing, had become interested in a sailboat which was located in Seattle.  He contacted the broker, who took him out for a test sail.  As they were conversing, the broker stopped and said to Don, “You might want to tack (which means to turn) pretty soon.”
Don replied, “OK. How do I do that?”
As it turned out they bought that yacht, moved aboard, and spend the next few years sailing the west coast between Alaska and Mexico, eventually sailing to Hawaii before opening up a dive center.
…and the seed was planted.

We must not have had nearly as big of balls as Don had, because we decided we wanted to at least know how to tack (and even gybe) before we committed to a purchase. It was budget considerations which dictated the next step.  We were adamant that some sort of sailing course was going to precede our purchase and there were endless options to choose from.  However, getting back to the USA first meant this would cost us around $6,000US for a bareboat skipper certification or upwards of $15,000US for both of us to get additional offshore training on top of that…simply not in the cards.  After all, this was money we needed for a boat, damn it!

Thailand was the answer.  We arranged a bareboat skipper course (at about $3,000US for both of us instead of almost twice that in the USA).  The two week course was intense and hands on.  We joked during our three hour final exam that we hadn’t had such a full-on exam since our SAT tests in high school!

Kris, Bart (a Dutchman we named our dinghy after who took the course with us), and one of our instructors Ash during a training day on the water

While we learned an incredible amount about sailing during that two weeks, we understood that we had just scratched the surface.  As instructors at Scuba Junkie, it was not that uncommon for us to hear open water students who had become so enamored with their new diving experience to immediately announce they were going to become dive instructors…great enthusiasm…maybe a bit premature.  Our response was generally something along the lines of, “That’s awesome, but you’ve got to finish your open water course first!”  Upon finishing our sailing course we laughed at the parallel between our previous dive students’ ambitions and our own grandiose plans of buying a yacht… great enthusiasm… maybe a bit premature.

The scope of the yacht we were looking at also reminded us of a teenager who had just gotten their drivers license deciding to buy a semi-truck as they walked out of the Department of Licensing!!!  Oh well…go big or go home!

Arriving back in the USA, mid April 2017, we immediately began our quest.  Seattle was nearby, and Pete McGongle of Swiftsure Yachts had already been invaluable in our search.  He had taken us aboard yachts and walked us on the docks at marinas pointing out differences and distinctions between yachts we were looking at during our last visit back to the USA in September 2016.  He was encyclopedic in his knowledge and experience, and we would have been completely adrift without his expertise and advice.  For a modest fee, we also hired John Neale (Mahina Expeditions) as a consultant who provided additional insight.

Unfortunately we crapped out in Seattle.  It’s not that there weren’t plenty of sailboats for sale – if money is no concern, one can equip themselves with a newer, decked out blue water cruiser capable of going anywhere…except money was a big concern.  If we were looking for an expensive project to rebuild and outfit ourselves, derelict and worn out boats were certainly widely available…except we didn’t have the expertise (or desire) to undertake a massive project boat.  Smalls 20-35 foot boats great for day sailing were available in plentiful supply…except we wanted a live aboard capable vessel.  And there were certainly a plethora of decadent looking production-line yachts that suit the short term and coastal sailor perfectly…except we wanted a blue water cruiser that would eventually be able to take us anywhere.

And so we looked…and studied…and looked…and studied…and looked…

My parents’ property just outside of Sandpoint, ID provided an unbelievable setting in which to do research, as well as unlimited nearby access to snow we had not missed for nearly a decade.

Just outside Sandpoint, ID - May 2017
Near Sandpoint, ID

Likewise, it’s always heartwarming and a bit poignant when we find our way back to the Palouse.   However, it quickly became apparent that being six hours inland from the coast was not going to lend itself very well to finding the yacht we were after.

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Nevertheless, spending time with friends and family while back in an area we had spent so much of our lives is always a blessing.  Catching up, reminiscing, making new memories.  While the adventures abroad almost always seem to be the focus, sometimes it’s returning to your roots and being with the people that you already know that can be the most special of all.

All the while, we constantly researched internet listings, patiently sifting through the endless photos, spec sheets, and equipment lists of thousands of yachts while relentlessly pummeling our advisors with questions.  We kept looking, and learning. After a month we realized we were going to have to start traveling…

So with more time than money to spare, we boarded the Amtrak train and headed for the East coast on a fifty-six hour train ride – a ‘low-tech long-haul” we never would have considered before 2008 – but which still fell well short of our record ninety-six hour South America bus ride in 2011!  One thing we have undoubtedly learned over the past nine years is that multiple transportation options generally exist and, the more expensive things look, the higher the likelihood that a cheaper alternative has evolved to cater to those on a budget, which is definitely us.  We had very successfully traveled through Europe for three weeks on via a EURail Pass in 1999 – a trip we firmly believe helped to permanently embed into our genetics the passion for travel we now have.  Railroad travel…no screening hassles, surprisingly comfortable and spacious seats, and a laid back feeling of seeing while your traveling instead of just getting somewhere.  If you haven’t tried it, you need to!

Now here we were, coming full circle back to Rail Pass travel eighteen years later.  The major difference is that Europe has an incredibly well developed passenger railroad infrastructure that is well maintained and considered essential to the transportation network.  By comparison, the USA train system is largely looked at as outdated and ineffective (a perspective held mostly by people with enough money for endless plane travel).

Consequently, the USA passenger train system may not survive much longer.  We saw a sign posted on the Amtrak we rode indicating that the Trump Administration was currently attempting to gut government funding for the Amtrak railroad system.  If successful, Amtrak would essentially cease to exist outside of the west and east coast and the entire middle eighty percent of the USA would lose the option of train travel…one more element of Classic Americana relegated to the history books.  It would be most unfortunate if this came to pass.  The fact that so many people (especially children) wave at a train as it passes is a indication to me just how much mystique and sense of awe trains still carry in our psyche. Hell, when our train traveling through a small town on July 4th stopped on Main Street, effectively cutting their 4th of July parade in half, you’d have thought people would be irritated when, in fact, many simply sat there smiling and waving!  But now I’m getting ahead of myself.  In reality, if the dismantling of Amtrak becomes the worst aspect of Trump’s legacy in office then I suppose the American people will actually have dodged not just a bullet, but an entire magazine of armor piercing rounds as well as a hand grenade and a falling plane.  But now I start to digress with dangerous political opinions.

The list of sailboats we wanted to see wasn’t long, but it was necessary to see them in person and, frankly, was an approach that provided better odds for success than continued sitting in a living room on a mountainside lake in Northern Idaho (my parents’ property at which we had been staying).  Getting aboard a boat was ultimately the only way we would be able to make a decision.  Even if rejected, every boat we stepped aboard further narrowed the parameters and models we would consider, so we deemed it worthwhile to go despite the slim pickings we had before us.

There was at least one Scepter yacht in Connecticut and another Scepter in North Carolina that we were serious about.  Additionally, nine months before we had come across a listing for an aluminum 46′ Garcia yacht located in Maryland listed by Swiftsure (while we were still in Borneo).  Not perfect, but everything we needed.  However, it had continually resided in the dream category because it was simply outside of the grasp of our designated budget.  Still, it just sat there on the listing, taunting us.  While it was on the “to visit” list, we were hesitant to actually go see her.   The running theory was one of two things would result.  Option One: we would not be so impressed once we got aboard her, finally allowing us to definitively cross her off the list and move on.  Option Two was what scared the shit out of us: we would get aboard the Garcia and fall head over heels in love…

The Scepter yacht in Connecticut was disappointing – worn and tired.  The North Carolina Scepter was a crap shoot – an estate sale lacking real information about what condition she was in or what was aboard.  And we had no one knowledgable to help walk us through.  We made the decision that it would be stupid to have come all this distance and not see the Garcia.  If nothing else, it would prevent us from spending the rest of our lives wondering.  So, nearly convinced we were wasting our time and money, we opted for the therapeutic consolation of paying Exit (as she was appropriately named) a visit.

Exit was on the hard (being stored out of the water on stands) at the Herrington Harbor Marina in Deale, Maryland.  For us, on the hard meant there was no way she would show as well.  A boat sitting out of the water just looks sad and out of place…it’s simply an awkward and unnatural state for a boat and oftentimes it seems like the boat recognizes that.  On the plus side, it gave us the opportunity to get a proper look at the underside – something that would have helped a person who knew what they were looking at and looking for.  If it would have had tires, we probably would have kicked them.  Really, without Pete or someone “in the know” at our side, we were making a largely aesthetic decision as to whether the boat “felt” right to us… would it be something we would want to live aboard 24/7?

After an hour or so, we profusely thanked the broker who had taken us aboard Exit and left.  Go big or go home…Shit!  We both agreed we were facing Option Two…

Version 2
When faced with big decisions… drink up!


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