It was love at first sight. A Sparkman & Stevens designed boat; she has a wide beam and a small transom with reverse shear, a destroyer wheel, a good size cockpit and all lines are lead aft. I could tell she had been sitting unloved for quite a while, but a diamond in the rough is what we're looking for.
We made arrangements for Shawna to come and see her on her day off and I could tell right away she fell in love too. We decided on the spot to make an offer.
When we got back to the bus we looked at the Yachtworld ad again and compared it to the pictures Shawna had taken onsite. Right away we we noticed all the cruising equipment missing - it was listed on the ad and visible on the pictures, but not there in actuality. Disturbing.
We figured out what it would cost to replace all the advertised gear and made an offer. After several rounds back and forth with the seller we had reached an impasse, basically the cost of the missing gear. Then out of nowhere it suddenly became available - it had just been removed by the seller and put in storage. We adjusted our final offer accordingly, came to an agreement, submitted the contract with the down payment and started feverishly looking for a place to land our new boat for the transition period. The Miami Boat Show was scheduled for mid-February and there were simply no slips to be found so we hit the ground running to secure a spot somewhere, anywhere, for both the RV and the boat.
Buying a boat is a lot like buying a house, it's a process. The initial price agreement is reached pending the results of a survey (a thorough inspection by a marine surveyor or perhaps more than one if your boat has specialized concerns, very similar to the inspection process with a house). Part of the process involves sailing and motoring the boat, and hauling the boat out on a big sling to get a good look at the hull, prop, and rudder. The surveyor tests every system, pokes and hammers everywhere checking for soundness, flips every switch to make sure everything is working properly, and presents the buyer with a list of recommendations and concerns.
Finding a surveyor and a quick-haul-friendly yard were tricky around the holidays. We were scheduled to leave the Keys on New Year's day for our reserved January spot in Alabama. Finally all the pieces came together for a survey on January 3rd, and we were able to extend our stay in the Keys for a few extra days to wait.
Prior to making our offer we had decided on a list of deal-breakers; the engine, hull, keel, and sails had to be sound. Minor problems are OK, just nothing big. She has to have good "bones."
On the morning of the 3rd I left before dawn for Miami while Shawna packed up camp and started rolling Loretta towards Alabama.
The survey began with Marc (my surveyor) sounding the deck with an urethane mallet, no problems there. After about two hours at the dock she was ready for the out-of-water inspection. The owner was along to captain the boat. We headed from the dock up the Miami river to the boat yard - a cool five drawbridge experience.
It was at the yard that the bad news started rolling in. First find: a 1/16 gap opened up when the weight was removed from the keel. It could have been loose keel bolts or it could be something much worse. Next, the rudder was full of water. Marc pointed out a poor repair in the hull at the water line. No deal killers yet, a bit more than I expected but doable. All of these might be easy fixes. Or maybe not.
Now back in the water for the best part, the seatrial. In Florida, you drive boats the same way you drive cars, like you have never seen one before. Chaos! From a McMansion on the water stopped dead in front of the open drawbridge, to a couple walking around the barrier to saunter across a drawbridge that only opens once in the next 3 hours, while 7 boats waited, it was insane. Finally we made it out of the river and out on beautiful Biscayne Bay only to discover the engine wouldn't turn more than 1800 rpm (3000 rpm is nominal) during a full power run, leaks oil from the starboard side, and overheats. Probably time for an engine replacement.
The autopilot was tested and functioned but without a display. The sails were raised, the jib looked good but the main was full of patches (where the rats ate it according to the owner) and had terrible shape - time for a total sail replacement. In spite of this she sailed like a dream, what a beautiful well-balanced boat. I took the helm for a tack or two and some beam reach sailing.
It was a much quieter group than left the slip that morning. Back at the dock the gremlins just kept coming, an anchor light that seemed to be flashing S.O.S, no running lights, and the shore power breakers were tripping repeatedly.
In spite of all that I think she would make a great boat for a DIYer. For me however, I only get to do this once, and any one of these projects could have blown up, costing money and time. We discussed it at length and reluctantly let her go. Shit!