Nov 08

the Backstory

Tag: preparationmattholmes @ 6:56 pm
We’re two weeks away from owning a boat! So now seems like a good time for the back story . . . There are three of us: Jon Waldman (Jonny or J5), Jon Haradon (Jon), and me (Matt Holmes). We’ve been friends for at least a decade, mostly getting together for outdoor adventures. None of us had seriously sailed before ’05. (Jonny went to sailing camp when he was like 12.) The sailing idea sorta formed in the summer of ’05, when I started crewing on race boats in the bay. In the spring of ’06 we committed to ourselves and to each other to sail around the world starting in the summer of ’09 (when Jon becomes free of his teaching obligations). It seemed like the most natural departure date. We knew hardly anything about sailing. I kept racing boats on the bay and reading books. Jon and I took two OCSC courses to learn how to sail, fall ’05 and spring ’06. I continued racing on the bay and reading books. In January of ’07 we sorta formally agreed to save $10k every six months. We figured we’d need $100k for the boat, plus more for refit/repair costs, as well as $15k each year for living expenses. So we figured $130k, or $44k each, should take us around the world. I continued to read books. In the summer of ’07 we started looking for boats; in July we got serious about it. I created a spreadsheet that included all the features and gear we’d need on the boat and what it would cost to add each thing, including the hidden expenses of transporting the boat and paying sales tax. Each time I looked at a boat listed on, I went through the spreadsheet and calculated how much money we would have to spend for the refit. Subtracting that refit cost from our 100k ceiling, and we had a rough idea of how much we could offer. The first boat we looked at was a Tayana 37. Jonny and I went together to Sausalito to see it, and we didn’t have a damn clue what we were looking for. I felt ridiculous, like I was kicking the tires of a car trying to assess its worth. I went back and did more reading. A month later I looked at a Valiant in Alameda–again I felt like I was clueless. I did some more reading. I met three Seattle guys who had just circumnavigated on a boat called SohCahToa –super great guys who not only gave me good advice, but offered to come look at a boat with me. I went back with the Seattle guys and looked at the Valiant in Alameda again–six months after the first time I had looked at it–and this time it all made sense. We spent three hours taking the boat apart, peering into every dark hole, under every floorboard and examining every piece of equipment. I felt confident that I understood how much work it would need, and how much it was worth to us. According to my spreadsheet, we could offer $50k for it. It was originally listed at $80k, was lowered to $60k, and then someone else snatched it up. I drove down to Ventura to look at another Valiant, and decided that it needed far too much work to justify an offer. We made an offer on a repossessed Valiant in Florida, sight unseen, but we were outbid by some Scottish dude. I inquired about two other Valiants, a centerboard model in Florida and one in Virginia. I have an admission: I had already decided that I wanted a Valiant before I ever looked at the first boat. I had read about what makes a good blue-water (read: ocean-worthy) boat. I knew all the features we wanted. The Valiant has them. The Valiant’s reputation is badass. It is a proven hardcore bluewater boat, and it isn’t slow as hell like lots of heavy ocean boats. I knew that they were plagued by blisters; and I had decided that blisters were ok with me. Blisters (little air bubbles in the paint) wouldn’t sink the boat, and they would lower the price so we could afford it. In the beginning of September ’07 we found Sunshine, a Valiant in San Carlos, Mexico, originally listed at 80k. When I put it in our spreadsheet, I was surprised to discover that we could potentially offer $70k (on account of all the additional gear on the boat, the condition of the sails, etc.) We had originally discussed Jan 1 as the earliest that we were willing to purchase a boat–that was our $20k each deadline, allowing us to offer $60k. But it’s hard to maintain willpower when you think you’ve found a deal on the perfect boat. There’s an amount of irrational emotion that comes into play, which is OK, because that’s the only way you end up loving your boat. Just as long as you don’t make a financial mistake. We decided to offer $60k and no more. Writing that email was scary, and exciting. The sellers came back a week later with an offer of $65k. It was close. We were close. But we decided we just couldn’t quite afford it. We declined it. Two weeks later, the broker called me back to say that the sellers would take $60k. We accepted the offer. It took three weeks or so to iron out an offer agreement that we were satisfied with–the sellers wanted us to buy the boat without a survey and without a sea trial, and we were having none of that. In the end, we got the survey and sea trial by agreeing to a $3k non-refundable deposit. Jonny drove to Mexico with Jeff Purton to look at the boat, and make sure it didn’t have any deal-breaker-type problems. He brought back many pictures, and a green-light report. The boat was a go. Jon and I flew down to Mexico two weeks later to look at the boat for the first time and get the survey. The survey was acceptable; there are a few issues with minor delamination that we are trying to resolve before signing, but it is not yet a reason to walk away. The sea trial is scheduled to happen on December 1st. All three of us are going down a few days early to help the sellers recommission the boat, since it’s currently up on stilts in a dry-dock. So it looks like it’s really going to happen this time. And how do I feel? Excitement tinged with trepidation and flavored with a bit of anxiety. I’m excited to find the boat that we’ve wanted all along, in good condition at a good price. The anxiety comes from knowing all too well what we’re getting ourselves into. I shouldn’t know already, because I’ve never owned or even worked on a boat and none of us has any experience. But I do know. I already have a list of all the things that we will need to do to the boat, and have checked on all the parts to complete those jobs, and have read how to do those jobs. And before we even start the work, we have to get it out of Mexico up to San Francisco. And I know that the sail up the coast in March may be the hardest passage we make during our entire circumnavigation–right out of the gate, with little experience and no knowledge of the boat. We don’t know how to use the systems in the boat, we don’t have much time to do any work, and the boat is not safely sail-able in its current condition (at the very least we need to re-rig it). I will feel much, much better after the boat is sitting in a slip in the bay–until then my excitement will be tempered.

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