Take One: Reaching for a Dream

A very lengthy process not to be taken lightly! The excerpts below are taken from my personal journal which I decided to keep when this sailing dream was born as a way to keep myself focused and on track, a constant reminder of our goal and the road to achievement. I am happy now to have a place where I can share these thoughts for others so that they too may find the encouragement to chase their dreams.

Excerpts from January 2010 – March 2010

First and foremost, I should relay that going into this venture we weren’t entirely new to the ocean, or boats, or even sailboats for that matter. Well, he wasn’t entirely new to sailboats. I had been on a sailboat under sail before, but not on a small sailboat under sail heeling at a 30 degree angle while anything not secured in the cabin is tossed about like ice cubes in a glass. Until this dream came about, the true extent of my sailing experience was one of those paid “Pirate Ship” sailing excursions like you’d take while in port during a cruise. So you can imagine, when Will broached the subject of living the cruising lifestyle aboard a sailboat, I faltered a bit. Okay, a LOT. I questioned every aspect of this idea from top to bottom: you name it and I questioned it, for days on end. Will being the patient saint that he is never grew tired of my questions, never got upset by my random “what if” scenarios, and never laughed at my ignorance no matter how silly my questions must have seemed to him. I asked about the different types of boats for blue water (ocean) cruising and making crossings (from continent to continent), safety issues, weather concerns, boat maintenance, the annual costs of living, necessary documentation, animals onboard, living space, amenities, work prospects, on and on and on until I felt entirely comfortable with the idea.

I finally announced to Will that I was in agreement on the idea but I had three conditions: 1.) The boat had to be big enough to be livable but small enough to be single-handed should something happen to one of us that would prevent both of us handling the boat (for example: if my back went out, or I broke a leg, etc.), 2.) It had to have a separate shower area, or at least an area that could be sectioned off and didn’t require hosing down the entire head (bathroom) area to take a shower, and 3.) I had to have a washer/dryer unit. Not that I’d expect to do tons of laundry, but small loads now and again, especially when facilities aren’t always available and you want fresh clothes, is a general “must have” in my book. To my surprise Will agreed with my three conditions, and enthusiastically (apparently he likes having clean clothes too)! So now that I was convinced, the real work could begin and the intense research began.

First we discussed the initial plan, how much of a boat could we afford, and what timeframe were we looking at for purchasing a boat. Were we looking at restoring something, buying slightly used, or something new? We each had some money tucked away, but not enough to buy something outrageously expensive, and for our first foray into sailboat ownership we both felt that a good starter boat which we could fix up to our specifications while learning to sail would be ideal, but we needed to be careful not to get sucked into buying a “project boat” which would take entirely too many years and too much money to finish. We also decided we wanted our boat to be paid off, nothing we’d have to finance, or make payments on. This would mean a much longer timeframe for finding the boat initially of course, but with the economy still on the downside we were confident in the buyer’s market and hopeful that we could find a worthwhile candidate.

By March of 2010 Will was deep into his search. He had joined forums where he could read other’s opinions on different boats, makes, models, maintenance, etc., subscribed to sailing blogs, articles, and magazines, and read through hundreds of online listings of boats for sail. We discussed things we liked and didn’t like about the many boats we saw online, formed new opinions of options we would like included in our own boat, and were inspired by the different ways people had made these small spaces feel like home. Will signed up for sailing lessons and embraced the dream full force. I on the other hand, was just swallowing the cold hard truth that I would really have to let go of everything I owned. Everything that I’ve worked so hard for all my life, from the smallest knick-knack, to my clothes and shoes, my 3 vehicles, and my 1600 square foot house, it would all have to go and within a reasonable timeframe before our “set sail” date. WOW. Talk about hitting a brick wall! I wanted to crawl under a rock somewhere and hide to be honest, but then I realized what letting go of it all would feel like. No more ties. No more mass commercialism and consumerism. The ultimate freedom. That’s when I realized I was truly ready and 100% onboard with the dream, because sometimes you have to give up everything you have to take a chance to have everything you’ve always wanted!

Excerpts from April 2010

Will was actively looking at boats in person by this time, but since we knew we weren’t ready to purchase just yet I considered these excursions to be scouting missions only and opted to sit out of most of his trips. He would always take the camera with him and was sure to bring home plenty of pictures (along with some great stories), so I felt my time was better utilized going through the house to plan and prepare items for what I was now calling the “escape the nation liquidation.” To me, this cleaning and clearing chore was enormous and although at times I wanted to just stick a sign in the front yard that said “Come & Get It,” I knew that timing the release of each and every item was going to be key in adding the most money to our sailing kitty. For the same reason, I’m against yard sales. Too much hassle and work to clean and price things just for people to come along and haggle prices down to nothing.

First up would be the extra, unnecessary, bulky things we’d been hanging onto for no reason. Though nothing that we set out was junk per se, I timed this with the city junk cleanup because I knew that the “pickers” would be out and about beforehand scavenging the piles. Out went the extra bulky old TV’s, computer accessories, old dining room chairs, Wilson Volleyball & net set up, boxes of books, etc. etc. etc., all in fine condition and nothing wrong with them, just too much hassle to get rid of otherwise. What started out to be an enormous pile quickly shrank down to almost nothing. My next door neighbors swooped in immediately and met us in the driveway many times before we could even get things to the curb so that there was precious little left for the scavengers when they did come, and the junk men only got whatever scattered items were left. Standing in the garage looking at wide open spaces for the first time in years I began to taste the freedom…and I liked it!

The next chore would be Craig’s List and specialty items, things we can sell online or through specialty outlets and accumulate boat cash for. These items will be scattered out over the next couple years while we work on the boat, timing their sale with the seasons (lawn furniture in spring, Christmas décor in fall, etc.), sprinkled in with odd items, like the larger antiques and my online pet supply business & all the inventory for instance. Maybe even a car or two. I decided to make up a plan for what to sell when, and how, especially since I really didn’t have to worry about it right now, not until we physically owned a boat anyway!

In late April as we were returning from a spring vacation Will made plans to drop off in Daytona, FL and look at a boat for sale in a local marina. This would be the first boat I toured with him. She was a lovely little center cockpit French sailboat made by Jouet and though she needed some work, for the most part she seemed to be in pretty good condition. Her owner had her up for sale at a very reasonable price and had even told Will that whatever offer we made, a deal could be worked out. After spending two hours looking her over thoroughly we drove away quiet and thoughtful, and completely undecided. Oddly enough, the reality of owning a boat sooner rather than later began to set in, and we started to think about how unprepared we really were. What would this mean to our plan, and what would we do about moving her up the coast? Sail her or have her trailered? What about marinas and all the other things we hadn’t looked into just yet that weren’t supposed to happen for a few more months down the road? What did we know about Jouet boats?

For the next week after we returned home Will researched Jouet boats, and since we were still undecided, he continued to look at boat listings. Though Will didn’t know it, I personally made the decision to step back and leave the matter in his capable hands, after all, he knew WAY more about sailboats than I did! As long as it was livable and met my three conditions (even if it took modifying whatever we bought to accommodate), I was good with it.

May 1, 2010

It had to be fate. Normally for us, we spend the first Saturday in May attending the Kentucky Derby but we had decided early on to skip the trip this year, so when Will found a couple of listings he wanted to see in person in Savannah, GA we headed South instead. I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about driving 4 hours to spend the day looking at boats, and then driving 4 hours back that night, but I was fighting the sadness of missing my visits with friends and family and enjoying the races in KY, so I agreed to tag along. Will felt pretty strongly about one listing in particular and had shown me the pictures of her in her sale listing online, but I was skeptical and knew by now that the pictures always looked better than the actual item would look in person, so mentally I had prepared myself for this to be just another “scouting” session and I was fairly blasé about making the trip.

During the week prior Will had completed the necessary research in regards to any accommodations we’d have to make should we happen to find a boat in the near future, and he’d noted that the sale listings were now beginning to disappear rather quickly. Apparently a lot of people were taking advantage of this buyers market, and several of the boat ads he had shown interest in had disappeared almost overnight, the boats having been sold “sight unseen” by the new owners. Knowing this information added some urgency to our buying schedule because this meant the market was beginning to turn around and our window of opportunity was narrowing, however we were still very cautious and wanted to be completely thorough to make certain that we made the right decisions when the time came. One of those buyers who had snatched up a boat sight unseen (which Will had been interested in), just happened to be a very nice couple from Wisconsin that Will had begun talking to online. Mike and Linda actually recommended the very broker we were traveling to meet, their boat was still docked at the very same marina the boat we were going to look at was docked, and they had acquired their boat for a really good price. Having this personal referral somehow made us feel better about meeting with a boat broker, even though one thinks along the lines of a used car salesman when the term broker is used. Still, we had a list of expectations for our new boat, we would stick to it with no exceptions, and we were determined we would not be pushed into anything we weren’t sure about by any salesman.

Arriving in Savannah quicker than we had anticipated, the broker agreed to meet us at the marina early however he warned us that he had another appointment at another marina and would not be able to stick around very long. I was relieved to hear that personally, because I hated the thought of having a salesman hovering over us while we were making our inspection. Walking down to the dock I realized how Sail Harbor Marina must have been named, because looking out over the area there must have been 30 or 40 sailboats, all lined up along every dock they had! I had never seen so many sailboats in one marina, and yet I was able to recognize the boat that had drawn us there even before Jim Bullock (the broker) pointed her out to us, and she was absolutely beautiful! (Below are the first fore and aft pictures I took of the Hunter 33′)

Climbing aboard and inspecting her brought even more surprises; a rather spacious layout, good storage, a roomy head, she was clean and neat, everything we were looking for! (For more pictures taken at this time, see the First Impression segment in the Photo Gallery.) Jim soon left for his other appointment and we were left alone, able to inspect everything thoroughly; taking some time to really walk the top checking for soft spots, making sure she was in good sound condition, and the whole time I kept wondering where her secret issues were, she was priced so low, this had to be too good to be true! When Jim returned we learned that she was marina owned after takeover for non-payment of dock fees by the previous owner, therefore the marina owner didn’t want or need her and in fact he had several other boats for sale as well, so she was priced to sell quickly. Jim is such a personable guy, not at all pushy and very forthcoming with information, so we felt comfortable talking to him about the other boats for sale, or that had sold (i.e. Mike and Linda’s boat), and he confirmed that while the season had been dead for quite some time, sales had picked up remarkably due the economy and boats now being listed at least 20% less than their value. I believe it was the combination of these facts (knowing that this boat was in great shape, priced within budget, and that there were others interested and scheduled to view this same boat the next day), that prompted Will to ask me if we were ready to put the “hold” money down on her which would effectively take her off the market for other prospective buyers, until the boat could be surveyed and (at which time) payment would be made in full. Trusting 100% in Will’s judgment (remember I was leaving the decision to him), I nodded yes and Will made a low ball offer which surprisingly, Jim accepted on the spot with no hassle.

I was floored. Thank heavens I wrote it all out in my journal, because honestly, I was in a haze after that. I remember walking up to the office, meeting the marina owner and making the down payment, and then we spent another several hours just sitting inside the cabin musing about the changes we want to make which will make her more home like and efficient for our future cruising lifestyle. I think we were both in shock really, and I kept asking myself, “Did we really just do that?”

Before we left, we visited Mike and Linda’s boat (an Alberg 35′) and I took a picture of Will with it so he could send the picture to Mike in an email that said simply “I touched your boat before you did!” (see picture below)

The birth of a Wind Dragon:

On the way home that evening we couldn’t keep ourselves from thinking about the boat and discussing the changes we planned to make. We had already discussed boat names in the past and Will had come up with the name “Sea Dragon” which we both liked, so we had begun to reference the boat by this new name. Then suddenly Will stated that he thought “Wind Dragon” might be more appropriate as it seemed to really “fit” her better, being a sailboat and all, and I immediately agreed. In the boating community re-naming a boat is a tricky subject (there are superstitions and rituals to be performed as well as the legal stuff), but with Wind Dragon, we were fortunate to have learned that her previous name was “Intrepid” which means resolutely fearless; dauntless: as inan intrepid explorer, which is also a characteristic of the mythical dragon, and what our “Wind Dragon” will surely continue to be in the future. Thus, the name transition was natural, and our Wind Dragon was born.

Excerpts from the first half of May 2010

We had two weeks between our first viewing on May 1st to the boat survey and sea trial which were scheduled for May 14th, when upon satisfactory completion of both these items we would make payment in full and officially take possession of Wind Dragon. Technically we were sitting on our hands since she wasn’t paid off and we didn’t have a full bill of sale yet, but mentally and figuratively speaking, she was already ours. It still felt surreal to me, like one of those things that you have to see or touch to believe, and Wind Dragon being a 4 hour drive away, I couldn’t do that so I did the next best thing: more research! There is (not surprisingly) TONS of information on sailboats, sailing, and the cruising lifestyle out there. I finally took after Will’s lead and joined forums, read and bookmarked blogs, requested catalogs, and (in general) dove into the sailing & boating community as its newest official member. Will kept busy with lining up the surveyor, setting the time for the sea trial, reserving the dock space for her new home, getting insurance quotes, pricing out equipment necessities, and creating this website for me to play with.  (Smile)

By 5:19am on May 14th we were on the road to Savannah with millions of butterflies in our stomachs, both nervous and excited about the day to come. When we arrived at the docks our surveyor (Scott Boyd) had just finished the diving portion of his inspection (to check her bottom side), and was climbing aboard to complete the rest of his survey. At this point I have to admit to being a little nauseous because I was afraid of getting a bad survey, but in the end his inspection had revealed no major surprises (thankfully), and Scott gave us the two thumbs up signal to go ahead with the sea trial. While Will, Scott, and Jim left the dock on Wind Dragon for the sea trial, I went back to the Jeep to wait it out with our dogs because I didn’t like leaving them alone. Forty minutes later they surprised me by returning early, the sea trial having been cut short due to a smoking belt (that could be easily replaced), and Scott gave us the go ahead to seal the deal. By 2pm that afternoon she was paid for in full and we were moving aboard, fully armed and ready to begin planning our first projects. Whew!

It was a busy day of firsts really. Besides making our first boat purchase together, we made our first purchases for the boat that day, introduced the boys to the boat for the first time that afternoon, spent the first evening planning and measuring and making the first of what would later be lots and lots of notes, and spent our first night onboard. Our first onboard dinner was (insert sarcasm) pretty fancy: we dined by candle light (citronella tea lights), with appetizers of tuna and crackers, followed by an entrée of ham & cheese sandwiches and baked Doritos! Of course, no day such as this would be complete without a first champagne toast to christen the boat; so after dinner we sat topside for a while and enjoyed our champagne while looking out over the marina and drinking in the first night time sights and sounds of the wildlife around us. As fun as that day of firsts was though, now the real work had to begin. The next morning went by quick as we hurridly tried to finish up what we could before leaving at noon to head back home. Fortunately though I was able to snap one last picture just as Will was checking the main sail before preparing to remove and store it:

(Wind Dragon’s first picture with her main sail up)

And with that we packed up and headed back home to begin Making The Dream A Reality.