Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Perfect Boat

The boat search and buying process is surprisingly similar to that for small airplanes, so we at least have the experience of buying our old Piper Pacer under our belts (then again, considering how that turned out...). Like airplanes, all boat designs are a set of compromises between cost, convenience, and the immutable laws of physics. Just as there is no such thing as the perfect airplane, there is no such thing as the perfect boat - only the boat whose design compromises most closely align with your priorities. The search process, then, begins with defining your mission. How do you anticipate using the boat? This will help you establish your design priorities and narrow your search to a few specific models, at which point you can focus in on a manageable number of specific boats within your price range.

Defining The Mission

We will be cruising from Florida to the Bahamas and throughout the entire Caribbean basin for an anticipated three seasons. We will most likely haul the boat in Puerto Rico for the first hurricane season, and anticipate hauling in Trinidad for the second although we will also explore the possibility of sailing the boat north to New England for the summer. We'd also like to keep open the possibility of exiting the Caribbean via the Panama Canal at the end of the second season and spending 1-2 seasons in the South Pacific. Even if we complete our cruise as currently planned, the third year will involve several crossings of the Western Caribbean, and so we prefer a boat with rugged offshore construction (as opposed to a coastal cruiser, which would be otherwise adequate for most parts of the Bahamas and Lesser Antilles).

We enjoy sailing and wish to avoid motoring when possible, and thus would like decent sailing performance though not at the expense of easy motion in a seaway. The boat will be usually double-handed on passage, with solo night watches making ease of sailhandling an important consideration. We anticipate taking a dock when Sam has to leave the boat for work, but otherwise only a couple days per month with the rest of our time spent on passage, at anchor or on a mooring, and will require self-sufficiency for these periods, preferably using renewable energy sources. We anticipate bringing friends and family down to sail with us as often as possible, usually two at a time but occasionally two adults and two children. We will have a medium-sized dog aboard full-time. We are both moderately handy but are inexperienced at maintaining boat systems and brightwork (for now!), and though we recognize that our cruising goals will require a fairly complex boat we would prefer that it at least has well laid-out systems with good access for easier and more regular maintenance. We enjoy snorkeling but only Sam is SCUBA certified and Dawn has no interest; we don't foresee the need to keep extensive dive equipment on board.

The Mythical Ideal Boat

Considering all of the above (which admittedly includes several contradictory wishes such as sailing performance + ease of motion and sailhandling, or self-sufficiency + simple systems), we can paint a picture of the perfect boat. This boat surely doesn't exist - certainly not in our price range! - but it is a handy yardstick against which we can evaluate potential candidates, as well as a starting point for post-purchase refitting prior to cruising or during subsequent off-seasons.
  • 40-45 feet length overall, moderate to moderate-heavy displacement, modified full keel or wide cruising fin keel with skeg-hung rudder. Draft 6 feet or less. Also possible: Modified full keel with centerboard, retracted draft under 5 feet. Barrier-coated, blister-free hull with recent bottom paint.
  • Cutter rig preferred, ketch or cutter-rigged ketch possible. Roller furling for headsail and high-cut staysail, full-batten mainsail with 2-3 reef points, stack packs and lazy jacks for main (and mizzen if applicable). Asymmetric cruising spinnaker with mast-mounted pole. Diamond stay setup to eliminate running backstays. Recent standing and running rigging. Mast steps. All or most lines led aft to cockpit, adequate number of appropriately-sized self-tailing two-speed manual winches. 
  • Center-cockpit design with hard dodger or stout soft dodger, attached bimini, full roll-up enclosure with zip-in screens (damn you, Zika virus!). Wheel steering via cable. Master autopilot head and chartplotter at nav station with remote head / slave chartplotter and remote VHF mic at helm. Full sailing instrumentation within view of helm. Adequate room in cockpit for up to 8 on daysails, comfortable space to recline on watch. 
  • Non-skid, non-teak decks and minimal brightwork to maintain. Wide, clean side decks, stout handholds extending forward to end of coach roof, tall stanchions with double stainless lifelines and netting to keep pooch aboard. Permanent folding swim ladders mounted at gates port and starboard. Propane grill mounted aft. Selectable fresh/saltwater shower/washdown aft. Dinghy davits aft for at anchorage or daysailing, adequate space on foredeck for dinghy on passage. RIB dinghy with 15 hp outboard engine, outboard crane and bracket.
  • Double anchor roller on secure anchoring platform, horizontal drum electric windlass with dedicated battery and foot controls, salt-water washdown. 60-pound CQR-style primary anchor with 300 ft 3/8" high-test chain rode. 40-pound Fortress-style secondary anchor with 35 ft 3/8" chain and 200 ft rope rode in locker. 35-pound Fortress-style stern anchor with 10 ft chain and 150 feet rope rode. 12-inch stainless steel cleats with fairleads located fore, aft, and amidships port and starboard. Adequate lazarette or deck box space for dockline and fender stowage. 
  • Companionway hatch that allows for use of sliding boards on passage only. Secure handholds alongside companionway and in cabin. Warm teak cabin with light headliner. LED cabin and exterior lighting. Excellent ventilation including opening ports, forward-facing hatches, dorade vents, and efficient 12-volt fans. Large stowage capacity. Positive-latch drawers, doors, sole floorboards, etc. 
  • Two-cabin design with guest cabin forward and owner cabin aft through passageway. Forward head accessible from salon or v-berth. Centerline queen bed in aft cabin, separate shower stall in aft head. Freshwater foot pumps, manual toilets, and holding tanks with Y-valves in both heads. Workbench with vice grip and stowage space for tools and spares in passageway.
  • Open salon with L-shaped settee around foldable salon table, convertible to single berth with lee cloth. Opposite settee available as seaberth with lee cloth. Plenty of stowage, lots of bookshelf space.
  • Nav station near companionway including master autopilot and networked chartplotter, radar, VHF radio with DSC & AIS, SSB radio with pactor modem, AC/DC breaker panel with battery monitor and solar/wind generator controllers. 
  • Secure U-shaped galley with double sinks on centerline, hot/cold pressure water with fresh and salt water foot pumps, 12-volt well-insulated top-and-front-loading refrigerator, 12-volt separate freezer, 3-burner propane stove/oven on gimbals, propane solenoid with 2x 20-lb tanks mounted in vented aft locker. 
  • 100-gallon fuel tankage and 200-gallon water tankage - both replaced since original, stainless steel. 6-gallon water heater with engine heat exchanger. 4+ gph modular 12-volt watermaker with automatic freshwater flush. 
  • Large, clean engine room accessible on all sides. Recent, low-time repower with modern marine diesel of 60-90 hp. Dual selectable Racor fuel filters with fuel polishing system. Oil change system. High-capacity alternator. 
  • Large 800 amp-hour battery bank, separate engine start and windlass batteries. Smart battery charger/monitor. 2000 watt inverter. Shore power cord for 110/220V. 400+ watts solar and KISS wind generator with controllers preferred, separate diesel generator otherwise.
  • Heat/AC unit for aft cabin and salon while on dock power only (if boat has generator, would use AC and 110-volt watermaker whenever using genset to charge batteries). 
  • Two independent high-capacity automatic bilge pumps with high-water alarm and gallon counter. Third manual bilge pump. Recently replaced through-hulls with accessible seacocks, recently replaced hoses and fittings below waterline. USCG-required safety equipment, life raft, EPIRB, ditch kit, jacklines, harnesses with integrated inflatable PFDs.
Yep, that's "it." In our fantasy world this immaculately equipped, thoroughly updated 30-year old cruising boat is also in Bristol condition, has only been used 4 months of the year in New England waters and stored in shrinkwrap the rest of the time, was just moved to Florida last month, and is squarely within our budget with no additional money required for refit. While we're here let's just stipulate that nothing will break and all future maintenance will be quick, easy and cheap. Man, boat ownership is great in fantasy world!

Back to the Real World

Ah well, that was nice while it lasted. Back here, the best we can do is find similar boats within our price range (<=$150k) and somewhere on the east coast that have good bones, have seen constant use and have been well-maintained, whose owners used them for similar purposes as our intentions and who equipped them accordingly. I'm searching yachtworld every day for new listings between 38 and 48 feet, built after 1975 and listed for $200k or less, and looking into the most promising leads. We've realized that many of the boats we're interested in are one of the following six models, partly because their original design goals were well aligned with our tastes and partially because these particular boats tend to be owned by like-minded owners. Without further ado...

Kelly Peterson 44/46. Center cockpit, cruiser fin keel with skeg-mounted rudder, mostly cutter rigged, usually very well equipped with beautiful, spacious interiors. Taiwanese built. Tend to be at top of our price range or above, especially the rarer and more desirable 46. Known for spectacular sailing performance, partly thanks to a Bahamas-unfriendly deep draft (6'8" for the KP46).  Cheaper knockoffs of inferior construction include Formosa 46 and Spindrift 46. Some still have teak decks. Very few have been repowered but the original VW Pathfinder 90hp is known as a very good engine.

Bristol 41.1 (also rarer 43.3 and 45.5). Ted Hood design. Built in New England with legendary construction quality. Shoal draft full keel with centerboard (4'6" retracted, nearly 10' extended). Mostly cutters, some sloops. Came in both aft-cockpit and center-cockpit versions. A lot of these were used in New England and the mid-Atlantic as weekend coastal cruisers and aren't necessarily set up for living aboard in the tropics - but they otherwise make great offshore cruisers with many circumnavigations under their belts. Joinery not quite as well refined as some of Taiwanese boats. No separate shower stall in aft head. Most updated ones seem to have been repowered, usually with Yanmars. Tend to be middle to top of our budget.

Gulfstar 44. Unlike earlier Gulfstar motorsailers, the 44 is known as an excellent performer under sail. Moderate draft (5'10"). Built in Tampa Bay; Gulfstar's quality was not good in the 70s but rapidly improved in the 80s and the 1983-84 boats are particularly known for excellent quality though blistering has been known to be a problem. Very nice layout - most have centerline queen in aft stateroom with separate shower in aft head. Very few if any have teak decks. Very few cutter rigs, most are sloops and many of these unfortunately have inmast mainsail furling or (somewhat better) behind-the-mast or boom furling. Originally Perkins 4-154 engines, fewer than half appear to have been repowered.

Tayana 42. Robert Harris design, Taiwanese built with very robust construction but a few early quality problems (hull blistering, inferior stainless steel). Good-looking double-ender design with a wide cruising keel with skeg-hung rudder, virtually all are cutters. 200 built, of which 70 were center cockpits. Beautiful teak interiors all built on a custom basis, hardly any 2 are exactly alike. Extremely rugged offshore sailor, known to be relatively fast for its weight (which is to say, only moderately slow) with very easy motion at sea. A ton of these have circumnavigated. Many repowered and upgraded for cruising, these are in the middle of our budget, with quite a few other cheaper semi-derelict ones perpetually for sale. Most had teak decks and many still do; lots of brightwork.

Whitby 42. Classic Ted Brewer designed ketch, first built in Canada in 1973 and later built under license in Ft Meyers until 1988. Uneven construction techniques and quality-control problems particularly in the early boats, the Ft Meyers boats were better. Wildly popular liveaboard cruiser seen throughout Caribbean and plenty have circumnavigated though old salts argue the construction's not really up for it. Tons of space. Interiors tend to be a little spare. Heavy displacement, full keel, ketch rig, very traditional. Known for a wicked weather helm, fairly slow, and doesn't point well. A number had a bowspirit installed and were rerigged as a cutter ketch which along with enlargened rudders solved those problems. These are considered a value buy, which means that some extremely well-equipped and upgraded examples are still near the bottom of our price range.

Brewer 12.8/44. Cool history here. In 1980 a syndicate of ten Whitby 42 owners approached Ted Brewer and asked for a redesign of the Whitby 42 with a list of 100-some changes to make what they considered the ultimate liveaboard offshore cruiser. The changes included a cutter rig and a more modern underbody with the famed "Brewer bite" (essentially a modified full keel with a cutout before the skeg-mounted rudder) and a centerboard like the Bristol 41.1 that yields a similarly shallow board-up draft. Built in Ft Meyers by same yard that built later Whitby 42s, generally robust construction with few of the quality problems the Canadian Whitbys suffered. First ten Brewer 12.8s built for the syndicate were identical, later ones were semi-custom. A few had an extended sugar-scoop transom with swim platform, which later became standard as the Brewer 44. Known for excellent sailing performance. Fantastic liveaboard layout. Interior joinery varies somewhat. Not a ton on the market, most well-equipped and around the middle to top of our budget.

The Hunt is On

By browsing listings and emailing and calling brokers, we've identified nine well-equipped yachts of those six models, purportedly in good condition with minimal remedial maintenance required, within our price range in Florida and the Atlantic Southeast. I've seen one already, and we're hoping to see the other eight between this Saturday and next Wednesday. Will one of these boats be The One? Maybe, maybe not - we'll see! I'll talk a bit about these specific boats in my next post. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Checklist to Cruising

Considering that we recently moved up our cruising plans by nearly a year and still have a ton of stuff to do before we cast off the lines (like, er, get a boat), it's easy to become overwhelmed. It's easier to break it all down into bite-sized pieces by listing the major steps and then analyzing each as a separate project to be worked on. When one project gets frustrating, we can leave it alone for a day or two and think about how to better go about it while chipping away at other projects. Considering my airline background, it's natural to arrange it all as a checklist, and thus we have easily slipped into cruising sailors' natural affinity for list-making.

Here's a simplified version of our checklist of everything that needs to be done before heading to the Bahamas in (ideally) January, with completed items marked off.

_x Long-Term Cruising Planning
  _x Rough Itinerary
  _x Budgeting - Pre-cruise & On Boat
  __ Obtain cruising guides Bahamas through Puerto Rico/USVI

_x Sell Washington Townhouse

__ Sell Minnesota Home
    _x Carpet, Paint, Basement Windows
    _x List with Realtor
    _x Home Inspection Repairs
    _x Transfer Utilities
    __ Close June 7th

__ Move to temporary apartment for Summer 2016
    _x Find Appt & Sign Short-Term Lease
    _x Sell or Donate Unneeded Furniture & misc.
    __ Sort & Box up Belongings - Storage, Apartment, Boat, Donate, Sell, Trash
    __ Fix & Sell Dawn's Jetta
    __ Move Motorcycles to summer storage
    __ Rent Storage Unit
    __ Borrow Trailer, Move June 4th.

_x Sell Piper Pacer

__ Purchase Boat: Spring/Summer 2016
    _x List Type, Preferred Features, Likely Models
    _x Online Search, Spreadsheet, Daily Update
    _x Begin looking at Boats - May 2016
    __ Boat-Shopping Roadtrip - Memorial Day Weekend 2016
    _x Research Surveyors
    __ Make an Offer
          __ Survey + Sea Trial
              __ Separate rigging & engine inspections as needed
          __ Negotiate Repairs
          __ Obtain Financing
          __ Obtain Insurance
    __ Take Delivery
          __ Short Familiarization Cruise w/ Skipper
          __ Obtain Temporary Slip
          __ Search for yard to do repairs/refit
          __ Towboat US Membership
     __ Documentation
          __ Change name if desired, rechristening ceremony
           __ Obtain or transfer USCG Documentation
           __ State registration &/or sales/use tax if required

__ Sailing Education
    __ Dawn: ASA 101-104 Sailing Course June 2016
    __ Sam: Marine Diesels class July 2016. Marine Electrical Class Sept 16?
    __ Both: First Aid Classes, Fall 2016
    __ Both: Safety at Sea seminar, Fall 2016

__ Refit Boat: Summer/Fall 2016
    __ Make list of repairs & refits required before cruising vs deferred items.
    __ Move Boat to Yard that allows owner work. Decommission & Haul.
    __ Cosmetic/gruntwork repairs: we do
    __ Technical Repairs: yard or technicians
    __  Late October: Bottom job, recommission & splash.
    __ Obtain all required safety equipment, personal equipment, etc.
        __ Reregister EPIRB
        __ Certify Life Raft
        __ Assemble Ditch Bag
        __ Voluntary USCG Inspection

__ Move Preparation: Summer/Fall 2016
    __ Put Dawn on Sam's Medical Insurance
    __ Bid to Atlanta Base
    __ Get Piper's vaccinations updated & fresh vet bill of health.
    __ Transfer Sam's remicade/GI specialist to Atlanta-based hospital
    __ Fresh Class I medical to establish summer base month
    __ Bid for September or October CQ
    __ Move motorcycles to winter storage

__ Move down to boat: November 2016
    __ Rent trailer, move out of Apartment, sell or store remaining belongings not going to boat.
    __ Establish South Dakota Residency, power of attorney to Dawn's mom.
    __ Change all bills to online only.
    __ Move boat to suitable liveaboard marina near commutable city.

__ Cruise Preparation
    __ Short (2-3 day) shakedown cruises - Intracoastal, outside, anchoring/mooring.
         __ Record electrical needs & solar/wind output, test watermaker, etc.
         __ Practice sail-handling & maneuvering, revise running rigging as needed.
         __ Inventory spares and obtain as needed.
    __ Move boat to South Florida  December 16
    __ Obtain any needed paper or electronic charts through Puerto Rico
    __ Store or Sell Nissan Xterra
    __ Sign up for weather router, start listening to HF weather & cruiser nets.
    __ Port Phone numbers to Google Voice, Cancel Verizon Service 1/17
    __ Provision, Refuel, Top off water
    __ Update float plan
    __ Find good weather window, leave for Bahamas January-February 2017

Yeah, that's "it." I know it's not complete, I add new things every time I revisit it. Anyone have additional suggestions? Time to me to head down to the garage to chip away at the next project.... ;-)

Monday, May 16, 2016

Sold, Sold...and Sold!

When Dawn and I formulated our plans for going cruising, it wasn't really with intention of completely imploding our land-based life. We love our house, enjoy our land-based (and air-based!) hobbies, like living near family, and we love Minnesota...well, for about six months out of the year! But we pretty quickly realized that to have the time to make cruising worthwhile, Dawn won't be working and I won't want to work much during the cruising season, which limits our budget quite a bit, which makes having a boat and a house and a bunch of land-based toys impractical. Renting out the house, like we've rented out our Washington townhouse since 2008, would be a pretty big distraction while we were thousands of miles away in the Caribbean. And really, if we're making a serious commitment to trying a completely different lifestyle for a few years, it makes sense to completely cut the apron strings and divest ourselves of the accumulated accoutrements of our land-based life.

The first step was selling our townhouse in Vancouver, Washington. We bought it in 2005, while I was working for Horizon Air, and only lived in it a few years, until I was hired at Compass Airlines in late 2007. Unfortunately we waited too long to list it, actually had it sold in early 2008, and then the buyer's financing fell apart - right as the housing market fell off a cliff. At one point we were likely a good $50,000 underwater on it. But we kept it rented out, the lessees steadily paid off the mortgage, and the market in the Portland area recovered pretty strongly in the last couple years. Shortly after we made the decision to go cruising, our latest tenants bought a house of their own and gave notice to vacate, and so we made plans to update the interior and list with Kim Nelson. She was our agent when we bought the place, and again during the turbulent and ill-fated first sale. She's always done a great job and this was no exception; the townhouse actually sold on its very first day on the market and for full asking price (about 15% more than we paid in 2005). This time the transaction went quite smoothly, and we closed in February.

Originally we were planning on selling our house next year. Kim suggested we take a close look at the market in Minneapolis and consider selling this year, given the uncertainty surrounding the election and the potential for higher interest rates afterwards. We were surprised to find just how hot the local market had become this winter, usually the slowest time for Minnesota real estate. Inventory was at historic lows, average time on market was astonishingly short, and tales of bidding wars were rife. It kind of reminded me of 2007, actually. So we decided to go ahead and sell. We interviewed several real estate agents and picked one we were comfortable with, Geralyn Mornson. She actually convinced us to list the house for considerably more than I had previously thought it might fetch, but also suggested we stick about $7k into new carpet, paint, and windows. We did what she suggested, but as luck would have it only the paint was complete when another agent in Geralyn's office asked to do a pre-listing showing. His clients loved it and submitted a full price offering - a full nine days before we were planning to go to market! We close on June 7th. Until Dawn and I move onto the boat, we'll be living in downtown St Paul, where we recently signed a short-term lease on a one-bedroom apartment in the historic Pioneer-Endicott Building. We figure the intermediate downsizing will help us get used to a smaller living space.

Another thing we reluctantly concluded that we should part with is our 1953 Piper Pacer. The worst thing for airplanes is sitting, I bought this one after a period of relative disuse, and it didn't seem fair to let it just sit unused during the 7-8 months per year that we'll be on the boat. We've been flying it around the country in stages since Christmas, and had worked three-quarters of the way around to Portland, OR by mid-April. We were planning to fly it to Montana in May, Idaho in June, and Alaska in July, where we'd sell it. It is, after all, a perfect Alaska bush plane. 

Alas it was not to be. I was having the annual inspection done in Portland when the shop gave me the news every plane owner dreads: they found metal in the oil, like lots of metal, and bronze and brass at that. Further investigation turned up a piece of main bearing in the sump. The engine was in the process of tearing itself apart those last few hours, while Dawn and I (and on the last flight, a friend and his two young boys) were flying over some very rough terrain where there probably wouldn't have been many good options following an engine failure. On one hand, this was a pretty big financial blow - probably the biggest we've faced thus far. An overhaul would cost $23k+ and only increase the value of the plane by perhaps $10k, or I could sell the plane for about $10k, a $13k loss off my purchase price in 2014. On the other hand, I felt extremely lucky that I found out about the problem the way I did, during a routine inspection, rather than through a violent engine failure in a very bad place. Money is money, but life and health are priceless - especially concerning a friend, spouse, or loved one that you're treating to a flight.

I initially considered rebuilding the engine and completing our planned Alaskan adventure before deciding it would be too expensive and too distracting considering everything else we have going on right now. I listed the Pacer on as-is for $10k, and it sold less than a week later to a mechanic from near Seattle who will be rebuilding the engine himself and then flying the plane to places like Idaho, Montana, and Alaska. That makes me smile. It was still sad saying goodbye, though - Dawn and I had some great adventures in our first airplane over the last 18 months.

So most of our big things are sold. The next will be Dawn's 2005 VW Jetta, which we'll be selling in the next couple weeks (we'll be keeping our Nissan XTerra for the time being). We've sold most of the big furniture that's going to be sold now to our house's new owners, friends and family, or on craigslist. The remainder we're taking to the apartment and selling when we move down to the boat. Of course there's a ton of smaller things left to be sold, donated, or otherwise disposed of in the next few weeks and months. Much of our bedding, kitchen appliances, etc are going to a charity called Bridging.Org. We will have a storage unit, but are hoping to keep it fairly small - most of what's going into it has personal value, like gifts or our artwork (all our own photography).
There are two major things we were originally planning to sell that we ended up deciding to keep: our motorcycles. We're planning on spending at least the first hurricane season up in MN/SD, that coincides with the riding season up here, and the bikes would be in storage most of the time we'd be on the boat anyways (and we have storage space with family). It makes sense to keep them, and will be one thing we'll have to look forward to for our first hurricane season off the boat.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Plan

Our cruising plans were officially hatched on a hot summer day last August, although I'd been researching and thinking over the possibilities for much longer than that. Dawn and I had just returned from a weeklong low-season charter in the BVI with six of our friends on a 50' Beneteau, which was Dawn's 2nd time to the BVI and my 4th. Before the charter, I'd been thinking about the fact that with no kids and my flexible job with multiple bases available (most less senior than MSP), there was really nothing keeping us in Minnesota other than Dawn's middle-school teaching job - and she'd been increasingly talking about either taking a break or outright quitting. I'd had it with Minnesota winters and was ready to get out; the only question was where to move instead. The idea of moving onto a sailboat and going cruising had certainly crossed my mind, but I doubted whether Dawn would go for it. It would be an enormous, daunting, life-altering change, and Dawn has a fairly practical, conservative mindset compared to my own. That said, she also has a sneaky adventurous streak that appears when you least expect it, and over nearly 13 years of marriage I've learned to never count her out.

That August afternoon we were cooling off with old-fashioned malts at Tommy's Malt Shop in nearby Chaska when the topic of potential relocation again came up. I brought up my germ of an idea almost offhandedly: "You know, we could always become snowbirds... cruise the Caribbean from November through June, and come back up north during the summers." To my surprise, Dawn loved the idea. I guess we both had sailing on the brain, having just returned from the charter; none of our friends had sailed before, and so Dawn pitched in a lot on boat-handling duties until I got everyone up to speed, which I think increased her confidence level considerably. Now, instead of dismissing my idea as impractical dreaming, she seized on it and we immediately began scheming and honing the plan. Over the next three days we came up with a preliminary cruising route, a budget, a timeline, and a checklist of all the many things that would need to happen before we got on the boat. We hadn't decided to actually do it yet, this was supposed to be a theoretical exercise to flesh out our options, but we both got increasingly excited as we worked through the possibilities. At the end of the third day we sat down and went over the plan, and decided to sleep on it before making a decision. In the morning the answer was still yes, and that was it: time to get to work. I felt a bit like the dog who unexpectedly caught the car.

Here's the semi-refined plan as it existed by mid-fall of last year:
  • Sell everything (Washington rental townhome, our Minnesota home, our cars, and our plane) by spring of 2017.
  • Purchase an older refitted 40-45' cruising sailboat in fall 2016, do any additional retrofits and maintenance over the winter and spring,  and move aboard in June of 2017 to begin shakedown cruises. 
    • Budget for the boat: $100-150k, plus $15-40k for retrofits depending on boat price.
  • Cruise the Bahamas and the Caribbean for 3 seasons (Nov-Jun) starting fall of 2017. 
    • First Season (2017-18): Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, Dominican Republic. Store boat on land in Puerto Rico for first hurricane season.  
    • Second Season (18-19): PR, USVI, BVI, Lesser Antilles to Grenada. Store boat in Grenada or Trinidad for second hurricane season.
    • Third Season (19-20): ABC Islands, Colombia, San Blas Islands, NW Caribbean, Jamaica, Cuba. Return to Florida to sell boat. 
  • Spend the first summer in Minnesota/South Dakota with family; spend second summer living in the Northeast.
  • Dawn quits teaching or takes a leave of absence starting June 2017.
    • She will renew her 5-year MN license in spring 2016, so coming back to teaching after the cruise if desired will be easier.
    • She's planning to tutor and volunteer for charities while cruising.
  • Sam transfers to a more convenient/more junior base, works overtime during the summer and drops his schedule to a minimum during the cruising season.
    • My airline & current fleet has large seasonal fluctuations in flying that make this possible.
    • I also have enough scheduling flexibility to bunch the winter flying into several clusters of a couple weeks each, during which time Dawn, the boat and piperdog will stay at a secure marina in a major boating center with a major airport nearby (Nassau, Georgetown, Providenciales, Fajardo, Simpson Lagoon, Rodney Bay, etc).
    • Writing will provide additional year-round income.
  • A major part of our plan is inviting friends and family down south to sail with us for a week or two at a time. Will start with experienced sailors first season, then others as we gain experience.
    • The boat will be ideally set up for 4 people, with two staterooms fore and aft, with additional room for a couple of kids to sleep in the salon for shorter stays.
  •  Our budget is based on $70k/year income and provides for $10k/yr boat maintenance, 80% boat financing, insurance, provisioning, outside dining, marina fees while Sam works and 5-6 days/mo while cruising, and saving for contingencies or life after cruising. 
 The one major change to the plan already is that we decided to sell our Minnesota house a year early (ie now) due to extremely favorable market conditions and uncertainty surrounding the market (ie interest rates) after the election. Concurrently, Dawn has decided she doesn't want to teach another year and will quit or take a leave of absence in June 2016. So, we're now planning to buy the boat in spring/summer of this year, move aboard in the fall, and potentially begin cruising as early as January of 2017. We haven't decided yet whether to move the rest of the plan up by a year (i.e. cruise for 2.5 seasons) or simply treat the early start as a bonus shakedown/learning season. It'll probably depend on how smoothly things go from here on in. We've made a bunch of progress in our plan already but a ton of work remains, and the less familiar stuff that will involve a steep learning curve starts now as we get more serious about our boat search. If there's one thing I've gathered from reading cruising books and blogs over the years, it's that schedules and boats virtually never go together, and almost everything you do will take twice as long (and cost twice as much!) as you planned.

The other thing we haven't decided yet is what we'll do once we get off the boat in 2019 or 2020. We're purposely leaving that discussion for while we're on the boat; there will be plenty of time to talk about life after cruising. We did agree that we need to have an end date in mind and plan around that; of course the plan can (and probably will) change. Heck, we honestly don't even know if we'll like cruising and want to go all three years...not everyone does, and I don't think chartering necessarily gives you an accurate taste of what full-time cruising life is like. We've committed to go at least one full year while we build cruising skills; most cruisers agree that the first year is the hardest. Beyond that, this adventure is largely about experiencing a unique lifestyle and deciding if it suits us. If so, it's likely we'll end up building our long-term life goals around it; and if it doesn't, or if we've simply had our fill after three years, it'll be an interesting experience with lots of great memories while we move on to other land-based adventures. I'm a bit daunted and even a little scared when I look at the many challenges inherent to our ambitious plans, but I'm looking forward to taking them on with the love of my life at my side.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Chief Instigator - Sam Weigel

Recently I've been reading Beth Leonard's excellent Voyager's Handbook, and early on she talks about how for 95% of the cruising couples out there, the man was the instigator and the woman was the often hesitant, sometimes resistant participant. I'm afraid we're not about to break the mold here: going cruising was definitely my idea.

I'm the oldest of six kids hailing from the decidedly landlocked town of Princeton, Minnesota, and seem to have inherited my father's adventurous streak from a pretty early age, perhaps via the road trips and camping expeditions on which our large brood frequently embarked. I was obsessed with airplanes from early on and began flight lessons at 13, soloing on my 16th birthday and earning my Private Pilot License on my 17th. After high school I got my degree and advanced ratings at the University of North Dakota, graduating in 2002; I've been working as a professional pilot since. In the meantime my interests have broadened to include skiing, camping and hiking, writing, motorcycling, scuba diving, and travel. After a few years at the airlines, I got back into general aviation with Dawn's encouragement, just in case I didn't have enough expensive hobbies. We currently own a 1953 Piper Pacer and also have a share of a 1946 Piper Cub, both outrageously fun in their own way.

Ever since learning on a Sunfish at Boy Scout camp when I was twelve, I've also enjoyed sailing, though for many years it took a backseat to my other interests and hobbies. Actually, at age 22 I wrote a list of goals I'd like to achieve in my lifetime, and one of them was "sail around the world," though I had little idea of how to go about it and Dawn was highly resistant to the idea of such an undertaking. I can't blame her, for over the years it sure seemed like every time we went sailing it was in big wind and waves in a little boat, which combined with my inexperience made for a generally wild ride.

A few years back, I linked up with a group from my former airline, Horizon Air, at the 2012 Interline Regatta in the British Virgin Islands, which was my first time to the Caribbean, my first time racing, and my first time sailing anything over 30 feet. This was also shortly after my brother and I had bought a little 21' Santana trailer-sailor together, and served to greatly increase my interest in sailing. In 2013 I took a week-long ASA course from Basic Keelboat to Bareboat Captain out of Marina del Rey in Los Angeles, and immediately started chartering as well as taking over captain duties for our multi-boat group at the annual Interline. Thus far I've skippered Beneteau 37s and 43s to Catalina Island in SoCal, Beneteau 43s and 50s in the BVI, a Leopard 46 catamaran in the Bahamas' Abaco Islands, and most recently a Leopard 39 out of Phuket, Thailand (I've also since crewed quite a few places, including at the Heineken Regatta in St Maarten where our crew won the fastest bareboat around the island trophy). Dawn has been on five of these charters and with each one her confidence level and comfort with sailing has increased. She's still pretty adamant that she doesn't want to circumnavigate, but I myself have eased up on that idea quite a bit. Better to cruise for a couple years and see how we like it, I think.

I'll write more about our work plans in the next post, but I'm fortunate to fly for an airline (and specifically for a fleet) that has large seasonal fluctuations in their flying, making it relatively easy to take extra time off during the Nov-Jun cruising season and make extra money when we're off the boat Jul-Oct. I also have a side gig as a writer that I'll maintain on the boat; I currently write a monthly column plus occasional features for Flying Magazine, the world's most-widely read aviation publication, and will likely start doing some sailing writing as well.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

First Mate - Dawn Weigel

I wanted to take a few moments of your time to introduce myself.  Sam and I have been married for nearly 13 years and traveled the world together.  With each country we visit, we do our best to see the country via planes, trains, and/or automobiles and even boats OR ferries. :)  We pack as much into our vacations as possible so we can maximize what we experience on our trips.

Up until a few years ago, I had never been on a sailboat.  Since then, I have done 5 charters with my husband and our friends and family.  This past August is when we decided to sell all our belongings, buy a sailboat, and cruise the Caribbean for two-three seasons.  I'm very excited but am quite nervous about all the unknowns.  My husband is a wonderful instructor, and I have learned some of the "ropes" while being aboard the charters, but I don't feel completely comfortable and prepared to sail full time, yet.  I have signed up for an ASA sailing course this June and am excited to learn all I can before setting sale in January.

I have taught mathematics to middle school and high school students for the past 14 years.  Eleven of those years have been teaching seventh and eighth graders Pre-Algebra and Algebra.  I was granted a leave of absence for the 2016-2017 school year to pursue this recent dream of ours. :)  Since my area of expertise is mathematics, I want to apologize ahead of time for my grammar errors, run-on sentences, and incorrect word usage.  I'm sure you'll quickly notice that my writing style is completely different than my husband's (he writes professionally).  I hope to update often and share as many aspects of our journey with you.  I hope you enjoy!

(Taken in Thailand on our recent charter with Sam's parents, sister & niece and nephew)

About Us

I'm going to have Dawn write her own bio post soon, and I'll do the same for myself, but first I want to write an introductory post for us as a "cruising couple."

Dawn and I are both from rural Minnesota, and we met while in college (I was at UND in Grand Forks at the time, she at St Cloud State University). After I graduated with a degree in aviation, I headed out to Southern California to work as a flight instructor, and Dawn followed me as teaching opportunities were pretty limited in MN at the time. Oh, and she apparently liked me, because we were married in California a little over a year later! In 2004 we moved to Portland, Oregon for three years, and then back to Minnesota where we've been living and working since 2007. I'm now a Boeing 757/767 pilot for Delta Air Lines, while Dawn is a math teacher at Minnetonka Middle School West near our current home. I'll write more about our cruising plans in another post, but I plan to scale back my flying during the cruising season, while Dawn will be taking at least a 3-year break from teaching.

Since I started working for the airlines in 2004, Dawn and I have done quite a bit of traveling around the country and around the world; at last count we've been to 36 countries or so. Flying small planes is another shared hobby, we have a share of a 1940 Piper J-3 Cub and are sole owners of a 1953 Piper Pacer (which we're currently selling in preparation for cruising). We've used the latter plane to fly all over the U.S., the Bahamas, and down Mexico's Baja peninsula. We both ride motorcycles and have done some pretty neat rides including to Alaska and back. As you may have guessed, Dawn and I don't have any children, but we do have an adorable 18-month-old Lab/German Shorthair/Beagle/Demondog mix named Piper. He'll be coming on the boat with us.

I learned to sail at Boy Scout camp as a kid, and have sailed dinghies and small boats off and on since. When Dawn and I lived in LA, we used to rent Catalina 22s out of Marina del Rey and San Diego Harbor, and later her parents bought a MacGregor 25 and we sailed that on Lake Traverse (MN/SD) when visiting. A few years back my brother and I bought a swing-keel Santana 22 and trailer-sailed that on Lake Minnetonka for several seasons (I sold it last spring when my brother moved overseas). Since 2012 we've done more "big" boat sailing, including quite a few bareboat charters on boats ranging from 37' Beneteaus to 46' Leopard cats in California, the Bahamas, the BVI, St. Maarten, and Thailand.

We've talked about buying a boat and going cruising for quite a while, but decided to take the leap just last August. Since then we've made some pretty huge progress towards our goal, but still have a daunting amount left to do. I'll talk about that in another post soon.