After dropping Dawn off at TPA, I drove the 3.5 hours up to Jacksonville, naturally enough ending up at a couple of nice marinas on the St. John’s River on the south side of downtown. One was locked down like Ft. Knox, but I was able to surreptitiously walk the docks at the other and even found a gorgeous Gulfstar 50 ketch for sale. A check on Yachtworld confirmed she was out of our price range.
Early the next morning I picked up my friend Lance Yesdnil from the Jacksonville Airport; he had flown in from Seattle on a redeye to Atlanta. Lance and another friend of mine, Andy Peterson, used to own a Bristol 29.9 in which they cruised the Caribbean. Lance is quite knowledgeable about cruising boats and in particular the boat we were about to see, a Kelly Peterson 46. This one had been for sale on-again and off-again for a good four years and was currently on the hard in Green Cove Springs.
It turned out that the owner and his wife were on hand, as well as the broker. That was great for answering specific questions. This particular KP46 had been on the hard in Grenada when Hurricane Ivan struck in 2004; of the 204 monohulls in the Spice Island yard at the time, 202 toppled over including Havana Goodtime. The hull flexed and destroyed a good portion of the port-side interior, which the owners had professionally rebuilt, but they chose not to repair the exterior gelcoat. Supposedly the hull was fine structurally and had surveyed out just fine, but I wasn’t so sure. It was a lot uglier than I expected, and looked like a recipe for water intrusion (maybe not as big of a deal on a solid fiberglass, uncored hull). There were several other places where Ivan had left its mark that had been unrepaired, and more recent damage that had been left as-is (like the gaping hole in the boom where an uncontrolled gybe had ripped out the boom vang three years ago). The KP46 is a great cruising boat, albeit a bit more than Dawn and I really need, and this one was as well equipped as most (including a dive compressor and tanks). But there were a lot of red flags of neglect. It looked like a pretty major project to me. The final straw was when I discovered a log entry from this January that said “headed north to Brunswick after a failed survey.” Earlier I had asked whether the boat had been surveyed since the Ivan damage and was told insurance only, and they all gave her a good bill of health. After seeing the log remark I asked the broker whether the boat had been under contract yet and was told it had but the sale fell apart, without specifying why. I didn’t press the issue. I have no desire to buy a boat from someone who’s not going to be open about its past.
From Green Cove Springs it was three hours south to Fort Pierce, where we had an appointment to see another boat on the hard, this time in the gigantic, hardscrabble Riverside Marina boatyard. In contrast to the previous broker, I felt like Dave Schreiber was completely honest about First Light’s condition, strengths and weaknesses. He is personal friends of the owners and had sailed on the 1981 Gulfstar 44 Sloop in the Bahamas several times, but the owners had since relocated and First Light had spent a year on the hard (though only for sale the last few months). When I saw her, I actually thought she looked better than Dave had described. Yes, she's ready for a bottom job, but there are no signs of blistering. The topsides are dirty with boatyard dust but otherwise in fine shape with good paint and nonskid and no soft spots. All the teak trim needs sanded and varnished, and the dodger/bimini vinyl is shot. The standing rigging is ten years old and should be looked at closely, and the running rigging looks worn. But the chainplates have been replaced, the Yanmar engine is recent and low-time, the electronics are spectacular, and she has wind gen, solar, a genset, air con, and a watermaker. The interior is quite nice, not quite to the level of Oz but nicer than Radiance. She’s a project boat, but not a huge project. First Light is priced at $99,500 but I got the feeling she could be had for considerably less. She ended up being the best value on our list, which moved her into the Top 3.
After leaving First Light we stopped by the new house of one of Lance’s cruiser friends; their Leopard 38 catamaran, Texas Two-Step, is actually parked right next to First Light (they just put it on the hard for hurricane season). We enjoyed talking to Leslie and ended up staying longer than we meant to, and so we got into Tampa quite late. It was a quick sleep and up early the next morning to make our 8am appointment in St. Petersburg. Lance was excited to see the Bristol 41.1, the big brother of his old boat. On paper it seemed decent but a little overpriced to me at $119k. It was at a boatyard having the electrical panel rewired, but was actually in the water. I thought the name was Calabar due to old pics on the Yachtworld listing, but it turns out her current name is Compass Rose – a funny coincidence as that was the old callsign at my former airline (which Lance now flies for).
I ended up somewhat underwhelmed by Compass Rose. She was pretty nice on deck, but kinda mediocre below, seemed small for her size, and was missing a lot of items on our list. The forward head was pretty foul and the aft was small, with no separate shower stall (a big item on Dawn’s list). There were also several mickey-mouse installations that left me doubting the DIY abilities of her previous owners (the current owners are apparently more “leave it to the boatyard” types). She has a cutter rig but it was clearly an aftermarket installation; the baby stay’s chainplate is very poorly attached to a rickety plywood divider in the chain locker, and there are no running backstays to prevent mast flex with the staysail in use. While the broker was absent, I asked the electrician who was rewiring the panel what he thought of the existing wiring. “There’s a lot of weird stuff in this boat, man!” he exclaimed. He should know.
Originally Compass Rose was the last boat we were to have seen, but the previous night I had impulsively called on a 1985 Liberty 458 that was at the very top of our boat-buying budget. I hadn’t considered the Liberty among my list of potential boat types because it’s quite rare, but the design meets all our criteria and is actually based on the Kelly Peterson 46. From the moment I stepped aboard Susurra (Spanish for “whisper”), it was clear that this boat was a serious contender. The boat is absolutely perfectly laid out for cruising, and indeed feels much larger than 45 feet LOA. It includes: wind generator, solar panels, a stern arch with dinghy davits, a great enclosure, non-teak decks with good antiskid, tons of hatches, dorades and portholes for excellent ventilation, extremely sturdy anchoring tackle, a cutter rig, nice sailhandling equipment, recent electronics, a short/shallow companionway ladder that would be easy for Piper to negotiate, the most seaworthy galley I’ve seen to date, a stunning varnished teak interior with tons of room and stowage, a large, beautiful nav station, a spacious engine room, a workbench, an enormous aft cabin with a full-width queen berth with portholes on three sides, private aft head with separate shower stall, a unique combo office / Pullman double guest cabin with head forward, a genset, a high-capacity watermaker, icemaker, two AC units, and so forth. Wow!
In terms of equipment, layout, and overall presentation, Susurra is the best boat we've seen to date (and thus, the most expensive). Even Lance, normally a big KP46 fan, was about to jump in and put an offer on her for himself! But for all the fireworks, there are some potential big-ticket maintenance items in Susurra’s near future. The engine is original and looks like it has seen better days (though external condition admittedly isn’t a great metric of an engine’s health). The stanchions and lifelines need replacing. The standing rigging appears pretty shot, and the chainplates are original and look it. This wouldn’t be a big deal except that they are extremely outboard and appeared to be imbedded inside the hull. The broker thought they could be accessed by removing joinery but the owner later confirmed they cannot be removed (or even inspected!) without grinding them out of the hull. What a stupid design! Other Liberty owners have had success relocating their new chainplates to the outside of the hull. This is a huge project that is well beyond my present abilities, and thus hugely expensive as well. These things, plus the fact that she’s really more boat than we need, kept Susurra from rocketing to the top of our list - but she made the Top 3 nevertheless.
Our boat-viewing roadtrip encompassed 6 days, 3 flights, 1300 road miles, and 11 boats. I learned a lot over the course of the trip – most of all that any boat in our price range is going to need upgrading and repairs before heading out into the blue. It’s really a question of what things we want to pay for. As I flew back to Minnesota, I wasn’t 100% convinced that we had found our boat just yet, but I did have a list of five possible contenders for us to deliberate over: Windbird, First Light, Susurra, Oz, and Marathi.