MOVING DAY, TONS OF SMOKE, AND NO AIR CONDITIONING!

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It was the last weekend in May. Moving day! There were boxes everywhere. Some were labeled storage. Others were labeled boat. And, the rest were piled up for Richard’s repeated trips to Goodwill. We’d given some of our furniture to our adult kiddos and the rest was being picked up by a junk hauling outfit.

No Tan Lines (“Tanny” for short) was “on the hard” at Embree Marine Service (which is EXCELLENT, by the way) for repairs required by the insurance company, and we wouldn’t be getting her back for another 10 days or so. We packed our suitcases, and headed to a hotel with the kids, dog, and cat. It was the off-season here in Florida so we were able to get an oceanfront room for a very good rate. It was a “suite” (a tiny one) with a bedroom, two queen beds, a kitchenette, a small living room, and a fold-out couch. It was quite cozy and the view couldn’t be beat.

We decided to turn our transition period into a mini-vacation and we had a great time there!

During those 10 days, Max and Mason started their beginner sailing lessons at the The St. Petersburg Sailing Center and they LOVED IT! I was so happy! Max was so excited on the day he was able to sail out of the basin, and into the bay where he saw dolphins and a stingray! He developed a great camaraderie with his fellow students. Mason, because of his age, was stuck in the small boats so he wasn’t able to have as much adventure time. But, he learned how to sail a small boat all on his own!

During the last day of that class, the parents were invited to not only watch the kids, but to sail with them. I rode in the tiny boat with Mason while Richard rode in a larger boat with Max. We were so proud of everything they’d learned in just 10 days of class! We just got in for the ride and they did everything all by themselves! Sails up, rudder, keel, tacking, adjusting lines – the works! They have both moved on to the intermediate class. After that one, they’ll start the racing class!

On our official “moving-onto-the-boat” day, we packed up the kids and pets, and drove to the boatyard. Capt. Brian was already there, prepping the boat for the trip to our new “home,” the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina. I went upstairs to pay the boatyard bill. We’d had a ton of work done and all of it came in at or under the estimates they’d given. $11,200 total. I was THRILLED!

We settled into No Tan Lines, which was still on the lift, to wait for Capt. Stan, who was going to help us take her to the marina. It was beastly hot that day so Brian had the generator running, and turned on the air conditioners. And, a few seconds later, all the ACs turned off, flashing error messages on their panels. Oh NO! A quick inspection by Brian showed that there was air in the hose leading to the seacock – the NEW seacock. Chad at Embree promptly sent one of his guys down and it was fixed in no time. Brian turned the ACs back on and the boat started to cool down. Aaaaaahhh. We were finally about to be on our way! But, while we were sitting in the cockpit, talking to the nice gentleman who’d just fixed our AC problem, he suddenly said, “You’ve got smoke!”

TONS of smoke was coming through the outside vents. Brian literally jumped into the salon and turned off the generator, threw open the floor hatch, and started to investigate. The amount of smoke was quite impressive! I had already shooed the kids and pets out into the cockpit. There was no fire. Brian assumed it was a belt (and, later, we found out he was right). I was praying it wasn’t electrical. I was a bit nervous about the boat catching on fire once we plugged into shore power. But, Brian had been right. It was just a belt and it’s since been fixed.

Capt. Stan arrived, No Tan Lines was splashed, Stan easily backed her up, and turned her into the channel, and we were heading home! It as an easy trip to the marina, which was just around the corner. We were only in Tampa Bay for about 15 minutes. We had to stop by the marina office so we could be measured and inspected. Then, Stan steered her around the corner again, to our slip.

She was smoothly docked and Capt. Brian got busy hooking up the shore power and adjusting the lines. I sat nervously for about half an hour, hoping we wouldn’t have more smoke. And, we did not!

Richard and Max drove to our storage place for our “boat” boxes and we spent the rest of the day unpacking and settling in. That evening, we all sat in the cockpit, eating our dinner with plates on our laps, watching the gorgeous sunset, and feeling the stress of moving finally leave our shoulders.

It had taken about a year and a half of planning and a WHOLE LOT OF WORK but we were FINALLY LIVING IN OUR FLOATING HOME!!! My dream had come true!!!

NEXT: THAT DARNED ILLEGAL TOILET!

UH OH! OUR REPEATED ATTEMPTS AT MINIMALISM WERE FAILING!

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The last time we moved into a new home, I’d said, “NEVER AGAIN!” But, here we were, once again moving. I can say that moving is down near the very bottom of my list of favorite things…right above a colonoscopy.

In Maine, we’d lived in a 3-story, 3,600-square foot home with 7 bedrooms. And, because we had six kiddos living at home at that time, the space was necessary. Before you think we were loaded (we were NOT!), please know that homes in Maine were dirt cheap back in the year 2000. That huge, waterfront home was only $92,000, if I remember correctly.

When we moved to Florida in 2011, we got rid of about 75% of our belongings. We were heading to an 1,800-square foot rental in Florida with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. At that time, four of our kiddos were still living with us so we knew it would be a bit “cozy” (crowded!). Unfortunately, we started buying stuff again after promising ourselves we would not.

We lived in that house for a year before buying a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom home on the water in Bradenton. That was The Money Pit house. And, unfortunately, we kept buying more stuff. It had felt so good to get rid of all that junk that we never used in Maine (did we really need two blenders, seven spatulas, and a rabbit-shaped chocolate mold??) but we continued with our bad habit, wasting tons of money.

When we decided to sell The Money Pit, I started researching minimalism. The descriptions online vary quite a bit but here’s what minimalism means to me:

The more junk you have, the more “cluttered” your life becomes. Your stuff starts to control you, by cluttering your living space and your mind, and by making you work harder to make more money so you can buy more stuff to…further clutter your home and mind. I don’t like clutter. It creates a noticeable tension in my body. When I’m trying to work and there’s stuff sitting out, not put away, I feel off-kilter and stressed. Then, there’s the hidden stuff in the closets and drawers that you maybe used once…or perhaps not even at all. All of that “junk” makes me feel crowded, bogged down, and boxed in.

When I started researching minimalism, I didn’t even want to think about how much money we spent on all that stuff we sold and gave away when we moved from Maine to Florida. And again when we moved from the rental, and again when we moved from The Money Pit. Worse, I didn’t want to think about all the junk we’d purchased after promising ourselves, during each move, that we wouldn’t fall into that trap again.

We did do a lot better when we moved into the apartment. It was much smaller than all the houses we’d owned and we knew we’d eventually be living on a boat, and wouldn’t be able to take a bunch of stuff with us. Still, when we started packing up the apartment to move onto the boat, we realized we’d accumulated more than we’d planned. It felt good to go through the cabinets, drawers, and closets, and to fill up boxes for Richard to cart to Goodwill!

We were on a deadline now. We had to be out of the apartment in only two weeks. The task seemed impossible. Would we be able to minimalize once again, now down to just the very basics, in just 14 days? Would we be able to remain minimalized or would we start filling our beautiful new floating home with “stuff?”

NEXT: MOVING DAY, TONS OF SMOKE, AND NO AIR CONDITIONING!

CAPT. RON DIES FROM A HEART ATTACK…A WEEK AFTER WORKING ON OUR BOAT :(

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After securing financing and insurance, and landing a slip at the Municipal Marina, we were in a holding pattern. The boat was still at The Harborage Marina while we had the #1 most important upgrade made. The very FIRST order of business after buying the boat was to have three new air conditioners installed.

Capt. Brian knew of an AC guy with an excellent reputation who lived at the municipal marina. His name was Capt. Ron. We had planned on getting another quote as well but AC guy #2 hadn’t even returned our calls by the time Capt. Ron was available to start work. Ron showed me the manufacturer’s catalog, with the prices listed, telling me he got 15% off anything in their inventory and he offered to pass that savings on to us. Better still, his hourly rate was more than fair. I estimated the final price would be around $10,000.

In between Capt. Ron and his helper working all day long, every day, for about two weeks (with a few breaks for small jobs for other customers in between), we were able to get to know him quite well and, in the end, considered him a friend. Afer all, we were about to be neighbors!

Capt. Ron was probably in his early 70’s and it was obvious he was having a difficult time going up and down our stairs into the salon. They’re pretty steep so that wasn’t surprising. We helped when we could, handing him things to save him the up and down trips. Other than that, he seemed to be in good health. He told us about gatherings on nearby islands where folks would show up in their boats, party all weekend, and then head back home. He’d recently returned from one. He regaled us with exciting tales of his sailing adventures. He said he planned to sell his business in the fall, and his dream was to do the “Great Loop.” I wrote in more detail about Capt. Ron’s plans HERE.

After two weeks, the ACs were finally in. It was a rough job. I’d requested teak panels to replace the old, ugly, white ones that had surrounded the old units. Capt. Ron had patiently worked on all my special requests and I knew the bill was going to be higher than I’d originally planned. But, the service had been outstanding. He’d gone above and beyond to make us happy. A big part of the job had been adding an additional pump. We didn’t want to lose all of the air conditioning in the boat if the one existing pump failed. The foreward AC has its own pump and the mid and aft ACs now share a second one.

The final bill, with labor and the three new units, the new pump, and the teak panels (and the cutting, staining, and installation of those) was $11,600. Since we’d be living ON the water, with the scorching sun baking our fiberglass “roof” every Florida summer from now on, those shiny new ACs were worth EVERY SINGLE PENNY.

A week later, Capt. Stan texted Capt. Brian to let us know that Capt. Ron had died of a heart attack on his boat. I felt so bad for his wife. They wouldn’t be traveling the Great Loop after all. 🙁

The lesson we learned from Capt. Ron is to live life to its fullest. Don’t wait until “some day” to do what you really want to do because…that “some day” may never come.

NEXT: UH OH! OUR REPEATED ATTEMPTS AT MINIMALISM WERE FAILING!

BRIBING THE BEST MARINA IN TOWN TO GET A SLIP!

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Now that the final price had been agreed upon, we had to finalize financing and insurance. We’d been pre-approved for 60% of the purchase price (that’s all that firm does on boat loans) and we’ve been saving up for awhile so we were all set there. The broker assured us that doing a boat loan is easier than getting a mortgage. Well, that may be true as far as the number of signatures that are required but, otherwise, it was quite a mess of paperwork. We got through that unscathed.

We’d also gotten pre-approved for insurance. That was easier. We double- and triple-checked that we had hurricane coverage. We didn’t want to have to move the boat to another country, or far up the Eastern seaboard, if a hurricane was approaching. With homeschooling our two youngest children and running a business, along with having adult kiddos nearby, and our first grandchild on the way, that just wasn’t going to work.

If a named storm is going to hit us, we must have the boat hauled out at a local boatyard. If that happens, we’ll go stay with our daughter, who is 45 minutes away. However, her home is in a Class A flood zone so, if a bad one is coming, we’ll pack up the kids and pets, and head to Orlando. Captain Stan  says we really don’t need to leave the marina if it’s anything lower than a Category 2. We’ll make that decision if and when the time comes.

Now, we just had to find our new “neighborhood.” A place to call “home” for our new floating house.

Since learning about Captain Brian’s dock fees at the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina only costing $700/month, we’d had our eye on a spot there. Not only was it the cheapest place in town but it has an incredible view of Tampa Bay AND the St. Petersburg skyline! And, there’s plenty of grass and a playground for the children.

We’d visited the marina office in early December, and paid the $50 fee to get on the waiting list. Here’s how it works. You get on the waiting list. Each time a spot opens up, they start at the top of the waiting list. The person at the top has a specific amount of time to pay to get the spot. If they don’t, they move on to the next person on the list, and so on.

Unfortunately, they told us they’re doing major repairs to many of the docks and that the wait was estimated to be two years. TWO YEARS!!! We had a spot at The Harborage but, it costs twice as much. At this point in our lives, we were trying to downsize all of our expenses. Saving $700/month would be HUGE!

Another problem with The Harborage is that they don’t currently have a pump-out boat. So, you have to either walk to the marina bathrooms if you have to do # 1 or #2, or you have to drive your boat to the pump-out station when your tanks start to get full (and smelly). That was a HUGE negative for us.

We’d heard from several residents at the municipal marina that, if you call them once a week, you’ll get in a lot faster. Well, I had a better idea! Heh… Richard is the chef in the family. He makes all of our delicious meals and he makes THE most AMAZING gigantic chocolate chip cookies! (Hint: Double chocolate chips, double vanilla, and a small sprinkle of salt on top.)

It had been five months since we’d gotten onto the waiting list. Richard and I showed up one morning in May with a large Tupperware of his gigantic, scrumptious, homemade chocolate chip cookies. One lady in the office said, “Oh! Why did you bring us cookies?”

I coyly replied, “To bribe you with, of course.”

We talked to another awesome employee, who shall remain nameless, and they looked through the list of names. They had two spots available, and were waiting for responses from them.

Now, I’m not sure if it was the scent of warm, delicious, mouth-watering chocolate chip cookies wafting through the air or what…but they then said we were #3 on the list! If even one of the people in front of us passed on a slip, we’d get one!

Magically (or maybe not so much), just two weeks later, I got the amazing phone call. We had a slip! It had only been six months, not two years!!!

We eagerly went in the next morning, signed the paperwork, paid our rent ($770/month because our boat is a bit larger than Brian’s), and we had a new home! After we left the office, we drove to the dock to check it out. We were way out near the end. The slip was so empty. Almost forlorn. There was a very large motoryacht on one side, and a sailboat on the other. It sure didn’t look like “home” but I remembered that none of the houses we’d purchased immediately felt like home, either. In fact, when our daughter and son-in-law purchased a new home, she’d made a comment that it just didn’t feel like “home” yet. I’d told her, at that time, that it definitely would feel like home about three months later.

We gleefully went back to the apartment, where we’d already started packing, and getting rid of stuff. After all, we didn’t need to move any furniture onto the boat! It would be our fourth move in six years. And, hopefully, our last.

NEXT: CAPT. RON DIES FROM A HEART ATTACK…A WEEK AFTER WORKING ON OUR BOAT 🙁

MASON GETS SNAPPED BY A LINE, BUT DOESN’T CRY

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We’d just left the boatyard for the sea trial, and headed into Tampa Bay. There was a Northeast wind blowing a steady 20 knots and the seas were running 4-6 feet. The entire bay was covered with foaming whitecaps. Our hair whipped around our faces and we were all soon covered in salty spray. It was AWESOME! Only two other vessels were out on the water and one appeared to be floundering as he tried to take his main sail down.

John Banister, the surveyor, had the captain, Josh, run the engine and other systems through specific maneuvers. When that boring other stuff was over with, we finally got to hoist the sails and get some REAL action! Despite the messy, washing-machine appearance of the bay, there were some good swells and the boat sliced easily through the chop, gliding up and down. With each descent into a trough, we’d get another slew of spray across the bow and port side. Brian ventured out to stand on the bow and got quite a soaking!

At one point, something went wrong and one of the lines came loose. It flapped violently in the wind, right next to the port side of the cockpit. I instinctively reached out and grabbed Mason, pulling him to the starboard side. But, it was too late. The line snapped him clean across the cheek and the arm. He had quite a welt growing but he didn’t shed any tears. He was having far too much fun during the ride!

Amanda apologized profusely but we assured her that these things can happen as we knew that boats bring bumps and bruises, just like RVing.

After John and Josh had put the boat through all the maneuvers, we headed back to The Harborage Marina. The boat had previously been in a broker’s slip but, today, the owners were supposed to move it to a permanent slip. As luck would have it (not!), that slip was a crooked one at the end of a row of docks, and right against the seawall. You had to go in at an angle. We had full confidence in the captain’s abilities. After
all, he drives a 300+ foot tanker! Using the bow thruster, he expertly turned the boat around and backed it in. There was one close call when we came within six inches of the bowsprit of another boat but we didn’t hit it. We were all yelling and pointing but Josh was unfazed. We backed in smoothly and a neighbor, also named Angie, was standing there waiting to be thrown a line so she could tie us off. We were and are continuously amazed at how friendly and helpful people are who live on boats!

After we docked, Richard took the boys back to the apartment, came back to the marina, and the survey continued. It lasted until about 7:00 p.m. and then we took John out to dinner so he could give us the highlights (or low-lights) about what he found.

The major issues were:

The bowsprit was damaged from a trip they took. They’d traveled in 15-foot seas for 5 days and the bow went under a wave at one point. Estimate was $7K-$8K.

One AC was working (but was very old). Another one was blowing luke-warm. And, the third AC had been removed entirely at some point. We planned to replace all the ACs. The final cost ended up being $11,600.

A rudder hinge had been replaced with a piece of wood (yes, really). It needed to be replaced. Estimate was $5K because it needed to be custom made. That actual repair later was far less than that.

The boat needed to be rewired. There was quite a spaghetti mess going on in there and a household extension cord had been used for the charging system. Estimate was $3K-$4K.

The forward head was dumping overboard. A bladder tank was available but its condition was questionable. Sure enough, later it developed a smelly leak. Estimate was $2K-$3K to replace that.

Bonding – The boat didn’t have continuity in the wires. Estimate $1K-$1300.

The salon windows needed to be replaced. They were terribly cloudy from sun damage.

Some wood inside had gotten warped from damage during their rough trip (lots of water found its way inside).

There were many other, smaller items to note. Dozens of them. But, overall, the boat, a 1981 52′ Irwin, was in really good condition.

The original asking price was $139K.

Our preliminary offer had been $115K and they’d accepted it without a counter.

Our revised offer was $93K. I was hoping to get the owners down to $110K.

They countered with $110K and we accepted that. And, that was a good thing because we’d already given our apartment a notice to vacate. We only had until May 31st to move out.

I’d originally planned on spending at least $160K on a boat PLUS extra for repairs and upgrades but we’d now be able to buy a boat AND make all the repairs for about that sum. So, we were happy. VERY happy! That boat was going to cost 1/3rd of the price of our previous house. And, that house ended up also costing us $100K in repairs the first 4 years alone.

The sellers invited us to the boat for “cocktail hour” to celebrate the deal and they showed us the ins and outs of it while we were there – things we hadn’t had time to cover during the survey and sea trial. Captain Brian came along, too, because we had NO idea how to handle a boat this size!

A few days before closing, Amanda flew back to Maine. She gave us the keys and we hugged. We have stayed in contact via text since then. They have graciously answered all of our questions – ones we didn’t think about before, like, “Um, where’s the handle for the manual bilge pump? We can’t find it anywhere and we have an urgent situation here this morning!”

And, Amanda says she loves hearing about our new adventures.

NEXT: BRIBING THE BEST MARINA IN TOWN TO GET A SLIP!

THE SURVEY AND SEA TRIAL! WHAT WILL WE FIND???

If you’re just tuning in, CLICK HERE to start at the beginning. 🙂

After the “second showing” of the 52-foot Irwin, we gave Gene a $10,000 downpayment (escrow), and Brian arranged for John Banister to come to our coast for the survey and sea trial. We had to wait two weeks because Amanda’s husband, Josh, wanted to be in town for the big day.

When the day finally arrived, John met us at the marina early. We ran into Amanda near the marina office and she took us all to the boat. We’d left Max and Mason at the apartment, offering to pick them up later for the sea trial. Brian and John immediately got to work. John’s surveys take all day long. He is detailed, meticulous, and excellent. Remember, he’d recently saved us tens of thousands of dollars by alerting us to a huge lemon.

After an hour or so, the suspense was killing me so I pulled John aside and said, “Well?”

He said, “This is a good boat. It’s been well-maintained and the captain took good care of it. I’m trying to figure out why the price is so low. And, I WILL figure it out!” He got back to work.

I’d brought my laptop with me to get some work done but chatting with Amanda, and watching the guys with their butts in the air and their heads below the floor was far more fun than working. Another hour passed and Richard took sandwich orders, offering to go pick them up from Jimmy Johns. The captain, Josh, was jovial and kind. You could tell he was very protective of his boat. He had to let the guys do their work but he also didn’t want anything going wrong. Of course, he definitely wanted to sell it. After some nosy questions from me (which is normal for a writer!), Amanda told me more about their lives.

Over the years, they’d owned smaller boats, and even lived aboard with their three small children at the time. When they weren’t cruising, they were RVing around the country. And, they homeschooled their children, just like us! Amanda and I couldn’t believe how much we had in common. She and I were getting along GREAT!

After their kids were grown, they cruised together alone, and sometimes with friends. Since Josh’s job required him to fly back and forth to wherever his ship was stationed at the time, he’d leave Amanda alone at foreign ports, where she’d make herself at home on the boat, venture onto the mainland for supplies and fun, and wait for him to return. She said she was never nervous, not even on the night when she saw a line of drug boats leaving port. She said you always know the drug boats in small countries because those guys are the only ones who can afford cigarette boats. She spun a pretty good yarn and she had my vegabond spirit screaming, “I wanna do all of that, too!”

I asked her why they were selling the boat. She said Josh’s mother had recently passed and that they were taking care of his elderly father at their home in the northeast, who wasn’t doing well. They planned to buy another RV, and travel on land for awhile. And, they knew they’d eventually buy another boat but they were ready to give this one up. And, I was so happy they were!

The sea trial was EXCITING! First, Josh drove the boat around the corner to a local boatyard (Salt Creek), for the haul-out.

Our amazing surveyor, Capt. John Banister, getting down and dirty to find all the flaws!

That lasted for a couple of hours. It was unseasonably hot that day, but very windy. A local broker’s office was right next to the boat lift. They had a shaded patio, and offered to let us sit there. They even gave us all the bottled water we could drink, and allowed us unlimited use of their bathroom (which had a door that didn’t quite close all the way – ha ha). They were so nice! And, when one of them asked me what we were going to change the name of the boat to, I told him, “No Tan Lines.” That’s when he started getting REALLY friendly with me, openly flirting, and finally asking if he could see my “no tan lines.” Oh, those brokers! They are rascally devils! I just laughed and waved him away…after thanking him for the water, of course.

After the haul-out was complete, the boat was splashed, we all climbed back on board, and we headed out into the bay, where the wind was blowing a steady 20 knots, and the seas were running 4 to 6 feet. It was going to be an exciting sea trial!

NEXT: MASON GETS SNAPPED BY A LINE, BUT DOESN’T CRY

AS FATE WOULD HAVE IT…

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We still had three months until our apartment lease ran out but, after learning of Stan and Chris’ four-year odyssey to get their own 52-foot Irwin, we were a bit discouraged. After touring their boat that night, we drove back to the apartment. I had work to do so Richard got on his laptop, and started searching for Irwins. We figured we might have to search out of state but we were willing to do that if it meant finding just the right floating home for our family.

It had only been about 45 minutes since we’d left Stan and Chris’ boat when Richard turned to me, and enthusiastically said, “Found one!” He immediately emailed the link to me and Brian. You’re not going to believe this but that boat was less than two miles from our apartment…and it was in our price range! I excitedly looked at pictures of the beautiful interior while Brian poured over the specs. Richard was still looking for others online so we’d have some comparisons.

The boat was absolutely gorgeous! But, I kept my glee in check, knowing from our previous experience that a nice layout, an “updated” kitchen, and pretty pillows in the master stateroom can hide some nasty goodies under the  floorboards. On the surface, it appeared to have everything we were looking for, including all the latest electronics. It, quite honestly, seemed too good to be true.

The next day, a Friday, Brian called the broker who, coincidentally, was Gene Gammon, the exact same captain and broker who’d captained Stan and Chris’ Irwin from Texas to Florida! The same guy who worked for Irwin Yachts for years, who was friends was Ted Irwin, and who owns IrwinYachts.com! We were once again awed by how small and close-knit this beautiful community really is! Down on the docks, it seems everybody knows everybody else and we love that about this town!

Gene was available to show us the boat that afternoon. So, Richard, Brian and I piled into the truck with Max and Mason and we drove a few blocks down the street to the Harborage Marina, where Gene was waiting for us. The exterior and interior were exactly like the pictures. Max (age 15) and Mason (age 10) had not been in a large sailboat before and THEY LOVED IT! They said they could definitely live on a sailboat. It was unanimous! I tried not to get my hopes up because I knew the survey could uncover any number of calamities but, I admit, I was already getting a bit excited.

Brian immediately opened up the engine area, and started poking around. Richard was in the cockpit, checking out the electronics. Max and Mason were still inside, imagining how they’d decorate their small rooms. I was poking around in the kitchen. There was a full-size refrigerator and, in the cabinets that were located in the small hallway between the master stateroom and the salon, there was a full-size deep freeze! That boat actually had more fridge and freezer space than our apartment and homes ever had!

The interior was stained a dark teak with maroon cushions on the settee’s. A small, custom coffee table with teak lattice for the top complemented the warm, roomy interior.

Large windows in the salon provided a great view of the surrounding marina. There were numerous hatches (for ventilation when traveling) and portholes, which provided tons of cheery sunlight. Everywhere I looked, I found something else to love about that boat!

We took several pictures and Brian wrote down some notes. We learned from Gene that the owner was a merchant marine, traveling for three weeks out of every four. He captained a 350-foot ship and he knew how to maintain a boat. He had multiple back-up systems and an overabundance of safety supplies and equipment. The boat was also full of more tools than you can imagine, along with tons of spare parts, all tucked away in the numerous cabinets and hidey-holes placed throughout the vessel. Also, everything was meticulously documented. Later, after reviewing the paperwork from some of their cruising, I knew I’d met my match with regards to organization and perfectionism! The owners documented EVERYTHING!

Gene also told us that the captain’s wife, Amanda (not her real name), was living on the boat while it was for sale. That explained the two bras I found folded up on one of the bunks. I thought that was odd at the time because I didn’t know anybody was living onboard. I knew whoever they belonged to might be embarrassed so I arranged them in a way where you couldn’t tell they were brassieres. Yeah, we chicks gotta watch out for each other. 😉

Two days later, we scheduled a “second showing.” Gene was not available but Amanda agreed to meet us, answer all our questions, and start up the engines. Capt. Stan offered to come with us that day for his expert advice and he brought Chris along. While the men all poured over the boat, having their own mini-inspection, Amanda, Chris, and I sat in the salon, discussing far-less-technical matters about the boat. We asked her how far they’d traveled. They’d owned the boat for 10 years and they’d gone back and forth from Maine to the Caribbean and beyond several times. We asked her about the worst weather they’d been in. She told us a funny, albeit scary story that I will share in another post because it involves a major bowsprit repair.

Richard came below, and asked her some questions as well. We spent about two hours on the boat that day and, the longer we explored, the more we fell in love with her!

But, my caution remained. What would the survey reveal?

NEXT WEEK: THE SURVEY AND SEA TRIAL! WHAT WILL WE FIND???

MOTOR OR SAIL? A SHIFT IN THE WIND!

If you’re just tuning in, CLICK HERE to start at the beginning. 🙂

Our liveaboard friend, Brian, knew a another couple on his dock in St. Pete who lived on a 52-foot sailboat, an Irwin.

Irwin Yachts was owned by Ted Irwin, who was also the designer. The boats have an excellent reputation. Ted Irwin was seven years old when he moved to the Tampa Bay area of Florida. He started building boats when he was just 15 (in his backyard!). He built his very first commercial sailboat right here in St. Petersburg so he’s quite the legend around these parts! His bio is fascinating. You can read it RIGHT HERE.

Brian had explained our situation to Stan and Chris and they generously invited us to come tour their boat. The next day, Richard, Brian, and I all drove over to have a look.

Capt. Stan is a courageous local fireman who’s about to retire and his wife, Chris, is a schoolteacher. They’re heading out this summer for two years on the high seas. We’re so jealous!

Their boat is beautiful! The cockpit is large enough for entertaining, which is very important to us since everybody we know has already begged for a dinner and/or sailing invitation. (Brian warned us that would happen!) The boat is large, heavy, and sturdy. It has beautiful lines and is very well-maintained. Stan is not only quite handy but he’s also a genius when it comes to boats! Just last weekend, he chartered a boat to the Florida Keys for an owner.

We entered through the companionway. Once we reached the bottom of the steps, we were in a large salon. The kitchen had plenty of room, too! I was impressed! I looked at Richard, hoping he also thought the interior was large enough for a family of four. But, he and Stan were deep in discussion about fuel consumption. Once Richard heard you could travel hundreds of miles or more in that boat on one tank of fuel, he was “hooked” (are you getting tired of my nautical puns yet?). Motoryachts use tons of fuel, and traveling in them is very expensive. You’re also limited in your travels because you can only go as far as the farthest fueling dock. With a sailboat, if you run out of gas, you can still get home (though docking might be a bit tricky)!

We got to see the three staterooms and the two heads. There was ample storage and we learned they’d traveled extensively while living aboard with two children years ago. Their granddaughter frequently stays with them and they even have a pet cockatoo on board, who hung out on Stan’s shoulder the whole time, enjoying having his neck scratched. (Since I know you’re wondering, I’ll go ahead and mention it. No, Capt. Stan does NOT have a peg leg.)

Capt. Stan!

We had a long conversation and they patiently and enthusiastically answered all of our questions, as well as offered information we didn’t even know to ask about.

When Stan and Chris started shopping for a boat, it took them two years to figure out exactly what kind they wanted. And, it took them another two years to find it. They found their 52-foot Irwin in Texas and they hired a local captain and broker named Gene Gammon, who had previously worked for Irwin for years. Gene flew with them to Texas to pick up the boat, and helped them sail it through the Gulf of Mexico, back to Florida. Not-so-coincidentally (this is a REALLY small town and the nautical community is deeply entwined), Gene Gammon is the owner of IrwinYachts.com,  which features Ted Irwin’s bio that I linked to above. On that site, you can find tons of information on the history of Irwins and you can even buy copies of owners’ manuals and blueprints, which were originally printed long, long ago.

As we were leaving, we thanked Stan and Chris profusely, and offered to take them out to dinner the following week. That became the first of many educational and entertaining dinners we would share with them! They’re a riot!

On the way back to the apartment, Richard said he could definitely live on a boat like that. I was ELATED! I was finally going to get the sailboat I’d been dreaming about! But, how long would it take us to find one?

Turns out, the boat of my dreams was closer than we could have ever imagined…

NEXT: AS FATE WOULD HAVE IT…

BOAT SHOPPING AND SURVEYING WITH CAPT. BRIAN

If you’re just tuning in, CLICK HERE to start at the beginning. 🙂

After dinner out with our friend, Brian, who told us he was only paying $700 per month in dock fees to live on his boat, Richard and I had a long conversation that night. We were ruminating about our $2700 per month house payment vs. paying $700 per month in “rent.” In the previous 4 years, we’d spent more than $100K in repairs on that house, which we glumly called The Money Pit. Just when we thought all the major repairs had come to an end, the seawall cracked. Estimates to fix it averaged around $50K. We knew, no matter how long we owned that house, that we’d never get that money back.

The question was obvious. What the heck were we doing? We’d owned three homes over the years, and lost tons of money on all of them. At least when you buy a boat, you KNOW  up front that you’re never getting your money back on all the repairs you make!

If we moved onto a boat, we could reduce our monthly payment by $2000. Our electricity would be less, along with the water bill. Property taxes (excise taxes for boats) and insurance would be a fraction of what we were spending on that house. While our business was doing well, it made no sense to spend $2700 per month living by the water when we could LITERALLY live ON the water…on Tampa Bay (a dream come true!!!)…for only $700!

By noon the next day, Richard had contacted a realtor. And, within three months, we had sold the house. We took a huge loss on it because of the seawall…and because of all the money we’d already dumped into it. But, there was no use wallowing in that. We had done what was needed to stop the bleed. (Incidentally, a few months after we sold the house, a neighbor contacted me, letting me know it had caught on fire!)

Around this time, Richard had expressed an interest in writing more books, and having someone else do the technical work on the website. I was working too many hours already so we decided to hire a new employee to help out. Coincidentally, at that same time, Brian’s employer in Tampa sold out to a foreign firm and the writing was on the wall for their employees. All those U.S. jobs would eventually be shipped overseas (and they have since laid off dozens!).

Brian is super-smart, and has an excellent work ethic. Better still, he’s also a writer! He would be only two blocks away from our apartment in St. Pete. As our friend, and because of his in-depth knowledge about boats and engines, he was eager to help us start shopping for a boat. We quickly typed up an offer of employment before some other company could snatch him up. Knowing he would no longer need to commute to Tampa, and that he could work in his own “home office” (his boat), that he could throw away all his ties and slacks, and that he could travel whenever and wherever he wanted in his boat, as long as he had an Internet connection, he enthusiastically accepted.

In June, we moved into a high rise in St. Petersburg, which was also pretty expensive (but at least we didn’t have to pay for repairs!), and, with Brian’s expert advice, we started shopping for a boat.

I had my heart set on buying a big sailboat, with beautiful lines, massive sails, and a cozy cabin. But, where could we find an affordable, well-kept one that could comfortably house four people?

During our online shopping, we found numerous motor yachts that had plenty of interior space, many at affordable prices. We looked at a few, and were very interested in a 1985 Chris Craft. I still deeply desired a sailboat but Richard and the boys wanted more room.

We scheduled an initial walk-through of the Chris Craft, which was on the other coast of Florida. On the exterior, it looked great! It was nicely decorated and it looked like it was in really good condition. The broker offered me a list of “surveyors” he recommended but, after getting burned by three different home inspectors when buying our house, I declined.

Brian was very eager to assist and he found an amazing surveyor named John Banister, the owner of Suenos Azules Marine Surveying and Consulting. We hired John, and scheduled the survey and sea trial. And, that was when we learned that boat brokers can be just like slimy car salesmen.

Brian and John crawled all over that boat, inside and out, poking and prodding, calculating and inspecting. Brian also took notes and lots of photos. I was sitting in the salon with the broker and, each time Brian walked by, he’d subtly shake his head, letting me know things were not going well at all.

While the boat looked great on the outside, it had severe problems under the deck. Just before we departed for the sea trial, the broker’s mechanic was pouring some fluid into a tank near the engine. It was obvious the tank needed filling because of an ongoing leak. Some time between our first walk-through and the survey, they had painted the entire engine, a sure-sign they were trying to hide something. There were other leaks in the engine as well. It blew a gasket during the sea trial. Something overheated but the alarm didn’t go off. We assumed the broker or owner had disabled the alarm before the sea trial.

A fresh coat of paint can’t hide THAT leak!

I, myself, found an active termite infestation. There was a gray water leak that had soaked the carpet in one of the staterooms. Underneath, the carpet padding and wood were covered in black mold.  (That was a deal breaker right there!) Worse, under the floor, there were live wires in the flooded bilge.

Live wires in the flooded bilge under the stateroom with the soaked, moldy carpet.

That leak had been there quite awhile and the broker had to admit that he’d known about it all along. But, he hadn’t disclosed it. That broker, who I’ll call Don, was trying to say all the right things to save the sale but the day had devolved into a comedy of calamities. Gauges weren’t working. There was no way to know how many hours were on the engine because that gauge was dead, too. (Another deal breaker!) There were electrical problems. The list went on, and on, and on. I think there were more broken things on the boat than working ones and it appeared they’d tried to cobble together quick-fixes before the survey (which would explain why they had delayed it several times over a period of six weeks).

Apparently, duct tape can NOT fix everything!

We were alerted by the surveyor that the natural ventilation vent from the generator compartment was venting to the forward stateroom…which was to be our youngest son’s room. That was yet another deal breaker!

During the sea trial, Don crashed the boat not once, not twice, but three times! He smashed the swim platform when we were backing out of the slip. He then hit a large piling when returning. And, to further entertain us, Broker Don smashed the swim platform yet again after speeding up when we were all screaming for him to slow down! The platform was completely destroyed by the end of the day. Ever since that fateful day with Broker Don, whenever we see a boat being driven in a really stupid fashion, we say, “Oh, look! There’s Don!”

Late that afternoon, we told the surveyor he could stop working. Anything further would be a waste of everybody’s time. He’d already come to me, and whispered, “Do NOT buy this boat.”

We didn’t.

We notified the broker in writing the next day that we weren’t buying the boat for the listed price, nor a price significantly lower. He responded, “Well, how much WOULD you pay?” I told him the owner would have to PAY someone to take that lemon off HIS hands.

Sadly, we were only three months away from the end of our lease. Since it had taken us nine months to find that boat, we figured we’d have to just keep on hunting, perhaps even expanding our search outside of Florida. We’d resigned ourselves to the fact that we’d need to extend our lease and we’d heard from other tenants that the rent was being raised by $500 per month!

There was really nothing we could do but press on. And, despite what Richard and the boys wanted, I still had my heart set on a sailboat…

NEXT: MOTOR OR SAIL? A SHIFT IN THE WIND!

ALONG COMES RICHARD, OUR SAVIOR!

If you’re just tuning in, CLICK HERE to start at the beginning. 🙂

When I was deep into my divorce, Richard, a co-worker I’d known for two years (and also a VP of the company), asked me out. Before we were even dating, he became very protective of me after hearing about the police being called to my house numerous times. (My employer had also notified the police when my ex threatened to show up at my office one day.) I had recently been promoted to a management position, and was making good money, but car chases with my ex, and being on a first-name basis with officers at the police department, made me fear not only for my job, but for my life.

Richard, a long-time bachelor at age 30, was a classic romantic. So many young women flock to the bad boys. Richard had never been like that. He was a hard-working, kind, faithful, sweet man. My mother later said he was the polar opposite of my ex-husband. He even drove me to the courthouse on the day I had to apply for an order of protection against my ex.

Richard got along GREAT with my children! He was easy-going, soft-spoken, gentle, handsome, and so smart! He even loved video games and mac and cheese, which the children thought was so cool. And, he wanted to take care of all four of us…forever! I was HOOKED (ooooh! another pun!!!). My divorce was finalized a few months later and, because my ex wasn’t paying child support, I could move anywhere with the children. (My ex later gave up his parental rights after owing more than $30K in child support and we haven’t heard from him in several years.)

Richard got an even better job in Massachusetts and we rented an apartment for a year. I was running a small online business by this time, WritersWeekly.com, which had started as a hobby. With Richard’s help in the evenings, it grew quickly and, just a few months later, I was able to “hire” him away from his “real job.” We started house-hunting after reading that Maine was the “safest place to raise a child,” and started looking exclusively at waterfront homes there, which were very reasonably priced in that neck of the woods.

I, of course, HAD to live on the water. Salt water or brackish. It didn’t matter as long as it was MOVING water. I have always felt that living on moving water keeps me connected to the rest of humanity and the universe. Tides in. Tides out. The water continues to travel…all over the world! We are all connected by the currents of the sea. I crave that connection! If I don’t have that, I feel landlocked, disconnected, incomplete.

We bought a home on the banks of the mighty Penobscot River in Bangor, Maine, a huge, churning body of water teeming with wildlife, and connected to the Atlantic Ocean. The first week we lived there, seals were sunning themselves on the rocks below! I’d never seen a wild seal before! American Eagles soared during the warm months. In the winter, the river would ice over and, if you stood outside in the quiet of night, you could hear that living, breathing, violent river creak and moan with an intensity that was frightening. Imagine what a ghost or ghoul might sound like, moaning into the dark, cold night, his deep, rasping breaths and groans sending fog and shivers across the ice, upending small bergs as they try to dispel the frozen traffic jam built up for miles inland.

Of course, we eventually built two decks in the backyard to enjoy the view…and the creepy sounds!

It was a three-story house built in 1896 and we bought it from the original family after the matriarch died in the downstairs dining room. (We didn’t tell the children about that until years later.) Thirty-six hundred square feet ON the river. We paid $92,000 in the year 2000. Yeah, it was a steal!


This was our amazing view in the summer.


This was the Penobscot River in the winter. (Look behind Max.)

We did not buy a boat in Maine because, well, with snow on the ground more than half the year, it just didn’t make any sense. But, I enjoyed looking out of my “home office” window at that beautiful, tidal river day after day, and I loved sitting outdoors, watching it…when it was 30 degrees below zero.

During those years, we had two more children, Max and Mason, and took in another child who had nowhere else to go. We now had six children so the seven bedrooms were all full!

A few years later, we bought an RV, pulled the youngest kids out of school (our oldest son and the kiddo we took in were seniors in high school), and started homeschooling them. Back then, as now, family and friends called us nuts and even irresponsible. The word “hippies” came up more than once. But, we persisted. If our business and the kids’ online school could travel anywhere with an Internet connection, why couldn’t we?!

So, each year just after Christmas, before the blizzards buried the town, we’d hit the road with the younger kiddos and the business, heading south…toward my beloved ocean! Of course, my absolute FAVORITE campgrounds were the ocean-front ones. Each time I was near the ocean, my blood pressure would relax, my muscles would melt, and I’d be in my happy place.

We lived in Bangor for 10 years but, when the taxes began to eat away at our small business income, and when politics, a casino, and three new methadone clinics up there made it not-quite-the-same-small-town we’d once loved, we started thinking about moving. When our now-grown daughter (child #2 of 6) decided she and her boyfriend were going to start doing seasonal work on Florida, I knew she’d fall in love with the ocean down there and that we’d rarely see her again.

By that time, four of our kiddos were adults and two were still quite young. We took a vote. All but one of the children wanted to move south. Our son, Matt, was attending Columbia in New York and his girlfriend (who he later married) lived in Portland, Maine. We were sad he didn’t want to come down but he was working on a degree and it just wasn’t practical.

Again, we hunted for a waterfront home (an absolute necessity for my mental health!), this time to rent while we looked for a home to buy. We found a home in a quiet neighborhood in Florida on a brackish canal that had lots of alligators…so many that we couldn’t let the children play outside the pool screen area of the backyard!

One of our sons teasing a small gator.

So, we spent that year going to the beach or playing in the pool. It was a fun transitional year and, within 12 months, we’d found a home to buy on a saltwater canal just around the corner from Sarasota Bay. The day we closed on the house, there was a manatee swimming in our backyard!

The house was too expensive but I had my saltwater back again. We fished. We crabbed. We watched parades of boats going by each day. We honestly didn’t want to spend money on a boat. We figured we’d just wait until one of our kids bought one. And, our daughter and her boyfriend eventually did. We were content sitting in our backyard, watching fish jump and stingrays occasionally throw out one of their fins to say hello. And, the beach was only five minutes away.

Sadly, that house started to eat us alive. Despite numerous inspections by general, roof, and termite professionals, the house had many problems – electrical issues (it needed rewiring), roof (it rained indoors in several places two days after we moved in), and there were indeed termites. The infestation was so bad that we had to have the entire back wall of the house ripped out and rebuilt. Still, I LOVED having all the wildlife in the backyard!

Four years and $100K in repairs later, we learned the sea wall was cracking. That was going to be another $45K-$55K to replace. We couldn’t do it. We knew we’d never get that all money back no matter how long we owned the house.

During that time, a whacky friend of ours was dating a guy named Brian who worked a regular office job, but lived on a boat in Tampa Bay. The couple soon broke up and, after their parting, we chose Team Brian because, well, he was way cooler (and he wasn’t a nut-job).

On one night when we were all out to dinner, I casually asked Brian what the slip fees were for the marina he lived in, which overlooked beautiful downtown St. Petersburg, Florida and Tampa Bay. He replied, “Seven hundred a month.”

Richard looked at me. I looked at him. The seed had been planted…

NEXT: BOAT SHOPPING AND SURVEYING WITH CAPT. BRIAN