Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Search for the Perfect Boat- Port Madison, WA USA -- posted by Brian


Searching for the perfect boat is a lot like looking for the perfect mate. There is searching and courtship followed by what’s hopefully a long and happy relationship. There are a wide variety of boats stretching from small dinghies to sleek racers to stout blue water cruisers. In the dating world you may take advice from friends and family. In the world of boats there is the yacht broker.

When we first started seriously thinking about sailing to exotic destinations we had just purchased a Catalina 36 named Far Niente. This is a fine sailboat for coaster cruising, sailing in the sound, and longer trips of up to five days. Where a boat like Far Niente really falls short is in storage, fuel, water, and general construction. Being a production boat targeted to a specific market the Catalina and other similar boats are optimized for interior volume, dockside comforts and generally not fitted for true blue water sailing. This doesn’t mean that they are not well constructed and capable of sailing across an ocean. People have certainly done it in much less capable craft. In our case we wanted the ability to travel on 20 day ocean passages and still have enough fuel, water, and provisions to spend weeks at the idyllic anchorages we had in mind. Who wants to find the ideal secluded spot only to leave a few days later for provisions? We were looking for a well found blue water sailing machine that could safely carry us where we wanted to go, and let us hang out for a while when we got there.

And so the search began. Both Erin and I were lacking in knowledge about what the actual requirements were. We heard lots of conflicting advice from many people. “I would never sail offshore in anything but a full-keeled boat. They are the best in a storm.” said one yacht broker. Another said “I would never own a full keeled boat. They sail like pigs!” Yet another “You want a light high-tech boat with carbon fiber mast. That way you can sail fast and get ahead of weather.” Another broker “I would definitely buy a heavy boat. If you hit heavy weather it will perform better.”

And so we read, and read, and read. We researched ketch vs. sloop vs. cutter. We thought about aluminum, steel, and fiberglass hull construction. We knew we wanted something over 40’ long. We read lots of magazines including Cruising World, Blue Water Sailing, Lats and Atts, and spent countless hours on yachtworld.com We went to every boat show in the Seattle area and finally to the US Annapolis show for a week. We looked at so many boats and talked with so many brokers over these two years our heads were spinning and everything blurred together.

At some point we rose early one Sunday morning and drove to the Radisson by the airport for a cruising seminar put on by John and Amanda from Mahina Expeditions who have enough miles at sea between the two of them to have sailed to the moon and back. Part of the seminar involved the must have criteria for a good cruising boat. There was even a list of recommended boats they had positive experiences with over the past few years. On that list was a boat we had never heard of before- The Amel.
We spent lots and lots of time reading about these intriguing boats that are made in La Rochelle, France and trying to figure out a way to actually take a look at one. They are extremely popular in Europe but there aren’t many for sale in the US. In fact, being tried and true blue water cruisers most of them are out exploring the world rather than tied up at the dock. A few months later we came across a listing for an Amel Super Maramu 53 located in Bellingham WA, just a few hours’ drive North. Erin and I were coming up on our 10 year anniversary and I conveniently booked a few nights in a resort to celebrate with a scheduled stop in Bellingham for a look.

We heard countless times that when you find the right boat you’ll know it right away, somewhat like love at first sight. You’ll get a feeling of strength, security, and warmth- a sense that the boat is capable of taking care of you through thick and thin and supporting you on those long ocean passages. I clearly remember walking up to Delos and seeing the impressive outline of the bow, the massive stainless steel anchor, and the clean lines of the deck and hull. She looked ready to leap off the dock and head out into the blue. After spending some time with the broker inside we asked him to step out for a few minutes so we could gather our thoughts. We just wanted to sit in the salon surrounded by the rich African mahogany and absorb it all. Yes, there were a few tradeoffs from our ideal specs but all in all we left that day feeling like Delos was the ideal boat to take us on our journey. Being such a large decision we waited an excruciating 2 months to go back for another visit and see if we still felt the same way. In fact, on the second visit back we were more convinced than ever and soon made an offer on what was to be our new home.

Like any new relationship the past 15 months have been a pretty steep learning for both us and Delos. We got accustomed to living aboard at Shileshole Bay Marina and life afloat while Delos got accustomed to our habits which I’m sure are quite different than the family of 5 she previously cared for. So far things have gone smoothly during our transition and Erin and I couldn’t have made a better decision- it was meant to be. Our third crew member Mishka has also adjusted to life on board much better than expected! She really loves the upholstery……