Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sharing the Dream

On Thursday morning, I received an email message from reader Ted Johnson in response to my Boat Quest series. It was a great story by a fellow dreamer and it contained some excellent advice, so I thought I would share it with other readers, along with my response:

Good luck in your quest!

Just stumbled on your blog. Enjoyed reading it. I have a couple out there--not nearly as well-developed.

I've returned last fall from living on a sailboat in Seattle for 2 years. It was the realization of a dream. The dream's still there but is on hold.

QWEST allowed me to transfer out there so i sold everything in Denver & arrived in Seattle with a small trailer filled with my "necessities". I have sailed small boats on inland waters all my life but was new to the ocean & living aboard.

i arrived in june & didn't want to lose the precious summer months searching for the perfect boat--a big project as you know. So i bought the third boat I looked at--a Cal 34. It turned out great--was in better than new condition--but it was too small & not what I wanted for a life of cruising. So for $500 I enlisted Bob Perry, the designer of the Valiant 40, to help me look for the next boat. I ended up with one of his designs--the Islander freeport 36. I bought it for the headroom, light from large portlights, large head & pullman berth. Unfortunately, the deferred maintenance was overwhelming, the surveyor missed a lot of faults, and the galley was at best awkward, and i learned that even with a full cockpit cover i was rarely warm enough out on the Sound. (Visibility was so poor from the cockpit all zipped up that it didn't really give me the protection I wanted to sail year-round.).

After arriving back in Denver to stay the winter, I got a message that the dock I was on was being leased out & i was losing my slip. i listed the boat with a broker & to my surprise she sold it right way.

I'm headed for MN in July to care for my parents for the summer, then hope to resume the cruising/sailing/liveaboard life. I'll be back where you are, trying to buy a boat long distance. it's very frustrating! And I want this to be a boat I can keep for a while!

i'd like to retire, but will be on a shoestring. (If I wait, i might never get back on a boat!)

I'm in love with (that's the worst of it --the emotional side) a boat in CA--a Challenger 42. It's well-outfitted & looks like the layout I want--but I face the same thing you do--a lot of expense to go look at it, knowing that pictures lie & with one glance I could discover it's not for me. It's a lot like computer dating!

I would encourage you to charter & sail with others a lot before you buy if at all possible. I belonged to a club in Seattle that met Monday nights. Skippers would line up & invite members to go on free trips every weekend. Club cost $15/meeting or $140 for the year. It was a great way to get rides on a variety of boats.

Having said that, I bought the Cal 34 based on reputation without ever having sailed one & it was a good boat for me. i didn't spend a lot on her & sold her for more than I paid. if it weren't for sales tax, I probably broke even. The Valiant 40 has the same kind of reputation. I think the owner's group is a better bet for finding a good boat than Yachtworld. But i scan Yachtworld every day. Problem is, most of the boats that are on Yachtworld forever are there for a reason. They're in bad shape or the owner is unrealistic about value.

After my experience with the Freeport, I'd recommend waiting for a well-maintained boat. Unless you can do all the work yourself, bringing a boat back from neglect can easily cost more than the initial purchase price. It's hard to find people that do good work. And a boat that needs work is a pain. You can't trust her to really go anywhere. You never recapture that money when you resell her. The guy on the east coast is not going to sell her for any more by installing radar & whatever else he's doing. I think letting the boat go on the east coast was a good choice.

Where do you plan to start from--whereever you find a boat?

Thought it might be interesting to stay in touch.


RE: Good luck in your quest!


Thank you for contacting me. I enjoyed your message and all its good advice.

It sounds like we are sharing the same dream but that you have at least experienced some of it firsthand already. I, too, grew up sailing on inland lakes, mostly in Wisconsin, but dreamed of sailing the oceans and circumnavigating. I have taken the ASA classes, chartered in the BVI and gone on two of John Kretschmer’s trips ( and Latitudes & Attitudes magazine), but I have never owned a boat other than the 1969 AMF Alcort Minifish that’s out in my garage.

After the disappointment with “Little Walk,” the boat I looked at in Virginia, I’m thinking I may have to do what you did and enlist the assistance of an expert to help me locate the right boat, maybe Stan Dabney (, the reputed Valiant 40 authority next to Bob Perry, the boat’s designer. I emailed Stan once and he was very helpful, so it might be worth a try. The one thing that looking at “Little Walk” did do was to confirm that the Valiant 40 is the right boat for what we have in mind, so I’m pretty set on it if I can find a well-maintained one at a decent price.

With the crummy economy and our landbound life in Colorado, my wife Nan and I (and our new dog Scout) may be a few years out yet, but it never hurts to keep looking. When we do finally find the right boat, the big trip will probably start from where the boat is located, at least to a certain extent. Having sailed in the Caribbean more than anywhere else, that would be my preferred starting spot. If I locate a boat on the west coast, like the two Valiants that are currently listed on in the Seattle area, I think I would sail south and then east through the Panama Canal, and then up around Florida and up the east coast at least as far as Savannah, where my parents have a vacation home on Skidaway Island, before thinking about backtracking by way of the Bahamas, the Caribbean Islands and the northern coast of South America to return to the Panama Canal.

I am a big fan of Robinson Crusoe and Mutiny on the Bounty, so it has been my dream to sail across the Pacific by starting at Valparaiso, Chile and making landfall at Alexander Selkirk Island (in the Juan Fernandez archipelago) and Pitcairn Island on the way to French Polynesia. From there, I have some route ideas that involve New Zealand, Australia, Madagascar, Africa and the Mediterranean, but they’re too much to list here. The biggest idea would be to undertake a circumnavigation in a discontinuous way, leaving the boat at desirable spots along the way during bad-weather seasons and flying home to take care of real-life responsibilities before returning to pick up where we left off. I met Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Mt. Everest, about eight years ago, and this was how he and his family were working their way around the world. It might take quite a bit longer to do it this way, but I look at the dream as being an “until I die” kind of thing anyway, so there’s no need to rush through it.

Let’s stay in touch and see how the dream works out for the both of us.

Best wishes,


1 comment:

Ted Johnson said...

Thanks for posting my message.

Yes, Alcort is responsible for creating a lot of sailers. My prejudice is that you'll never be a sailer until you learn to sail a boat like a Sunfish or Sailfish that has enough sail to capsize when you make a mistake and is simple to roll back over & get underway. Sailing it in warm water or sufficient gear for cold water and sailing it under all kinds of conditions is ideal.

I've taught many people to sail since I've been on bigger boats, but none of them have ever developed that instictive response to a change in the wind. In fact, graduating to a wheel from a tiller, or learning on a wheel, seems to introduce some kind of confusion. It's like driving a car but it's not.

Racing adds the final touch--awareness of sail trimming and wind paterns. And it gets you out in weather you probably wouldn't otherwise consider.

With a little additional experience with larger rigs, you can sail any size boat. Living on & maintaining a boat, however, requires a whole new set of skills. My fantasy was that selling most of what I owned and moving on to a tiny space would bring a zen-like simplicity to my life. Unfortunately, that's not the reality of it. Take all the elements in a car, all of the elements in a house, jam them into a small space, and subject them to a very harsh saltwater environment. Then shake them all up from time to time; tip them from side to side occasionally; and disconnect them from all the services we take for granted like sewer, city water, and electricity. Life's not simple. Even on a brand new boat I've seen to-do lists of 2-3 pages.

But if you have the dream, none of that matters.