Preparation and Boat Purchase

A while back I was sitting on the couch marveling at the shelves and shelves of books we had amassed over the years. How did we get there? How would we walk away from our comfortable predictable life to start over as liveaboards? We talked about it for years, of course. But some shifts and major life events suddenly made it all a reality. At 53, I was retiring along with my 56 year old husband (although he was consulting so we still had an income). Exciting! But our timeline was über tight. Getting the house ready to sell in three months. Getting rid of most material things. Getting ourselves a liveable boat we can afford. Then there was an already agreed upon European vacation (agreed upon but far from planned). Doing all that was enough. Adding to it my work as a teacher and my need to keep my health at the forefront and it was all very overwhelming to say the least.

And I was just sitting there. For heaven’s sake, clean out a closet. Grade some papers. Write some lessons. Something. But no. Right then I needed to sit. I knew I’d miss our library. (It sounds loftier than it appeared but we loved it.) My mind was ping-ponging all over the place as if it were 3:00 in the morning when I usually did my most intense worrying.

Of course it all got done. Regardless of how much or how little you worry, it always gets done. When we listed our house, we’d hoped to time the sale so that we would be done with the school year. As luck would have it, a week after we listed it, we sold it. The new homeowners wanted to be in by April 1st. Holy crap! Now we had to find a furnished rental in our little town (our furniture was being sold with the house) so we could complete our contracts at work and still have a roof over our heads.

I knew I needed to seriously purge “stuff” before the move. We had been in our house nine years. Some things were easy: clothes, shoes, purses. Anything Mom or Dad related that I couldn’t keep went to nieces, nephews or sisters. For the most part I was okay with that. But there were things I kept because, in my mind, there was a great attachment to Mom or Dad. I had to keep the big red bowl. The one we used when I was a kid to eat fresh homemade popcorn while watching TV. (This was pre-microwave—man I feel old.) I loved the ritual. Getting out the old popcorn popper with the heat coil and the pot perpetually covered in used oil. You could never get it clean, but that was okay. Much like you don’t perfectly clean a grill, the popcorn tasted better coming from that pot. The popper was long gone, but I had the red bowl and I wasn’t giving it up. I also had Mom’s recipe box still organized in her odd style. If you wanted to make Chicken Parmesan you had to look under either “chicken,” “parmesan,” “cheese,” or “Italian.” It could be in any of those spots and it wasn’t consistent. Just because you find Chicken Parmesan under “Italian,” does not mean burritos would be under “Mexican.” It worked for her, as she always knew exactly where to find what she wanted. So I keep it that way. That’s the charm of it. And I will take it on the boat with me. As a remembrance of Dad, I kept one of his beer steins from their trip through Germany. The only furniture we kept were a coffee table made from a tree trunk that my dad built and my great-grandmother’s steamer trunk. She used it to hold her stuff as she took her son and a nephew out of Ukrane to the United States to meet up with her husband who had preceded her. My husband had books his grandfather (a printer) had given him. Their mustiness adds to their charm and would be a welcome addition to our almost book-less new home. (Almost book-less in Rick and Linda speak is keeping about 60 or so books. How will we fit them on the boat? Beats me. Rick just keeps saying, “No problem.”)

We ended up purging 3 or 4 times, each time giving away to friends and family or to Goodwill. Then there was my classroom. When the number of years you’ve worked at a job is in double digits, you tend to accumulate a large amount. When you are a teacher, double that amount. When you tend towards “projects” redouble it again. Man, the crap I had! So I had a “raid my room” day for the other teachers. It was on their calendars, for gosh sakes. It was a success—I was able to give away pretty much everything so the stuff would live on in another’s classroom. The best part was my classroom library. For whatever reason, the books didn’t go with the teachers–I think they were mesmerized by all the other things. So I offered them up to my students, foolishly assuming they would be disinterested. Wow! Was I wrong! Gives me hope for the future that so many wanted at least one book. Many took more.

While all this was happening, we were looking at boats. Rick had been on-line searching for months. Living in the Arizona desert meant we had to go to the boats. We spent school breaks heading to California or Florida or the Carolinas because we could line up a series of used boats to peruse. This helped us determine what would work and what we disliked. For my part, I knew it couldn’t be so small that it felt like camping. We were planning on living on this until the kids put us in a home, unable to take care of ourselves. Let me just say this: I enjoy camping but I can’t do it forever. I also needed a walk around bed—at least a queen. So many boats will say “sleeps two” or that it has a queen bed. Then you see it. The bed may technically be queen, but you’re going to be bumping into each other while you try to sleep and that just isn’t right. Or it’s a V-berth which means that, although you won’t necessarily bump into each other, your feet will forever be tangled together. We had a small boat previously with this sleeping arrangement and although it’s “cozy” at first, it’s irritating in the long run. I also did not want to crawl over the bed to make it—so I had to be able to “walk around” both sides of the bed. Those were my non-negotiables; everything else could be changed as needed. Rick’s concerns were more equipment and operation-related and that was a good thing. He was the one who understood what was needed and how things worked. Although I know I will have to learn, in the here and now I was happy to let him deal with that.

Armed with these requirements, Rick spent many a night on his phone searching for boats and setting up trips to see them. From his research and in talking with our broker, he focused on two brands in particular: Chris Craft and Hatteras. We spent an abundance of frequent flyer miles checking out the boats until we came across the one we thought we could agree on. Its twin was in Texas on a land locked lake where we were disinterested in living. So we didn’t go to Texas to compare; instead choosing to head to South Carolina. The boat was a 1982 46-foot Uniflight. (Uniflight was eventually bought out by Chris Craft.) The layout was great. It was small enough to do what we wanted to the engines. (This involving eventually swapping out the diesels for electric engines and putting solar panels on the roof for truly cost free cruising.) It was big enough for my needs although it needed updating and Rick felt we needed a few equipment additions.

We fell in love with it even though it was a little rugged around the edges. We hoped the inspection and subsequent sea trial would tell us it was mechanically sound. We put in an offer that was far below the suggestion on the listing, because it had been for sale for quite a while and the updates needed, and hoped for the best. When we visited, the broker happened to mention that the owner was in jail and this made it difficult at best to complete the offer. The owner had a nephew that was acting as his agent, but the nephew was unprepared to agree on the price if it was below the listing. So we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Luckily we had time as the school year and our contracts hadn’t yet ended.

Eventually we got papers signed and had a date for the inspection and sea trial. Rick attended and reported back. Oh my. Oh my, my, my. They had to take it to a second location to pull it out of the water to check the underside. As they got underway, Rick noticed the listing broker was using the engines to steer rather than the wheel. At first he thought it was just a tight spot and maybe he had more control that way. But he finally asked. Sheepishly, the broker said, “The steering isn’t working.” What?? Apparently it had a hydraulic fluid leak.

Once they got out of the marina, the broker went down to main deck and was able to steer from that wheel. As they got underway, the mechanic went below decks to check on the engine. Shouts rang out.

“Hold up! Stop!” shouted the mechanic.

“What’s the problem?”

“There’s water spewing out all over the engine room.”  What fresh hell was this? Well, there was a problem with the exhaust. “We can go ahead to the pull out location but we can’t do a sea trial until this is fixed.”

The balance of the inspection went off without much issue. We contacted our agent who reported that the exhaust problem needed fixing to complete the sea trial. Our mechanic and inspector offered to oversee things to get them completed correctly. We waited.

And waited.

And waited.

We received the written inspection. In addition to the two “big deal” items, there were 6 pages of needs. They were all little things (like needing new fire extinguishers and having life vests). Not a big deal. Smph.

During the inspection, Rick talked with the marina manager. In chatting about the difficulties we’d had with the paperwork so far, he offered up that he understood the owner was in jail, possibly for a DWI. The manager told him a tale of two men who showed up one day looking for the boat owner. The manager questioned them.

“We’re police,” they told her.

“I need to see your badges before I can let you onto the docks,” she said.

“Well, we aren’t exactly police—we’re bounty hunters sent by the police.”

She wouldn’t let them in. She wasn’t sure what to do so she called a neighbor who was a bounty hunter and one of the helpers went down to let the boat owner know someone was asking after him. The neighbor talked the manager into allowing them access to the docks, but she followed them. The two men shouted to the boat owner to come out. He refused. They pulled out guns. Now she’s thinking, “Great. They’re going to shoot up a marina full of boats.” But they gave the boat owner one last chance and he turned himself in. He was taken back to Virginia to serve his time. I wonder why he didn’t just drive away? Probably because the steering didn’t work and the exhaust spewed water. Sigh.

At this point we left on a pre-arranged family vacation to Scotland. We had started planning 18 months ago and were going with one son and daughter-in-law and my father-in-law and his wife. Our itinerary was tight. So tight that the travel agency we contacted said it couldn’t be done. (But that’s a post for another day).

We finally got word the exhaust was fixed although our guys had nothing to do with it. Upon inspection, it was determined it was jerry-rigged, not actually fixed. There was mention of Duck Tape. Disappointed, we withdrew our offer. We decided we needed to go to Texas to see the other boat on our return from Scotland. It could be moved to the ocean, but the selling agent said it would cost around $20,000. Nevertheless, we decided to spend a few more frequent flyer miles for what could turn out to be another wild goose chase; but we also did a little research. We were running out of time. The school year ended and we were set to be homeless shortly.

After some on-line research and a few calls, Rick determined the cost was more like $5,000-$7,500. If we got a good deal on the boat we could swing the relocation cost. The boat had been listed for a long time. Each person that showed interest had been deterred by the $20,000 moving cost the selling broker tossed out there. That was good for us since we had done the research and knew it to be wrong.

I dreaded going to the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport because, in my opinion, it is a crap airport. I had vowed to never, ever, ever change planes there again. Inevitably, my connection was across the entire airport and they don’t make it easy. I will admit I have a chip on my shoulder for Texas in general. Really it’s their rest stops. Having driven through Texas on many occasions, I’d sooner wet my pants than use their rest stops. OK, I exaggerate. But you walk in and see two things right away. The walls don’t go up to the ceiling. There is a ceiling. There are walls. They just don’t meet. I guess it’s a way to let light in without paying for windows. But honestly. Pay for those windows. In December, it gets mighty chilly. The other thing you notice is that, unless you are a little person, you can easily see over the stall doors/walls. Really? You can’t afford to buy the big boy bathroom stalls, Texas? Holy cats. (But I digress, yet again.)

The owner’s son met us at the boat. We could hardly contain our excitement! The boat was super clean. So much better than the one in South Carolina. The carpet needed to be thrown out and the countertops needed to be replaced, in my opinion. But the things missing from the other boat were there and in running order. Maybe losing the other boat was supposed to happen so we could get this one.

Our dream boat.
Our dream boat.

The son told us the family story and why the boat was for sale. It was a sad tale about a man who retired (his father). He’d had the boat for a number of years and still owed a fair amount on it. Apparently, his wife (the son’s step-mother, he pointedly told us), went nutso after her parents’ deaths and went on a spending spree that left them needing. The dad went back to work. He was really only working to pay off the boat and the slip. Once he sold the boat he could retire again and tend to his health. Oh and by the way, the son has a special needs child. I tried to make a connection by talking about being a special needs teacher for many years. His response was that special needs children get abused a lot. Oh, kay. He also said his father just wanted enough money to pay off the boat and the commission. No real connection there, but we made an offer, they countered, we settled.

Just in time, I might add. We had a week before we would be homeless. Our broker sent the contract and Rick did all the legwork setting up the date for the inspection and moving the boat. The lower price for the move came about because we found we could have it moved to the Arkansas River rather than the ocean. We could cruise down the river to the Mississippi and then to the Gulf of Mexico. Fine by us.

We planned to leave Arizona upon vacating the rental. We had a U-Haul and were taking our meager things to a storage facility in Ft. Smith, AR. Tune in for how that went.

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