Part 4: “You’re gonna need to change your flight”

I hated to leave the story in mid-swing but it was growing a bit long-winded and that’s no fun for a blog.  I’ll have to break most of these stories into segments.  Also, I’m old and I can’t remember… Where were we?

Me and my Bro… It’s all his fault

Oh yeah,  Jimmy and Mishi were ordering coffee at the Coffee Shop with the big plastic guy in front while I discovered yet another boat to go look at.  When Jim came out, I mentioned it briefly and dejectedly as I felt it was just a continuing “Wild Goose” chase.  (Which is a funny choice of words since the original name of the boat was Goose).  To my amazement, Jimmy said, “Let’s go look at it!”  I said, “Nah, it’s probably another shot in the dark.”  But… when Mishi chimed in, with her positive “what else are we going to do it’s a beautiful day for a drive?” we decided yet again, “What the hell!”  It’s early… let’s take a ride.

And we did.  To Toms River.  On the way up, we got a little turned around and while we felt we were in the right neighborhood, we weren’t sure.  So, Jimmy being Jimmy, decided to ask one of New Jersey’s finest… Um… while he had someone pulled over!  As Jimmy got out of our car… to many mutter mumbles of… “Jim… don’t!” The cop graciously and in his best Tony Soprano cranked out a, “…You’re kidding me right?!  Don’t approach me sir!” I think, no… I know… there was a major straight arm, talk to the hand with a head shake there too. Of course my loving brother didn’t understand why he couldn’t just answer a simple question!  And That’s why I love my brother!

                 Love at first sight

We find the marina.  We find the boat.  And this is how she looked when we walked down onto the dock.  This is that actual morning.  My brother had the good sense to snap a pic.  And that’s why I love my brother.  With coffee and his sweet little dog Cheech in tow, he got out to the dock first and as I got out of the car to join him I heard him yell, “Yo Mo!  You’re gonna need to change your flight!” He was right.

When I got down onto the dock, I simply fell in love with this old boat.  But this boat was not what I wanted.  She was in fact, third or fourth on my list… But man, she was sweet.  Such a salty little vessel.  Classic lines. Lots of teak.  I called the guy and said, “hey, I’m standing on the dock looking at your boat for sale and I’m wondering if you might have a few minutes to come meet me? I’m sorry it’s so last minute but I have a flight to catch at around 3 pm… outta Philly…”  He pleasantly said, “I live right around the corner… I’ll be right over.”  Wow!  Dumb luck huh.

Tom pulled up knowing that I was short on time and got right into readying the boat for a short cruise.  I was nervous, already suffering Catholic guilt / buyers remorse and I haven’t purchased a thing! I know it’s crazy.  Off we went, out of the channel into Barnegat Bay and if I haven’t said it already…  It was beautiful. The God’s were smiling on us. It was August 11 and a warm, perfect breeze filled the jib. She sailed like a dream. Balanced and smooth.  Heavy through any chop and I was smitten.  I kept telling myself, this isn’t the boat you wanted. Don’t fall in love… just keep a clear head, etc… but I couldn’t. It was as if Brooklyn Decker gave me a hug and peck on the cheek and I blurted out, “I love you!”  Um… ahem… did I just say that?  Woah, fella. Back up… slowly.  Anyway, I made an offer. Less than what he had come down to and I was sure he would be offended and it would be refused.  It wasn’t.

“The Girl” yes…happy.

NOW… I had the panic attack.  Internal dialogue full bore:  “What the hell did you just do! This isn’t your big blue water boat! Oh, now what…” Then, silence.  It all went quiet as we sailed back into the channel and put her up in her slip.  Tom said, “You know… we should drive to my place so I can run it by my wife and make sure she’s cool with it.”  Fine.  We did. She was… but when he told her they sold the boat… I could see a tiny bit of disbelief in her eyes.  I wonder if they miss the old girl.  Cut to me dialing my cell phone… you know we did that at one point… Ring… Ring… the girl, “Hello?”  Me, “Honey… we bought a boat!”

The sail before prepping her for travel

For anyone paying attention, this is NOT the way to buy a 35 + year old boat.  Nope. Nadda.  You should make an offer contingent on a survey.  Pay the several hundred dollars to have a surveyor to come out and run through that boat with a fine toothed comb.  Your instructions to him should be close to this… “Please! Give me every reason NOT TO BUY THIS BOAT!!!!” and then turn him lose and stand back.  Not me.  Nope. I knew I was going to bring her home, sail her for the summer and promptly tear her to ribbons and fix every, single sliver of weakness.  She was Cher and I was a plastic surgeon with a Beverly Hills mortgage!  She had good cheek bones but some serious wear… Strong points that could use some “accentuating” if you will.  Please… don’t follow my lead… My advice after “don’t buy a boat” would be “don’t buy a 35 year old boat”  and after that… “Don’t be a dumb-ass and buy a 35 year old boat without a survey!”   If you do… I’ll say a prayer for you.  There is that nagging lapsed Catholic again.

A couple weeks later I flew back with the girl and showed her our new, very old boat.  We all went out for a sail and then readied her for the trip to Nashville.  Took down the sails, boom, blocks and lines, stowed them all carefully and made all preparations with the yard to have her pulled, mast stepped and bottom pressure washed.  My baby was headed for the highway and the long nerve-racking trip to her new port.  Fresh Water.

Part 3: Jimmy and the Bagel Guy

So here we are.  The San Juan 24… ‘Whore of the Sea’ carried me through a spectacular summer, fall and winter of 2006.  I met a great girl. We sailed and spent weekends on the lake, sailed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Cut to summer of 2007 and change is in the air. The boat…not the girl.

I had always intended to sell the ‘Whore,’ the boat, not the girl… and now I had an offer.  I wanted a bigger boat. One that would take me out on the ocean with confidence.  A craft that was built to take the pounding of the ocean and my San Juan 24, while a fantastic craft, was a racer. She would not do well in a big blow at sea.   Plus, she had little room for storage and no proper head… that’s toilet in boat speak.  In June of ’07 I watched the truck and trailer take that whore away. I have to say I was a bit conflicted. NOW what?  No boat.  I only got 4K for her and after all the work, I probably broke even.  None-the-less… now I could get a “big boy” boat.  Or so I thought.  I knew how expensive “big boy” boats were and I had nowhere near enough for one.  But… I read, researched and compiled. I had long lists, short lists, pros and cons.  Fact, fiction and conjecture.  I drove my new found girlfriend absolutely mad with boat talk.  Ask her.  I still do.  Never-the-less, I had my eye on an Alberg 30.  Now I could go off on a tangent here and tell you all the world class stories about this famous boat but I won’t.  Like I said before, you can Google and find out all you want.  Back to the A30.  Such a classic. So well designed and SO expensive… scratch, scratch, scratch… That’s the sound of me scratching that boat OFF my list.  That activity gets repeated quite often until my list contains about 3 boats that I have a realistic chance of owning; A Westerly Centaur 26.  A Pearson Triton 28 and a Tartan 27.  None of these, mind you, considered “Blue Water” boats by most.  And while all have made impressive voyages with modifications the Tartan 27 was designed and built as a racing / cruiser in her day.  A very heavy racer I might add.  Turns out they way over-built all these boats but by now… all of these boats would be about 25 years old and very long in the tooth.  But what’s a boy to do.  Buy what you can pay for that’s what.  But I’m a ‘Romantic!’ I’m not practical, pragmatic, pra… What? Wait this is America damn it!  Loans! Equity! Borrow! Borrow! Borrow! Nah.  Not my style. I like projects, under-dogs…

My criteria for my next vessel was pretty detailed but mostly I wanted a well built boat, under 30 feet with a keel that drew less than 5 feet. The deeper the draft the deeper the water you need under the boat.  Anyway… I ended up going after the Centaur 26.  A bulky, not attractive and not a particularly good English boat that are rare in the U.S.
OF COURSE I DID!  I couldn’t pick the “dime a dozen” boat.  I had to go for the quirky British boat. Fat chance of finding one around here… Nashville… excuse me!  I’d have a better chance of finding Paris Hilton a job than a Westerly.  A Kardashian sister that was still a virgin… with a job.

I found one.  20 minutes from my house… but it was sinking. I know what your thinking.  But it was sinking.  I had to write that, it rhymed.  I didn’t buy it.  I tried…. but he turned my offer down. Thank God.  I found another in Key Largo, Florida.  I flew down, met the guy… the owner from Long Island and soon discovered that the photos of a PRISTINE Centaur 26 were taken oh, 5 years before. He posted photos that were taken when he bought the boat. The boat I saw was a sun baked, paint peeling, canvas rotted bucket of shit.  Every time I pushed a button or wanted to see something work he said something like, “Oh, that’s awesome, it’s just not hooked up yet.” “Oooh, I love having that on here but I just need connect that wire.” “I’d start the motor but one of the belts is missing and blah, blah, blah!!!!” I was pissed.  I said, “You’re kidding right?  You have to be fucking kidding me.  I had conversations on the phone with you… I flew down here, got a hotel, rented a car and this… THIS is the boat?!”  Needless to say, he didn’t accept my offer. Granted it was just a middle finger… I think he expected more.

So I kept looking. And looking.  I persuaded my buddy Matt to take a road trip.  We drove to Mobile, Alabama. Then to Destin, Florida… Tampa… across to Stuart, Florida where the guy didn’t show up to even show us the boat. Then to St. Augustine and finally back to Nashville. Empty handed. No luck.  None. Zilch. So I kept looking… and found one.  A Westerly up in South Hampton.  Yep, Long Island.  What the hell! I’ll take a trip, meet my brother Jimmy (see I’m getting there… slowly) and we’ll take a ride up to the Hamptons and see a boat.  So I go. Jimmy picks me up at the airport in Philly, we drive to his house in Brigantine, NJ and I call the guy in the Hamptons.  Now having been burned once… I ask many, many pertinent questions and we go.  Long drive but a beautiful day.  We get there, he’s a nice guy with a new baby and no time for the boat.  We take it out for a sail and I’m completely unimpressed.  Heartbroke actually.  She sailed worse than what I read about them. Granted… the rig was a little disorganized, there was no boom vang, little wind and I definitely didn’t sail her long enough to work out the kinks.  We left.  I made no offer.  Disheartened and completely frustrated we head back to Brigantine and I prepare to leave the next morning.Cut to the next morning.  Me, Jimmy and his girlfriend Mishi, short for Michelle, head out to get a cup of coffee at the Bagel joint around the corner… see… I’m getting there… slowly… As Jimmy and Mishi place their order I head outside with my laptop and coffee to wait and enjoy the sun, check my email and check in for my flight.  As I start to browse the web, I end up on a boat site… of course… I told you I was obsessed… and what do I see but a Tartan 27 for sale.  Now I had seen this boat about 6 months before and made the guy and offer, which he refused.  Now, he had the boat listed for what I offered. The funny part, it was about 20 miles away in Toms River, NJ.  Now guess what happens next?

jimmy and the bagel guyPart 4…

Whore of the Sea

I know what you’re thinking… but… dare I say, it’s not what your thinking!  Taken from Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea”, it was a name given to the Portuguese Man O’ War due to the mistrust the animal set into fishermen.  For me, blind faith… I’d love to say youthful enthusiasm but I’m old enough to know better.

In January of 2006 I showed up at Harbor Island Yacht Club in Old Hickory, TN.  I got word from a friend that this was the only “real” sailboat club in the area so I went out there one day only to find a massive iron gate.  And I waited… until someone drove out.  When they did of course I sped in before the gate closed and if I stopped there I would have felt like I achieved something.  Getting into a gated club… without asking or explaining?  We all have that little hooligan in us that wants to feel like we’re getting away with something don’t we?  Ok, I have that little hooligan… Anyway, I got in and it just so happened to be a Saturday afternoon when they were getting ready for a race.  It’s called the Winter Series and it goes on every Saturday from Thanksgiving to the first of March.  I was walking around checking out all the boats and bumped into a guy who said, “you racing?” I’m not, I said.  A friend told me to come check the place out said if I wanted to race I could probably find a ride.  Kent (the guy) said, “Well I could use a hand setting these markers.” So I jumped onto a small power boat and headed out to set the big orange markers that designate the turning points in the race.  We talked on the way and I ended up hanging around out there every spare minute I had.  I volunteered to work with the Sea Scout troop out there and did whatever I could to find a ride on a boat.  Good weather. Bad weather. Day or night.  I was hooked.

Whore of the Sea already!  I know, I know. One day in March, I pulled in to find a group of guys standing on the dock next to a shabby looking boat. Sails and covers were torn.  Decks were filthy and covered with bird shit. The lines were crusty and permanently bent in shapes they’d been coiled into long, long ago. The interior had two feet of murky green water sloshing around in there and the carpeted walls were black with mildew.  The cockpit lockers cracked and whined when you stepped aboard and the teak looked as if it had never seen a can of varnish let alone a proper 7 to 10 coats.  I said, “What’s the deal?” A friend said, ‘the club owns it.  they’ve been trying to sell it but now we just need to get rid of it.  They’re gonna cut it up and chuck it in the dumpster.”  Remember now… I’m a… Ro`mantic… “What! Are you kidding? I can fix that!”  Keeping in mind, I’ve only really been sailing for about 3 months aside from some minor dinghy sailing about 20 years prior.  They all looked at me just like you’re looking right now.  I most of the sentiments went something like this, ” ARE YOU NUTS?”

$1000.00 and a borrowed trailer later she was in STOW - San Juan 24 my backyard! Deal of the Century! Okay, maybe not.  I stripped that boat of every nut, bolt, line, hinge and wire.  I got up every morning and worked from 5 am until it was time to shower and head to work.  I came home after work and got right back into my grungy clothes and worked til’ dark.  I read every book on fiberglass repair and boat wiring imaginable.  I stumbled onto the bible “Good Old Boat” by Mr. Don Casey and I was delivered!

In August of that year, just a scant 5 months later, she was back in the water.  Sailing like a dream and no one at the club believed it was the same boat… nobody except one guy,  Bruce Richards.  Bruce is a legendary dinghy sailor who’s won titles all over the country.  He’s a small man but he’s got this vibe about him. He’s got the constitution of a jockey.   A world class jockey who drives champion thoroughbreds.  Swagger.  Calm, quiet swagger.  He stopped me one day when I pulled to the dock and said, “I’m glad you saved her.  She’s a champion you know.”  I looked around thinking, “Me?  Is he talking to me.” “Oh, yeah… thanks” I said, not knowing what the hell neither he nor I was talking about. “Do you know the history of that boat?” he said pointing to my now shimmering San Juan 24, hull number 206.  Uh, no… other than almost getting chopped up and chucked into  a dumpster, I don’t know anything.  Bruce went on to tell me that in 1983 or there about, my boat, “Whore of the Sea” won the national sailing title.  I couldn’t believe it!  That’s a big deal.  She had champion pedigree  and they were going to “put her down.”  He had a spry grin on his face when I repeated, “Whore of the Sea?”  Yep, he said, that’s her name.  And then he just turned around, still with that little grin and walked away.  He didn’t ever turn back but I heard him say, I’m glad you saved her.

To this day, I’ve searched high and low to find any record of that race.  I’ve asked any and everyone I could find if they know, knew or heard anything about the boat, the race or the jockey… the skipper.  The one who rode that champ to the line.
I wonder if his name was Bruce.

Hull #466

New Tartan 27

It’s time… time to write something about my 1970 Tartan 27.  Designed by the legendary team of Sparkman & Stephens back in the early 60’s, the Tartan 27 was their first fiberglass design.  But you can find out all of this online.  The “nuts and bolts” if you will. Just Google “Tartan 27” and you’ll find a wealth of information, specs and conjecture surrounding this now famous boat.  With over 700 hulls built, there is much to be said.

Thing is, I couldn’t really find too many personal accounts from people who’ve owned these boats.  Yes, there’s an owners forum on Yahoo and a few Tartan Ownership Groups around the country but I’m interested in the individual stories… I’m interested in the folks who bought these boats new and have passed them down through the years.  I want to read stories from the people like me who discovered this boat, fell in love and decided that spending twice what she’s worth to re-build her was somehow a worthwhile endeavor. Indeed there are many, many stories about many, many boats and hundreds of blogs about the “romantic” who’s thrown caution to the wind, sold everything and bought a boat to sail the high seas.  This isn’t that kind of blog.  At least not yet.

This is the story about the “romantic” with little cash.  The Romantic (with a capital “R”) that lies in most of us… You know the one… the one that dreams, hopes and plans. Then… life gets in the way and postpones those plans or cancels them altogether… But let’s hold off on that for just a minute.  After all, as a Romantic, I’d never admit defeat on the first page…  first day of a new blog.  So this is the launch, if you will, the maiden voyage of a story about a boat.  An old boat.  But a boat with a story to tell…

This story is about my boat “Moose.”