Monday, May 23, 2016

Anchors Aweigh

Last post I alluded to some pretty major developments in my and Dawn's lives, and I won't keep you in suspense. Last August we decided we want to do something completely different. Dawn was starting to get burned out on teaching and I'm not growing any fonder of Minnesota winters; there's really nothing keeping us here. My airline has seven different 7ER bases and MSP is one of the most senior and is slowly shrinking. We talked about various places we could move, and then I broached an idea I'd been mulling over for some time: what if we moved onto a 40' sailboat and cruised the Bahamas and Caribbean for a few years? Surprisingly, Dawn loved the idea. Once upon a time she would have rejected it outright but we've since done a number of bareboat charters in California, the Bahamas and the BVI. She's been getting a lot more confident (not to mention competent) with the sailing part, and in fact has really enjoyed the weeklong stints of living on a boat. When I brought up the idea, we had just returned from another BVI charter on a 50-foot Beneteau with six friends, none of whom had sailed much before, and Dawn was a fantastic first mate. I guess that experience was a turning point, because her reaction to my cautious suggestion was to immediately start brainstorming ways to make it happen.


And so over the course of the next few days we crafted an ambitious plan to sell everything, buy a boat, Dawn quit her job, go cruising for 7-8 months of the year for the next three years, drop my schedule to a minimum and commute from the Caribbean during the cruising season, and come back north (and earn most of the year's income) while the boat is stored on land during hurricane season. This "part time pilot" plan is possibly largely because my airline  (my airplane especially) is so seasonal, with summer block hours much higher than winter. In high season it's all hands on deck, but the rest of the year it's pretty easy to take time off. Pretty slick that our high season correlates with the Caribbean hurricane season.

Our original plan was for Dawn to teach the 2016-2017 school year, buy the boat this fall and sell our house next year, moving aboard in June 2017. We started in on the plan with research, budgeting, and prepping our Washington townhouse for sale (it's been rented out since we moved back to MN in 2008). The real estate market out west has really recovered strongly within the last year, including for townhouses which were even more severely depressed than the rest of the market for several years. To our surprise and delight, the townhouse sold on the very first day of listing, for our full (and ambitious, I thought) listing price.


We have since moved our plan up by nearly a year for two reasons. First, Dawn is just completely 100% burned out on teaching. This has been the worst year since she started, it's really taken a toll on her, and she's just flat-out done, for now anyways. At the least she needs to take a break, and perhaps in a few years she'll be ready to go back to it. Secondly, considering how hot the real estate market has been lately and the potential for market volatility and interest rate hikes after the election, we decided to sell our home in Minnesota a year early. This has happened really quickly: we made the decision to sell at the end of March, put in new carpet and paint in early April, and had an (even more ambitious) full-priced offer on April 21st - a full nine days before we were planning to officially list the house! We close on June 7th and have been very busy packing and downsizing and preparing to move to our interim housing, a one-bedroom apartment in a historic building in downtown St. Paul. This has involved selling, donating, giving away, or borrowing out the majority of our possessions, with a few pieces of furniture retained for the five months we'll be in the apartment. We're keeping a few personal items with sentimental value, like gifts from good friends or the artwork in our house (all our own photography from our various travels); these will be stored for the duration. Otherwise, the only stuff we're keeping is that which will be helpful enough on the boat to merit valuable stowage space.


You're probably wondering about the Pacer. I initially concocted a Parrothead fantasy of bringing it to the Caribbean with us and island-hopping around whilst keeping it abreast of the boat, but soon concluded that a tropical marine environment would be murderous on a fabric-covered airplane left outside and also that our new boat would need the full attention of her two crew and our pocketbook. I then considered storing it for the 8 months we're on the boat and using it during the 4 offseason months (when we're supposed to be devoting our attention to earning income), but eventually decided this was a waste of resources and in direct contravention to my resolution to fly any airplane I own at least 10 hours a month. And so we decided to sell the Pacer this summer - but in the meantime, to embark on a grand adventure flying clockwise around the country visiting friends and venturing down Baja and getting in some backcountry flying in Idaho and Montana before making the bucket-list pilgrimage to Alaska, where we would sell her. It was a grand idea and we had a wonderful time for the 75 hours and 3/4 of the way around the country that it lasted. That all came to a screeching halt in Portland, Oregon when I received the news that every plane owner dreads during the annual inspection. This led to me selling the plane earlier this month at a significant loss, but that's a tale of woe best left for another post.


So now we're pretty seriously into the search for our floating home for the next three years. Our perfect sailboat is a medium-displacement cutter or ketch between 40 and 45 feet long, preferably a center-cockpit design with two good-sized staterooms and private heads fore and aft. It will be set up to be easily single-or-double-handed while offering comfortable living quarters for four; we plan to bring friends and family down to sail with us regularly. The onboard equipment will allow for sustainable living "on the hook" in serene anchorages away from marinas for weeks on end. Our midrange budget means that most potential candidates will be 30+ years old, but we can still afford to look at only those that have been well-maintained with most major systems replaced and/or upgraded. We're unlikely to find a boat that's exactly what we want and in bristol condition, and so our budget includes money to upgrade and refit the boat both at the start of our cruise and each off-season.


We've whittled the field to six models that particularly suit our needs: the Tayana 42CC, the Bristol 41.1/43.3/45.5, the Brewer 12.8/44, the Gulfstar 44, the Kelly Peterson 44/46, and the Whitby 42. Of these there are about ten specific boats currently on the market that we're interested in, and we're making our way down that list as time allows given everything else going on. One Tayana that I've already seen, Windbird, is a strong candidate and we may end up making an offer on her, but I'm trying to be logical and not get my heart set on a specific boat yet; being inexperienced boat shoppers, we really do need to see quite a few more in person before deciding. To that end, Dawn and I will be taking a boat-searching roadtrip down North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida this coming Memorial Day Weekend. Windbird is one of the boats on the list as Dawn hasn't seen her yet, but there are a few others that could well end up being stronger candidates. And really, nothing says we have to buy right now, or even this summer, or even this year. I don't want to be rushed into buying a boat simply because we sold the house earlier than planned; it wouldn't hurt us to go back to the original timeline and build our cruising kitty in the meantime.

This is all rather outside the scope of an aviation blog, and Dawn and I have decided that our new adventure merits its own blog, one to which we'll contribute collaboratively. Many cruising blog titles incorporate the boat name, but we don't have one yet so we've decided upon "Weigels on the Water," mostly thanks to the catchy URL wotwater.blogspot.com. You can follow our maritime adventures there, although my posts here will likely include some of the highlights.


12 comments:

S Re said...

Congratulations to both of you on the life change.. Taking life by the horns and getting ready to going out on a new adventure! I cant wait to start reading/seeing the pictures and entries on the new blog and to continue reading your flight blogs also! Thanks for taking us along on the journey!

Stefan

Don Rieck said...

So very, very jealous. I love following your blog and loo forward to hearing about the new adventures.

Don in Chicago.

Joe Pilot said...

I have been thinking of doing this myself. I have done the research and concluded the very best boat for you would be a beneteau 57. It may be a bit higher on the budget but the boat will be much more comfortable and prices are ridiculously low for what you can get. Take a look at them!

Anonymous said...

All this and more....done on a fairly new F/O salary? Who says you have to be a heavy Captain to live a life like this? ;)

Anonymous said...

Sam - FWIW I sailed the Kornati Islands off Croatia in May . We were a crew of nine in 4 double en suite cabins and one berth in the forepeak (semi en suite). The boat is indeed very comfortable but BIG . I don't know how people moor in your planned cruising grounds but in the small harbours of the Med it's usually bow or stern to and in this configuration would be ( my opinion ) to large for two people to moor in safety . It also needed reefing early in any sort of blow - OK for us being mob handed but I would have reservations about managing with just two .

Sam Weigel said...

JoePilot -- We've chartered Beneteaus quite a few times up to and including the Oceanis 50, and while they make very good charter boats they're pretty much the diametrical opposite of what we're looking for. 57' is wayyy more space than we need...and that extra 15' or so would result in higher dockage cost, higher insurance premiums, more maintenance, and more reliance on electric sailhandling systems.

Anonymous 3:29pm -- Other than financing a portion of the boat, we will have absolutely zero debt...our only expenses will be boat related. We also have enough of a cruising kitty built up that we could cruise on my writing income alone for a few years if need be. I'll be flying as much as possible during the summer, and as little as my employer will let me get away with the rest of the season. With no kids and parents still fairly young, we're in a good position to do this on considerably less than fairly new F/O salary.

Anonymous 6:20am -- Yes I've skippered Beneteau 50s quite a few times, with up to 9 aboard in the configuration you described... even had 11 on a Leopard 46 for 5 days in the Abacos (Bahamas). Big boats are comfortable and have nice features for chartering...genset, huge refrigerators that can make ice, 3-zone ice-cold AC units you can run all day long if you want. But yeah, some pretty big downsides to cruisers, especially relatively inexperienced double-handed crews like ourselves. You're right, once you get up to about 50' the sail handling loads increase very rapidly, you have to reef quite early and are generally dependent on electric winches (that's also partially a result of typical charter-boat maintenance, though). We'll be on the hook or mooring balls much more frequently than we'll dock and med mooring is fairly rare on this side of the pond so that's not as much of a consideration, but big boats require big anchors require big windlasses, etc. For me the biggest downside is all the extra maintenance that big boats require. We're looking to hang out in quiet anchorages doing most boat work ourselves, not docking at big city boatyards trying to hire it out while panicking at our rapidly diminishing checkbook. I think 40-45' is a good sweetspot of manageability for 2 people, room for the boat systems needed for sustainable self-sufficiency, and comfort with up to 4 + dog aboard for weeks at a time.

Anonymous said...

Hats off for the bold lifestyle change! -- Ben Read

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