January, 2010 - I have mentioned John Lennon's insight that "life is what
happens to you while you are busy making other plans" elsewhere on
these pages, and once again, while in Carriacou, those words proved so
true for us. I have long had a dream of going cruising in a sailboat and
have gradually lured Mark into this dream. His response has ranged from
all smiles to the rare bout of kicking and screaming, but he finally agreed
to purchase a boat a year ago.
The boat buying process left us so stressed out last May that we got into a
fender bender with the trailer in California and ended up touring Michigan
by car and motel for seven weeks while the trailer was repaired and while
We returned to the
trailer determined to let the boat idea slide for a while, but found ourselves
glued to Yachtworld, the online MLS for boats. Every time we got online to
check for email, no matter where in the world we were, we did a quick check of
When we went to the Caribbean for the winter we vowed not to look at
Yachtworld any more. But one afternoon, while sitting out on our balcony,
Mark slipped up and took a quick peak. "Wow! Look at this!" He jumped out of
his patio chair. A boat we had seen for sale almost a year earlier was back on
the market, but this time hugely discounted as a foreclosure. I shrugged it off.
It would be gone by the time we got back to the States. But over the next few
days, Mark wouldn't let it go. The bank had an online bid form, and one afternoon
Mark entered a bid. "Sweety, what do you think of this?" He asked as he went to take
a shower. Aw heck, that was much too high! I lowered his number by $10k and clicked Send. 30 minutes later we got an email
saying the bank had "respectfully" countered our offer by $1,500. Holy cow! Now what?? Dash away from paradise to the hurly
burly of buying our dream boat for an amazing price in the middle of winter, with the very real chance that things could go awry
and leave us empty-handed, or stay on swimming and walking and
mixing with the locals on the white sand beaches of the Caribbean?
While casting about for an answer, discussing our options, reasons,
hopes and fears endlessly, Mark woke up one day with Simon and
Garfunckle's song Feelin' Groovy running through his mind. He had
been coming up with prospective names for boats on a sometimes
hourly basis for the past two years, to the point where it became a
comical game for both of us, but none of the names ever stuck.
However, when he rolled over that morning and said, "We should name
the boat 'Groovy'," we both knew we would be owners of a new boat.
New Year's Eve found us flying out of St. Vincent, staring down at the
turquoise sea dotted with little white sailboats, wondering if we would
truly be out there joining them soon or if we were totally out of our minds to be leaving. The long holiday weekend was a crazy one
for international travel, and especially for last minute ticket purchases. Starting with the hike from our Bequia apartment to the ferry
boat, then on to the St. Vincent bus ride across town to catch a small inter-island flight to St. Lucia, followed by an hour-and-a-half
taxi ride over that island's mountainous interior to its bigger airport, and finally hopping on three jet flights that bounced up the
Caribbean chain and across the US to San Diego, we were in transit for
a total of 33 hours.
Because a terrorist had tried to bomb a flight to Detroit on Christmas
day, security was extraordinary. Apparently St. Lucia is a "country of
interest," so not only were we patted down and each of our carry-on
bags hand-searched when we entered the St. Lucia terminal, but all
passengers were patted down and every pocket of every piece of
luggage searched a second time as we all boarded the plane. It took
two hours to get everyone aboard, and we, of course, were the last ones
on. The gazillion TSA agents were high-fiving each other as we left their
clutches, the final plane of the day. They were oh-so-ready to celebrate
New Year's Eve island style. We rang in the new year at New York's JFK
airport a few hours later, while standing in line at Customs. Back on
American soil, we snagged some blankets and pillows from the plane
and bedded down on a nice, comfy, secluded conveyor belt in the terminal to await our morning
flight to California.
Once we arrived in San Diego, we went
straight to the boat to check it out. It was
just as cool a boat as it looked in the
photos. It is a 2008 Hunter 44DS (44'
long), the last unit of that model ever built.
After crawling through many many boats
over the past four years, we had decided a
year ago that this was the exact make and
model we wanted.
What incredible good fortune.
Boat purchases involve a "sea trial" and "survey" which are something like a test
drive and home inspection, but you must reach a price agreement with the seller
before either can take place. For the survey, a professional examines the boat
very carefully, checking all the systems and hauling it out of the water for a look at
the bottom. Groggy from lack of sleep, jet lag, and still wondering if we were doing
the right thing, we were both ecstatic as we took turns at the helm on the way to the
boat yard. Our surveyor
studied every inch of the boat
for a full day, tapping the hull
with his hammer to check for
problems and making endless
notes on his clipboard. In the
end he declared it the cleanest
survey he had ever done.
Wow. Gorgeous weather greeted us and
our spirits rose higher and higher -- even
as fear gripped our souls because this was
such a big move for us. We were glad it
was shorts weather, as all we had with us
was tropical-wear and airport-wear.
Everything else was in Phoenix. We
stayed with our son and daughter-in-law and took some time
out to explore Seaport Village with them and catch our breath.
This area was as charming as we remembered it being a year
ago. Families were wandering through the boutique stores,
enjoying the last bit of the holiday break
together. We spotted a mom with her two kids
getting a picture of themselves with their cell
A little further on a man was demonstrating
rock balancing, placing rocks in impossible
positions on top of each other and
miraculously willing them not to fall down. He
claimed there were no tricks or gimmicks, but
how he could sense where the balance point
was of each rock was beyond me.
The boutiques were all well stocked with their
Christmas goods and the paths were
meticulously maintained. There is something
ever-friendly and ever-accessible about the
San Diego waterfront. We stopped at Hot
Licks, a store with a dizzying array of hot sauces lining every
Down at the Midway Aircraft Carrier museum a retired Naval
officer told stories of various ships and their adventures on the
high seas long ago.
A group of statues nearby commemorates Bob Hope's many
USO performances, and a little girl wandered among the
statues, carefully checking out each one.
You never know what you'll find on the San Diego waterfront,
and as we strolled a little further we came across a group
Segway lesson. Those contraptions look like so much fun.
A few days later all the pieces were in place for us to close on the boat.
A mad dash to Phoenix had augmented our clothes collection so we
could handle the weather that was becoming increasingly cool and
damp. At the same time we had had to stand in the trailer and decide whether to take the kitchen tools, favorite books, bedding,
etc. or buy new things for the boat. Our plan was to split our time between RVing in the US/Canada and sailing in Mexico, hitting
the prime summer spots on land with the trailer during the southern Mexican hurricane season. So we didn't want to raid too much
from the trailer. But did this new move really mean stocking two homes? What about tools? Hoses? Holding tank chemicals?
Personal papers? We had planned to stay on the boat for the first twelve months before we started splitting our time between
RVing and sailing. So were we really saying goodbye to the trailer for a year? Yikes! We loaded the truck and sped back to San
Diego in time to sign all the paperwork, sticking with the tasks at hand to keep all
these wild emotions in check.
Since our intent was to use the boat outside of California (in Mexico), we
qualified for the state exemption from paying "use tax" (similar to sales tax) on
the purchase. However, California (like all other coastal states) has strict rules
that state precisely how a boat buyer demonstrates his/her intent to use the boat
predominantly outside of the state. One of these is to take the boat out of
California waters for the closing. This is just 3 miles offshore, but requires a
captain to sail the boat until the closing takes place, and then lots of photos
proving both the day's date and that the boat is at a GPS coordinate outside of
the state when the documents are signed. We had especially memorable
headlines on the newspaper that day, as an earthquake had just devastated
This was an exciting moment and was our first extended period of time out in the boat on the
water. It was great to be out there, but we both felt woefully inadequate to take charge of
this vessel all by ourselves. Our next trip out there would be no guiding hand, and we
wondered how we would fare.
Once back at the dock, we hung out in the cabin in a state of disbelief. We had done it.
Fourteen days from the time we left the islands, we were sitting on our own boat.
Were we out of our minds?
The seller was kind enough to pre-pay a two week stay at Kona
Marina in San Diego, one of the nicest marinas in the harbor.
We had spent many happy hours in the past sneaking onto this marina's docks and then wandering
around checking out all the boats and talking to the
owners. It was a strange and wonderful feeling to
have a card key to the gate and to walk onto the
docks as bona-fide boat owners.
We had signed our names on the closing
documents, but there was still a lot more to do.
The second part of California's requirement for
demonstrating intent to use your new boat outside
of California is to leave the state as soon as
possible after the closing and to stay out for at
least six months. We decided to sail to Ensenada,
Mexico, 65 miles south of San Diego.
Our to-do list to prepare for this international
voyage was several pages long. From a
small sail repair to testing the radar
to remembering how to sail and
navigate, we had a lot to do to
make this easy 65 mile trip a safe
Taking a little time out, we explored
nearby Ocean Beach. This is a
surfing community that has a hippy
kind of air to it, and it's a place
where it seems that anything goes.
A little dog in a froo-froo dress fit
Surfing, hamburgers in paradise and cheap
beers at outdoor bars overlooking the beach
invite all tourists to partake of the classic
California beach scene for a while.
A street musician sang his heart out as we
Pirate's Cove Coffee is the most elaborate
coffee kiosk I have ever seen.
Back on the boat we were slowly getting used
to the idea of being boat owners, living on a
sailboat, and starting a new chapter in our lives.
Out on the water the weather got steadily cooler. Short sleeves gave way to hats and jackets
as we gradually remembered which lines on the boat do what, how sailboats work with the
wind, and what all those crazy markings on the charts are all about.
Then San Diego got one of the worst dousings of rain
in the last decade. In one week they got almost as much
rain as they had in the entire previous year. We
alternated between huddling inside and running endless
errands to the big box stores as the rain fell in torrents.
In a way, all that miserable weather was a blessing in
disguise, as it kept us ticking down our non-sailing to-do
lists. I read 150 pages of Chapman's Piloting's
navigation chapters to refresh my skills, and Mark read
the chartplotter and radar manual, engine manual and
Hunter's user manual. When the day finally arrived that
the sun came out, we were able to focus on sailing.
We had one brief family day aboard, taking our son Rory and his wife Colette out for a
day sail. It was a moment that Mark had long been waiting for, wanting to introduce his
son to the world of sailing. Rory caught on quickly, and we found it was so much easier
to sail with a strapping young
man on board who could handle
all the lines one-handed without a
winch. After a pleasant few
hours on the water, we hugged
them goodbye at the dock. Thirty
hours later we untied the lines at
Kona Marina for the last time,
and left San Diego in the morning
mist behind us as we headed for
Puerto La Salina, Mexico, our
first stop on the way to