We almost sank it!

“The vessel was found mechanically and structurally sound, …maintained and equipped in above average condition for a boat this age.”

That was the overall conclusion of the survey and sea trial. Other than a few minor, very fixable issues the boat is in excellent condition.

The day started with yet another 6am ferry ride. We needed to get to Kemah to meet the surveyor by 8am, and the ferry only runs once an hour that early. We also didn’t really know what the traffic between Galveston and Houston would be near morning rush hour so we made sure we had extra time.

We met Nick, our surveyor, right on time at the boat and got right to work. It’s enlightening to watch him work as he meticulously tapped every square inch of the deck with his little hammer. He was looking and listening for any signs of delamination or water intrusion. He then checked every fitting, attachment, screw, and line from the bow to the stern. Our confidence continually grows as he frequently mentions how nice and maintained everything is, and is surprised at how few hull issues he is finding. “I can usually find at least one spot of delamination or water intrusion, but I’m not finding any” he said.

I consider the hull to be the most important part of this survey as it is the real soul of the boat. It’s a huge relief at this point to see that it is solid and in near perfect condition. That being said, there’s still a lot more to look at, including the below water parts of the hull when we haul it out later in the day. As we start getting into the details of all the electronics and other accessories on the boat, the issues start to arise.

We fired up the auxiliary generator, a huge bonus to have in my mind, but find that the cooling water is not flowing and the intake hoses are rotten. Not too big of a deal, but that means no generator until it is fixed. We move onto the inverter, which I’m also excited to have on-board because we have a lot of toys that need to be charged, but no go. It doesn’t turn on. Strike two.

There were several other little electrical quirks, the running light didn’t work, some of the interior lighting was bad, but all of that is fairly easy to replace, and probably something I want to upgrade anyway.

A few hours had passed and it was now time for the main event. The haul out and sea trial. Let’s see how this old girl performs, and look at her not so visible parts.

It’s a bit concerning watching a boat get pulled out of the water. It is clearly not its natural state. Even though this boat was not ours, we were both quite tense as we watched the lift pull her up. Once she was on the hard, Nick got right to the tapping again. Every inch of the hull below water needs to be checked for any issues. Once again, she came out with a surprisingly clean bill of health for a 32 year old boat. The bottom paint needs to be redone, and some standard maintenance items, but all of that is to be expected as bottom paint should be redone every few years anyway.

The quick haul out complete, it was now time to put her back in the water and go for a sail. The weather was not all that great though. It was sunny and warm, but the wind was blowing a lot harder than we wanted. Steady wind at 10-15 miles an hour, with regular gusts above 25. For any real sailor, these are not really issues, but for us, on a boat we don’t know, it was quite scary. Even with the wind, the boat performed amazingly well. “shes a tank” says Nick calmly as we get hit by yet another gust with full sails up. My knuckles are white as I’m steering the boat and have to make some small, but easily made adjustments to keep course, but the boat just heels over and takes the gust in stride. I keep watching Nick for some sort of reaction, but this is nothing to him. He is running up and down the deck checking out the rigging and sails as I nervously sail along.

Once back at the dock and coming down off the excitement of the sail, we start digging into the inner bowels of the ship. We have to check every cable, every hose, and every inch of the interior. If you’ve read this far, this is the part where the title of this post comes in.

Nick had been checking out all the plumbing of the head (nautical speak for bathroom) and noticed that there were some shortcuts taken. In particular, the raw water line to the toilet was not running through an “anti-siphon” loop. He explained to me that in the right conditions, without this loop, water can just start flowing into the boat, and we should always make sure this valve is closed any time we are sailing until it gets properly fixed.

Sure enough, about fifteen minutes later we are looking at some pipes down in the bilge and start seeing water flowing in. We check all the obvious things before turning back to the head. Turns out that exactly what he was explaining could have gone wrong, had, and the toilet was full and overflowing with sea water and it was freely running into the boat. We quickly shut off the valve and stop it before much happens, but if we had not been aboard, this could have easily sunk the boat in a few hours. Usually the bilge pump would just pump the water back out, but due to another issue we found, the the bilge pump was wired through and unprotected switch and we had turned it off earlier to test it.

Another hour or two of meticulously checking and testing everything on the boat, the survey was complete. We learned a ton about this boat and what it means to take ownership and maintain her. We have picked a good one it seems. Other than some minor and totally fixable issues, this boat is in fantastic condition and is very well equipped for what we want to do with it. A little bit of negotiating with the current owner over the final price with these issues and we may be buying a boat!

It is so very exciting at this stage, no matter how much planning Shannon and I did to get here. I’m continually blown away at where we are.

Let see where this goes!

Robert Perry designs some great boats

How many boats have we looked at so far? I think I’ve lost count. If we are not running away from hurricanes, we have been on the road looking at more. Of the many we seen, one thing really stands out. Robert Perry has designed some great boats. You can almost tell, just by looking at the hull, and the sail plan, that he had his hands on it.

Every time we really like a boat and start doing more research, it always seems to be one of his. That first boat we truly loved, the Islander 38C was his design. We’re certainly not limiting our search, as there are a ton of great boats out there, but any time we see his name, the boat jumps up on our list.

Today we got to look at another great one, a Valiant 32. Only around 65 were ever made, and it has Perry designed written all over it. First thing to notice is its round canoe stern. It loses some cockpit space, but it more than makes up for it in looks. The cutter rig provides a sail plan for most every occasion, and this particular boat is well equipped with many choices of sails.

It’s not the largest boat inside, with only 10’5″ beam, it initially feels a bit cramped as you step aboard, but as you look around, its clearly designed with long passages in mind. There is storage everywhere. Every nook and cranny is utilized and feels planned. She has significant tankage, and carries 80 gallons of water, and nearly 50 gallons of fuel. Enough to take us pretty much anywhere we need to go even with no wind.

One item we’ve run into trouble with is the size of the v-berth and sleeping quarters. The last boat we really liked had a sleeping birth of only 5’11. That may be enough for Shannon, but it just a bit small for me. This boat does not have that issue, and we both fit nicely in the forward v-berth. It also has a decent rear quarter-birth and another in the salon that can make good sea berths.

There are several other perks of this boat that go beyond its design. She has a complete wind-vane autopilot, a large solar array with chargers and inverters, and even an auxiliary generator for all our power needs.

With so many things we liked about the boat it was tough to walk away. We headed down to the Kemah boardwalk to get some lunch and a beer to discuss. Two beers later we had decided.

We made an offer.

Lets see where this goes.

Oh the people you will meet

You looking for a sailboat? A man in a NASA t-shirt said as he finished his Coors. “Um, yea” we responded with a bit of confusion. “We’ve been looking at boats all day”, “Well, I may have one for ya.”

Shannon and I had just finished looking at several boats in Kemah, and were debriefing over a beer at the Voodoo bar. He must have overheard us, becasue he quickly began telling us of his friend who is currently sailing to Panama on a 55ft Nicholson. After a few minutes of pictures and stories, he remembered that he was trying to sell us some other boat.

At this point Shannon and I are rather skeptical as this guys seems a bit, um, spacey. He starts to tell us about this Valiant 40 that his buddy that is currently sailing to Panama has here just across the street. “Its one of them blister boats” he said. Apparently in the late 70s, Valiant started making boats with a new epoxy/fiberglass mix that caused some severe blistering. This issue eventually put the company out of business. The core of the boat though, is still a fantastic big blue-water boat designed by Robert Perry.

As we walked to the marina NASA guys started telling his stories of his years at NASA as an engineer, and all the work he does on all these boats here now with that expertise. As he seems to get more comfortable with his stories, his salty sailor side starts to show. Stories of getting kicked out of marinas skinny dipping with “many ladies”, and missing hurricanes by days with his skilled weather plotting. I think I’m starting to like this guy

The boat itself is great, its old, but well equipped and solidly built. Its quite large, and well proven with multiple trips to South America under its belt. It unfortunately suffers from, what is know in the sailing community, as the plague. The blisters that are forming in its hull are essentially incurable. Many have tried, pumping tens of thousands of dollars into repairs, only to have them reappear. From what I read though, they are generally cosmetic, and there are no reported case of any catastrophic hull failure.

Salty sailor though says that we can have this 40ft boat for $20k. That’s one hell of a deal. and one worth serious thought. It just goes to show that good things happen while drinking at the bar.

One month in

It’s now been a month in Texas, we’re on the Bolivar->Galveston ferry again to head to Kemah to look at some more sailboats. It feels like we ride this ferry a lot these days. There’s really nothing on Bolivar Peninsula. There’s only one decent store at all, and it’s a combo grocery and hardware store, aptly named “The Big Store.” Anything we can’t find there we have to head into Galveston, or 30 miles north to a small town called Winnie. There’s no Laundromat, so we have to either hand wash in the sink, or hop the ferry again. We’ve eaten all all local restaurants, all 5 of them, they’re nothing to write home about. So if we have a craving for decent food, well, you can probably guess. One of them, the Tiki Beach Bar, does have one interesting little quirk, it has its own private grass airstrip where apparently pilots from all over  come in a have themselves some lunch.

There are some great bonuses to living here as well. For one it’s really quiet, traffic is non existent, except on the beach. The weather is really not too bad, it’s hot, and humid, but a quick walk to the beach and it feels quite nice again. Oh, and the beach, I love the beach. Its half a mile from the house, and ten miles in either direction of sandy goodness. I’ve never been much for just wasting time, I usually want to be doing something (and playing video games or watching TV, does count as that) but I can just sit on the beach and drink a beer and be perfectly content.

It’s not all beer on the beach though, we’ve had some issues with our A/C, and power outages. We had a storm roll by a few days ago that knocked out the power for nearly 10 hours. No power is generally OK for the trailer as we have backup batteries, but no power means no A/C. 10 minutes without A/C it’s a sauna inside the trailer. We were having other issues with the A/C as well. Due to a lovely design feature of the trailer, the thermostat is mounted on a wall that, due to the refrigerator, has some direct outdoor airflow. That airflow with all its moisture flows directly into the thermostat. It hits the cold dry air inside the trailer and immediately condenses. This kills the thermostat. It we woke up one night at around 3am and it was nearly 90 inside. Looking at the thermostat, it thought it was 40, good thing the heat didn’t turn on. I opened it up and found it dripping with water. So I dried it out and hoped for the best. Over the next few days the screen started shorting out, and it started melting, and freezing us in the middle of the night depending on its mood, so we replaced it. (Yet another ferry trip to Galveston.) I also made an attempt to put some insulation in that hole as well, so hopefully we won’t repeat that issue.

We are also still actively searching for our new sailboat. Last Friday after work we, um, took the ferry, to Kemah to look at several boats up there. After our last adventure to Corpus Christi, we were pretty much sold on the Islander 38 we saw, but it’s not really for sale, so we can’t really do anything about that right now. The broker in Kemah has 2 Islander 36’s and a few other boats in our price range so we had to have a look. Turns out the Islander 36 is mostly the same boat as the 38, just without a bowsprit, a pilothouse (really great view from the salon), or the really cool swim ladder on the stern. It has a more standard interior layout with a v-berth main cabin, and smaller quarter berths. Overall the boat was quite nice, and actually really well equipped. Unfortunately, I was still so set on the 38, that I just wasn’t looking at it with the right eye. So today, a week later and no movement on the 38, we are on our way back to Kemah to have another look.

This search for a boat feels like it taking a long time, but we’ve only been at it for a month and we already have some good options. We have one more month paid for here in Bolivar, so we have a bit more time, but we are starting to think of the next place. Do we head across the bay to Galveston? Down south to Corpus Christi? Or across the bay to Kemah? Who knows, but that’s the best part. It doesn’t matter, just go.