And so it begins...
Two years ago we began this dream of buying a sailboat and traveling to other countries to visit them. Two years seems like an eternity when searching for the right boat to take us where we need to go. This all started when I just happened upon a YouTube video made by Nikki and Jason of Gone with the Wynns. They are a young couple who spent most of their life together in a RV traveling North America and then decided to visit other countries by sailboat, or rather a catamaran. Now, I had seen catamarans growing up, sailing with my dad and they were nothing special... they just seemed like a prime opportunity to flip your boat. But things have changed quite a bit since then; they have now become condos on the water. Unsinkable as they say. Okay, I digress.
Rochelle and I began watching all their videos and following their journeys from Florida, through the Caribbean, Panama, Ecuador, to Tahiti and Tonga, and now New Zealand. We also started looking for a boat - a catamaran, because who doesn't want comfort on the seas? This was September 2019. Boat buying is pretty crazy, it is not like house buying, where there is plenty, if not too much, regulation in place to keep both the buyer, seller, and broker in line. Oh no, boat buying is very much a dangerous place. The brokers need not tell you anything. The brokers represent the sellers and themselves, nobody represents the buyers. Even if you hire a broker to represent you the buyer, that broker will only find you boats where the sellers' broker agrees to share the commission. The brokers also make 10%, so talking you up is beneficial to their bottom line. Once a deal is struck, the buyer is responsible for verifying the quality of the boat; that is done through a marine survey, rigging survey, and a mechanical survey - all at the buyers expense. Now in Florida where boats seemingly were born, this is an affordable process, but if you dare buy a boat in the Pacific Northwest; expect to pay two to three times more. These surveys are absolutely necessary - because the broker is not going to tell you anything and the seller definitely doesn't want you to know what is wrong with the boat. Lending and Insurance will absolutely require a marine survey, but not the other two; and it is the mechanical survey that will tell you how much you'll need to dig in order to get out of that hole.
I'll come back to the boat buying in a bit, it was a long process. Now, I had sailed with my family as a kid back in the 80's, so I had some experience. Rochelle on the other hand had none. We had planned a trip to Florida for winter of 2019, we had lucked into a cruise to Cuba, and a short visit to Bimini. But, eventually, sadly the political atmosphere had collapsed and visitation to Cuba was no longer allowed. Our cruise was cancelled (would have been my first ever), though Bimini was still on the table. So, I took a chance and filled the time with a 7-day liveaboard Catamaran sailing course with Blue Water Sailing School in Ft. Lauderdale. The course would teach us everything from Basic Sailing to Cruising to Bareboat and then touch on Catamarans. All the coursework was certified through the American Sailing Association, so we knew we would get good experience.
The school was excellent. We even managed to get the same instructor that the Wynn's had for their sail training. The sailing school doesn't have their own sailboats just because it is cost prohibitive; so they use charter boats to train on. Ours was a Lagoon 45 "Flybridge". First let me just say, the last place you want to be in a bad storm or in big waves is in a flybridge. We had two days out of seven with huge waves (8' to 12') and big wind (gusts 28-35), absolutely terrifying! Most of the training occurred in Biscayne Bay, just south of Miami. We launched from Ft. Lauderdale and headed out into the gulfstream. This was the second strongest day of the trip. The waves were huge, largest I've ever experienced on a pleasure craft and amidst it all, the mainsail ripped in half. I remember my wife was at the helm mumbling "shit Marie", we were topping over a wave, riding down the roller coaster only to hear a huge BAM up the mast. We looked, we saw, the mainsail had ripped in two. But this was only the beginning of what to expect on a charter sailboat. The next day, we waited as the charter company replaced the mainsail and it took a good part of the day. Catamaran power comes from their mainsail, it is a BIG sail! Over the next few days were learned all that we could, took our tests, and tried to get along with our boat mates from California. We learned a lot about how things never really work on charter boats. We learned how to sail with no working instruments. On the last day we learned how to maneuver and dock a catamaran with only one engine because the other wasn't working. That one engine didn't stop us from traveling back to Ft. Lauderdale via the gulfstream. The waves weren't as bad, maybe 6' to 8', but they were hitting us at about 45 degrees starboard... remember flybridge = bad. The wind was crazy, 35 knot gusts, 26 knots constant. The mainsail stayed intact and even though only two of us could be in the flybridge at once due to the lack of sufficient harnesses being available, we survived! Twenty three significant issues with this charter boat, I still have the list on my phone. We accomplished what we came to do and that is what really mattered.
Having just finished our sailing education we returned Washington to start once again looking for a boat. And, then there was Covid. I'm pretty sure we all know and are tired of that story, no need to go there. The Pacific Northwest for some reason is not known for catamarans even though the first catamarans were built in the islands of the Pacific Ocean. There is only one catamaran builder in North America and they are in Maine. Everyone else is overseas, a majority coming from France and South Africa. When a catamaran is built it then needs to be delivered, unless the buyer picks it up locally. That is done either on its bottom or on a ship. The journey to the East Coast is perhaps 11-20 days depending what transportation form is used, delivery to the West Coast can triple that and that is why there are so few catamarans on the West Coast. Good ol' supply and demand, when there is low supply, the demand "cha-ching" skyrockets... It took a bit, but eventually we realized we were priced out of a catamaran on the West Coast. On to searching for a monohull.
Rochelle always said that monohulls felt dark and dreary, almost coffin-like. She said there won't be a monohull in her future. Monohull means one hull whereas a catamaran is considered a multihull. Most sailboats are monohulls. We saw many sailboats and most did not size up at all, some were dark and dreary, some were light and airy. The newer boats were aesthetically pleasing but came with a huge price tag and as we later discovered were built to a price point - not something you want in something that is capable of sinking. Boats, as we learned, were all about making compromises.
September 2020 had come around by then, we had had no luck in finding our match, so we planned on chartering one of the few catamarans available in the PNW. We found her at Ship Harbor Charters in Anacortes, Washington. She was a Leopard 40, just 3 feet shorter than the Wynn's Leopard. Charter boats are well used, much like rental properties, no one takes as good of care of them than their owners. But, it was the experience that mattered. We chartered her for 10 days at the end of the season, taking advantage of the sweet 10 days for the price of 7 days. The ten days were absolutely PERFECT, with the exception of the lack of wind. So it really turned into more of a powerboat charter - only one day of wind. We had a great time though! We were out on the water, visiting Stuart Island, Sucia Island, Friday Harbor, & Roche Harbor. We caught our very first Dungeness crabs and ate them alongside filet mignon from Western Meats, that we cooked on the BBQ from the transom of Salpare. We watched the sunset and the moonrise, while sipping wine and devouring surf & turf with good friends. On this trip, we opted to hire a captain to sail with us for the first few days, just to make sure we knew what we were doing and to make sure someone truly talented was available for the "Oh Shit!" moments. Great times were had listening to the Captain's stories and adventures and the famous clients he has captained for. Like I mentioned before, charter boats are well-used, and as her temporary owners for ten days we noticed the things we didn't like about the boat, this got us thinking back on an earlier boat we visited. A monohull, we like to call Big Blue.
Big Blue was a custom designed Able Apogee 52. The current and only owner was a tall man like myself. Boats are generally not built for tall people - so he, an engineer at Boeing, redesigned this Able Apogee to fit his 6' 7" height. Every area in the boat was at least 6' 10" in height, and the vessel was built to cross oceans. Huge double-paned 1/4" tempered glass windows surrounded the salon and kitchen. The engine room was separated by a watertight bulkhead with submarine type doors to pass into it. Everything was beautiful about this boat, it had crossed the Pacific Ocean twice, it had solid sails, rod rigging, accessible transom... it was hardcore! And, then there was the price. Meh. We could have done it, but it would have left us in a constant state of financial worry and that in no way is good for the type of journey we were seeking.
"It's too coffin-like"! My wife loves to say. After the Big Blue saga, we went searching again. I started heading up to Anacortes weekly to try out pretty much any boat that would have a chance at fitting me. We had been to the Cap Sante Marina before to look at a Swan early in our search; during that visit I saw an interesting boat. It had that classic sailboat look, it had character, but it was only 35' long and at the time that was not big enough to cross oceans in our mind. Well, I jumped aboard to view it and I loved what I saw... though it was very dated and it needed some love for sure. I had only heard of this boat via a book, wish I could remember the name of the book, but it was about ocean passages and the author repeated over and over of the seaworthiness of the Baba 35. This was a 1979 Baba 35! But, like I mentioned before, while it did float, it really was a project boat and priced quite high. Surprisingly, it offered very nice headroom for me, at least 6'5". This peaked my interest even more. I rushed home and started digging for other Baba boats for sale only to find that this was one of just two available.
I immediately jumped onto the other one located in Seattle, it looked better maintained and had some definite improvements like a solid boomvang, watermaker, AIS, SSB, and even higher headroom in a highly customized cabin. The current owners wanted quite a bit more than the market price (the Seattle-effect), but we negotiated a price that was acceptable by both parties. Being the age of the boat, we insisted on a marine survey, rigging survey, AND mechanical survey... and Thank God we did! Turns out the engine and transmission was shot... on its last leg. The Mechanical surveyor said it was the worst transmission he has ever seen! We tried to renegotiate, but the owner was adamant about keeping the price elevated. In the end, I am glad it didn't work out. We would would still be working on that boat on the hard with thirty grand worth of headaches. It's been six months, and it's still listed for sale.
Time to start looking outside Washington state. My wife is amazingly skilled at finding things or people. You can give her a first name only and she will find that person you were thinking of and have details of them ready to go. She found a few more Babas, not 35's but rather 40's. A bigger boat indeed with a much bigger price tag and ironically, more "coffin-like". First there was the Facebook Baba, then the Chicago Baba, Annapolis Baba, Blaine Baba, and ultimately the Port Townsend Baba. All these Babas we talked with the owners, visited three of them, video-conferenced on one, All wonderfully nice people and you could tell they absolutely cherished their Babas. We made a casual offer on the Blaine Baba (actually a Tashiba) and we thought we had a deal, but the following day he and his wife went sailing and came to the conclusion they just weren't ready to let her go.
Port Townsend, Washington.. Under our noses the whole time! Our main problem is we kept looking at Yachtworld for boats and Yachtworld does not advertise boats sold by owner. Somehow my wife happened upon a Baba 40 For Sale By Owner, that for the most part, was not listed at all. We visited the boat and it was a beautiful boat. Headroom was 6'5", but it has these ribs that line the ceiling that drop it another inch in affect. Okay, so I have to keep my head down. We asked the seller if she would take us out for a sail and she agreed. There wasn't much wind, but we did manage a little bit of sailing as well as some motoring. We loved it and eventually made an offer on it. Which was accepted. All three surveys were spotless and we took ownership of "Karma" on April 29, 2021. We decided to keep the name "Karma", because this whole process is the definition of karma.