Monday, June 21, 2010

How We Came to Buy a Fuji 40


My picture is in this month's Cruising World! This is the picture taken at last year's Annapolis Sailboat Show where I served as a Cruising World consumer judge; I'm the guy on the far right. This article describes the circumstances:
I've attended the Annapolis show each of the past 9 years, since moving to the East Coast. Being the CW consumer judge made the 2009 show a bit special, but it’s for another reason that it was better than any previous. First, I was there two days, and both days I was on my own. I missed Windy’s company, but in this way, I was able to zip around and make the most of my time. And I used that time to answer a question that had been lingering for Windy and me for most of the previous year:

Do we really need a “blue water” boat, built like the proverbial brick s**thouse? What is a blue water boat?
There are a lot of boats out cruising today, all shapes and sizes. It’s a given that some of them are full-keeled Colin Archer designs with integrated keels full of ballast and hulls two inches thick. Blue water boats, right? But this description does not fit most of the boats out there today. One look at the roster of any of today’s big cruising rallies (the ARC, the Baja Ha-Ha) and it is clear that Hans Christians, Westsails, Island Packets, and Ingrids are not well represented. Many take it for granted that "performance cruisers" are considered suitable blue water boats, and there is a good representation of boats like those built by Passport and Valiant and Taswell. But I don’t think either of these classes of boat comprise the plurality of boats out there cruising. Predominant among cruisers today are the mass-produced boats traditionally assumed to be racer-coastal cruisers (Hunters, Catalinas, J/Boats, Beneteaus, Jeaneaus). (Anecdotally, of the 99 monohulls currently signed up for the 2010 Baja Ha-Ha rally, 42 are production racer-coastal cruisers.)

One of Windy’s most significant impressions of our first cruising adventure is tropical storm Andres. Andres was the first named storm of 1997. During what became an 8-day passage from Isla Providencia, Columbia to Maria La Gorda, Cuba, we got hit by the brunt of it. During the worst of it, a 30-hour stretch, Windy remained below. During that blow, my knowledge and skills at the helm grew along with the strength of the storm. In short time, I was beyond the point of safely transferring the helm to Windy. Her primary focus was navigating us safely into the refuge of the bay at the Western-most tip of the island. My only focus was guiding us over the next wave.

Windy said afterward that the most difficult part of her time below was the noise of the ocean pounding on the hull. The crashing. The amplified sound had her questioning the integrity of the hull. Del Viento was a Newport 27 production racer-coastal cruiser, much like the venerable Catalina 27. Her skin wasn’t flimsy, but neither was she stout.

Windy peering through companionway during tropical storm Andres
Windy during tropical storm Andres, 1997
I wasn’t below, but I could relate to her distress. When I was a kid, we spent many summers waterskiing behind a 15-foot ski boat my dad bought in 1959. It had a fiberglass hull and I remember pounding through the chop on the lake at 20 knots, crashing down and certain each time we were hitting rocks on the bottom. Over and over my dad assured me that we were not, that it was just the sound of the water.
When we finally sold Del Viento in Ft. Lauderdale, Windy and I knew we wanted to get back out there. We were resolved to do it next time in a stout boat, a heavy, full-displacement cruising boat. We wanted to feel that come hell or high waves, none of us would be down below questioning the integrity of the hull.

That is pretty much where we were at the start of our 5-year plan to get back out there, launched 4 years ago. But times have changed. Weather forecasting is better and forecasts can be more easily obtained given the advancements in communications technologies. Many argue that it is better to plan your weather windows and be in a boat fast enough to narrow those windows, than to be in a relatively slow boat built for punishment.

As the economy nosedived in 2008, the added expense of a bulletproof blue water boat began to seem more significant. At the same time, sailing magazines abounded with stories of cruisers out there circling the globe on relatively light displacement production boats. Catalina’s booth at the sailboat show seemed to feature the words “blue water” on every sign, even displaying their “Hall of Fame:” profiles of sailors who have made significant passages or circumnavigations aboard Catalinas. The lure of the price of a used production boat became a siren.

The cost is nearly 50% less. Not only because the supposed quality is lower, but because the designs of these boats, many tailored to the charter trade, offered comparatively more space down below. Beamy to begin with, this beam extended further and further aft, beginning in the early nineties. Therefore, while a 36-foot Catalina would easily serve the cabin space needs of our family of four, a 38-foot Hans Christian would not make the cut.

By the time of the 2009 show, we were nearly resolved to buying a production racer-coastal cruiser, a bigger version of what we’d been out on before. Nearly resolved. Questions still lingered and I was determined to get answers from sources I trusted.

  • Liza Copeland and her family of 5 completed a multi-year circumnavigation aboard their 38-foot Beneteau, Bagheera. She’s written a few books about cruising with a family and each year she is there at the show, in the Beneteau booth. I asked her directly: “Is it less safe to go cruising in a production boat, such as the Beneteau, than in a comparatively more stout boat of a heavier displacement?” She was clear: absolutely not (not surprising, standing there in the Beneteau booth). She cited the speed factor as a safety imperative. She cited the ability to better predict weather windows. She cited the improvements in design and construction that obviated the need for heavy displacement, doubting the notion that a production boat (such as the Beneteau) is not physically prepared to take on the ocean.

  • George Day is the publisher of Blue Water Sailing magazine. In the 1980s, he and his family completed a circumnavigation aboard a Mason 43, a boat that probably straddles the line between the heaviest blue water boats and the performance cruising boats. It is stout and well-built. The Mason 43 was for a long time at the top of our list of boats we considered (see this post: He was gracious with his time and he and I chatted for about 20 minutes. His perspective was surprising. I acknowledged his circumnavigation and related our concerns about whether the cost of a stout boat like the Mason is money well spent. I asked him whether he would consider taking his family around the world again on a production racer-coastal cruiser. He said yes. He said that nearly all of the sailing he has done since his family sold Clover, crossing oceans and pounding in rough weather, was aboard light displacement boats. He emphasized that the most important factor is not the boat, but the sailor. He noted that any boat could be pushed too hard. But if you watch your weather windows and know not to push the boat past its limit when you do get stuck in the bad stuff, you will be fine. He said seamanship, up to a point, is more important than over-built construction.

  •  Steven Callahan and Alvah Simon are sailing luminaries. I got to hang out with them at an after-show reception Cruising World hosted for we consumer judges of the Boat of the Year contest (it was cool). Steven was single handing in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean when he estimates a whale struck his boat. It sank in minutes and he spent the next 66 days in a life raft. He wrote a best selling book about the adventure, a sailing classic, called Adrift. Alvah Simon, along with his wife Diana Simon aboard their boat Roger Henry, rounded Cape Horn and froze themselves in the ice over a long dark winter up north of 60 degrees. About this second adventure, Alvah wrote an outstanding account called North to the Night. I asked both men the same question I asked George and Liza. Surprisingly, both echoed George Day’s opinion. Steven seemed a bit more emphatic in his response (surprising, given his ordeal), while Alvah agreed, but was a bit more reserved. But both were unequivocal: if money is a factor, you will not go wrong setting sail in a production boat—even for a circumnavigation—so long as you practice good seamanship.

I didn’t talk to Lin and Larry Pardee. I didn’t talk to Dave and Jaja Martin. I didn’t talk to Beth Leonard and Evans Stargazer. I’m confident I would get a different answer from them (though George Day and Steven Callahan surprised me!).
I came home to share my new info with Windy. I think that we both felt more comfortable with our new lot in <the cruising> life. We were resolute, we told ourselves…Catalina here we come!
Windy began expressing doubts weeks later, about her ability to really be comfortable on a production coastal cruiser. I countered that many of those built in the early 1980s are not as thin skinned as some we’ve seen lately. (She reminded me that the first Del Viento was built in 1980). I kept on, advancing argument after argument, until I too became unconvinced. No doubt we could make it across the pond and around the globe in a production racer-coastal cruiser, many do, many will. But for the sake of peace of mind, we are both more settled by the notion of a heavier boat. Too, what we give up in performance, we gain in sea kindliness (comfort).
But now we were in situation of wanting more boat than we could afford. The Mason 43 remained our ideal. She was stout as heck and she had a sweet aft cabin that provided space, privacy, and a distinct bunk for each of the girls. She was bigger than we liked, but we knew we would learn to manage her. She had enough space to host overnight guests for periods of time. The cheapest one we’d ever seen was offered at $99K, located in the BVIs, and needing lots of work. Practically, we were going to have to spend $139K for a Mason and then put $20K into it, minimum.
When we launched our 5-year plan in 2006, our house was worth more money than it is today. Our investments were worth more money. $160K was something we could manage. In 2010, things look a lot different. Our timeline is unchanged, but our budget is not. Our decision to go with a production racer-coastal cruiser had helped a lot. But now…?
Today, my old dock mates from Ventura, California live in Washington state, having just finished a cruise last year aboard their Fantasia 35. They were thinking of selling; they wrote as much in their Christmas letter. Windy and I talked a lot about the Fantasia. We read about the Fantasia. We looked at the dozens of pictures on Don’s and Jim’s website. We decided that Dreamweaver represented a good opportunity to maybe get a solid, no nonsense cruising boat that we know is in excellent shape and that we could purchase without a broker involved, cutting costs for the seller. We made a complicated offer to our friends whereby we would begin making small monthly payments towards a $70K purchase price of the boat and they would keep and maintain the boat through the end of the year (one last summer hurrah). Starting January 1, 2011, we would begin paying slip fees and the amount of our monthly payment towards the purchase price would begin progressively increasing each month. When we finally sold our house in 2011, we would pay off the remaining balance.
Don and Jim thought about our sincere offer, but they were not ready to commit to selling. We were disappointed, but prepared to wait, as they gave us right of first refusal for when/if they do decide to sell.

We kept looking at boats. We had to be flexible. We had to look at the market with fresh eyes. Before we discovered the Mason 43 layout, we were resigned to having the girls share a v-berth. That consideration brings into view a lot of other boats. And maybe we couldn’t discount the ketch as we had. We didn’t really want a center cockpit, but maybe we could get used to it. (The Fantasia is a center cockpit boat in which the girls would have had to share the v-berth.) Maybe there are boats for sale not listed on…
On eBay we found one of the most beautiful boats ever designed: a Lord Nelson 41 (sistership pictured). Bidding was at $32K, four days remaining. I did a lot of research in a short period of time. The boat was owned by a Southern California boat yard going bankrupt. They had taken the boat in exchange for bills unpaid and had epoxied and awlgripped the hull. Outside she was beautiful. Inside she…could be brought back to life. She needed her wood decks cared for (not cored!) and the galley floor was “spongy.” There was not a single piece of gear or electronics on board. I talked to the yard owner. I talked to a broker who had once listed the boat. I got a copy of a year-old survey. I talked to that surveyor. I read everything I could about the LN41. We put a bid in: $41K. She eventually sold for closer to $50K.
Several weeks later, I noticed a Fuji 40 in Puerto Vallarta: $79,900. The boat looked good, and she was competitively priced (lowest of the three for sale worldwide). I’d first seen a Fuji 40 online in 2006 when we first began looking. There was one in Ventura, listed at $110K. I loved the boat. It was a mini-version of the Mason 43, but with an aft cabin every bit as large, greater headroom, and no teak decks. Hmmm.

A couple months passed and I noticed a relatively large price reduction on the Puerto Vallarta Fuji: $71,900. She was now in our range. It was mid-March, 2010.
Windy and I talked and looked and learned. We read everything we could and talked to three Fuji 40 owners here in the U.S. We loved the boat and decided we had to ensure the listing remained open until we were really ready to buy, fall or winter of 2010. How do we do this? Beyond hoping, we didn’t have a plan. We asked ourselves if we would regret this boat being bought before we could buy her. We acknowledged that all of the previous near-misses had been for the best. But I’d been looking closely at the market for years, and I hadn’t seen a boat of this quality and layout at this price. We decided we would regret not buying this boat, assuming she was everything we thought. Neither of us had ever been aboard a Fuji 40.
Fuji 40 Dream Catcher in Puerto Vallata's Paradise Village Marina
Del Viento as Dream Catcher in Paradise Village Marina, PV, Mexico
One of the benefits of buying a boat in Mexico is not paying sales tax. We considered this and considered the cost of a trip to look at her and the cost of maintaining a boat in Mexico for a year. We ran the numbers and made our best offer. The seller countered. We countered and reached an agreement: $64K including a dinghy and two outboards that had been excluded from the listing, and a spinnaker sail we didn’t know about.
Having been down there and having closed on this deal, Windy and I are convinced she is the right boat for us at the right price. We could have paid much less for a production racer-coastal cruiser, but we could have paid much more for a comparable (and in many ways inferior) “blue water” boat. Dream Catcher, as she is currently called, is the perfect boat for our family. And while our decision to buy a Fuji 40 may seem counter to the wisdom I gleaned at the 2009 Annapolis Sailboat Show, it is not. Rather, I took this away: any boat can be knowingly or unknowingly pushed too hard, and a stout boat is no insurance against poor seamanship. We’ll enjoy the relative comfort and peace of mind offered by the Fuji 40, but will not allow this comfort to induce complacency.
Spring 2011 cannot come soon enough.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Joint Venture Aboard

Our next cruising life will be different than our first by orders of magnitude.
  • The first time we cast off in our 20s on a 27-foot boat, this time we leave in our 40s on a 40-foot boat.
  • The first time we were alone and our romantic relationship was just beginning, this time we have two kids and we are married.
  • The first time our cruising adventure was a trip limited to 7 months, this time cruising is a lifestyle with an open time horizon.
  • The first time Internet cafes did not exist, this time we will likely carry a satellite phone.
  • The first time we left with no income and very little money, this time we...oh, no change there.
For me, the biggest difference will be our joint relationship to the boat and the life. When I "hired" Windy as my crew on the first trip, I'd spent the previous four years living aboard and preparing the boat and myself for the adventure. When Windy joined me, she'd only previously been aboard Del Viento for a day sail and it was not her home. She was competent, but deferred to me for every decision, there was no question which of us was both the owner and captain.
This time, I am eager for the new dynamic. I am eager to experience this next phase of our lives as equally vested partners and decision makers. (We've already agreed that in the case of decision making, where there are differences in opinion, the most conservative decision will stand. This is to say that Windy will be the final arbiter for all decisions.)
While we will each in this new life gravitate towards our own areas of expertise when it comes to allocating the workload, it is important to both of us that neither of us be incapable of managing the boat single handed. This will be a big distinction from the first cruising life and will require a determined effort by Windy to reach her own level of comfort in this regard. What will make it easier, and pleasurable, is that I will be learning alongside her.
Our Dickenson solid fuel heater
Our Dickenson solid fuel heater
I have very limited experience sailing such a comparatively large vessel, and I have never been in command of a boat over 30 feet (the difference between 30 and 40 feet is not factored linearly, but geometrically--much like how a 4.0-magnitude earthquake may not be felt by many, yet a 7.0-magnitude quake is likely to devastate a city). She and I will step aboard the next Del Viento on near-equal footing, and for that I am grateful.
While our shared ownership interest in the boat is a legal fact, the other day Windy moved one step ahead in her emotional ownership. She bought the heater we will need aboard when we venture north. It is a Dickinson Newport solid fuel fireplace that she bought used and that we will leave with her folks in San Francisco and install aboard Del Viento when we are there.
$200 poorer, and another step closer to our new life.


Friday, June 11, 2010


Frances and Honey
Nine years ago at the Washington Humane Society, I solemnly signed the adoption documents. Did we have any children? No. Allergies? No. Fenced yard? Yes. Can you afford the cost of pet ownership? Yes. Will you provide the animal with a "forever home?" Yes...
"Re-homing" is what the animal rescue people call it when you give your pet away to a good home, and over the next year we will re-home five times. It will be among the hardest things we do to prepare for boat life.

Honey was seven years old when we adopted her. An animal rescue guy who was checking on a dog our neighbor recently adopted told us about a great dog, middle aged, and well-trained. I don't think he actually said her time at the shelter was running low, but somehow it was obvious. The story was that she previously belonged to an enlisted man who was forced to give her up when he was deployed. We soon discovered she knew how to speak, roll over, and play dead. She knew the silent hand signals of advanced obedience training. We believed the military story. When "The Plan" was conceived Honey was twelve years old. She's a large dog and larger dogs tend to live shorter lives. This year she's sixteen.
Mit came from the New York Avenue shelter. We'd scanned the cards on each cage looking for old dates -- those next in line for euthanasia. But for Mike it was love at first sight. "Mittens" didn't have any, so Mit she was. Mit is a special cat. It took us some time to convince the girls that "you just don't do these things to animals," because they did, and Mit complied without complaint and seemed adore the girls even more with her kitty backpack on, and shades. Mit also has an affinity for large dogs, loud parties, and cereal with milk left unguarded on the dining room table.

Mit needed a friend (this was long before the girls were born) and we found Georgia at the Georgia Avenue shelter just down the road from our house. She was young but already had grown kittens in adjacent cages. Aloof and scrawny with humongous ears, Mike thought she was ugly. But there she was with a very compelling date on her card. She's still a bit mysterious, coming and going quietly and then unexpectedly settling into your lap. She's matured into a lovely cat, gentle and sleek with a loud motor.

Eleanor and Red
The chickens were a different story. We knew from the beginning that we would need to find them another home before long. Chickens are surprisingly cute and funny once you get to know them. As a chick, Mohawk resembled a punk-rocker and Georgia's markings resembled, well, Georgia the cat. They march into the coop at dusk without fail, and sleep until dawn when they awake quietly, or not, depending on who is laying, or not. They want to be inside, eating people food and sleeping on soft beds. They don't get to do this so they peer sideways longingly through the glass of the back door. Chickens are not a lot of work, but they do require diligent care and constant vigilance against predators (as we sadly experienced, R.I.P. Red). Re-homes for Mohawk and Georgia and their cute little wooden coop are a dime a dozen, but we'll need to be choosy to find a home where they are safe and well cared for. 
Re-homing ideas are brewing and over the next few months we'll start seriously weighing our options. We'll consider a timeline based on when we expect to put the house on the market, and especially, on impact on the girls and the animals. Generous offers have come from friends already. Placing our pets with people we know and trust -- people who can send pictures -- could help ease the transition for the girls, and simplify the vetting process. The plan is to include Eleanor and Frances as much as possible. I hope their sadness will be tempered a bit knowing we've all worked hard to find happy homes for our beloved pets. Finally, should she reach the ripe old age of seventeen, I've been scoping out a retirement home for Honey in a beautiful semi-rural location on Railroad Avenue, complete with enclosed yard and indoor-outdoor access though a doggie door just her size ; ).

We Are Boat Owners!

Prophetic fortune cookies?
"You will soon be crossing the great waters" and "Now is the time to try something new." A good sign, no? I know you are thinking "crossing the great waters" is a Chinese metaphor for death, but it's not.
Did I mention we are boat owners?!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Brokers and Jokers

One of the current themes running on the Bumfuzzle blog is a frustration with yacht brokers. Pat and Ally are incredulous following their dealings with brokers on both coasts: phone calls and emails not returned, a lack of knowledge about listed boats (and an unwillingness to pursue answers to buyer questions), and poor representations of listed boats (scant pictures and descriptions).
I’ve seen hundreds of examples of poor listings in the last few years, but I have no experience with bad brokers. (This is probably because I never contacted a broker representing a poor listing.) For this Fuji 40 purchase, the listing was very complete and the broker responsive. In fact, when I asked for a few specific additional pictures of the boat, they were posted to Yachtworld the next day. When I sent a list of 35 questions—most about the vessel’s history and performance—the broker worked with the buyer to get comprehensive answers within a few days.
When I bought the first Del Viento in 1993, the world was pre-internet and all of my broker interactions were face-to-face. The broker with whom I finally ended up doing business was awesome; she was very low-pressure and allowed me plenty of time aboard, alone, to check out the boat. I ended up living aboard in a slip adjacent to the brokerage for years, and I still maintain a friendship with the broker.

However...yacht insurance brokers seem to be a different breed. To date, my experience with yacht insurance brokers is poor, echoing the Bums current experience with yacht brokers. Aren’t we in a deep recession? These insurance brokers all seem to be mom and pop shops. Are they swamped with business? The companies I’ve contacted all advertise in Latitude 38, all claiming to insure cruising boats in Mexico. Yet, many of my emails requesting quotes go unanswered. Of the few who did initially respond, to request a copy of the survey and additional info, only a couple followed through with actual quotes. Of these, only one answered my follow-up questions.

It will be easy to choose an insurance broker.

It makes no sense.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Buyer in US, Seller in China, Broker in Italy, Boat in Mexico

Talk about globalization:
  • We live in Washington, D.C.
  • photo of globe by boliston and titled Swanage Giant Globe
    The folks selling us the Fuji 40 cruising boat left the US in 1996 to cruise Mexico before moving to Shanghai, where they will get their signatures for this transaction notarized Monday at a US consulate.
  • The broker is a US citizen living in Mexico, but coordinating this sale from Italy, where he is marrying an Italian national.
  • The escrow is with Marine Documentation Specialists in Annacortes, Washington, where we have been emailing our paperwork and wiring our money.
  • The boat is in Mexico, but documented in the US.
  • The seller offered to include a spinnakker sail with this boat; it is in Arizona.
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