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.

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