There to Here – Sea Fever, A Lesson Learned

The continuing story of our Journey From There to Here …

   Sea Fever  - Morgan Out Island 4l' Ketch

   Sea Fever - Morgan Out Island 4l' Ketch

After chartering for a couple of years, we were more enthused than ever about sailing. We couldn't wait to book our next charter, but we still hadn't made any decisions to sell up and sail off. We hadn't even discussed it. We were far from thoughts of retiring. We decided, however, that maybe it was time to buy our own boat and keep it in the Florida Keys. We'd read about putting boats into charter and thought this might be an option for having our cake and eating it, too. Under the supervision of a local manager, we could  put the boat into charter when we weren't there and then use it ourselves whenever we had the urge. This was a bad idea on so many levels. Thinking back, it just didn't make sense … but that certainly didn't stop us. Here's what we knew.

We lived in Colorado and our fledgling business required a minimum of 50-60 hours/week to maintain. The kids were teenagers and had a full social schedule that did not usually include us, but they certainly not be left to their own devices for long weekends and flying all of us to Key West regularly wasn't in the budget. We knew we didn't have much experience other than on charter boats, but hey, how different could it be?

What didn't we know? More than you (or we) could imagine. Moreover, we didn't know what we didn't know. Ain't that always the way? We didn't really realize that putting an older boat into charter with a so-so manager who only cared about his commission would leave the boat in a constant state of disrepair and thus, un-charterable. We found a manager in the Keys who suggested that we buy a Morgan Out Island 41 ketch. It was shoal draft, good for the Keys and easy to sail. We bought Sea Fever, a 1978 Morgan Out Island ketch, outfitted her per recommendation and sailed her once before turning her over to the manager. We ended up chartering her out three times and sailing her ourselves three times ... each time it cost us money. One charter blew out the mainsail in a blow. Another lost the dinghy, but claimed it was due to a chafed painter and the manager didn't argue. One charter evidently hit the dock on return to the marina, but the manager never noticed. We received a bill after each incident and on one occasion, the manager insisted that the charter fee be refunded, but charged us his commission anyway. Expensive venture!

We also didn't appreciate that getting to the Keys on a regular basis would be such a tedious process. When we were headed to the Keys for a 10-day vacation, it wasn't as important to get there in a hurry. It was okay to decompress a little along the way. However, with only a 3-4 day weekend , there was no time to gear down before it was time to leave again. An airline delay or heavy weekend traffic on A1A drove us nuts. 

Nothing like a leaky boat on a rainy day to                        curb your enthusiasm

Nothing like a leaky boat on a rainy day to                        curb your enthusiasm

And we didn't figure that weather would play such an important role in our enjoyment. Realistically, we understood the vagaries of weather, but when we were trying to talk each other into buying the boat, we fantasized that we'd always have great weather like in the Carib or on the limited Florida charters we'd taken. After planning a 4-day getaway to the Keys which required the better part of two days for travel, subsequent torrential downpours and a leaky boat would inevitably render our mini-vacation a bust. We were keyed up and grousing at each other all the time we were there, and then it was time to head back home again.

We really had limited practical boat experience when it came to knowing what we liked and didn't like in a boat or on a boat. The charter boats we'd sailed were usually Beneteaus or Jeanneaus and we were pretty sure we didn't want one of them. We'd read a lot, but we yielded to the the charter manager's recommendations. It was expedient and got us our own boat and into the charter business quickly enough, but it was a hasty, poorly derived decision. We were so anxious to own a boat, we let our better judgment fly out the window.

            The boat $$$ add up quickly

            The boat $$$ add up quickly

Additionally, we underestimated the “real” cost of owning a boat. The boat, insurance and marina fees were a given. Regular ongoing maintenance, expensive boat parts, tradesmen we didn't know whether to trust, electronics that went awry just because the boat sat unused for weeks at a time … none of this was in our initial budget. We hadn't yet learned about “boat dollars” … the conversion factor which renders everything marked “marine” to cost 3-10X the cost of similar items for land use. It's also important to note that “Nothing's ever easy on a boat”, our personal adage, confirming that Murphy (of Murphy's Law acclaim) will invariably be present whenever something needs to be repaired or installed. Even when David knew how to fix something, we were never around long enough to effect the repair, hence we were always at the mercy of unreliable and expensive tradesmen.

We found ourselves hurrying to get to the boat and then working all weekend to do regular maintenance, fix what was broken only to discover when we thought we'd head out for a sail that something else needed fixing. Then it was time to pack up to leave. We began to hate the whole experience. Not quite what we'd imagined. Still … on those few rare occasions that we did get to sail on our own boat, it was phenomenal.

Let's face it … we were suffering from a major case of naiveté and heavy-duty impatience. We had no idea what we wanted in a boat or whih boat best suited to “our” needs. We didn't know what gear we needed, where we wanted to go or how much it would cost. We had no real practical knowledge nor experience and the questions just kept mounting up. Back to the drawing board.

After 18 months, we sold Sea Fever … at a loss … and went back to chartering for awhile. A costly lesson, well-learned that provided us with more questions than answers. Is this something we might like to do sometime in the distant future? Sure … it's everyone's pipe dream. Sail off into the sunset and not have a care in the world. Sea Fever was an apt name for our first boat because we were so driven to buy a boat, we allowed it to overcome our good judgment and we made foolish mistakes. We forgot that careful planning and patience help to insure successful outcomes.

Watch for our continuing saga next Monday. In the meantime, if you missed earlier posts in our From There to Here series and want to catch up, just search There to Here our the blog page and the posts will all be available for your reading pleasure. We aim to please!