It was a warm July night. Not warm enough for air-conditioning as is often the case on the South Coast of Massachusetts. All the windows were open and a sultry sweet breeze ruffled the curtains behind the big couch where I sat with my feet up, beer in hand, TV on. Johnny Gilbert announced “THIS—IS—JEOPARDY” over the familiar theme music. Could this be the night I outplay my wife? Not likely. She seemingly doesn’t pay attention then blurts out the correct answer in the form of a question. Sometimes from the other room. But, ever the optimist, I gave it my best shot.
“Let’s live on the boat.” she said. This surprised me. After completing The Great Loop in 2018 I thought the XO was through with boating. Oh, we’d go visit our boat Ginger Lee once in a while to sit on her aft deck and enjoy a sunny day, but nothing like pre-Loop when we would cruise every place we could get to in a reasonable amount of time. Hell, we knew every port west to Fishers Island, north to Gloucester, east to Provincetown, and south to Chatham. Nowadays I’d often go boating without my wife. Day trips to Sippican, Phinney’s harbor, Onset Bay, or maybe around Basset’s Island–I have way more free time to do this–but I miss the old days of long term cruising.
If you’ve ever looked for a boat online you know the listings are endless. One must narrow the parameters. Thankfully, the dealer websites have filters. I typed the words diesel and trawler into the appropriate boxes and, voila! My screen was filled with many possibilities, and thus I dove headlong into the inglorious world of boat porn. A term coined by the XO, mostly in fun, but still, with all the enticing words and detailed pictures, it’s as close to real smut as I’ve been in a long time. I spent hours salaciously flipping through attractive and tempting photographs. I looked at so many ads my eyes glazed over. Marine Trader, Monk, Grand Banks, De Fever, Albin. All good looking trawlers, but so similar you’d think they were made by the same company.
Trawlers are a specific type of boat. Webster’s dictionary describes them as “boats used in net fishing,” and they still are, but this style of boat was adapted for pleasure cruising, originally by conversion, then by purpose building with nicer interiors and no provision for commercial use. In a nutshell they are yachts that look like real fishing boats, have diesel engines, and go slow.
Dealer ads are made to be easy, you simply click on the vessel you like and up pops an email box where you enter your contact information and send it off. I did so with several choices. I imagined ravenous salespeople falling all over themselves to goad us into emptying our wallets. But no, I got nothing, nada, crickets. I returned to the dealer websites, got the phone numbers and dialed every one, but nobody answered the phone. I left messages to no avail. What the heck is going on? Am I doing this right? I needed professional advice, so once again I called my budzo Captain John Skerry–who is also looking for a bigger boat–and the same thing was happening to him.
“I left messages all over the place. How do they sell boats?” he asked.
“I have no idea,” I replied. “It’s like nobody’s home!”
A week later, out of the blue, early on a Sunday morning while I was tinkering around in my garage, I got a text message containing several pictures of a diesel engine.
“Who are you?” I texted back.
“You asked for info on this boat,” was the answer. “WHAT?” I thought to myself. “Out of all the boats I showed interest in, only one of the dealers decided to get back to me.” Ridiculous, I know, but there it is, contact.
The engine was in a boat the XO and I really liked. She was listed simply as a 46 foot long range trawler, and according to the ad, she was truly one of a kind. Built in Cape Town, South Africa by a company called KSJ International. The main engine, a Gardener 6LXB, is a well regarded British six cylinder diesel. They use them in those double decker busses so popular in London. It also has a Perkins diesel generator with its own transmission, shaft, and propeller so if the main engine fails you can make it home. If both engines fail, it has a sail!
Okay, we found a boat and have contact with a broker. Yay! But here’s the rub, she’s 850 miles away in Wilmington, North Carolina. It’s a long drive but it must be done. Used boats, like used cars, should be seen in person. You know what that means? Road trip!
After packing the car with snacks, water, music, and clothes, we kissed our cats Pete and Josie goodbye.
“Don’t kill each other,” I said as I locked the door.
It was great day for a road trip, sunny and warm, and I was feeling damn good. Our destination is Port City Marina in Wilmington, North Carolina. We won’t travel the 850 miles in one day. Nope, it’s way too far even for an old road dog like me. The plan is to drive until our brains turn to mush, find a motel, then rinse and repeat.
The traffic sucked.
“Where the hell could everybody be going? Why are you on my road?” I said aloud. Then it hit me. “Oh DUH! It’s a beautiful summer day. A weekend day. DOH!”
I was so psyched to check out this boat that I didn’t even consider that so many other people would on the road. I wished we had left earlier, but no matter, we’re quite comfortable in Pony Boy our Ford Mustang. We had the AC cranking, garage rock on the radio, and tasty snacks in plastic containers. Traffic? Pffft! Who cares? We’re going to North Carolina to check out a big-ass boat!
It was dusk when we rolled into Deltaville, VA. What little brains I had left were oozing out my ears, but we had made it two thirds of the way. The Country Suites Inn was a bit pricey but the room was very nice and had two TVs! The only food available was right next door. Hey, I’m okay with Wendy’s, but because of Covid it was drive-through only. Oh well, I forced myself back into the car. Ten minutes later I returned to the room with the booty. I had a double cheeseburger, large fries slathered with ketchup, and an ice cold Bud in a long neck bottle; a three course meal! The XO had a more nutritious Caesar salad with chicken.
Because of the pandemic, the free continental breakfast advertised on the motel website consisted of a bottle of water and a frozen Jimmie Dean sausage muffin that you are supposed to take back to your room and nuke. The coffee was serviceable but apparently Light Cream is forbidden past the New England border. We’re expected to use those thimble sized cups with the peel-off top. I’m not sure what’s in them, but it can’t be real cream because it doesn’t need to be refrigerated, and after I dump 20 of them into my coffee it’s still not to my liking. That’s why I smuggled in my own supply of light cream!
The Sun was ablaze when we arrived at the Port City Marina in Wilmington. It was so hot I had to change out of my black shirt. I grabbed a white one out of trunk and off we went to meet the boat and its owners.
They were a very nice older couple took great pride in their floating home and it showed. Everywhere we looked was neat and organized. I liked that about them. Sure, they knew we were coming and they scrubbed and put stuff away so it would look good to us potential buyers, but this is exactly what I do when I’m trying to sell something. I would never sell a car, boat, or anything without giving it a good cleaning. It says something positive about a person, and let’s face it, whenever you’re selling anything, you sell yourself first.
Living aboard a boat is the stuff of dreams for so very few, and for over ten years our hosts were among that special breed of boaters. They lived on their boat exclusively, in fact, they sold their house in order to buy this boat. Whatever happened to that dream? Somehow I feel the answer is intensely personal, and I’d rather not be burdened with what instinct tells me is a sad story, especially since it results in my happiness. But I would be negligent if I didn’t inquire.
“Why ya sellin’?” I asked after we agreed to buy, figuring it may negate the need for any dramatic response. The question hung there for a moment or two. Apparently my ploy worked, I simply nodded at the casual explanation offered and left it at that.