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Buying a boat – a prairie perspective

I grew up on a farm in rural Alberta, 1000 km from the ocean. Most of what I knew of water came as snow. In fact there were three bodies of water I knew growing up: the creek I could jump across, the pond I could walk across in my rubber boots, and the dugout that was so big I had to walk for a minute to get around it. So when my family would vacation to the coast I was fascinated by the ocean. A few years ago I wanted get to Bergen from Oslo and instead of the 500 km trip by land, I took a night ferry to Denmark, then another one back up the Norwegian coast. The only thing that matches my curiosity for the ocean is my fear of it. I blame it on watching Jaws when I was too young, but as I’ve thought about it, I think it’s just that we don’t belong in it. But on it is another story. And that’s where this story begins…

Email exchange, August 5, 2013 with Manuel:
Manuel to me:
Subject: that boat
Content: link to a boat for sale, $2500.

(I thought boats were like cars and cost $20,000. The newer, reliable ones do, but like cars you can get an old one that still moves for much less. So suddenly it actually seemed possible to have a boat and explore the ocean.)

Me to Manuel:

Looks like the outboard motor is extra, and not cheap… But still! We should get it. I’m serious.

Manuel to me:

you can’t be serious!
let’s talk about it in the next break.

That boat sold to someone else and we got busy with life.  Six months later and on a similarly short exchange and a whole lot of whim, we bought a boat. Curiosity won.

Why have one boat when you can have two?

Fate recently brought us a wonderful bit of good luck. I was showing my friend Ed the boat when he mentioned that there was another Shark 24 for sale in James Bay that we might want to look at. Manuel and I were torn on the idea; sometimes ignorance is bliss. What if we found out the boat was a better deal and were struck with buyer’s remorse? Would we abandon the boat we’d already poured so much energy into for a younger, perkier model?

Luckily, she turned out to be not so perky. Curiosity got the best of Manuel. He went to have a look and learned the boat’s story in the process. Rather than a vibrant young woman he found an aged ex-model whose former glory had been stolen by years of smoking, resulting in an estranged husband and a tracheal tube.

Somehow there had been a fire. It sounds like a flare was the culprit. The boat’s former owner had tried to sell her but what fools want to buy a smoke damaged boat? (I can think of three…).  Fed up and disillusioned, the man left the country, abandoning the boat.  Now it was the marina’s problem. A problem that they were eager to see disappear. They offered to just give us the boat, but what the hell do we do with two boats? The thought occurred to us to strip it down and then have an unfortunate “accident” send her to the bottom, but me being both an environmentalist and an employee of the agency responsible for the safe navigation of Canadian waters, I thought that option not in my best professional interest. Eventually we agreed to pay a small sum of money to strip the hull of anything we wanted. To us, this would mean everything.

On an overcast Sunday afternoon in winter we met a French-Canadian down at the docks to exchange goods. All the essential elements of a shady deal were there. Manuel, Kris, and I then spent the next four hours stripping the boat of anything of value. We had now entered the marine chop-shop business, and I dare say we were good. Like Magpies, we were especially attracted to anything shiny. We’ve learned that stainless steel items, even just screws, are pricey. So is teak. We spent a lot of energy removing as much of the wood as possible.

While we were working away a guy came along who told us that he used to own the boat (prior to the estranged husband). People bond with boats. A romantic way of looking at it is that this bond forms over years of joyful memories. The reality is probably more like an old marriage where so much time, money, and energy has been spent on the other party that you’re left with a confusing mix of love and hate that you can’t imagine your life without. As he watched us ruthlessly dismantle his former vessel like a pack of Jawas from Star Wars, I wouldn’t be surprised if a tear rolled down this man’s cheek. He didn’t look happy.

The next day my wrists were sore from the amount of unscrewing and ratcheting I did, but by the time it got dark the boat was nothing but a hulk. It was like the Grinch had been there on Christmas night. Partially we were sad about what had become of this boat. It seemed to have rotten luck and it had finally met its very inglorious end. Kris made a good point though: it was like an organ donor. Its sacrifice meant that our boat could sail on.

We now have a rudder for our boat and, equally exciting, an entire second mast. The top pulley for the main halyard on ours is jammed, meaning we couldn’t hoist the mainsail. Our shrouds and stays are worn out and could break under strain. All these problems were now fixed thanks to our new mast, there’s just one problem: how do we move it? Getting it down was easy enough but strapping a 24 foot mast to the top of my VW Golf was anything but realistic. It would have to be carried. It took Manuel and I an hour to walk the mast from James Bay to its temporary home at Manuel’s. The journey was filled with strange looks and the occasional comment from passersby, the most common one being “that’s not something you see every day.” Half way along Kris delivered us some donuts, which for me was dinner and for Manuel was both lunch and dinner. I ate four in a row, Manuel had five, and I think neither of us is ashamed. It was a long day!



Walking the mast home

Building a new floor

The interior decking was in terrible shape. It was thin veneer sheets glued to a piece of plywood that had become water damaged and were peeling up. We wanted to make something more attractive and sturdy. I like the idea of reclaimed materials because it’s cheap, environmentally friendly, and it gives the boat more of a story, so I went looking for used flooring. I found a couple that were renovating their home in Oak Bay and had ripped out their oak floors. For a small amount of money I was able to get some beautiful boards from them.

Not only did we screw the boards down to cross braces but we also epoxied all the joints. This deck is strong! We are safe in the knowledge that if we ever want to transport an elephant with our boat, it won’t be the deck that breaks.

After sanding the old varnish off we oiled it using teak oil. There was a ridiculous amount of debate around teak oil vs polyurethane varnish. In the end we went with Manuel’s teak oil, and I must humbly admit that it turned out beautifully.

Here’s some pics from our wood working session to create a new floor board:

Our first day out on the boat

We were lucky to have great weather the weekend after we bought the boat so we packed up the outboard and went to take stock of our new purchase. All three of us were pleasantly surprised to find she was in better shape than we remembered. That being said, there’s so much work to be done.

There was a lot of water inside that we had to pump out. That sounds more concerning than it is, since we’re pretty certain it was fresh water. We weren’t about to taste it; I use the term “fresh” very loosely. The boat was left neglected at the mooring buoy for the last two years. The type of water that accumulates in the bilge over two years is not a pretty sight/smell. We ripped out the interior decking. It was made of cheap veneer planks over plywood and it was peeling up all over the place after being saturated for so long. I foolishly volunteered to take the discarded pieces. It was a gag-inducing drive home, even with the windows rolled down.

After wrestling the outboard onto its bracket we took the boat out for our first spin around the bay. The outboard performed amazingly well and this little boat turns on a dime!

The thought that goes into buying a boat (or the lack thereof) – by Kyle

Buying a boat is a curious thing. For me it could be broken down into a series of events over a few days.

Day 1. 

Me: No serious notions about owning a boat.

Day 2. 

Manuel:  “Hey I’m thinking about getting a boat and I’m looking for others that are interested. Want to come look at this one with me tomorrow?”

Rational Me:  “I don’t have time for this, but it wouldn’t hurt to look. If anything I can be moral support.”

Day 3.

Rational Me:  “Good God that boat needs a lot of work! I don’t have the time or money for this. Good luck to Manuel and Ben!”

Irrational Me:  “Well it was kind of cool…”

Day 4.

Irrational Me:  “It was cool, wasn’t it!? You’ve always wanted a sailboat. Maybe it’s time to fullfill that dream, and you like fixing stuff up. Think of the adventure! That’s it, I’m buying a boat!”

Rational Me:  *crickets chirping*

Day 5.

Irrational Me:  “Woohoo! I just bought a boat!”

Rational Me: “Hey sorry, I had to take some time off. I hope I didn’t miss anyth- Holy shit you bought a boat?! Are you crazy??”

Day 6.

Rational Me:  “Wow this is going to be a lot of work. It needs an anchor, a battery, new sheeting, … the deck is a mess… that part is broken… What idiot buys a boat with no rudder?!”

Irrational Me: “Wheeee!!”

… and so begins the chronicle of Me, Kyle, along with Ben and Manuel as we set out on an adventure to breathe new life into our yet-to-be-named Shark 24.