Fall in Love with the Boat
Before a budget, before having a solid game plan, what did we do? We did exactly the opposite of what we should have done when deciding to commit to transitioning to the cruising lifestyle. We set out to fall in love with a boat.
Like other goals in my life up to that point, it is really hard for me to embrace big changes unless I can visualize what it will be like. I need a vision of what the outcome would be. I needed to be able to picture myself living on a boat...and not living in fear of shark attacks, flesh eating bacteria and rogue waves. My husband on the other hand could be happy in a 24 foot boat and a bucket as a head...which he actually did at one point.
Me, not so much. This is not to say that I’m a princess, trust me, I grew up in a log cabin in subzero temperatures without running water in electricity. We literally had an outhouse and I was chopping wood and heads of chickens for dinner at six years old. This is not a lie. Upward mobility after that point consisted of mobile home living and runned down apartment complexes in rough neighborhoods after my parents broke up. We lived on food stamps and donations at one point, as my mother put herself through school with two young kids.
But those days for me ended when I got myself into a good college and discovered a career where I could support myself and afford decent living conditions. Insert 30 more years of living here. While monetary belongings suddenly lacked meaning when we made this big sailing decision, I was comfortable in the dichotomy of wanting to simplify life and be self sufficient on a really kick ass boat with air conditioning. I’ve embraced the hypocrisy.
He was good trying to find a solid blue water used monohull, but I had grown accustomed to our little trips on ever bigger catamarans. Life on a catamaran just seemed so much more civilized and I figured look, "if you have a dream, go big or go home." Plus, we did agree that redundancy was good, there were other benefits of a catamaran, two engines in case one breaks for example and typically while multihulls don’t right themselves if they flip, they also don’t usually sink right away as with monohulls with big keels, which helped me in the fear category. We settled on a Cat as the dream boat and off we went to build a budget and a financial plan around the ideal scenario, at least we would end up being able to afford something decent. So we started with the end in mind.
So along with our take no prisoners approach to daydreaming, we convinced ourselves that by the time we bought a gently used boat and outfitted it with everything we wanted, it would about equal to buying a new boat. So, we decided to buy a new boat. When it comes to catamarans, there’s three games in town. (There are more of course, but we did want a production boat in order to easily get parts.) So for those boats there are three games in town; Lagoon, Leopard and Fountaine Pajot. Lagoon was at the top of our list for a while, the pictures in the brochures were starting to peel away from the cardstock with us massaging the photos after bad commute days in Silicon Valley.
But then Fountaine Pajot introduced their new 47’ model in 2017 and it had us both at hello. Well, the first CAD videos and pictures were a tease enough that we booked non-refundable tickets to the Annapolis Boat Show the second we heard there would be one there to see in real life - the first ever shown at any show in the US. Prior to the event we researched boat brokers who could sell us the boat - totally backwards I know. Again, our logic was to pick a broker that had a decent history with the boat builder and was stable enough to be around for warranty work. We made a few calls and set up appointments.
Let me set some context here before I move on. 2017 was not a great year and the best way to distract ourselves for the political drama that was unfolding was to constantly curate our Facebook feeds by joining sailing groups and blocking pretty much everything else. We replaced our daily dose of news with Warriors basketball and followed YouTube cruising vloggers religiously. I’m sure half my paycheck goes to these people on Patreon out of gratitude for keeping us inspired and happily distracted from the politics of the day. In our daily dose of social consumption (and I’ve long ago shut of my phone’s screen time counter), we happened to find a couple online who was about a year and a half away from picking up their sailboat, who lived just a few miles from us. One instant message later and we were on a hike with them talking about solar panels and debating whether Yanmars were really better than Volvo engines. Our world pretty much opened up after that...we met real life humans doing what we wanted to do!
The next time we saw them was in Annapolis, which turned into a productive trip since we ended up putting a deposit down for a boat, (which was sort of nuts actually). I have to clarify here though, we didn’t do it because there was pressure from the broker or because we were intoxicated by the new boat smell. We did it because we wanted to put pressure on ourselves to execute. We had also been spending quite a bit of time on financial planning, something I will cover in much more detail in a future episode. So putting this money down was in no way spontaneous as much as it was calculated and recalculated, and recalculated. We were at the point where we had to see the boat with our own two eyes and if we liked it, we had to just do it.
We walked on the boat and it was honestly love at first sight. To keep ourselves honest, we walked on every other boat at the show, but always came back to this one. There were much bigger and much more expensive boats, but this one was just right. The check went towards a place in line, versus towards an actual boat.
2017 was also a bad year for hurricanes. It leveled the BVIs, where we had been just months before on a bareboat charter. That area lost thousands of boats so owners were putting fresh deposits on new boats as they were awaiting their insurance settlements to clear. All the manufacturers saw a huge surge and were pushing delivery dates out as long as two years. These boat builders aren’t like large scale car manufacturers, they are more like family owned businesses, literally, Fountaine Pajot is owned and operated by a husband and wife team outside of La Rochelle France. By the way, we met Claire Fountaine at Annapolis who is a lovely woman and a badass sailor by anyone’s standards as a world champion racer. Sidenote, they sailed their 50 foot Cat from France to Annapolis that year for the show and I was dying to see how they had their boat set up. She explained, in French, that they like to keep it simple and live without any of the systems that most of us here would want to cram on it. Our broker was begging us not to look at it of course, because it wasn’t in his best interest. No big systems, no A/C and not even a bimini. We asked her why she didn’t even have a bimini and she smiled and said that when she needs shade when she’s sailing, she puts a hat on. And this is why I love French people!
Anyway, I will also cover the manufacturers tour in another blog as well. We got to see how the boats get built but suffice it to say...not a large scale operation. One boat comes out a week, one at a time. No big high tech process automation like what happens at Tesla, none of that. Each boat is in it’s own way custom because parts of the process involve handy work done by people with names like Jacques and Michele who have been doing it for years. So the down payment check buys you is the honor of getting a space in line.
That commitment on our part started the adventure of learning about how the boat industry works...more on this later and not at all anything I’ve ever experienced in my life.
We got back from the trip giddy and trying to explain to a very small circle of trusted friends why we put a down payment on a boat, for a delivery date that was unknown, for a boat we hadn’t up to this point sailed and a price that we didn’t yet fully understand.
You heard this right. The builder can’t commit on a boat price because the delivery is so far out, they don’t know what it will cost. We may not have passed the red faced test on that, but again, such is the boat adventure. You just have to kiss your expectations goodbye and either not tell people what you’re doing or be okay with getting weird looks when you try to talk about it with outsiders.
We also came back that week with a commissioning spreadsheet which to this day is the bain of our existence. It’s about a 300 row spreadsheet that outlines all the decisions you have to make about how you will spend your money and live your life. It’s not at all like buying a car where you basically say I want the sport package in blue. It involves whether or not you want this navigation system or that one...which one do you bet your life on when you are doing a passage at night through a landmine of atolls? It also sparks full feud potential like how important is air conditioning on a boat since that decision also means paying for an expensive generator...my husband’s perspective is that if Claire doesn’t need it, neither do I. And I’m like, dude...do you want to cuddle or not because my standard equipment comes with hot flashes. What kind of watermaker and how big, I don’t know, how much water will we use? How much water do we use now...blank stares. Moving on...do we need an icemaker? Seems like a luxury, except could be good to have chasing the sun for a few years. Do we need ANY of this?
So we finally separated the lists based on two categories, safety and comfort and started prioritizing the decisions that way. Liferaft check, sea anchors check, blue underwater lights...is that safety or comfort? Good to see what you are anchoring at night right...ya definitely safety?
We are still working through this list.
So anyone will tell you not to fall in love with the boat, certainly not a new one, but for us, this really made our financial goals much more tangible. We could create an ambitious budget and prioritize how we make decisions. What does this mean? Here’s some examples.
When your financial goals are really clear, it takes a lot of ambiguity out of decisions, like whether to change jobs, what to buy or how to invest. Today, sometimes I see a nice purse of fancy pair of shoes and I used to buy them. Now I ask myself, do I want that designer purse or do I want a a Rocna boat anchor? Do we need new landscaping this year in the yard, or should we save for an upgraded solar system? A new couch, or FlexTeak? New suit for a big presentation or a battery monitor? Saving money now is so much easier.
Not only that we can estimate maintenance and insurance costs, what it will cost to dock or store it on the hard, so I feel much more in control of our financial strategy and what it’s really going to take - without relying on what other cruisers say it costs them because everyone is different and every boat is different.
I’ll also say that I’m stoked. I’m super excited about living on that boat which sure takes the edge off when I study storm tactics in hurricane conditions. I have an amazing, specific dream to run to when every cell in my body is overwhelmed with life changing decisions or fear of the unknown.
Here’s the lesson I learned...it’s okay to fall in love the boat.
Falling in love with a boat keeps us focused and energized, so ask us later if that worked out or not once we cast off. But for now, it’s working for us when it comes to getting our butts on the boat in the first place.