Gulfshore Explorer

Gulfshore Explorer: Clear Sailing Ahead? Yeah, Right.

Despite a hot deal getting his 32-foot sailboat, the new owner all too often has a sinking feeling about the way forward.

BY March 13, 2019
Illustration by PUSHART

Sure, I’d perused website classifieds on and off for the past decade. I’d even gone to a boat auction when I first moved to Southwest Florida with the intention of buying something.

But one day not long ago, the internet gods placed before my eyes the boat section of eBay. And unlike other times, when I’d eye a vintage Chris-Craft Constellation motor yacht in California or a midsize Cheoy Lee trawler nestled in Annapolis, Maryland, I spotted an interesting boat just a few miles from my house. Even better, it was currently bidding at a ridiculously low price. Docked at the Fort Myers Yacht Basin, she had the classic lines of a Marlene Dietrich pantsuit and the sails of a Jimmy Durante handkerchief. She could take me around the world or, just as likely, take me for every last dime.

But, for that low price, what could go wrong?

We were all smiles on the day we sealed the deal. Aside from being covered in bird poop, an uncoiled garden hose, and a half-case of bottled water from Publix that had a pelican patina and a malaria aftertaste, she was a beaut. Equipped with a 30 horsepower diesel motor and enough flare guns to ensure a rescue from even the Bermuda Triangle, she had the smell of a thousand humid nights spent in close proximity of fish and motor oil. That’s the smell of the sea. It was also filled with cushions and bedding that had to go. But, once we cleaned her of all the junk and questionable cushions and things (called life preservers), she really was a stunner. Teak for as far as the eye could see. A little paint, some varnish and some new upholstery and she’d look like a prop from Mad Men.

Too bad she wouldn’t start.

I asked a neighbor who knows a thing or two about boats to come by the marina and see if he could work some magic. There was a good chance it was just a dead battery—or three. (The boat had three large batteries hidden in the floor.) We were able to get the boat started with a jumper, so I decided to splurge and replace all three batteries. Several hundred dollars later, the new batteries went in—and it still didn’t start. Turns out there was a fourth battery back near the engine that we didn’t know existed. If you’re looking for this month’s foreshadowing, there ya go.

I hired a local boat mechanic to replace the fluids and change the filters and the water pump impeller (that’s a thing) so that I could watch and learn. What I learned is that when a mechanic brings his teenage cousin as a helper, you should politely thank them and send them home. The cousin tightened a bolt holding the water pump to the point of breaking it off. I now needed to drill it out and replace it before ever changing its belt. Luckily, the seller assured me I had plenty of time to move the boat from the Yacht Basin to my home—10 days. Unfortunately, the Yacht Basin management didn’t agree. According to them, I had two days to move it or be charged a boatload (ha!).

So, I called another neighbor who knows a thing or two about boats. By now the boat was running just fine, and he gave it a thorough looking-over. I told him I had to get it home by the next day, and in true sailor fashion, he said, “Let’s just go now.” The next thing I know I’m throwing off lines and we are puttering up the Caloosahatchee River toward home. It sounded like the African Queen and moved like a melting glacier, but my smile was likely causing thousands in Botox and Juvéderm treatments. An hour later, about 500 feet from my dock, we discovered the water was just shy of the 4 feet 2 inches needed for the boat’s keel. Gosh dang it.

We, of course, did eventually get her home (during high tide). But nature has a way of making her true feelings known. And after I spent loads of sweat equity, scrubbing, sanding, painting and reupholstering, she was a vision of class. She may have moved up to a Greta Garbo level of style. We headed off to New York for a scheduled vacation secure in the knowledge that upon our return we’d be hitting the high seas in a beautiful piece of marine hardware, Champagne on ice, the occasional fishing pole offering the bounty of the Gulf.

But midway through our stay I got a phone call. Water was pouring out of my garage door and down the driveway into the street. That felt ominous. I sent a friend in to check it out. He had been there just days before to check on the boat before a forecasted storm blew through. He discovered that not only had our hot water heater failed, flooding the garage, but: The garage door opener no longer worked, the lights in the office no longer worked, and our internet was down. But (good news!) the boat was still floating.

We cut the trip short and returned home to a wet garage, no hot water and all the other issues mentioned above. But while scratching my head I also noticed that an extension cord I had the boat plugged into (to keep the batteries topped off) on the lanai was lying in the middle of the floor, unplugged. Weird. The outlet it was plugged into was blackened and dead. Like a detective I followed the cord outdoors and discovered it was frayed completely bare alongside the boat. But there was no way for it to rub against anything. It just sat on the aluminum toe rail, which runs around the entire boat. After climbing aboard, I discovered that most of the boat’s interior lights didn’t work, the bilge pump was shot, the navigation lights were out, the radio was dead and the refrigerator didn’t work. What kind of insane gremlins were let loose down here?

Two days later, I noticed the Committed sitting much farther back along the dock than she should. It was then I realized the most expensive domino effect I’ve ever had the misfortune to experience. The aforementioned storm was so strong it broke the bowline. That allowed the boat to slide down the dock enough to pull the extension cord into a piling, where it could rub against that aluminum toe rail. The rain then caused the exposed wires to arch against the aluminum, sending a surge of electricity through the boat, blowing out the lights, the fridge, the bilge pump, etc., and back to the house, where the office, lanai and garage door opener were all on one stupid breaker. The water heater was just bad luck.

That mother f@#$&*% rope.

Hey! I might be a sailor after all!

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