What do the following words mean to you? “Professionally maintained for the last 40 years.” To me, they mean just what they say, and the implication is that a vessel with this description is one that has been cared for well. This is how Flying Gull was advertised in her Yachtworld listing. That may have been true when this boat was kept in Rochester, NY, but it’s not true now. That statement, among many others in the listing, proved to be false and thus our hearts are broken as we have to walk away from this boat that we both truly love.
I’d like to make the point here that we should have known that anything that looks too good to be true probably is. More’s the pity. Hindsight being the 20/20 vision that it is, there were clues. For instance, the new paint job on this boat is already beginning to bubble in a couple of small places. Then there was the paint on the bronze trim along the edge of the stern. Why would anyone leave paint all over a bronze piece like that? We had strong feelings about the quality of a paint job that was done in such a sloppy manner. What’s on the surface is often an indication of what’s underneath.
There was the owner’s story about the rigging and how two of the shrouds were installed backwards. And they had been that way for several years. The owner was not sure he wanted to put the boat to a test sail because of this rigging issue. He didn’t want to stress the rig. Excuse me? Again, why was this not fixed? We began to be very wary, but by this time, we were in too deep. We loved and wanted the boat. We had a shared vision of owning that boat and, after all, it’s an easy fix, right? We would have to get a rigger out there eventually, right? So we agreed to split the cost for a rigger to come out and take a look because not being able to sail a sailboat during the test sail? Well, you get the idea here. The good news is that the rigging is in excellent condition. It’s the one thing on the boat that is really, really good. The bad news is that there was no reason to have to hire a rigger just then, before we even owned the boat, since the shrouds were NOT backwards at all. We began to get seriously worried about what the survey might show but if things looked as good as the rigging, we’d be boat owners soon.
The test sail was a bit of a comedy of errors. True, this boat backs out like a dream, nice and straight. I was beginning to feel confidence. And I did like the way a heavier boat felt. But we never actually got to set all of the sails correctly. As a result, this boat didn’t want to tack. That’s right, we would get going a bit, then need to tack, and she just didn’t want to do it. Probably that’s because we couldn’t get up enough speed in the amount of space we had, and probably it’s also because she really needed to have the mizzen sail up along with a head sail. She was not balanced and the sails were definitely in too tight for the broad reach we should have been on. The surveyor was frustrated, and so were we. The owner, who, of course, wants to sell his boat, focused on how straight the boat tracks. And he was completely correct! She tracks straight and true. It’s turning that is the problem.
She also has a steering mechanism that is, apparently, old school stuff so it takes awhile for her to respond. We talked to the surveyor about this and he said it reminded him of an old schooner he’d worked on long ago. He thinks probably a little attention to the mechanism would fix the problem, but that’s yet another system we would have to inspect separately. Still, I loved the feel of the boat and that few minutes where she was actually at a decent heel and we were moving so smoothly through the water showed me what she could do. Also, I had no trouble raising the mainsail, which I was nervous about. With a longer winch handle I think it would have been even easier. I still loved the boat and I know she can sail. Sparkman and Stephens do not design boats that sail like tanks.
No, it was the survey that gave us our ‘come to Jesus’ moment. Or three. And it was painful, I can tell you. There is rot. And this means she has NOT been maintained. She has been left to sit while organisms have been left to grow. Some of the rot is not bad, and the Tony thought it could be easy to take care of. But the killer was the rot under the sole in the galley. Apparently you can put your hand through some of it. In a word: Bad. To fix this, the entire galley would have to be taken out, the sole removed, the beams replaced, and then everything put back in place. Such was my love of the boat that all I could think was ‘this will be a great way to redesign the galley the way we want it’. But Mike had other ideas and I could see that he was getting further and further from feeling good about this.
The other area of major concern is possible rot in the transom. This could sink the boat if not repaired. Tony was unable to get down into the area to really take a good look, but he photographed it and we can see why he is concerned. He’s a very experienced guy. If he’s worried, then so are we. There is already one place where there has been a repair on the transom. You’d think that a boat that had been ‘professionally maintained’ would not be in such a condition but it’s evident that some of this stuff has been there awhile. These things may happen quickly in the right conditions, but they do not happen overnight. They happen with neglect.
We know the masts were pulled a few years ago, painted and then reset. It’s nice to have a pretty paint job. But like too much makeup on an old face, a pretty paint job cannot hide the reality underneath. So when we discovered that the mizzen mast was hanging off the mast step by a considerable amount, we shouldn’t have been surprised.
Then there is the electrical. There are hot wires that are not connected well and are hazardous, and in one area of the boat the surveyor describes the electrical as a ‘rat’s nest’. And he’s right. It’s just not acceptable on any level, even though the electrical panels themselves are terrific. Only one of the exterior light works. The navigation lights were disconnected when the rigging was replaced and haven’t been reconnected since then. This boat was surely not listed as a ‘project’ boat, but it should have been. In addition there are three different electrical systems, all with different voltages. Just the thought of having to rewire the whole boat made Mike take some big steps back.
Finally there is that engine. It blew loads of white smoke the entire time. So much white smoke that when we crossed underneath one of the drawbridges, the bridgeman blew his whistle at us 5 times. He thought we must be on fire. Great. Allegedly this engine has been rebuilt, but we never saw any documentation of that. We would have to get an engine survey and, frankly, we just didn’t have the heart. On the plus side, the engine ran well and was very responsive. I do want to be fair.
The surveyor also had some concerns about taking this boat on blue water. His concerns were valid ones, but they were also things I think we could have addressed, such as installing hand holds on the cabin top and in the wheel house. He was concerned that the wheelhouse and the aft cabin, in particular, were spaces one wouldn’t want to fall across because they are large. He also had concern about the entry of the wheelhouse being on one side, worrying that in a knockdown situation on that side, the interior of the boat could be compromised. I think these things are to be kept in mind, but rather than give up the boat, I would look for solutions such as what we would need to do to protect that entry way, using a different way to enter the boat while at sea, etc.
At the end of the day, it seemed like the price we were prepared to pay for this boat was for a boat that had been well kept, not for a boat that had been neglected. As the projects began to mount, Mike and I were both pretty concerned about being able to handle all of the repairs that needed to be made. I admit Mike was more concerned than I was, but he is generally more practical by nature. And I knew he loved the boat, too. We always said we’d be prepared to walk away, regardless of the almost 2000$ we put into having her rigging looked at, having her surveyed, and hauled out. That’s cheap compared to what this has cost us emotionally.
We were divided as to whether to make another offer, much lower than the first, taking into consideration the amount of work that needed to be done. I had suggested we get an idea of how much these repairs that needed doing right away were going to cost, then make an offer based on that amount. But somehow, that didn’t happen and we ended up simply withdrawing our offer. When the reality of it hit, it was devastating. Why do boats mean so much? It’s flipping ridiculous sometimes.
Two days later I still have a hard time even thinking about it, much less seeing photos of Flying Gull. We got used to the idea of her being ‘ours’ before she really was, a mistake I will endeavor not to make in the future. I don’t want to think about her sitting there being neglected and going to rot when I know what a special boat she really is. Mike doesn’t want that, either. But we would literally have to be able to get her for about 20% of her listing price in order to be able to pay a shipwright to repair her hull, a mechanic to look at the engine, and a marine electrician to rewire her, because we don’t have the time to rebuild a boat to that degree ourselves. At least that’s what we think. I haven’t had the heart to call anyone to ask what these things would cost.
As long as she is still on the market I’m going to wonder if we have done the right thing. I know she would be a lot of work, and expensive to moor. And, of course, big boats cost more to haul out and all that. All boat owners are aware of that unless money is no object for them. But my heart does not care about those kinds of things. My heart just loves that boat. And that’s why it’s broken just now.
*Lyrics by Neil Young