Only Love Can Break Your Heart*

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.

She is completely beautiful and worth taking care of.

She is completely beautiful and worth taking care of.

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. 20130423_125 (2)

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.

Part of the steering mechanism and the emergency tiller stub. This is the area Tony could not get to where he thinks there may be rot.

Part of the steering mechanism and the emergency tiller stub. This is the area Tony could not get to where he thinks there may be rot.

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.

Unfortunately the bowsprit, too, is rotten.

Unfortunately the bowsprit, too, is rotten.

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.20130423_91 (2)

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.

A favorite photo.

A favorite photo.













*Lyrics by Neil Young

38 thoughts on “Only Love Can Break Your Heart*

  1. Sorry for your disappointment but better now than later. She looks sweet but it sounds like the problems outweigh the glamour. We looked at many boats with interesting history and infinite possibilities but with impracticable problems. Some old boats just have to die.

  2. I’m so sorry to read this, boat buying heartbreak is awful, we felt your joy and hope and excitement and share your disappointment that she wasn’t everything she appeared to be. I totally understand why you walked away and we would’ve done the same thing, just too much work and some really worrying issues. Sounds like a bullet dodged.
    All I can say is that like all heartbreaks you’ll get over it, you’ll move on and find another boat that makes you fall in love again and next time it’ll be true love. Chin up!!

    • I just keep thinking that at the right price, we could have overcome so many of the obstacles. But, as you say, there will be others once we get over this one. She is truly one of a kind, though.

  3. Better heartbreak now than heartbreak later once you’re really connected. I saw you guys sniffing on that boat and my stomach turned flips just thinking about it. Knowing how much Sundowner costs us and how much work we’ve put into her, I find it almost impossible to imagine the upkeep of a boat that size and a wooden hull to boot.

    One thing I do know is that anything you own outright paid off and in good working order is always easier to enjoy. Flying Gull would have taken a long time to get to that state.

    The right boat is out there. Hang in there. Sell Moonrise. Buy a different boat you love, and go cruising. Its often easy to let our hearts rule, but my favorite saying is this, “Let your heart tell you where to go, but let your brain tell you how to get there.” Often times if you let your logical side make all the choices on a grand arch towards a goal, you’ll find the two meet up at seemingly impossible odds and you find peace.

    • You make a good point, Tate. I knew you knew we were ‘sniffing’ around this boat! It’s hard to put everything about a boat in one post, or even three. This boat does have a wooden hull, but the hull is protected on the outside by fiberglass. It’s the neglect on the inside that caused the problem, and I know it’s there because of inattention. It could easily have been prevented. If we could have bought her for a song and a dance, we would have paid cash for her and then proceeded slowly with the refit. After wood repairs, she is ready to sail locally, per the surveyor. We have 4 years to get a boat ready. But we do want to be smart about ‘how we get there. I like your saying.

  4. I am just so sad for you. I know how much you loved this boat but at the end of the day a boat that can not transport you safely over the water is no boat at all. I am sorry. I am sad. I will be excited and happy when you DO find the right boat and really, is there anything more fun than searching for the right boat?

    Hopefully a very wealthy 20 year old will buy Flying Gull and save her. As for you, well I gotta say I saw a few Hinckley Bermuda’s you would look really, really cute on. 😉

    • We do have a number of healthy young millionaire types here since we have Microsoft. Don’t know why one hasn’t bought her.
      Yes, we do love looking at boats so I hope we will get back to enjoying that. I have to wait until one of them can even hold a candle to Flying Gull. Really. I’ll take a look at those Hinckley Bermudas of which you speak. Who knows?

  5. Oh man Melissa and Mike, this is awful news! Thank goodness you got a survey. I know you really fell for this boat, but those survey results are scary as heck to me. I would walk away and not look back. You will undoubtably find a bunch of things that need to be fixed that the survey won’t identify. It’s hard when you fall for something hard like this, but there has got to be a better boat in better shape somewhere else for the amount of money you are willing to pour into Flying Gull.

    If we ever get another boat it will be the best one we can afford with as little that needs to be redone as possible. You actually do want to get out there and cruise!! Not spend years and years, and energy and blood, sweat and tears on “hopefully” getting Flying Gull up to snuff.

    Goodluck to you. I know this time will be hard.

    • Thanks, Dani. Yes, it’s particularly hard because we know where she is and that there isn’t anyone else interested right now. We didn’t exactly run away, more of a slow walk with a lot of backwards glances. You know the kind. Problem is we are the kind who take on projects and make them great. We’ve done two houses like that. Our house was so much a fixer when we bought it you wouldn’t believe it. It’s in our blood. hard to fight that.

        • I’ll bet you can! I have to admit life can be just a little boring when I don’t have some project or another to work on. I was actually looking forward to tackling that boat, but, again, I know MIke would have done most of the ‘heavy lifting’. So that’s not quite fair. Still….we both wonder.

  6. ” 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.”

    You probably will. We all do. That’s the nature of boats.

  7. I’m sorry, Melissa. Sounds like just too many things stacked up. I know it must be so hard to walk away. You WILL find the boat of your dreams. And you gotta admit, looking is kind of fun…

    • Oh yes, looking is fun. That’s why I do the boat reviews. By the way, those are now featured on ThreeSheetsNW. I put them on our blog after they’ve been published there. So I’m still having fun looking at boats, even boats I am not remotely interested in buying. Of course, that’s how it started with Flying Gull…

  8. So sorry, Melissa and Mike! She’s a beauty, but it’s better to find out now than later. Just with the electrical alone, you’re looking at an ungodly sum of cash if you hired a professional, and to do all that work yourself would take forever.

    Looking back on it, one of the best decisions we made was buying a boat that didn’t need a ton of work. We found a couple others that we loved but the amount of work they needed would have meant we would still be at the dock. Not to mention the money we saved. Still, it hurts.

    Here’s to happier boat hunting in your future!

    • Thanks! I’m glad you and Bettie are out enjoying the sun, air, and wind! Love keeping up with your adventures, and especially the animal photos. Keep it up!

  9. So sorry to hear this, I was so hoping she would be the perfect one for you. 🙁
    I understand about wanting projects, but one thing about this-if you didn’t get to something on your house right away, the chances that it would actually have a structural failure and drown you miles away from land and help are pretty low. OK, sure, houses can have structural, electrical, etc issues of course, but there is sort of a degree of significance involved here that you can’t get “wrong”, so to speak.
    It sounds to me like the owner doesn’t have the funds to take care of her properly and may truly be in a bit deep. For your purposes, you don’t want to buy from an owner like that anyway-what else don’t you know yet??? Could be more. If she has historical significance, maybe Wooden Boat should take her on…

    The only thing else I want to add that no one else has said is that I hope this boat “near-miss” will have you re-evaluating what you thought you wanted. This boat is wildly different than all the boats you looked at that you kept feeling weren’t quite right. What about it made this one feel right-interior layout, wheelhouse cabin, woodwork, size, age? What could you look for in other boats? (I do wish you’d just quit looking at stuff smaller than 40′. Have you ever watched youtube videos of rogue waves??? Seriously. 😉 )

    • You are right on all points, Sue. One reason some people don’t like wooden boats is that you simply have to maintain their structure or bad things can happen. On a fiberglass boat there is more forgiveness in this area. But frankly, I know we would never take an unsafe boat out to sea. So any boat that has a problem in that area is going to be repaired before we leave. As to your other point, funny you should bring it up, but I will be doing a blog post about what we learned about what we really want, and where we differ on that, in the coming week. This was an honest to goodness learning experience in that area, and it has definitely tweaked the kind of boat I’m looking for quite a bit.
      Now, as to the rogue waves, I don’t worry too much about what I have no control over. i’m probably more likely to be in a car accident on I-5, knock on wood. But yes, the size of the boat is something I’m reconsidering a lot! 🙂

      • Actually, I HAVE found a reasonably foolproof, low-anxiety way of dealing with rogue waves . It’s called “Land”….(still working on the “tsunami” defense. Guess I’ll deal with that when the time comes… 😉 )) Seriously, I’ve got a tiny bit of a water phobia. Don’t like swimming in anything I can’t see the bottom of. I’m fine on boats mostly-have enjoyed lovely trips on various cabin cruisers, day sailers, even a kayak in the San Juans, and at one point was even learning to control my FIL’ 30ft ChrisCraft, but the idea of giant waves gives me the chills…

        And I’m sorry-I have no doubt you would make sure everything was as safe and repaired as possible before you went to sea, I guess it’s the feeling of neglect and mishandling of her that has me nervous about unknowns and the challenges of dealing with them at sea. And to be perfectly honest , while it’s really not at all my place to feel this way, I am just the slightest bit angry at a boat owner who could let such a beautiful boat like that down like this. Maybe it’s carryover from the last years with the previous owner, maybe it’s this one, but it does make me a bit sad for her. She deserves better…
        Anyway, will look forward to your next post! 🙂

        • Oh Sue, you better watch out because with an emotional response like that to this boat, you are in danger of becoming a boat lover! We were, to put it mildly, perturbed, about the condition of things underneath the pretty exterior, too. This boat absolutely does deserve better than that. But I’m not even going to get started! Let’s just say we’re on the same page about that.
          Going to sea is not for everyone, that’s certain. At this point, we love the IDEA of it, and we think we will like the reality. But we also know that there will be times that we are going to wish we’d never even thought of it and were back home in our cozy beds. We’ve never yet been in a storm, for instance. Our greatest life project, our kids, are pretty much grown. Andrew will be 21 on Sunday. What else is there for us to do except have another kind of adventure? If I get scared, I’ll just have to figure it out. So keep reading! You can live at sea vicariously and safely from your land base, along with most of the other sane people in the world 🙂

  10. hi guys, you might feel inclined to read into this blog:
    and upon reading that, you might want to look at this boat:
    kind regards, M
    P.S. I‘d rather stay incognito here, as i do not want to be googled out by anybody, i hope you do not feel offended.

    • Hi ‘incognito’. No worries about posting without ID. We don’t mind. I think this family may be a member of the cruising club in Seattle that we belong to but rarely get to participate in because of the distance and traffic. I’ve seen their blog and I love that boat. It’s just beautiful. If we sold our house today, perhaps we could afford to buy a boat like the one listed on Yachtworld. But, alas, unless we come into money somehow it’s pretty far out of our price range. Beautiful, though. I think it doesn’t get much better than that.

  11. …what abou this one?

    Its a buyers market anyway, plenty of boats around, your offer can easily be 20% or even 30% lower with every chance of success.

    Buy the largest boat in the best condition you can afford. A full refit is EXTREMELY expensive and can be very frustrating, especially if you are underfunded.

    My wife and i have sailed around the world a few years back in a 1976 Swan 47, a fantastic boat, fast seaworthy, beautiful and worth every penny and every hour we worked to refit her. We intended to buy a smaller boat to begin with, but never regretted the larger choice. We plan to go again, as soon as we can afford to quit our jobs for good and live from renting out some real estate, some 4 years away or so. Have you seen ? Best regards, M

    • You know, it’s rare to find someone who admits that buying the largest boat you can afford, in the best condition you can find, is the right thing to do. I’d like to find a boat that will continue to serve us for years after we get back, and I know that I’ll enjoy being on a larger boat more, in the end, than on a small one, in spite of the fact that small boats are cheaper. So we’ll do our best to take that advice. And put the Stephens 47 on our list of possibilities. And I will check out the blog! Thanks for that link.

    • Just checked out that blog and will forward that link to both our kids. Our daughter is making the leap into living ‘on the margin’ and our son is still in college. We don’t want them to think they have to live like their parents and grandparents did. Freedom is about having the time to enjoy the life you have. That’s the new ‘rich’, I guess. We have 4 more years to retirement, unless we get smart and do it earlier. That blog will take awhile to fully explore. Many thanks.

  12. Buy the largest boat in the best condition you can afford! BUT only if you intend to live onboard LONGTERM. Otherwise, if you plan for a short cruise of say 3 years, sail away with little Moonrise, keep your beautiful home and rent it out to have an income. We‘ve met people safely navigating the worlds oceans on Albin Vega 27s, or crossing the Atlantic in a J-24. Imho it makes no sense to own a home ashore, and keep a big boat, at least when you are DIYing everything.
    When we came back from our cruise, we moved back into our beautiful townhouse with romantic garden in a vibrant metropolis in Europe. That was 3 years ago, and now we are CRAVING to sell up, get rid of all the unnecessary stuff, and move back onto the boat. Home is where the heart is, and our heart is with our boat. Our 3 years cruising have been the most important and most beautiful time in our lives, and now we are determined to get that life back, and keep it this time . Once we get old and tired, we might consider a last home ashore, but then again, what is old? We have met many “old” cruisers, 70+, happy as ever onboard, and still going strong. By the way, thanks for writing back all the time, much appreciated. I started reading your blog, because you seem to be in similar schedule, 4 years or so. Far to long a preplanning, some people say, but we can not do it differently in responsible manner. When you came up wit the ‘Gull‘ i read on with sort of a morbid fascination, admiring your determination to tackle this beautiful monster. I know it can be done, but at what cost? I think you‘ll do the right thing to stay away from wood (and steel that is). We put so much work in our old grp boat (one day work = one day sailing, technical issues mostly), that i‘d hate to even think about additional structural (hull) issues. Best regards, and keep the good work up, M

    • LOL! We looked on ourselves with ‘morbid fascination’, too, when we got ‘engaged’ to Flying Gull! That’s funny. The worst part is that I still love that boat. Oh well. Heads rule, sometimes. If we didn’t have the current expense of living in our home, we probably would have bought her anyhow, in spite of her needed repairs.
      We are hoping that we can live aboard for several years, in fact that’s part of the overall plan and probably the only way that we will be able to emotionally disengage from the home will be to have a boat large enough to accommodate living on easily. I know lots of people live on small boats, and they cross oceans in small boat, but I’m not ‘lots of people’. I know I would not be happy living aboard a small boat. Might as well know that and admit it now. Maybe 25 years ago I would have been up for that, but not now. I would love to live aboard a boat like Flying Gull and just cruise around this area, or up the inside passage, for years. I could easily see myself doing it. So part of the attraction to her was that she would have been awesome for around here, and we could live aboard easily. We would rent out our home, and then make a decision about selling it at a later date when we are less attached to it. Problem with us is that we are ‘project’ people. And when you engage in making a proverbial ‘silk purse out of a sow’s ear’, you get attached to that thing, whether it be houses or boats. So our home, which is in a place we don’t really want to retire, is one of those things we are attached to but need to disengage from. A nice boat for living aboard would be a good way to do it, and we are in a good location for high priced rentals, so it would likely be a good financial move as well. We have a friend who owns a property management business that caters to military officers, and there are a lot of those around here. He could manage the property for us. So that’s the direction we’re headed. It would help if Moonrise would get sold.
      Your comments are very helpful in our process. Thanks so much for sharing. If you there is ever information you thing would be useful to us but don’t want shared publicly, there is a contact form on the ‘who are we’ page.

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  14. Wow, that would have been a project boat. What we realized with the Skye 51 you budget your refit costs then times it by 10!!!! Adding months to your deadline. What we’ve learnt is to never buy a “fixer-upper” even a turn key boat needs a lot of work. She was a beautiful boat but I bet your happy you didn’t go down that road. Yikes!

    • Yes, we are pretty happy with our current choice. If we were 25 years younger and had unlimited funds and abilities, then maybe this boat would have been perfect. Still, she was a heart breaker.

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