Thursday, December 10, 2015

How did this happen anyway?

Where does one start a blog?  Where else but at the beginning?  So here we go...

I'm often asked how two otherwise normal retired people, one of whom was a life-long sail-boater, ended up owning an old wooden power cruiser?  To most folks this might seem a crazy thing to do; after all, there are many opportunities to go boating without taking on the challenges of a boat nearly 80 years old.  But as I explain in the "About this blog" page, classic boat ownership is not at all crazy and can be a wonderful opportunity to enjoy and preserve a part of our maritime heritage.

It all started innocently enough with a Friday afternoon trip across Puget Sound on the Bainbridge Island ferry, normally not an unusual event for those of us living on the island.   As we were leaving the terminal in Seattle, Cindy and I noticed a long parade of boats in Elliot Bay, along with the local fire boat spouting huge streams of water -- obviously some sort of event.  As the parade got closer we realized these were all old, classic motor yachts, perhaps 20 or 30 of them.  And some looked old indeed, with plumb bows and very vertical lines.  Others clearly were more modern, but none newer than the 1950s. 
Bell Street Boat Parade

We had no way of knowing at the time that we had stumbled upon the largest gathering of classic motor yachts on the West Coast, and perhaps the largest anywhere:  The annual Bell Street Classic Rendezvous sponsored by the Classic Yacht Association.  After reading about the Rendezvous in the newspaper the next morning, we were on our way back across the Sound on the ferry for a visit.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

It turns out the boats we saw the day before were but a sampling of the ones in the Rendezvous.  There they were in Bell Harbor Marina!  In fact that was all there was in the marina that day -- more than 50 classic cruisers in all, and some dating from the 1920s.
Bell Street Rendezvous
We quickly learned that admission to this event was free to the public and than many of the boats were open for tours.  How could we resist?  We occasionally had seen boats like this in the past, but never so many in one place, and rarely in such good condition.  It didn't take long before we were talking to the owners, asking the obvious questions:  How did you get involved in this? And what does it take to own one of these?  As I mentioned on our website,, Cindy and I had been thinking about alternatives to our 31ft sailboat, but were having trouble envisioning ourselves in a modern fiberglass cruising trawler, the cruising boat of choice here in the Northwest.  We also learned that this Rendezvous was one of many held each year by the Classic Yacht Association (CYA).

We had such a great time that day that we decided we would attend another classic rendezvous if the chance came along.  Well, after visiting the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival later that summer, we were hooked.  We soon learned that these boats were relatively inexpensive to purchase, and that we probably could find a nice one for not much more than our sailboat was worth.  Off to talk to the yacht broker!  For the better part of a year we watched the listings for just the right boat:   Around 40ft overall, so we had room to take another couple cruising if we wished, and one with a single diesel engine (safe and economical).  And if possible we'd like a Stephens, which we knew was a quality builder. Well, a few boats came and went, but none were just right.  In May, 2007 we finally found several Stephens down in the San Francisco Bay Area, and arranged to see them.  From the listings none sounded just right, but we thought it would be useful to see them for future reference if nothing else.

As expected, one boat was in poor repair, and two other had other issues that disqualified them.  But there was still a boat up on the Napa River that still sounded interesting.  Except it had twin gasoline engines.  I had said many times I would never own a boat with inboard gasoline engines -- just too dangerous.  As it turned out, Compadre was just too nice a boat to turn down, gasoline engines or not.  Everything we were looking for; we would just learn to live with gasoline onboard.
Napa Valley Marina - May 2007:  Could this be the one?
In a few days we had finalized the deal and arranged for a survey.  Having never owned a wooden boat, let alone an old one, we didn't quite know what to expect.  Would she pass the survey?  What would the "to do" list look like (we knew there would be a list; just were hoping for nothing too dire).
Hauled out for the survey
As it turned out, the surveyor was a good one (selecting one is always a risk in an unfamiliar area), and he and I spent the entire day going from stem to stern.  In the end his list of "recommended" items totaled 52.  Being an experienced boat owner, just not a wooden boat owner, I knew that many of his listed items were easily fixed and were not serious.  In fact he thought Compadre was in remarkably good shape for her age, and with proper maintenance should give us many years of good service.  The last eight years have proven him correct -- we've had several medium-sized repair projects, but little more than we expected from the survey (more about those in later posts).

So that was it.  Done!  All we had to do was arrange for truck transport to Seattle and we would be classic boaters.  No problem... we had transported our sailboat from Chicago to Houston, and then later out to Seattle, so we know the drill.  Fortunately another classic Stephens owner in the Bay Area recommended an excellent trucker, and we were off. 
Arrival in Seattle
The trip to Seattle and launching went as planned.  And the sale of our sailboat was quick and easy.  We were classic boat owners, and off on a new adventure!
In we go -- Seattle 2007

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