It was fall 2014. Vicky and I had been sailing with the Liberty Sailing Club for 3 years, and “The Itch” had grown almost unbearable. My dreams of boat ownership and sailing off into the sunset were so close I could taste them.
We wrestled with options… do we just continue to sail with the club and save money for a fancier boat? Do we buy a smaller boat now, to take short trips on and save for a bigger boat for extended cruising?
Eventually we decided to go take a look at some boats that were easily affordable – basically something to daysail on the river, and take trips down the Chesapeake for a year or two while we saved for a larger/fancier boat. We could have just continued to sail the club boats, but neither of us are really racers and we wanted something more comfortable to simply “hang out on the water” on (i.e. a head/galley/berth – none of which the j/27s have!). We wanted something fairly small, simple and in relatively good shape (not a “fixer-upper”).
The first boat we looked at was a nice little Catalina 30 mk III. While it had some issues to be addressed, all were normal for a 20 year old boat and it was in excellent shape overall.
“But it would be crazy to buy the first boat we looked at”
we thought to ourselves. So for the next few months, we drove down to the Chesapeake weekly, looking at boats. Some were nice but out of our price range. Some were just kinda beat up. Eventually we were exhausted, when the owner of that cute little Catalina 30 emailed us – “Hey are you guys still interested in the boat”? He asked. In a fit of marginal insanity, we decided to make an offer – laughing at the fact that we just wasted months of time looking at boats and wound up making an offer on the first one we looked at. We settled on a price, pending a favorable survey.
Since we don’t have a car, we tried to limit the amount we needed to rent a car to drive down to the chesapeake – we decided that if the survey looked good we’d write the check and handle the purchase paperwork on the spot. My heart was pounding the entire time. I think it became “real” the minute she was hauled out of the water for examination. I had gone over her stem to stern on my own, but this was the “real survey”.
I took the surveyor aside afterwards, and he confirmed my conclusions – there were a few normal wear-and-tear issues to be addressed, but the boat was in good shape overall. Everything went into high gear after that. We handed over the check, and the owner signed over the title and bill of sale.
Elara was ours.
We took a one way rental down on Thursday, leaving Friday and Saturday open to address a few known issues before sailing her back Sunday. We needed to replace the stern light, figure out why the 12v outlets weren’t working and fix the head. This was the biggest issue for me as I had no intentions of spending several days on a boat without a working head. Technically it did work, however it leaked profusely when pumping, which kinda skeeved me out. I tried to get just replacement valves/pump gaskets at the local westmarine, but no luck. Given the time crunch, and the fact that they had the same model head on the shelf, I opted to just replace the entire head. Frankly it wasn’t all that much more expensive than buying a new pump assembly, and it was nice to have the newer model with the locking valve.
After a busy day of running back and forth to the ships store for little parts and such it was time to leave.
Although we were quite confident in the seaworthy-ness of our new boat, we still wanted to err on the side of caution. We planned to make short hops each day, and pull into a marina each night. That way if anything did go wrong, we’d have more resources available to address it immediately. We both felt strangely calm as we pulled away from the docks in Oxford, MD for our trip up the Chesapeake, through the C&D canal and up the Delaware river to Philly. The wind was pretty much right on our nose, so we didn’t get much sailing done the first day – mostly motoring. While Vicky had the helm, I kept going below to check on the engine, looking for signs for anything out of the ordinary.
Then I realized we were sinking.
Ok, to be fair, we were sinking *very slowly*… by which I mean that I noticed our stuffing box nut was too loose and was dripping rapidly enough that the drip-pan below the engine was quickly filling up with water. Now I know how to adjust a stuffing box, but the problem was I only had one pair of channel-locks or pliers big enough to get around the nut. I did my best to tighten it but the water was still coming in. Fortunately I found another pair of channel-locks from the P.O. in a locker, and was able to get the nut properly tightened. Crisis averted!
After that the trip was rather uneventful and quite enjoyable for the most part. Had some great wind, and with a favorable current/tide we found ourselves making over 8kts SOG at points! We made it through the C&D canal earlier than expected, and decided to spend the night in the Deleware City marina, rather than sail through the night and arrive in Philly in the dark. Unfortunately the forecast for the next day was quite nasty, with squalls and winds speeds in the upper 20s. However, between sailing in the dark vs. nasty weather, we opted for the nasty weather.
In the end it wasn’t that bad. We motor-sailed with just the jib out, our main only having one reef (we didn’t want to be over-canvassed). We got knocked around a bit in the squalls, and it wasn’t a “pleasant” sail to be fair, but we made it back to Philly. It was Vicky’s birthday, and quite a memorable one I’m sure. We made it into our slip, cracked the champagne, and just lay back in a combination of shock, excitement, and exhaustion.