Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Suddenly Sailing - From Sea to Sea

We're now moved aboard Blackthorn, a 32 foot (39 with bowsprit) gaff-rigged steel cutter. We share the pleasure with her dinghy, May. The whole process has been at times enthralling, terrifying, and involved a whole lot of waiting, paperwork, and money changing hands. Last I wrote, I was afraid to write anything too specific about the boat that had caught our eyes because there were so many maybes up in the air and I was worried that someone else would catch wind and buy it out from under us. 

We are now living on one of two (to my knowledge) Wylo II's currently located on the Pacific Coast of the Americas, more specifically in the Pacific Northwest.


Finding Blackthorn

After fruitlessly sifting through countless boat designs and surfacing nothing Sir-Approved, I took to googling. After a number of searches involving the words "steel", "gaff" and "sloop", I came across the Wylo II, designed by Nick Skeates (The boat is actually a cutter and not a sloop because it has a bowsprit and an extra sail up front, but I had no idea of that until fairly recently). I showed it to The Sir, and it piqued his interest. Given how things had been progressing, this was a major breakthrough. He dived in and researched, and researched, and researched some more, while I kept up my day job.

The boat was designed to be simple, sturdy, and capable of going just about anywhere. The designer had built the first Wylo II as a replacement after his first boat was run aground on a reef. He sold the design as a boat that could be built and maintained reasonably - a modern vessel with a classic appearance. All of this resonated with the Sir, and the more he read about Nick Skeates' design and the voyages of Wylo II's that had been built since, the more enthused he was about it. 

The first roadblock we hit was that very few Wylo II's had been built, and none of them were anywhere near Washington state. The only one we could find for sale was in the UK. That didn't stop me from scouring every yacht listing site I could find. Somewhere along the line, I stumbled across a yahoo group for Wylo II owners (and enthusiasts, it turns out). I asked to join the group and was added on shortly after. In the recently posted messages, I discovered that a couple from the UK had posted a few weeks earlier about their plan to sail their Wylo II back to the UK from Virginia early next year and sell it. 

So, we jumped on the opportunity and got in touch. Emails got eaten by spam filters and anxiety abounded, but we got in touch with Robin and Jackie and learned that they were not only incredibly kind and reasonable people, but that they were open to us learning more about their boat, Blackthorn, and making an educated decision on whether or not it would be a good fit for us. 

We sent every question that came to mind their way, always after doing some preliminary research to try and avoid sounding overly stupid. Initially, I was the primary composer of said emails, The Sir being a bit timid in dealing with strangers and I recently having come from a production job where an unfortunate amount of my time was tied up with writing concise and polite correspondence.

Logistically, things got very complicated. We needed to get over to see the boat before they planned on sailing it back to the UK. They wanted to continue their preparations for an Atlantic crossing so that they could proceed if we didn't decide to buy it. We needed to figure out how we'd get the boat home if we did buy it and coordinate around each other's obligations and the fact that they would not be back in Virginia with the boat until late March. We also needed to time our visit so that we could be present when it was surveyed - More on that in a bit. We spent a lot of time emailing back and forth, and eventually "met" them via a Skype call that happened to fall during the Seattle Boat Show. 

A quick aside about the Seattle Boat Show. 
We bought tickets to the boat show expecting that a lot of what we'd find wouldn't apply to us - we weren't rich yachties interested in the latest gadgets and technologies. No boat that they'd have at the show would be within our budget or likely even appeal to us. We did want to check out the seminars, though. There were quite a few interesting talks listed, including one about living without refrigeration, which turned out to be very applicable to our current day-to-day.

Robin and Jackie could do a skype call with us at a time that fell right in the middle of the boat show. They were traveling a lot, and due to the time zone difference, opetions were limited. Going home during the show to take the call would block out three seminars that we were interested in. So I wrote an email to the staff of the Seattle Boat Show, asking them if they could give me access to an ethernet cable and a quiet room for an hour. This is an enormous trade show with thousands of attendees. And really, they had no reason to accommodate us or give us any special treatment. But, they did. They gave us access to a little media cart on a balcony with an ethernet cable, and were just generally helpful and friendly. So, my deepest gratitude goes out to Katie Groseclose and her team at the Seattle Boat Show, who made a hugely positive impression on the two of us.

Needless to say, we got to meet Robin and Jackie via Skype for the first time, and it was an encouraging experience. The Sir and I were incredibly nervous and it was a huge relief to see that they were just another couple (actually, an extraordinary and inspirational couple) at a different stage in their lives. Throughout this whole process, all of the asking questions, doing research, and relying on the goodwill of others, it had continuously put us in a very vulnerable position. We were doing something big and risky, and while we were doing our best to make responsible decisions, there are countless ways that things could have gone wrong.

In April, we took an 11 day trip to Virginia. This was as much time as I could reasonably take off of work and still accommodate my other obligations. We spent our first few days getting to know Robin and Jackie better as we learned about the boat's different systems and some of the maintenance. During our time in Virginia, we slept aboard their incredibly cozy 60's tour bus at the yacht club, where the small membership was exclusively older men who'd occasionally wander over to chat with us young'uns. There was also a stalwart, lone Canadian goose whom Jackie had aptly christened Goosie No-Friends.

Blackthorn, sitting at her slip in Virginia.

Robin showing Zack the ropes... You see what I did there?

A proper rebel.

While in Virginia, we sailed up to Hampton and spent the night before returning. Shortly after, Blackthorn was hauled up out of the water at the boatyard next door and surveyed. Much like a house gets an inspection as part of the sales process, a boat is typically gone over by a surveyor. This identifies potential problems and is generally used to establish a value. Robin and Jackie had planned to have a survey prior to their Atlantic crossing, regardless, and so had sought out a very reputable steel boat surveyor. We watched as he went over Blackthorn, inside and out, inspecting every inch of the hull that he could gain access to - and the engine, the electrical systems, and so on. His examination revealed a number of minor issues, but fortunately, nothing critical. 


Blackthorn on a Travel Lift.


During the visit, we also began creating a "manual" for Blackthorn, photographing and documenting the boat systems in a google doc for our future reference. This is a living document that we're still updating. It's already proved its worth a few times, especially since there was a long period of downtime between us seeing Blackthorn over in Virginia and Blackthorn's eventual arrival in Seattle.

Needless to say, we were very happy with what we saw during our time in Virginia. The boat has character, and a soul. It isn't flawless, and it's not effortless to maintain, but it's a vessel that can cross an ocean (and has). And, of course, we'll be learning about it for years to come. Despite our inexperience, we earned Robin and Jackie's blessing - which we were quite concerned about. The couple had purchased the hull and transformed it from a steel form into a sailing vessel over the course of several years. It isn't an understatement to say that Blackthorn was, and in a sense, always will be, their baby.  Now, The Sir and I have assumed responsibility for her care and putting her to use doing what she was made to do. 

We decided to go ahead with buying Blackthorn, and had tentatively lined up Safe Harbor Haulers to transport her. There are, in fact, companies that specialize exclusively in trucking boats cross-country. They have busy schedules and aren't cheap, but they earn every penny they're paid. I can at least vouch that Eric did, as I watched him pull into the marina while completely insane Seattle drivers swerved around a fully loaded tractor trailer because they weren't willing to slow down for 30 seconds and allow him to finish his turn. 

Because of scheduling complications, Blackthorn's hauling was set for the end of June. Jackie and Robin offered to come to Seattle and help us get Blackthorn set back up and ready to sail again. We could not have found better unofficial sailing godparents. We had just under two months in Seattle to sort out insurance, and look into registration, and find a liveaboard slip, and iron out countless other things that required attention. 

Our unofficial sailing godparents.


We found a liveaboard slip by continually checking Shilshole Bay Marina's sublease listings. We ended up with a 50 foot slip through the end of September, even though we only needed 40 feet. Beggars can't be choosers, and it turned out to be a blessing when it came to putting Blackthorn back together. In fact, we are currently subletting the slip of the very first person to have a lease with the marina. He says he's been here over 40 years, and I have no reason to doubt him. 

Getting registration required jumping through a few hoops and was complicated by the fact that the boat had to be imported. The people at Ballard Licensing ( a private company that is licensed to perform DMV operations) were helpful, friendly, available at times outside the normal work day, and their office was actually staffed to handle their customers in a reasonable time-frame. Just sayin' - they handle car stuff, too.

Insurance was not simple. Being new to boat ownership, with limited experience and an a-typical boat, we contacted numerous companies and got declined by most. Many refused to offer us the type of insurance we requested. Our policy actually came together in the 11th hour, as the boat was making its way through downtown Seattle. Fortunately, the hauler had abundant coverage in place for the actual transporting of the boat.

The boat actually made its way from Virginia to Seattle very quickly. Five days: coast to coast, sea to sea. It turns out that due to Blackthorn's beam (width) being just under 11 feet, it could be hauled day and night with no restrictions. This was both impressive and slightly panic-inducing. Originally, we expected it to arrive on July 4th and be unloaded on July 5th. Instead, it showed up on Friday, July 1st, while Zack was out of town for work. So, I took a half day on Friday and headed up on to the marina. 

Approaching the boatyard...

And making the turn!

There was a fair amount of adrenaline in my system as I waited for the truck to come into view of the marina. It was hard to believe that this was really happening - our home had just crossed an entire continent and was rolling right past were I stood.

The process of unloading a boat from a truck was impressive to watch and thankfully, very uneventful. Blackthorn's mast had been lowered, taken off, and set alongside the hull on the trailer. An enormous, specialized device called a Travel Lift, which is basically a large square frame on wheels with two slings, was driven over the trailer. The slings were carefully positioned, then pulled up, lifting the boat up off the trailer. The operator then carefully drives the entire thing around (in this case, using a little RC control panel) and lowers the boat onto some wooden blocks. Some stabilizing stands are set up next to the hull, the slings are released, and voila, you have a boat on the hard. 

So, just under a year after our epiphany in Poulsbo, we now had a boat of our own. Granted, it was sitting in a boatyard, effectively naked, with its mast and boom on a saw-horse, but it was ours, and our adventure was about to get underway in earnest. 

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