The process of building, buying, or otherwise obtaining a cruising boat that will allow you to head off to distant lands can be a bit daunting. Even if you have the fiscal means, the steep learning curve of cruising and the tightly held habits of life ashore make it awkward if not difficult to take the plunge—especially if you’re unfamiliar with voyaging by sail. Then too, what if you’ve bought the wrong boat, and find yourself helming a vessel that you can’t quite get used to maneuvering in tight place? Or you find that a lack of waterline has crippled your speed? Or if the boat you buy turns out to be a lemon and the need for major repairs rears its ugly head as soon as you sign on the dotted line? If only there was a way to take a trial cruise on a trial boat. Ah! ‘chartering,’ you say. While chartering is a step in the trial direction, a week of sailing within the boundaries stipulated by a charter agency usually won't give a solid feel for the unfettered cruising life where you are free to roam to the locale of your choice. Well, you might like to know that for a few good friends, another option exists.
Consider the mutually beneficial arrangement that Seattle-based homeowners—30-something Eric and Karrie Sanderson—made with their good friends the Jay and Debbie Jones. The Sandersons, whose previous sailing experience included racing J/24s on Lake Washington and gunkholing in the San Juans on their own J/24 and some larger vessels, were leaning towards buying a cruising boat. Despite looking at a steady stream of mid-30-footers and enduring a cast of brokers who occupied successive weekends, the boat of their dreams never materialized. And while they grappled with pointing ability, headroom, and price on a number of vessels, they were treated to e-mail epistles in their cubicles at work written by longtime sailing friends Jay and Debbie on board their 1979 Dufour 31 Mirage, who had left Seattle bound for warmer climes.
The Sandersons visited the in Mexico and found great sailing along that coast. The trip was complete with frolicking dolphins, breaching whales, and visiting birds, to say nothing of the diverse life found ashore on the Mexican mainland. They returned, but not before realizing that the dream of cruising can become a reality. They knew that at some point, they would go cruising again, and they made plans to visit the Jones down the road.
After an itinerary that included El Salvador, Panama, the Panama Canal, and the San Blas Islands, the Jones turned north to Isla Providencia, Columbia, the Bay Islands of Honduras, Mexico, and then returned to the US a year and a half later, where they were married in Key West. Eventually, they made it as far as Wilmington, NC, where they put the boat went up on the hard.
So what do you do after you’ve sailed off into the sunset and back again? Transitioning back to the ‘real world’ offers no shortage of dilemmas and/or crises, especially if it involves selling the boat and moving ashore. In Jay Jones’ case, the calling was to go back to school. Debbie would also return to work, and eventually the boat would be shipped back to Seattle. "We offered Eric and Karrie the boat and at the time had no idea if we would end up back in Seattle," said Jones. "We really wanted them to have a chance to go cruising and we knew that we would not be using the boat much during the coming year. They then offered us the use of their house when we mentioned we might be heading back to Seattle."
|"We had all this time off, but never a day away. And I kept thinking that all of our friends and coworkers had visions of us drinking cocktails with umbrellas in them, and here I was covered with bottom paint!"|
And so the Sandersons set off to prep the boat for another eight months of cruising. The dream became a reality—complete with its attendant maintenance chores. "Jay gave us a detailed list of the status of Mirage and the things that needed to be done, could be done and might be nice to do," said Eric. " He also gave us a list of some the things they had learned along the way, boat and life related. It has proved very helpful." First there was a new coat of paint for the bottom of the boat. Then there was the dinghy to be repaired. Then the mechanic had to be consulted for valve adjustments, and the rigger for the rigging. The water tank sprung a leak and needed to be fixed. A bimini was commissioned, a new anchor bought, and a new rode spliced. "The first couple of weeks were a blur," Karrie said. "We had all this time off, but never a day away. And I kept thinking that all of our friends and coworkers had visions of us drinking cocktails with umbrellas in them, and here I was covered with bottom paint!"
"Stepping somewhat abruptly out of work life and into boating life is, I think, considerably different than working over a (usually long) period of time to prepare a boat and yourself for what is a distinct change in Back in Seattle, the Jones’ have now settled into the routine of life ashore, reveling in their expanded quarters. From time to time, Eric will call for advice on how to fix, upgrade, or modify whatever project is on the list at that time in an arrangement he likens to " having our own personal cruising consultants." The deal also presents the departing crew with an easy solution to what to do with things ashore. "When Eric and I had talked about cruising on our own boat, we were always faced with the dilemma of what to do with our house,"explained Karrie." We didn't want to sell it but would we rent it out? Where we would store all of our stuff? Which unsuspecting family member would we ask to be the landlords while we were away? With the boat/house swap with Jay and Debbie, they could move into the house as is. That took a lot of the work and worry out of planning and prep for the trip."
lifestyle and activity," continued Eric. "Even with familiarity with the boat and some experience to shape expectations, it's a bit of a shock and I would recommend making sure one gives themselves time to ease into things."
As the new crew settles in, the calls back to Jay and Debbie have become less frequent—especially since the cell phone went overboard last week near Cape Canaveral. While the Sanderson’s are paying the mortgage, they look at the experience they are having aboard Mirage as potentially life-changing. In their view, they're getting an education in the skills they’ll need when they finally do purchase the boat of their dreams.
Obviously, there is no shortage of conceivable pitfalls in this arrangement—it has the potential to test any friendship. "With anyone else we’d be skeptical," said Jones. "But since we’re good friends with them and comfortable about their boat-handing skills and we've sailed extensively with them, it’s not really an issue." The boat is insured, as is the house, and prior experience onboard has left Jay Jones confident about the couple sailing his vessel. "The deal was for them to treat it like it was theirs, including any expenses they wanted to put into it, or any items that were lost or needed to be replaced." The Sanderson-Jones swap runs for about eight months, and after that time the Jones will either sell the boat, or have it trucked back.
So, far they’re fairly sure they want to truck it back from a yet-to-be-agreed-on port, and although the space and comfort of a house is nice, they want to live aboard again.
The Price of Participation
While boat swapping presents the swapers a chance to get away from the boat and the swapees a chance to seamlessly integrate into the cruising lifestyle on a proven vessel, there are some upgrades that any boat will need. Here are some of the items the Sandersons purchased when they began their swap:
ABI Rode Rider $32.59 "After wrapping the rode around the keel in heavy currents and winds, we’re hoping the Rode Rider will keep the keel and rode separate, as well as provide extra holding power."
200 feet of NER 5/8-inch rode $0.62/foot or $124.00 "The time for a new rode had come. Little is worse than staying awake all night wondering if that spot with the chafe on it is rubbing the wrong way."
ICOM M1V Handheld $289.95 "Ask any powerboater what they dislike most about sailboats on the ICW, and it’s getting no answer in an overtaking situation. Handheld VHFs are great for communicating with them, bridge tenders, and friends on other boats in the anchorage."
Fujinon 7x50 $149.00 "The compass in these binoculars makes it easy to take bearings on markers and other navigational aids."
Ritchie Voyager Compass $86.29 "While the boat had a compass, this upgrade will make life in the cockpit a little easier."