Back in late October, Sam Boyle, chief big wig at SailNet, e-mailed us asking if we knew what the going rate for boat deliveries was. He and Cheryl were in the process of buying a 1977 Pearson 10 Meter, a 33-foot racer/cruiser sloop that was located in the Chesapeake Bay area. Not having the time to sail it home themselves to Charleston, SC, they got a trucking estimate that seemed exorbitantly high and so they had begun looking for other alternatives, such as a boat delivery crew.
Neither Larry nor I had any idea what delivery crews charge these days. As I was trying to think who we knew that would be able to help Sam out, Larry’s mind was taking a different turn. He turned to me with a mischievous look, “Want to deliver a boat, Sue?”
“Why not” I responded, not giving near enough consideration to that fact that it was going to be mid November and we'd be heading up to Chesapeake, leaving the warmer climes that I have become so much accustomed to. And if I’d known then that the boat had no bimini or dodger for protection from the elements, it may have been a much different answer.
Sam explained to us that this boat he and Cheryl were buying was to be SailNet’s new affordable project boat. Their extensive search had been for a boat that their family of four could use for coastal sailing around Charleston, SC, the occasional over-nighter, and be entered in some weekly beer can races. The purchase budget was under $30,000.
Three weeks later Larry and I were stepping aboard Sam and Cheryl’s new boat tied up at dock in the Sassafras River near the head of the Chesapeake Bay. We were impressed to find a beautiful and well maintained 26-year-old boat. Their purchase price was less than what it cost Larry and I just to refit our current cruising boat. Our initial impression was that they were getting a great deal and a lot of boat for the bucks. The cockpit looked big and comfortable and down below was a very livable space with a full functioning galley. The table in the main salon folded up onto the bulkhead, leaving a large open space that will be appreciated when Sam’s whole family or race crew is on board.
We awoke early the next morning and found Bill, the previous owner of the boat, standing on the dock with a puzzled look on his face. He hadn’t expected us to arrive until later that day and wanted to clean up some more as well as put a few more supplies on board. We’re not sure what he would have cleaned as everything already looked spotless to us, but we were pleased to meet him and have him show us all the boats systems. Once we left the Chesapeake Bay, our route south would remain entirely in the Intra-coastal Waterway, so we knew that we’d be doing our fair share of motoring. We decided not to leave the dock without extra fuel filters, belts for the engine, and a reserve supply of engine oil just in case. We were happy to see that these requirements of spares were already on board and nicely organized. It was very obvious to us how much Bill loved this boat and how hard it was for him to be selling it.
One of the things Bill brought to the boat that morning was an ancient-looking, old kerosene heater made in Iran that he offered us to take along to ward off the chill. We told him that we’d be fine without it, but he insisted he would never need it again, and that we probably would. Boy, was he right! Bill and his wife Kitty then took us to breakfast and showed us where to get groceries for our trip before saying goodbye. You just can’t beat sailors for nice people.
We shoved off later that afternoon wanting to get a few miles under our belt and at least make it to the mouth of the Sassafras River to anchor that night before heading down the Chesapeake. Leaving the dock in breathless conditions, we easily motored along at six to seven knots. The almost new 27HP Yanmar engine installed just two years prior was performing fabulously. As we made our way down the river, the sounds of honking geese echoed over the water and humongous flocks of small black birds painted the skies in an ever-changing pattern of geometric black dots.
Just before dusk that first night we tossed out the hook a mile from the mouth of the river. With a decidedly November nip in the air, it didn’t take us long to pull out that Kerosene heater. It sure did the trick.
No 600-some mile sailboat trip would be complete without a few surprises and challenges. This is true whether you set out on a luxuriously appointed yacht, or in our case, an affordable 33-footer. We hadn’t been underway for more than 15 minutes before we became totally engulfed in fog. With no radar on board, and being just about to enter the main shipping channel, we opted to wait out the fog in the safety of the mouth of the river.
The fog never really lifted for two days, but once we had a quarter-mile visibility, we decided to head out and dead reckon our way south. As the fog finally dissipated at the end of day two, the engine that so far had performed flawlessly in these zero-wind conditions began to lose power intermittently. A quick check of the Racor fuel filter showed that it was totally clogged with crud. When we reached for the spare filter, we discovered that what we thought before we left the dock to be a spare fuel filter turned out to be a drinking water filter, and we cursed ourselves for not checking more closely. As darkness surrounded, we limped into our overnight anchorage anxiously dodging fish traps and large commercial fishing boats and praying that the engine would not die completely at an inopportune moment.
Although the fog lasted for two days, the crew decided to head out and dead reckon their way south.
We had chosen this particular anchorage carefully in advance having heard on the radio that severe storms were forecast around midnight. With lots of swinging room in a protected cove, we set the anchor firmly then let out all the anchor line for maximum holding. It’s a good thing, because this storm swept through the area for the next 24 hours with a vengeance while spawning tornados close by. We holed up for the entire next day and night. This allowed us to look a little more closely for the spare fuel filter that we were sure Bill would have had on board, which this time we found and changed out for the old clogged one.
The following day the storms had gone and winds shifted to the north at 25 to 30 knots. Since our direction of travel was south, we decided to hoist the sails and have a go. We never thought it possible for a 33-foot monohull to do 11.5 knots, but that’s the speed we hit numerous times on our wild ride surfing down the waves of the Chesapeake Bay. What an exhilarating experience! Exhilarating, but cold. As I was down below one time heating up some hot chocolate, I looked out at Larry and thought that his clothing was more befitting an arctic expedition participant rather than a sailboat delivery crew. I couldn’t wait until we anchored again that night and could fire up the old heater for a while.
While working our way south in the Chesapeake Bay, it surprised us not to see another cruising boat anywhere. We were beginning to feel like we were the only southbound sailboat not yet in Florida or the islands. Just south of Norfolk, VA, though, we soon caught up with a few late stragglers with whom we commiserated about our late departure.
We had thought this delivery would take about three weeks, believing that most 33-foot sailboats travel around five to six knots. As we were averaging a full knot above that, we soon realized that if we put in really long days, we might not have to spend Thanksgiving alone on the boat feasting on a tin of canned chicken. With this thought in mind, we got underway every morning before light, and often dropped the hook after sunset.
Luckily our plan paid off as on the eve of Thanksgiving we were anchored just 30 miles north of Charleston. We pushed hard the next morning to reach our destination before dinner time without actually knowing that there was a dinner time, or that we would be lucky enough to be invited. While waiting for a draw bridge just north of Charleston, we yelled over to southbound cruiser and asked if asked if he could make a phone call for us. A very surprised Sam Boyle, who was not expecting us for a several more days, said he would meet us at Patriot’s Point Marina in an hour, and of course, invited us to Thanksgiving dinner. He didn’t know until reading this article that our plan included Thanksgiving dinner at his house all along.
We know that one of Sam and Cheryl’s goals in buying this new boat is to show that the sailboating experience can be had without having to mortgage your life and buy a gazillion-dollar boat with all the latest toys. We think they are going to be very happy with their choice. We had a great time, and never really missed having lots of extra gear or the extra space of our 46-foot Serengeti.
We cried out in glee each time the dolphins rode our wake, spotted a bald eagle perched high in a cedar tree, anticipated every sunrise and sunset, and marveled over how much we never tire of traveling on a boat, even on routes we have taken many times before.
Enjoy the new boat Sam and Cheryl, and thanks for the terrific Thanksgiving dinner!