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Searching for Ms. Right

2020 September 1

Patience and perseverance pays off for a young couple’s quest for the perfect boat

My wife Vivian and I spent years looking for a sailboat to call home. Nomads by nature, twice selling or giving away nearly all of our possessions to go on extended adventures the thought of buying a house tying us to one place sounded like the dreariest thing we could do. We have been professional sailors for nearly five years, love life on the water and have a hard time imagining being land based. But what boat would be the perfect one?

The author prepares to get Ultima underway on a cold December day in North Carolina’s Alligator River.
Vivian Vuong photo

Consuming all the sailing books we could get our hands on from Joshua Slocum to John Kretschmer convinced us that a fin keel and a rudder on a skeg was the ideal underbody to provide us with a decent turn of speed, strength, stability and a seakindly motion. During our search, our idea of a perfect boat varied and I like to think that our criteria evolved to meet our current needs. We often went back and forth on size, alternating our desires for a small ship, inexpensive to maintain and moor, and the dream of having a boat big enough to make money running charters and training passages. We knew without a doubt no matter the size our boat would have to be a true bluewater passagemaker, something we could sail anywhere in the world. 

Our budget limited us in terms of size and eliminated some makes altogether. Luckily, there is a plethora of well-designed boats from the late 1970s and early 1980s on the market that are heartily constructed, sailing machines often well-loved and far traveled for most of their lives. These boats, especially the recently neglected ones, are usually affordable after careful negotiation with their loving, but now shorebound owners. For a fraction of the price of a brand-new boat, one can buy a world class bluewater cruiser as long as they are willing to invest time and effort. 

The author and his wife Vivian are all smiles aboard their perfect boat. 
In early 2015, we were living aboard our 37-foot Irwin sloop Hobo Chic with two close friends, sailing on the weekends and refitting the boat. Hobo Chic had been purchased as a compromise between four people and was not our ideal bluewater boat, but was well built, and quick to forgive our novice sailing mistakes. She provided us a wealth of knowledge in sailing, boat system repair and maintenance. After two years of living aboard a small boat with four people we reached the decision to follow our own paths. Hobo Chic, which was in much better shape than when we bought her, quickly sold for thousands more than we paid. I can’t say we made money after all the materials and labor put into her, but what she offered us in experience sailing, refitting and boat ownership was invaluable and we were happy to take the first offer. 

After combing local listings for sailboats in south Florida, we set off with a list. We started with an Ericson 36C in Fort Pierce, an interesting classic boat, with a decent layout, but the older style wasn’t exactly our idea of a beautiful bluewater boat. Next, we drove inland to Indiantown Marina to check out a Sparkman & Stephens designed Chris Craft Apache 37.  Well maintained and sporting some cool upgrades it was more of an IOR racer than the true bluewater cruiser we were searching for. 

Close by we noticed a Hans Christian 38 much cheaper than usually listed and decided to check it out. These classic boats have beautiful lines, and are heavily constructed with a very livable interior that we love. Excited about this unforeseen prospect we climbed aboard and nearly fell through the cabintop. Almost the entire deck was delaminated, the core soft as a wet sponge. Having no desire to replace an entire deck, we carried on to Glades Boat Storage near Lake Okeechobee to see a Contessa 32. We went in with a healthy dose of skepticism due to the low price, but this was the sistership of Gigi, the boat on which Kretschmer had made his first Atlantic crossing and then doubled Cape Horn. 

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