Monthly Archives: June 2016

More Options

I’m a sailor deep down in my soul. Growing up on Cape Cod we had three boats in my family. The one that got me hooked on the water wasn’t a sailboat, though. It was an 8-foot pram my dad built in the basement of our house in Watertown, Mass., one winter and that we took down to Nickerson State Park in Brewster where we spent the entire summer. To go anywhere with it I either had to row it or use the little, cantankerous 2hp Sears and Roebuck engine. Later, when we had moved to a house in Orleans we had two sailboats: an O’Day Daysailer and an O’Day Sunfish type board boat. Those are what I learned to sail on.

When I turned 30 I left the corporate world. I had been a newspaper reporter, a magazine editor, an advertising copywriter and a hospital public relations hack. I also wrote a couple of dozen free-lance magazine articles for national, but little known magazines like Rx Sports and Travel. I got a job as a deckhand on a dinner cruise boat in Ft, Lauderdale, following my muse, as it were. For the next 25 years I worked on a variety of boats both yachts and commercial craft. I ran a 300-passenger sight-seeing boat in Chicago in ’75 and ’76….


I worked almost exclusively on power boats including a short stint as mate on a tug boat in the Mississippi River delivering fuel and oil to ships and tugs from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. The only sailboat interludes were helping a young couple bring their 51-foot sailboat from Chicago to Ft. Lauderdale via the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, crewing on a 65-foot ketch in the first two Ft, Lauderdale to Key West races and then a three and a half year gig as captain of an 85-foot, custom built sailboat over on the French Riviera and bringing it back to the U.S. in ’91.

Jolie Aire-Golfe Juan

Then I bought my beloved and much missed Nancy Dawson and made a 9-month single-handed trip from Ft. Lauderdale to Mexico, Belize and the Rio Dulce in Guatemala and lived on her for nearly 6 years….

Nancy Dawson

As readers of this blog know, I’m going to be repatriating to the States soon because of health problems, and while the quality of health care is probably equal to the States, here it’s on a pay-up-front basis if you have to get hospitalized. It’s impossible for a 74-year-old guy with COPD and three stents in his arteries to get health insurance here. But one of the smart things I did when I moved to Panama was to continue paying my Medicare premiums just in case I had to go back. (One of the few smart decisions in my life.)

The only way that I can survive living in the States is to avoid renting an apartment somewhere and paying utilities, etc. since I’m depending on my SS to keep me alive. Here in Panama the most I’ve paid in rent was for an entire, fully-furnished small house WITH air conditioning and with paying a neighbor to maintain the yard I paid $205/month. Electricity was negligible. The highest bill I ever had here in Panama was just $30 and change. In the States my half of the 2/2 duplex was $600/month and electricity was ALWAYS $125 or MORE each month!

The only way I can survive in the States is if I buy a small boat and live “on the hook” as they say and avoid paying dockage as much as possible. I’ve had several conversations with my friend, Stef, in Lauderdale. He’s as knowledgeable about boats as anyone I know. We both have years of boat repair and restoration work under our belts. Probably an aggregate of three-quarters of a century between us. He said he’d be on the lookout for a sailboat in the size range I want, 23-25 feet, and, naturally, I’m looking, too.

Well, today I was looking on Craig’s List to see what’s available in the way of small outboard engines that would be available if the boat we liked didn’t come equipped with an engine. Of course, I’m thinking of sailboats, and one thing they do is move with the wind and use the engines when there’s none. Since I’d be using the boat almost exclusively on inland waters, rivers and the Intracoastal waterways, the sails would only be used occasionally when the wind was just right and most of the time I’d be under power.

So, as I’m running through the listings I came across THIS boat. A 26-foot Wellcraft.

26 foot wellcraft

That’s right! It’s NOT a sailboat, but they’re only asking $2k for the 26-footer, and they claim the engine runs fine. ¿Quién sabe? But I think it’s worth looking at. Why?

Well, for one thing a 26-foot power boat has more living space than a 26-foot sailboat. How come, you might ask? Because the power boat carries its beam almost all the way from the transom to the bow while a sailboat’s transom is narrower than the beam amidships and from there forward it pinches down rapidly to a sharp point. In other words, in an equal length a powerboat has more VOLUME than a sailboat and volume translates into living space. Let me illustrate using these two boats. The sailboat is a Columbia 26. A fine boat that anyone would be proud to own. You can see that the broadest part of the beam is amidships tapering both bow and stern. The powerboat is a Down East 25 and you can see IT has more livable space than the sailboat….


columbia 26_Fotor




In his later years my dad had several power boats. One was a 26-foot Stamas. It looked like this, if memory serves….


He didn’t live on it full-time, but when my mom died in ’76 he took their two miniature poodles and disappeared for six months. No one knew what had happened to him. Turns out he left Venice, Florida, cut across the state on the Okeechobee Waterway, hung a left and went up into the St. John’s river to do his mourning.

I also saw another power boat, a 25-foot Tiara with an asking price of only $1,800. It’s rougher than the Wellcraft and it doesn’t have a motor. It could probably be picked up for around a grand but certainly not more than $1,200. So, what would I do for an engine? Pick up a big outboard which is what it probably had on it a long time ago judging from THIS. A bracket….

tiara 25 bracket

There are some other advantages to having a powerboat, especially if it has an engine with an alternator. That will keep the batteries topped off better than just a solar array which I intend to have on any boat I own.

These boats have a lot going for them in terms of livability, but while I’m a sailor at heart I need to keep my options open.

One good thing about these small power boats is that they need very little water to float in, unlike my Nancy Dawson that needed a minimum of five feet to stay afloat. These you can run the bow right up onto the beach and step off onto dry land or, at worst, ankle deep water. I STILL want to cover all of the waterways mentioned in previous posts so I’ll still be anchoring most of the time, coming into marinas to fuel up, buy groceries and wash clothes. But if I’d want to hole up at a marina somewhere for the winter I’ve found a few good places. There’s one in Steinhatchee, Florida up where the Panhandle starts trending westward. With a 26-foot boat I can rent a slip with electricity for just under $200/month, which is what I’ve been paying for rent here.



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Shifting Gears Again?

I’m not sure how to go about this, but I’m probably going to have to shift gears away from the whole idea of getting a boat and traveling around on the waterways. At least a boat large enough to live on.

This morning (Sunday, June 5th) I had a long talk with my good friend and former business partner in Fort Lauderdale. About a year ago Stef suggested I return to the States and we’d look for a boat etc., it’s all outlined in previous posts. Several of the subjects we talked about have been nagging at the back of my mind through all my writing and mental masturbation about sailing around the inland waterways of the U.S. The main concern was that with the seriousness of my COPD how was I going to deal with such chores as raising the anchor(s), raising the mast, raising the sails? The short answer is I don’t have a friggin’ clue! And I mentioned several times in my posts that I wasn’t sure if I’d be physically able to do what was needed.

I’d hoped that where Stef was living would be a place where I could build a dinghy and do what needed to be done to get the boat ready to be lived on. Well, alas, it’s NOT! And I don’t know anyone else who would have the facilities where I’d be able to do what I need to. Stef has always been pushing me to get a boat bigger than I think I’d want, and one of the problems with boats is the living area. Between half and a third of a sailboat’s length is taken up by the cockpit. Sure, you can put up a Bimini top, and the smaller boats have a “pop up” cabin top for additional headroom but mostly it’s inadequate even then.

So, is there an alternative? Yes, and I’ve toyed with the idea though I haven’t voiced it in any of my online forums…LIVING IN A VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER!

While both Stef and I are skilled at boat repair and restoration, he more than me, but I’m adequate, one thing Stef has beaucoup experience at is mechanics. He used to have a small chain of Volkswagen engine rebuild shops in New York years ago. If you brought the car in by 8 in the morning you could drive it home that evening with a rebuilt engine.

Now, I didn’t know this even after I’d known him for several years and had worked with and for him all that time. How I came to find out is a good story…

After I returned to the States after four years abroad in France, Spain, Mexico, Belize and Guatemala, I looked Stef up at his house. We were both at loose ends without work and little money. He had an American Skier (that’s a make) boat in his carport. I suggested that we paint the thing and split the proceeds. (This is NOT the boat but one just like it down to the name on the side.)

American Skier

“The engine’s shot,” he said. “Doesn’t run.” Then he was silent for a couple of minutes and said, “Come on over here around 7:30 tomorrow morning.”

When I got there he had a table set up of a 4X8 sheet of plywood sitting on a pair of saw horses. There was an electric motor on a pedestal stand that had a large wire wheel on it and he had a couple of things I’d never seen before and didn’t know what they were. One was an engine stand…

engine stand

And an engine hoist.


He had already uncoupled the engine from the shaft coupling before I showed up. In about 15 minutes the engine was hooked up to the hoist and lifted out of the boat. In another 15 minutes it was mounted on the stand.

What he did next left me scratching my head. He started to dismantle the engine and throwing parts seemingly helter skelter  into a couple of five-gallon plastic buckets. 


Just in case you forgot what one looks like…

 Freaked me out!!! I would have been putting everything in some kind of order on the table, but NOOOOO! The only things he put in an orderly fashion on the table were the eight pistons. When there was nothing but a the empty engine block on the stand he wiped his hands and said “Now, I’m going to go to Engine Rebuilders Warehouse for parts. While I’m gone,” he kicked one of the buckets, “take the bolts and clean them up on that wire wheel. I’ll be back in a little while.”

When he returned he got out a drill motor and fitted a cylinder hone into it and showed me how to ream out the cylinders. While I was doing that Stef began sorting out the clean bolts and arranging them by size on the table. He then put new rings on the pistons and after wiping the cylinders out with a clean rag began to replace the pistons into the block. And he was doing all this without any manual!!! New bearings went on everything that needed them.

When it came time to start bolting things together he went into his house and finally came out with a manual. He used it to get the torque specs, and over the next several years when we rebuilt a few dozen engines, mostly Chevy 350s, he ALWAYS went to the manual for the torque specs. He NEVER relied on his memory.

Around 4:30 that afternoon the engine was back in the boat and reconnected to the propeller shaft and a battery. Stef turned the ignition key, pushed a chrome button and VARRRRRRROOOOOM!!! MAGIC!!!

What I’m coming around to here is that it really wouldn’t matter if a van I was interested in had a bum engine or not. Simply rebuild the thing and start off with ZERO MILES on it. At the very least we’d be able to replace such things as wheel bearings and service the brakes.

One thing about this possibility is that I’ve always wanted to see the Grand Canyon. Can’t do that in a boat. I have a good friend who owns a house in Kentucky that I could go visit and crash with for a little while. We’d been “roomies” before. I could build a simple, silly boat like a Puddle Duck Racer Goose (12-feet long) build it with a minimalist cabin and then put it on a small trailer and tow it up to Minneapolis and run down The River to Mobile in it. Doing it on a 12-foot boat would certainly generate some media attention, I’m sure. My brother David’s wife lived in Minneapolis for years and I’m sure I could get her to talk one of her friends into letting me store the van at their house while doing the trip.

I could always head into Mexico in the winter. After all, I already know the language.

¿Quién sabe? In a lot of ways this is actually more “DO-ABLE.”


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No matter what boat I end up buying I’m going to modify the mast. Make it shorter and make it easy to lay down and raise easily so I duck under bridges as I cruise the inland waterways. For example, the mast of a Catalina 22 is 29’1″. It would be scary trying to creep under a 30-foot bridge with less than a foot of clearance. A breezy chop or the wake from a slow-moving nearby boat could easily have you nailing the underside of the bridge.

Between Ft. Lauderdale’s inlet and the one in West Palm Beach, roughly 40 miles, there are 19 bridges. There are only two that don’t present a problem: Lauderdale’s 17th Street bridge at 55′ and the Lake Worth Bascule Bridge at 35-feet. The Linton Blvd. Bascule Bridge in Boca Raton has a clearance of 30-feet and you’d have your heart in your throat trying to creep under it.

It’s not so bad going down the 24 miles to Government Cut in Miami. There are only 11 bridges. Two of them, N.E. 192nd Street Bridge at 65-feet and the Julia Tuttle at 55-feet are no problem. The Sunny Isles bridge at 30-feet is one of the “iffy” ones. So that means there are eight bridges you have to wait to have opened for you and ALL of them have specific opening times. Of the 30 bridges between Government Cut in Miami and West Palm Beach Inlet that 22-foot sailboat you’d have to wait for 26 of them to open so you could continue on your journey. And if you weren’t at the bridge for a scheduled opening time you’d have to circle around for up to a half hour to get through. So, if you’re planning to take a trip to Peanut Island in WPB from Ft. Lauderdale in a boat that’s going to plod along at about 6 mph, at best, even if you hit every bridge opening perfectly, an impossibility, you’re looking at a VERY long day.

The solution, of course is being able to raise and lower your mast so you can creep under almost all the bridges you’re ever going to encounter. But raising and lowering the mast of a even a Catalina 22 and similar boats that have shrouds is NOT an easy thing to do no matter HOW MUCH the builders tout the simplicity of THEIR boats.

Does this look simple to you?

Not only that, but I don’t want to have a mast that’s longer than the boat itself…

masts too big

My idea is to build a mast tabernacle. I’d want it high enough so that when the mast is lowered the mast would clear the pilot house I’d eventually like to build.

From a Facebook response to a previous mention of this people have written saying, “MY boat has a tabernacle” and then they send a picture of something like THIS…


Well, technically they’re correct, it IS a tabernacle but THIS is more along the lines of what I’m thinking of…


Lowered it would look like this…


AND I’d want to add some weight to the bottom of the mast, like this one, to counterbalance the whole lot and make raising and lowering an easy one-man task.

Good tabernacle pic

With an arrangement like the two boats above you’d be able to clear nearly every bridge you meet. And think about this…during thunderstorms lightning strikes the highest thing around, and if you’re on a sailboat the highest thing around is YOUR MAST! Wouldn’t it be great if you could quickly and easily lower the mast making you less of a target? You might say, “But I’m out sailing, I CAN’T lower my mast.” But I’m generally going to be on inland waterways so as a storm approaches I can duck into shallower water somewhere, drop anchor, lower the mast, wait it out in the comfort of the cabin.

I want an unstayed mast and will go for either a junk rig or a balanced lug. I won’t be carrying as much square footage, that’s for sure, but when I am using the sails it will be with the wind abeam, on the quarter or dead astern. No more beating into the wind.  God invented engines to allow boats to do that. The “auxiliary power” on MY boat will be the sails, NOT the engine.


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