Now we knew how to sail we needed something to sail. The search for an affordable ‘blue water’ boat was going to be long and difficult for a number of reasons. Firstly, we were constrained by location as we were in Southern California – not an area renowned for its huge cruising community. To be sure there are plenty of boats for sale but almost all of them did not fit the bill as an ideal seaworthy ocean crossing vessel. Secondly, a piece of advice we had been given by Lacey’s Dad that we needed to see enough boats to be able to identify a bad one before we were qualified to buy a good one.
Several considerations must be made when choosing a boat to go offshore; a strong hull and rigging are essential. Large amounts of storage, ample tankage for water and fuel for long ocean passages, and a small cockpit that would drain quickly if filled with water by following seas were just a few of the criteria on the lengthy list. Criteria almost the exact opposite of what you would want for a weekend with friends or day sailing, where storage and tanks would take up room that could be used to accommodate guests and a large cockpit for entertaining is preferable. We would need help and clearly needed to look further afield.
I had been using a list of recommended vessels published on the website www.mahina.com as the basis for my search and to cross reference any suggestions that people sent us to look at. It was when Lacey asked to look at this list that our fortunes changed. After quickly glancing at the list the rest of the website caught her attention and an hour or so later she discovered the author and highly respected mariner, John Neal, was available for a reasonable fee as a consultant to help you find and purchase a boat that suits your needs and budget.
I was happy for the help, looking at hundreds of Internet ads a day was getting to me. Lacey was glad to have an expert opinion, her faith in my judgement after one week of sailing was far from unshakable. We also figured he had probably been on the hundreds of boats we needed to look at and his expertise could save us time, so if he said it was a good one, we could trust him. Our plans to head north to Washington and Canada were taking us to more fertile hunting grounds for the types of boat we were seeking.
Then one day poring over the same craigslist postings I had been looking at every day, hoping to stumble on the perfect boat for us that had just been listed in the 12 hours since I last checked, there she was. Neither of us knew it at the time after looking at so few boats in person, but ‘Stardust’ would be the one.
We were still in California and the boat was just south of Vancouver, B.C., a minor 1500 mile inconvenience. We sent the listing along with a few others to John and he confirmed that of the group, Stardust was indeed the most capable. Things were shaping up. We started talking to the owner at length, who we imagined from our phone conversations to be a jaded, salty veteran of the seas. He turned out to be an aspiring artist in his early 20’s, moving east to Toronto, attempting to break onto the scene there. We made plans to see the boat once we arrived in the Pacific northwest.
We went to see one of the other boats I had found as it was close by and in my mind represented good value, plus we figured the more boats we could set foot on, the more it would help us identify exactly what we were looking for. That viewing did help us identify what we wanted and it was definitely not this boat. The previous owner lived aboard and from the state of the headliner, it was plain to see (and smell) that he must have smoked a pack a day inside, everyday, for its 41 year existence. It now became clear we would not find our boat in California.
Washington was more promising. We saw another candidate owned by a family of four who had been liveaboards for three years and were looking to move back to dry land, in part due to the wife’s battle with seasickness. Once again though, it was more work than we were looking for.
Canada and a viewing of Stardust on a rainy, bitterly cold, Easter Sunday brought smiles to our faces. There were two things we could not live without: a big galley with a gimballed stove/oven for Lacey and 6’4″ of headroom for me. It was our great white whale and until we saw it, we were beginning to doubt the existence of such a thing.
A deposit, marine survey, the ‘okay’ from John, a sea trial and a cashiers check for the balance was all it took for us to become the proud owners of a 36-foot sloop manufactured by Cascade Yachts in 1975, hull number 67, and the strangely endearing name ‘Stardust’ accompanied by the dinghy ‘Ziggy'(a tip of the hat to David Bowie).
The previous owner, Marc, also gave us one last parting gift; a funny new name for our little three-and-a-half pound dog, Mr.Bear. Marc told us how he always wanted to have a cat live aboard with him and name it ‘Barnacle’. So the infamous Mr.Bear was there dubbed ‘Mr. Barnacle Bear’ and he’s known around the marina as such.