It is that time of year, when it is neither winter nor spring, but squarely between them, at least here in the MidAtlantic region on the Chesapeake Bay. It is warm enough to think about outside activities, but not enough to actually go outside, or unplug the battery charger and plan any sort of road trip in the old Carrera.
It also isn’t time to seriously get going with boating, beyond perhaps the various frostbite racing hosted this time of year by area yacht clubs. Friends’ boats are all winterized and shrink wrapped, at least those that did not head south for the winter months. Everyone has boxes in the garage or basement that hold the stuff of spring: life jackets, dock lines, extra tools, running rigging, and worn fittings and gear that need attention during the off season. They are still sitting around waiting for us to get on with our spring commissioning lists.
Most everyone I know got together this past weekend to watch the Super Bowl. While I have no particular affinity to either team, it is part of the winter ritual as we wind up winter in anticipation of spring. But we aren’t there yet.
As we wait there is always talk of boating and boats. The halftime show was a good time to toss around ideas of what to do next season.
We have had fairly mild winters the past few years, so the extreme precautions for blizzards and ice storms haven’t been necessary. Most of my friends have powerboats now, but some of us still cross party lines, and love both power and sail. For the sailors among us, there may be more on the horizon than just getting the boat ready to sail. Perhaps 2023 is the year we will participate in an offshore race, such as Annapolis-to-Newport, or one of the races to Bermuda.
(Below: A young Bill Parlatore in 1986 at the Annapolis-to-Bermuda race.)
But not yet. These are still the days of cold weather and watching football, and family activities that may include a ski vacation so the kids can hone their snowboarding skills. I’m no longer a winter person, so it is that time of year when I wish I was down in the sun, having brought my boat down south to spend the winter months in the Keys or somewhere warm. But that did not happen.
So, around now, while I am severely limited in outdoor distractions, I fall into the mental state of what I call the fantasy of the next boat. This year’s trigger of my affliction is the knowledge that somewhere in the world right now there is a race going on, intrepid sailors trying their best to make it back to the start/finish line in France. They have been at it for months now, going all out to capture the title of being the first to finish this round the world race.
It is the Golden Globe Race, introduced a couple of years back. It originally celebrated the 50th anniversary of Sir Robin Knox-Johnston’s historic feat of sailing non-stop around the world, with only a sextant, and no GPS, plotter, or AIS. The original race occurred before any of these modern conveniences of technology. Today’s Golden Globe event follows the same guidelines. It is a retro race on a grand scale.
Of the 16 competitors who began, there are now only four sailors still in the race. And in the lead at the moment is South African Kirsten Neuschäfer, the only woman, and currently the leader of the dwindling pack.
The boat she is on is a 1974 Cape George 36, built in Port Townsend, Washington by Cecil Lange. It is a full displacement cruising boat much like many of the cruising boats that were so common in the late 1960s when the first race was held. Knox-Johnston’s winning sailboat was a 32-foot, wood ketch, Suhaili, a far cry from the cruisers of today.
So in the spirit of fantasy boat buying I immediately dove into an online search for a Cape George 36, looking for what boats of that era are out there for sale today. Given that 50 years ago was kind of the sweet spot for when I got the sailing bug, I can easily imagine myself owning one of these boats, and mentally listing all the things I would want to update to make it a more contemporary sailing yacht for today.
Of course, there is not a single Cape George 36 listed for sale anywhere in the world at the moment, so I fantasize of what else might be out there to fulfill that fantasy dreamboat. As I investigate the handful of like boats listed online, I consider what I would need to do to make each boat something to sail with pride today. Just think of the total refit project it would be: a new engine, fuel and water tanks replaced, along with fuel lines, hoses, the electrical system, and steering gear hopelessly in need of major work or replacement.
(Below: An example of a Cape George 36.)
How cool would it be to find such a boat and then rebuild it?
Most any of them would fit the need for a total refit project. It doesn’t matter what the boat is, or who designed or built it. What is appealing is finding the jewel in the rough and making it shine once again. It is at the heart of fantasy boat buying.
While I often wish some builder would resurrect one of these boats again, I know that is not likely to ever happen. Despite the occasional nugget of inspiration, it just is not realistic to imagine. Bob Perry showed the 3D rendering of a new hull shape that he feels would be the modern interpretation of his wildly successful Valiant 40 back in the day. It is a sexy shape that is as fluid and slippery as any boat I have ever seen, yet I know there will never be a builder willing to bring it to life. And besides, the cost would be over the top.
So, as I imagine buying a 50-year-old Cape George 36, or something very similar, I wonder how much fun it would be! If it was an older Grand Banks or DeFever trawler, and I made an inventory of what needed to be done in order to bring it back to yacht standards of today, how many pads would I fill?
In my brief quest during this fantasy phase of boat buying madness, to find a boat that could sail around the world just like it was 1969, I almost burned myself out. But I did find a Westsail 32 that the original owner had spent years and a whole lot of money, replacing everything on the boat, making the ‘70s boat as new as possible to fit into today’s sailing and cruising world.
At the end of the day, though, I finally realized, it would still be an old boat to an even older design. The Westsail 32, even if pristine again with all new teak, fittings, rig, engine, and tankage, is still a slow cruising boat that pales in comparison to the modern sailboat. A similarly restored Grand Banks Yacht, even with all new innards and shiny teak brightwork, does not measure up on any level to the modern cruising trawler.
Come to your senses, man! One of these vintage sailboats could not hope to outrun a weather system, nor would it be very comfortable during a passage, or even at anchor, for that matter. And the president of Grand Banks once told me they make the highest quality, and most uncomfortable seating, of any boat builder. Stop and take a deep breath.
Rebuilding an old Jabsco diaphragm pump still leaves you with an old, Jabsco diaphragm pump that doesn’t work very well. It is still garbage.
At the end of the day, I admit my brief mental breakdown was energizing on some levels. But mostly it got me thinking I should find a way to get down to Miami for the upcoming boat show, to see some new boats that provide far more comfort, speed, and safety on a boat that would do better in every aspect of yacht ownership.
In the case of a sailboat going around the world using technology and designs from 50 years ago, see you later alligator. I would be outta sight of you within an hour. And my newer trawler would offer luxury, cruising speed, and minimal exterior maintenance that the Grand Banks could never hope to provide.
Fantasy boat buying causes many men to have serious mental health issues, but thankfully, I have a spouse who can reel me back in before I’ve lost it all.
Enjoy the Miami Show!