Buying a boat sight-unseen during a pandemic

“What about this one?” I open the link in Ian’s email and let it load while I go and make dinner. Since the pandemic started, I’ve been working in the Arctic at a small hospital and all available internet bandwidth has been sucked into essential services with only a bit leftover for residential use.

The photos show a boat with a good layout. The galley isn’t relegated to the passageway far from the saloon, the flow of traffic through the boat is logical in sickness and in health (I think of access for puking and emergency exits), and it checks everything that Ian has on his list: manufacturer with a good reputation, a skeg hung rudder (a fibreglass shield protects the rudder from getting easily picked off) and large cockpit (the main hangout place). The set price range of about $150k CDN and about 40 feet long meant we were also looking for a certain vintage year in the 1980s, and coincidentally, Ian’s favourite music era

“I like it,” I wrote back.

We had looked at other boats like a Brewer and a CSY, including one near Toronto that—the agent emphasized—Prince Charles had been on. But they either needed too much work or didn’t have that je ne sais quoi.

This particular boat, a Wauquiez Amphitrite 43’, checked out but it was in North Carolina, with what seemed at the time, sky-rocketing COVID rates. We still thought COVID would run it’s course fairly quickly, kind of like SARS and H1N1. So we moved this boat to the top of the list of boats to see once the pandemic was over.

But the pandemic didn’t seem to be slowing down so we had to adapt.

In order for Ian to fund his retirement on a boat, he would need to rent his house. But without a boat to live on, he couldn’t rent his house. After a lot of talk, he finally realized his top priority (after me) was to ´not work’ and the only way to not work was to have a income from the house. Thus, he would rent the house sans boat and then move wherever while looking for the boat.

The boat would materialize. The pandemic response would become clearer.

“You can buy a flight to North Carolina”, Ian wrote. We, like everyone else, thought that the US-Canada border was closed, and we thought that would mean that you couldn’t buy a ticket to fly to the US. What about insurance? Well it turns out that American companies that insure folks who do high-risk sports also offer health insurance during a pandemic (thanks Rick for the tip). And so it happened, Ian set off for North Carolina to see the rather unfortunately named “Frenchie”, treating the whole experience as if he was in a COVID ward for 36 hours. When he returned, I was back in Toronto and we had two weeks of quarantine that we used to get the house ready to rent.

Our offer on “Frenchie” fell through but in the meantime, we decided that the Wauquiez Amphitrite 43’ was the boat…and there was one for sale in the British Virgin Islands…in much better shape…and auspiciously named “Demeter”.

Chesnee, the friendly boat agent in the BVIs probably used about 5GB of data during our video walk-through. He opened cupboards and lifted cushions for us, read out labels on switches, gave close ups of varnish, and honestly added—”yeah, you’ll want to switch out x or touch up y.” The owner had posted a lot on online sailboat cruiser forums so it was an easy search for us to find out about all the details of the work that had been done on the boat—pretty much every update and injury sustained was documented.

Fatty Goodlander, a well-known contributor to Cruising Magazine, also has a Wauquiez Amphitrite 43’ and he endorsed “Demeter” and the owners, Ted and Claudia. They had bought the boat in 2011 and had done a major refit in the BVIs while living aboard with their 2 children. Their reason for selling was that they needed a bigger boat to accommodate teenagers. When hurricane Irma hit the BVIs in 2017, the boat sustained some external damage and through an insurance claim received all new standing rigging (the wires holding the masts in place), stanchions (the little stainless steel fence around the deck), and exterior paint — all major (read expensive) work. From what we could tell from afar, this boat was in amazing shape and was an excellent deal.

Except the BVIs were closed, like completely closed. There was no getting in to see the boat.

There was talk of having the boat sailed to some place that was open (and thus, probably exploding with Covid, e.g. Florida) and we could fly down to look at it. The boat would then be sailed back to the BVIs and we would fly back to Canada for 2 weeks of mandated quarantine. Then there was talk about waiting for the BVIs to open (unlikely since they might not be motivated to do the work of opening until the tourist season was to start in December, stil five months away). Then there was talk of buying the boat sight-unseen.

Frankly, these were unprecedented times, and frankly, shit just gets done differently now.

We put in an offer conditional on a survey, sea-trial, and taking possession in November, after the Caribbean hurricane season. We also included the perhaps unusual condition—”discussion with owners by video conference”.

The conference call went well. Very well. Ted and Claudia were open and excited we were interested in their boat. You could sense their relief that Ian was an experienced sailor and “Demeter” would go to a good family. Later in the process as the deal was about to close, to allay our doubts (are we effing crazy to buy a boat sight-unseen?), we kept referring back to this meeting and reminded ourselves that they gave off a good vibe—and when we’d meet the boat, it really would be as advertised.

After the deal closed, we would own this boat – provided a hurricane didn’t hit the BVIs and decimate it in the next 3 months. Ian kept refreshing his Hurricane forecast app about 5 times a day and when it finally looked like hurricane season would wind down uneventfully for the BVIs this year, we packed up 138kg of luggage and flew south to rendez-vous with the boat in the US Virgin Islands.

And with a leap of faith that all that is good in humanity, the boat turned out to be amazing.

see About Afrikii for photos and description of the boat

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