Wayfinder: Find Her. Keep Her.

We came upon Wayfinder through the same means we came to find all the other potential liveaboard sailboats – through Kijiji or Craigslist or the local used sailboat platforms on the internet.  We traipsed through half a dozen local marinas, walking up and down the docks looking for “For Sale” signs, most of which had faded lettering, tiny print and were flapping in the wind.  The recurring theme seemed to be the “once upon a dream” of owning a boat, turned into decaying hulks of long overlooked deterioration quietly stagnating at a berth no one ever visited.  We viewed over six or seven boats, even accommodating one owner as volunteer crew in transporting his boat closer to home. We offered on one boat within the first two weeks, thinking this was the one.  When the transaction failed, we were disappointed but continued to look at other options. We enlisted local expertise to offer opinions on where to exercise caution. We stepped into the world of marine mechanics and hull surveyors,  accepted the knowledge of those who lived that world.


There were owners who tried valiantly to convince us theirs was  truly an enviable prize while in the same breath, they asked us to recognize the work that needed to be done.  “It’s a project for someone.” they’d say.  The dichotomy of their pitch and the condition of their boat left us wondering whether there existed a boat that met our few requirements.  We would be living aboard, so there needed to be a minimum of space, something beyond 35 feet.  I’ve come to understand the relationship of the beam size to the width of a boat, so there needed to be something sufficiently wide so as to allow two people individual space. The transition from living in 1,200 square feet of space over two levels, in a home on land to a tiny house on water, would ask for patience and understanding and the list of requirements could not be extensive or expensive. We were content to keep our hopes and imagination  relative to our budget.  We were not simply switching from a house on land to a house on water. We were seeking a simpler, more self-sufficient lifestyle.


As the list of viewed boats grew, I realized I wasn’t interested in the slick and the sleek, but was drawn toward boats of a certain age.  These boats set themselves apart by their appearance; long curved lines, wooden accents, teak decks, but this also meant cushions needed replacement, and equipment was worn. I realize now, most of them represented the kind of house I’ve always owned, one most would pass over as requiring too much investment – of time and money.  Quickly we got to the part where the asking price reflected the distance between the potential value and the work required. Still, I was reminded of the brick behemoth I once called home.  Over two levels with eleven foot ceilings, six marble fireplaces and a huge chunk of ancient subterranean mechanics pumping heat throughout, the only impression that remained with me after viewing was the four-windowed widow’s watch on the roof that overlooked the harbour and the history of the widow after whom it was named.  The widow’s watch gave the woman, the wife, a vantage point from which to wait the safe return of her seafaring husband.  I climbed the curving staircase accessing this tiny enclave (which was simply a four sided box on top the roof) and fell in love with the whole thing, renovations and all.


When the word ‘cottage’ is used to describe a sailboat, I question whether the owner thinks a serious prospect would take a second look.  In fact, this advertised boat was a motorsailer and looked long enough to compete with the Titanic. There were rust stains streaking from the portholes and it was well and truly tired. Having nothing to lose, we asked if we could take a look.  The boat was moored at Salt Spring Island.


Many marinas, many strolls on the docks gave us a fairly good idea of what it costs to park your boat at a marina. The marinas offer services of varying degrees usually electricity, waste disposal, laundry, mail services, a marine supply shop, sometimes a pub or restaurant. They line themselves up along the coast and to the untrained eye you might think all the boats in their entirety represent one marina.  Far from this.  The huge aluminum clad ‘houses’ are one class of boat owner and are lined up like little toy soldiers along quaintly numbered docks, their gleaming bright civic numbers and ‘in case of emergency’ information at the door. These usually belong to the more private types and discourage liveaboards.  Alongside these sharing the same water, you find docks extended with hundreds of boats tied to them. These would be the community marinas, and there is usually a waiting list for ‘liveaboards’.  At the come-one-come-all type of marina, you have options to stay a certain number of nights per month  without committing to the month in its entirety and the charges are reasonable.  It was our good fortune to find one of these at Maple Bay located in the Cowichan region on Vancouver Island, in the heart of the Gulf Islands. Our reconnaissance took us there with a local gentleman who was kind enough to offer his boat-buying advice.  We enjoyed a cold one on a beautiful September afternoon.


marina boat houses

When we arrived at Salt Spring we were reminiscing about our visit there two years ago.  We had toured the docks then, longing after boats of various sizes.  One boat in particular caught Paul’s attention.  “Now there’s a beauty.” he had said.  I followed his gaze and my first impression was the boat was in serious need of a paint job.  Paul couldn’t resist the impulse to get a closer look and we turned our leaving around and walked back to the dock where Snowbird was tied.  The owner happened to be on board effecting some type of repairs and was more than congenial in his feedback about the boat itself, about living on Salt Spring Island and about pointing us toward his other boat moored in Salt Spring Harbour. After snapping a view shots of the boat, we decided to try and find the other boat he owned and walked over in that direction.  It was hard to pinpoint because the harbour was filled with boats.  The only distinction he gave was that it was a fairly large boat and was moored, which means he sunk a giant weight attached to a rope and tied the boat a ways from the actual docks.  I was coming to understand there were other ways to park in a harbour that negated the necessity of paying marina fees.  More photos and we made our way back to the car.  The photo of Snowbird became my computer’s screensaver for some months after.


Not long after approaching the dock, a small skiff motors up and a gentleman introduces himself.  We exchange names all around as he offers us a short motor to the boat for sale.  I know you’re there ahead of me but it took me the entire tour and the return trip to the dock to realize this was Snowbird’s owner and we had just toured his second boat.  Although Paul was a bit dubious of my first impression, I could see something in the bones.  The roughness of both the interior and exterior was due to being relegated to storage status and filled with the accruements of a sewing business and surplus furniture.  He had never lived aboard her but purchased her from the owner who had lived aboard herself from the time the boat was repossessed in Panama from the builder over 36 years ago. Yes indeed, it even had a history.  I could go on to describe her,  but suffice it to say the registered length is 53.9′ with a registered width of 15.4′. It is a motorsailer with a Ferro cement hull, a 1976 Samsom 55 Auxiliary Ketch, weighing approximately 40 tons. It is powered by a 1980 Perkins 6354, 120 horsepower marine diesel engine and that’s as marine-techie as I will be.


She had sat at the mooring for at least three years.  Like so many others we had viewed, the idea of owning her was one thing the practicality of sailing her, quite another.  She had become a storage shed and her decks displayed a variety of once used lawn chairs, tanks, and inflatables; her interior, sewing machines, bolts of fabric, a mass of tools and equipment – not all in working order, but all easily explained.  Any thought of moving her to assess the potential meant a diver was employed to release as much gunk as he could from the propeller – an auspicious beginning indeed.  It was decided we would take on the challenge.  I had faith this could be what we had searched for and so did Paul. Not in its present condition – let’s not be too naive, but it had potential. I had walked into the ‘widow’s watch’.


We arranged with the owner to have the boat hauled out of the water.  To our great relief, the owner had 35 years worth of relationships with marine experts and his good buddy at Lindstrom Marine scheduled us for a lift.  Just around the corner from our mooring,  Lindstrom Marine had the lift and the expertise to get a 55 foot boat safely out of and back into the water.  The owner assured us that this would be accomplished under his personal supervision before he left on holiday.  Lindstrom Marine is located at Maple Bay – coincidentally, the very same we had toured a month ago and we stayed overnight on the boat Sunday to be ready for our leaving Monday morning.  We were scheduled in Maple Bay for a Monday afternoon appointment. Paul scraped the hull of as much reachable life before we cast off the numerous ropes that held the boat in  place next to Grace Islet.


It was sloggingly slow and we arrived just after our anticipated time.  By two in the afternoon, the power was off at Maple Bay and everyone had gone home.  We hit the pub, had a beer or two and the owner traveled back to Salt Spring leaving us to spend another night onboard.  Tuesday we discover the mast that holds the radar was too tall to accommodate the lift and needed to be removed.  As I walked the dog, Paul managed to loosen the connections for lift off.  Wednesday all day the boat had Linstrom’s undivided attention and we were back in the water Thursday. In that time the hull was scraped, pressure washed, inspected and painted with new zincs affixed and propeller treated. We got the prize for being the first to fill their dumpster and the star fish got a reprieve as they were plunked back into the water.


Up to this point we’ve agreed to buy the boat provided the hull inspection was satisfactory and it was.  The rest are details. In the bigger scheme of things they are inconsequential and profit no one in the telling.  Paul and I and the dog, Bella hope to transition to life aboard within the next week or two and begin the process of prioritizing how that will be done. It did not escape my notice that this same boat was moored not 100 feet from Grace Islet, the saga of which I had followed from my computer in New Brunswick, many months prior.  It seemed there was a wealthy land owner who had purchased the Islet on which to build his home.  The construction had been aborted upon the discovery of graves. This brought the native residents to protest and the government subsequently bought out the builder making him a very wealthy man.


There have been several times over the last week when the circumstances required Bella to encounter a life she has never known. Perhaps only to me, her face takes on a certain countenance and she physically shakes.  She has spent the past nine years of her life in much the same day-to-day with the biggest excitement being the walks in unfamiliar woods, so the prospect of being strapped into a life jacket and hauled up a 20 foot ladder to the deck of a boat is foreign to her, to say the least.  Nonetheless, I know that as long as I am there with her and she sees me, she is assured of her own safety even though her surroundings are completely strange. The unknown then becomes doable.  So like me; “I know who holds my future and I know who holds my hand.”

Wayfinder @ Maple Bay Marina for Haulout (8)

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