May 15, 2007
She Walks With An Attitude Of Freedom
By Douglas Bernon
It took a few months for Bernadette and me to come to the conclusion that we should sell Ithaka. We knew we weren’t going to take her long-distance cruising again for at least a couple of years, and we were loath to think that in the meantime her systems would deteriorate from disuse. So, we both wrapped our heads around the reality that the right thing to do for us was to part with her, now, while she was in excellent condition and ready to roll right back out there. With the decision made, next we had to answer two key questions: What projects would we do in advance of putting her up for sale, and how would we market the boat.
While we kept Ithaka in top shape, a cruiser’s definition of that condition might differ significantly from someone who’s about to reach into a purse and hand over its contents. All Ithaka’s major systems were functioning well but, that said, we admit that toward the end of our cruise, as our minds were busy noodling all our next steps on land, we blindly tolerated deteriorating varnish, a broken shelf in the fridge, missing bungs on the teak deck, a couple of clouded ports, an engine that had not been Q-tipped clean in ages, a transducer that sometimes balked at showing depth changes quickly, unpolished stainless steel, a throttle cable that occasionally stuck, and a Genoa that was delaminating all along the luff. There were several spots that had worn through on the mainsail cover, the Bimini, and the sun awning for the forward hatch, and these needed repairs. We decided to take care of everything on that list except the Genoa, and indicated clearly to prospective buyers that the sail was on its last legs. Once Bernadette and I ticked each of those items off our list, both inside and out, Ithaka looked the best she had since the day we bought her.
Fortunately none of these were expensive or demanding jobs, simply time consuming. What took longest was degreasing the engine, cleaning off every bit of rust or flaking paint, and then meticulously repainting it. In the process I found two hose clamps that needed to be replaced, and this set me on a clamp hunt from bow to stern. In all I ended up taking off 8 clamps and replacing them with new ones. This is the sort of search that should be done every year.
Cleaning out the boat was a major event. We loaded the bed of a pick-up truck four times! In fact, we took off every item that was not bolted, screwed, or glued in place. Cleaning would’ve been impossible otherwise. We also found an awful lot of stuff that must have materialized on board, because neither of us claimed to have seen it previously. We also uncovered some canned food we’d stowed away six and a half years ago, proving that if you’re not crazy about canned asparagus or peas at home, your tastes will not change under way.
Once Bernadette and I had vacuumed the bilges of dust as well as water, then bleached and scrubbed out every orifice until it sparkled, we spiffed and polished the wood, glass, and steel. Next, we returned all the spare parts (alternators, starters, hoses, injectors, filters, and so on) to their proper storage areas aboard. Then we delivered to other cruising friends the rope hanks that “just might get used one day,” the 10-inch pieces of hose that “maybe could be cannibalized into something else,” the half dozen disorganized bins of stainless bits, plastic parts, and leather scraps. When we completed our junk-ectomy, Ithaka must have risen six inches higher in the water.
Ithaka is not a weekender’s boat, and we figured that her likely buyers would be people who wanted an over-built, conservative, and sturdy vessel in which to go cruising themselves. Most North American sailors who are thinking seriously about going cruising probably read Cruising World, and we figured that whomever would buy Ithaka probably already knew the boat through our writing and photography in that magazine. That’s why we decided we wouldn’t use a broker, that we’d focus our marketing in Cruising World magazine, and its 150,000 subscribers. In addition, BoatUS kindly agreed to carry an announcement that Ithaka was for sale at the end of our twice-a-month logs.
We were willing to give the boat tours ourselves, personally tolerate any and all tire-kickers, negotiate directly, and be responsible for making the deal. In my twenties, when I sold Evora, my first boat, I did so without a broker, and when Bernadette and I sold Ruby, our 24-foot Quickstep, we also managed that on our own. I grew up in an essentially Jewish neighborhood and every year, from the time I was 8 until I was in high school, I successfully sold Christmas wrapping paper door-to-door. So, I figured we could handle this on our own.
Our marketing strategy was to place an advertisement in the classified section of Cruising World, and at the same time include a section on our personal website that was all about the boat. The Cruising World classified would list a few particulars about Ithaka, the price, and the website URL. Again, we were lucky to have what amounted to an enormous brochure with plenty of stories, boat data, and photographs. Bernadette culled through our essays, pictures, boat specs, improvement lists, and elaborate background data on the boat, and put it all together in an in-depth web presentation. She hired Alicia O'Connella terrific web wizard at www.echodesigncompany.com to weave together the elements, and within two week’s time we were up and running.
We were told by several brokers who called in response to our magazine advertisement that we were wasting our time and would be much better off with their superb guidance. In return of course they only needed a cut of the action. They emphasized that most boat buyers today comb the internet yacht-brokerage sites, and that The Only Way to get our advertisement on those major sites was to go through a broker and agree to pay a 10-percent commission. This turned out to be false.
On the same day that we got an offer from a prospective buyer who’d seen our advertisement in Cruising World , we talked to a broker in Florida named Travis Lambert, who works both as a traditional broker, and as a consultant to those trying to sell their boats themselves. Lambert explained that for a one-time consulting fee of $299 he’d place advertisements for us on all the major boat-for-sale internet sites – including Soundings, and Yacht World. Whenever someone contacted him about our boat, he’d direct that person to us, and we’d take it from there. What this meant was simple: For a few hundred dollars we could have our boat listed everywhere, show it ourselves, handle the negotiations and agreements, and avoid paying for services we didn’t want. (For more information, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org )
Our advertisement ran in Cruising World for three months, and during that time we had a slew of inquiries, and several couples visited us to take serious looks at Ithaka. We had two offers very quickly: One was a serious one, but the prospective buyer ended up not meeting our price. The second offer was from a guy who wanted us to take his boat in trade as part of the deal. Our objective was to lower the number of vessels we owned, so in the end this offer didn’t seem ideal.
Our third offer came from a South African family living in western Canada. Magnus Murphy recounts what happened. Late one night, while reclining in bed reading Cruising World, with his wife Ronel sound asleep beside him, he noticed our ad. He’d always admired Shearwaters. Magnus jumped out of bed, went to his computer, and emailed us, asking if we’d sold our boat yet. When I got up the next morning and opened his note, I wrote back immediately. No, not yet.
Having grown up in Capetown, where Ithaka was built, he was familiar with her pedigree, knew the quality of the construction, and in fact had tried to buy one many years ago. There aren’t many on the market, so when Ithaka came up for sale, he moved in a hurry. Within two days he’d made an offer, we’d agreed on a price, and he’d set a date for a visit here with his wife to inspect the boat and have her surveyed.
The buying and selling dance is always a complicated one. It demands all kinds of politeness, as well as directness. To take people through a vessel that you’ve loved, that has protected you, in which you’ve invested so much time, energy, and money is emotionally trying. As Bernadette and I showed these folks every nook and cranny, we were alternately buoyed and sad. I’d see some knick or mar, remember a whole series of events, and feel wistful. I’d explain how some system works and feel proud; then an instant later, I’d explain how I screwed something up and feel dumb as a rock. Meanwhile, the prospective buyers are surely having their own emotional roller coaster. They’re thinking, should we spend all this money? Do we really want to do this? Will our kids adjust okay? Can we really disrupt our lives for this kind of adventure?
These kabuki dances are taking place among four people in cramped space. Then the sellers leave the buyers alone on the boat for a few hours, to allow them to rummage and poke and wonder, no doubt, if they’re out of their gourds. The buyers feel exultant and small, going back and forth in their own minds, not only about the boat, but about going cruising, and all the decisions that go along with it. Meanwhile the sellers ride around in their car, getting coffee, killing time, hoping the buyers like what they see, and at the same time realizing that if the buyers decide to buy, then this vessel of dreams will be gone from their lives forever.
Because Ithaka was on the hard when the Murphys came to visit — we were well into winter at that point — no test sail was possible. So we invited these kind people over to our house for a leisurely lunch and long discussions. As they left that day to drive to the Providence, Rhode Island, airport to wing their way home to their daughters in Calgary, Canada, I felt this was a couple with whom I could enjoy a friendship.
Ithaka surveyed well, and over the next couple of weeks the Murphys got their ducks in order. We exchanged dozens of emails, and Bernadette sent the girls CDs full of photographs so they could get some notion of what their future digs would look like. Then, one afternoon, a gaggle of bits and bytes zapped through the ether, gold moved from one room to another, ownership passed from one family to another. Bernadette and I drove down to Ithaka that evening, and sat on the ground beneath her. We drank a glass of wine in tribute to a vessel that had cradled our dreams, carried our hopes, protected us against ourselves and the trials of nature. Both of us cried that evening. We knew that a line had been crossed, that Ithaka existed now only in our memories.
The Murphys would go on to rename the boat Losloper. Suggested by their children, Losloper is an Afrikaans word that translates as "walking with an attitude of freedom." So, if you’re out on the water this summer, somewhere between Newport and points south, and you see a pretty 39-foot Shearwater with that special name, by all means extend to the family sailing her a wave and a smile, and wish them well. These are good people in a great boat, who had a life-changing epiphany this past winter. In one swift series of decisions, they found a boat they loved, had the courage to buy her and change their lives, and now they’re going cruising.