September 15, 2007 By Tania Aebi
The Deal Is Done
By Tania Aebi
January 2007. With the Trinidadian selection thoroughly picked over, I reset my sights on St. Maarten, another island reputed for its healthy used-boat market, and purchased another airplane ticket. Knowing by now how boats tend to match up with listing promises and half stories, I spent a lot of skeptical time on the internet between the Yachtworld brokerage site, and other directions to which web links kept sending me, reading between the lines, tracking down possibilities, gathering names of brokers to contact. At one point, the cyberspace trail led to a ketch in the Dominican Republic, an Allied Mistress 39
In spite of myself, I got so excited over this one. Built in 1973, completely refitted in 2003, she sounded great. New pedestal steering, rebuilt engine, new rigging, newly epoxied hull, new sails, new bimini, new cushions, new stove and gas lines, new electrical system, and roomy to boot. The broker emailed me a three-year-old survey that claimed she was in excellent shape. The owners were asking $85,000, and after looking up what similar models were going for, I said I’d come to the DR to see her only if they’d consider dropping to $50,000. They countered with $55,000, and so I booked the side trip from St. Maarten.
|My first sight of Shangri-La|
February 2007. Each Caribbean island has its own character. St. Maarten is a duty-free mall for everything, including boats, split between Dutch and French sides crammed with shops, restaurants, resorts, casinos, traffic jams, and some tropical vegetation. My first morning there, I called Tony at Littleships, a broker with several boats that had sounded interesting. We agreed to meet at 10. While waiting, I wandered over to the center of Marigot, within walking distance of my guesthouse room in a smelly section of town that also raised eyebrows. There, I found a French broker, a woman with a terrible complexion who exhaled smoke in my face accompanied by a “boff” of negativity in response to specific queries about her boats on my list—without being able to present any better alternatives. The phone rang a couple of times, and while she gabbed, I saw a cluster of masts across the water on the hard that I decided to head for as soon as possible, which, with her utter disinterest, was amazingly soon.
In the yard, I immediately noticed Tony’s Littleship signs hanging from a bunch of lifelines. One in particular caught my eye—a hard-chine, steel boat named Shangri-La. Circling it, I bumped into a guy recognizable from the picture on his website. As it turned out, this was the yard where Tony also kept his personal-investment boats, and he was there supervising some ongoing headaches before our meeting.
“So, what’s her story?” I asked about Shangri-La.
|The interior of the Lavranos, in the DR.|
“She’s South African, a Devilliers 36, launched in ‘99-2000, a very good boat. A guy from New York sailed around Cape Horn before bringing her up here to sell,” he said.
“Oh, she was on my list,” I said, recognizing the blurb. “But, just before coming down, I tried looking her up again on Yachtworld, where I saw her the first time, and she’d disappeared.”
“Aye, because I bought her,” he said in his South African way. “My other boat is too big. With this one, my wife, son, and I can play around the islands. She’s lovely and much more manageable. Want to see her?”
Aboard, something about this boat felt really good. There was nothing superfluous or gimmicky about her. The lines were clean and simple, the layout extremely practical, everything necessary was there, even fresh and salt-water foot pumps and lee cloths, small things I consider indispensable that not many boats have anymore. Even so, at this point, I really felt as if I were biding time until seeing my future Allied Mistress. I told Tony about her, he nodded and responded merely by saying there were still some other boats to see, and see them we did, zipping around massive Simpson Bay from yard to yard and anchorage to anchorage, checking out all of his possibilities for the next two days. Then, before flying over to the DR, Tony gave me one more listing of his, a Lavranos 36, that was in the same bay as my Mistress.
|This is the galley of the Lavranos.|
“Call if you have any questions,” he said. “Remember, you’re excited about an old boat. Look her over good, aye?”
Well, I didn’t have to look too hard. The first sight of my Mistress sank my heart. She was ungainly, high off the water, and with her center cockpit and square bimini enclosure, goofy. But, goofy can be endearing, too, I thought, clutching to the dream, and being a ketch does improve her appearance. But, it was a losing battle. Aboard, the endearing tack quickly lost ground. She was dark, and beamy, and faded, and used up, even with the newer refit items. There were stress cracks and stains and dirt in corners and no personal touches. Minimally loved and appreciated, she felt like a vehicle, not a home, and was being sold because of deaths and injuries.
The Mistress had featured large in my head over the past weeks, and I’d pretty much banked on her being the one. The disappointment was keenly felt. Only because I had an extra afternoon, needed a distraction, and it would have been foolish to not drag myself out, I lined up a viewing of Tony’s Lavranos.
|The forepeak of the Allied Mistress.|
Timing is everything, and my boat search enthusiasm had ebbed to the point where seeing the stark contrast between the Lavranos and Mistress became a pivotal moment. The Lavranos had been lovingly treated and enjoyed by her owners, a South African couple who had already cruised her tens of thousands of miles and were now moving ashore. Very much like Tony’s Shangri-La, the interior was also simple, practical and clean, with all kinds of useful personal touches, a real sailing and cruising vessel that hadn’t sacrificed form and function for anything. She could work.
“How much do you think they’ll accept?” I asked Tony from a sweltering telephone office.
“They don’t want anything less than $55,000 in their pocket. With my commission, that’s about $60,000. Plus, buying anything in the DR almost certainly involves some kind of major bureaucratic hassle.”
|5) Shangri-La’s aft cabin.|
Sitting in that phone booth, leaning against a peeling linoleum shelf and swatting at the mosquitoes, I made my decision. The Lavranos was 20 years old, too old for comfort and her price, but she’d revived my dashed hopes by highlighting the appeal of the similarly designed, yet newer Shangri-La in St. Maarten. I’d already called and talked it through with all my advisors back home. I wanted Shangri-La. I’d found my next boat, if she could be ours for the taking.
“I like Shangri-La,” I said to Tony, hating the pleading sound in my voice, especially with a broker/owner who had only hinted at the possibility of selling her to me. I was giving myself away, not very shrewd, but I didn’t want to keep looking at boats. It was like trying to find a mate online. Many sound good until you get close. She’d felt right, and I was ready to settle.
“Come back,” he said. “Let’s talk.”
So, back in St. Maarten, we talked . . . about child rearing, favorite Caribbean anchorages, storms, good meals, career choices, the best time to prune a banana tree, everything except price. Then, we went through Shangri-La with a fine-toothed comb, her extra lines and anchors and self-steering and instruments and batteries and rust-free lockers full of spare parts, the relatively clean engine, neat plumbing, and electrical system. I stood on deck and admired the beefy rigging, the ground tackle, the solar panels, the wind generator, and listened to the rest of her story as told by Tony.
She’d been launched in 2000 for a South African who dreamed of sailing to Antarctica. He did so, then his fiancé gave him the old ultimatum: her or the boat. He took her, and the New Yorker with a dream of sailing around Cape Horn came along and crossed over to Argentina. Old owner, new owner, and a friend did the Horn, and then she was sailed up to the Caribbean to be sold again, having fulfilled the adventuring dreams of two men. It was a good story with tidy handovers, and now it was time for her to fulfill this girl’s dream for her kids. Sitting behind the salon table across from Tony, I looked around and finally got up enough nerve to ask, “So, how much?”
|Shangri-La gets ready to splash|
“For you, because she suits you, $75,000,” he said.
Now, for a healthy cynic, it can be extremely hard to swallow a line like that from a broker. But, I still believe Tony meant it. He liked Shangri-La, he liked me, and saw a match he wanted to make possible. “And, for that price,” he added, “I’ll finish up all the work I was planning to do on her, fairing and painting the hull and decks, refitting the engine . . . in short, getting her perfectly stunning and ready for you to go anywhere.”
|Shangri-La under sail|
A few short months earlier in Trinidad, I’d told Woody my budget for the entire trip, boat, and expenses, was $75,000. But, the feeling of safety and confidence I’d be getting from Shangri-La out in the middle of the ocean with my two children would be well worth the stretch. I could also treat this voyage as the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity it was, to do it right, and if I paid more for a good boat now and took care of her, she’d give us less trouble underway, we could snorkel and hike instead of hanging out in machine shops and telephone offices tracking down parts, and I could also sell her for more later. It would all come out in the wash, and the nights of untroubled sleep as we carved a wake across the Caribbean and Pacific would be worth every extra penny. All this went through my head as Tony watched. Then, I said okay, and we shook hands. Phew. Done deal. It wasn’t easy or cheap, but for what Shangri-La was worth, my kids finally started really believing that our trip was on.