• Jill

Beginning Boat Shopping: Part I

Hello beautiful people!

Wildly, it's been nearly five months (!?!?) since our last blog post, and just over four since our crazy, 382 day trip came to an end. I'll be the first to admit that I thought we'd post a little more regularly during this "off" time, but life comes at you fast. We touched down, started working again, bought a car, moved from my parents' spare bedroom into the upstairs of our friends' John and Melina's house, and have been trying to sort out how to exist in this "normal" life again while still keeping our sights on future goals.

I am pleased to report that we are doing pretty well! I am back to substitute teaching full-time, and Andrew is working as a drafter at a survey company in old town Tacoma. We enjoy living with John and Melina (they were our housemates for about 2 years before we got married and started the trip) and we're in love with our new-to-us Prius that we got a great deal on. And now that spring is around the corner (and we aren't biting our nails over paychecks quite so badly) we have officially started boat shopping.

We first announced on the blog that we wanted to live on a boat back in September while we were in Ecuador, but we had decided it was our next move long before that. Our goal is to balance regular working life here in Tacoma with the kind of novelty and adventure we got used to enjoying on the trip. We'd also talked about tiny living years ago, so a little home on the water kind of checks all the boxes. Not to mention, slip fees and boat payments still add up to way less than the average cost of an apartment on the waterfront, so... not a hard sell. We put our name on the waitlist for a 40' slip in Foss Harbor Marina back in August, and when we checked in about two weeks ago, we learned we should be able to snag a slip within a couple of months, and be awarded liveaboard status around the late summer/fall. This means we'll get to enjoy a "soft transition" from land life at Melina and John's house to full-on living on our boat downtown, using the summer months to get to know our vessel and work on any updates and aesthetic projects that are top priority before we're full-time liveaboards.

Last weekend we viewed the first 2 boats of this shopping experience!

The first was a Catalina 36 that we spotted on Craigslist a day before going up to see it. We emailed the seller that morning, and it turned out he was hanging out at the boat for most of the day to allow for viewings, so we made the drive all the way up to Elliot Bay. The sun was out, and from the marina parking lot, we had a view across the bay of downtown Seattle.

We were met at the dock by Dave, the owner. He'd had the boat for about 20 years, and wasn't spending the time on it anymore. It was in beautiful condition, with the teak shining both inside and out; clearly a well-loved and cared-for boat.

At this moment, our first priority is to get a feel of the inside layout and determine if a boat is even livable the way we'd like. Once we like what a boat has to offer, we'll start closely inspecting some of the more mechanical operations, rigging, etc. And we certainly won't purchase anything without a professional survey. Anyway, we climbed down into the Catalina, and were surprised with how spacious it felt for a 36'. (36 is about as low as we're willing to go as far as length.)

View from the steps leading down into the cabin, above the kitchen to the left, nav station to the right

I really like U-shaped settees, and I liked the big table offered in the saloon of the Catalina. Andrew pointed out that we'd probably most often eat at the two smaller seats and the smaller table, though that side can also convert into a bench. I liked the vision of all my books tucked into the wooden shelves on each side of the saloon, and it felt bright.

The nav station also offered another chair, which is pretty common but not guaranteed.

Moving backwards through the boat, there was an aft cabin under the cockpit. The headroom was pretty low here, and to use it as a full bed, your legs would be in something of a tiny cocoon... but it looked doable. The seller mentioned his close friends who love staying in the aft cabin when they come aboard. I could see it, though it isn't an ideal master bedroom. Unfortunately, the v-berth up front seemed way too small for two adults to live full-time, though it could probably accommodate guests okay.

Our heads would go where Andrew is sitting, and a support and cushion go where his feet are to make it a real bed. (aft cabin)

The v-berth, which has limited storage but would make a cozy reading nook.

The bathroom (or, excuse me, the head) was very attractive to me, with "shower curtains" installed to keep the toilet and sink area safe from the shower when in wet-room mode. The toilet was a recent update, and is electric flush, and the seller gave us a detailed low-down of how well it works and how much of a relief it is to have that style of toilet on board (especially with guests who'd never seen the pump-kind before). I'm totally down with that upgrade. We've talked about a composting toilet as an option for whatever liveaboard we go with, but if it comes with an already updated electric toilet, I won't be getting rid of that!

The galley, with decent storage, and plenty of counter space once we ditched the microwave!

The biggest drawback of this Catalina, truly, was overall storage space. I loved how in Andrew's parents 47' bluewater cruiser, there was storage under all the settee cushions; they used most of it for food, but since we won't need to be stocked up for weeks at a time while living at the dock, I imagined those as great spots for all my cute shoes and art supplies. A boat more than 10 feet shorter, however, used those spaces for all the various water/fuel/holding tanks, batteries, etc. There are cabinets and drawers on the Catalina, but the hanging locker was very small, and Andrew and I are trying to have normal work lives (read: nice-looking work clothes) while we live there.

Ultimately, the seller of the Catalina 36 already had several cash offers, and with this being the first boat we looked at we weren't in a place to be competitive with them. We already knew this wouldn't be the one, but I don't think we'd have moved on it anyway with the lack of storage we'd like. However, I was feeling a lot more confident in the size range we were looking at, if the smallest we'd possibly consider had so many good things to offer!

Boat number two was up in Shilshole, and was one we had already planned to see later in the week when the seller returned from out of town. By happenstance however, we spotted it listed in the window of a boat broker, and the guy in the office told us we could go see it on our own if we wanted. We drove up to the marina, had to get in touch with the seller over the phone so marina staff had permission to let us in, but in the end we got to have a look around without making two separate hour drives to Seattle.

It was a Hunter Legend 37.5, but not quite as pristinely cared for as the Catalina. The owners of this boat had been living aboard for a long time, and were only moving off and selling because they needed space on land for the girlfriend's wine business (something Andrew and I very much approve of). It became obvious how living aboard does put more wear and tear on parts of the boat than just being a weekender; that, and there were lots of cracks in the coating on the outside.

The layout was decent enough in the saloon. I liked the deep L-shaped settee, and I loved that the v-berth opened with double doors so you could use it as part of the living room. Andrew said he could tell there was an extra foot of beam, though I admit I didn't notice it so much. There wasn't quite enough headroom in the main space, though, and Andrew was hitting his head; we also knew right away we'd need to replace the small oval table with a larger one.

The v-berth, aka guest bedroom, aka extra living room seating

The galley wasn't too bad. We know we're sacrificing a lot of kitchen space by selecting a boat as a living option, but we like to cook enough that we want the best we can find. This one had a good amount of counter space for the size of the space, and the storage seemed decent. I knew we'd rip the microwave out right away and use that space in a way that was more effective for us; we don't microwave often. I preferred the Catalina's galley setup, but the fridge/freezer on the Hunter was spacious!

We knew this was not the boat for us when we took a peek in the aft cabin. I'm really dying to have an aft cabin, which is not a guarantee in our size range, so I was thrilled to see it listed in the ad. There was lots of good storage around the edge of the cabin itself, and the bed was a great size, but the headroom... left a lot to be desired. And by that I mean, I was entirely unwilling to try to sleep full-time in that little room.

Imagine without the sails stowed away, of course...

We both hit our heads multiple times just trying to get a look. Imagine having to pee in the middle of the night!

The head wasn't particularly notable, though I liked that it was right off the aft cabin because theoretically, if the aft were the master, the bathroom would be close by. It was also a wet-room style shower (most sailboats are) but didn't already have the nice shower curtains the Catalina offered. Trivial I know, because it would be such a minor task, but after bumping our heads so many times already it didn't improve our perception of the boat.

Truthfully, our impression of the Hunter was that it lacked a little luster. This particular boat was much dirtier than the Catalina had been, there were a lot more aesthetic projects I'd consider high on the list of priorities, and it was already at the top end of our price range. However, there was way better storage in this boat, and I did really like the saloon/v-berth combo.

Andrew and I would both be interested in looking at other Catalina 36's (and longer) in our price range, and Hunters that were just a bit bigger. Storage, comfort in the master bedroom, and headroom are things we really care about. We need a decent fridge, stove, and shower system. Everyone keeps telling us to get on as many boats as we can possible manage, and it's already clear why that's the general advice--I feel like we've learned a lot and every boat we see helps us narrow down our priorities and figure out what's possible in our budget and size range.

Stay tuned for all our future boat viewings, and as always, if you know of a boat in the Pacific Northwest that you think fits our needs, let us know!


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