It has been 14 months since my last confession blog entry, and a lot has happened. The last time I wrote, we had just returned from our Spring 2011 three month cruise in MV Sea Spirit, our 63 foot Sea Spirit trawler yacht. That trip took us from Ft. Lauderdale across the Gulfstream current to the Bahamas, and down the Exuma island chain to George Town and back, with many pleasant stops along the way. Since then, we've had two major family travel excursions, including a month aboard the 100 foot Hargrave motor yacht that we bought into last Fall. This blog entry serves to outline that experience, and to let you know how we made the decision to come back to independent, trawler-style yachting.
Last time, we had just returned from the Exumas aboard Sea Spirit
Back from the Exumas
When we returned from the Exumas, we decided we would like to move to a slightly larger trawler, perhaps in the 75 foot range. If we had been looking for a run-of-the-mill motor yacht, of the kind "millionaires and billionaires" own, there would be plenty to choose from. But as you may recall from reading about how we chose Sea Spirit, finding a truly seaworthy trawler-style yacht was much more difficult, with only a few manufacturers offering boats in that size range. Even then, only a few had actually been produced.
On the other hand, we also noticed that many non-trawler-style yachts were being used by families just like ours, out for a few weeks or months of ocean living. Despite being of much lighter build than Sea Spirit (as reflected in their much lighter weight per foot of length), they didn't seem to be falling apart at the first sign of bad weather. I'll save the "motor yacht versus trawler" debate for another posting, but our interest was piqued enough to start looking around at well-built motor yachts from companies such as Hatteras, Hargrave, Lazzara, Horizons, and so on.
In the late summer of 2011, I came across a fractional yacht management company that was offering 5% or 10% shares of a 100 foot Hargrave motor yacht called Perfect Harmony (specs and photos from the Hargrave web site here
). The notion was that each shareholder would buy into the yacht, would be able to use the yacht for two weeks per year per 5% share, and would pay both an annual maintenance fee and all "variable expenses" while aboard the yacht. Variable expenses means fuel, dockage, food and drink, and so on. The maintenance fee covers everything else. The up front capital requirement to buy in would be calculated by simply taking the discounted price of the whole yacht, and dividing it by whatever percentage was being bought by each owner.
The 100 foot Hargrave Motor Yacht Perfect Harmony
at anchor in the Abacos, November 2011
If ever the ownership interest were no longer needed, it could be sold through a broker just as a wholly-owned yacht would be sold through a broker. Effectively, this was a timeshared yacht, with all the plusses and minuses that come along with timesharing anything. Perfect Harmony came fully equipped, including a 23' Wellcraft tender (towed behind the yacht), a rigid inflatable dinghy (aboard), two personal watercraft, and some kayaks. Also, the yacht would be professionally crewed by a captain, first mate, chef, and stewardess. We had never shared a yacht before, nor even a condominium. However, I had previously co-owned an airplane, and the experience was generally positive. We remained intrigued, and tried to make a decision as to whether this could be an interesting path forward.
The 23 foot Wellcraft that came with Perfect Harmony. A very capable
fishing platform for our son, who provided the raw ingredients
for dinner on many days - both for our yacht and for others.
In summary: big, but still beachable
I decided that two weeks per year wouldn't be right for us, but a single 6-week stretch would probably do nicely. This would make us 15% owners of the yacht, and allow us a significant say in where it went during whatever season we chose to base our ownership. We thought that if we could make that arrangement, we would give it a try for a couple of seasons and see what came from it. But we had the same concerns that any prospective part-owner would have: What would the management company be like to work with? Were other owners of the company's other yachts happy, and so on. I put out some feelers on Yachtforums.com
, and managed to talk not only to the owners that the management company recommended me to (who naturally would be positive in their outlook), but also to a couple of other owners who were not recommended by the management company. Generally speaking, owners were happy. However, I also learned that both the yachts and the crews were fairly heavily used, and that I should be prepared for some issues such as crew burn-out (leading to crew rotating in and out) over time. Ultimately, we bought in, and arranged an initial 4 week trip in November 2011 to the Abacos, to be followed by a 6 week Spring 2012 trip into the Caribbean.
At this point, you might be asking yourself "But there will be crew!" Yes, this was going to be a very different kind of yachting than what we were used to aboard Sea Spirit. How would we react to it? What would it be like? We didn't know, but were keen to try it out. Perfect Harmony herself was about 2 years old, but had never been used. The story was that she was ordered before the 2008 financial crisis, but was not completed until late 2009 in the midst of all the financial uncertainty of that time. She had basically "sat" by the dock since then. Knowing what we all know about new boats, we anticipated that there would be teething troubles. In return for that, we were offered a really good deal on the November trip. We knew what we were getting into, and the management company was thankful to have a family that understood boats coming aboard for the first cruise.
After some initial discussions with the captain (by phone and email) to talk about itinerary, we showed up a couple of days before departure, to find a very busy crew madly getting everything ready. The captain and stewardess were a young married couple (early thirties) with over a decade of yachting experience, though this would be his first time as captain managing a crew. He had served on many much larger yachts, had crossed the Atlantic, operated in the Med, and so on. We felt we were in good hands. The stewardess was an ex professional racing sailor, so there was plenty of expertise there too. The first mate did not have as much experience, but was pleasant enough, and appeared to be a very hard worker. And the chef had run her own restaurant in Australia, and we formed an immediate bond with her, especially our kids.
It took a while for the crew to realize that we really just wanted to be treated like ordinary people who had help running the boat, rather than royalty who would never want to get their hands dirty. I would wander into the engine room, for example, where the captain was busily tending something, and initially he would stop everything and (for lack of a better way of putting it) see what it would take to get me out of there without upsetting me. But I'm a pretty mechanical kind of guy, and as you loyal readers know - I LOVE being in the heart of the boat's systems. After a few days, I think he recognized that it was useful for the next wrench or screwdriver to always be ready in my hand whenever he might need it. Also, there were various systems on the yacht that I had specific expertise with, such as the air conditioning systems. It took a while, but ultimately he accepted that things would go faster if I helped. At least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Although the captain and I got used to each other in a few days, it actually took a little longer for the crew to get used to themselves. There were communications problems between captain and crew that took about 2 weeks to work through. Things worked fairly well in non-demanding situations, but during docking there were a few colorfully-metaphored shouting matches that raised our eyebrows a bit. Although our captain couldn't have been a harder worker with higher standards if he tried, and was able to make the boat go wherever he wanted even very close to other yachts while docking, his crew management skills had yet to develop. In the end, I had to do a bit of discreet coaching about how to prepare a staff to deal with an upcoming situation such as a technically difficult docking. To his credit, he picked up on it right away, and things calmed down. Still, it was very interesting to watch, and my kids expanded their vocabulary by several exotic new words.
We were (perhaps too) royally looked after, including by the chef,
who prepared amazing meals for us as many times per day as we wished.
However, after a while, we ended up feeling it was "another day, another wedding".
To chef's credit, it was never a problem to cut back, but we felt a little strange
going from this opulence to "Mac n Cheese please"
The chef was absolutely incredible, and had real talent, but it was her first time at sea. Inevitably, this meant she had to "find her sea legs", which took a while. Also, despite having taken some sort of "yacht crew" course (along with the required safety courses), she did not have enough knowledge to follow the captain's shouted (yet largely inaudible from the bow) instructions during a windy docking. This posed a bit of a problem, because on a yacht of this size, it is helpful to have someone at the bow handling lines, someone at the stern handling lines, and someone at the helm maneuvering the yacht. But in addition, we had the 23' Wellcraft tender being towed behind Perfect Harmony. Before docking, someone needed to transfer from the yacht to the tender and bring the tender in to its own docking space. A quick review of arithmetic shows that with a crew of 4, and one in the Wellcraft, and one (chef) not really able to function during docking, we were one person short! But no problem, we are a boating family with some experience, so surely I could stand in for one of the crew during docking, right?
Into the drink between two boats
The most frightening event in my yachting career occurred during the first week on Perfect Harmony, as I volunteered to climb into the tender and dock it while the remainder of the crew docked the main yacht. The crew stood on Perfect Harmony's swim platform, pulled the Wellcraft in by its tow rope, and held its bow while I prepared to transfer. It was very windy and rough, and the tender bounced up and down a lot more in the unpredictable waves than the uber-stable Perfect Harmony. As a result, it was actually very difficult (for me) to judge the leap from Perfect Harmony's swim platform up and over the bow of the Wellcraft tender. It was really only possible to do it when the Wellcraft's bow was down relative to Perfect Harmony. But judging those ups and downs isn't as easy in practice as it sounds.
As you can see, it's quite a leap up from the swim platform to the bow of the Wellcraft,
even in calm waters such as these. Also, if you look at the earlier Wellcraft photo,
you'll see the anchor poking over the bow -- not a great landing point
Down went the bow, so I leaped across. I nearly made it, but I had ended up mis-timing my leap. The Wellcraft's bow raised itself up as I was in mid-jump. I was almost far enough on to pull myself aboard, but in the end slipped down and ended up in the ocean between the two boats. There were many hands keeping the Wellcraft's bow away as I pulled myself back up onto the swim platform, and I didn't really feel like I was in danger. But in all honesty, things could have gone very wrong, and I could have been bonked by the many thousands of pounds of Wellcraft if it were allowed to squeeze me between itself and Perfect Harmony.
The day was rough, like this day, which compounded the skill required for the leap.
Apparently, I didn't quite have that skill, nor the sense to avoid trying anyway.
"Nature is a harsh teacher - she gives the test first, but teaches the lesson later."
Thinking back on the situation, it frightens me more now than it did at the time. After pulling myself up again, I made the leap again and managed to get into the Wellcraft with no problem. Only later on did I really start to analyze the situation. It turns out there were several things we could have done differently in order to have a safer boarding experience. The Wellcraft was not fully in the lee of the yacht; we did not attempt to bring it alongside, which would have facilitated a much smaller step over the side rather than over the bow; we could have delayed making the transfer until inside the calm waters of the harbor (it wasn't that small) rather than doing it just outside the entranceway; and so on. Truly, both for the crew and myself it was not the finest bit of decision making ever made.
Still, all's well that ends well, and we got better at it with each passing docking. Eventually, the chef improved her ability to assist with docking, and it became unnecessary for me to be the poor soul jumping from yacht to tender.
One of the things we have not yet had the "pleasure" of doing in Sea Spirit is running aground. Of course, Sea Spirit is fully protected down there anyway, so some kind of soft grounding would be a non-event unless it occurred on a falling tide. Not so in a motor yacht (as opposed to a trawler yacht). Coming into Green Turtle Cay Marina, it was very clear that there wasn't very much water at all under the yacht. In fact, it was so thin that I was sent ahead in the tender in order to map out a deep enough channel for Perfect Harmony to follow. Unfortunately, one of the casualties of the two idle years was that the depth sounder in the tender wasn't working. So, there I was, trying to judge depths by eye. Although I'd got quite good at this in the Exumas, I had to admit that this time around I couldn't really tell the difference between 6 feet (no good) and 8 feet (marginal, but ok). All my radio calls back to the yacht were of the form "I can't tell you that it's deep enough, but I'm in the deepest part." With Perfect Harmony a few hundred feet behind me, I looked back as the captain brought her around a particularly shallow looking part, and clearly came to a halt, aground. Almost immediately, the captain reversed Perfect Harmony off of the sand bar, and we made the decision to anchor out until we could become more certain of a safe path through.
As I mentioned, in Sea Spirit this would have been a complete non-event. But most motor yachts, including Perfect Harmony, have exposed propellors (ie: no keel under them that would protect in case of a grounding), and a small amount of "curling" of the props had occurred. Fortunately, an extensive check of all the running gear (especially shafts and seals) showed no damage, and the yacht was able to run without any vibration. Still, it was interesting to see how the decision-making that led to this grounding came about. I put it down to the captain being eager-to-please, but it didn't bring him the result he was looking for!
A Contrast in Captains
Although Perfect Harmony's captain was very competent in terms of dealing with windy dockings, navigational planning, and so on, there was a very stark contrast between him and our Sea Spirit training captain, Sarah Lowell. With Sarah, everything was all about safety, conservatism, being careful, preventing rather than curing a bad situation. With Perfect Harmony's captain, there seemed to be more of a component of "making it", getting through, achieving, completing, satisfying. There were many situations where ..... and I ended up saying privately to ourselves "we would have made very different decisions based on how we were taught." I'm sure there are plenty of both kinds of captains around, and they each have their strengths and weaknesses. But we are very grateful indeed for the safety-first approach taken by Captain Lowell, and would highly recommend her to anyone looking to learn how to run a trawler. Many of the lessons she taught us seemed a little imponderable at the time. But aboard Perfect Harmony, there were several times when we said "Mmm, if we did that Captain Sarah's way, this thing wouldn't have happened."
But It Was Mostly All Good
I wouldn't want to leave you with the impression that we had a bad experience with either Perfect Harmony or her crew. In fact, it was quite the reverse. We had a great time aboard. We had this huge and almost ridiculously comfortable yacht, some of our favorite friends aboard, 4 massive staterooms with bathrooms more opulent than we have at home, a hot tub on the flybridge, and every possible comfort. We were getting fed like kings and queens, and didn't need to do any of the cleaning or servicing of the yacht. We had a great time in the Abacos, especially once we got "around the corner" toward Marsh Harbour. There were many nooks and crannies to explore, many shells to gather, many fish to catch, many "Bahamian swinging ring and hook games" to play, and many other boaters to talk to. Perfect Harmony herself was very clearly a superbly built yacht, and the 100 foot length meant there was an absurdly large amount of room aboard, both for us and for all of the yacht's systems. I think my first apartment was smaller than the engine room, for example. All in all, she was a fine vessel from which to explore the Abacos, and the crew looked after us just fine.
This one reminds me of a Norman Rockwell painting
where everyone's expression tells a different story
Life's simple pleasures
Are we really here, and have we managed to bring our good friends with us? Yes!
Yahoo! Er... Wahoo!
If the boy isn't fishing, you'll find him deep in "fishing preparation"
Bahamian shells. Very pretty. This is my daughter's collection.
Dockside, we felt a little conspicuous on our 100 footer, just the opposite of what we felt when we were in Atlantis Marina in Nassau on Sea Spirit, where we were practically the smallest boat around. In Atlantis, there were many over-200 foot yachts with ever-smiling security personnel standing by the passaralles. But in the Abacos, we were usually the largest yacht around, and people deferred to us in ways that we not only weren't used to, but didn't particularly enjoy. It was as if people expected us to be snotty or distant, which really isn't our style. We recognized the problem, and took steps to reach out to reach out to other boaters just as we always have. As usual, we were rewarded with many wonderful conversations, and the occasional playmate for our kids. The Wellcraft was a wonderful fishing platform, and my son (age 11 at that time) is an avid fisherman. Showing up at the marina with a load of freshly caught fish to give away is always a good way to make friends.
We were still "just us", but some were intimidated by the boat's size.
But by the time our four weeks was up, we basically knew that it was the Sea Spirit kind of boating that we wanted to return to, where we were truly independent, and where we were pulling our own weight. Also, we like "opulent", but this was just a little too opulent, too wasteful, too dependent on crew being around. We found that while the crew was there for us 25 hours per day and 8 days per week, we didn't really *want* people to be at our beck and call. I want to underscore that this was in no way the crew's fault. I think if we were right in their target market -- people going for two week vacations on the boat each year -- it would have been wonderful. But not for us. We wanted to be more hands on, more down to earth, and receive a little less royal treatment. ..... and I don't regret having had this experience for a moment, and November 2011 will always be a highlight of our lives. But when we thought about coming back in Spring 2012 for another month or 6 weeks of the same, we knew that we didn't want to do it. So in addition to learning about big boat yachting, we learned a little about ourselves too.
Ahhhhh. In her own way, just as comfortable, and in many ways, moreso.
After letting the decision sit for a few weeks to make sure we weren't just reacting to something, we let the management company know that we wanted to sell our share. Naturally, they were concerned, and offered all sorts of creative and interesting proposals to keep us involved. Would we like to run the yacht with just one captain instead of a full crew, for example? Although there were things we could possibly have said yes to, in the end we decided to stick with our decision to sell. When one makes an entry-and-exit decision on a boat within a few months, one expects that the economics will not be on one's side. And indeed, exiting the shared ownership involved taking a bit of a financial bath. I could quibble about whether we were fairly treated financially, but in reality the situation was financially imperfect for the management company too. I won't hide the details from anyone who asks about making an entry decision on a fractional ownership yachting opportunity, but I won't post them on a public forum either. People can contact me privately if they are strongly considering a fractional boating share.
Are we Hypocrites?
As you know from our many blog entries about Sea Spirit, we absolutely loved our time aboard. And our principal "complaint" about our Perfect Harmony experience was that it was "too much", "too opulent", "too royal". But in addition to our yachting aboard Sea Spirit and Perfect Harmony, we have greatly enjoyed cruise ship cruising over the years. Our kids, age 10 and 12, have spent 3 months at sea aboard Sea Sprit and a month on Perfect Harmony, but they've spent over 6 months each at sea aboard cruise ships in their short lives. We've done the Great Siberian Sushi Run twice (well, similar routing -- Seattle/Vancouver to Singapore/Bangkok via the Aleutian Islands) on 1000 foot ships; we've gone back and forth to Hawaii from the mainland; we've made passage from Sydney to Bangkok, and many other shorter journeys. Indeed, we are well qualified to say definitively that there is no ship so big that it cannot rock enough to make some people seasick (though not us any more). This fall, we're adding Dubai to Singapore in November to our cruise ship experiences.
One of the two ships on which we have transited from Seattle or Vancouver
to Bangkok or Singapore, via the Aleutian Islands.
So, why do we like cruise ship cruising if we didn't like being waited on hand and foot on Perfect Harmony? The difference is that on a private crewed yacht, the whole crew is there *just for us*, and all activities are just their just for our enjoyment. By contrast, on a cruise ship, they are "providing a hotel service for everyone", which we can take or leave as we see fit. I'm not sure if my words make the difference clear, but I must tell you it feels very different. On the yacht, we are the center of everyone's attention. On the cruise ship, the crew is just as happy to serve the next person if it turns out you don't want to eat right now, go ashore right now, and so on. But if we skip a meal on the yacht, or decide at the last minute we want to "eat light", what is chef supposed to do with the food prepared over the past few hours? Perhaps we are victims of our own self consciousness. But whatever it is, the difference is still palpable to us. So, hypocrites or not, we're off of crewed yachting for the foreseeable future!
Efficiencies Of Trawlers Versus Motor Yachts
Sea Spirit is a very efficient trawler yacht. Not so for our 100 footer, which used easily 4 times the fuel, even at displacement speeds. We did like the fact that if the weather or daylight situation called for it, we could open up to 20 knots with no problem (on a relatively smooth day, at least), and get where we wanted to go. But we would end up burning (I think) around 150 GPH versus the 10GPH or so we would burn at 7 to 8 knots (and in Sea Spirit that would have been 2-3 GPH as per my fuel chart in an earlier blog entry). Also, at least one of Perfect Harmony's pair of 40KW generators was turned on as we untied in Fort Lauderdale, and ran much of the next month! Dock power for a yacht that size is unreliable, at least in the Abacos. In Sea Spirit, we would leave the genset off except when we needed to cook or occasionally run the air conditioning (including some nights, just to reduce the humidity). But on Perfect Harmony, they were nearly always on. We missed the efficiencies of Sea Spirit, and yearned a little for the "back to nature" feeling we got aboard her. In a nutshell, we felt pretty wasteful aboard our 100 footer, and didn't like the feeling.
What about Sea Spirit?
It's been a good -- if quiet -- year for Sea Spirit. Our training captain, Sarah Lowell, has been looking after her for us in Fort Lauderdale. Sea Spirit gets run fairly often, and all of her systems get exercised. Being a boat, things are discovered from time to time, and my attitude has been to maintain her in as good condition as possible, even while she has been for sale. As Judy Waldman, our broker, will tell you, there's no deferred maintenance on this trawler! We've replaced one of the Garmin 5212 chart plotters that wasn't acting right. We had to replace a piece of teak caprail that rubbed against a piling during the most recent hurricane that passed just West of Tampa around the time of the Republican convention. That caprail did its job, ensuring that the hull itself never touched the piling. But there was a piece chewed out of it, so I decided to just have the entire section replaced. She's being hauled for bottom paint later this month, and we'll see if anything else shows up during the haul. There have been a few other things that have seemed out of place or "in need of attention" over the last few months, and each time, we've chosen to promptly bring the boat back into good-as-new condition. And one of the most helpful things we have on our side is the Wheelhouse Technologies "Marine Maintenance System", which is a web site that keeps track of all the maintenance intervals for each system aboard. So, when it's time to flush the freshwater pump filters, Sarah Lowell and I each get an email telling us about it.
What are we looking To Do Next?
We've now had our fun aboard the 63 foot trawler Sea Spirit, which has given us some unforgetably wonderful experiences. We've also enjoyed our time as owners and passengers aboard the 100 foot motor yacht Perfect Harmony. Our thinking is that we would now like to try something considerably smaller, perhaps even something we could trailer from place to place, and store out of the water when not in use.
We're looking at the extremely well designed boats manufactured by two sister companies, Ranger Tugs and Cutwater Boats. In particular, the Ranger Tugs R-31 and the Cutwater 30 have caught our attention. So, we'll see how the season progresses. What will it be like to transition from a much larger boat to a trailerable tug? We think it will be great. Although space is the ultimate luxury, it can also bring its own burdens, and believe me, we have felt those burdens over the last several years. It's not just the financial outlays, although those are considerable. It's also the worry of having a boat a continent away from where we live, and having it in the water during hurricane seasons. And it is also fair to say that the sheer size and "wastefulness" of the 100 footer simply didn't suit our character. So, we look forward to this new chapter, and will keep you informed as developments unfold.
MV Sea Spirit