I didn’t expect this topic to be a two-parter, but I guess that’s all part of the adventure. Turns out, the complications described in my last post were just the appetizer. But first, the good news:
WE FOUND A BOAT!
More on that later, but needed to get that out because it precipitated how a simple thing like trying to give someone a bunch of money got complicated.
To back up a little, the current boat market is one of lots of people looking and very little inventory. We can thank COVID for that, as many others apparently had similar restlessness and a yearning for adventure in the midst of COVID confinements. Boats were just another one of those recreational things in high demand when life screeched to a halt a year ago. But while everyone wanted to buy boats, those who already had them didn’t want to sell them because they were now actually using them. Dave, in his laser-focused way once he decides on something, had been following the online listings like a stock broker pours over ticker tape. We looked at a few boats along the way, but by the time we went back to Minnesota to close on the house we were feeling like Goldilocks – this one too small, this one too big, this one too poorly maintained, this one too dated. The trip back to MN gave us a chance to set the search aside temporarily. So as we were heading back from MN, Dave saw a new listing as he resumed his daily scrutiny of YachtWorld (the nautical version of Zillow).
Complication Part 2A: Our broker arranged a showing in a few days, but mentioned we should check with insurance agents to get pre-approved. The boat insurance industry had been rapidly changing in just the last three months. With all the recent thunderstorm and hurricane claims, many big companies are getting out of the boat insurance arena or adding all kinds of conditions and stipulations. Dave had already compiled a list of our past boating experience and certifications in anticipation. So Dave calls one of the bigger insurers recommended by several sources, who we will call The Fred Company. Within three minutes he’s told ‘no way’ by the guy taking the call. Unless we have three years experience owning a boat of the same size (40-50’) they will not write a policy. Period. Not even with a stipulation that we had heard was fashionable that there be a Coast Guard Certified Captain on board whenever the boat left the dock for the next year. His Navy Commanding Officer experience would count for nothing. Over and out.
I found it rather mind-boggling that Dave could be trusted with the responsibility of a bejillion dollar submarine — with a nuclear reactor on board – all over the world including under the polar ice cap, but deemed incapable of operating a 47’ pleasure boat by a guy on a phone bank. To be clear, we understand that insurance companies are in the business of assessing risk. We don’t begrudge them making changes as the financial picture evolves due to circumstances beyond their control. But this seemed like a pendulum too far. Beyond these broader questions about the future state of marine insurance was our immediate problem: if we couldn’t get insurance, we couldn’t get a loan. Hard stop.
Dave took it harder than I did. It just didn’t make sense to me. He decided to try Jon The Insurance Broker in Annapolis, whom he had heard about through cruising organizations, and received a quick response to his email inquiry requesting he send over our boating ‘resume’ to forward to the underwriters of various insurers. At least it wasn’t a flat out ‘no.’ We were hopeful, but Dave still spent the day dejectedly looking online at much smaller boats that would make the liveaboard aspect of our adventure much more difficult, if not impossible. Things were a bit subdued around our place on Monday.
Tuesday afternoon we had an answer: an email from Jon The Insurance Broker with a quote that he said was the best price of the companies he heard from (you mean there was more than one?). Dave showed me the letter and I did a double-take at the quote.
“Is it missing a digit?” was the first thing I asked. “Is that maybe per month?” He called Jon to verify everything. It was real, and the quote was about a third of what we had budgeted. What about stipulations, such as the need to have a certified captain aboard or latitudes we needed to be north of by hurricane season? Nope, no stipulations. We were jaw-droppingly but quite pleasantly shocked. But the ultimate irony? The winning quote was from…The Fred Company.
So now over that speed bump, we went to see the boat – a Maine Cat 47, the ninth of nine of these power catamarans made. This one was custom-built in 2014 for the current owners, a long-time cruising Aussie couple from Brisbane who currently live in Virginia. It was immaculate, had all the bells and whistles Dave liked, and it was immediately apparent of quality design and materials. It checked all the boxes for us except one, and just the right size for us to be able to get under every bridge and through every canal on any route we choose. The owners spent nearly two hours showing us every little nook and cranny – just delightful people. Even our broker thought it was perfect for us, and we spoke in the marina parking lot about making an offer. Goldilocks was happy. After some back-and-forth negotiations over the next few days (driving Dave nuts), our broker worked out a good deal for us right at our target price! Everything fell into place. Now for all the admin.
Complication Part 2B: We should have known it was too easy. Remember Complication Part 1 from my previous blog about our chosen mail service and my DMV experience? (The March 2 blog) Well, guess what came back to bite us in the butt! As you might recall, I ended up having to put my brother-in-law’s address on my driver’s license as my residence because the clerk wouldn’t let me use the mail service for which we had signed up, while Dave’s clerk didn’t question it at all and so his license listed the mail service. When we started working on the loan application, it turns out the address on each license cannot be a mailing service or the banks will immediately reject it. Which meant Dave’s license was a big problem and mine wasn’t! Another hard stop. So how to reconcile – and quickly? The first part of reconciliation had several options, although inherently complicated each in their own way. But the biggest bugaboo was the ‘quickly’ part. All involved a DMV office somewhere, and everything in The Time of COVID required an appointment with availability in April at the earliest.
Who would have thought the biggest obstacle to becoming a seafarer would be a license to drive an automobile?!?
Complication Part 2C: Around the same time, we discovered another issue. The loan application required our last three tax returns. Dave had 2018 and 2020, but for some reason the tax program would not load our 2019 return. He spent hours reloading software and talking with H&R Block Help Desk, but it just wasn’t working. The good news is that Dave always prints and keeps a hard copy every year and we knew exactly where it was. The bad news is it was in our storage garage in Minnesota.
We began ‘working the problem(s)’ and spent the better part of a day punching our way through incredibly annoying phone trees to be put on Ignore for long periods before finally talking to a live person, and wading through DMV websites. Bureaucracy in The Time of Covid is a whole other beast, but we were patient while persistent as we recognize that everyone is winging it as best they can in an environment where how things were done even yesterday is completely irrelevant to how they will be done today. By late afternoon, it had become clear that the best plan was to get Dave’s Minnesota license address changed to his brother’s address like mine – which meant that my clerk from three weeks ago had done me a favor in a Right Church, Wrong Pew kind of way. This meant a trip to Minnesota for Dave, as it had to be done in person. But it would also allow him to pick up the hard copy of our 2019 tax return, get the necessary ‘lease’ from his brother Rick that we needed both for the license address change and the loan application, as well as take care of some medical stuff he needed. Booking a flight for the next morning was easy. But the biggest coup of the day was discovering that the DMV office in beautiful Northfield, MN still did walk-in service.
Now Dave was a Man On A Mission. He arrived at MSP airport around 9:30 am, and by noon had completed what he needed to do in Northfield, which was the #1 priority. I’d have sent him with a giant batch of Caramel Nut Brownies for the entire DMV office there if there had been time. Over the next couple days the tax return was retrieved from the condo garage, a couple check-in bags with some other stuff from the condo garage that we wanted to bring down were loaded, he enjoyed dinner with Rick and Deb, medical stuff done, all the admin for the loan application was submitted, and he even was able to get a haircut and have a hot dog at his favorite Portillos not once but twice as an added bonus. Meanwhile, I hung out at the camper enjoying the beautiful Florida weather, while Roxy moped awaiting Dave’s return.
He’s back now, and we move on to the next steps in buying the boat. The ‘survey’ or inspection is scheduled for next week, to include hauling it out of the water in order to inspect the hull and beneath the water line, as well as taking it out for a test drive. If all goes as expected she should be ours in early April. Once settled onboard, we will sell the trailer and further simplify life. Or at least, simplify our material life. We’ve learned that simplifying does not necessarily mean simple. No doubt further complications await us over the course of this great adventure. But great satisfaction comes from overcoming these obstacles. One. At. A time.
We are doubly excited and can now start planning everything to start our new life. It still feels a little unreal. I’ll share more pictures of the boat once it is ours, and more plans as they develop. We will be changing the name, but I’m not revealing that quite yet. While we are both confident in our general abilities, we still need to learn this particular boat and gain competence and confidence on handling it.
Some astute readers may have picked up on my earlier comment that this boat ‘checked all the boxes for us except one.’ What’s the one thing missing? It doesn’t have a dock master, aka remote. Yet.