Saturday, 1 September 2012

Land locked again - Time to find our boat

May-June 2012

Having said our goodbyes to Steve and Trish on Curious we loaded our little low cost rental car and hit the road. We have been so fortunate to have been offered the hospitality of some wonderful people on this trip and we were about to experience even more of the same. On Rob’s RYA skipper’s course sailing for a week at home in Moreton Bay he’d met Tony, a Brit who spends the Australian summer in Bargara near Bundaberg and the northern summer at his home near Buckingham in England. The two had stayed in contact via email ever since the course and Tony had extended an invitation for us to come and stay with he and his wife Lyn. We were now gratefully going to accept that generous invitation.
Following a combination of Tony’s directions and the navigation app on Karen’s IPad, we successfully found our way down a narrow lane to their delightful home in very small hamlet centred around a Manor House and 17th Century church. Their house was originally part of the Manor Estate, most likely a senior servant’s accommodations.  Tony and Lyn had done a fantastic renovation to the property and we felt very spoilt.

The rear of the property ran down to a very picturesque brook that separated their large garden from the Buckingham Golf Course providing a magnificent outlook both through the floor to ceiling glass doors of their living room or the expansive rear deck.  
Tony, Karen and Lyn around the firepit table enjoying another great evening

Tony had only met Karen very briefly at Sunshine Sailing in Mooloolaba when she dropped Rob off for the Skipper’s course and Lyn had never met either of us but this very generous couple immediately made us so welcome you wouldn’t of thought it was the case. We yarned for hours late into many a night about our lives, families and travels and soon felt as if we’d know each other for years. Building these sorts of friendships is one of the great benefits of travel.

The fantastic old church opposite Tony and Lyn's

We enjoyed a night at the theatre to see a very interesting Cuban Dance Company and Tony also delighted in making sure we experienced the best of the huge number of quaint, old village pubs dotted around the area. The timing of our visit was perfect for Karen as we’d arrived just in time for the start of Buckingham’s Open Studio fortnight where artists all over the district stage exhibitions in their studio’s, galleries, church halls and even lounge rooms at home. It’s a well organised and very successful project that has now been running for a number of years. It’s also very similar to a scheme Karen had tried to get going back in Ipswich when we had our own Gallery 23 in operation. We visited a number of these exhibitions and Karen in particular enjoyed talking art with so many very talented people.

One of the many great things about our time at Tony and Lyn’s was how accepting they were of us burying ourselves in cyberworld on the laptop for hours on end scouring the internet for yachts that may fit our criteria. We were in constant contact with Marc with emails flying back and forwards containing links to likely candidates to look over along with many long skype conversations. Fortunately he lives only 40 minutes away from Tony and Lyn’s in the southern part of Buckinghamshire so we were also able to get together and go through what started as hundreds of possible boats. It was so easy to get confused as to which one had what features or equipment. In the end we developed a spreadsheet and entered all the details of the most promising boats and were then able to rank them in some sort of order.

 As the boats we were possibly interested in were spread from Turkey to California it was obviously not going to be possible to physically inspect them all. We narrowed it down to three or four models of yacht that fitted our budget and appeared to meet our needs. We then searched the web for examples of these for sale in England and planned a road trip along the southern coast to see as many as we could. The idea was if we could settle on a single make and model that we all preferred we could then go back to the internet to find the best examples of that particular design on offer.

So it was up early, fight the ridiculous English country road traffic down to pick up Marc and then battle the even more ridiculous motorway traffic down to start our boat buying odyssey at Hamble on the south coast, and, of course, it was raining. Once again Karen’s IPad navigation was essential and only the odd wrong turn was taken along the way.

Despite all this we arrived a little early for our first inspection and were able to catch up with our former Skipper, Tim for a coffee at the boatyard. Moksha was lifted out on the hard awaiting some new rudder seals. If we’d always thought at 72 feet long she looked big, sitting up in a cradle she was huge. It was good to chat with Tim about his travels since we’d left the boat and also talk to him about our plans and, as always, try to soak in some more of his extensive experience and knowledge.
Moksha in the boat yard at Hamble - she is big

We had a look through a very well equipped Benateau 473 in Hamble. It was a bit out of our price range but that didn’t matter as this was just a research trip. The idea was still to walk through and get the feel of at least one example of each the boats on our shortlist and decide which design we liked best and then go from there.

From Hamble we were off to Dartmouth but along the way made a stop off at the very picturesque, coastal town of Lyme Regis to stretch the legs. This was the location where the movie, The French Lieutenant’s Women was filmed. Although still very cool, the sea was nice and calm making this a very peaceful and enjoyable break in our road trip.
Lyme Regis was a great leg stretcher on the way down to Dartmouth

We stayed in a well priced but very nice country pub that evening a little short of Dartmouth as we were under no illusion what summer accommodation availability and prices would be like in the port itself. It was very different driving over the hill for our first glimpses of the harbour compared to our last entry here on Curious. 

This time we were viewing a very late model Beneteau Oceanus 45 which quite frankly was priced a little too well to be believed. Seeing we were going to be driving past anyway we’d decided that we really must have a look just in case it wasn’t too good to be true. The broker told us the story, a marriage break up and the boat had to be sold. That was promising. It was moored on pylons out on the river so the broker took us to it in his little motorboat.

Approaching the yacht it looked pretty good raising our hopes of maybe picking up a bargain. Climbing on board she looked in need of a good spring clean and polish up but we know how to do that. Going below we were instantly hit with a very strong canine smell. The broker confirmed the owner sailed with a big dog on board. Ugh! As we closely inspected the interior we discovered the bimi top and spray dodger roughly folded and sitting on the bunk in one of the rear cabins. It was very mouldy and had obviously been casually thrown in there wet. The broker started the engine which emitted the screaming sound of a badly slipping alternator belt. We then found the engine compartment coated in black dust from the belt that must have been in this state for some time. Our immediate concern was that if the owner had not taken basic care of these very obvious items, what else would we find that had been badly neglected. The final straw came when Karen opened the oven and inside found an uneaten and very rancid, cottage pie sitting in its dish. Regardless of price, she was not having this boat. Funnily enough the male members of the consortium needed no convincing.
Spectacular views south of Dartmouth

So it was off to Falmouth, which is quite a trip from Dartmouth. We decided to take a coastal road rather than the highway to see a bit more of the countryside along the way. The views were fantastic driving along the cliffs and through small coastal villages then the narrow road turned inland and before long we came to a complete halt. On these skinny roads hardly wide enough between stone walls for two cars to pass, a truck was transporting a construction site office without any form of escort. Cars coming the other way were having to reverse until they found some where to pull off but of course other cars came up behind them blocking their progress. Two hours to progress five miles before we could get past did nothing good for Rob’s clutch leg or blood pressure.

Once clear Rob did his best to make up time, translation = pretended to be Mark Webber. Meanwhile Marc was on the phone to the broker letting her know we’d been delayed but still hoped to get there before they closed for the day. Maybe the motorway would have been a good idea after all.

We did arrive in time, just, and were able to inspect a Jeanneau 43 Deck Salon that was out of the water in the boatyard. Karen and I had originally looked at one of these in Australia a couple of years ago and were very taken with a number of their very clever design features and big salon windows providing good light and vision from below. However we were keen to revisit one and see if we were still as impressed after having sailed on a number of different yachts since then. We also didn’t want to unduly influence Marc so we kept our opinions to ourselves pretty much while he looked through the layout and features. This particular boat included a new cockpit tent which would be perfect when wintering onboard.
Perfect setup for cold Brit weather or wintering in the southern Med

Marc loved the design and was particularly taken with the size of the cockpit and its tent. It was here and now and the price was well within budget, all of which appealed to him. His suggestion was that maybe we should make a low offer and see what happens.  However the boat was owned by a partnership of three friends who all used it for holidays. Below all the timber work was very badly knocked around as was the upholstery and other fittings. It appeared none of the three had taken control of its upkeep and once again the thought was, if they haven’t cared for the cosmetic things we can see have they cared for the motor, sails, rigging and important things.

We sensibly decided to check into a B&B in town and think about it overnight. We found suitable accommodation then had a wander around central Falmouth and decided on a meal of traditional fish and chips for dinner.  AWFULL!!!! The fish contained more oil than the middle east and was almost tasteless as opposed to the chips which tasted foul. It took a few medicinal glasses of red wine to degrease our palates.
Classic Yachts in Foulmouth Harbour

Next morning we reconvened over breakfast and confirmed our thoughts. This individual boat was not the one for us but a Jeanneau 43DS was absolutely the design we wanted. So it was back to the internet to begin trawling for every available example we could find for sale and enter them in our spread sheet for comparison. Frustratingly we found one on the market in Hamble that we’d not spotted before. If we had we could of seen it when we were there. Regardless we decided we should view it before we thought of heading overseas to inspect any others. So next morning it was up early and back to Hamble, via the motorways  this time. Like the Dartmouth boat this one was out of the water. Judging by the scars all over the keel the owner navigated by Braille and relied on running into things to find out if the water was shallow. Again it was not the boat for us. While we were at the brokers though we had the opportunity to have a look over a newer design Jeaneau 42 DS but were all agreed we actually preferred the layout and features of the older model.

We then headed back north with a definite opinion of what we wanted. Now all we had to do was find the right one. We dropped Marc off at home and returned to the great company of Tony and Lyn with plenty more homework to do. Amongst the innumerable hours on the internet Karen fitted in some more Open Studios visits and we also did a bit of exploring a little further afield including a great day driving around the Cotswolds including an amazing motoring museum with the best collection of memorabilia we've ever seen.
Canal boats are extremely popular holiday & live aboard option in the UK
We had a great time exploring the Cotswolds


Karen found the garden lounge of her dreams


Rob had a real treat at nearby Silverstone Raceway. It was British  Moto GP time and in addition to us, Tony and Lyn were hosting a South African couple, Paul and Michelle, who came all the way from Johannesburg just for the race. The good news was that they were huge fans of Australian star Casey Stoner so we all got on brilliantly. While they spent the whole weekend at the track, Rob joined them for race day.
South African Stoner fans Paul and Michelle
Alan and David enjoying our front row view of the action

He also had the chance to catch up at the track with good friend and fellow bike nut Alan Roebuck from home who was holidaying  in the UK with his partner David.  Lucky enough to score front row grandstand seats at a spectacular part of this iconic facility all were entertained by a fantastic race where Casey Stoner was unfortunately not quite able to hold off a fast charging Lorenzo over the final laps and had to settle for second.
Casey Stoner doing his stuff
Stoner into the lead
Rossi was a bit off the pace on the Ducati
To the victor the spoils

Meanwhile the boat search was progressing well with the short list now refined down to four candidates. That was the good news. The bad news was that in order they were located in Mallorca, Greece, Italy and Israel. It would be a serious road trip to look at all of them so we began emailing all seeking further information, photos etc. We were surprised how lax some brokers were in replying to our enquiries. You’d think they didn’t need sales which is far from the case in the prevailing market. The Mallorca option firmed into absolute favouritism with prompt response to all enquiries from the broker, the boat ticking all boxes on our must have list and a number on our wish list so we decided it was time to go have a look.

After having an absolutely fantastic time with Tony and Lyn we packed up all our worldly belongings into our duffle bags, made our farewells and flew to Mallorca on June 20, hopefully to buy the boat of our dreams. If not it was going to be on to Greece and the Option B boat.
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