The Story of Caro Babbo…

or How we shopped for a boat on Long Island Sound but bought one in Puget Sound

We told the story of our boat, Caro Babbo, in 2014 in exchange for three tickets to the Seattle Boat Show and two T-shirts; Jennifer and I each wrote our own version. Then, Three Sheets Northwest editor Deborah Bach interleaved them into one article.

The genesis of the search for Caro Babbo really starts in Shilshole Marina in Seattle. Shilshole sits just west of the Ballard Locks at the end of the ship canal from Lake Union to Puget Sound. At the time, the locks were very cool (they still are); we would visit them to watch the boats go up and down, and watch the Amtrak bascule bridge raise and lower as trains crossed from one side to the other.

Being at Shilshole and looking at boats was a confluence of two parts of our life together, culminating in an exclamation that started our search.

In 2002, my dad bought a Thunderbird sailboat in Toronto and trailered it down to his house in Rocky Point, NY. In exchange for the right to live on it that summer, I prepared the boat for the water. This included replacing the deck coring, painting the mast and the bottom and doing the many other things necessary to get a boat in the water. After a Star, a T-bird feels like a good-sized boat.

Each summer, I would come to NY and live on the T-Bird for three months (the amount of time varied depending on what business venture was ongoing). In 2005, I met Jennifer. In 2006, Jennifer started joining me for six weeks each summer.

Concurrently, Jennifer rented an apartment on Mercer Island Washington so she would have a pied a terre nine days each month when she came to Seattle.

Now the plot thickens.

We lived happily on our T-Bird, Taaris, sailing around Long Island Sound, into New York City and up to Boston and beyond. A very nice life in a very good ‘‘light airs’’ boat. Accommodations could be categorized as a double-wide coffin, but it was ours and took us everywhere we wanted to go.

In winter 2010, Jennifer and I were in Seattle taking in the sights, which included Shilshole marina. We approached someone coming off one of the docks and asked whether we could wander around the docks. The person held the gate open for us and in we went.

Many of the boats had chimneys sticking out their decks.

The people on the dock spent time speaking with us. One fateful person invited us below to see her boat. Once below Jennifer looked at me and said, ‘‘You can stand up in here.’’

And so we started looking for a bigger boat that we could ‘‘off shore’’ with.

At the time boats on Long Island were being sold for yard fees, or if you couldn’t afford that, they were free.

We crawled around Old Man’s Boatyard in Port Jefferson, New York, looking at old boats and older boats: A cat-urined British motorsailor designed make it through the worst weather imaginable, a Chris Craft Comanche with a dead raccoon oozing into the bilge and a Maxi 95 with its original Volvo Penta half immersed in water.

But, the Maxi had features I was looking for: engine over the keel, an easily removable headliner (which had been renovated), very good construction. It was a top of the line boat for its time. And three cabins, which, at the time, made life on board with teenagers sound more tolerable – They never came sailing, in any case.

We contacted Robby, who ran Old Man’s, about a price. Robby asked would we buy it for $14K. Well, one thing came to another, and eventually the boat sold to someone in Florida for $7500. In retrospect, we were lucky.

In fall 2011, we went to Seattle for nine months, but somehow never got around to going home to Atlanta.

In fall 2012, we started looking in earnest for a Maxi 95. We contacted the Maxi Owners Association (MOA) in the UK, and started working the web. We learned, as Robby had told us, they went for 20-30,000€ in Europe; in the US, for between $7500 and the upper teens. While we were trying to the buy the Long Island boat, we saw one in BC that was free with a house, and one called Istar on Lake Michigan for $25k.

I called the broker about Istar, and asked about the price – which was at least $6K too much. He replied that it can take a while for the seller to understand that.

[In January of 2016, I stumbled across videos produced by the new owner of Istar. He paid $17K.]

We were lucky to miss all of those boats for one reason or another: A forty-year old Volvo would have been ready for a rebuild, and having a boat on the other side of the country would have meant we would only sail it in the summer or have to truck it across the country.

Pacific Northwest (PNW) boats need heaters. Hence, the chimneys sticking out of the deck on the Shilshole boats.

In February of 2013, we found a Maxi 95 at the Burrard Civic Marina in Vancouver. Asking price $17K Canadian, then, about $17K American.

On the first trip to see the boat, we were so excited we didn’t make sure the owner would be available. He wasn’t, but the dock master let us onto the dock and boat. The lines were green and stiff,  a mussel farm was growing at the water line, but generally she looked fine… and she had no roller reefing. I like changing head sails to match the weather. Roller reefing yields a sail that fits no specific weather and is cut very flat so she’ll roll up correctly.

After one more trip, we negotiated a price, $15K Canadian, if everything checked out. The boat, then called Kochana III, had been used for fishing and had two Scotty down rigger pads.

The owner, George, motored the boat to the Shelter Island Marina at Richmond for a haul out and survey.

After having the boat hauled and bottom cleaned, we arranged to have the boat surveyed. The survey went well with a few problems and a word of caution from the surveyor.

I commented to the surveyor that I wasn’t worried about the electrical system because the current owner was a commercial electrician. The surveyor replied in horror, ‘‘there is only one thing worse than electrical work done by an electrician, and that’s electrical work done by an EE.’’

I don’t know if time did prove him right, but there sure have been a lot of short cuts taken that are electrically sound, but neither ABYCA compliant or to any commercial standard, but if you’ve done electrical work you’ll recognize it as working: Many wires with inline fuses connect directly the battery; Not a fire hazard, probably quite safe, but what a nightmare.

The items from the survey weren’t bad, but were expensive: Rudder tube leaked into the aft cabin, the aft-most bulkhead had some tabbing broken loose, and there was a fuel leak into the bilge.

Two different contractors gave the same number to fix these items: 5 grand. I called the owner, this number would’t fly. We agreed that he’d drop the price by $5,000 and I would pay him $5,000 to get the problems fixed.

The two contractors, especially Steve of Orca III, took Jennifer on a tour of the boat explaining why it was such a great boat. He sighted down the bottom of the hull, ‘‘See how smooth it is? There are no hard spots from the bulkheads, even new Beneteaus have those. This is a good, good boat.’’

We slept on the boat while we were in the yard. A boat on the hard is counter to all one’s expectations. We also learned about the Richmond boat yard.

Someone recently posted a video calling it the place of broken dreams: Arrogant, and ill-informed reporting.

Peter Bouwman, the moorage master, who has an amazing memory for people, told me ‘‘we have people living in the yard for a couple of years, and then they leave and we don’t see them for ten or more. Then they’re back to refit.’’

The yard is full of the widest breadth of boats I have seen, from big, high priced plastic go-fasts (O Canada is stored there), to classic and ancient traditional wood, and a few that may have started as boats, but are land yachts now, multi-storied land yachts.

I sanded the bottom paint, then applied a coat of black bottom paint and dropped her back into the water. The travel lift arrived just before lunch. The driver was nice enough to put Caro Babbo into the slings and then go to lunch so we could paint where the stanchions had been.

Using lines, we guided the boat to a spot on the floating dock and started the engine… Tried to start the engine. The battery was dead after having been on a smart charger the last few days. Off to Walmart to buy a replacement battery. Workers at stores like Walmart, are unhappy when one can’t satisfactorily answer the questions, Make, Model and Year of the Car? But after some back and forth I chose a deep cycle that has worked since then.

The next morning, the engine started, and across the ensuing four days Jennifer and I sailed Caro Babbo from Richmond, BC to Lake Union, Seattle, WA.

And that’s the story of how we found and came to own Caro Babbo.