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Swan Song – How I retired on a trawler instead of a Condo – Part I

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Actually, I wasn’t the one that fell in love with Swan Song—it was Dave. We had lived on a 37’ CSY cutter, Antares, for seven years and loved it. However, the price was right so we sold her in 1997. By the end of 1998 Dave was getting the heebie-jeebies from renting a condo even though it was directly on the water.

We began searching the classifieds for our retirement home— a power boat, as we were both getting older and wanted more room, storage, and stability than a sailboat affords. We both love classic yachts—the wood, the lines, the ambiance, and the price as they are usually less expensive. Of course, they need more work, requiring money, but it’s not all upfront upon buying.

We decided on a trawler for individual rooms, a full galley, walk-around beds, a large cockpit, and more stability at anchor. We talked to brokers, visited boat yards, and walked the docks. We knew what we wanted—the problem was finding it at the right price.

When I left for my annual trip to visit grandchildren, Dave stayed home and worked. E-mails flew back and forth without mention of a boat. Upon my return he suggested that we visit Virgin Gorda Boat Yard. Pushing six-foot sawgrass out of the way, we clomped through mud and water towards the rear of the yard, only to see this monster of an old trawler high and dry on stands. She was a 58’ Roughwater, looking like I felt—tired and worn but with plenty of promise. Dave had the key so we went aboard and I fell in love immediately.

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The foredeck was rubbery, the prop “needed work,” but she had wonderful, gorgeous lines and potential—the magic word—galore. We ferried back to our condo, got out the pen and paper and went to work on how to afford her. We are not wealthy people so buying a boat would be like buying a house – the two big questions were:

1. How much can we afford to spend?

2. Can we buy her for that amount of money without bankrupting the budget or living on a shoestring for the rest of our lives?

Dave and I had both owned boats before so we knew before we started that there had to be money left over for maintenance. (A good rule of thumb is 10% of the value of the boat will be spent on the boat annually in maintenance, boat parts, upgrades, etc.) We then took the amount of money that we would spend on rent if we didn’t live aboard, and multiplied that by the number of years the actuarial charts said that we would live—an excellent way to work the numbers.

Swan Song needed major repairs. We took the next week to work out a budget for her re-construction, dividing the work into phases—exterior bot tom, exterior top, engine room, living area, galley and heads, and pilot house. We then wrote down what our minimum requirements were for each area in labor and materials as well as the time allotted for each. We also enquired about having her towed to Nanny Cay Marina Boat Yard.

We decided that we could afford her if we did most of the work ourselves. Dave spoke with his broker who worked out a really good deal for us. Swan Song was in receivership so all we had to do was pay the yard bill, the broker’s fee, and the import duty and taxes.

With this decided we took the plunge and signed the papers. Even though it took us years to reconstruct her I have never been sorry. Boats are like men; once you fall, you spend the rest of your lives loving them!

Next in Parts II & III: Making a trawler your home: problems and solutions

Nancy Terrell has lived in the Caribbean for 20 years. She is an international free lance writer and holds a MA Degree in Literature. Swan Song is her 6 th boat during 40 years of sailing.

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So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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