Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Boat Yard Learning Curve

Before we bought Tomol, our marine surveyor practically insisted that we take her to a shipyard in the Long Beach area to be hauled out for the bottom inspection.  His reasoning was that the yard was relatively close to the marina at which the brokerage was keeping the boat and he didn’t wish to spend that much time “at sea” in transit.

The survey went well, with a few relatively minor bottom issues found by the surveyor.  These issues included some gel coat blisters, a crack/separation along the rear of the lead keel and keel boot, and a couple of minor stress cracks near the rudder, none of which were considered anything to get excited about.  The shipyard made us an offer that, if we took the boat back to them for the bottom work within 30 days, they would waive the haul-out fee and give us some discounts on the repairs, prep work, painting, etc.  Based on the results of the survey, we purchased the boat and moved it to another marina in the San Pedro area.

Because of some rainfall and other issues with moving the boat, the yard extended their offer past the original 30 days and we got the boat to their docks a week or so after their deadline.  The yard had originally prepared a work order in the amount of just over $3,000 that included two coats of bottom paint.  However, after they hauled the boat out and pressure-washed the bottom, they began finding “more serious” issues.  These included, many more blisters than originally observed, a longer crack/separation at the rear of the keel, a larger stress crack near the rudder and primer that had peeled from the keel.  Their recommendation: completely strip the bottom of the boat, epoxy and paint, to the tune of over $14,000!  As an alternative, each individual set of items could be “repaired,” for a mere $11,000 plus, without restoring the bottom.  This included a little over $1,000 to replace one sink drain through-hull and install a through-hull for a new depth sounder/speedo sensor.

We were beside ourselves with this development and immediately emailed and phoned our surveyor as well as both the listing and selling brokers.  Everyone was in basic agreement that it was only necessary to fix the worst of the blisters and that the other repairs should not require the number of hours suggested by the yard’s costs.  Several other yards were recommended to us, and after checking a lot of Yelp reviews, we called Cabrillo Boat Shop in Long Beach, which is almost directly across the channel from the yard in which the boat was situated.  We forwarded the marine survey, the other yard’s work orders and photos of the bottom to Cabrillo for their review.  Cabrillo’s owner, Donald Holland, contacted us and said he thought he could get everything done for in the neighborhood of $5,000.

We took this number back to the yard holding our boat and they, more or less, insisted that there was no way that work could be done for that amount.  However, after much arguing on the phone, they said they would be willing to drop the cost down to about $8,000.  We told them that this was still too steep for us and that we would be pulling the boat and not having them do anything further.  They then informed us that if we didn’t have them do the work, then they would be charging us for lay days, the minor prep work and inspections they had done, estimated to be about $2,000, with basically no repairs or painting being done.  We expressed our frustration and anger over this and told them it was worth the money to get the boat away from them.  Fortunately, they did not charge for any lay days, but it still cost us just over $1,000 “ransom” for them to release the boat.

Tomol in the slings at Cabrillo
Tomol at Cabrillo Boat Shop Dock
Cabrillo Boat Shop actually picked Tomol up at the other yard’s dock and towed it to their own dock.  After hauling the boat out, Don Holland took a thorough look around the hull and said that what he was seeing was nothing near what had been suggested for repairs.  He needed to actually pencil-out an estimate, but thought it should be near his original verbal quote.  We are still waiting for the quote, but feel much more comfortable with the way we were treated and the assessment of the bottom conditions.  We highly recommend Cabrillo Boat Shop to anyone with a pleasure boat in the Long Beach/Los Angeles Harbor area.

Somewhat in defense of the “other” shipyard, they are just that…a “shipyard” and, as such, tend to treat everything as if the Queen Mary were being repaired.  They appear to have a lot of commercial accounts, but have received rather poor reviews from pleasure boaters.  We are not certain if they were physically trying to fleece us, or if they truly believe that the work they recommended was necessary.  Nevertheless, their costs just seem to add up to way too many hours of labor.  Marge and I had only owned a brand new boat in the 1980’s that we didn’t have long enough to ever need a haul-out, so we were rather new to what would be involved with an older boat.  We would recommend that anyone else in a similar situation check the online reviews, if they exist, and talk to as many people as possible about the best yard(s) for servicing their boat.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The close of 2014 brings to an end two years of radical change for both of us.  It all began in January of 2013, when Colin quit his J-O-B after doing his best to put up with the utter chaos and mismanagement in the geotechnical firm for which he had been working for just over three years.  His blood pressure dropped almost immediately from the high 180’s to the 140’s.
After the initial euphoria of being rid of the daily stress and grind, panic set in with the realization that the steady income had also ceased.  The resume was immediately updated and dozens were sent out, mostly to geotechnical firms, but also to anyone that might be willing to employ an aging geologist.  Little positive response was received due to the continuing economic downturn.  However, in March, 2013, one of the firms that received a resume telephoned and said that they did not have need for a full-time engineering geologist, but wanted to know if there was an interest in doing contract work.  The offer was accepted and, the very next day, a geotechnical engineer Colin had worked with in the 1980’s also called and asked for help with a litigation for which he was acting as an expert witness.  The writing seemed to be on the wall, so at the end of March, 2013, we formed Pacific Geological Services (PGS), with Colin serving as the Principal Engineering Geologist.
The income from our consulting practice was slow in building and it was apparent that  we needed a new game plan.  We made the decision that we should downsize and find a simpler life to live.  We had always wanted to live aboard a sailboat and, after much canoodling, calculating and discussion, we were able to chart a course that would carry us through until we could both tap into Social Security, live comfortably and cruise aboard a boat in retirement.  Our financial advisor used to adamantly discourage us from living aboard a boat, but after presenting our plan to both he and our CPA, both agreed that it was probably the best thing we could do.  We have been fortunate that all of the stressful hard work over the years allowed us to build moderate retirement funds to supplement our plan.
August of this year, we sold our house in Laguna Hills with enough equity to allow for the cash purchase of a boat, and moved temporarily into a rental home in Capistrano Beach.  After looking at numerous sailboats with a broker we have known for years, we found the ideal candidate in Wilmington, CA.  The boat was being sold by a broker that sold us our sailboat in the 1980’s.  It was listed at a bit higher price than we wanted to pay, so we made an offer at the price we were comfortable with.  The seller accepted our offer without a counter-offer, and even dropped the price a bit more after the marine survey found a few age-related issues.  We took possession of the boat in November and documented it under a new name. 
Our plan is to sell and/or donate as much of the rest of our “stuff” that will not fit on a boat as we can and store some of the other stuff we want to keep.  We have a six-month lease that ends in February, 2015, so the plan is to have the boat ready and move it down to San Diego Harbor the beginning of March to begin our new adventure.  We found an excellent marina in Chula Vista (Pier 32) that caters to liveaboards.  We will continue working as much as possible over the next few years and cruise the boat locally, with the idea of cruising internationally once we retire full-time. 
We ask for everyone to wish us well as we follow the sun!