It’s 2008 and Ryan has suggested that we buy a sailboat with some of the profit we made in our first year of running our own business, Teaching House.
“But what the hell would we do with a boat?” I protest. “We don’t even know how to sail!”
“We’ll learn,” says Ryan, with the kind of bold confidence he exudes in every aspect of his life, a quality that is both endearing and infuriating. Endearing, because his enthusiasm for venturing out into the unknown is infectious. Infuriating, because if you’re trying to talk Ryan out of one of his mad ideas, you’re doomed to fail. You can throw every solid rationale you have in your arsenal at him, and he’ll just swat them to the floor, one by one, responding with statistics of how many more people die every year driving a car than doing any of the ridiculous things he’s trying to convince you to do in this very moment.
And, let me tell you, it’s hard to argue with statistics and double-dog dares. Especially when delivered in a charming British accent.
But, I am also stubborn. So, in my mind, I have written a list of all the good, solid, rational reasons as to why we definitely should not buy a boat.
Reason #1: Boats sound like a lot of work. And we already work around the clock because we’re in the first year of building a company. Plus, on top of running our own company, I’m doing my Master’s degree while working full-time as a public school teacher in the Bronx. If there is an hour of my day that I’m not working, then, well… let’s just say there isn’t an hour of my day that I’m not working.
Reason #2: The Perfect Storm. Yeah, I read the book. I saw the movie. Spoiler alert: EVERYONE ON THE BOAT DIES.
Reason #3: Capsizing. For our second date in Qatar, where I was teaching English at the time, Ryan was keen to impress me with a mini adventure. So he rented a little Hobie catamaran and proceeded to take me out on the water in a gale. This was fun at first, what with the wind whipping us along at speeds that would make me nervous in a car. But the out-of-control speeds combined with our sluggish reaction times resulted in us flipping the cat over rather quickly. And this was an old cat, so it wasn’t self-righting — the mast stuck straight down in the water below us with no hope of ever coming back to the surface. Luckily, the Arabian Gulf is as warm as a jacuzzi, so it was no big deal, even as we were treading water for 2 hours, waiting to be rescued. But — and let me be clear about this — I have absolutely no desire to recreate this adorable second-date scenario in the frigging Hudson River.
I don’t know about you, but I think these are three pretty solid reasons not to buy a damned boat.
But Ryan is clever. He doesn’t even flinch when I blurt out all my reasons for not wanting to own a boat, starting with “I DON’T WANT TO DIE.” Instead, he takes me boat shopping and says, soothingly, “We don’t have to buy anything. Let’s just see what’s out there.”
And that, my friends, is how we find and fall in love with a boat. Two weeks later, we are the proud owners of a Catalina 34 we call Hideaway.
Now fast forward to 2014. We’ve sailed on Hideaway for six years now, in and around New York Harbor, then in 2012 we sailed her down the East Coast of the U.S. to the Bahamas and on to the Dominican Republic. Then we hauled the boat out of the water and stored her in Luperon, so we could go to England to participate in the Clipper Round the World Race.
The race took us from London to Rio de Janeiro, then Cape Town to Albany, Australia and segued into a road trip around South Africa and then a camper van trip across Australia, followed by a two-month stay in the rice paddies of Ubud, Bali.
Sure, it may have looked like we were land-lubbing travelers again for a time, but we only dreamed of returning to Hideaway and sailing her south through the Caribbean.
But then, early in 2014, we returned to New York City to tend to our companies, which were struggling in our absence. And for that entire year, we dreamed incessantly about getting out of New York and getting back to Hideaway. But we also wondered if such carefree living could ever be possible while we were still tethered to our businesses in New York.
So to keep the dream alive, we went to boat shows, drooled over monohulls and catamarans and we ate up cruisers’ stories on their sailing blogs. And at each boat show, we picked out our if-money-were-no-object dream boats, and we listed our what-we-can-afford top choices.
And, similar to our experience of falling in love with Hideaway, Ryan and I found ourselves pretty much on the same page when it came to what we wanted for our next boat and what things were deal-breakers for us.
So, as we’ve fielded so many questions lately about why we specifically chose the Fountaine-Pajot Helia 44 as our next boat, I’d like to take this opportunity to bring you inside our minds and through the process of how we decided what was the right boat for us. Note, I did not say the “perfect boat”. Because there really is no perfect boat. There’s only the boat that’s right for you, right now.
To give this chaotic process of ours some structure, let’s run through the questions we’ve asked ourselves recently and in the past when shopping for boats:
1. What’s it for?
When we started looking for a monohull in 2008, we had absolutely no experience with boats apart from that time we capsized a Hobie cat four years earlier. So, we were certainly not in the market for a blue-water boat that could also, possibly, take us to Antarctica in case we decided our older, future selves might want to anchor near a glacier with our grandchildren on board one day.
Our basic criteria was a boat small enough for two people to sail and roomy enough to have guests on board. Because adventures are much more fun when shared with friends.
We also, against our nature, did a little bit of future planning. We were thinking ahead to a time when we might be adventurous enough to leave the vicinity of our marina and head to such exotic destinations as Staten Island or Long Island, and maybe even the Jersey Shore, if we really got ballsy.
Which means, essentially, we didn’t need a big, expensive blue-water boat. We needed a solid coastal cruiser with a roomy cockpit, a fridge for cold beer and at least two state rooms for overnight guests.
But what if you want to sail across oceans one day?
This was a question other sailors seemed to contemplate seriously when buying a boat, which always confused us. Our answer to that question was always, “We’ll sell Hideaway and buy something else.” It’s as simple as that.
Hideaway is a great coastal cruiser and live-aboard boat. She is not an ocean-going boat destined to cross the Atlantic. She was also a fraction of the cost of a blue-water boat, so one of the advantages of going small and local was that buying a boat didn’t plunge us into debt.
In any case, I don’t believe in buying a boat that I’ll keep for the rest of my life any more than I believe in buying a pair of shoes that I’m going to wear in 20 years’ time. I’m looking for a boat that will get me through the adventures I can envision for the next five years, at best. Beyond five years, who the hell knows what will happen or what I’ll want?
It’s the same with my shoes. I don’t go into a shoe store and think, “I’m looking for the perfect shoe for all future possible situations. They need to be dressy enough to wear to a wedding but also sturdy enough to get me to the top of Everest, just in case I feel like climbing it in 10 years’ time.”
In our fickle lives, a boat can only serve a purpose that is limited to the foreseeable future, and even then that can be a sketchy outline. I mean, we had only just decided to sail out of New York to go cruising to the Bahamas in 2012 when we also decided the following year we would leave our boat somewhere to do two legs of the ’13-’14 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. See what I mean by fickle?
So, then, why the Fountaine-Pajot Helia 44?
The answer to that is we have a very specific plan: to circumnavigate the globe over the course of roughly five years.
Hideaway is not the boat for that purpose, and we knew that when we bought her. But, also, when we bought her, we weren’t sure if we’d even like sailing or how long this hobby would last. [Ryan’s edit: When we bought her, Tasha wasn’t sure she’d like sailing. Ryan never had any doubts.] Ahem, see what I mean about infuriating?
There are many reasons why we chose the FP Helia for our circumnavigation. So let’s outline the other questions we asked ourselves in the process of choosing the right boat…
2. Can you picture yourself on this boat?
The first time I stepped foot on Rainmaker, the Gunboat 55, at the Annapolis boat show, I looked at Ryan with pure delight scrawled across my face.
“This is number one on my if-money-were-no-object list,” I said to him.
The cockpit looked more like a Buddha lounge in TriBeCa than the deck of a racer/cruiser. If this boat looks fast, that’s because it is – it cruises at speeds up to 25 knots. I could easily picture myself racing around the globe on this mad piece of carbon fiber but, let’s be honest: the $2.5 million price tag is a little off-putting. (Oh, and there’s the small problem of Rainmaker’s rigging having come down in a storm after we saw it, rendering it useless and adrift somewhere on the Atlantic.)
After the Gunboat, we stepped on board the Fountaine-Pajot Helia 44 for a little realism, and both Ryan and I sat down in the saloon and sighed. It was like the time we sat in the saloon of our Catalina 34 for the first time…just much larger. And much more expensive. But we both leaned back, put our feet up and pictured ourselves with a glass of wine in hand, enjoying the tranquility of our own private anchorage somewhere remote and beautiful.
The things we fell in love with on the Helia were the modern design and the open, airy living space, which made us want to invite guests on board for long journeys. It’s not a bad-ass racing machine like the Gunboat, but it certainly isn’t sluggish either with cruising speeds of up to 15 knots.
3. The monohull vs. catamaran debate: how much space do you get for your money?
I adore sailing monohulls. Okay, there was a time when I first started sailing that I screamed with terror any time the boat heeled beyond 15 degrees. But I barely remember what that feels like anymore. I think the Southern Ocean slapped it out of me.
Now, there is nothing I love more about a monohull than the way it heels when it’s cruising at hull speed on a beam reach as you frantically trim the sails to eke the most speed out of her.
So, when Ryan first proposed we buy a catamaran for our circumnavigation, I was slightly horrified. What about the heeling? Where’s the thrill in sailing a boat that’s always flat? How the hell do you dock something that wide? Won’t we be trading the fun of cutting through waves with our bow for the misery of water constantly slapping the underside of our floating condominium?
But then I stepped onto a few Lagoons, Leopards and Fountaine-Pajots at boat shows, and I started to think about life on a boat a little differently. I could see a time when I wouldn’t have to climb over Ryan in the middle of the night, kneeing him in the ribs, just to use the head. I saw spaces on a catamaran where I could be alone with my laptop, writing, while Ryan burned off his frenetic energy elsewhere, out of sight. I saw a fantastic workout space on the foredeck with enough room to make full use of my TRX and maybe a few kettle bells. I saw space enough for surfboards, kiteboards and diving tanks.
So the question about space boiled down to this: How much of a circumnavigation is about sailing and how much of it is about living on the hook?
To answer that, we had to examine our priorities for this trip.
We are planning to travel slowly, taking five years or so to work our way around the planet so we can see a lot more than just oceans as we go. We want to reach idyllic harbors and get off the boat to go surfing, snorkeling, running and fully exploring the places we sail up to.
We are not looking to recreate the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race on our cruising catamaran. As in, we don’t want to spend three weeks at sea and then come to port for a mere five days, four of which are spent cleaning the boat and repairing everything that broke on the last crossing.
I’ve had that experience on the Clipper and I loved every moment. But this is a different kind of trip. And it needs a different kind of boat. It needs a boat with comforts, space and plenty of room for toys we can use to explore the hard-to-reach spots we’re planning to sail to.
So, that said, catamarans beat monohulls hands-down for comfortable live-aboard space. Not to mention the speed of our new Helia leaves most monohulls behind in its wake.
4. Budget: How much can we spend?
Obviously, money is a huge factor in what you can buy when boat shopping. When we were shopping for our first boat, we agreed to split the cost of the boat with a friend, and together we decided the maximum amount we could spend was $40,000.
We bought Hideaway for $39,000 and for the next five years we also split the mooring fees, the maintenance costs and the insurance, which was a brilliant way for all of us to explore the sport of sailing and keep costs down while we figured out if we liked the lifestyle.
Now that we know we love sailing, after seven years on Hideaway, and are ready to embark on the next phase of our adventures, we are in a different place, both in our boat needs and our budget.
By the time we sold our companies, Ryan and I had been lackadaisically shopping for our next boat for about a year, with a focus on what we could afford, but also with the expectation that our companies might not sell. And though we’d fallen in love with the Helia already, we knew that buying a new boat was above our budget allowance. So we actively started looking for a used Helia that had been cruising for a few years and was up for sale in Florida, the Caribbean or France.
But, also, we didn’t necessarily want to wait twelve to eighteen months to get our new boat, which is often what happens when you put down a deposit with a factory for a brand-new vessel. We wanted to buy a cruise-ready boat that we could sail away immediately once we’d freed ourselves up from work obligations.
Then, a buyer came forward in November 2014 and by February 2015, we had sold our companies. Both of them. Which freed up a lot more money in our budget for the boat we wanted to buy. But, even still, we were only in the market for used boats because, though money was less of a factor now, we were still fixated on the immediate timing: we wanted a boat we could step aboard and sail away right now.
Let’s just say we are not patient people.
5. So why buy a new boat?
A few things happened just as we actively got on the market for a used Helia, which resulted in us buying a brand-new boat against all our objections to buying a brand-new boat.
It boiled down to the reasons why we specifically wanted a used boat and not a new boat:
a. Value — It seemed silly to pay more for a new boat when we could buy a fairly new and beautiful used Helia for significantly less. Boats are like cars; the original owner takes the biggest hit when they sell.
b. Availability — We did not want to wait around for the time it would take for a boat to come out of the factory. Like I said, we’re impatient. We wanted to close the deal and sail away. NOW.
c. Pain-in-the-ass factor — Buying a new boat vs. a slightly used boat is like building a new house vs. buying a turn-key home. It can be a full-time job to research all the options you can have in your brand-new boat, not to mention the additional options available for installation once the boat has been launched. We were trying avoid turning this boat purchase into a full-time job. After all, we’d just given up our jobs and were not interested in another one.
Then, the craziest thing happened. While we were docked in St. Thomas, we started talking to Caribbean Multihulls in St. Martin about the used Helias they had for sale down there. And while we were considering the four different Helias that were on the market in St. Martin, it became clear that all our concerns were no longer an issue.
So here’s what happened:
First, Greece’s financial crisis came to a head and the value of the Euro plummeted, making the buying power of the dollar incredibly strong. And because Fountaine-Pajot is a French company, their boats are priced in Euros, so for those of us buying boats with dollars, we could suddenly get a lot more for our money. And yet a number of the used Helias for sale in St. Martin were priced in U.S. dollars. So we were now being presented with the crazy scenario that buying a brand-new Helia loaded with all the options would be about the same price as buying a used Helia with minimal options in St. Martin. Not to mention that we’d have to spend a fair bit of money to get any of these used Helias up to the specs we wanted. So in this incredibly rare case, buying a new boat suddenly became much more economical than buying a second-hand one.
Next, our broker informed us that a customer whose boat was scheduled for production in April had pulled out. Which meant we could put down a deposit for a brand new Helia in April and have it ready for us to sail away in July. Which is unheard of when it comes to brand-new boats. So, we gave it some thought, and turns out July was really perfect timing for us since we would both be traveling in June and July anyway.
So, the next thing we did was look closely at the array of options available from Fountaine-Pajot for the Helia and the choices weren’t as overwhelming as we thought. It’s not like we had millions of colors or models to choose from — in most cases, there were only two options to choose from for things like watermakers, generators, electronics, deck material, etc., so the amount of decision-making required didn’t seem all that daunting anymore.
It all seemed too good to be true, but we decided it was the universe trying to make this thing happen for us. So, we put down our deposit and started preparing for life on board the swankiest boat we could ever possibly imagine owning.
6. So why not a Lagoon 450, Catana Bali, Leopard 45 or any of the other big name catamarans?
We looked at all of the comparable brands and models in the size and price range of the FP Helia and, in some cases, there were clear deal-breakers involved. But in other cases, it was less about the deal-breakers and more of a feeling in our gut when we stepped on board the boat.
My love for the Helia is based on the grin that spreads across my face when I step into the cockpit, as well as the ecstatic tingle I get when I imagine sailing her to faraway places. It’s a feeling that will be different for every individual and will be inspired by different boats; hence why there is so much choice in the market. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.
I’m just lucky that Ryan and I have always had the same gut reactions to boats. Well, apart from the Gunboat 55. I was all for it and willing to give up living space for speed. Ryan, on the other hand, would happily sacrifice 10 knots for an ice-maker, underwater lighting and a sub-woofer.
So, what were the deal-breakers?
This is a personal preference, but Ryan and I hate raised fly bridges, which both the Lagoon 450 and the Catana Bali have.
See that dude up there? That other dude is just visiting because he pities him. (Photo Credit: Nicolas Claris)
Though it’s true that the time spent on anchor on a circumnavigation outweighs the time spent sailing, we still love sailing and want a comfortable ride at the helm while underway. When the helm station is connected to the cockpit, you not only have more protection, but you’re also socially connected with the rest of the boat. We don’t like the idea of one of us being sat on our own, isolated up on top of the boat while underway, especially since most of our journeys will only have two of us on board.
The Leopards were the catamarans we had our eye on for a long time before we came across the Helia, and the Leopard 45 is certainly a popular cruising model in the charter industry. And if the Helia didn’t exist, I’m sure we would happily cruise around the world on a Leopard 45, as it has all the comforts we like, the size is right for a couple, and the helm station is connected to the cockpit rather than isolated on a fly bridge.
The choice of the Helia over the Leopard really came down to personal taste. Quite simply, we prefer the look and feel of the Helia over anything else in this range of catamarans.
Our experiences on Hideaway have taught us that there isn’t a perfect boat for all situations in general. But there are lots of perfect boats for lots of specific purposes, and preferences boil down to your priorities, your tastes and what you plan to do with the boat for the next five years.
And for us, this new Helia, Cheeky Monkey, is the perfect boat to take us around the world. It’s fast, it’s plush, it’s modern, it’s loaded with sports equipment, it has space for all our friends, and between Ryan’s upgraded Bose stereo, the blue underwater lighting and the ice-maker, we’re sure to bring the party with us wherever we go.
In case you missed it…
I’m thrilled to have been listed by Boats and Outboards as one of their Top 20 Sailing Blogs, which includes a whole host of incredible blogs that I love reading myself.
So if you’re looking for some inspiration in the form of blogs, you should definitely visit this list and check out some of the other blogs: www.boatsandoutboards.co.uk/advice/top-20-sailing-blogs/101