Easter weekend of 2014 was approaching. As usual the last few years,
with any traditional holiday, I felt the ominous shadow of empty nest blues creeping up. For over 20 years, I would be consumed on this lead-up week with creating an Easter morning treasure hunt for my kids, and the week following would be consumed with consuming the treasure! The gap loomed.
For Tim, it was not a special weekend. He had long since moved away from its religious meaning and the consumer pressures. Great that it was a long weekend, meaning that we could enjoy an extra day or two together, but other than that, it significance was rooted in it being a harbinger of the season’s change. Over the years of living close to the land, surrounded by forest that goes on and on, Tim’s cues for a spring calendar are related to the melting of snow, the arrival of various bird species, the calling of spring peepers, and the painted turtles emerging to sun. Easter just happened to fall at the same time.
So anyways, a long weekend was just ahead, we had no plans, and through Tim’s searching of buy/sell websites he discovered that there just happened to be three – yes 3! – Alberg 30s for sale at that very moment in the province. In our last post, Tim talks about our falling in love with this classic sailboat. A 1500 kilometer weekend road-trip around Ontario could be effective therapy for Easter blues and also be a fun way to feed our dreams. We researched “what to look for in a used/older sailboat”, and with inspection check-lists firmly in hand, we headed out in Tim’s Toyota Landcruiser.
This might be a good place for a slight detour in the story. The Landcruiser. Tim is a veteran of older vehicles, so was not intimidated by the thought of buying a 40-50 year old boat. He treasures his 1989 right hand drive Toyota Landcruiser! I’m not sure if his love of older trucks has to do with his appreciation of the vehicles themselves or his need to be mucking around under the hood of a diesel. If it is the latter, our sailboat tour didn’t disappoint. While en route, the Landcruiser’s alternator stopped working, resulting in drained batteries, and we were stopped in our tracks.
Probably unfair to suggest that Tim set this roadside repair up intentionally, but his dealing with it sure showed his ability to keep calm in frustrating situations, not to mention his mechanical handiness. Hmmm … good qualities in a cruising partner, thought I!
On the topic of bringing out good qualities in a potential sailing partner, there was another test during our tour. We spent a night in a budget hotel along the way. As the clock neared midnight, I heard loud voices in the hall. Suddenly, our door opened and boisterous neighbours tried to enter. Thanks to the chain lock, this was an unsettling, but harmless case of mistaken room. As I looked over at Tim, he slept on, oblivious to the commotion. He may be able to keep his cool and jury rig an engine, but I’m not sure whether to rank his ability to sleep come-what-may in the desirable or in the undesirable category for cruising qualifications. There will likely be future opportunities to evaluate that one.
Back to the tour. The first Alberg rested on the shores of Lake Huron. It looked great from the outside, but there’s truth in the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover”. This boat was still on its cradle. It had obviously sat in ill-fitting winter garb, and had not been opened since fall.
We arrived to find a frazzled looking fellow who was showing the boat on behalf of the owner. When we climbed up the ladder and stepped through the companionway into the cabin below, we discovered the cause of his demeanour. We stepped into water. Yes, you read correctly – into water. We didn’t need to consult our checklist. Even with our inexperience we knew that water should remain outside the hull. This chap had just rushed out to purchase a pump. Whether he was attempting to clear the evidence before we arrived, or just doing his best damage control, it didn’t matter. Knowing that this liquid had only a short time ago, during our Canadian winter, been solid ice, we wondered about structural issues from the pressure. And what about the engine? By the looks of the water stained ring around the engine compartment, the engine block had more than likely been preserved on ice for the winter! Regardless, we’d learned enough to know that we didn’t really want a gas engine anyways. This one was an Atomic 4, the original – therefore very old – gas engine. Ice and water damage aside, we were definitely more interested in a boat with the less volatile fuel, and the greater power and reliability of a diesel engine. We still took a good look at the boat. It clearly wasn’t for us, but this was a reconnaissance tour, and we figured that we still had a lot to learn from it. It did have a new composting toilet and at that point, we had never heard of its use on boats before. This interested us though. Tim lives off-grid, and was considering upgrading from rustic outhouse to indoor composting toilet.
After we poked and prodded and strode around looking at still mysterious to us this and thats, we came to the obvious conclusion that this boat suffered from much neglect. A bit of work would not deter us; a true fixer-upper, though, was beyond our current means. We lacked the time, the skill, and the money. No problem – we weren’t planning to buy for some time. We were just growing our experience and having some fun getting into boat shopping mode.
The next Alberg, located in a rural area outside Toronto, was a relatively well-cared-for specimen and was a delight to inspect. Our checklist didn’t include “what feeling we get from the current owner”, but it is one of the intangibles we noticed that influenced our impressions of each boat we saw. This couple seemed like good boat people and had done significant work on and cared well for their boat. We thought, perhaps this could be ours? It was a little pricey, however, and some of the modifications, although well done, were not what we were looking for. What the heck was that propeller piercing the bow was sporting? We had never even heard of a bow thruster, and although we admired the boldness of boring a hole through a boat’s hull, it wasn’t on our wish list. We enjoyed chatting with the owners, learned a bit more, and moved on, still having what looked like the nicest boat based on the listings, yet to visit. Besides, this, after all, was just a scouting tour. (ed. note: Tim suggests we insert “wink-wink; nudge-nudge” here. Shirley, the author, has declined to do so). Work commitments precluded us from getting on the water that summer even if we did purchase a boat, so there was no hurry.
This was beginning to feel like the Goldilocks tour. The first was too wet, the second too pricey …. what would the third offer? Our final stop was in the London area. This Alberg 30 was a well cared for beauty – and – it was high and dry (check!) and priced right for our budget (check!). A solid trailer was also on our wishlist. This Alberg was sitting upon a three axle trailer (CHECK!). Imagine being able to unlock the shackles of being stuck in a single body of water. Being mobile would also mean that we could take the boat home and work on her at our own leisure, where we have all of our tools and not have to pay fees or wonder about her condition. It had a Yanmar diesel engine, and its body and fittings seemed to be in good shape. The boat bore the melodious name Ariose. Sigh. We tried to feign disinterest. Tim whistling short phrases of Halleluiah from Handel’s Messiah may have given us away. As soon as the owner was out of sight and we hoped, out of earshot, our enthusiasm bubbled over and we agreed, this was it! This Alberg was just right!
Well, that’s it for this post. As the 2nd of 3 posts in this series, I should be building in some would-this-boat-become-ours-or-not suspense, but considering how we titled these posts, guess you already know the outcome. So, despite having no cliff hanger to lure you back, I hope you’ll join us in a few days as we wrap up our “Acquiring Ariose” trilogy.