Boat hunting in Florida

How we came to find S/V Ah Ma.

A brief Introduction

Dad behind the wheel of Basseroet
Dad behind the wheel of the latest Basseroet, a Contest 32 from 1973.

I come out of a ‘sailing’ family,  born in the north of Holland on the shores of the Ijsselmeer where boats were part of everyday life.  My father built his first boat from scratch, and has been refurbishing boats ever since. There was always a project boat in the marina and he built everything himself,  from engine parts to the entire interior. This constant state of construction also meant that sailing was not always the first priority.

Not that I actively participated in those days,  in fact I didn’t like sailing (or boating) that much. The tension on deck when mooring between the captain (dad) and the first mate (mom) was not very pleasant at times. And the days long motoring through the rivers from the north side of Holland to the South side (Zeeland) was not very interesting for a 6 year old. But those few moments motor stopped, the sails went up and the boat healed on its perfect 15 degrees angle, all became quiet, and everything just fell in place. Until I got seasick of course.

Later in life I fell in love with the Ocean, the blue Ocean that is, not the green brown waters I was used to back in Holland. I moved to the Caribbean for work and started to play around with centaurs on the Spanish Waters ‘lake’ of Curacao.

Later in life, my work and the love of my life brought me to Asia, it was here that the idea of long term cruising really took a foothold. Maybe as an escape from the overcrowded cities filled with rude and mindless people, or maybe just a midlife crisis, who knows. I started taking my sailing classes to get officially certified as a ‘skipper’ and signed up for delivery jobs for a charter company in Thailand. Every day looking at the Facebook groups and boat sales sites slowly formulating a plan to make the lifestyle real.

And so it begins…

After about a year of searching for boats on the internet, scavenging the Yachtworld site and Facebook groups we found it very hard to form an idea of our wants and needs over the internet. We decided to go to Florida to see some boats for real. Why all the way in Florida? Aren’t there boats for sale in Asia you might think? Yes of course there are, but what we have found so far did not fit our bill, whatever that was at that point in time. In Hong Kong, where we live nearby, most boats for sale are used as racing boats. Over the years they have been stressed to the maximum of their abilities. Geared up for large crews to bash as fast as possible around some buoys in the harbour or across the South China sea to the Philippines and back. Interiors are stripped down to a bare minimum as all comfort has to make space for weight reduction.

If we look further South, to the harbours of Phuket and Langkawi we do find world cruisers lying with a for sale tag on their sides.  But most of these boats have been cruising for years and are left behind by their owners, many of whom end their journey before committing to the big leap across the Indian Ocean towards the pirate invested waters of the African East coast. These boats usually still have sentimental value to their owners who have invested heavily in their cruisers over the years which often reflects in the unrealistic asking prices.

Then there is of course the Mediterranean, where interesting boats lie dispersed between the islands of Greece, the Croatian cruising grounds and Turkey. Not an easy place to go to and see what’s on offer in a short trip. Also the Mediterranean is filled with ex charter boats, and if there is one thing all the wise internet expert opinions agree upon, it is that you would never buy a charter boat for cruising.

Lastly there is northern Europe, specifically my home country of Holland. Because most sailing done there is day sailing, from marina to other (wonderful) marina across the Eisselmeer or the shallows of the Waddenzee, the boats on offer are not really built for on board living, and ocean equipment like AIS, a good anchor and chain,  radar, life-raft etcetera is rarely present.

Off to Florida..

So America seems to be the place where we can see as many boats as we like in a relatively short period of time.  Most boats are lightly used for cross ocean cruising back and forth to the Bahamas or Virgins, and within a small area there are many marinas and behind the house moorings where potential candidates lie to be admired. It also helps that the Tampa Bay Area is (or was) the boat building capital of the United States. Many Catalinas, Gibsea’s, Hunters, CC’s and iconic Pacific Islanders found their birthplace along these shores. This brings many working marinas with skilled craftsmen eager to upgrade and fix any boat you bring to them.

Some moorings on the Ft Lauderdale river

The idea was to go for a couple of weeks to see as many boats as we could from our rather long  ‘shortlist’. This way we could get an idea about headroom, cabin layout, build quality and the feel of the boat in general. We really didn’t know much about what we really wanted. You read everyone’s opinions on topics like aft or centre cockpit, air-conditioning, centreline berths and more. But all these opinions confused us even more, so we just had to go and see for ourselves.

A few weeks before our departure from Hong Kong we scavenged the internet once more, putting all interesting looking listings on a Google Map and in a spreadsheet. We came to the conclusion that there were two or three major brokers offering most of the boats we were interested in, and planned our hotels near the largest concentration of interesting boats.

After thirty hours of airplane rides and airport lounges we finally touched grounds on the Miami international airport. A few weeks before our visit I messaged a couple of big brokers about our plans, asking to see if they could line up sightings in the locations we would be visiting. We generally spent one week on the East coast, travelling from Miami all the way up to Canaveral.  The second week we spent on the West coast of Florida being based around St Petersburg.

Only one broker responded to my relatively open ended query, Denison yachts. By far the largest broker in Florida with branches all over the place. Matthew, a very friendly bloke contacted me via Whatsapp and arranged for us to meet at the first boat, a Hunter 45ds, the day after we landed. He and his colleague Amanda were most helpful filling our days around Fort Lauderdale with sightings of various boats available, scanning the listings on Yachtworld on an almost hourly basis.

Clearwater Beach FL
Funny Turtle

A few days into our trip we moved North towards Canaveral and later west to Tampa Bay, by then we learned that you really don’t need to bring a buying broker. It’s very easy to line up sightings in Florida, and after a while you learn what to look out for. On every boat you see you will learn something new that you want (or don’t want)

We saw a lot of boats, about 3 every day, and slowly narrowed down our list of requirements. We fell in love with the floor-plan of the Hunter 466, with two cabins and an office and palatial front centreline berth. But also loved the huge outdoor space on the larger Hunter 49 and Benneteau 52. The latter was too much above our ever increasing budget so we kind of decided the 46 model would be the most likely candidate.  But it was a bit too early to commit as the rest of the plan was still very fluid. Questions like how to bring it back to Asia, how to get comfortable with the boat before making long crossings. And of course how to arrange the inevitable work that needs to be done when you buy a used boat. So for now we decided to let it all sink in, and commit to a 446, once we are ready to take ownership and have worked out the return to Asia.  Yeah right, little did we know what was to happen next..

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