Cruising Stories

The Quest for Empty Nest

The Joys and Obstacles of Buying a New Boat

On Sababa with friends and family | Benny Rubin

I’ve never subscribed to the “two happiest days in a boat owner’s life” mantra, at least not the part about selling. Parting with boats has never been easy for me. But getting a new boat, well, I can’t think of anything more exciting that doesn’t involve a major family event.

Planning for the next boat began about five years ago when my wife Ann and I realized that we’d soon be empty nesters, and I was reaching retirement age for my job as a professor at Johns Hopkins. The original idea was to take a sabbatical and spend a year doing the Great Loop. I completely obsessed about it and attended every boat show seminar related to that voyage, read every article and book on the subject, and interviewed former Loopers.

I won’t say that shopping for a Loop boat wasn’t fun. As my friend Matt says, “Boat shopping is almost as fun as boating.” At the time, we had a 60-foot Prestige Fly named Sababa that was fun for our family of three kids and a dog but was inadequate for the Loop in every possible way. Our air draft was 25 feet, well over the 19’ 6” dictated by the lowest fixed bridge on the Loop. Our range was around 200 miles, well below what’s needed, and our two 30-gallon holding tanks, well, I’ll spare you the gory details, but they were not made for a lengthy voyage.

So, it was time to find a new boat.

Boat shows are infinitely more exciting when you are actually buying. However, because our goal was to do the Great Loop, we kept running into constraints, mostly related to size. We wanted a big boat, around 70 feet, because we planned to live somewhere warm on the boat several months out of the year. The only boat I found that met all our criteria was the Fleming 65.

Apparently, several Flemings successfully cruised the Great Loop. But we faced two problems. First and foremost, Ann does not like the Flemings’ interior decor, and we both find it a bit narrow on the beam for a boat this size. The second problem was no late models were available for sale, and a new build was estimated at three years.

An Epiphany and a New Plan

One day, after my regular two hours of looking at boat listings online, I had an epiphany. Instead of fitting the new boat to the trip we want to take (a massive undertaking, not to mention expense), let’s get our perfect boat and then figure out our trips.

Ann was on board before I could get the words out. Suddenly, we had clarity! We could check all our boxes! A large, indoor flybridge, country kitchen instead of lower helm, twin 1200 HP engines, oversized fuel tanks, zero speed stabilizers, dining room big enough for a poker game, dual 24” Garmin displays at the helm, twin generators for redundancy, fuel polishing system, line cutters, bow and stern thrusters, FLIR infrared night vision system, Starlink satellite receiver, Bonine boat status system, 1,500 mile range at 10 knots, capability to do 20 knots, and on and on. Ann had some things she wanted as well, but I don’t remember them (just kidding).

Our new plan took shape for May 2024 through April 2025. We’d travel north from our Annapolis home with summer stops in Cape May, Manhattan, Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, Boston, Maine, Halifax and any place along the way that we want to explore. Then, we’d head south in the winter to the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Barbados. The Great Loop adventure will have to wait.

After many hours of research, including several boat shows, we narrowed the list to four boat brands that would meet our dream requirements, namely Fleming, Marlow, Outer Reef and Hampton Endurance. These manufacturers have models around 70 feet LOA with many features we required and some that are just nice to have. We would have been happy with any of them.

End of dock after construction | Avi Rubin

When we converged on our four choices for the next boat, another major change occurred in our lives (beside a new global pandemic that turned the world upside down). Our youngest kids, the twins, graduated high school and were heading to college. So, Ann and I immediately sold our house and moved to our dream waterfront home in Annapolis. (We debated whether to share the new address with our children, and eventually decided to.)

The new Annapolis house has a 300-foot-long pier, but we encountered other challenges. We had just below five feet of MLLW at the end of the dock. Also, there was no spot for a new 70’ boat, because boat lifts were in the way.

We would have to dredge and reconfigure the dock, and I was warned that in Annapolis, the permits alone can take over a year. I interviewed several companies that build docks and finally came up with a workable plan and signed a contract. We’d move one of the boat lifts, replace a bunch of pilings and dredge down a couple of feet. On the day of the house closing, we filed the paperwork for the permits. They took 14 months to issue.

Down to four boat models, our search went into overdrive. We visited the Fleming dealership, Burr Yachts near Annapolis and spent most of the day on the 58 and the 65. At the Miami boat show, we spent over an hour with the Marlow Explorer and toured brokerage Marlows that were nice. Ann did not love the shiny wood interior, and neither of us liked the two-year wait for a new build.

We saw a fantastic looking Outer Reef at a boat show, and we even went to Ft. Myers when a one-year-old Outer Reef 72 came on the market. That one was close, but we didn’t like the closed floor plan. A deal breaker.

One day, a late model Hampton Endurance 720 came online in Seattle. It seemed perfect – checked all the boxes on paper. We flew to see it and were getting excited until we asked to see the maintenance records and discovered the boat hadn’t been used in over a year. Another deal breaker. Dang!

While in Seattle, we saw a couple of other Endurance boats and become increasingly enamored with that model. Then, our broker told us about an Endurance 658L already in build at the factory in Shanghai, China. It could still be fully customized and would only take a year to finish. It had a length overall of 71’ and a beam of 19’2” with a draft of 5’3.” The boat cruises at 10 knots but can do 20 in a pinch with twin 1200 HP Man engines. We decided to go for it!

Empty nest first ride in USA | Dan Bacot

Negotiating the purchase of a new yacht was daunting. We had dozens of features to choose from, many standard items and seemingly unlimited options. I sat down with the brokers and came up with the full, exhaustive feature list before discussing cost. This way I’d know what I was getting for a particular price.

After dreaming about and planning this purchase for so long, I already had an idea of what I wanted down to the kinds of helm chairs, floor plan layout and electronics brand. With the list finalized, which included everything I could possibly want or imagine, they gave us a quote.

I tried to negotiate and found that they were much more willing to throw in a couple of extra features than to move on the price. However, I spoke with a friend who happens to be a lawyer specializing in maritime law, and he told me it is perfectly legal to flag the boat overseas and not pay import tariffs. Above a certain price point, that’s pretty much what everyone does.

When I proposed this to the boat sellers, they reduced the price down to the number I was looking for, and by that evening we had a final contract. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the moment that I signed. It was February 24, 2022. One of the happiest days in this boat owner’s life.

We spent the next six months picking out fabrics, tiles, furniture, electronics, window treatments, etc. It was like building a house. Samples arrived in the mail, and decisions were needed quickly. I decided to forego satellite TV in favor of Starlink Internet and streaming and then worked with electronics specialists to design the boat’s wiring plan. I needed to get this right, because it’s a lot easier to pre-wire than to add things later when the walls are closed.

Luckily for me and Ann, every major choice was important to one of us but not the other. I was fine with whatever furniture Ann wanted in the salon, and she was not interested in the brand and size of chart plotter at the helm. So, it worked out perfectly. We also agreed on a name, Empty Nest, and named our dinghy Nestling.

On February 27, 2023, almost a year to the day from the signed contract, our new boat was placed on a barge in Shanghai, China, taken to port, and loaded onto the container ship, APL Danube, headed for Miami. I tracked the progress on every day (okay, several times a day) and watched as the ship passed by Japan, entered the Panama Canal, then stopped in Houston, Mobile, and finally at the Port of Miami on April 6. To follow Avi Rubin’s adventures with his new boat, go to his Marinalife blog.

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