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The Craziness of the Long-Distance Boat Buyer

How Sugar Babies, Red Bull, and a boat called Loon darn near drove Capt. Bill Pike over the edge.

My eyelids were heavy. I blinked, trying to refocus on the narrow North Carolina secondary road ahead, with its bright-white lines zooming in from the darkness. The windows of the ol’ Subaru Forester were rolled down, making it decidedly breezy inside, less sleep-friendly. I shivered. My watch glowed informatively—a little after 11 o’clock.

“Weird,” I observed out loud, as much to take the edge off the humming monotony as to comment upon a state of affairs that had slowly but surely become so wild, so crazy, that even I (a wild and crazy guy anyway) was concerned, maybe even a tad worried.

Actually, weird wasn’t the half of it. To properly synch with a plan hatched several months before, whereby Power & Motoryacht’s entire crew would do something exceptionally boaty and fun on July 12, 2015 (and write up the experience), I should have spent the entire day on board some sort of vessel some place, enjoying watery adventures. But instead, here I was—hunkered over a steering wheel, near the end of a frantic, 700-mile run from North Florida to Morehead City, with my synapses snapping and popping atop a surfeit of Sugar Babies and Red Bull, and a haulout scheduled for early the next morning, followed by a hull survey, a sea trial, and, with any luck, an engine scrutinization that would produce a happy ending. The subject of all these goings-on: a 1991 Grand Banks 32 named, quite appropriately, Loon.

The author tweaks his route—and his psyche—for the long drive ahead.

The author tweaks his route—and his psyche—for the long drive ahead.

None of this was that strange, though—heck, I’ve been disregarding plans, programs, and policies all my life. And as for long drives? They’ve never been a problem. But hey, when you considered the fact that I’d done an identical, Sugar-Babies-and-Red-Bull-fueled round trip from Florida to Morehead only a few short days earlier—to effect a presurvey inspection—the acrid odor of obsession began to arise. And then, adding the fact that, for months now, my mind had been completely awash, nay, virtually drowning, in feverish financials (including mortgage rates, loan terms, and down-payment minimums), hypnotic computer images (detailing everything from fuel tanks to upholstery), and ravingly repetitive daydreams (featuring cruises to Key West, Hope Town, and other likely spots, complete with the rumble of a 135-horsepower Lehman diesel in the background), well … you get my drift.

“Be careful,” my wife BJ had warned that morning, as I got behind the wheel and downed the first slug of Red Bull for the day. “I think you’ve lost your mind.”

Woe, Woe, Woe Is Me

Let’s step back in time for a moment. It’s mid-April in North Florida and, although the birds are twittering cheerily outside, I’m sitting in my office, wallowing in a self-piteous goo that’s so thick and sticky it feels like a glop of urethane adhesive. There are two reasons for this sorry state of affairs.

First, I am boatless—my beloved Betty Jane, a Grand Banks 32 just like Loon, is gone. I’ve sold her to a retired supertanker skipper, in large part because I was convinced at the time that I needed extra cash to help defray some emergency expenses, expenses I’ve since discovered are not really an issue.

And second, the universe is messin’ with me—my beloved Betty Jane, which I’ve already said toodaloo to once, has just now, this very morning, been snatched away again! How? The horror show began when BJ told me Betty was inexplicably back on the market. There was an ad on the Web—the supertanker guy had apparently changed his mind. 

“Call the broker,” she advised. But when I did, the cheeky young thing replied in a peeved voice, undoubtedly because I was pestering him on his Colorado ski lodge vacation, “I just sold her again, Bubba, they signed the paperwork yesterday—you’re too late.”

What good’s self-piteous goo if you can’t spread it around. “Things are bad, Dan,” I tell Dan Harding, Power & Motoryacht’s senior managing editor on the phone. “Real bad.”

“Bill,” he says, “I’ve got a solution—a boat that’s a dead ringer for the Betty Jane. I’ll send you a link. She looks really nice.”

John Day of Day Yacht Services, based in Morehead City, North Carolina

John Day of Day Yacht Services, based in Morehead City, North Carolina

The DIY Demon

For some of us, there’s something so irresistibly alluring about photos of boats for sale on the Web that clicking along, from one image to the next, routinely induces a trance-like state that, if left unattended, will eventually suck away all interest in other healthy activities, like eating, drinking, sleeping, and choosing appropriate clothing. As I perused images of Loon day after day while seated in my office or lying in bed at night, I became so deranged that an evil entity began speaking to me in secret—the DIY Demon.

It pounded me and pounded me, with stuff like: “You need to replace all those sanitary hoses in the engine room and rebuild the VacuFlush system. But don’t worry, Billy Boy—it’ll be a piece of cake.”

Things got even darker when I began petitioning the wizards of high finance. I spent hours (work hours, evening hours, weekend hours, shoulda-been-sleeping hours) talking with credit honchos, mortgage brokers, and loan officers and studying their Web sites and application forms. And while I did these things, I dared to dabble in fantasies I only half-believed in, each featuring outrageous sums of money coming from preposterous sources, like old, forgotten insurance policies and huge, long-lost tax refunds.

“Just remember, Bill,” opined Power & Motoryacht columnist Mike Smith skeptically, “If this boat in North Carolina works out, you’re gonna qualify as a serial GB 32 owner—I’m just sayin’.”

Euclid and Barton Holmes

A boatyard without a resident dog or two is at best untrustworthy, and at worst a hot spot for bad juju. So on the Morehead City waterfront the next morning, I was gratified to see a feisty little fellow, with a slapdash haircut, standing alongside the haulout slip at Shephard’s Point Boat Company, barking vociferously.

“But what’s with the barking?” I asked myself as Loon slid into the Travelift’s slings, “A good omen? Or bad?”

It turned out the dog’s name was Euclid, presumably after the ancient Greek mathematician, and he proceeded to hang with the festivities at Shephard’s, from pressure washer to phenolic hammer, growing friendlier and friendlier as time wore on. Eventually, he turned into my total buddy, standing alongside local surveyor John Day and I no matter what. His presence spoke of a calmer, gentler world, I suppose, well beyond the sugary, hopped-up crests I was riding at the time, and known to the average Joe as “reality.”



The survey went well. Although Loon was not in Bristol condition, Day explained, his official report when complete would rate her as “Above Average,” meaning, of course, that there were some issues.

“But you can handle ’em,” the DIY Demon tut-tutted, “and all the other maintenance stuff—you can handle that too. You’re a helluva guy, Billy Boy, despite your advanced age and your addictions to candy, caffeine, and taurine.”

Later that night though, while en route back to Florida, I began to wonder. So eventually I pulled into a rest area and called my friend Barton Holmes, a Jacksonville, Florida-based yacht broker who’d been handling my side of the Loon extravaganza. Besides being a broker, Holmes is half psychiatrist, half exorcist.  

“Well,” he concluded, after listening for a while, “It sounds like you’re in a different place in your life now, Bill—maybe you’re at a point where you need a boat with less upkeep? Fewer projects.”

“Huh,” I responded, in a tone that mixed truth, acceptance, and disappointment. A meditative moment ensued—a long, stocktaking one. Then finally, after I’d reluctantly agreed with Holmes and signed off, I decided to tap into the Web via my iPhone to see if I couldn’t dig up a new prospect to dream about on the remainder of the drive home, something with just a little less exterior teak. I figured it would serve as a consolation.

This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.