June 26, 2017
In the Cetacea period, our kids were growing up, and by now we also had pets. Our half-arctic wolf/half-Siberian Husky dog named Tawna, and a rescue cat named Pauwels joined the family – and therefore the crew.
Clearly, Cetacea would no longer function as the family’s sailboat, and with two-foot-itis striking again, the search began in earnest for another boat. We would be looking to move into the 30 foot range this time.
At some point in the mid 90’s I decided to change jobs. Actually, my employer at that time sold several of his other business and decided that that he no longer needed me to run it for him. Suddenly and unexpectedly unemployed with a stay-at-home wife and two pre-school children, my initial reaction was one of panic. This was followed by a glowing sense of opportunity. A few weeks earlier while on vacation in Florida we had gone on a day cruise with a captain who owned a Westsail 32. We had hit it off rather well, and had exchanged contact information.
I mustered up the courage to present my wife what was on my mind: was this the opportunity to ditch the 9 to 5 world and go cruising full-time while our kids were still young? The more we thought about it, the more intrigued we became… for a young family (I was 35 at the time) we were relatively well-off. We owned our house outright and we each had retirement savings accounts and virtually no debt. We called our captain friend in Florida looking for more information. In retrospect, we were afraid, and I think what we were looking for was courage to make the decision. In the end, we chickened out. To this day, we talk about this moment in our lives and regret not taking the plunge. I am reminded of a line from the movie “Field of Dreams” when Burt Lancaster’s character tells Kinsella, “We just don’t recognize life’s most significant moments while they’re happening. Back then I thought, “Well, there’ll be other days.” I didn’t realize that that was the only day…” So true.
I quickly found another job in my field and while the cruising dream was abandoned, the sailing dream was not. And so the search resumed for a nice family cruiser that we could use on LOTW.
“Gusto” seemed to meet all the criteria for ur next sailboat. A 1974 Ranger 29, she had a roomy interior (everything’s relative!) and a real galley with an ice box. The only downside was that her engine was an Atomic IV gas engine, and as a matter of principle, I don’t like gasoline inboard engines on a boat due to the fire/explosion hazard. I found Gusto in Sailboat Trader and the price was within our budget target. She was located on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, but at this point I knew a thing or two about yacht transport and to get her to LOTW would not be a big deal.
We made an offer on Gusto and flew out to Michigan to see her in-person. She was covered with a tarp, for it was mid-February in Holland, Michigan. I was so enamored of her enormous size (she was a 29 footer, after all!) and had convinced myself that all my reading about sailboats somehow qualified me as a marine surveyor to the point that the strong odour of gasoline inside the boat didn’t faze me. Perhaps the relatively low sell price induced me to pay no heed. All this aside, the sale went through and we were the proud new owners of a Ranger 29.
What is even more peculiar in all this is the fact that at that very moment I was at the final stages of accepting a new job in Vermont and this should have raised questions about transporting the boat not to Winnipeg but rather to Burlington, VT.
Both “deals” went through and so in addition to owning a new boat we would soon be moving to Vermont, USA.
After finding a marina in which to dock and store Gusto in Burlington, and a place to live in St. Johnsbury, VT, I had time to contemplate actually using the boat (I moved to Vermont in advance of my wife and kids and so had plenty of time on my hands), and so, along with a work colleague, we drove to Burlington and endeavoured to sail Gusto. It was a glorious July weekend.
I bought a gas can and put 5 gallons of gas into the tank on the boat. The first sign of trouble was the fact that engine would not start. I was fairly competent with gas engines and quickly determined that there was no spark at the plugs, and thought that the points and condensor were the likely culprits. Off we went to a local auto parts store, and bought these parts, and for good measure I bought a new ignition coil. With my poor friend watching expectantly, we replaced the ignition components and were overjoyed to hear the engine cough to life when the key was turned. We were underway! The first stop: the fuel docks to fill up the 20 gallon fuel tank.
After this we took a little spin around the harbour, and it being late in the day by this point, we headed back to the dock to tie up.
That was the first and only time I went out in Gusto.
A few weeks later, I got a middle-of-the-night phone call from the marina owner. It’s never good when you get a phone call in the wee hours. I was informed that the gas tank in Gusto had a leak and the fuel was accumulating in the bilge. Someone had smelled the gas and contacted Jake in a panic. This was not only a huge fire hazard, it was an explosion hazard. The City of Bulrington Fire Dept. was called out and they pumped Gusto full of fire retardant foam. After this, the boat was quickly hauled out of the water and the offending gas tank emptied. For all this fuss, I was, according to Jake, presented with a bill for Lord knows how much.
I bought a new gas tank for Gusto and installed it. It was now mid-August and the boating season was passing us by. Carolyn and the kids would be moving to Vermont on August 21. Gusto was re-floated and so I drove out to Burlington to check her out. I started the engine and slipped the dock lines and shifted into reverse. I was immediately aware of a severe shuddering vibration. The vibration worsened as I increased engine RPM… shit, either the prop is damaged or the propeller shaft was bent. I immediately thought of the middle-of-the-night haul-out when the gas tank was leaking. In the panic of the moment, the travel lift sling must have been slung under the prop shaft.
We were far too busy moving in to the house that we had rented to worry about sailing. The repait to Gusto would have to wait.
Then Hurricane Floyd hit Vermont on Sept. 15.
And my phone rang again.
“This is Jake from the marina. I have good news and bad news”. He didn’t wait to know which I wanted first – and given that we were in a legal battle about the damage to my boat from the midnight haul-out and bend prop shaft, I don’t think Jake cared.
“Hurricane came through Lake Champlain and caused a lot of damage here. The good news is Gusto is still floating. The bad news is that the floating dock is on top of her.”
Eleven foot waves will do that, I guess.
That was the end of poor Gusto. The poor girl had a jinx on her, that is plain. She was later repaired and I sold her to a guy in Quebec. I wonder about her every now and then.
Meanwhile, I was boatless again.
Next: Yet another boat