Yesterday, October 13, marked the second-happiest day of these sailors' lives, as the sale of our beloved Thalia was finally realized.
We had moved off the boat more than a week earlier, not anticipating one of the inevitable delays that happens in these sorts of deals. So the news came to us via text from our broker as we sat around one of the few pieces of furniture we own - a second-hand kitchen table - in our still-messy new apartment in Staunton, Virginia.
Somewhat sheepishly, I realized this morning that my last blog post was dated August 21. Of course, I had every intention of updating the blog a couple of times between then and now, but boat projects, errands, and most especially travel to the cities we were considering moving to, kept us extremely busy.
So here, in our last blog post after three years aboard S/V Thalia, is a little background on what we've been up to in the final two months living on the water.
Just one of many charming historic buildings in downtown Asheville.
In mid-August, we stayed with our son and daughter-in-law, taking care of our grandson for a week to help bridge the gap between his parents going back to work and his starting daycare.
A week later, we checked back in on Thalia in Annapolis and then took a road trip to the North Carolina mountains. It was still quite hot and humid in Annapolis, but when we finally arrived in Asheville, the air was just a bit cooler and drier, especially at night. In fact, it was perfect weather. Score one point for Asheville - the mountain ranges there have created a unique micro-climate that keeps down the heat and humidity in the summer, yet protects the area from excessive snow in the winter.
It's also worth noting that Asheville is a really lovely city. We loved it. It was quite a bit larger than we had envisioned, and full of interesting people, buildings, places to dine, and things to do.
We spent a very enjoyable evening with our friends David and Jennifer Billstrom, who had us over to dinner at their home in nearby Black Mountain. David, whom I knew from the tech world in Portland, was extremely helpful to us in our consideration of Asheville as a place to move. He and Jen co-own a wonderful bicycle tour company there, Velo Girl Rides
. Definitely the kind of people we want to be friends and neighbors with.
While in the area, we met with a real estate agent and talked about our goals. The reality became pretty clear that Asheville is a little pricey for us. So we expanded our search to some of the nearby towns, including our favorite, Hendersonville, with its very charming historic downtown. Even there, though, the options in our price range were limited, especially given our desire for a large (half acre) and relatively level yard for all the fruit trees, veggie beds, beehives, and chicken coops we're envisioning. True Portlanders we still are in many ways...
Hendersonville, just south of Asheville, has a very appealing, pedestrian-friendly downtown.
Ultimately, we left Asheville loving the area, but concerned about its affordability. The 8 1/2 hour drive back to Annapolis, though, was what really tipped us away from this choice. We thought about what a long drive that would be if we just wanted to spend a quick weekend visiting our kids or grandson in DC and Baltimore. Of course, flying is an option - and an inexpensive one from Asheville to Baltimore - but also not without hassles.
Cherry Tree Farm
My Great-Aunt Grace, who was my late father's favorite aunt, owned a very large property just a few hours north of Asheville in the mountains not far from Boone, NC. I had always wanted to visit her there, but unfortunately didn't make it before she passed away at age 99 last year. As her daughter Honey and husband Thomas - whom we've gotten close to since moving to the East Coast - spend their summers there, we arranged a quick overnight visit to see them and the farm.
The drive up there was stunningly beautiful, as we wound our way through parts of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains, cutting across the very northeastern corner of Tennessee and then through the Cherokee National Forest before arriving mid-afternoon at Cherry Tree Farm.
Just one of the many jaw-dropping territorial views on my cousins' farm.
Honey and Tom own a gorgeous home they built on the family property, set amidst some of the many Frazier firs the family grew for years for their business, Papa Noel Christmas Trees. Papa Noel was my Great-Uncle Jimmy, whom I adored, so it was a real treat to see his face on the signage as we toured the property on ATVs with our cousins.
I loved seeing Great-Uncle Jimmy's face on signs for the Christmas tree farm.
I have to tell you, remote as it is, that is one of the prettiest places I've ever seen. The views are breathtaking, especially as the ground fog began to creep into the valleys in the late afternoon light. It was utterly peaceful and enchanting.
Much as we loved being there, we were hoping to get back to Annapolis before the nasty Labor Day weekend traffic hit, so we took off Thursday morning to spend a night in Staunton, met Friday at lunch with a real estate broker in Charlottesville, and then drove back. Unfortunately, our timing was really bad; we spent a solid couple of hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic trying to make our way through Washington DC on Friday afternoon. We didn't get back to Thalia until nearly 7:00 that evening. Any doubts we'd had about our decision to not move to big cities was thoroughly dispelled by that experience.
The Shenandoah Valley
Two weeks later, we drove back down to Charlottesville to continue our search. We spent a night there, enjoying a farm-to-table meal at a cute place called The Whiskey Jar on Cville's charming pedestrian-only downtown mall, before strolling around the mall to the beat of a live Beck concert at the outdoor amphitheater.
We then spent a day driving around with a wonderful real estate agent, Sybil Mahanes, who has lived there her entire life. We looked at half a dozen homes, but had the same sense we did in Asheville: that we should have moved there ten years earlier, before it had gotten so built-up and expensive.
Last on our list, Staunton was refreshingly different. Here, we got the sense of a small (pop. 22,000) city just on the verge of the kind of growth Asheville and Cville have seen. Staunton's history dates back to 1746 (founded by a guy named Lewis, as a matter of fact!), and its downtown area is graced with truly lovely architecture, mostly from the 19th century. But there's relatively little traffic, few crowds, and the real estate prices are surprisingly affordable, particularly to people coming from the West Coast. Staunton is quite hilly, and sits at an elevation of around 1,300 feet.
We liked the city right away, even though it is smaller and slower than Cville - or perhaps because of that. True, there are no Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, or Costcos, but those are just a half hour away in Cville. There are plenty of local farms, including our hero Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm, made famous in Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma
. There's a very nice farmers market as well, plus several large city parks, and a thriving local arts scene, including a nearly exact reproduction of Shakespeare's Blackfriars Playhouse.
Staunton has a vibrant downtown full of restored historic buildings housing shops and restaurants.
So ultimately, we decided we'd rent a place in Staunton for six months or so, still consider the possibility of Charlottesville, but focus on settling down here. Phew. Huge decision made, now to get the boat sold...
On Selling a Boat
Funny how the universe works... As we packed up to drive back to Annapolis on September 22, our broker called to let us know a prospective buyer was there with his broker, and wanted to see the boat. By the time we got back, we heard an offer was coming in. And just two weeks later, our heads spinning from the speed with which this all happened, we moved off the boat for good.
Thalia's new owner, Franco, is an Argentinian-born filmmaker living in Mexico City. He and a partner decided to buy an ocean-worthy sailboat not to live on, but to keep in places they'd like to explore, to fly in and take her cruising. Franco had come to Annapolis planning to buy one of two Mason 44s on the market, but was quite disappointed in the condition of both boats. That's when he broadened his search to include Passports. He told us that as soon as he walked aboard Thalia, he knew she was the boat he'd been searching for.
Apparently they are not going to keep her name, as Thalia is unfortunately the name of a really bad singer in Mexico. Instead, they may christen her Improbable
, for a number of reasons including the unlikelihood of having found her.
We were obviously delighted to have a reasonable offer on the boat, especially from someone we liked as soon as we met him. But those two weeks were among the most difficult I can remember. Franco was anxious to finalize the deal, but had to jump through some legal hoops before it could all come together. The brokers were pushing to wrap up the sale by October 6, the first day of the boat show, knowing they wouldn't have mind-share for it otherwise. We had a list as long as my arm to tick off before we could leave, but were emotionally ready to go. Meanwhile, down in the Bahamas, Hurricane Matthew was forming.
Before finalizing the sale, the buyer needed to do a survey, haul-out, and sea trial, as is customary. These were scheduled for September 28, which was predicted to be a nasty, rainy day with periodic thunderstorms. Awesome.
Since we were scheduled to close just a week after that, Larry and I had to start packing, but what to pack? There was no way to know if the sale would go through until the very end, which would have been prime time for boat show visitors to tour Thalia. So we were reluctant to pack too much until at least after we knew the survey had gone well. We started slowly, packing boxes of scuba gear, craft supplies, winter clothes, and the like, eventually filling up the entire back of our Honda Element as we went.
The day of the sea trial dawned with thunderstorms, as predicted, but these diminished during the morning as the surveyor and Franco inspected Thalia from stem to stern, while Larry and I hung out with our broker Estelle in the laundry room and tried to stay out of the way but available. Around mid-day Larry moved Thalia over to the travel lift and she was hauled out to be able to inspect the hull, keel, rudder, and prop.
Above: The surveyor scaled our 60' mast to inspect it, once the thunderstorms had moved on. Below: Thalia's new owner Franco confers with Larry as he measures for a new boom vang.
Meanwhile, the weather continued to slowly improve. We were obviously hoping not to be out in driving rain or thunderstorms, but still to have enough wind that the boat could actually sail (she doesn't like anything under 15 knots, as a rule). By the time the boatyard employees dropped her back into the water that afternoon, the rain had stopped and winds were around 18 knots. We set sail one last time out into the Chesapeake to put her through her paces, and I felt that familiar, now bittersweet surge in my heart when the wind caught the sails and Thalia heeled slightly as she gained momentum.
The Final Week(s)
From what we could gather at that point, everything was looking really good. We were obliged to wait 48 hours to hear what if any concerns the buyer had. Everything was still very much up in the air, officially, and Franco could have walked away from the deal at any point until he signed an unconditional acceptance. But we'd interacted with him a fair amount by then, and trusted that he genuinely was excited about Thalia and would do everything he could to make the sale happen.
So we continued to pack, no longer worrying about how the boat looked. And we packed, and packed, and packed... We were quite shocked that in the end, it took some 28 boxes to get everything off that boat. No one who visited us would ever have called her cluttered, so that's quite a testament to the (hidden) cargo capacity of a Passport 40.
Exhausted captain Larry catching a cat nap in between packing boxes.
Meanwhile, Franco's broker informed us they needed to extend the closing another week to deal with legal paperwork regarding ownership. At the same time, most of the various predicted paths for Hurricane Matthew showed the storm roaring right up the Chesapeake to exactly where we sat. It occurred to us that it would be particularly horrible timing to have to prepare Thalia for a direct hit from a hurricane, just a few days before the sale closed. (This would have involved hauling her out and securing her on the hard - if the yard would even be able to schedule that; removing all sails and canvas; pulling the dinghy off the stern davits and lashing it down on the foredeck; removing the radar dome and solar panels; and if she were still in the water, tying her off seventeen ways till Sunday. We were too exhausted to even contemplate that eventuality.)
Storm or not, since we had planned on leaving the 6th and had made complicated arrangements with our busy Baltimore and DC kids to pick up various items in storage with them, we finally decided to leave after all. For the next several days, we'd be no more than a few hours away, and could come back if needed to do whatever might be required, should Matthew track our way.
By this point, neither of us was sleeping at all well. The weather was nasty, we had tons of anxiety about what might or might not happen, the boat was in an uproar, and we hadn't yet secured a place to live in Staunton. We stumbled through our last full day, hauling heavy boxes up over the rails, precariously balanced, as we stepped down onto the skinny finger pier and trudged up to the 5' x 8' trailer into which Larry was miraculously loading all this stuff.
Empty and gleaming, Thalia awaits her new owner.
Our last evening, fittingly, we went to dinner at a local wine bar with cruising friends Russell and Kathy of S/V Beluga, and spent a really lovely evening relaxing together, talking sailboats and reminiscing about our first chance meeting on a remote cay in the Exumas two years ago. It was wonderful to share that last meal with close friends and fellow cruisers.
And the next day, we finished packing and cleaning, leaving keys and instructions and manuals for Franco, securing Thalia as best we could, and saying our goodbyes. Then we hit the road for Baltimore. Over the next several days, as we traveled from Baltimore to Alexandria to Annandale, we anxiously watched the predicted storm tracks and waited for word that the boat sale would in fact go through.
By Thursday, we knew for sure that Matthew was heading back out to sea after wreaking havoc in the Carolinas, so we left for Staunton on Friday morning. On the way down, I got the call from our new apartment building manager that everything was in place for us to move in that afternoon.
The actual boat sale wasn't complete until just yesterday evening - nearly a week later - when the funds finally transferred. When we sat down to dinner last night, having finally closed that chapter, it was pretty anticlimactic. We were just so tired, and had had to deal with so much these past few weeks, that we hardly felt like celebrating.
True also is this: We're vastly relieved our girl sold in just over three months, and to such a wonderful new owner who clearly already loves her. So yes, the day we sold our boat was nearly as happy as the day we bought her three years ago. But beautiful old boats like Thalia are almost sentient beings - they really do have personalities and old, wise souls, with so very many stories they have lived but can never tell. So it's sad to leave her behind.
And yet, it was time. We did over 10,000 miles in three years at six miles an hour; rather an astonishing number, if you think about it. There's the new grandson, who is such a delight to us both. And we're starting to think about Golden Retriever puppies and gardens and joining a local walking group. So now we transition to our next adventure, and cut Thalia loose to explore the world with her new owner.
The gorgeous morning view of Staunton from our new apartment building.