Sailing Across the Atlantic Ocean

 

On Birds and Boredom: Sailing Across the Atlantic Ocean post image

On the second day of our Atlantic crossing, a bird flew in through the porthole next to our bed in the owner’s cabin.

I was on night watch with Kristi when Ryan appeared in the saloon with a look of dazed confusion on his face.

“There’s a bird in my bedroom,” he mumbled.

I looked at Kristi and laughed, assuming Ryan had either just woken up from a vivid dream and hadn’t shaken off the sleep yet or he was sleep-walking around the boat talking nonsense. Either way, it was funny, which is why I couldn’t stop laughing as I asked Ryan to clarify. “What?”

“There’s a bird in my bedroom.”

Kristi and I looked at each other in disbelief as we made our way downstairs to the owner’s cabin to see what Ryan was talking about.

Sure enough, perched on the floor next to my bed, was a little black and white bird looking around and hopping lightly across the floor, not at all fazed by the two large humans bent over it, staring and giggling.

“Oh my God, there really IS a bird in the bedroom!” I said.

“I told you,” said Ryan, rubbing his eyes and yawning. “It flew past my head while I was sleeping and woke me up.”

“Aw, he’s so cute!” I said, slowly inching towards the bird. “What are you doing in here, little guy?” I cupped my hands softly around the little bird’s body, expecting it to struggle and fight to fly out of my grasp. But instead the bird sat calmly as I scooped it up and walked upstairs to the saloon.

The pumpkin seeds were of no interest to this bird (Photo by Kristi Wilson)

I set the bird down on our table outside, again expecting it to fly frantically around the cockpit, trying to escape, but it didn’t. The bird seemed tired, like maybe he got lost and had stopped to get some rest before continuing on towards its planned destination. I set a bowl of water and some sunflower seeds on the table, which the bird showed absolutely no interest in. But I didn’t want to be a bad host; I had to at least try to offer our little guest some refreshments.

The rest of my night watch passed without incident and though the sunrise was as pretty as any sunrise I’ve seen at sea, the sky streaked with shades of pink and purple, I don’t remember anything else about the day.

The sunsets are always stunning on the Atlantic Ocean, it seems (Photo by Kristi Wilson)

Which is pretty much like every day that passed on our Atlantic crossing. Days consisted of long stretches of doing nothing in various positions on the boat — at the helm, in the cockpit, on the beanbag chair on the foredeck, in the saloon, on the sun lounger next to the helm — name the space and you could usually find a half asleep crew member curled up there trying to pass the time reading a book, watching a movie, playing cards or just staring out at the waves.

The details of the long hours spent doing nothing have slipped from my mind like water through my fingers. But the animals we encountered became the hard, vivid memories that stood out when I thought back on each of the 20 days that passed as we bobbed around on the Atlantic Ocean. The bird that flew into my bedroom, all the fish we caught, the dolphins that played in our wake, the family of whales that circled our boat, the squid we found in our dinghy and the flying fish that threw themselves at the boat during night watches; those are the things I remember vividly about the crossing. My memories are marked by a string of animals on an ocean timeline.

Morgan proudly showing off his big catch

On every ocean crossing I’ve ever done (which is 3 now — twice across the Atlantic Ocean and once across the Southern Ocean), memories from the first few days seem to be lost to the walking dead that are the crew on board. As everyone adjusts to their strange sleep schedules, as well as the seasickness that usually strikes a sorry few of the crew, there is a lot of stumbling around silently and brewing strong coffees to shake off the malaise that has blanketed the entire boat.

For the first few days, the priority for crew is to keep the boat sailing, try to eat regular meals and stay awake for the few hours we’re on duty during the day. When we’re not on watch, we can all be found strewn around the boat in various states of sleep or almost-sleep, either clutching a book while curled up on the foredeck in the beanbag chair, stretched out on the settee half asleep hugging a laptop (that’s my usual position) or lying in bed trying to watch a movie.

If all of this sounds boring and rather uneventful, that’s because it is. And that’s exactly why I wasn’t at all worried about the idea of crossing the vast Atlantic Ocean on our own boat — after all, I’d already done it on the Clipper Race, and we didn’t have the luxury then of turning on our engines when the wind died. On the Clipper Race, we sat flailing around in the Doldrums with our sails hanging limply for 10 days, baking in the sun and going out of our minds with boredom.

There’s nothing more boring than having no wind on an ocean race

So when Ryan and I were given the option of having our new boat, Cheeky Monkey, delivered to the U.S. from France for a hefty fee of $15,000, I barely paused before stating we would pick up our boat in France and sail it across the Atlantic ourselves.

Which is kind of crazy, now that I think about it, because I can vividly remember the thrilling terror I felt in December 2012 when we set out on Hideaway to sail from Fort Lauderdale to Bimini, Bahamas. I was imagining all the things that could go wrong as we lost sight of land and were out of range of other boaters, considering we barely knew what we were doing as sailors and had never done a landfall like that before. And that was only a thirty-five hour sail I had gotten myself all worked up over.

Of course, things did go wrong, as they always do. Our engine started over-heating and spitting sea water out onto our cabin floor, which turned out to be the result of a corroded heat exchanger. But by the time we reached Bimini with our faulty engine, we had stretched ourselves, mentally and physically, beyond the range of what we thought we could do. And it made us wonder what would happen if we continued to go further.

Looking back on our learning days on Hideaway, I am awed by this newfound fearless determination I have to cross oceans, which I know was not something I even remotely desired to do before meeting Ryan, and it certainly was not an idea I felt at all comfortable with even 5 years into sailing Hideaway around the harbors of New York.

So I understand when I meet sailors and cruisers out on the water who never aim to sail beyond the Caribbean, or maybe even their home ports. They name the discomforts of being at sea for extended periods of time and how they prefer to avoid all that. Sailing is something they experience for fun — the increased risk of being far from land and support is something that overshadows any idea of fun in sailing away from local shores. I absolutely understand all of those sentiments.

But somehow, I have found myself over the years stretching just a little further than I did before and exercising the muscle that dreams of places even further away until I’ve found myself feeling more and more comfortable being out of sight of land and growing more confident in my boat and my own sailing skills.

5 years ago, if you asked me to do this, I’d be saying “HELL NO.” (Photo by Kristi Wilson)

To look back on where I began is always amusing because I have just described a 20-day Atlantic crossing as being, essentially, boring, but for the string of animals that sent me shrieking and running periodically across the foredeck to have a closer look at what was splashing on the surface. The moments that filled the spaces between those animals I can’t recall without yawning, as they were pleasantly dull moments full of silence, lapping waves, a few meals and numerous books.

The bird that flew in through our window on the second day of our Atlantic crossing hopped around our saloon and cockpit for the entire night, seemingly comfortable in the presence of humans, every now and then sitting still and dozing off. It made no attempt to fly off into the darkness and we continued sailing on course with our little bird guest on board, wondering how long it would stay. It was as if the bird had flown beyond its capacity and got lost in the dark, but had the good fortune of finding a friendly boat where he could sit down and rest for a bit while figuring out what to do next.

I hope Cheeky Monkey can be hospitable to all lost birds on the ocean

At the crack of dawn, as the sun crept up over the horizon, the bird perked up and looked beyond the cockpit towards the sky. And without warning, the bird flapped its wings and flew off toward some unknown destination which maybe, after some rest, seemed possible to reach after all.

Like that little bird, we had sailed out into the unknown many times and encountered problems that meant we had to stop and regroup before continuing onwards. But with every obstacle we overcame, we found a boost in confidence and an increase in curiosity, wondering how far we could go the next time.

Which is why crossing the Atlantic Ocean on Cheeky Monkey isn’t the only milestone I feel I’ve reached in my sailing experience. It’s that I find myself describing an ocean crossing as “mostly boring” with the exception of the animals that punctuate the days, illustrating how far and wide my comfort zone has stretched since the early days of sailing Hideaway.

It’s taken many years of lots of little leaps, along with a fair bit of rest and regrouping between journeys, but it finally feels like our wings are at our strongest and there is nowhere we can’t fly to. Which begs the question, where shall we go next?

It may be boring at times to cross oceans, but it sure is beautiful

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Update from Tasha

Hey everyone! If you haven’t yet watched all 4 of our videos about crossing the Atlantic Ocean on our YouTube Channel, check them out! It was an epic adventure.

 

Video links

There’s this one — Atlantic Crossing: ARE WE READY?

 

And then there’s this one — Sailing the Atlantic: SHE WENT OVERBOARD!

 

And then there’s the one in which we were becalmed for 4 days — Atlantic Crossing: STUCK IN A WIND HOLE

 

And, finally, this one, in which we are ecstatic to have finally reached land — Atlantic Crossing: WE MADE IT!

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about our Atlantic crossing because we are soon embarking on our journey across the Pacific Ocean and I’m hoping we’ll have learned from our mistakes on the Atlantic and have an even better adventure on the Pacific! We’ll see!

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5 Lessons in Outfitting a New Boat

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I’ve mentioned before, in a post called The 80% Rule, that buying a new boat is not at all like buying a new car, unless you expect your new car to be delivered with a missing stereo, a broken speedometer and a bumper that falls off as you pull out of the dealership.

The problem is there are so many parties involved in creating the finished product that is your brand-new boat that the quality varies between different components of your vessel, depending on the responsibility assumed by the manufacturer (in our case, Fountaine-Pajot), the broker, the post-factory outfitter and the various companies who provide warranties for the products you’ve selected.

And though you may think that all these parties are working together towards the common goal of providing you with a fully working boat outfitted with all the gadgets and gizmos your heart desires and your wallet can afford, the truth is there are differences in how each of these parties approaches that goal while also catering to their bottom line.

This list of lessons learned comes directly from our experience working with Fountaine-Pajot, our broker, our post-factory outfitter and the various companies who sold us products that we researched and chose for our Helia.

Of course, every new boat owner will have a different tale to tell about their buying experience. So keep in mind that the advice listed here is nowhere near comprehensive and should be taken as a pinch of salt in a mixed stew of experiences. Nevertheless, these are the true stories behind the lessons we’ve learned.

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This is a Helia in the process of being built

Lesson #1: If it can be installed by the factory, get it installed by the factory.

I can’t speak for all yacht manufacturers, but my hunch is that this rule applies to most, if not all boat brands. In our experience, Fountaine-Pajot ranks at the top of the accountability list for any and all products they install. After all, it is their name branded on the side of the boat; not the broker’s name or the outfitter installing your various gadgets.

And let me be the first to say that the overall quality of the work done by Fountaine-Pajot was top-notch. And, more importantly, when things went wrong (as they always do with a boat, whether it’s old or new), FP took care of the repairs, replacements and labor immediately, no matter where we were in the world. For example, we had an issue with a terrible creaking sound in the hull, which seemed to be coming from our port stern when underway. FP identified it as a problem they had seen where the window wasn’t bedded properly in the fiberglass, causing friction, so they immediately over-nighted a new window to Menorca and paid for it to be replaced and reinstalled properly. The service was prompt, thorough and we never touched the bill.

One thing we’ve learned is for big installations like the generator, water-maker and air-conditioners, there is so much crucial wiring involved that it is best to have these items installed by the factory while the hull is in the process of being built, not after the boat is a finished product.

Luckily for us, our generator, water-maker and air-conditioners were installed by Fountaine-Pajot. But the list of installations that ended up being commissioned by our post-factory outfitter was not discussed with us, and if we’d known then what we know now, we would have specified what the factory should install; in short, everything that the factory was offering to install. And we would have done our own research into who should install the items not installed by the factory.

Take the ice-maker, for example. As we ordered our boat from FP, through an FP dealer, it never occurred to us that it wouldn’t be installed by FP. But the job of installing our ice-maker was given to our post-factory outfitter. Which meant that when the ice-maker was delivered broken, installed broken and never worked, there was a lot of shrugging, scratching of heads and not responding to emails requesting a new ice-maker.

We thought about selling the ice-maker for scrap metal or turning it into a spare anchor, but really all we wanted was for our outfitter to take responsibility for a broken item they installed. But, as the post-factory outfitters are at the bottom of the list of parties that maintain accountability for their products, we still don’t have a working ice-maker.

 

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No amount of glaring at this ice-maker is going to bring it to life

If FP had installed an ice-maker that didn’t work, they would have immediately shipped us a new machine and paid for the installation. It would have been a no-hassle request and, most likely, we would have had a working ice-maker within a month.

In the end, after eight months of battling with the outfitters to take responsibility for a faulty product they installed, we eventually gave up and took a refund from our broker for the ice-maker. But I’d trade that cash in any day for a working ice-maker and all the lost hours spent sending emails that resulted in no change in the state of our ice-maker.

And whilst I have no doubt that the first G&Ts we pour over ice from our future working ice-maker will taste all the better for having to wait; lets face it, eight months is a pretty long time to be drinking warm gin.

 

Lesson #2: Buy specialty products from an authorized dealer (or direct from the manufacturer).

Being the fast-walking, coffee-guzzling, appointment-juggling, I’ll-pay-more-if-it-saves-me-time kind of New Yorker that I am, I appreciate a one-stop-shop opportunity when I see one.

By the time we got to La Rochelle, France last summer, I had a growing list of overwhelming jobs on my plate, in addition to the fact that we’d taken on the colossal task of launching, outfitting and stocking Cheeky Monkey for her round-the-world voyage in just over a month. So when the outfitter our broker hired offered to order everything we’d scribbled on our growing list of necessities, we snapped up the chance to hand over the logistical burden.

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Schlepping and organizing is not my idea of fun

And maybe it’s possible that, somewhere out there, at the end of a rainbow, there is a pot of gold and a perfect outfitter who can act as your one-stop shop for every piece of boat equipment you need. In my dreams, this outfitter would save me all the miles spent driving around looking for dealers and the endless phone calls to customs offices to track down packages. In my dreams, everything would be magically delivered to my boat with valid warranties and legit registration papers.

As you might have guessed from the direction this thread is taking, however, that didn’t happen.

And this is where I bring up the sore subject of our autopilot.

(Note: If you ever run into me at the bar and want to see my blood pressure go from zero to sixty in under a second, just mention either the autopilot or the ice-maker. Or, better yet, just buy me a drink and don’t ask about the autopilot.)

I mean, how could we be on a new boat and not have a working autopilot, you ask?

That’s a very good question with a two-part answer:

We are somewhat to blame for our stubborn choice of brand because we decided to go for Garmin based purely on the hell we went through with a Raymarine autopilot on Hideaway, our old boat.

But in hindsight, that is kind of like deciding you could never date another Brit because your last British boyfriend cheated on you. Maybe it wasn’t British men? Maybe it was just that one autopilot?

You get what I mean…and what I mean is, all my research says Raymarine has one of the best cruising autopilots on the market right now, and we ignored all that info because of a bad experience we once had with Raymarine. It was like we’d torched all our ex’s photos and told our friends never to utter the name “Raymarine” in our presence.

But, the fact is, we chose a brand for a reason – albeit a bad one – and we had every right as owners to install whatever brand autopilot we wanted. It’s just unfortunate that we went with Garmin because the outfitter our broker hired to install our Garmin turned out NOT to be an authorized Garmin dealer. In other words, there was an authorized Garmin dealer in La Rochelle, but that wasn’t the company our broker hired – in short, he hired the same outfitter who burned us on the ice-maker. And I’m sure you can imagine how that story ended.

So take this as a cautionary tale and know what happens in this situation: if your broker hires a non-authorized dealer to install your electronics, then any warranty for the installation of that product is null and void. And if your broker fails to take responsibility for that mistake while your outfitter completely and utterly screws up the installation to the point where your autopilot will do nothing but drive like your drunken British ex towards a crash jibe (which is what happens when the wiring is all wrong and the compass is installed on top of the engine), then you are not only left with a mixed metaphor, but you’re stuck with a broken electronic system you paid tens of thousands of dollars for and a bill for repairs which the manufacturer will not cover. How’s that for an expensive lesson?

Which provides a nice segue to the next lesson about the marine industry in general…

 

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It’s so stressful telling this story that I am taking this moment to highlight a major success: buying this bean bag chair

Lesson #3: Expect to spend a lot of time babysitting marine workers…unless you’re okay with random holes being drilled all over your boat.

Remember how I said buying a new boat is nothing like buying a new car? Well, imagine if you brought your brand-new Mercedes into the shop because you wanted to upgrade your stereo to a state-of-the-art Bose system for the sole purpose of rocking out to high-quality tunes on your morning commute to work.

And imagine you assumed – as you do – that the shop guys have read the installation instructions and know where a car stereo goes. But when you show up a week later to pick up your new car, excited to blast the new speakers in your kick-ass stereo, you find the stereo isn’t on the center console, where you expected it to be. Instead, there is a hole in the glove box where the mechanics have randomly shoved the stereo and glued it down with silicone. And you’re standing there with your head in your hands saying, “Why in the hell did you cut a hole in my glove box?!”

Meanwhile, the mechanics are shrugging their shoulders saying, “Well, you never said we couldn’t put the stereo in the glove box. I mean, if you want us to move it, we can…we’ll just tape over the hole and put some vinyl spray on it…no biggie. Or you can pay for a new glove box.”

Which is when your head starts fermenting like an overripe tomato from the blood pressure building up in your neck, and your broker calls an ambulance because he thinks either you’re having a heart attack or, judging from the crazed look in your eye, he might be the one who ends up in the hospital.

This is pretty much what happened to us every day for a month on our brand-new boat in La Rochelle. We would wake up in the morning with our blood pressure really low, thinking “Today, we will manage things better and we will preempt the stupid places people might cut holes in our hull.”

And every day, we discovered new ways to define “stupid.”

Because here’s the thing — we were physically on our boat, available for consultation every single day, and any time we turned our backs, we’d discover another hole being drilled where it didn’t belong, in a completely different spot from where an installation was meant to happen. If I had a dollar for every time I heard Ryan scream over the din of power tools, “What are you doing? That doesn’t go there!” we might have enough money to pay for a new autopilot.

And while you have very little ability to influence the work force at a boat factory like Fountaine-Pajot, you should be able to control any post-factory work that is being done on your boat once it’s left the factory. I know, I know, you have better things to do than to babysit – and these guys are paid professionals, right? So you should just be able to leave the boat and go run all the errands that are piling up on your plate and let them handle the jobs you’ve given them, right?

Wrong. You hope that the guys working on your boat are 100% professional and none of them are high school kids who just learned how to wire an autopilot by watching a YouTube video, ignoring all the instructions that essentially say “DON’T INSTALL THE COMPASS NEAR A BIG HUNK OF METAL…AND, YES, THE ENGINE IS A BIG HUNK OF METAL”  But our experience tells us that you can’t leave your boat when work is going on. And you can’t trust that the workers on your boat know what they’re doing 100% because you don’t know who is the expert and who’s on their first-ever boat job until you’ve spent some time watching them work.

Which leads me to the next lesson we learned long ago from being burned by the marine industry in different parts of the world…

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When Ryan was told the autopilot was working – such false hope in this photo

Lesson #4: Never pay for everything up front and always withhold your last installment until the job is done and you have what you paid for in hand.

We live in a world where we want to trust everyone to do the right thing. But the truth is, life gets in the way, other jobs come up, personal problems arise or, in the worst-case scenario, you’re dealing with an unscrupulous person or company. And when that happens, the only tool you have for negotiating with someone who is failing to finish the work you hired them to do, is money.

When we sailed out of La Rochelle in August 2015, we still owed the outfitter one final payment of $4,000, pending two items that still needed to be resolved – our broken ice-maker and the missing registration papers for our new AB dinghy and Yamaha outboard.

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We were like kids at Christmas when our new dinghy arrived

After weeks of pestering the outfitter for the official registration papers, he eventually responded that he didn’t have them and said, briefly, “You don’t need them.”

Which, of course, is ridiculous. What does he mean, we don’t need proof of ownership for a brand-new dinghy and motor we’ll be driving through harbors all over the world? If we ever bring our boat to the U.S., we will be required to register Bananas, our dinghy, with the DMV. And we can’t do this without official registration papers.

A back and forth ensued with the outfitter for months over this issue, frustrating us to no end, so that by the time we got to Menorca, we decided to visit the Yamaha dealer in Mahon to ask what paperwork they provide to customers when they buy a new dinghy or outboard. The Yamaha dealer graciously showed us the official registration papers, so we sent copies to the outfitter, demanding we get the same for our dinghy and outboard.

This is where the story takes a strange turn. After weeks of saying he didn’t have our registration papers, eventually we received email attachments of scanned documents that looked similar to the registration copies we’d sent them as an example. So we said, “Great! Send us the originals.”

To which the outfitter refused. He would only offer us his newly “found” scans, but not the originals, even though we were clear that we wouldn’t be able to register the dinghy with a scan of the document and that we now had serious concerns about how these “copies” suddenly materialized.

So again, Ryan wrote back insisting we get the correct, original paperwork. To which the outfitter replied he would do nothing more until we paid him the last $4,000 we owed for outstanding work.

As far as we could work out, the fact that the reason kept changing for why these registration papers couldn’t be produced could only mean one of two things:

1) Our outfitter accidentally scribbled his Swiss bank account numbers on the back of our registration papers, and so he worried if he handed over our papers, we’d steal his entire fortune.

Or…

2) The real registration papers never existed.

As per Lesson #2, if we’d gone to an AB or Yamaha dealer for our outboard and dinghy, we would have found ourselves in this situation.

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Seriously, this is our dream dinghy – 25 HP!

In the end, the $4,000 we withheld was the only reason, after eight months, that we got our registration papers in hand. But even the $4,000 wasn’t motivation enough for the outfitter to do the right thing on his own. It took our broker’s involvement to track down the paperwork from AB and Yamaha and, once that was done, we transferred the money we owed. But not a second sooner.

What we didn’t get to withhold, however, was compensation for the lost hours spent badgering our broker and outfitter for eight months to deal with this unreasonable problem.

We also weren’t compensated for the stress of spending our life’s savings on a boat only to get an email like this from our outfitter:

“As you know I am a fighter, I promises you that I shall release nothing…I guess that you didn’t know that I work since many years with the D.O.D. (Division des Operations Douanières). They are very efficient all around the world, so don’t be surprise if, one day, you will have your boat under seizure by the local Customs.”

Yep. That’s the stuff of regrets. When you spend your hard-earned money on a dream and you find yourself being threatened.

 

Lesson #5: Reach out to other boat owners and get reviews on the outfitters who will be doing your post-factory work.

Ryan talked to a number of Helia owners (a big thank-you to Amy and David of Out Chasing Stars) to gain insight into the process of buying a new boat and working with a broker. It helped immensely in areas we knew to look out for, but obviously it didn’t prevent us from making all the mistakes I’ve named in the previous lessons. But the more insight, the better — it will give you a leg up in negotiating with your broker and avoiding some of the mistakes we’ve made in the process of buying our boat.

The truth is we love our boat and wouldn’t trade it for any other boat on the market. But the strife we went through to get the boat we love could have been avoided.

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We may not need an ice-maker, but what I definitely don’t need is this hole

With the myriad forums available on Facebook, Reddit and boating-specific sites like CruisersForum.com, all it takes is one question posted online during your coffee break and a twenty-minute pause before dozens of messages will pour in, answering your questions about the quality of marine work in ports all over the world. And with the overflowing number of sailing blogs on the internet, you’re bound to find a blogger sailing on just the boat you want to buy.

Most likely, your broker won’t be forthcoming about bad customer reviews of your outfitter because he doesn’t want you to have any doubts about buying your new boat from him/her. But you can do your research and contact customers directly for their stories before you make your decision about who should do the work you need on your boat. At the end of the day, it is your hard-earned money, your time and your dream that’s on the line.

We’ve learned the hard way that the realization of a dream can be smooth or torturous, depending on who you work with.

I feel like there’s a public service announcement in all this: Don’t be a Cheeky Monkey. Have your ice and registration papers, too.

sailing-blog-cheeky-monkey-lessons-outfitting-new-boatIf only we knew then what we know now

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Update from Tasha

Hey everyone!

I am always happy to answer questions about our buying experience. We are incredibly happy boat owners, even after all the teething problems we’ve had with the post-factory work and we’re very open to helping people have a better buying experience than we had.

You may have seen an earlier version of this post — sorry about that! I had to pull the post for some edits, which took some time as I didn’t want to say anything inaccurate. So I apologize if you’re reading this again.

I also want to say thank-you for reading and returning to this blog time and again to wonder when in the hell I’m planning to get my blog updated to current – soon! I’ve been working hard in my sunny office here in Panama, tapping away on my computer in an effort to get you more stories.

 

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