23 July 2014

Go West, Go East Or Somewhere In The Middle?

One of the problems with the States is that it is humongous! Not only are the portion sizes literally super-sized (42 ounces of soda pop and a 12 ounce hamburger are perfectly normal here), but the country itself is immense. At 3.71 million square miles, it dwarfs most other countries in terms of size. And many American states are bigger than other countries - for example, France (211,000 square miles) is smaller than the state of Texas (269,000 square miles). {Don't feel bad France - you have pain au chocolat and that more than makes up for your lack of size!}

So when we said to ourselves, "Let's head back to the States to look for our next sailboat!", we really didn't think through the practicalities of buying a boat in a country where driving from one coast to the other can take you days and days and cost you a small fortune in gas. We've also heard so many stories about people flying out to see a boat that they've fallen in love with online, only to find out that it wasn't meant to be after the survey and sea trial. Nothing worse than racking up flight and hotel costs only to be disappointed and have to start all over again.

We're thinking that it might make sense to pick a particular region of the States, base ourselves out of there for a while and look for our perfect next boat. But where to go? The West Coast, the East Coast, the Great Lakes or someplace else? There are just too many choices and pros/cons of different regions. As if there weren't enough things to think about when it comes to boat buying, now we have to think about where to buy our boat! Here are some random thoughts we have about each area - what do you think? What other things should we consider?

The Pacific Northwest

Our families live in the Pacific Northwest, so that's where we'll start our boat buying adventures from. One of the advantages of buying out here is that there is less UV damage to boats. Of course, that is also one of the disadvantages - the sun doesn't always shine here. I imagine there is less of a selection of boats available in the Pacific Northwest than in the more populated East Coast. But, if we buy out here, than we would have the beautiful San Juan Islands on our doorstep and we could head up to Alaska! Ever since I read James Michener's Alaska, I've wanted to sail up there. 

Of course, if we decide to head up to Alaska, we'll probably need to think about getting some sort of polar bear defense system. I'm thinking about rigging up a series of catapults which would hurl pink marshmallows and distract the polar bears away from our boat. By the way, the marshmallows really need to be pink so that they show up on the snow and ice. Of course, I imagine boats for sale in the Pacific Northwest probably already come with polar bear defense systems (and heaters) as standard equipment.

The East Coast

When we first started to think about buying our next boat in the States, we always assumed we would pick one up on East Coast and take it down through the ICW (the inter-coastal waterway which runs along the East Coast) to Florida and then down to the Bahamas and Caribbean. Depending upon whose blog you read, going down the ICW either sounds like a nightmare or the best time ever. Personally, I think it would be fun to explore all of the little seaside towns and historic sites along the way and an interesting way to get to the Bahamas and Caribbean. That area always seems like such a mecca for cruisers with its warm waters, frolicking dolphins, drinks which are enticingly called "painkillers" and of course the famous swimming pigs. 

I do worry about two potential downsides of sailing in the Caribbean - bikinis and overcrowding. The bikinis are self-explanatory from my perspective (think middle-aged woman who eats too much chocolate). It seems like all the pictures I see of people cruising in the Caribbean are fit young people and the girls seem to have an endless supply of bikinis. Of course, maybe middle-aged people who eat too much chocolate just don't post pictures of themselves wearing their one-piece suits and tankinis? 

Regardless of what type of bathing suit they're wearing, I do worry that there are a lot of people in the Caribbean and that the anchorages get crowded. I like my peace and solitude, which is one of the reasons I loved sailing in New Zealand, and I'm not sure I want to be surrounded by lots of other boats. Hopefully, I have it wrong and there are plenty of quiet anchorages and not so many bikinis.

The Great Lakes

If we can't decide what coast to go to, we could always head to the Great Lakes and look for a boat there. You have the advantage of picking yourself up a boat which has only been in fresh water and if you buy at the right time of the year, you might be able to get yourself a bargain. If we buy in the Great Lakes, then we would have two exciting options to get ourselves over to the East Coast - either through the Erie Canal or via the St. Lawrence Seaway through Canada. 

I grew up in Cleveland and had to take Ohio History, which was possibly the most boring class I ever took. Only a few things stuck with me - there are 88 counties in Ohio and the Erie Canal was an important trade route between the eastern seaboard and the American interior. If we traveled through the Erie Canal, I would feel like there had been some value in my Ohio History class, plus going through locks sounds pretty neat too. But, if we go through the St. Lawrence Seaway, then we could see the home of Anne of Green Gables on Prince Edwards Island! {Scott's eyes glaze over every time I mention this, he may be voting for the Erie Canal route.}

Or Someplace Else?

Or we could start our boat buying someplace else - like Texas. It never occurred to me that people sailed boats in Texas. Clearly, I didn't pay too much attention in geography class. When you think about it, it makes sense - there is this little thing called the Gulf of Mexico on the southern border of Texas. I don't know much about Texas, but I do like cowboy boots and the people seem to be really friendly and there is this cute little town called Kemah which I would love to visit. 

Or do we buy a boat in San Diego and then sail down to Mexico? Clearly, there are too many choices and I am starting to feel overwhelmed. Help us figure out what to do. It's either that or I think I'm going to ask my nieces to make us a fortuneteller so that we can let fate decide. You know those folded up paper things that you made in school which told you which boys liked you and what you were going to be when you grew up. Mine is going to say things like "Go to Kemah - your boat is waiting for you there!", "Fresh water boats are the best!" or my favorite, "You will win the lottery and can buy a boat in every port!".

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  1. I'd be willing to wager that the Annapolis area has more suitable boats for sale than any other location. You might find the right boat anywhere but you can see several dozen boats to pick through here in Annapolis. If you do end up in this area contact me and I'll guide you to a couple of yards with a lot of choices. Wherever you go, good luck with your search. Bill, formerly of the s/v Veranda

    1. Thanks so much for the offer of help! We'll let you know if we make our way out to Annapolis. So strange to see you sign off as "formerly of the S/V Veranda". Really glad you guys are still blogging though!

  2. my 2 cents:

    West coast is beautiful, but the sailing choices from there are very long distance commitments. May not be the best choice with a new (to you) boat.

    Kemah is a burb of Houston. We purchased our last boat in Kemah. The assortment in TX is nowhere near the east coast. But if you like 100 degrees and 95% humidity, this is the place for you!

    The east coast is a great jump off point to the the Caribbean, Chesapeake, Maine and Canada. We are not fond of the ICW. To much commercial traffic and mostly using the motor. Have to stop at night and too many bridges to contend with for our liking. We agree with the previous comment, your best bets are: Florida, Chesapeake, and Rhode Island.

    Also, do not feel the need to travel to every boat that looks great online. Often times, you can contact a local boatyard to take a looksee for you and send you an opinion and pictures (even better a video). They may charge $50-100 depending on who answers the phone. Sometimes you can find someone local on the internet and work out an arrangement. You can also use a local broker. Often they will do it for free since they can get a commission from the selling broker. However, keep in mind they want to sell a boat. But at least you can get free current pics.


    Mark and Cindy
    s/v Cream Puff

    1. Well I think I may scratch Kemah off my list based upon the temp and humidity :-)

      Good idea about getting someone local to have a look at a boat for us and great point about getting current pics. I wonder how many people use old pics when they list their post?

  3. Another thing to consider is the tax situation. Rhode Island for instance doesn't tax boats. But if you bring that boat back into Massachusetts you have to pay a 6.25% tax on what you paid for the boat. Florida has some sort of grace period, 90 days I think. So if you buy a boat there you can do some work but you need to leave before that grace period is up or you will have to pay taxes.

    From a cruising perspective, I like the idea of the ICW and see way more cruisers that like it and all the towns along it more than dislike it. I personally can't wait to explore those areas. And the Caribbean is where we fell in love with the idea of cruising. Yes the popular spots can get crowded but I wouldn't miss the Baths on Virgin Gorda, drunkenly signing with friends and the band at Foxy's or having a Painkiller at the Soggy Dollar because of a little bit of crowding in an anchorage.

    And I wouldn't let the bikinis scare you away. The bigger issue was the naked, way past middle age, people who don't know what a razor is used for. Not the best sight while you are nursing a hangover and trying to enjoy your morning coffee. ;)

    If you do make it to the East Coast, let us know.

    Fair winds,


    1. Ah taxes. Yet one more thing to take into account when figuring this whole thing out. More food for thought.

      If we make it to the Caribbean, I promise to shave my legs regularly and keep my clothes on :-)

  4. Just to expand on Jesse's comments RE Florida and taxes. My understanding of the whole process (I'm not a lawyer) is that when you buy a boat in Florida you either have to pay the tax or pay a small fee for an "affidavit" stating you don't live there and will leave within 90 days. When you leave, you have to send Florida a receipt or other proof that you and the boat have indeed left AND proof you have or are working on a license, registration, or documentation for the boat elsewhere. If 90 days isn't enough, you can pay a bigger fee (think it was a few hundred dollars...but my memory is terrible so verify the figures) and get another 90 day extension (180 days total). The other catch is if you do this and leave Florida, you have to stay out of Florida for a period of time (I believe it is 6 months) before you can return or they will or they will come looking for the taxes (plus penalties). There are some additional exemptions if you are having the boat worked on at a shop registered in Florida (can't be doing the work yourself) but the gist is that Florida really doesn't want to you sticking around if you don't pay their high taxes. Of course, the positive side of Florida is, given the amount of coastline the state has, there are a lot of boats to look at without having to drive quite so far.

    Good luck with your decision!

    1. Thanks Mike - Florida does seem like a good option in terms of choice, but will need to think thru the residency issue as we're still NZ residents.

    2. I purchased a boat in FL and used 160 of the 180 days. Foreign flagged the vessel. I went to Bimini, Bahamas for a few days (day sail form Miami). I came back to the USA and got a cruising permit (free). The vessel can stay for up to one year in the USA on the cruising permit (tax free) unless you are a Resident Alien. Resident Aliens can get sequential permits without having to leave as they cannot by law document in the USA. US Duty must be paid on the vessel or it must have been made in the USA.

      Or, you can use the 180 days in FL. Flag USA. Leave FL for 6 months. Return and register vessel in FL with no tax. Must be careful this way because each state has their own laws regarding sales and use tax after a certain period of time. They may ask you to prove tax was paid on the vessel. i.e. if you have never paid sales tax on a vessel and are US flagged and are stopped in the Chesapeake Bay, you must prove you have been there for less than 90 days or they will hit you with a 5% use tax based on the value of the vessel. This is easy enough to do as there are 3 states surrounding the Chesapeake Bay. You get the picture. However, FL will always be a haven. No taxes!

      Here are tow links to help:



    3. Thanks so much for the info! Where is your boat flagged?

  5. Both and pass by my place in between...

    1. That's a great idea - we can stop by and see your boat!

  6. Your polar bear defense system almost made me pee my pants. Whatever you end up doing, if you pass through Charleston, SC please look me up, I am still planning my "next stage retreat on a floating home" and until them live and work in this beautiful city. I am also happy to go look at local boats for you for free and give you an opinion.
    Capt. Annie

    1. Making people "almost pee in their pants" is the ultimate compliment! Would love to look you up if we head down your way. Thanks for the offer Capt Annie!


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