From the past- My First Cruising Boat

Merry Way at Dutch Wharf
Merry Way at her home dock in Branford, CT

I bought my first cruising sailboat 2001.  I had owned a couple of smaller boats, having bought my first boat when I was 14 (a Newport 21), but ever since I could remember I had wanted a cruising sailboat that I could actually live on.  I lived in an apartment, and then a house after graduating college, but soon grew restless.  Living more than a 30-minute drive from the water wasn’t where I wanted to be.  I had always lived close to the water, but I really wanted to be on it.

Searching for a boat suitable to turn into a floating home became almost an obsession.  I would comb classified listings in print and online.  I immediately flipped to the back sections of magazines to look at boats listed for sale.  I started driving to marinas up to 10 hours away on my weekends to look at boats that I had seen advertised and to walk the back rows looking for others that might be for sale.

From years of reading sailing books I already had a good idea of what I wanted.  I focused on “classic plastic” sailboats between 28 and 35 feet long of the type that was popular in the 60’s and 70’s–mainly “CCA” type boats with moderate beam, cutaway keels with attached rudders, and long overhangs.  These boats were solidly built and I felt that they offered a good value and go-anywhere strength.

Merry Way 1On one long day trip to Florida, I found a Pearson Vanguard 32 with a “For Sale” sign on it.   Her owners were serious cruisers, and had outfitted her with solar panels, radar, mast steps, a tillerpilot, and a cockpit enclosure.  She was in pretty good overall condition and was priced reasonably.  A deal was soon struck and I was suddenly the new owner of a proper cruising sailboat!  She was my key to adventure; a floating realization of a long-held dream.

My brother and I brought that Vanguard up the coast from Florida to Connecticut in February and March.  It was cold and rough and I only had two weeks off from work, so that meant a lot of long days of powering into biting north winds.  It seemed that I didn’t need a chart or compass–I could just point the bow directly into the wind, and that was where we needed to go!  The full cockpit enclosure was praised again and again.MWay 2 April 30, 2001

An offshore passage from Norfolk, VA to Sandy Hook, NJ seemed like a small challenge for my sturdy new boat.  We headed offshore in pretty good weather, and motored straight for the entrance of NY harbor.  That night we were hit by an awful squall.  We were motorsailing along with most of the genoa out when my brother called me up to take a look at something strange.  I peered into the gloom and could see what looked like a bright patch on the water, sort of.  After a couple of minutes, it became apparent that it was actually a white line just above the horizon, and it appeared to be getting closer.  We quickly secured all sail.  Just seconds later, the boat was laid over on her beam ends with no sail out.  I revved the engine and pointed our bow into the wind and spray and Merry Way came back upright, but the wind was so strong that the boat was being forced down into the surface of the sea.  Water was gushing up through the cockpit drains!  (Water never backed up those drains again in the time I owned that boat–even with 5 or 6 guests onboard for daysails.)  It was all over in a few minutes and we continued on over a confused sea with lots of rolling and banging around.

The next day, I found a huge crack in one of the Sta-lok backstay insulators.  It was hanging on by a thread and ready to go at any minute.  I quickly rigged a support for the backstay by tying lines from above the insulator to the aft mooring cleats.  I also cranked down on the topping lift and main halyard aft.  We made it in to Sandy hook without further problem and anchored to catch up on sleep.

The 12-hp Yanmar had its biggest test on the last stretch of the trip.  First, there was the East River.  At one point, people in wheelchairs in a riverfront park were moving faster than we were.  Then, once we made it to Long Island Sound, there was an ENE wind to contend with.  Well, actually, it was a gale of wind.  I had to be back to work, so we pushed into the teeth of it, motorsailing back and forth across the sound trying to make headway into the steep seas and bone-chilling wind.  If you ever want to test out a boat, I can recommend taking it to the west end of Long Island sound during a NE gale and waiting for the tide to change against the wind.  That stretch of water gets rough.  It took us two and a half days to make it to Branford, CT from NY city, which is double what it usually takes for even a relaxed trip in settled weather.

All that was just on the trip home.  I lived on that boat through two winters in Connecticut, and had plenty of other sailing adventures before finally selling her and moving back ashore for a short while because the marinas in the area where I was living stopped allowing people to live aboard their boats.

Merry Way at Jeckyll Island, GA
Merry Way at Jeckyll Island, GA

2 thoughts on “From the past- My First Cruising Boat

  1. If you don’t mind me asking, how much did you pay for the boat outfitted in the way it was? Also what were your biggest pros and cons on the boat?

    I ask because I am considering buying a Pearson vanguard 32 and living on it for about 4 months next summer. I am in the Great Lakes and the boat has been in indoor storage for the past 20 years. Had a new diesel, pedestal steering, but many equipment needs upgrading. Would love your thoughts before I dive into this one.

    1. HI Joel- I’ll write you a more in-depth reply by email, but the biggest pro that I can think of for the Vanguard was that she was a solidly constructed boat. The biggest con was the short waterline, which meant long overhangs and the disadvantages that go along with them, chief of which was a tendency to hobbyhorse in certain conditions. I think that if you are buying a freshwater Vanguard with good equipment you have probably found a good all-round cruising boat that should serve you very well for many years to come. The Vanguard is an excellent boat for the type of use you describe.

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