Falling in Love and Heartbroken…by a Sailboat

Hind sight is always 20/20, they say.

And of course—looking back—we learned so much in our search and then in our purchase of the sailboat we now call home.

Second time around buying a boat.

Thought we knew more than we did the first time, at least.


we still weren’t perfect.

Blunders seem to accompany us in our quest to discover and try new things.  This time it was how to buy the boat of our dreams.  Here’s the story of how I fell in love and got my heartbroken—over a sailboat.

“No compromise” list

With any boat—no matter how beautiful or how compatible—you will have trade-offs.  We have yet to come across a boat that had everything we wanted within our price range.

So together, Damian and I discussed our “no compromise” list. This list included the must-haves that we felt were necessary in our purchase decision when we assessed the sailboats on the market.

Our list included the following (in no particular order):

  • Lots of storage space (large and small)
  • Bluewater sailboat, heavy, with a low, insulated cockpit
  • Newer engine
  • Generator
  • Two cabins and comfortable
  • Lots of light (not claustrophobic)
  • Lazy jacks
  • Classic design (canoe stern preferred)
  • Newer GPS

The fact of the matter was: this list could have gotten very long. What really is a must-have, and what could we compromise about?  If you have ever watched those HGTV shows, you know exactly what I mean.  The must-haves add up—money-wise.  The dream boat that would have everything we wanted and was designed just the way we imagined was out of our reach.  She may have existed.

But… we aren’t millionaires!

So as much as we both dreamed about our “dream boat.” There was only so much we could afford on teachers’ salaries. We told each other that we would invest in making the boat our own over time. We took comfort in the thought that we could always add our “wants” once we had saved the funds to purchase the “upgrade” or addition. Just like a house!

Looking back on our list, I really wish I had included A/C and a hot water heater. But then we wouldn’t have bought the beautiful boat that I love so much. And we will add the A/C and the hot water heater all in good time.

Patience is a virtue I am told.

Sailboat stole my heart

The boat hunt really got underway when we discovered a 1978 Hans Christian 43 ketch.  Damian found her first on yachtworld.com.  After skimming the photos posted online, I contacted the broker to set up a time when we could take a look at her.

The Hans Christian boat was designed by infamous boat architects, Bob Perry, Harwood Ives, Scott Sprague, and Tommy Chen. This was the model that Damian had mentioned to me time and time again over our few years of sail-boating together.  To him, the Hans Christian was the ultimate classic sailboat that put other boats on the Chesapeake to shame.  I too was convinced the Hans Christian was a glorious sailboat, worthy of admiration.

We met up with Arne, a local live-aboard and sailboat broker from the Annapolis area, who showed us Nueva Vida on the hard at a nearby marina.

She was truly weathered from the years of sailing and roughing ocean passages, storms, and heavy seas.  Yet, she was breath-taking inside.  The cherry-wood-finished teak, the interior layout, and the copper-plated sink in the galley were beautiful.

I was emotionally hooked.  She was the boat I wanted.  Hands down.  No question.

We told Arne that we wanted to compare her to some other bluewater sailboats and take a look at her again.  Arne encouraged us to visit the Hans Christian again and take a look around her a second time on our own.  He promised to be in touch about setting up some more visits to bluewater sailboats for sale in our price range around the Annapolis area soon.


A few days later, Damian and I headed out to take a look at Nueva Vida again—this time on our own.

My heart was soaring!  She was all that I had been thinking about for weeks.  We climbed up the rickety ladder to board her and let my feelings lead the way.


All I could think about was making her mine.

The classic, ribbed hull and the trim had stolen my heart away.

The old wood storage boxes on the deck, the teak, the two masts, the old details on the bowsprit—ohhh la la!

She was a pirate ship if I ever saw one.

The galley was divine.

I loved the details, the woodwork, the overhead spice rack in the galley.

I had tunnel vision and could only see the potential.  Not the realities and the obvious flaws.  It wasn’t until I got up on the deck again and began to notice some major concerns.

Jolted out of my stupor

As I headed up to the bow, I noticed that the deck bent in when I stepped forward.

She was soft. Major problem.

I had learned about the hazard of soft decks years before when Gale Browning, our first surveyor for By the Lee, had showed me what they looked like and had explained how monstrous a cost it would be to have it repaired properly.  It was a structural issue to the boat, which probably meant that there were more problems of the same threatening caliber that this gorgeous—but possibly dangerous—boat had.

This realization jolted me out of my infatuated stupor.

Other places in the deck were also soft.  She had been lathered in numerous coats of dark teak finish so much so that the original teak work was no longer properly visible. Her decks looked more like laminate flooring than teak.

Hazardous, mounting costs

Damian pointed out to me that all of the rigging needed to be replaced as it was severely worn from decades of use.

If the rigging was bad off, what would the sails be like? The specs did not mention when they had last been replaced. Sails are expensive.  We are talking thousands of dollars here.

The only year mentioned on the specifications was 2005, the year in which the autopilot had been replaced—over ten years ago.  Despite that the boat had VHF, depth sounder, radar, GPS, and a log-speedometer, it was evident that most of the technology was outdated and in desperate need of replacement.  Again, thousands of dollars for up-to-date navigational equipment.

Damian’s assessment of the engine was that it had not been replaced or refurbished since the boat’s conception in 1978.  An old Perkins 4236 that was going on 38 years.

How much longer would she be chugging?  That is, if she even started.  This boat was on the hard, so we couldn’t test it to find out, even if we wanted to.  Engines are expensive.  Again, we are looking at a couple thousand dollars.

Things were adding up.  Fast.

We had not even begun to evaluate her other necessary systems for living comfortably: bilge pump, water pressure, batteries, battery charger, hot water heater, etc.  And looking back, she did not have A/C.  So that wasn’t even a win.

Realities vs. Fantasies

The asking price was our budget’s ceiling.  Another reality.  She “looked” stunning; she appeared to be our dream boat; she was our sailboat fantasy at her finest.

But… if we began to dig into the integrity of her structure, we could readily see the fact that she would need thousands of dollars in work, upgrades, and repairs.

Not to mention the length of TIME needed to complete the mounting, costly projects.  Time is precious.  We want to quit our jobs and start sailing—traveling the world.  Not slaving away at our land-life jobs to pay off the mortgage debt, make enough to scrape by, and barely have enough money to throw at monstrously expensive boat projects made for millionaires.

There was no way that all of these projects would be DIY.  So factor in the additional labor expenses and finding quality, skilled people to work on her would be time-consuming as well.  Damian and I realized that if we bought this boat, we would not have the money readily available to start working on her for at least two years.

If we made her ours, we would not be putting her in the water any time soon.  We were looking at postponing our sailing experiences for at least another three to five years until she would be seaworthy.  And that was being exceptionally optimistic.

Lesson Learned

So we said goodbye to Nueva Vida.

To be honest, it was hard.  I had fallen in love with this 1978 Hans Christian 43.  I still wanted her, even despite the realities.

I had learned a valuable lesson—not to buy a boat based on an emotional decision.  Infatuation blinds you—not just when you fall in love with a person, but with a boat or a house too.  Yes, the exterior may be gorgeous, but it’s what is on the inside that counts.  What they are made of is what truly matters.

Character, integrity, how they are built and wired. That’s what you are going to have to live with for the rest of your life.

I held on to the hope that another sailboat would come along.  One with less work needed, one that we could afford, and one that we could sail now.

Just had to keep looking.

And we would find her.

Did we make the right decision?

What do you think?  She was everything I thought I wanted.  But full of obvious and potential problems.  What would you have done if you were in this situation?

Vote and comment below.

2 replies
  1. Janice Ilene Spitko
    Janice Ilene Spitko says:

    You sure did make the right decision. I understand what it’s like to be highly effected by esthetics. Color, texture, light, style, the elements that make up my perception of beauty. There is much beauty readily available to us in life, but most beautiful of all is the beauty we create for ourselves with what we have in our spirit. YOU GUYS HAVE THE SPIRIT!!

    • Hannah Knecht
      Hannah Knecht says:

      Thanks so much, Janice! Very encouraging! You were a wonderful blessing to us as we thought through our options and made the decision on the boat we have now!

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