Copyright (c) Marc Dacey/Dark Star Media unless otherwise indicated. Above photo (c) Marc Dacey. Powered by Blogger.

2017-02-03

Space, the final two floors and time, for some more changes


The stairs less travelled. While I had my office up here during a brief window of tenantlessness, we've never actually lived in the top two floors of the house. We sure have laboured up there, however.

Well, the last tenant has moved out and dust bunnies remain. We wanted to give them their notice in March or April, but they jumped the gun on us and gave their notice for the end of January. So at the cost of a prospective two or three extra months of rent, we get to move upstairs in winter instead of right at boat launching time (end of April, 2017). Frankly, I would have preferred the money.

This is a boat-refitting blog. Why am I discussing a house, and not, say, the recently past Boat Show? Well, it's simple. I took no pictures at the Boat Show, because there was very little worth recording. I went twice for a total of five hours, and while I bought the new almanac, as one does, it was mostly a reconnoitre operation to determine some purchases I could soon make. Reasonable terms were secured, delivery to come.
Acquired, reasonably, and with a $40 U.S. rebate, which is nice.
I ordered a Standard Horizon HX-870 handheld VHF. We have three crew on the good ship Alchemy, and we should all have our own handhelds, given the double tender configuration. Mitch Kitz, the wunderkind electronics guy from Genco Marine, where Mrs. Alchemy was working for the duration of the Boat Show, was of the opinion that the ICOM M93D was superior, mainly due to the more straightforward interface. But it was well over $100 Canadian more expensive; featured no rebate; had a smaller, not as crisp display; could transmit on six, not the standard five, watts, which I have field-tested with the mothership and have obtained seven miles or so of range; and had no included second battery tray (a feature I like should we have to take to the life raft). I am familiar and undaunted by any SH interface I've yet to encounter (this is my fifth SH VHF of both fixed and handheld varieties in 18 years); and the radio can be PC-programmed via a mini-USB port and software downloaded from Standard Horizon. Given that I would much rather input my MMSI and make other changes via a computer keyboard than by mashing soft keys on the radio in the correct sequence, this was the lock on the deal for me.
The upper galley: compact yet functional. Note departed tenant crap left behind in the derapturing.
Back to the house: While I rarely touch on the topic of finances, it's of great interest, naturally, to many considering pushing off from a dock with intentions of staying that way. Our house has been a key component of that equation from the financial side, and it's probably helpful to potential cruisers to understand in what manner and in what form that may continue. Perhaps a timeline conflating house and boat affairs, also known as a "highlight reel", will help:
  1. August, 1998: During the only year in which we had three incomes (my wife's job at a charity for wildlife rehab and my two as a graphic designer by night and an internet service provider marketing manager by day, we bought a semi-detached, late Victorian house bigger than we required and the lot of which opened onto a park with the intention of renting out half to pay down the mortgage. We had about a 25% downpayment in hand and we suspected we were at the bottom of the market as the price changed from $199,500 to $214,500 during negotiations...heh, I nearly walked away. Would have been an error, that.
  2. April, 1999: Management/ownership changes find me out of my Internet job. I get $15K in "shut up and go away" money. Great job, Internet! I have my graphics gig, my wife's income, which is paltry but helpful, and tenants' rental income on which to fall back.
  3. May, 1999: The future Mrs. Alchemy and I join the National Yacht Club on an eight-week "learn to sail/introductory crew" course. We enjoy it so much that later that summer...
  4. September 1, 1999:...we buy a Viking 33, changing the name from Dolphin to Valiente, for occult reasons. Sailing in earnest and in Lake Ontario commences.
  5. Summer 2000: I blow up my first Atomic 4 engine by neglecting to open the seawater inlet. An odyssey commences of small engine repair, rebuilding and installing. Much is learned and some cost is dodged. We continue with what will be five years of crewing on club race boats. I learn many sailing tricks and tactics that we incorporate into our cruising, which gets considerably more efficient. Meanwhile, I have two Atomic 4 engines rebuilt and installed. Don't ask.
  6. September, 2001: Our son the Cabin Boy is born. Terroristic acts of appalling brutality follow. I try not to draw any false corollaries. We take him out on his first sail at the age of five days.
  7. November, 2001: My mother dies at 68. My father, 10 years older, is devastated. Life is short, but can still surprise with its capriciousness and brevity.
  8. Summer 2003: The 1940s-built (insulated with newspapers, which is how I know) "mud room" off the kitchen starts collapsing in earnest. We pop for a replacement and I act as a labourer and stupid-question generator for our contractor. That and spacing out the build over bits of his spare time mean we come in at budget of under $10,000 for our "breakfast nook" and I learn a great deal about wood, cement and triple-glazed windows. More sailing happens.
  9. January, 2006: Thanks to the mysteries of double mortgage payments (most of our income blended with most of the tenant rent income), we retire our house debt. We note that our house is now valued at approximately twice what we paid for it, but as we have no plans to sell (I dislike the house for its age and layout, but like it for its vast brick garage (a former stable in which we have chosen not to keep cars) and its central location, but with a park adjacent, which has been very nice in terms of natural cooling (we have chosen not to have air conditioning, or cable TV, or vacations other than on Valiente). A pattern is noted of purposeful thrift established not only because of relatively modest upbringings, but also because we never really stopped living like students, even with a child, and we had both declined to participate much in the consumer economy. Our house, save for the modern computing gear required by my trade, is filled with castaways, hand-me-down and elderly tech, although the wine cellar's pretty first-rate. Over said excellent wine, a plan forms in our seventh season of sailing: should we go long-term cruising? Perhaps even around the world? Despite describing it as a "fiscal and learning sleigh-ride", I obtain agreement from the future Mrs. Alchemy and the search for a suitable vessel begins.
  10. July, 2006: After plenty of review, contemplating and searching in places as separated as Washington State, France and Panama, we locate a custom-built pilothouse cutter in steel named Alchemy. We mortgage the house afresh in an environment of further declining interest rates and learn in the process that it's now worth nearly three times what we bought it for. Our mortgage is therefore only 40% of the house's value. With most of that, we buy Alchemy. We now own two sailboats and no car. How silly of us. We return to having tenants. They pay, as has been the case for most of the time in this house, the mortgage payments. We, having the boats in hand and big plans for one of them, cease to double the mortgage payments, but still do a lump-sum, end of year payment when we can.
  11. October, 2006: My father dies at 81, ostensibly of cancer, but observably of a broken heart. He was a professional sailor, and I am a recreational one. He started in war at just short of 16 years old because his home had been blown apart by bombs; I started at 38 because of reasons of fun. So the link is a touch tenuous; nonetheless, I claim it. Dents are made in the mortgage.
  12. March 21, 2007: I'm a writer and a sailor, so I start a refitting blog. Frankly, I was hoping to have left by now. Because the blog exists, I can skip large chunks of the intervening years. Those interested can simply consult the list to the right.
  13. June, 2007: I spend a week in Portugal, of which two and half days are spent crewing on a coastal delivery from Cascais to Vilamoura. This is my first delivery, and my first sail in salt water outside of Channel ferries and other nasty vessels smelling of duty-free booze. My skipper is Alex K., one of the finest sailors I've ever met, even if he is a racer. I learn a lot and value the opportunity, even if hand-steering, alone, under power around suspended fish nets at dawn with a three-meter keel and bulb in unfamiliar waters was nerve-wracking. It was also seamanship building.
  14. January, 2008: The first of many "big ticket" purchases necessary for the refit of Alchemy are made, including a four-bladed feathering prop, a windlass and a FilterBoss Racor fuel setup. The dilatory nature of my refit has been discussed elsewhere; in my defence, I will note that a paucity of mechanical skills have had to be overcome, and, at the risk of tempting hubris, my installations to date remain fully operationable. Not bad for a guy who took poetry instead of shop. Only the windlass is still in its box and I expect to install it prior to April this year.
  15. June, 2009: Mrs. Alchemy does the same Portuguese delivery trip, but has livelier weather. We have done deliveries separately for some rather hard reasons: if things went pear-shaped, they wouldn't leave our son an orphan.  We also believe that it's important when co-owning a seagoing boat to maintain parity in our skill sets and seamanship, while (we hope) having some differing experiences that expand our collective knowledge.
  16. November, 2009: I crew on a 12-day delivery from Virginia to USVIs aboard a loaded Bristol 45.5. The weather is, shall we say, lively and I learn first-hand about staying tethered, interesting ways one can use an SSB, the notion of "clear-air squalls", how to use radar to see rain bands and many other points of interest I use to the present. First encounter with the irrational officials keeping the U.S. safe from personal flotation devices.
  17. July, 2010: I crew in the Lake Ontario 300 race. Successively stronger squalls plaster the fleet and do damage, leading to about a third of the participants retiring. I see 68 knots for the first time, which trumps the high 40s I saw on the Atlantic. Can't say I enjoyed it, but the seasoned crew helped and no one panicked. In fact, a crew of skippers was funny in that the first thing all of us did at dawn was to circle the decks, looking for damage to the stays, cast-off cotter pins or other signs of imminent failure. It was the only time I've enjoyed mime.
  18. December, 2010: Having noted that the cost of the rebuild of the 25-year-old Westerbeke W-52 that came with the boat would exceed the cost of a brand-new Beta 60, we opt for the latter, despite the cash hit. While there was more expense in the form of AquaDrive, various custom weldings and fabrications, and a shaft and its accessories, the entire re-engining came in under $20K Canadian, with which I am well-pleased. And, having grounded hard last fall and redlined this thing successfully to get off a silty sandbank, it was money well-spent. I have a great deal more confidence now regarding motors and their care and feeding.
  19. May, 2011: After a ridiculous amount of labour to get the aluminum pilothouse roof unstuck from the steel pilothouse flange, because it had been glued there with evil 5200, the old engine and water tankage is hauled out and the new Beta 60 engine, which was ordered with some custom features, is lowered down into the boat. A great deal of further effort, fabrication, measurement, more fabrication and assembly required follows in order to make it live.
  20. June, 2011: Mrs. Alchemy does a delivery of an Ontario 32 from Bahamas back to Lake Ontario. Huge mechanical failures means the trip ends with a tow into Charleston Harbor. Many lessons are learned: as they say in science, an experiment which disproves the hypothesis (in this case, I would argue, that one can cruise without refitting for 11 years and expect major bits of the boat to still work) is as valuable as a proven one. 
  21. August, 2011: A stainless steel "solar arch" is fabricated and is hoisted into place. Later, I will learn that I made an error and only two of the four solar panels will fit when the mast is actually back in. 
  22. Winter/spring, 2013: In several discrete steps, the engine is brought to life and hooked to a spinny thing at one end. A temporary diesel source provides the not-to-code means to run the engine.
  23. April, 2013: I learn that the ability of a running grinder wheel to negotiate a curve in a steel keel tank top is limited at best and my left leg still has some interesting dings to prove it. This is simply the most vivid of the many self-injuries I have incurred over the last 10 years. To me, the most annoying thing about my own blood is how it makes the pliers it tend to coat harder to work. You've got to stop and find a length of goddamned gauze.
  24. April 28, 2013: After a few years cradled in a parking lot, Alchemy takes to the water, without, gratifyingly, taking on water. Further and only apparently endless improvements follow at dockside.
  25. November, 2013: Underprepared due to work, I take an RYA Yachtmaster course in Brittany. Informative and intensive as it is, fatigue and a blithering moment that has me confusing European buoyage means I don't pass, which is disappointing, but I resolve a) to study more now that I know the nature of the training, and b) to not try to skip rungs on this particular ladder.
  26. December, 2013: I put Valiente up for sale. More futility and cost will follow.
  27. September, 2014: After several months of spare time devoted to cabling, fuel issues and electrical connection, I start the Beta 60, in place, in the water, three years, four months after first lowering in into the boat.
  28. October 22, 2014: First dynamic test without the mast in. Flying colours are passed. The engine works gratifying well. I drive the boat into the slings at Haulout a week later and note the more superstitious sailors of my club crossing themselves at the miraculous sight of a self-propelled Alchemy.
  29. Late October, 2014: I take a less-ambitious RYA Dayskipper course in Antigua and pass, even though the first day was postponed due to a surprise hurricane during which those present had to try to fend off and secure leaping sailboats. New record set of "winds experienced" of 88 knots. That wind is enough to knock me, a man of substance, to all fours, but the real danger is flying debris capable of braining the unwary.
  30. Winter, 2015: The services of a yacht broker are engaged to sell Valiente. Result: zero. Annoying, that.
  31. May, 2015: Launch. Ability to motor retained. Still sailing Valiente while trying to sell Valiente. This encourages me to keep her appearances up. An estimated 40 separate visits will be made to check out the boat. Despite some enthusiastic chats with potential buyers, nothing is concluded.
  32. July, 2015: Fuel system redone. Fuel filters installed and tanks inspected. Old diesel found still usable. Gratitude is expressed.
  33. September, 2015: After another summer of labour, installation, sail repair, wiring and prepartion, the mast goes in, the sails go on and sailing operation are resumed successfully. Felt very good, it did.
  34. Winter 2016: A new mainsail is ordered and is fitted in the spring. Works as advertised. We find ourselves thinking of reefing lines for the first time in ages. Valiente's skinny IOR-style main never seemed to call for reefing.
  35. April, 2016: The mast is put in right after launch. Sailing commences in between multiple other improvements.
  36. June, 2016: The last of the Return of the Mortgage is converted into a line of credit at a low, favourable rate (the bank loves us because we keep coming back). Said line of credit is being paid off at a lower rate than the mortgage was to a) free up a few hundred a month and b) in anticipation that it will be brought to zero after the sale of the current house yields funds. 
  37. Summer, 2016: Six big batteries are lowered into a new space made for them and are installed. Much crimping. Forearms expand and heat gun blisters multiply. Nav lights, dead for years, obligingly glow.
  38. December 2016-January 2017: A proper welder/fabricator having been (finally) found, a new engine bay hatch is delivered and a new companionway hatch and alterations to the solar arch are discussed. Further wiring run. New traveller installed. A decision on the radar is made.
Man, what a list. Looks vast when I just touch on the more significant points, doesn't it? The sharp-eyed will spot that the pace has quickened. This is a natural outcome of the hard work put in but also a token of the time I've needed apart from a freelancer and a father and a landlord and a husband to work, largely alone. But I can't complain. My son's now a teenager about six inches taller than his mother and therefore of greater use aboard than had we left sooner. Also, he doesn't need glasses (yet), which is fairly unusual in our collective gene pool.

My god, it's full of bedrooms!
Anyway, after a very digressive few paragraphs, back to the house. Paying off our mortgage via tenants has meant we've lived in a more compact space (ah, but the garage!) than was strictly necessary. But it's made us selective about the furniture and frankly, tight quarters has "pre-trained" us for the eventual liveaboard life we will pursue. 
You will know your tenants by what they leave behind. This will be my son's Fortress of Voice-breakage
Such fiscal liberation has kept me from pursuing a day job even through some lean times, and even at full bore on the freelance front, I have more hours to spend aboard than I would in just about any office gig. That's been worth a great deal to me, and not having to commute (save by bike and cart to Mississauga for boat things) has no doubt kept my questionable sanity from further erosion.
Life with closets, instead of IKEA armoires or racks, will be something I haven't actually had since 1993.

The plan now is to clean and occupy these top two floors in order to buff, sand, tile, polish, plaster and paint the dreadful area in which we've lived for 18 and a half years and which, being occupied by us, has seen little care, either tender or loving. It's not a slum; I've always been on top of needful plumbing, heating and electrical repair, but decor has not been seen as a pressing need. But it shall be, because as part of the Drive to the Sea, we want to sell this place and move elsewhere.
Useful, but aimed at the child-free, pre-aged crowd.
Now, the "sell up and sail" option is so prevalent among the cruiser set that there's even a book (well, there's more than one) about it. But we've concurred several points (oh, Neptune, not another numbered list!):
  1. We want to maintain a foothold in local property, despite its currently ridiculously bubble-like cost.
  2. We want to do this so we have a pied-à-terre here in Toronto, consisting of a basement flat and nearby garage in which we can store our pared-back possessions and movables, and have a place that isn't a hotel in which to stay as needed. Mrs. Alchemy's parents are both alive and in their 70s, but we are talking about sailing for five years starting in 2018. We may have reasons to "drop back in".
  3. We have a perfectly good house from which to extract the rent from two flats already, but that means no pied-à-terre, and no place to store our stuff. Well, maybe the garage, but it's hardly four-season-ready and there's no plumbing and rudimentary electricity.
  4. We determined that less rent, but from just one tenant or pair of tenants, would be easier to manage. We also determined that a smaller, newer house with a separate entrance to the basement and some form of lightweight property management would be the least painful way to get a couple of grand a month to pay for rum and diesel.
  5. We've determined that the arbitrage between our current house and our prospective house in the inner suburbs will yield a nice cruising kitty, which means we will be less reliant on rental income while on passage.
  6. So tarting up this place for sale means moving upstairs. That starts today. I will need a lot of boxes for my books.
The sleigh ride is picking up speed. One's allowed to shriek. Thank you for putting up with the long read, those who've gotten this far.