Moving forward after Ian, and a boat search
It’s been just over six months since Ian ravaged Southwest Florida and, with it, the life my family and I built in Fort Myers. Ian sunk our home on the water, Have Another Day, and destroyed the marina we’d called home for three and a half years. Our lives have continued. We are settled in our house, we’ve found a place to keep our center console, Panbo(at), and overall we don’t have much to complain about, but boy do we miss living on the water.
My family and I regularly get together with former Legacy Harbour neighbors. The primary topic of conversation is keeping up with where everyone ended up, who has bought a new boat, who bought a house, and who moved far away. Invariably, at some point, someone says something along the lines of, “We didn’t know how good we had it.” We had a beautiful marina in a beautiful setting, downtown Fort Myers’ restaurants and shopping were just over half a mile away, a grocery store was just a quarter mile away, and we all lived on the water.
The good life we lived has been replaced by navigating the tricky waters of insurance, a place to keep a boat, and locating a good boat in a challenging market. Each of those three challenges serves as a reminder of my post-Ian theme: we didn’t know how good we had it. Legacy’s annual contract rate was $18 per foot per month. That meant that our base dockage for our 57-foot boat cost $1,026 a month. For a very manageable cost, Have Another Day had a home my family and I loved.
Of the area marinas open to the public before the storm, only Sweetwater Landing Marina in North Fort Myers is operating at full capacity. Moss Marina, Salty Sam’s, and Snook Bight in Fort Myers Beach as well as Cape Harbor Marina in Cape Coral are operating portions of their marinas but also have significant damage. The city of Fort Myers Yacht Basin, Legacy Harbour, The Marina at Edison Ford, Tarpon Point Marina, Cape Coral Godman Yacht Basin, Pink Shell, and more are all closed.
After that bleak recitation of all the closed facilities, there are the first glimmers of hope. The first picture in this article is the Fort Myers Beach shrimp fleet back in the water. Toward the end of March, Resolve Marine Group put the last shrimp boat back in the water. Resolve raised nearly all the boats at Legacy Harbour as well, including Have Another Day. Watching them operate both at Legacy and at the beach, I gained a huge respect for the difficult work they do.
Pink Shell Marina in Fort Myers Beach has received new docks and plans to start reconstruction on May first. The entire dock system floated cleanly off the piles during the storm, which gave them a head-start on rebuilding. Their website currently states the marina will be open this summer. The Marina at Edison Ford is waiting for their new docks to arrive and hopes to be open by the fall. Although these are two of the smaller marinas in the area, I think it will be a huge mental boost to have facilities reopen.
The search for a new boat
I will admit to a post-storm funk that left me unwilling to consider a new boat in a new location. Like a petulant toddler, I just wanted what we had back. Absent that, I couldn’t find interest in a new arrangement. But it wasn’t because of the boat; it was because of the life. Make no mistake, I loved our boat, but I knew she wasn’t perfect. I also knew from the moment we lost her that another Carver Voyager wasn’t in our future. Heck, we’ve known for a long time that a planing, smooth-bottomed production boat wasn’t what we were after.
Six months later, I’m ready to start thinking about a new boat and a new setting for that boat. Accepting change is going to be key to our future. The past doesn’t exist anymore, and at least for marinas in Fort Myers, it isn’t coming back for a long time.
So, with our new reality, we’ve had to figure out how to move forward. Since shortly after the storm, my wife, Laura, has been suggesting ways to get back on the water. As I mentioned, until now, my petulance has prevented me from considering those options. Now it’s time to try and find a new path.
There are three obstacles standing between us and getting back on the water in a cruising boat. They are: insurance, a place to keep a boat, and finding the right boat. I suspect that list is properly sorted from most to least difficult.
It’s estimated that marine insurers lost more than one billion dollars in Ian. This loss comes as insurers were already significantly tightening underwriting requirements to control their risk. Geico, our carrier on Have Another Day, announced well before the storm that they wouldn’t insure boats over 50 feet. We felt fortunate when Geico renewed our policy last year. Doubly so when we quickly received payment for our loss while neighbors fought with their carriers. But, moving forward, Geico makes plain in black and white what they will insure. If we want to insure with Geico –and if they will take us after paying a total loss claim for Have Another Day— we have to stay under 50 feet.
The second major factor will be hurricane restrictions. My hurricane plan for Have Another Day called for staying put at Legacy Harbour and securing the boat. The marina had survived multiple serious hurricanes with minimal damage to the marina and boats. In retrospect, that plan was pretty clearly inadequate. So, moving forward, we will need to have a better hurricane plan. What I’m hearing anecdotally is that most carriers are enforcing hurricane restrictions. Typically that means the boat either must be stored on land in an approved facility or be located north of a specified point, typically north of Florida entirely.
A new home for our new boat
As I’ve detailed above, we’re going to have to find a new place to keep a boat. That likely means heading a little bit north. The best case for us is probably Punta Gorda. Laishley Park Marina is right downtown and it’s about half an hour from Fort Myers. From there, the options are to move a little further north to Port Charlotte, Venice, Sarasota, Bradenton or communities around those, or south to Naples or Marco Island. But, the supply of slips is already limited and Ian’s damage only makes that worse.
With marinas, like insurance, we will have more options if we keep the size of the boat down a little. Often, marinas have more smaller slips. So, hopefully, if we go a little smaller, we won’t size ourselves out of places. Ultimately, I’m not sure this is a huge difference. In Florida, we’ve rarely been told we’re too big, but every little bit helps.
Perhaps the biggest adjustment with a new marina will be adjusting to the cost. I’ll come back to my theme of not knowing how good we had it. A quick survey of the available marinas suggests we may pay close to double what we were paying at Legacy. I would be thrilled to be proven wrong, but that certainly seems to be the way things are headed.
Picking the next boat
Due to all the factors I’ve already discussed, it sure seems like we can make things easier on ourselves by staying under 50 feet. We don’t anticipate being able to live aboard, so staying under 50 feet seems much more doable for us. As it stands now, this boat is likely to play two major roles: a floating test platform for the myriad stuff I install and test and a cruising boat to travel for a few weeks at a time a few times a year.
My oldest daughter, Molly, is a sophomore in high school this year. In just a few years, she’s going to be leaving our home, whether on water or land, to attend college. So, the factors that existed five years ago when we were looking for a boat are different now. So, our search evolves. No longer are we trying to find a three or four-stateroom boat. Instead, we’d be happy with two staterooms as long as the sleeping arrangements in the second stateroom work for two sisters.
But, many of the other factors I detailed five years ago are still there. Here’s an updated version of the search criteria I had five years ago:
- A keel extending below the depth of the props – it’s possible this need is a little less urgent if we can drop the overall draft, but I’ll definitely sleep better knowing I have some protection
- 2 heads
- Full walk-around side decks with adequate safety railings
- Portuguese bridge highly preferred
- Pilothouse with ample console space, chart table, helm seats, and good visibility
- Good efficiency around 8 kts with engines sized to low-speed cruising – I’d still rather not maintain large displacement aftercooled turbo diesels if we’re going to run them below the turbo’s RPMs.
- Four stroke, electronically controlled diesels. I mildly prefer twins, but singles are okay too.
- Large fuel capacity – last time around I called out a minimum of 1.250 gallons, that’s going to be harder to find sub-fifty feet, but I hope to be around 800 gallons
- Stabilized – fins or gyro
- Draft of 4-feet or less
- Air draft below 20-feet, or the ability to get there without a sawzall
- Good natural ventilation
- Galley equipped for cooking for a family of four
- Classic design is strongly preferred. I’m a sucker for the styling of Flemings, Grand Banks, DeFever designs, etc.
For as long as I can remember, the Fleming 55 has been a bucket list boat for me. I’ve always figured there would come a time when I would own one. If you look at the list above, it checks nearly every box. Except, with my new criteria and the 55’s LOA of over 60-feet, it doesn’t check the biggest box of them all. So, it looks like I might have to wait for that one.
The Symbol 45 Trawler hits on almost all of my desires, but the sleeping arrangements in the second stateroom are difficult. Additionally, there’s only one on the market right now and it looks to me like the pricing on that one is pretty high. There are contenders from Selene, Ocean Alexander, Grand Banks, Sabre, and many others. I’ve always had a soft spot for Nordhavns, though I suspect they are the wrong tool for the job we have right now.
Settling in for the search
I expect this search will take us some time. That’s okay, we’d like to find the right boat and place to keep it and insure it well for a (somewhat) manageable cost. Right now, that seems like a tall order. But, it’s a lot more fun to look at boats than it is to look at wrecked marinas. So, for now, if you need me, I’ll be on Yacht World shopping. That said, Panbo’s readers are some of the most knowledgeable I know about all things boats. So, I’d love to hear from all of you about what boats you think we should include in our search. I’m not sure anything is off-limits if it works for our needs. So, speak up in the comments below. Thanks!
Why are you looking for such large fuel capacity if you’re only planning on cruising for a couple of weeks at a time, several times a year in a fuel efficient trawler (essentially what you’ve defined)?
That’s a good question. The answer is, while for the next few years we anticipate more local and coastal cruising we have hopes of significantly longer cruising in our future.
Another thought if you intend to eventually do some extended cruising. If you think you might ever want to cruise through some of the most beautiful waters in North America (Canadian canals, Georgian Bay, etc), think about a lowering mast which can get you below 17 feet (the max height of fixed bridges on the canals, for the most part). Your criteria for a 4 foot draft will get you through the locks (max draft 5 feet). And, there’s nothing wrong with a single screw – half the maintenance, better fuel burn rate, etc. We initially cruised on a trawler with twins, but for our second we only considered single screws and were much happier with that choice. Full length keel with the prop mounted behind the keel with a skeg under provides nice protection and greatly increases the odds of getting through fields of Maine lobster pot markers without snagging anything.
Ben, the perfect boat for you is a 49 North Pacific pilothouse. I bought one two years ago with exactly the same criteria in mind. I ordered it with a single QSB Cummins 355 hp and she cruises all day long at 9 knots burning around 1.5 nmpg. Her prop is fully protected by a skagg. The only problem I have is my health at 78 and I think I will be forced to sell her later this year. She won’t work for you though as I had her custom built with a center master stateroom and a king size bed. The compromise was a single queen berth forward and that would be your deal breaker. But the standard layout has twin berths convertible to a queen amidships and a queen forward. Good luck on your search for the perfect boat. Boondoggle is mine!
Oh, and I’m already a subscriber but I didn’t hit the button for notifications of follow up comments. Now done.
You’re right that North Pacific makes the exact type of boats we’re interested in. I’ve heard talk that insurers are basing their 50-foot maximum on LOA, not model designation or in some cases even what’s listed on the CG documentation. But, the 49 is a very attractive boat to us.
Thanks for the suggestion!
The 51’4″ LOA made me wonder too, but LOA is a somewhat vague term in my experience. In fact, our Camden, Maine, harbor ordinances use the term TVL (total vessel length) for max size in the town marina slips and on the tightly packed inner harbor moored floats. TVL includes bowsprit and even the skeg of an outboard if the owner plans to leave it up. But I guess Geico is looking for an official number.
So a little irrelevant, I know, but vicariously boat searching for a seasoned family that loves cruising is going to be fun.
That’s the boat I have wanted!!
Yup, we have the same LOA issues with moorages here in the Seattle area. North Pacific also makes a 45 pilothouse with two staterooms and two heads that may be closer to what you’re looking for.
I can’t imagine that the Symbol 45 isn’t what your looking for based on what have described. There are others but that boat in particular for the length it is, has the amenities of a much larger boat. Before I read your article I was already looking at them as well. I am in the Chesapeake and wanting that style to go to FL and back in the winter time. Fits the bill perfectly.
Very sorry to have read about what you have been through and I do wish you all the best in your journey to find the new boat.
All the best,
It wasn’t until I read this that I realized I too am/was “a petulant toddler “. We are foregoing a search until we complete our trans-pacific cruise on the Grand Princess.
Thanks for the article Ben, it looks like this too shall pass.
My “ideal” boat would be less than “45′” from a model/USCG perspective (WA state buoy legal) and 50′ LOA or less for moorage. a 51′ boat means a 60′ slip in many places, 30% more money, and a longer wait for a spot.
Folding swim steps and anchor rollers are starting to look appealing.
From a packaging perspective, I really like boats that have a separate (door to living area) pilot house or enclosed flybridge. Nice to have an area to focus without having to go below decks into a room.
I’d be pretty keen on an Aspen C120 or C140 (newer model in planning) if they came out with an enclosed (fiberglass/glass, not canvas) flybridge and some bigger tank options. Downside is cat’s don’t carry weight that well, and they are less fun in a beam sea than a stabilized mono.
For a mono I would like a long look at the zero speed electric fins. Much lower consumption than a gyro, and you can choose between main engine(s), generator, or batteries for power vs hydraulics which usually mean one or the other.
The other thing I’d be looking long and hard at is the Diesel outboards. Some have no raw water loop even. Just not sure they are mature, or that there are boats that can handle that much weight at the aft end and still sit on their lines.
Ben – I sold my Bayliner 4788 pilothouse last year and just bought a Meridian 580. On my way bringing it from North Carolina to Texas this year, I spotted a Hampton 55 for sale in Panama City. I was actually hoping to buy such a boat but none were available at the time I was shopping so I jumped on the Meridian when it came on the market. The Hampton doesn’t meet all your criterion but it’s a very well designed and well built boat. Don’t know if it’s still available but it is still listed on YW.
On the trip home, I spent a month in Riviera Dunes Marina in Palmetto, FL on the Manatee River. It’s a very well protected marina. We paid $26/ft which was very high compared to Texas prices but seemed like a bargain compared to what we were finding in Florida! I highly recommend it. There were several Flemings docked there and a particularly nice Nordhavn.
Best of luck in your search.
Kadey- Krogen 48 Whaleback
Even if Geico won’t insure a bigger boat you want, it’s worth shopping around for insurance. After a few years of owning a 57, chances are one of the insurance companies will be happy to cover you. Geico has gotten very picky recently, as if they don’t really want to insure boats, but are still willing to take certain ones.
Curious if you have looked at the American Tug 435. Friends in Jax have one and Stick and I have been aboard many times and it feels a lot like a newer, shinier, version of our Selene 43. It meets 90% of your criteria including hinged mast, comfortable staterooms and living/kitchen space, newer Cummins, pilothouse, etc. The draft is 4’10” so that may be a hard stop. The only drawbacks we found were that the front deck has no “living” space (a feature we love on our boat) and while it is walk-around, it’s narrow and railed vs. our fully enclosed “playpen”. The extras you and the girls might enjoy is the swim platform set up is excellent (especially at anchor to swim from – easy on and off) and the bunk set up is slightly offset so that it seems like there is more room (and space between them) then there really is. It’s also a very open and light interior with space for six adults to sit comfortably for docktails. If you want more details, our friends would be more than happy to discuss. Might be worth a look.
I LOVE American Tugs. The biggest problem with them, like so many of the boats we like, is that there just aren’t enough of them for sale. Right now, it looks like the only option would be new and that means right around $1-million. That’s north of our price range! However, I’ve long assumed this search will take some time, so maybe the perfect 8-15 year old example will hit the market and we can get out on the water again!
Buying new is a 1-2 year wait as well from LaConner. The “Cons” when looking at your list are the single after cooler Diesel (though a 435 loaded light can hit 17+ knots), and the deeper draft (which is also a plus since it’s a nice keel that helps stabilize things). That said – you would be hard pressed to find a boat with more space in a ~45′ LOA. I do know of one that will be coming up for sale on the West Coast soon if you need the details…
Agree about the deeper draft cutting both ways. I will also say that a single screw with a full keel and skeg below the prop at 4.5+ feet is a whole different proposition than Have Another Day’s 5-foot+ with nothing but nibral for the bottom 18-20-inches.
We _really_ like our 41/435. Mid-master, 2 heads, washer/dryer, protected running gear, solid build, nav desk (great for work from boat), local support from the people who made it, can sneak into some 40′ slips that allow some overhang, good economy with the ability to go fast when needed. Despite going over many boats at boat shows, nothing I would rather have that fits into a 50′ slip exists.
One thing I may change: our 12v thrusters work well, but I don’t 100% trust that I can really lay on them for any length of time. Some sort of 48v system or maybe hydraulic. Holding position waiting for the locks isn’t as easy in a single as with twins or even a sailboat with a massive rudder.
The 485 does give more salon space, and a more advantageous LWL:Beam ratio. It’s also less than 50′ LOA.
Also just saw on the owner’s group: there is a 435 going up for sale in Florida shortly.
I want to say how happy it makes me to read all the suggestions. It’s great to get other people’s opinions and have my assumptions challenged. I have heard from a few people offline suggesting that we’re compromising too much by looking at a smaller boats and that the insurance problem is surmountable. I hear that perspective and agree that, if we wanted to overcome them, the insurance challenges can be beat. But, I”m not sure I want to overcome them. The truth is, towing around all 57-feet and 62,000+ pounds of Have Another Day was, in many situations, a pain. When we travelled with others, we were always the biggest boat, always the deepest draft boat, highest windage, etc. I kind of like the idea of being a little smaller, a little shallower, a LOT better protected props, and generally, maybe just a little easier. There’s a reason our 22-foot center console has probably averaged 5:1 more hours than Have Another Day.
I’m not saying we won’t swing back and start looking at bigger boats, but right now, there’s something pretty attractive about smaller.
Great choice Ben! The AT485 was one of my two finalists for a new boat, but I ultimately went with the North Pacific 49 because of the wider walk-arounds and interior, high forward bulwarks, and their willingness to customize, which I did a lot of. The AT435 has the same very wide beam as the AT485 which helps interior space but may cause some squatting and affect fuel economy. But the people were great and they make a fine product. And they’re made in the US!
Try Marine Max Fort Myers. Every in water boat made it through Irma and Ian with no issues. They are set up for 16′ surge. Our 43′ sat in its 50′ slip in 144 MPH wind (we have the weather station you reviewed) and surge that buried everything on land around it with no problem.
So happy you are looking again, it took us 5 years to find the right one. Don’t overlook well made custom or one-off boats, someone in the last 20 years may have had almost your exact vision as happened to us. Might look beyond Geico, in general insurance companies don’t like to reinsure after a total loss even if it is completely without fault. Specifically, I think a restriction on an aluminum boat is silly, I serious doubt there is actuarial data supporting that position. Pace yourself and enjoy the hunt. We found a Kanter 57 that I might have designed myself if I was as smart as Dave Gerr!
Simple solution to the issue of Geico not insuring a vessel you love but maybe a tad over 50 feet is to switch carries. I just don’t think you can live with less that 50 overall. Even my Grand banks 42 was 46 feet overall, and it did not come close to meeting your desires. Here in Panama City going on five years since Hurricane Michael (note the capital letters – you gotta respect a cat five!) we are still looking at some blue roofs, and both large city marinas remain gaping holes.