When I say we are sailing with 4 kids and a dog, the first question people ask is almost always about the boat. “What kind of boat?” Some of course cut right to the chase–“How big is your boat?” “How do you all fit?” And often just the skeptical “How’s that working out for you?”
We didn’t have the longest list of criteria when boat shopping, but we did have a few key needs. Our first debate centered around “for how long is this boat going to be right for us?” In other words–was this going to be our boat that would take us across oceans, or just our interim, coastal cruising boat. The budget of course differed depending on whether this was a boat we were going to try to sell at one point, versus a boat we would invest ourselves in completely. We looked at many boats, from Hylas to Tartan, to Morris and Hinckley. Eventually we decided to go all in. At the top of the list was that it be a boat we could love for the next 20 years. This means it needed to be blue water capable since our eventual plans involve many ocean crossings, and our immediate plans involved off-shore deliveries between New England and the Caribbean. After a lot of looking we agreed that an older, heavier boat was what we wanted.
That said, we wanted something with enough upgrades that it could feasibly be sailed single-handed, or with minimal help. Any parents of small children will understand why this was necessary. At the time of purchase we had an 18 month old and another on the way, so we knew that our days of having two adult sailors with four free hands were far off. We also had an 8 year old boy and a 10 year old girl–the salient issue here being that, while we still sometimes found them squeezed into the same twin bunk, we knew the day would soon arrive when they would need their own space.
The first boat we looked at was a lovely Tartan 44. The second was a newer 54 ft Hylas. Also lovely, but twice what we could afford. And neither one felt like THE ONE. Our broker, whose offices are at Hinckley in Portsmouth, RI, then told us about a Little Harbor he had in heated storage, and that he thought we should take a look at. Its older and very wealthy owner moved inland to Colorado. He was no longer interested in sailing her but neither was he a terribly motivated seller. He was asking double our budget, but our broker felt that the price could be negotiated way down. She was in the far back corner of a barn at Hinckley, draped in plastic which was in turn covered in dust. But our first look at her massive beam told us she certainly checked off the blue-water capabilities we had on our list. We then rolled back some of the plastic and climbed aboard, looking through the dusty dark with flashlights since her dead batteries left all the lights out. We could see that she was in serious need of some TLC, but also could immediately see her potential.
Our broker told us that he had sold more Little Harbors than ever after showing clients this particular boat. She was great enough to set the hook but the interested parties usually went with less of a project. Due to her unique layout of two forward cabins with bunks, a v-berth devoted to storage, and an aft cabin set up for off-shore conditions (a double to starboard and a twin to port so that the captain can sleep on either side depending on the tack), most people chose a different Little Harbor with a “more comfortable” (i.e. King bed and crew quarters) design.
Of course we saw a boat with 4 bunks and quickly saw our wildest dreams come true. A bed for each kid! Of course, one does not buy a boat, especially not of this caliber, based on kid bunk space. So we kept looking deeper to see if our initial gut reaction was correct. We also immediately loved her story. A Ted Hood-designed Little Harbor from 1986, she was the Little Harbor 53′ that he designed specifically for himself. Between him and his brother, the Hood family owned her for 15 years. We found countless old charts with his notations on them, and a pair of his old ray ban aviators. These all felt like important “signs”! But first, on to the important issues–the ones that cost money.
All the hatches were heat-damaged and needed replacing, new life lines were needed due to crevasse corrosion at the stanchions, all new varnish was in order, decks needed sprucing up, a new hot water heater element was required, she new batteries, the centerboard had to be rebuilt, all new safety equipment had to be added, plus new lines. And of course, a new bimini and cushions. We made our offer–at barely over half of the asking price, and held firm through negotiations. The seller finally got tired of us, and convinced at last that he would have her sitting there another 7 years if he didn’t just let her go now. We signed the P&S on Jonathan’s 40th birthday from the beach in Miami! We then requisitioned the help of local Rhode Island surveyor, Jim Hilton, to start surveying both on the hard and eventually at sea trial. Luckily our P&S said the seller had to commission boat and make sure all the systems were operational. This one sentence saved us almost $50k. Cleaning her out, we filled an entire dumpster with the trash from someone else’s adventures, including a bag of milano cookies, 7 years expired.
We named her “Robin Hood” in honor of Ted Hood, who had recently passed away, and our broker’s partner who is Ted Hood, jr. (All of Ted’s boats were named “Robin”). In most harbors we will have one or two visitors stopping by to ask if we are part of the Hood family, or asking if this was Ted’s boat. He was not only famous, but loved by many. In the past 4 years we have sailed her from Rhode Island to Maine and back many times. From Boston to Bermuda and down to the Caribbean, and back to Maine again. She sailed in the inaugural Miami to Havana regatta, the first regatta from Miami to Cuba in 60 years. This winter, we made our first family trip offshore, sailing her from her new home on Vinalhaven Island, Maine to the Bahamas. I get a little choked up writing this, it feels a little like writing about one of my children. I envision so many years of wonderful times with our actual children aboard this boat.
To go through everything we have done since then will require another post. We have replaced all major systems except the engine. Soon we will be able to start on interior cosmetic issues like the cushions, the curtains which are still circa 1986, and the countertops in the galley and heads that no amount of scrubbing can clean. But for the past 4 years Robin Hood has served us well. We have had hours, weeks, months of memories made on her, and we know without a doubt that our initial gut feeling was correct.