Frank's Blog - Yes, Finally
The Little Black Book - 25 November, 2016
When Suzanne and I first started looking for our current boat, Suzanne bought a little black book. Well, technically, it wasn't black. It was marbled,
black and white, like the composition books we used to have in school, back before the only book you needed was a Mac Book. This particular
book was about 3 inches by 5 inches and had a few dozen pages. It was the perfect size for Suzanne to carry in her purse, along with a small pen.
Everywhere we went, that little book came along. This was particularly true when we went to look at boats. Every boat we looked at got its own
page in the book. That way, we would always be able to look back and see what a particular boat had for gear, where it was and who was selling it,
all things that get lost in the blur of boat shopping.
The most important part of the book, however, was the first three pages. Those pages, in this order, were headed "No," "Must," and "Prefer."
Obviously, this was where we listed the things that we absolutely would not accept in a boat, absolutely must have in a boat and would like to have
on the boat.
Now, the first two pages were go/no go. If something we were looking at had something on the first page or did not have something on the second
page, there was no point in looking any further. On the other hand, the third page was graded on a curve. The more things a boat had that were
on the list, the better. However, some things on that list weighed significantly heavier than others.
So, what was on the first two pages? Well, "No" included wooden hull, under size or over size and single cabin, initially. These were things that I
knew I could not handle in a boat we were going to live onboard for the rest of our lives. For some people, these would be non-issues. That's one
of the things to keep in mind about these pages; they are highly subjective. As we went a long, undersized engine got added to the list. Oh, and a
maximum price of $100,000. We discovered fairly early that we could get anything we wanted on the other two lists, if we ignored that one. The
problem was that we could not afford to ignore that one - literally!
The "Must" page was mostly Suzanne's. It included a refrigeration, dodger with full enclosure and a dedicated shower. She refused to spend the
rest of her life, wiping up the entire head anytime someone took a shower and forever worrying if the toilet paper roll got wet. Again, as we went
along, things got added to the list, as we saw them. Six foot headroom, for example, made it to the list after a particularly long day crawling in and
out of boats where I could only stand up in one or two spots.
The "Prefer" page was the one that got added to, and occasionally deleted from, the most. As we went along, we saw things that we decided we
would really like to have, but we realized that we could either add them ourselves or do without if we absolutely had to. For example, we fairly
quickly decided that we wanted a diesel engine. We would have been willing to live with gasoline, but we liked the fact that the diesel engine was
simpler and the fuel was safer, even if it cost more initially. Another example is that we wanted to have an autopilot. We could hand-steer, but we
knew that, with just the two of us, hand-steering would restrict us to the cockpit for long stretches at a time. An autopilot would let us travel more
comfortably and safely. However, if the boat didn't come with an autopilot, we would just have to make that installation ourselves.
Some of the things on the "Prefer" list were really "pie-in-the-sky" items that we really had no intention of holding out for, like "cutter rig." On the
other hand, things like "center cockpit" were really close to necessities. So, when we were weighing one boat against another, it was not a case of
"this boat has five 'should haves', that boat has six, so that boat is better." It would take a lot of "pie-in-the-sky" items to offset one "almost
Now, the funny thing is that when we actually found "our" boat, we didn't consult the list to see if it worked. By that point, we were fairly sure on the
"No" and "Must" items and we didn't need to consult the book. When Suzanne crawled aboard the boat that would become Rockhopper for the first
time (she was on the hard in a boatyard in Oriental, NC), she knew that this was the boat we were going to buy. She didn't have to consult the
book, she had internalized it.
Now, it is true that, afterwards, as we were driving back to Richmond, VA, and Suzanne was selling me on this boat, she pulled out the book and
went down the list, line item by line item, to "prove" to me that this was our "perfect" boat. By the end of that very long trip, I was convinced, both by
her enthusiasm and by the weight of the list. It took us another six months and we still had to look at a lot of other boats (that's another story) but
we always came back to that boat and that list. In fact, from that point on, all other boats were judged by the standard of the Morgan 452, rather
than the actual list, although that was because that boat fit the list so well that it became the embodiment of the list.
We eventually bought the boat, obviously and over the years, it has become even more in line with the list as we added to her. Yes, we kept the
list. In fact, we still have the book in our "Important Papers" folder. Sometimes, we pull it out to look up some fine point (usually, when we are
arguing about the "early days").
Now, is the book a perfect system for boat hunting? I think it is close to perfect, given a few parameters. First, if you are looking for a boat all by
your lonesome, with no partner now or in the future, it may be unnecessary. One of the most important roles that the book served was as a
method of communication between Suzanne and me. Since things were written down, we each had to be able to express them in a way that the
other one could understand and agree to. If you have no one to talk with, there may be no need for that function.
Also, I understand that in this brave new world of the Interwebby, the function that the book held for us of keeping track of the who, what, where
and why of each boat might be just as easily served by tagging pages on Yachtworld as "favorites." An IPad with an Internet connection would
serve for the interface. However, I will say that we had little fear of dropping our little black book into the water, but I suppose that if you are going
to go a-sailing in the modern world, you have to be able to deal with that eventuality anyway.
I do think, however, that no matter what else you decide, you still need to have - somewhere in your world, available to you - those three lists.
"Can't Have," "Must Have" and "Should Have" clarify your thinking and keep you from chasing rainbows.