The thought gutted me. I felt a thick, black goo filling me from the inside as my throat tightened and I blinked back tears. Immediately when the word was first spoken to me … “totaled” … all I could see in my mind was her holding on, her bucking and groaning against the dock that dreadful morning, September 16, 2020, as Hurricane Sally slowly released its grip on her.
As I screamed across what was left of the marina to her through the ripping winds and chop “HOLD ON BABY GIRL!” she did. She. Did. Plaintiff’s Rest held on when dozens of other boats hadn’t, when other boats crashed into her and sank beneath and beside her, when docks around her broke up and tore away. She. Held. On. And, now, that was going to be it? After all that, we were going to just give up on her? That was the one scenario in all our post-hurricane decision chaos that I told Phillip I just couldn’t stomach. We didn’t want to make an emotional, financially irrational decision, of course, but after everything the three of us had been through, the thought that we would let Plaintiff’s Rest, our baby girl, get hauled to a dump to die because of … money? Especially when she was salvageable.
Considering the spectrum of damage Hurricane Sally unleashed on the boating community in Pensacola, the damage our boat had suffered was respectively minor. It wouldn’t cost quite her total value to fix her, but it might be close, something I learned only after that hurricane struck, could cause an insurance company to total the boat. Total. It felt like such a callous, dismissive word.
Thankfully, we were very lucky in that it turned out the cost to repair the damage to her rudder and stern rail and the severe dock rash she endured all those hours in the slashing dark did not amount to a figure that tipped the scale. The day we got the news Plaintiff’s Rest was going to be repaired, I cried. My chest opened up and I hugged Phillip even harder than I had that moment on the dock when I saw her mast upright in the driving rain. Our baby girl was going to have more chapters, more pages to turn, more adventures. She was going to live. Once that was determined, the thought of buying a new boat and handing our amazing Niagara over to another sailing couple to enjoy all that she has to offer no longer felt like a nauseous jab to my stomach. As long as she continued sailing, traveling, and teaching her valuable lessons, I was 100% okay with that. But, I knew I was going to be damn picky in who we turned her over to. It wouldn’t matter if they were willing to pay more, if any buyer planned to let her sit, that would be a non-starter. Our Niagara loves to go! She deserves to go. But, in those early months of this entire transition, in the fall and winter of 2020 when she was undergoing repairs and we were just wrapping our heads around the idea of selling her, I could not have dreamed up a better transition for our Niagara.
Here’s the crazy thing. We didn’t even list her. We didn’t “show” her in the normal sense to anyone. We didn’t even hire a broker. It all happened so seamlessly. I guess when you have a boat as cared for as ours—as loved—with a price that is well worth the life she still has to live and the amazing journey she can still offer any hearty, willing sailor, it’s not surprising. Don’t get us wrong, Phillip and I did not decide to sell our boat because Plaintiff’s Rest is not capable of sailing around the world. She is. Just not quite as comfortably or safely. But capable she is. In droves. And, when this wonderful couple—not new to sailing, but new to owning and cruising their own boat—spent just a couple of hours on our boat crawling through all the cubbies and lockers and going through all the immense repairs, upgrades, and work Phillip and I had put into her, there was really nothing to debate. She’s a damn fine boat and that’s exactly what they wanted. That’s exactly what they deserved.
Let me joyously introduce to you Megan and Chris, the new owners of our Niagara 35.
After a very close friend of ours, who was privy to our pretty private decision to sell our Niagara and buy a new(er) boat, merely mentioned as an aside that “Phillip and Annie might be selling their boat” to some mutual friends of ours, a small crack opened in their minds that immediately began to flood their brains and set them off on a similar tailspin that Phillip and I had post-2020 and post-hurricane: Maybe it’s time to get serious about our goals of cruising. Maybe it’s time to buy our “forever boat.” Maybe … now … is the time. Covid seemed to have that effect on many people. And, while Megan and Chris had taken sailing courses and obtained several ASA certifications and had chartered boats down in the BVIs, they had not yet taken that next leap of buying and cruising a boat of their own—the true reward of a cruising lifestyle. While they are experienced sailors, becoming knowledgeable, capable boat owners is where their fears lied, which I felt was the right thing to worry about. As I often tell many people thinking about cruising: the sailing is easy; the boat maintenance is hard. But, one great thing about our Niagara? It would come with endless supervision, mentoring, and advice from Phillip and me. We made it very clear to Megan and Chris that we loved our boat, we wanted to see her thrive in a new chapter, which meant we had every incentive to help at every juncture possible with trouble-shooting, research, repairs, and maintenance. That kind of peace of mind for a new owner is invaluable and we were happy, overjoyed, to offer it as it meant a whole new journey for our beloved boat.
I’m thinking that may have been what finally tipped the scale for Chris and Megan. Or maybe it was the stunning varnish, our Niagara’s classic lines, her spotless bilge cubbies, her solid design and construction, her perfect layout, her … I could go on.
I’m sure they would be hard-pressed to say exactly what it was that made them wrap their arms around our boat and welcome her into their family, but Phillip and I were thrilled they did. There was no negotiating on the price. It was what it was, Chris and Megan either wanted her or not, and it turned out they did, subject to a satisfactory survey/sea-trial of course. But, Phillip and I, knowing every nut and bolt and every project that had ever been done on that boat since we bought her in 2013, most of them DIY, had absolutely no reason to believe she would not pass a survey/sea-trial with exceedingly flying colors.
And pass she did. We survey sea-trialed her in February, 2021 (as Phillip and I were in the thick of negotiations for the 2015 Outbound 46 we ended up purchasing) and the four of us were so confident that the boat was solid, it was well-maintained, and it was the perfect boat for the two of them, we even helped Chris and Megan put the new name on the boat before we splashed and before the survey was ever conducted.
We all just knew. Kevin, our broker for both our Niagara and the Outbound, came that day to congratulate all of us on the sale and splash got a big laugh in the name-change pre-survey. “Well, that’s one way to get a potential buyer emotionally invested,” he said. In all, it was a fantastic day. Chris and Megan, rightfully looking out for their own interests, hired a highly-recommended surveyor in the Florida Panhandle, Chris Mills, who spent over seven hours thoroughly scaling the boat.
A running joke that came from the day was mine and Phillip’s repeated answer to the dozens of questions Mills had to ask about our many, many upgrades and repairs. “When was that done?” he’d ask. And almost every time Phillip and I would say “2016.” That was the year we spent three months on the hard changing out the rigging (from rod to wire), repairing our rotten stringers, repairing the keel seam, and doing about a-thousand other projects all of which mandated a “2016” answer to his questions.
Phillip and I were actually surprised by the end of the day thinking back through all we had done on the boat. There was no doubt we had spent years pouring our blood, sweat, money, and tears into her. And, there was no doubt Plaintiff’s Rest had spent years giving us her all, carrying us offshore across the Gulf for our first “just Phillip and me” trip in 2014 to the Keys, thundering her way to Cuba in 2016, dazzling us in the Bahamas in 2017, 2018, and 2019, taking us out for a hundred memorable weekends on the hook in Pensacola, and teaching us so many valuable boat owner lessons over the years.
Looking back on these many memories makes me tear up now thinking how much we gave to our Niagara, how much she gave back to us, and how much she is going to give Megan and Chris and they are going to give her as they sail her around our pristine, wondrous local waters of Pensacola and begin planning and undertaking longer trips across the Gulf just as Phillip and I did when we first acquired her. Our Niagara is ready to carry, teach, and wow them. She has an amazing new chapter to embark on and she is very much alive, which made me thrilled when I learned the name Megan had chosen for their boat, which means “to be alive, living.”
To be alive. ⧫ living.
For those of you curious about our Niagara and her next chapter, know that, to the fullest capacity possible: