My boat, Der Kiel, in all her glory.

I bought a sailboat yesterday. This is particularly unexpected because I’d never actually been on a sailboat until I bought one.

This occurred within the space of 24 hours:


3:00 pm – A friend from Jiu Jitsu class, Katie, brought me out to the marina on the Great Salt Lake, with the plan to take me out sailing.

3:20 pm – It was too stormy to go sailing, but we swam in the lake. She then showed me her sailboat, and a couple of other boats that people live aboard. She’s considered living aboard hers.

I assumed she must have a lot of money, or that her family had helped her out. It turns out her boat only cost $2700. “And you can find them for a lot cheaper,” she told me.  “One guy I know picked his up for $500, because this guy was leaving Utah and was desperate to sell it.”

4:00 pm – I began seriously considering switching from living in a car to living in a sailboat. “The only problem is,” I said, “There’s no wifi.” I don’t want to live totally off the grid.

“Yeah, there is,” she told me. “The marina has wifi.”

4:05 pm – I realized that I desperately wanted to live on a sailboat.  This realization surprised me, as it’s not something that had ever once occurred to me before that moment.  If I could find a sailboat in good condition for under $1000, I would  literally buy it on the spot.

I scanned the For Sale ads on the marina’s bulletin board.  A handwritten, faded piece of paper said: 1971 Clipper 21, $1,100. Call Heinz.

So I called Heinz. An old man with a German accent answered. He didn’t understand me at first, but when I said “boat” enough times, I heard “Yes, yes, the boat. Ok, ok, yes, it’s still here. You want to come see it? I’m here, I won’t go anywhere.”

4:15 pm  As we climbed into her car, Katie said, “This would be the most random thing ever if you seriously buy a boat tonight.”

“I know!”

I was as baffled by this turn of events as she was.

4:45 – The white and blue hull of Der Kiel looked gigantic, perched on a trailer in the back corner of Heinz’s car port. She was well taken care of. Heinz loved her, but a surgery left his legs too weak to sail. I climbed aboard and poked around. It was filthy, the paint inside cracked and peeling, the captain’s quarters cluttered with dusty old cushions, sails, ropes, and what I’m guessing were the original 1971 carpets. But damn. I was in love.

Katie looked it over and declared it sea-worth—or lake-worthy, at least.

Heinz agreed to sell the boat for $800.

I agreed to buy her.

Katie agreed I was nuts.

6:00 pm – Over dinner, we tried to figure out how to get the boat out to the marina. I knew that the only sane thing to do was wait until tomorrow, but I was riding a wave of impulsivity, and just wanted my damn boat on the water now.

7:30 – We tried to rent a truck to tow it out to the marina. U-haul offered us a 10-foot box truck, which was all they had available with a tow hitch. But they screwed up the reservation, which is probably a good thing, since renting a box truck to tow a boat was a terrible idea.

I considered getting a hitch installed on my KIA Spectra, and tried to remember if there were any hills on the way to the marina. Luckily, I realized fairly quickly that that, also, was a terrible idea. I also considered driving back to Heinz’s house and asking him if I could just sleep on the boat in his car port. Also a terrible idea, and probably a little creepy.

So instead of sleeping in my boat, I slept on Katie’s floor.


10:00 am – I decided to just drive to the marina and see if I could talk anyone into helping me tow my new boat out there. Katie had already left for a visit to California, so I was on my own.

I was told to ask for Pahoo, a Navajo volunteer who lives at the Marina.  If he couldn’t help me, he’d know someone who could. The marina gatekeeper tracked him down, and they puttered over on a little Suzuki golf cart.

Pahoo introduced me to a group of sailors lounging in camping chairs in the shade of an RV, overlooking the marina. They greeted me with “Ahoy, matey,” and “Welcome to the neighborhood,” and offers of beer and/or tequila.

And, sure, they all had trucks trucks. They’d help me get the boat out here.

No rush, though. They’re sailors, after all. First, I had some rice with Pahoo, and talked to the harbormaster to get a slip on the dock with power.

12:00 pm – By now, the sailors worked out which truck to take, and who was going, and I was touched to hear that one of them even stopped drinking a couple of hours ago to drive.

They all remembered Heinz, from when he sailed 4 years ago. And they remembered Der Kiel.

“You bought a good boat.” She raced here, taking first place on more than one occasion. And she’s a swing keel, which means she has a remarkably shallow draft–which means she sits high up on the water, and that, with the drought and the lake’s dropping water level, I might soon be one of the few boats that can even get out of the harbor.

Which means I’ve got a lot of friends out here.

1:00 pm – I squished myself into the middle seat of a 1988 stick shift pick-up truck between two briney old sailors. “Let’s go get you a boat,” one of them said, then punctuated it with, “Arr.”

1:30 pm – The old sailors had a reunion with Heinz, grinning and talking about the old days out on the lake. They gave the boat their own inspection, and made sure I had everything I needed, then pulled her out onto the road.

One of the guys glanced back at the house. “Aww, this is a sad day for old Heinz-y. He’ll cry, arr. He’ll cry tonight for sure. I cried when Papa sold our first sailboat…” His eyes grew distant, and he added a thoughtful “Arr.” Then he brightened and clapped my shoulder. “But she’s got a good home.”

The car port looked so empty now, and my heart twisted at leaving the old man here alone. I promised Heinz I’d take care of her, and insisted he come visit the marina once the boat is cleaned up.   If he’s up for it, I promised, I’d take him out on the lake.

As soon as I learned how.

3:00pm – We launched my boat, and between the two wooden paddles on board, and another sailor who helped tow me, we maneuvered her over to my docking slip.

We christened her by pouring Utah’s own Polygamy Porter on the bow.

And I now have a cozy little 21 foot Clipper sailboat.