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Stepping Out, Spencer Saraband, 2389

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This is the story of our purchase and ownership of Stepping Out.  It may take some time, will have twists and turns, could move beyond a PG rating from time to time, and will no doubt have real sailors and hardened people of the sea laughing at the incompetence and naivety of beginners.

The story is only a year and a bit old at this stage.  Who knows how long it will run for.  Time will tell.  It will be episodic - drop in for a giggle when you need to feel better about something that has gone wrong, because my story will be either dumber or more expensive than yours.

At the top lets give the simple facts.  Stepping Out is a Spencer Saraband, built in 1974, launched around that year according to folklore and scant history.  At some stage a number of semi-structural changes were made including a walk-through transom, and an enlarged anchor locker, but inside she is pure 1970s John Spencer.  You can smell the gin. 

She now lives in the Wairoa River, Clevedon.  We like her very much not because she is fast, or comfortable, or easy on the eye, or envied, but because she is fun, and takes us on adventures.

Why a keeler?

I don't know if anyone remembers, but in January 2020, the world started to get a bit strange.  It was already an odd place, but in mid January the Chinese government seemed to be struggling with a flu epidemic that wasn't normal.  The rest, as they say, is history.

I work in the airline industry.  It was increasingly obvious that travel was going to be a problem.  We have been snowboarding overseas for summer holidays for the last few years, and it was my guess by March 2020 that this was not going to happen in 2020, probably not in 2021, and my personal guess was it wouldn't happen until at least 2023.

This left us with an annual summer holiday budget that needed reallocating.

Mrs Aaardvark comes from a family with impeccable sailing credentials.  Squadron-bred, races from Auckland to exotic Pacific locations, family holidays cruising New Zealand etc.  She has crewed deliveries on the East Coast of the USA, sailed in a Fastnet (yes THAT Fastnet, Drum etc...)...  You get the picture. 

I meanwhile can claim to once having sailed a P Class yacht along Pilot Bay in Mount Maunganui.

Mrs A had been wanting a keeler for a while.  I was reluctant.  They are (and I can now confirm) a money hole.  Plus, I don't like being cold and wet, or having my drink spill because the transport is designed to lean as a normal part of its function.

None-the-less, we found ourselves on a pier at Westhaven looking at a Spencer Saraband.  It was the week before the first NZ level 4 lockdown, but we didn't know that then.  There were LOTS of things I didn't know then.


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...and why a Spencer?

Why not?

The choice of a Spencer was part happenstance, part a convergence of prejudice's and prior experience.

Mrs Aardvark's family history was all aboard Spencers - 28, the 35, then 45 footers.  Her Da' was a firm believer in JS's designs and probably would have gone on to commissioning a 65 had the dreaded Big C not intervened and buggered up proceedings.  I understand his coffin was a narrow plywood box, but that may be apochryphal. 

I like timber as a material.  In my estimation, plastics are fine for enhancements, but the core of an item should be a material that has tradition and can show the marks of human interaction.  So for me, any craft would probably be timber construction be that strips of cedar, lengths of kauri, or sheets of marine grade ply.

The choice had to have some performance aspirations.  Without disparraging the design, a Raven wasn't going to cut it for Mrs A, although I would have been very happy (and perhaps would be in future) with a 31' example of that brand.

Steel presented too many challenges in ensuring integrity without vast expenditure.

Concrete was definitely out. 

Price was an object.  We decided that we could justify up to the equal value of two ski trips, so that set the bar at the mid-20k mark.  Once you start knocking on hulls and peering into bilges, that figure limits your real choices.

And so we set about looking for a 28 - 32' older keeler with performance aspirations, ideally timber construction, as good as we can get for not a lot of cash.

Bingo - first week - we spot an ad for a Spencer Saraband. The advert images showed a dated but tidy yacht that seemed to tick most of our want list. It wasn't a skinny canoe design, it was the right length, it was a Spencer(!) it was local, and a bit of digging identified that it had been sitting unloved and un-noticed for near on a year at the ask of $23k.

All we had to do was negotiate the tender but conflicted cares of the Broker.


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The First Viewing, including a short treatise on how to Read Between the Broker's Lines

Brokers are interesting folk.  I once heard it said not necessarily in jest that if someone tells you they are a Real Estate Agent its probably just a face-saving way to tell you they are unemployed.  Brokers seem to be similar.

The vendor's broker approached us like we were long-lost old school friends meeting in a run-down and barely functional pub we used to frequent.  His eye told me he thought it was our round, and would be most of the evening.

He waxxed lyrical on the pleasures of his own yacht, the vague misfortunes of trying to keep a crew motivated for the Wednesday Night  racing out of PCC, and his long and successful career as a broker at one of the larger firms until he went out on his own to escape the corporate bullshit.

He was clearly acquainted with Stepping Out from a distance, but it seems not so much close up.  It took some rummaging and clattering to find the key to the companionway lock and several more minutes to get the key to do what keys are meant to when introduced to a lock.  Finally however, we gained access.  At least we had sufficient time to inspect above decks.

Down below, much to the broker's surprise, I lifted floorboards, squeezed down the quarter-berths head first, pulled the companionway steps out to take a look at the iron sail, lifted all the squabs and generally made a nuisance of myself.  

Everything was dry and clean.  Timber swarf that had dropped the bilge five or more years earlier when new fittings were mounted on the deck - dry.  Under the engine - dry.  Keel bolts and sole, dry.  The engine started, a little reluctantly but no untoward noises, knocks, rattles or farts.  Lights mostly worked, the radio squawked.  Stepping Out appeared to be half-asleep but functional and in control of her faculties.  Thee was a folder full of receipts of spending by the owner including a new furling headsail and furler, new electric anchor winch and fitting, standing rigging inspection and servicing.  Someone had been putting money into her and in general money = love.

We reassembled everything and sat in the cabin chewing it over.  It ticked most of our boxes.  What wasn't ideal, we could live with.

The broker did what brokers do when they are trying to just move on an item that wasn't going to return them a huge amount either way and they just want to move it on and get on with the next deal - he started talking down the price.

"Its been on the market for a year, I think you are the first people to look..."

"Its on another brokers books, but they have the price higher than I have and haven't had anyone look at it..."

"Its a nice boat, but everyone want 'glass these days *points at a Lotus 9.2 across the finger* do you want to look at that while you are here?"

"Is that the time??? Racing starts at 3.30 - I'd better be getting along!"

We went home, secure in the knowledge that the boat would work for us, appeared sound at first glance, and that no-one was expecting the deal to be done at the sticker price.



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I have a vague recollection of dealing to a bottle of rum in the saloon of that boat once, in the Bay of Islands. Possibly associated with BoI race week, some time ago. I've always had a sweat spot for Spencer's, they are almost as good as Birdsal's ;-)

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Negotiate Like a Champ

Ever bought a carpet in a Morroccan marketplace?  Haggled in Bangkok for a 3-hour cruise on a klong in a longtail boat?  Been harrassed to buy a leather jacket in a London street market?  If so, you are qualified to make an offer on a yacht.  Here's how it went.

So, there we were.  Thursday 19 March 2020.  Covid was threatening NZ, airline travel had gone through the floor.  No-one knew what was going on, and we had just looked at a yacht with a view to buying it.

We thought about it from the seller's point of view.  SO was sitting in a $600/mth marina berth, and had been for a year.  No-one had any idea what was going to happen and markets hate information vacuums - they tend to drop like a stone.  If we made an offer, we would be the first one presented for quite some time and likely the last for quite some time.

From our point of view, SO was the first yacht we had looked at.  She was ok, met the majority of our requirements, but wasn't the be-all and end-all for us.  We would have been happy enough to walk away.  Our budget had to allow for insurance, mooring and all the vagueries of new ownership you never think of.

So we made an insultingly low offer.  Less than 2/3 of the ask.  What the hell - they can only say no.

On Saturday, they said no and expressed, through the broker, their disappointment and hurt feelings.  They counteroffered by upping our offer by 15%.

On Sunday evening, our PM, the Blessed Lady of Eternal Fairy Dust, advised we would be in a restricted economy, actual level of restriction to be advised.

On Monday morning, we countered rejecting their offer, advising that our original offer would stand for 48 hours if they should reconsider, the world was going to hell in a handcart and employment of any sort was now uncertain, and we wished them well.

By 12pm Monday we had a signed deal at our original offer price, subject to survey and sea trial.

Timing is everything.  


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Surveys and Sea Trials in a Level 4 Lockdown

You can't. 

Wait seven weeks until the end of the Level 3, then you can. 

During that time, be very thankful the seller is paying for the marina berth.

Whats to say?  The survey happened on the floating dock at Westhaven, that was interesting for a newbie.  A man with a little hammer beat out a rhythmic tattoo up, down, and across the hull once the dock guys had finished blasting 12 months of Westhaven Weed away.

Rudders were wiggled and pulled; prop shafts were shoved laterally and longitudinally while the vendor installed a new anode to replace the 2/3 corroded one on the shaft;  skin fittings were eyed with caution, scraped, poked and ultimately declared fit; antifouling was scowled at and its condition commented on in disapproving tones.

Up top, bits of aluminium and stainless wire that go skyward were twanged and clunked and found to be secure and functional.  Vast expanses of deck and cabin top were subjected to the Magic Hammer Test.  Floorboards were removed again, keelbolts were eyed critically.  The aftermarket anchor well had particular attention paid to it on account of the work having been done several years earlier by the surveyor.

We took this as a positive as it meant he would probably have a good longitudinal understanding of the boat.  Turned out, he did.  This was the third survey he had done on SO in 13 years.  Which begs the question, why did it take almost 2 weeks to finally receive the hand-written report???

We eventually drifted off the dock for a lazy 40 minute harbour circle putting sails up and down, starting and stopping engines and generally doing stuff I had no idea about to assess abilities that I had no concept of.

We returned to the pier, shook hands and set up a date to formally hand over on the basis of the surveyor's verbal confirmation of condition and caveats (including the antifouling and a hairline split through one ply of the cabin roof).

We now owned a boat.

At the start of winter, in the biggest global health crisis the world had seen.


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Navigation Marks, GPS and the Wisdom of Wives

The Wairoa River is a narrow muddy creek filled with cow piss and estuary water.  It meanders its way from the bottom of the Hunua Hills, past Clevedon and onward to the sea picking up mud, cowshit, and a not entirely savoury smell as it goes.  The river squeezes out, like molten toothpaste in the words of Neil Finn, pushing through a typical inner harbour mud and sand bar before finally relaxing and fanning out into the Waitemata.

It would be SO's home at Brooklands Boating Club about 1.5km from the river mouth.  Hell of a change for a yacht used to being coddled in the inner city luxury of Westhaven alongside all the other luvvies.  And so it was on a bright early winter day that Mrs Aardvark, the Aardvark's brother (henceforth referred to as "bro") and the Aardvark's sister outlaw (henceforth referred to as "sol") and I arrived at Westhaven for the delivery voyage.

We figured four to five hours at worst, getting to the river to meet the start of a falling tide (first error).

It was a windless day and so we motored pleasantly making reasonable time after a later start than we anticipated (error 2).  Bro and SOL are part owners of a Raven 26 which was part of the reason we ended up as yachties, so time was passed with them exploring SO and exclaiming loudly and with envious looks about the value they saw and the life-changing difference that 2 additional metres in length makes.

They are currently (as at mid-2021) in the market for something  Lotus 9.2-ish to replace the Raven.  PM me if you have a proposition.  

Eventually we rounded Whakakaiwhara Point at the end of Duders Regional Park, and lined up on the poles marking the VERY narrow river channel.  I don't recall the exact time and tide, but if you think of high tide as being 1.30pm, it was around 3.00pm as we entered the channel.

We found the depth sounder wasn't working (error 3) but carried on, secure in the knowledge that bigger stuff than SO had made it up there, as the actress said to the bishop.

There are 15 poles on the approach, a straight line from the Waitemata running about east-west, then a curve to a more southerly heading into the river itself.  The river mouth is marked by what I now recognise as channel marker poles.  But in the shallow light and in the ignorance of a landlubber, I took them for ski lane markers.

"Avoid them" I instructed Mrs A the helmstress, "its a ski lane so must be shallow - the channel must by to the west of them."  I was firm and bold, as any decent skipper should be.

"f*ck off" she replied, rattling my composure somewhat.  "The channel is straight between them."

"Nonsense," I replied waving a phone with GPS at her. "this reliable device (error 4) clearly shows the channel is 50m to our west.  I demand you change course (error 5)."

"Dickhead" she replied in a hurtful tone, although the content of the statement was prescient.  And with that, she turned SO's bow west, just in time for us to run firmly onto mud on a falling tide.

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36 minutes ago, aardvarkash10 said:

Thanks Lateral.  I'm here to entertain in this thread.  Hopefully some learnings to take away as well.

Dont worry we use to be up there too,but right up clevedon boat club. Spent a Saturday night on the side at the entrance.Yeah Yeah you will make it.Bloody launches and shallow draft.

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1 minute ago, harrytom said:

Dont worry we use to be up there too,but right up clevedon boat club. Spent a Saturday night on the side at the entrance.Yeah Yeah you will make it.Bloody launches and shallow draft.

Don't knock launches.  Two of them attempted to tow us off that afternoon.  Brave but ultimately fruitless attempts.

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2 minutes ago, aardvarkash10 said:

Don't knock launches.  Two of them attempted to tow us off that afternoon.  Brave but ultimately fruitless attempts.

I knew the owners,we were having rums before we set off🤣

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And for those looking on enviously, sistership Lynx is for sale in Tauranga. Also well priced.

Had a couple of very good owners over the years. People might even remember Dr Dave Cochrane before he went to the dark side and built the tri Dragon.

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8 minutes ago, Jono G said:

And for those looking on enviously, sistership Lynx is for sale in Tauranga. Also well priced.

Had a couple of very good owners over the years. People might even remember Dr Dave Cochrane before he went to the dark side and built the tri Dragon.

Been trying to talk Bro into that one for the last few weeks.  Great looking unit and very obviously loved.  A steal at the ask imho.

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On 12/06/2021 at 5:50 PM, aardvarkash10 said:

Navigation Marks, GPS and the Wisdom of Wives

The Wairoa River is a narrow muddy creek filled with cow piss and estuary water.  It meanders its way from the bottom of the Hunua Hills, past Clevedon and onward to the sea picking up mud, cowshit, and a not entirely savoury smell as it goes. 

and is the habitat of copious swarms of swallows just waiting for a new addition to the club to provide yet another place to roost and sh*t...

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The Recovery Position

I later learnt that one of the things we did that evening was kedging.  This was interesting, because I could do it without knowing what it was called, and it turns out I did it pretty bloody well.

It was probably the only thing I did well that night.

As SO slowly listed on the falling tide, we tried all the stuff you see or hear about.  We gathered at the bow and tried bouncing the hull with the engine in full reverse.  Hilarious, but useless.

Bro and I swung the boom toward the now-correctly-identified channel and climbed out to the end of it.  No reaction.  We attached a sheet to the halyard, tied it off to the dinghy, and pulled with all the might that 2.2hp can muster.  Pointless.  We tried both at once - nada.

Mrs A rolled her eyes, but I didn't notice - I was avoiding looking her way at all.

- History Lesson - Mrs A's Dad had a habit of nosing the yachts further and further upsteam when exploring coastal areas.  He had a long and proud history of groundings, and so Mrs A took it as just a normal part of the aquatic experience.  This she told me later, not at the time.  It would have saved me a lot of grovelling had she told me earlier.

At about 10 degrees of list, we gave up.  Bro, SOL and I piled into the dinghy and abandoned SO and Mrs A.  We motored up to the Brooklands jetty - a distance and route we had no idea of, so were happy to find shorter and easier than anticipated. 

I dropped Bro and SOL back to Westhaven, returned to Papakura for pizza and wine (I'm not a complete fool - turning up empty-handed would be tantamount to suicide) and went back to the jetty.  It was around 7pm, dark, a wind had got up and it was cool.  Perfect weather for dropping your cellphone into the river having stupidly balanced it on the pizza box.

So I did.  Fcuking perfect. 

I returned to SO and Mrs A with cold pizza, warm wine and no phone.  The pizza wasn't the only cold thing on SO that evening. 

In an effort to appear mildly useful, I suggested we should run an anchor out to the channel so we could pull against it if required and to make sure we didn't drift further onto the mud as the tide rose under us.  It turns out this is best practise - who'd have thought!  I managed to achieve this without losing anything.  I then slunk down below with a slice of cold pizza and a miserable plastic cup of wine.  Mrs A watched the stars.

At 11pm, SO moved, her keel finally free of the mud. We kedged back using a sheet winch.  Once we were in the channel, we slowly motored upstream by torchlight.  We had no idea where the actual channel was, but stuck to the outside of curves and the middle of the straight bits.

Just after midnight we arrived at our poles.  We had NEVER moored on poles before, let alone in a yacht that we had a total of 15 hours experience in, in a river flowing upstream, in the dark, and after 18 hours awake.  We had three attempts, going around each time we missed but finally got tied off.

Stepping Out was home. 

We retired below and slept.




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9 hours ago, Jono G said:

And for those looking on enviously, sistership Lynx is for sale in Tauranga. Also well priced.

Had a couple of very good owners over the years. People might even remember Dr Dave Cochrane before he went to the dark side and built the tri Dragon.

I have to report that Lynx has been neglected over the last few years as indicated in the listing - also, Jono, you could be losing your touch about it's former owner. Chris Cochrane (Dr.) owned Lynx and maybe Dr. Dave sails a 930 in Wgtn. or Dave Cochrane sails too

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