First Time Buyer

by Lee Wilbur

First time he called, voice was a bit tentative. We, uh, we would like to buy a boat from you and uh, it’s our first boat of this size.” Friendly voice.

Now, in the custom boat business no matter how busy the shop is or how many orders are ahead there’s always a slot on the production schedule that needs to be filled. Anyone in the business knew that another downtime would be coming and the only question was the unknown date. But, as I’d learned from experience first-time buyers could be a handful. Had to be handled just so.

Some knew just enough to be dangerous. Others with “friends” would often have such pre-conceived ideas that it sometimes would be nigh impossible to get back on track. The others would want to load up with every gadget in the Boat magazines and later wind up with a maintanence nightmare. Always tried to tell all our clients, “Start simple with only what you need. Just about everything else can be added later”

So, a niggle of caution crossed my mind during the conversation as I asked the usual questions of “How did you find out about us? What sort of experience do you have? Where will you be doing most of your boating? Cruising or day use? How many sleeping accommodations? Speed and range? Etc.

We finally got down to a date he and his wife could come up to Maine and see the shop and hopefully, as in all cases, get down to business. They wanted to go for a ride on two different sizes and see a few layouts. Fairly standard procedure.

Weekday they had decided to come up it was blowing like stink and raining to boot. But they were game, togged out in foul weather gear and excited. Decided to start with the larger model, thinking we’d get a better ride with the weather conditions and be roomier inside.

Shouldn’t have left the dock. No more than cleared the harbor and headed out the Western way than we had spray coming over the pilot house. Rain was beating down, windshield wipers had already lost ground and everyone was holding on. The wife's face was quickly losing any sign of sparkle as I turned around and headed for the lee behind Greenings Island. Still raining hard but the wipers had a chance to catch up and there was time for conversation. I let the husband take the wheel while I chatted the situation down a bit by talking of layouts (this one had more than they needed), equipment, noise (quiet as possible), and began to work our way back to the dock.

When asked if they’d like to try the next size down, they allowed probably it would be best to come back another day but would like to look at some plans and boats on the line. The question in this case is always whether they’re trying to be polite and let us down gently or still interested. Either way a builder has to waltz the music.

Couple months go by, we maybe talk once, and the phone rings. “We’d like to come up next week if it’s possible and go for another ride. Hopefully the weather will be better.”

The weather was much better.

“Oh,” the wife says, “This is so much nicer. And much dryer too. I like this one.”

We get back in and they wanted to think it over some more, but could we look at some more plans. I take out every set of layouts we have and lay them on the table. We spend the rest of that day and a good part of the next going over each and every drawing in what seemed like minute detail. I’d explain why or why not various combinations would work. Answered uncounted general questions about boating as well. After awhile eyeglaze begins to set in.

Three months later when I had pretty well written the chapter off as another hull knocker, I get “the phone call.” “We’d like to come up and order a boat. Would you have a few days to spend with us.”

Now by this time I generally would have a pretty reasonable idea of what a perspective client is looking for and can wrap up the specifications in a good day's time. I could feel the two or three days coming on. And it was. We looked at all the plans again. Finally arrive at the size and basic idea for the layout. It’s now becoming quite clear that the wife has had something to do with interior design and houses. We spend a like to be forgotten two hours on the head door and how it should swing. There being only one possible conceivable way it could swing in the 50-odd boats we’d done with this layout.

“Could we have two doors, one into the shower, the other into the head?”

“No, not enough room for two doors. They'll run into each other. Besides the head door has to swing out. Otherwise, you can’t get in and still close the door. Two doors will just get in the way. Won’t be able to put in the vee berth filler piece so you can sleep together.” And on and on and on. I honestly thought this would be the final stroke. It wasn’t. Two days became three. Questions on the line from the crew were left hanging till the next mornings. They decide to stay one more day and set a new deliberation record. The 62s we built were covered in less than half this time.

Finally we come down to the specifications. Not complicated. Just specific. Lots of teak, lots of brass, custom made pounded brass galley sink, precise measurements for the drawers for inserts, no bridge, imported windlass, special materials, lots of pillows and the list went on. Now the process would turn to fun. I liked different and details and custom. Just sometimes was easier dealing with experienced owners who knew exactly what they wanted and why.

We built the boat. It was gorgeous. A bit heavy with all the teak, but it turned heads and we were all proud of her. The next year we built another the same size for their best friends and the process was virtually the same. And to think, I could have remained a school principal and dealt with only 250 problems.

As I promised this summer, this is an old time pumpkin pie recipe from the American Heritage Cookbook which I find to be a real treasure trove.... Just in time for Thanksgiving.



Pastry for a one crust pie

1/2 t. salt
2 cups cooked pumpkin(fresh, canned or frozen)
3/4 C. milk
2/3 C brown sugar packed 2 eggs well beaten
2 t. cinnamon 1 C. heavy cream
1/2 t. ginger 1/4 C. Brandy

Combine pumpkin, sugar, spices, and salt in mixing bowl. Beat in milk, eggs, cream, and brandy with a rotary beater or elec. Mixer. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Bake in preheated 325 deg. Oven for 1 hr. or until a knife inserted in center comes out dry. Cool. Serve plain or with cheddar cheese or with whipped cream mixed with ginger.(Use 1C. Heavy cream and 2 T. chopped crystallized ginger). I’m going for the whipped cream. What the hey, Turkey Day only comes once a year.

Have a great Thanksgiving!!!


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