Buying a Boat with my Father

The never-ending project that brought us closer together

“Stop moving around!” I shout. I am suspended in a bosun’s chair, as high as the main halyard can hoist me, about 30 feet above the deck. The sling-like chair has pockets for tools, which I filled with a few essentials. Dad stands on deck, spotting me, making sure the line holding me is securely fastened. Each time he takes even the smallest step, the boat sways, the masthead lurches a metre to one side and my stomach drops. I grip the mast tighter with my thighs, as though riding an airborne horse, and wait for the mast to steady.

I belayed the fear by focusing on the task at hand. Our windvane had recently detached from the top of the mast, luckily landing on deck instead of in the river. With a hand-winch and pulley, Dad hoisted me up to the top of the mast to survey the problem and unscrew the windvane holster so we could re-fasten the vane. Inch by inch, I crept up the mast, Dad’s laboured breathing audible all the while. The process was comically slow.


At the top, I awkwardly reached a wrench above my head and blindly unscrewed the bolt, removed the attachment, and then attempted to reinstall the windvane. The bolt wouldn’t go back in. After several failed attempts, it was evident the threaded hole was stripped, and the repair was impossible with the tools I had on hand. I called below to be let down the mast.


It was now a race against time—we had three days to ready the boat for our first big voyage. Since November, we had been tied up at Britannia Shipyards in Steveston, but our lease at the dock was about to run out. We only had until the end of the month to get the boat ready, and after that, she would be moored in a quiet cove in the Gulf Islands with no amenities.



Dad dreamt of owning a sailboat for as long as I can remember. He loves to tell the story of his first ever sailing trip. When he was 10, his father took him and his brother across the strait to circumnavigate Salt Spring Island in a small plywood sailboat. He frames this trip as one of his favourite childhood memories with his father.

“I still can’t believe dad took us on that trip,” he’ll marvel, after recounting the adventure. “A plywood sailboat with no electronic navigation or life jackets. Can you imagine?”


This epic childhood sailing adventure was certainly a formative experience for him. It sparked an interest in boats and eventually he built a career in the maritime industry, first working in the shop at Zodiac Hurricane, and ultimately designing rigid-hull inflatables for the company. Naturally, when he had a child of his own, he was eager to pass on his love of the sea.


I grew up in and around boats, spending summers zipping around the Gulf Islands in a small rigid-hull inflatable. We fished, set prawn traps, swam off the boat. I was just as enamored by the ocean as my dad. At 16, I spent eight months attending school aboard a traditional tall ship, sailing around the world. I learned the meaning of elbow grease and fell hopelessly in love with sailing. Throughout university, I spent my summers working on tall ships. The longer I worked on ships, the more I realized I wanted to own my own sailboat one day. I was happiest on the water, but desperately wanted to be a better sailor. All my experience on tall ships involved other people making the decisions, navigating, fixing the engine and so on. Why hadn’t I taken the time to learn everything I could when I was younger? I decided it wasn’t too late.


For a long time, dad and I exchanged links to sailboat listings. At first, it was just for fun, but the hobby evolved into something more serious. After two years of searching, we found her: a Haida 26 built by Mayhew and Strutt in Victoria, in 1968. In her time, the Haida 26 was known for being a robust little boat, capable of blue water sailing as well as coastal cruising. In their heyday, a handful of these boats even sailed around the world. We were nervous about buying such an old vessel, but she is a well-designed, sturdy cruiser in good shape, with beautiful teak rails, a comfortable cockpit, and a classic, cobalt blue hull. We eagerly signed the ownership papers and hull #9 was ours.

We moved her to her temporary home in Steveston where we were able to secure a short-term moorage at the historic Britannia Shipyards. She was a splash of colour against the grey and brown backdrop of the wintry river. We had only four months to get her cleaned up, cleared out and ready to sail across the Strait of Georgia.



The first thing to go wrong was the motor. Unfortunately, I am not mechanically minded, but I was determined to change that. I eventually realized that I what I lacked wasn’t mechanical knowledge, but confidence. Once I got the hang of starting our 9.9 Mercury, I began to feel better about my skills. We made sure to run her periodically before the big crossing, aiming to be proactive, rather than reactive, boat owners. One day I went down to the boat on my own, with the intention of checking on her and running the motor for a few minutes. It was December, and the boat was encased in ice where the river had partly frozen. I swept snow off the deck before climbing gingerly aboard. I did my usual rounds and then proceeded to start the Mercury. She made a kicking sound but didn’t roar to life. I tried again—nothing. I called Dad. I could feel him rolling his eyes over the phone as he slowly talked me through the steps.

“That’s exactly what I did,” I protested, my certainty ebbing.

It turned out the starter button was corroded, so we replaced it. The next time I went out to warm up the engine, again, she didn’t start. Was I cursed? I wondered, Or just incompetent? This time we pulled the motor out, had it completely serviced, and haven’t had trouble since. Knock on wood.

Initially when we bought the boat, each of us thought we were doing the other a favour. Dad believed I wouldn’t be able to swing it financially, nor did I have the knowledge and experience to buy a boat solo (this is true). I believed I was the one doing him a favour, because I knew how much he wanted a sailboat, and I also knew he wouldn’t make it happen on his own (this is also true). So, there we were, both selflessly pursuing our sailing dreams. The more time we spent together on the boat, the more I felt our relationship shift. It was the first time since becoming an adult that I no longer felt like I was the child and he, the parent. We were co-captains, equal partners in this venture.


Once the ice in the Fraser melted, and the temperature down at the river was bearable, we set to work. We wanted to keep her at anchor in a sheltered cove in the Southern Gulf Islands for the warmer months, close to friends and family who could keep an eye on her.


We spent several days, first making a checklist, then going through each item. Buying the boat, we inherited a huge amount of rigging and spares. We had to sort through and decide what was needed on the vessel, what we could store for future use and what we could get rid of. We combed through boxes of rags, bedding, rope, tools and tubes of (somewhat mysterious) goop.


I had been feeling guilty about the fact that Dad was going down to the boat much more frequently than I was, since I was working full time and he was retired. I realized my guilt was unnecessary when we headed down for a big workday and clean out. It turned out Dad’s visits to the boat were a lot more about chatting with passersby than working. While I sped through my to-do list, he happily wandered around, stopping periodically to check on nearby vessels and chat with their owners. In short, Dad progressed through the list at a much slower pace.

While he worked on the outside of the boat, I concentrated my efforts below deck. We made piles: discard, recycle, keep. Dad was keen to save a few of the cleaning tasks for next season, but I insisted we do it all. We scrubbed every inch of the boat we could reach, filling and refilling buckets, wiping down every surface, sweeping, vacuuming, power-washing, treating the wood. After several days of hard work, we were finally ready to set sail.

We departed Steveston early on a chilly spring morning, brimming with excitement. Dad insisted I steer her out of the harbour. He was eager to see me take charge, and equally eager to instruct me. Though I appreciated his encouragement, he needed frequent reminders to stop telling me what to do because, “I’ve got it, Dad.”

We motored along the river in the company of a few fishing boats who were heading out for their daily catch. As soon as we left Sandheads and entered the strait, the fog rolled in. We lost all concept of where we were. Dad took over steering, and I set the main sail and the jib, then turned navigator. Within what felt like minutes, the fog was so dense the land, the sea and the sky blended into one.

“Dad, south is that way,” I said, indicating he needed to change course. He was steering us eastward when we needed to be heading due south.

“Are you sure? I could swear we’re headed south.”

“Do you want to look at the chart yourself?”

He corrected course. Five minutes later, I had to prompt him to correct again. A Scotch mist had descended, and the fog was disorientating. Though the sails were up, we kept the motor chugging along. We were happy to be making six, sometimes seven knots, but we had a long way to go, and it was crucial we reach Active Pass before the tide turned.


There was still no land in sight. Occasionally, we spotted a dot in the distance—a cargo ship or fishing vessel, it was hard to tell—but mostly, we were completely alone, the fog thick and quiet. We were entirely reliant on our instruments and navigation equipment as our instincts had proven useless.

Then it began raining harder. We were already damp and chilled from the fog, but the rain made it worse. Despite layers of wool and waterproofing, our teeth chattered.

“Why don’t you grab the thermos?” Dad said. “I made hot chocolate.” I grinned with delight, suddenly feeling six years old again.

I slid down the companionway and reached for the cooler, rifling through the contents until I felt the familiar shape of Dad’s old Stanley thermos. Pouring the hot chocolate was challenging, given the swaying of the boat in the somewhat choppy strait. The hot liquid warmed us up from the inside. I poured myself a second, then a third, just so I could hold the warm cup in my hands.

We kept our eyes glued to the horizon, on the lookout for Gossip Island, which supposedly was directly ahead. It wasn’t until we were almost upon its coastline that the island’s shape emerged out of the fog. We sailed around Gossip and stayed close to the coast of Galiano Island through Active Pass.

Once in the pass, the fog turned to a fine mist, and we had a better view of our surroundings. It was a classic, wet, west coast day. The weather steadily dampened. Despite the hot cocoa, we felt chilled to the bone. We hugged the coast of Mayne Island through Navy Channel, pointing out hidden beaches, breathtaking walls of sandstone and bald eagles poised on the gnarly branches of Garry Oak trees. I was elated. I couldn’t believe we were finally sailing our own boat in the Gulf Islands.

We had been motor-sailing for five hours, when at last, the wind died. We took in sails and chugged along for the last leg of the journey. Stiff and shivering, relief washed over us as we finally tied up to our mooring buoy. Later, I overheard dad telling a friend: “It was one of the best days of my life.” I felt the same.


Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about boating from my dad. It turns out I had been paying more attention than I thought. Every trip on the boat gets a little easier. We spent last summer day-sailing, anchoring for family picnics and we even took off for a few days, just the two of us, to explore a few nearby anchorages. We visited Saturna, Galiano, Wallace, Thetis, Prevost and Salt Spring. Each new anchorage brought new adventure.

I thought Dad and I would drift apart as I got older, but buying this boat has given us an excuse to spend more time together. We constantly have projects to work on and routes to plan. When we encounter a problem, we work through it, the two of us. How do we fix the engine cover? How can we stop the hatch from leaking? How should we prevent our mooring lines from chaffing? We talk, we troubleshoot, we figure it out. Whether he will ever stop lecturing me, and whether I will ever fully listen remains to be seen. In the meantime, we are together, on the boat, every chance we get.