Benjamin Edward – A 1978 Union 36 Review

Flying down to Florida on a moment’s notice was a new thing for me, and, as you might imagine, it was incredibly hectic.  The morning after making the decision to go, I awoke long before daylight and headed out on the three hour drive to O’Hare.  Fortunately, everything went smoothly, and I finally landed in Fort Myers airport just as the sun was setting.  After getting a rental car, I drove to my folks’ place about an hour north.  Before getting to bed fairly early, my Mom made me crab cakes, and we played some cards.

The next morning I got on the road for what I thought was a three-hour drive across the state to Jensen Beach.  However, it turned out that though it is under three hours to Fort Pierce, just across the water from Jensen, it would take nearly three and half hours to get out to the marina on the small barrier island.  When I finally got there, Joe was waiting for me, and we walked out on the docks to the Union 36 with a stiff breeze blowing.

At that moment, I was a little nervous.  I was about to step aboard a boat that I was really excited about.  But it was also a boat that Margaret had some serious reservations about.  I knew that I had to try to see the boat through her eyes – especially in regards to size and aesthetic issues – as well as do my own regular assessment.  Moreover, I would have to take pictures that accurately represented not just the boat’s condition, but also its size.  It was a tall order for someone who does not use a camera and could be happy living in a coffin, as long as it was afloat.

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Upon walking up to the boat, it was immediately clear that people were living aboard.  Jerry jugs were stacked on the cabintop, and the dinghy was stored on the bow; the hatches were open, and the cockpit seats were all out.  While most of the boats we had looked at previously had a lot of gear aboard, this boat was in a different, much more full, even crowded, state.

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Stepping aboard, it was immediately clear that there were a host of minor – or maybe major from Margaret’s perspective? – issues with the boat.  The paint was chipping on the mast and hull above the waterline.  Additionally, the decks had some staining and looked like they could use – purely for cosmetic reasons – a good Awlgripping.  Someone had also done a sloppy job of bedding some of the deck hardware, with excess caulking visible around the edges and oozing out of screws.  It also appeared that the main hatch was leaking, as the owner had plastic covering it.

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Despite these issues, there were a lot of positive things about the boat.  The anchor and rode were in good shape, though the chain probably would need regalvanizing.  The winches turned smoothly and appeared more than adequate.  Looking in the lazarettes, the wiring, hoses, and manual bilge all looked to be relatively new and/or in good shape.  The binnacle compass was also nice and clear, unlike so many other boats we had inspected.

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Going below, many more cosmetic issues stood out, none of which was helped by the the fact the owners were living aboard with all their stuff.  Cabin lights had been replaced with new fixtures, but the old holes had been left empty in the teak headliner.  Wiring – nice, new wiring – was visible along the hull above the nav station and into the quarterberth because some teak cabinetry was missing.  The cabinet under the sink was missing its door, and a curtain stood in its stead.  Similarly, the door to the head was not on the boat.

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While the systems seemed quite good, there were a couple issues that gave me a little pause.  For instance, one of the handles for one of the floorboards was off, making it extremely difficult to access that part of the bilge; it concerned me that someone would not see complete bilge access as a priority.  Similarly, the engine was a 2004 and seemed to be in great shape, but was covered in dirt and grime, indicating a lack of tender loving care.

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In terms of size, I imagined Margaret would approve.  Despite the cabinets above the galley sink, the cabin felt quite large, bigger than similar sized vessels.  It measured seven and a half feet across at the cabintop, and had another foot or so more below that on each side.  There was also 75″ of standing headroom.  The starboard settee, which we worried might be too small for me to sleep on, was likewise enormous.  The v-berth did present a problem related to size though.  While it was surely large enough, it did not have an overhead hatch.  Looking on the deck, it seemed that a hatch could definitely be installed.  In the meantime, the berth had a coffin-like feel, which I was hardly bothered by except for the fact that I knew Margaret would not approve.

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All-in-all, the boat did not surprise me, but I was still disappointed.  The systems were, on the whole and as expected, in fine shape.  And, the rigging, engine, and sails all were relatively new.  Coming in, I had hoped the rest of the boat would be in similar repair, but I also figured there was probably some reason the boat was priced so low.  While I was not completely discounting the possibility, I knew that it was unlikely this was the boat we would be buying.  I actually think she represents a great bargain for someone who is willing to put in the work – which we are – and enjoys woodworking – which we do not (nor are we all that skilled at it).

The back story to the boat explains much about its condition.  She had been in rough shape about ten years ago when a couple bought her and put a lot of money into upgrading the important things, hence the new engine, rigging, wiring, etc.  They ended up selling it about five years ago when they traded up to a larger boat.  The new owner has been occasionally living aboard, though spending the bulk of his time in Canada, leaving her on the hard.  So, it seems that the previous owners had begun the process of resurrecting the boat, and had actually accomplished the most important tasks, before selling her to someone who has just not had the time or inclination to totally bring her back.  Now, the owners are looking to get rid of her quickly, so I think she could be had for well below the already low list price.

As I drove away headed for Indiantown – Joe had another boat he wanted to show me – I really hoped someone would complete the refit.  The boat has so much potential, and I am sure she could make someone very happy.

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