Buying our First Boat, Sailing Home and Importing the Boat into Canada

We had been thinking of buying a boat for a while. After our first sailing experience together in Cancun, Mexico on the little Hobie Cat we were hooked. We got additional experience doing dinghy sailing lessons through the UBC Sailing Club and did the CYA Basic Cruising Course on a keelboat where we lived aboard for a week. I also took the Boating Course through the Canadian Power & Sail Squadron (Port Moody), which really helped with my coastal navigation skills and boosted up my confidence since I didn’t have Steve to rely on during the course.

Steve scoured Craiglist and Yachtworld for boats that would be right for us. We didn’t want too much of a fixer-upper. Since we’d never had a boat before and had a toddler and a baby on the way, we wanted to be able to just go out and sail with no major refits on the horizon. We had heard that the Catalina 27 was a good starter boat, so that narrowed the field for us. Our price range ($5,000-$10,000) also narrowed the field down to about the 1970’s.

We went to see one Catalina 27 moored in Vancouver under the Burrard Bridge. It was listed for $5,000 CAD – very basic and very old. It hadn’t had much updating since the day it left the manufacturer. It had been owned by a group of people, which in my limited experience at the time, led me to believe it was not well maintained. It was a bit disappointing, but we knew we had a few other options.

Steve arranged for us to go down to Bainbridge Island, just a quick ferry ride across Puget Sound from Seattle to look at another Catalina 27 (and for those who know Jamie and Behan Gifford of s/v Totem, it is their home port). When we got there, the boat was sparkling clean, and smelled like lemon scented cleaner. I was ecstatic! Little did I know, the lemon scent was covering up a smell that would plague us for the next few years. We took the boat for a sea trial and the engine was reliable and passed Steve’s inspection. It had a gas engine (Atomic 4), which we now know is fairly unusual, as most marine engines are diesel (apparently). The boat was owned by an older couple who were moving back east to spend time with their children and grandchildren. They were leaving everything with the boat (e.g., dinghy, winter cover, fenders, first-aid kit, tools, etc.), which was great for us since we were just starting out. Listed at $10,500 US, it was a bit more expensive then the other boat we had looked at. However, it had a number of benefits going for it, including:

  • Inboard Engine
  • Dinghy w/ 4 hp outboard
  • Furling Head sail vs hanks
  • 3 Extra sails (the 120% Genoa was practically new)
  • Marine head with holding tank vs porta-potty
  • Stereo system
  • Working VHF and Depth Sounder
  • New Sail and Winter Covers
  • Plus some of the wood trim had dry rot on the other boat. Only cosmetic as far as I could tell but a little concerning

We were thrilled to own our first sailboat. The funny thing about it was that the owners had though the boat was called Laniki, but clearly, on the stern of the boat was her name, Lanikai, named after a beautiful Hawaiian beach. We didn’t know the real name of our own boat until after we bought her!

Lanikai on the day we bought her
Lanikai on the day we bought her

A few exciting and sleepless weeks later, we took a certified cheque down and a bunch of gear across the border, picked up some provisions and got ready to take Lanikai back up to Vancouver. We left our 2 year-old daughter with my parents for the long-weekend. We had arranged for moorage at Reed Point Marina in the Burrard Inlet close to our home in Burnaby, BC, and we estimated it would be a three-day trip. We bid my parents adieu after they helped us load up the boat and they took our daughter to the Seattle Zoo (which is a great zoo, by the way!)

Day 1

Our first day, the plan was to travel from Bainbridge Island to Port Townsend, a 37 nautical miles trek. As we motored Lanikai away from the dock and into Puget Sound, Steve looked at the rigging to figure out how to raise the sails. Apparently, this elderly couple didn’t actually sail the boat, since the rigging was not set up to even raise the main halyard! We left at 10 in the morning and after Steve sorted out the rigging we were able to raise the sails. We had a good headwind and were fighting a current of about 3-4 knots. We had fun tacking back and forth up the sound, but started to get concerned that we hadn’t made much headway. We had sailed for about 7 hours, and had sailed maybe 30 nm total, but had only made about 20 nm of headway. At that point we decided to drop the sails and motor the rest of the way. Steve had been watching the tides and currents and we would have a slack tide timed right for a transit through the Port Townsend Canal. We were both a bit worried about the bridge that ran across the canal that gave 58 ft of vertical clearance. We were told by the previous owner that the mast height was 42 feet, so we should have had a lot of clearance. But, since Steve and I were both newbies, we were still concerned. After we came through the canal, the color returned to our faces, and we motored into the Port Townsend Marina at about 8:30 pm. It had been a long day! Lanikai was not set up with auto-pilot, so we had been taking turns helming for 10.5 hours!

Me at the helm on Day 1, just a few months pregnant with our second baby
Me at the helm on Day 1, just a few months pregnant with our second baby

Day 2

The next day, our plan was to sail out from Admiralty Inlet into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, up Rosario Strait to Echo Bay on Sucia Island to anchor for the night. It was about a 49 nm trip. Given the difficulty we had making headway the day before, we were a little concerned about making it that far in one day. I remember making phone calls to my parents to let them know that they may have to keep our daughter for an extra day. We were also pretty scared about going out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca (aka the Strait of Wanna Puka), because it had an unlimited fetch from the Pacific and could be incredibly rough.

The day was clear and calm and the current was on our side for most of our journey. There was no wind to speak of so we motored up Rosario Strait and enjoyed the scenery. We were keeping our eyes on some strange, large boats, with a ton of people on them. It seemed like all the people were staring at us. We were a bit confused, but didn’t really think anything of it and motored on. All of a sudden a US Coastguard runabout boat pulled up beside us and they passed a booklet to us on a fishing rod-type thing about whale watching rules . It turned out that we were within the 200 yard no-go zone right in the path of some whales who were swimming south down the Rosario Strait. Those boats with all the people staring at us were whale-watching tours! We were humiliated because we would never dream of putting whales in danger with our engine. We learned a good lesson, though, and now we know what whale-watching boats look like, and to steer well-clear of them.

We managed to make great way and decided to skip anchoring at Sucia Island and cross the Georgia Strait to Point Roberts. We would still be in the US so we wouldn’t have to take the boat through customs until the next day. We arrived in Point Roberts that evening and enjoyed a quiet night at the Marina. Since we weren’t familiar with Lanikai’s ground tackle, we were both relieved that we found an open spot at the Marina for the night. We had called earlier in the day to ensure they had a spot for us before we decided to cross the Strait.

Iconic Port Townsend lighthouse in the morning of Day 2
Iconic Port Townsend lighthouse in the morning of Day 2

Day 3

The next day, our plan was to sail from Point Roberts, up the west coast of Richmond and Vancouver along Sturgeon Banks into English Bay to take the boat through Customs at the public dock in Coal Harbour. We looked out into the Georgia Strait from Point Roberts and saw wind and waves like we’ve never experienced. Steve didn’t seem too concerned about it, so we ventured out into the Strait. It was pretty rough, and once we passed the Tsawassen Ferry Terminal and managed to steer clear of the ferries (I am really paranoid about the gigantic, fast-moving ferries and freighters in Vancouver!), the waves really started to pick up. We were close-hauled and had 3-4 foot waves, so it was really uncomfortable in our little, rolly boat. Steve encouraged me to take the helm to ease my anxiety. I was glad to have a hand on the tiller just to have something to hang onto! In the meantime, our head had overflowed so Steve had to go below and deal with the full head that the previous owners had left us (thank you…not!). Steve has an iron stomach compared to me…I can’t imagine a worse job (neither can he, but at least he didn’t make it a bigger mess to clean up!). In any case, we had to toss out the carpet that was previously on the cabin sole, even after soaking and washing it after our trip.

Steve at the helm before the big waves picked up on Day 3
Steve at the helm before the big waves picked up on Day 3

We rolled up to the Coal Harbour public dock around 2:30 in the afternoon. We had done our research on importing a boat into Canada from the US and knew not to call Customs until we were actually landed and secured on the dock. We had to stay on our boat until the Customs officers arrived. We were amazed that it only took 15 minutes for them to arrive. It was a sunny day so they were probably eager to go outside for a stroll. They looked through our paperwork and gave the boat a quick inspection. We had to toss out some of the produce that we’d brought up from the US and not eaten, but other than that we cleared with no hiccups. We had to pay an additional $1,100 in taxes to import Lanikai into Canada, but that was expected. We had gone slightly over our $10,000 budget for the boat and import costs, but we were happy with her. She brought us safely home and within our 3-day time frame.

We still had to make our way to our new slip at Reed Point Marina, another 1.5 hours up the Burrard Inlet, but we were happy to be home.


2 thoughts on “Buying our First Boat, Sailing Home and Importing the Boat into Canada

  1. Sounds like quite the adventure. Having to familiarize yourselves with the a new sail boat and charting waters you haven’t sailed before.


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