29 April 2016

Why Did You Buy Taleisin?

This week, I have something really special to share -- a guest post by Eben Bruyns, the new owner of Taleisin -- Lin and Larry Pardy's famous boat.

Eben and I met through my blog and discovered we have many things in common: a background in computer science, a love of wooden boats, and the sheer luck of having amazing partners. 

After hearing a bit of his story of buying Taleisin, I asked him if he'd be willing to tell it the very first guest post on the Unlikely Boatbuilder blog. I'm very happy to say he agreed.

So, without further ado, I will turn it over to Eben who answers the first question most people ask about his new adventure:

Why Did You Buy Taleisin?

A simple question, often asked. The answer is not quite as simple.

Buying a boat like Taleisin seems like a rather strange thing to do. If you read the forums on the Internet, you'll see that people said she's an old wooden boat with no engine, no market for something like that. So why did we buy her?

Good question!

To answer, we need to go back in time a little. When I was younger I used to always look at motor yachts -- they look sleek and are loaded with technology. I'm a computer programmer/hacker so it makes sense that I'm attracted to technology. Sailing is archaic and for old guys with lots of time, not to mention that it takes forever to get anywhere. I got caught up in the rat race, worked some horrible jobs over the years, got taken advantage of by a few companies, and eventually started consulting. This is when I really started to burn the candle at both ends. When you're working for yourself you usually have the worst boss in the world. However, during the early years working as a consultant we took a vacation in Fiji and the resort had a couple of Hobie Cat boats that we could sail. I absolutely loved it! I couldn't get enough of it. But we returned to the real world and that experience faded into a distant memory.

After a few more years I was "successful". We had the huge house, the huge mortgage, and the house was filled with a huge pile of stuff. At this point I started setting my sights on a yacht. I was browsing the Internet and stared lusting after 57 foot production boats. Bigger is always better...

So the researching started. I was fairly committed to a large yacht. I started consuming information on the Internet. I'm a compulsive researcher, some say it's a blessing, others say it's a curse. I spent hours looking into what makes a good yacht. I started looking at building boats. It didn't seem all that complicated and would certainly be a fun project. Annie put a halt to that pretty quickly when I started measuring the garage to see if I could fit it in there and get it out. I looked at small dinghy plans and at something larger that would be nice to spend a weekend on. If your mind works like mine, it won't be long before you're at the extreme end of the scale. If at this point you're thinking, "This guy is all over the place", you're right! My mind will make huge leaps and race off into all sorts of different directions. Most people get exhausted when they have a conversation with me (I'm working on being less intense). If you've done any research on boats, and boats that can cross oceans (I was surprised at how small blue water boats can be), it won't take you long before you come across Lin and Larry Pardey.

It wasn't long before I was reading the Pardey books. Something changed inside me when I saw the simplicity and what's achievable on a small budget. I started to have new found existential questions. Why am I on this treadmill? It wasn't long before I realised that bigger is not better. Doing more research on yachts, now of the Pardey variety, it wasn't long before I realised that Taleisin was for sale. I couldn't believe it. The next question on my mind was, "Where is she?" Kawau Island, New Zealand! Checking Google maps, it's close, very close. I fired off an email to the broker stating that I'm interested and would like to have a look, I have a million questions, but without looking at her we won't know if she's right for us.

Arguably, the most famous sailboat in the world -- Taleisin
I knew that Lin and Larry wouldn't just sell her to anybody, so I approached it very open and honest. We have hardly any sailing experience, would they sell their baby to a couple of green horns? The broker responded with a reply from Lin, in the email was a phone number and email on which I could reach Lin. Me being a little more old fashioned grabbed the phone and gave Lin a call. I can't recall the exact conversation, but Lin said something along the lines of, "So you're thinking about becoming a sailor?" We talked for a while and she was just fantastic. She gave me a lot of good advice, I stated open and honestly that we don't know if Taleisin is right for us, but we sure would love to come and see her to figure out if she just might be the boat for us.

Lin invited us to Kawau Island for lunch and a tour of the lovely Taleisin. We arranged a date that was well in advance. To put things into perspective, I had managed to get Annie to agree to go to the on-water boat show a few months earlier. When I did this I was only wanting to have a look. I wasn't very serious, but knew I wanted to get more serious about buying a yacht. The boat show was the weekend before we were supposed to go and see Lin and Larry.

At the boat show I dragged poor Annie through all the yachts. She wasn't very happy as she's not very comfortable around water. She was apprehensive getting on the boats and wouldn't even go up on the foredeck as it was too narrow for her liking. After the show we talked about the various boats we'd been on. She honestly couldn't tell them apart. Annie's comment was, "they were all the same." She didn't like them very much. I'm talking about production Jeanneau, Beneteau, Bavaria, and Hanse boats to name a few. We looked at boats starting at 37 foot and moving up to 57 foot. I learnt just how large a 57 foot yacht is (trust me, it's WAY too big for 2 people). The one thing all these boats had in common was their stability, or lack of it. They were bouncing a lot just in the marina.

I patiently waited till we managed to make our way to Kawau. On the way there I said to Annie, "Now remember, this is an older boat and nothing like the boats we've been looking at". I later found out that Annie was secretly thinking that we're about to look at a rotting old boat needing a lot of work.

If you were familiar with our relationship dynamics, you would know that Annie leaves me to do all the homework but retains veto power. This allows me to research to my hearts content, get the decision 99% of the way there, and then let Annie decide if it's is right (I get vetoed a lot). This is very important because if she lets me, I'll make a lot of snap decisions that would probably all be wrong. It's great to be able to make a decision and then have it verified. It's sort of a safety net. In many ways Annie is my sanity check; with a mind like mine it's easy to go down rabbit holes and forget that there's a top side.

Coming into the cove going past Taleisin I pointed her out to Annie, she smiled and said, "now that's a NICE boat". I knew I had a fighting chance here! Getting off the ferry we made our way up to what can only be described as a magnificent little house with magical surroundings. We met Lin and Larry, and they were super friendly. Then Lin said, "Right, lets go play boat".

Off to Taleisin we went! I was quite excited as I had looked at all the photos I could find online. I had even purchased the 5 DVD's that Lin and Larry made (well the digital versions anyway). I had of course not told Annie how much research I had put into this. In fact I had watched the videos twice by then already. So getting on board this little ship was a very exciting prospect, even though I had already spent a lot of virtual time "aboard".

The first thing I noticed was how comfortable Annie was as soon as she got on deck. She was wandering around very naturally. I quietly mentioned to Lin how this is a first: Annie is NOT comfortable on boats. I was probably grinning ear to ear. Lin took us down below.

My first thoughts were, "Holy crap she's small"! Then we sat down in the saloon and Lin started telling us more about her and showing us all the awesome little details they had put into her. The more I looked, the more I saw. It didn't take me long to fall in love with her. I think it went something like this: "Holy crap she's small! Look at the detail, she's awesome. I LOVE this boat, I MUST have her!" It was seconds or less for me to fall in love with Taleisin. This is not the way to buy a boat! I had been warned. Lin even writes about this in her books. However, my fate was sealed. Lin showed us many things, many things I already knew from doing my homework. I asked what I hoped were many good questions. Lin was quite happy to answer them all, and I'm sure they were coming out rapidly. I don't doubt that I asked follow up questions before Lin could even finish answering the first question (remember I'm very exhausting to be around at times - I'm working on this).

After I exhausted Lin we went back on land for lunch and Lin asked us more about ourselves. I explained our current situation and how we're wanting to change it. Life is over complicated, we want to simplify. Taleisin is awesome, she can teach us about cruising and simplicity. I was again very open and honest about everything. Lin then asked Annie how she felt about it, Annie is quite a bit more reserved about things than I am. Lin could tell that Annie was mulling things over and not as quick to fire as I am. At this point Lin said she would take us out for a sail on Taleisin, but we would have to go and learn the basics first.

We bid Lin and Larry farewell and got on the ferry to go home. We talked about it all the way home and even all night. I said to Annie, I really love that boat, I don't know how you feel about her. Annie told me that Taleisin certainly stood out from the crowd. She had character and was something special. Annie could actually remember details from Taleisin, but had no memory of the production boats we'd seen at the boat show. After some to and fro Annie said, well if you love the boat so much, why don't you buy her?

I arranged for sailing lessons as soon as we could fit them in. Annie is a high school teacher and her schedule is very hectic. While all of this was going on, Annie had managed to arrange for me to go on a day sail on Steinlarger 2--an 83 foot off shore racing ketch--as part of a group of teachers. The arrangements were made long before we even knew we were going to buy Taleisin. While out sailing on Steinlarger 2, I remember thinking how glad I was that we didn't buy a bigger boat!

So I started down the path of putting in an offer. I knew the normal procedure for doing this as I'd been reading a lot of information on the Internet. However, this was not a normal situation (things hardly ever seems to be normal when I'm involved). I called Lin up and said "I'd like to buy Taleisin, but we have a few complications we need to sort out first..." I did what could only be described as the world's worst job of negotiating a price. I asked Lin what she'd be willing to accept and that was my offer! To many people, this might seem like a silly strategy, but in my view, buying a boat like Taleisin is something very special. I knew that I wanted to have a good relationship with Lin and Larry, and I certainly did not want them to feel like I had driven a hard bargain. This process took place over a few weeks, I had to get some finances sorted and we decided to put our house on the market so we could pay for Taleisin. Selling your house to buy a boat might seem like a strange thing to do. But it felt right. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity that we could not allow to slip away. We had discussed this at length (even though I had already made my mind up within seconds of boarding Taleisin). After explaining the challenge ahead of myself to Lin (again probably not a very good strategy, but I believe in transparency and honesty), we came to an arrangement of a long settlement.

So after agreeing the whole deal with Lin, I put in an offer through the broker (remember how I said nothing is normal when I get involved). The whole process was rather straight forward since we'd already agreed on the terms. It was also very pleasant! The next step was to arrange the survey. I called around and asked many people who would be a good surveyor. Eventually someone told me Ray Beale is the best there is for this kind of boat. I called Ray up and arranged for him to come and survey Taleisin. I went out to Kawau to witness the survey. I arrived early so I could help Lin put Taleisin on the tidal grid (we had many phone conversations leading up to this).

Look at those lines... beautiful
After we put Taleisin on the tidal grid, I had to wait for Ray to arrive. Lin was kind enough to leave me to my own devices (maybe she was smart enough to know that I'd be firing a million questions her way if she was within earshot.) I was in and out of Taleisin, inspecting and investigating as much as I could. There's a LOT to investigate on Taleisin (I'm still learning about new things I didn't know about almost 18 months after I first set foot on her). From time to time Lin would come and check on us and I'd fire off a few questions, listening carefully to the answers so I can remember them.

I was super excited and it took the entire day. I asked a million questions, listening to everything Ray had to say, taking on board as much as I could and trying to short circuit the learning process by taking advantage of the decades of experience I was surrounded with. I'm very fortunate that my most important asset is my natural ability to learn, learn quickly and on the fly (it helps tremendously with the day job). I'm usually pretty good at applying things after that too. I talked to Ray after it was all done and we were back on the main land. The comment he made was something along the lines of, "You couldn't have picked a better boat of that construction if you tried".

So, pretty much knowing the survey would come back good, I was getting ready for the next step, the sea trial. I can't recall exactly when we had our sailing lessons, as with anything I'm learning I had already studied so much about sailing online and in books that by the time we had lessons I was well ahead of the class. I had a blast, the boat we learnt on was a 47 foot sloop. Again I recall thinking I'm glad we bought a smaller boat.

Eventually we went out for the sea trial. It was awesome. Everything on Taleisin is people-sized. Everything is simple and easy to handle. It took a while for us to get all our ducks in a row, but we were not backing out of the deal. Taleisin was ours; we just had to get all the pieces in the right place. I was reading internet forums well before I even saw Taleisin, I read all the things people posted on the forums but decided to make up my own mind. I have no doubt that there are a lot of people out there thinking that we paid too much for an old wooden boat with no engine, and those people are right - to them she is just an old wooden boat with no engine. To us, even though we were not sailors at the time, she was a magnificent creation. Built like nothing else, safe, simple, and pure joy to be aboard. Making things simple is not easy; Taleisin is simple, and that is very valuable.

Lin invited us to stay aboard Taleisin to see what it would be like to spend the night on her. I can't recall the exact order of events, but I do know we spent quite a bit of time staying on Taleisin on the mooring. It just felt right!

Taleisin contains 40+ years of real hardcore cruising experience. These are things we don't have to figure out for ourselves. Being able to pick up the phone and call Lin with questions is also very valuable. The price we paid for Taleisin was not just for an old wooden boat, we gained so much more out of the deal. In all honesty, Taleisin is worth a lot more than we paid for her in materials alone; the labour to build her is not even factored in.

There's a lot more space in Taleisin than I realised at first. This is a very big little boat. The photos and the videos of Taleisin does not do her justice. She's so much more in the flesh. Something else that's very nice about Taleisin is that she's alive. She has character. Her planks are infused with Lin and Larry's soul. When I look around her and touch her you can see and feel Lin and Larry everywhere. There's so much history, so many adventures. Being on board Taleisin is magical, I know it's still early days but I hope we can do her justice and add to her legacy. Taleisin will no doubt outlive both Annie and myself (she's that well constructed). All we have to do is look after her. We don't do anything lightly, we know the world has eyes on us. We want to do what's right for Taleisin, the thought of making holes in her pains both of us. We have not made any alterations to her. When we had her on the hard there were many tense moments (more about that in a future post). I know that Lin told me that she's our boat and we can do as we please with her, but when you own something that's got a soul it's difficult to do something that goes against her very being. We enjoy looking after her, being forced to think about things before we do them is a good thing.

Taleisin might not be perfect, but she's perfect for us!

Taleisin's new caretaker
And co-caretaker

Check out Eben and Annie's  new blog!

So that's it folks. I'm sure you'll agree its an amazing story, and join with me in thanking Eben for sharing it, and wishing Eben and Annie good luck and fair winds. 

You can follow their journey on their new blog: Taleisin -- Adventure Machine! Check them out and say hi!

Next Up: Backyard CelNav


  1. I have to insist that Wanderer III is the most famous sailboat. Ticonderoga coming in second.

    1. I'll give you Wanderer II, since the Hiscocks were more or less the inspiration for the Pardys ;-)

  2. "Making things simple is not easy; Taleisin is simple, and that is very valuable."
    " In all honesty, Taleisin is worth a lot more than we paid for her in materials alone; the labour to build her is not even factored in."
    "We want to do what's right for Taleisin"

    Wow, what a fantastic attitude to have. Congratulations to both of them, and I wish them well in their new love.

    1. Thank you! We can't promise we'll live up to our ideals but we're giving it our best shot...

    2. You can't do more than your best, and I understand the emotions involved in your purchase of Taleisin. About the time, Lin & Larry launched Taleisin, I was considering a sistership for what I thought was to be a life as a water borne missionary. I bought and read all of the Pardey books, bought the videos as they came out, and, though I never met Lyle Hess in person, I spent hours on the phone with him, learning the lessons behind his designs. Like you, I took sailing lessons - I knew nothing about boats - learned to love the ocean while in the military - and sailboats suited my nature more than speed boats - perhaps strange, since my dream was to be World Champion in Grand Prix racing. When the sponsorship fell through for the 1980 Formula Atlantic series, I sold my race cars and 'settled down.' I've been dreaming about boats ever since. I went back to school (I was in my thirties) and became a Microsoft guru, worked a series of jobs as network administrator and was the regional IT manager for a natural gas pipeline company through two ownership changes and a complete 'from the ground up' upgrade or replacement of every piece of equipment. Then I was 'outsourced' (along with the whole team) - a polite way of saying we were fired and replaced with less expensive personnel. We moved to Spokane, and I wasn't able to find work in the field, so I went back to driving a truck and wrote a few novels (two of them have won awards, but I'm still watching the waves for the treasure ship. Over the years, I've doodled line drawings and accommodation plans based on Lyle's designs and lessons learned from Lin & Larry. I was aboard a beautiful Bristol Channel Cutter, Tradition, in Corpus Christi (fell in love with that boat), looked at a Nor'Sea 27 on Long Island and haunted the internet for new renditions of Hess creations. As I've aged, my plans have passed from voyaging to gunkholing into the nooks and crannies of coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest, and I've reduced my aspirations to something I can put on a trailer and 'easily' move about. Lyle considered his Falmouth 22 to be his personal 'perfect boat' were he to go offshore, but, as much as I like the boat, it isn't perfect for me. I love a lapstrake hull (Lyle drew several, but none are just what I desire), and I can no longer look to Lyle to draw the boat I want, so I've doodled a bit. I don't need or want to give up the space for an engine (might be forced on occasion to carry an outboard), and the Falmouth 22 is available without the diesel, but it doesn't have the open decks and reassuring bulwarks of the Bristol Channel Cutter or your Taleisin. My original plan was a wooden lapstrake hull, but I've decided on a fiberglass hull of the approximate size of the Falmouth 22 with lines and teak decks closer to the larger boats like Taleisin. Many of the fitting and layout touches are simply scaled down from lessons learned from Lin & Larry, either through their books and videos, or through Lin's answers to emailed questions. I'm almost at the point of beginning to construct a one-eighth scale model (I'm soon to have surgery to remove a cancerous thyroid and will be off for a couple of weeks). Whether I am ever able to actually build the boat I've envisioned, building the model will be an enjoyable adventure of trying to solidify all of the compromises and choices into a small scale vessel that I may one day be able to build full size. But all of my rambling in this response has been to say that I think I understand your emotional attachment to Taleisin, and I believe you and your wife are the perfect couple to take a very special boat into the foreseeable future (as if the future is truly foreseeable ;^). Good Luck and God speed.


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