A Porsche Carrera GT has been near the top of my bucket list for quite a few years now. This year, for the first time in a while, the stars all started to align, and it looked like it might actually happen. Then Covid-19 hit, lockdowns were imposed, social distancing became the in trend for 2020, and the Carrera GT became a sailboat. No matter how creative I tried to be, a Carrera GT just could not match a sailboat for social distancing capability, especially the sailboat we acquired, a Beneteau Oceanis 51.1. To be honest, the sailboat idea didn’t completely come out of left field, Karen (Mrs. SSO) and I had looked at powerboats last summer, but the idea of a powerboat just didn’t quite click. A powerboat is much more about the destination than the journey, akin to driving a Bentley Mulsanne. On our road trips, the journey is as, if not more, important than the destination as per our experiences with the Ferrari F40 & McLaren 675LT Spider. A sailboat fits that latter philosophy much better than a motor cruiser.
The road that led us to the Beneteau Oceanis 51.1 was a bit of a twisted one. We originally started looking at motorboats as the belief was that they would be much easier to pilot. My thoughts at the time, based on my sailing experiences as a young adult, were that two of us trying to sail a large sailboat was going to be a recipe for disaster and probably divorce. I still have vivid memories of flailing lines, jammed main sheets, and uncooperative winches all accompanied by lots of yelling by some of my older relatives as being the core of the sailing experience. Turns out a lot has changed in the last couple of decades. When I started doing a bit of research on sailboats it quickly became apparent that sailboats today are designed so that they can be sailed by only 1 or 2 people, assuming they have a pretty firm idea of what they are doing. All the lines are now threaded back to the stern (back of boat), the winches are electric, the main sheet is on an in mast furler, the jib is self-tacking, the helm has an autopilot, and there is a bow (front of boat) thruster to help with docking. This list doesn’t even include all the advances in electronics and navigation. You can literally stand in the stern with one hand on the wheel and raise the sails with a simple push of a button on the electric winch. Once I discovered all this, a sailboat became a very feasible, and preferred, option.
Back when we originally were discussing powerboats, the brief included room to sleep at least 6 comfortably, 2 heads (bathrooms) with showers, decent size galley (kitchen) area, chart table, air-conditioning, and a good size dining table. This interior brief was then applied to the sailboat. At the Newport Boat Show last year, we had decided that if we were going to get a boat, it would be a Beneteau as we really liked the design and build quality. The two Beneteau sailboats that delivered against the brief were the Oceanis 46.1 and the Oceanis 51.1, both of which just happened to be available at a nearby boatyard. At the end of the day after climbing all over both several times, we opted for the larger boat as it has significantly more room in all the cabins and common area along with more headroom so it’s less claustrophobic in the rear cabins.
With the decision made to go forward with the acquisition of the Oceanis 51.1, the next steps were the sea trial, final payment, and the christening. The sea trial went smoothly with the lone exception of my losing a hat overboard, payment was made, and the date for the christening set. Karen did the honors on the christening, although smashing a good bottle of champagne on the bow did pain her greatly, and Vitae Magna was launched.
In the two and a half months we have had Vitae Magna, we were able to take her out at least a couple of dozen times before she was pulled out of the water for winter storage in early November. As we were still very much in a learning mode on the new boat, we only ended up doing a couple of overnighters with the balance being day trips out to the islands. I was really amazed at how easy the Oceanis 51.1 is to sail, how well it handles, and how smoothly it rides through the waves. In a four-foot sea you barely notice the rocking. In a good wind, Vitae Magna will do 10 knots and it moves quite well even in a light breeze. One person really could sail the boat, but it does help to have a second person on board to work the lines on the other side, so you don’t have to run back and forth. Also picking up a mooring solo is not something I would want to attempt. The only moderately stressful part of going out for a sail is getting back into the slip at the end of the day. Backing a 51-foot boat into a slip with only a few feet of clearance on either side is not for the faint of heart. To do it properly you have to get the transom (boat’s butt) perpendicular to the edge of the dock, then swing the bow using the thruster until the boat is parallel to the dock, and then use the motor to back in. It sounds easy until you factor in wind, tides, and currents. Then it’s more like trying to drive a race car on slicks in the rain.
Life on board Vitae Magna is quite comfortable. While it does have a stove, we normally grill off the back deck at night. So far, we have yet to use the air-conditioner as there has always been a nice breeze on the water. The boat does have Wi-Fi so it is millennial friendly, and we can work remotely from it when we need to. I did draw the line when it came to installing a TV, so Vitae Magna is one of the few TV free zones left on the planet. In the evening Karen can normally be found on the back deck, reading with a glass of wine within reach.
Do I regret not getting the Porsche Carrera GT this year? Given the circumstances, no because I know that is still an option for the future. Getting the sailboat has been great experience and I had forgotten just how much I enjoy being on the water. There is something deeply satisfying and rewarding to going out for a sail on a perfect summer or fall day. In many ways the peace and tranquility of being out on the water has been the perfect antidote to the trauma of 2020. For the summer of 2021, I can see us doing a great mix of weekend road and boat trips.
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