Monday, September 9, 2013

Marina shopping

How do you know when it's time to leave your marina?

A slip at Marina Del Sol in Kemah, Texas came with my first boat when I purchased it four and a half years ago.

Imagine a long winding road through million dollar houses.  At the end of the road, Surprise!, there is a marina out of no where.  It is completely surrounded by large houses and the land surrounds it in almost a complete circle, forming a little secret protected whole. Every night you can sit on your dock with your friends and watch the most beautiful sunsets setting over the masts.  Cheerfully saying hello, as friend after friend walks to their boat, everyone stopping to tell you the latest marina happenings.

There is a never ending supply of boat advice, both expert and questionable.  The parade of characters that we have been blessed to have thrown upon us has made the adventure feel much more real.  I won't mention any names but we all know who they are....all of them.  

Hurricane Ike had just come through the year before, so all the marinas had suffered some damage. The cock-eyed docks with mangled, missing piers were forgivable at the time. It also had the least expensive floating docks in the area. Plus, when I bought it the Seahorse was a dilapidated piece of crap that didn't run, so it wasn't like I had the choice of moving anywhere else.

The years went by and all the other marinas in the area repaired things and rebuilt their docks. But not Marina Del Sol. It filled up with silt while the bulkheads surrounding it continued to rot away. The cock-eyed docks just stayed cock-eyed. They didn't even make an effort to remove the destroyed piers that twist down into the water. The story is, someone took the insurance money and ran.

The first year I asked if we would be getting some pool furniture since there was only one lounge chair and a very strange assortment of half-broken chairs around the pool. Management said, they'd put it on the list. I asked again every spring as more and more of the plastic chairs broke and the seating dwindled. Four years later, you have to bring camping chairs with you to the pool if you expect everyone in your group to be able to sit down.

It was my third year there when my boat was finally running well, and I was sailing every weekend that I realized with only a 4'11" draft, I was sitting on the bottom of the marina and couldn't move from December 1 until the third week of March. We had a massive drought in Texas that year and there had been water rationing all summer, so I chalked it up to the drought. However, when I happened again the next year, I asked the marina if they were going to ever dredge. Like the pool furniture, it was "on the list," but they just couldn't afford it right now.

Then came my rates with the 27' Starwind

Year 1: $185
Year 2: Suddenly they wanted $285. I said I was leaving and desperately tried to get my boat into a condition where I could be accepted at another marina. However, the week before I was set to leave, they offered a rate of $225. I decided to stay.
Year 3: I complained about the $225 rate and they lowered it to $200.
Year 4: They raised the $200 rate back up to $220, but I sold that boat and Mary brought in the O'day 34 at a rate of $200.
Year 4.5: The six month lease for the O'day is up and they asked for $250. We said no, so they came back with $215.

They supposedly charge by the length of your boat, not by the length of the slip. However, our friend with a 32' Endeavour on the same pier is paying $225, a friend with a 32' Allied Seawind is paying $165, and a friend with a 27' fishing boat is paying $165. I have no idea how they are actually setting the pricing, and I feel like a sucker for ever paying above $200.  I can only imagine how low some people may be paying.  

Then there's the bathrooms. They've never been clean, but lately, it's really bad. Many mornings you wander in to find no toilet paper, no hand towels, and poop smeared on the wall or floor of the stall. For almost two months last year the ladies room only had a rope for a doorknob. Then for three weeks last month there were no lights in the men's room. Then this morning Mary went to use the ladies room, and the doorknob came off in her hand.  It wouldn't have been that bad, but I still couldn't get in and I had to walk across the marina to go to the bathroom.  

I understand if you don't have the budget to buy new furniture or dredge or rebuild the docks, but if you've got four people on staff, you can at least clean the bathrooms every morning.

Not that all of our experiences at Marina Del Sol have been bad. We've met many nice people there and made some great friends. However, the maintenance issues have come to a point where I refuse to spend another dollar at that place, and I'm definitely not going to spend another winter with our boat sitting in the mud.  It really hurts because all the people that live in the marina love it so much.  Everyone dreams of us all coming together to save the marina like in a ridiculous teen movie, but the reality of the situation is that would cost more money than anyone has.  It reminds me of when I hear people who think they can buy a boat for nothing and then fix it for nothing.  The reality of life is that when you want to fix something like a boat or a marina, you have to spend the money to do it correctly or you're just going to end up underwater.  

Saturday morning we set out on a mission to find the perfect marina. But first we had to stop by the farmers market and have breakfast at Skippers.

But AFTER THAT, we set out to find the perfect marina.  AKA Marina Hunters (I was doing behind the scenes, reality tv interviews in my head the whole time.) 

First stop, Portofino.

Portofino is a dockominium. All the slips are privately owned and the community fees are controlled by a board of owners much like an HOA. It's gated with gate codes and bathroom codes changing monthly. The upside, we'd be right at the Kemah bridge and could literally be sailing in 15 minutes. They also have a great pool on the Kemah channel where you can sit and watch the the boats go by. The downside, it was right at the Kemah bridge, which was really loud, and the slip we were looking at was on the ugly, less protected side.  This is our low range priced Marina.  Coming in at 250 Portofino was well under the Fackers budget.  I was honestly ready to sign when I left, I am learning to look at all the options and talk things out now.  We learned some things from boat shopping...

Next stop, Seabrook.

Seabrook is across the channel from Portofino. It also has a pool on the channel. Bigger shadier pool. It also has floating docks -- some of which even have covered walkways. It seemed well maintained. There's free wifi and a discount at the shipyard. The view on the side closer to Clear Lake was better, but the bridge traffic was still pretty loud. We also heard the road in and out floods in heavy rain. The only slip available there that fell within our budget was near the fuel dock, and had a narrow fairway. The slip we would have wanted there was $450.  The cheap slip was very far away from all the slips big enough for our friends.  It turns out normal marinas don't just stick boats randomly on different sized docks, and its hard for a 34ft and a 40ft to be together.  

Next stop, Waterford.

This is a fancy marina. It's gated. It had great restrooms, a small weight room and a sauna. We liked it, but the pool is actually owned by the adjoining restaurant, Sundance Grill. Therefore you cannot bring any food or drinks into the pool area. On the upside you have a waitress in the pool area bringing you drinks. On the downside, we are not wealthy enough to pay $400 a month in slip fees and also pay for poolside margaritas. Walking the dogs would have also been a nightmare because it's a half mile of no dog signs before you get to the designated dog walking area. We decided we were not fancy enough.  It's weird how rich people think.  This place was not the most expensive, nor did it have the best stuff.  Its just like all the snobby people decided to go there.  Weird.  "hey guys lets all get together and build a marina with no trees or breeze where everything costs a fortune, and then we'll all get our hair done to go to the pool."  Awesome. 

Final stop, Watergate.

Watergate got destroyed in Hurricane Ike, and they don't deny that their boats basically got massacred by the storm surge. They've replaced all the old fixed docks with state-of-the-art floating docks, and you actually get a finger pier on both sides of your boat. No more messy docking, where I fall in the water!  You get a dockbox and free wifi as well as the use of two pools. They keep both the marina and the channel through Clear Lake dredged on a regular basis, and they built a bigger breakwater between the marina and the lake, so that hopefully when the next hurricane comes along, they will fare better.  A higher insurance policy is on the to do list.  We'll still have a 30-minute trek across Clear Lake and out to the bridge to go sailing, but at least we'll be able to make it any time of year.  I felt bad because I knew being closer to the bay was important to Freddie, but the noise at those two marinas by the bridge was really a deal breaker.  Watergate is quiet and has much more green space than most marinas. I could tell from the look in Mary's eyes as soon as we walked through it, she was going to vote for Watergate.  I really love all the trees and park areas and long walking trails.  That is real relaxation for me.  

Every marina was a trade-off. Some places gave you quiet and a nice view. Some places gave you easy bay access. Some places gave you security. Some of them gave you safety from storms. None of them had the whole package, but Watergate checked the most boxes on our list and came in on the lower end of the price list we had gathered.

We signed a one-year lease and will be moving at the end of the month. We'll miss sitting on the dock late into the night with our friends or stumbling off our boat and right onto our neighbor's boat for coffee in the mornings, but change isn't always a bad thing. Hopefully we'll spend much more time meeting up with friends in the bay while sailing instead of being stuck in a dilapidated marina all winter.  We have high hopes of all the things we hope to accomplish in this next stage of our life, we'll see how far that gets us.