These friends bought a sailboat for $6,500 on a whim. They’re loving it

These friends bought a sailboat for $6,500 on a whim. They’re loving it

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Who they are: Riley Croke, a 27-year old salesperson at an insurance brokerage; Steve Gaskin, a 30-year-old account manager at a consumer-packaged goods company; Chris Vyriotes (not pictured), a 26-year-old commercial real estate executive; Carter Grieve (not pictured), a 26-year old fintech executive
What they bought: Meridian, a 1971 C&C 27, for $6,500
What it’s costing them: $2,100 for a senior member club initiation fee; $2,850 a year for four members’ dues, $800 for summer docking and $400 for winter storage, $350 a year for insurance, $300 a year for maintenance, $200 a year for gas

—As told to Jessica Lee

Riley: “Steve and I are both from London, Ontario. Our families are very close, and his brother was one of my best friends growing up. Chris and I were roommates at Laurier; and Chris and Carter were friends from high school. Over the years, we all moved to Toronto for work, and the four of us became good friends. Steve and I now share a two-bedroom condo on the waterfront.

“Growing up, we had gone to cottages and spent time on power boats, but we had never really been exposed to sailing. It was only when we started living by the water in Toronto that we grew curious.

“I played hockey with a couple of guys who bought a boat in 2016, and they seemed to really enjoy their time on the water. In the summer of 2019, the four of us started exploring the possibility of getting a boat ourselves. It was definitely a leap of faith, but I guess I did a good job of selling the idea to the other guys. My friends’ boat is docked at Queen City Yacht Club on the Toronto Islands, and their costs were comparable to a golf club membership, so it seemed like something Steve, Carter and Chris and I could manage.

“Just before the pandemic hit, we toured Meridian—a 27-foot sailboat with a lounge area, dining area, a sink and a bedroom—that had just been listed for sale at QCYC. It was the first boat we looked at, and we weren’t ready to purchase at that time. Then, in May, the owners reached back out asking if we were still interested. We thought, What else are we going to do this summer? Everything’s closed, so let’s try sailing. We bought the boat later that month.

“The previous owner worked as a boat carpenter at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, so we knew the boat was in good condition. Although none of us knew how to sail or how to maintain a boat, we were told by the QCYC membership chair that if we helped out doing yard work, with clean up and during boat launches in the first few months, we could trade our labour for sailing knowledge. The previous owner had moved away from Toronto and there was a lot of uncertainty with Covid—so he gave us a pretty good deal on the boat. We also planned for possible future maintenance costs to make sure we weren’t over-extending our funds.

“When we joined QCYC, we helped out with yard work around the grounds for about 10 hours each in total. It was peaceful work, and also nice to be out of the condo with a view of the Toronto skyline in those early months of the pandemic. We were new, so we treated it like a serious job. We would tell the head of the grounds crew what we were going to do, and when we would break for lunch. One day he said, ‘I don’t care. Do whatever you want.’ We had a cooler full of beer that we had brought waiting for us afterwards and we thought, Yeah this isn’t work; it’s kind of fun.

“In a typical year, about 150 members show up in late spring to help out with launch, when the boats are removed from winter storage and put into the water. But, during Covid, the club could only have 10 to 20 people at a time, so launching the boats took a few weeks in June—much longer than usual. We would have someone from our boat helping out every single day, whenever we could spare time. We had gotten our boating licences online, but when our boat finally went in the water, we had no clue what we were doing and how to get it ready to sail.

Sandy Mandel, a member of Queen City Yacht Club, offered to teach Riley Croke and his friends to sail from a dingy tied to the back of their sailboat to maintain social distance Photo courtesy of Riley Croke

“Luckily, a few members were happy to help out. One member, Sandy Mandel, even offered to take us out for sailing lessons. We wanted to stay safe and keep our distance, so rather than having Mandel in the boat with us, we towed him in an inflatable dinghy. He had a lawn chair and an umbrella and kept his feet up while snacking on cherries. On the water, he would shout orders at us from the back of the dinghy. It was a hilarious sight. We did that for a few days, and then we went out on our own a few times a week. It was pretty easy to learn the basics, but sailing is one of those things that takes a long time to truly master.

“When racing was permitted again later that summer, Carter and I jumped on a boat to help crew for race nights, which taught us a ton about sailing and made us more comfortable. For example, one of our first times out in strong winds, our boat was heeling over a ton and water was coming over the deck. We were a little worried, but with more experience, we understood how to control and manage the boat better in those conditions. There’s no shortage of things to learn.

“At the end of the season, the boats are put into storage by QCYC and then launched again the following spring. Outside of sailing, it’s been great to spend time just hanging around the Islands. The club has a nice restaurant overlooking the skyline and there’s a lot of social events that go on. Nearby there are beaches, tennis courts and lots of paths to go for runs or bike rides. It’s a nice escape, and you’re distracted from everything that’s going on over in the mainland. A lot of the members at the club treat their boats as their cottages. So rather than driving for two or three hours on a Friday, they take a 10-minute ride over and stay on their boat for the weekend. We’ve started doing that a lot more—it’s tough to beat waking up and going for a swim on an empty beach.

“Our boat is 50 years old, so there are a lot of old parts that we need to keep an eye on. We’re constantly learning new things on the go. For example, a few weeks ago we filled up our gas tank and packed everything up for the night. We hadn’t realized that we left a funnel in the gas cap, and then it poured rain, so we had water in our gas tank. It was pretty frustrating because we obviously know better, but we were rushing and missed the funnel. We had to drain water from the tank and then the carburetor and the fuel pump. Rather than paying someone, other club members coached us through the fixes. It’s actually pretty rewarding being able to troubleshoot and solve issues yourself.

“I think the perception around sailing is that it’s for an elite few, but we’ve found that it has been pretty reasonable for young professionals like us to jump into it while living downtown. Now, we basically have a cottage in the city for less than a golf membership. Done. Sign me up.”