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My first boat was a 2002 Jeanneau 43DS (Deck Salon). I sold her to Barry and his family and their adventures are documented on their blog pages at Bluewaterkids. In 2009 the Bluewater kids completed their year in the Caribbean and Solitaire has since been sold on to a new owner and has been given a new name. She was constructed and commissioned in France then sailed to the British Virgin Islands and put into charter service for a local charter company which was subsequently taken over by Sunsail. Solitaire entered the Sunsail fleet as part their premium “Platinum” line since she was fitted with a generator and air conditioning. Fortunately for me, the pricing of the Platinum series was set rather high and thus Solitaire was used less during her time in charter than most other similarly sized boats. The name Solitaire is a great one and fit my lifestyle perfectly and the thought of changing her name never even crossed my mind. While I associated the name with being alone and sometimes thought of Jane Seymour and her portrayal of the character Solitaire in the James Bond movie “Live and Let Die”, but the ladies always associated it with the mounting of a single diamond and it seems that customs and immigration officials all think it was a reference to the card or Windows® computer game - I'll leave the reader to interpret those findings.
I flew to the BVI in September 2006 with the express intent of purchasing a boat. I had opted to get an ex-charter boat because of what I perceived as a good price-quality ratio but hadn't narrowed down my choices to a particular model, just a general size. September is the “off” or hurricane season, and the island was almost empty as most locals who could depart for colder and less stormy climes did so. I was methodical in my approach, visiting over 30 boats and taking notes and pictures on each, drinking copious amounts of water because of the stuffy heat and humidity. Most of the boats had been “hurricanized” and weren't showing their best, but that didn't bother me as I wanted to get an idea of interior volume, layouts and general condition.
Some models were immediately taken off my shortlist because they didn't appeal to me aesthetically, others were just too beat up and tired for my taste. In the end I decided I liked the layout of the Jeanneau 43DS best (particularly the enclosed aft shower) but still had several Bénéteau 473s and also some Jeanneau 45.2s in my sights. There were some very good deals available for ex-charter 50' and bigger boats, but at the time they all seemed too big and ungainly for me to single hand comfortably and I soon had my long list narrowed down to just the one model and, of the several on offer, I found Solitaire to be in the best overall condition and put in an offer to Scott Woodruff at Sunsail which was accepted.
I decided to take a course with the Rob Swain Sailing School as they had a good reputation and had an identical sister ship (Segue) to mine. As it was the off season I was lucky to get Rob himself to give me a private course for several days and we sailed around the BVI. I had told Rob of my intent to single hand and asked him to instruct me but to make me do all the work; this was particularly easy as the winds were very light and I didn't get any heavy weather training. It is very difficult to really mess up in bathtub-like sea conditions and wind gusting 3-5 knots. The course went well and I completed the ASA 101, 103 and 104 courses and was confident that I could handle Solitaire by myself in most conditions and with some practice. This model is very well set up for single and short-handed sailing, particularly the in-mast mainsail furling mechanism, making it unnecessary to leave the cockpit for furling and reefing regardless of weather and sea conditions.