Caveat Emptor

by

So much for my long romantic weekend of boating. I found out on the way back home, you cannot put a boat in Virginia waters without a valid title.

“I thought not having a title didn’t matter,” I accused, staring at the side of my husband’s face in the dark car.  He’d spent the day rewiring the boat trailer, repacking the wheel bearings, adjusting the motor mount on the Evinrude and swatting the biting flies and blood sucking mosquitoes of Seaside Heights, New Jersey.  It was now twenty-three hours into the trip and I was testy.

Bruce shrugged. “I didn’t think it would be a problem. I still don’t.  How hard can it be to get a boat title?”

“Well according to that man at the rest stop back there, he’s glad he’s not in your shoes. He mentioned something about to Hell and back.”

We arrived home exactly twenty-four hours and twenty minutes after we left. I was so tired I didn’t care about being mad anymore. I could be mad tomorrow.  I fell into bed and slept twelve hours straight.

When I woke, Bruce was gone.

I dragged myself into the kitchen and poured cold coffee into my mug. I looked out the window into the backyard. There was my husband. He had pulled the boat trailer into the grass and was stripping the inside, tossing parts and pieces into the yard.  Boat seats, strips of carpet, plywood flooring, vinyl covered bumpers, a fire extinguisher, three bright orange life preservers and a long handled fishing net littered the ground.  Bruce’s shirt was off. He was embroiled in serious business.

I turned away from the window, poured myself a bowl of cereal, and sat at the table, drowning my disappointment in the sweetness of Cap’n Crunch. Fatigue, hours spent in a car, not in a boat, and the realization that not having a title might mean we’d be sailing no further than the yard or driveway, put me in a rare funk.  I’m not touching that boat until I’m sure we’ll be able to use it, I thought.

Bruce came in a little while later. “You want to ride with me to Ace Marine in Stuarts Draft?” He asked. “I need to look about a new bilge pump, and some other things.”

On the way over the mountain to the boat dealership, Bruce talked non-stop about flooring, fiberglass, repair and patch kits, marine grade vinyl and indoor/outdoor carpeting.  The boat needed two new car batteries, the bilge pump, some half inch pressure treated plywood, a few two by fours, and new stringers.  I recognized some items, but was clueless about others.  I remembered his comment about this being the only boat he’d ever owned.  He sure seemed to know a whole lot more about the Larson Shark than I did.  It seemed he’d given up online auctions for boating websites now.  

We browsed the aisles and shelves of the boating store. The salespeople were outside showing brand new vessels, so we were able to pick up items, compare prices and talk without interruption. As we looked at various types of anchors, a miniature dachshund came wagging his tail in our direction. His toenails clipped along the floor and he walked right up to Bruce for a head pat.  “Well aren’t you the cutest one,” Bruce said, reaching down to rub the little brown dog.

“Charlie, where are you?” A woman’s voice called from the back room. She stuck her head out the door and whistled.  The little dog left us, running in the direction of his master.  She picked him up and noticed us alone in the showroom.

“Hi, didn’t realize anyone was in here. Anything I can help you folks with?”

“You don’t happen to know anything about titling a boat in the state of Virginia do you?” Bruce asked.

She laughed. “Do it all the time here. That’s my job. I complete the paperwork for the boat sales,  get the registrations, titles, all that stuff.”

“We bought a boat in New Jersey in an online auction,” Bruce said. “How hard is it to get a title in Virginia?”

“Not hard at all. You just take the New Jersey title to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and have it transferred to your name.”

“We didn’t get a title with it,” I said.

The woman frowned. “No title, huh?  Well that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.  If it was in Virginia, I’d know what to do, but since it’s from New Jersey, I’m not sure.  Tell you what, if you can give me a few minutes, I can make a phone call for you and find out.”

Bruce thanked her as she walked back to her office, then he turned to me and grinned, as if to say, “See, no big deal, she’s gonna fix everything for us.”

I rolled my eyes.

“You got the hull number with you?” She called from the other room.

Bruce pulled the information from his pocket and took it to her. We stood just outside the door, petting Charlie, who’d come back out to visit us.

I listened as the woman began the quest on our behalf. She was transferred from one person to the next, then to someone else and again to someone else. She was put on hold and transferred again, and again. She was more patient than I would have been. If it was me, I’d have handed the phone to Bruce so he was the one pushing buttons, and repeating information over and over again.

After a good ten minutes, she hung up the phone and handed us a piece of paper.  “You have to go on the New Jersey DMV website and get the D-21 form, print it off, fill it out, attach the information you have and send it to them with fifteen dollars.  They will check to see if there’s a lien on the boat. If you’re lucky and there isn’t one, you get to go on to the next step. The website explains it all.”

“Wow,” Bruce said. “I never thought about liens.”

“All I can say is good luck. Glad I’m not in your shoes,” she said. “You may get the boat in the water by next summer.  Sorry it’s not better news. Sounds like a lot of red tape.”

I thanked her for her time and for the information. She was the second person in two days who was glad not to be in my husband’s shoes.  Bruce put down the anchor he’d picked out and we walked back to the car empty handed. “Damn,” he said.

I patted his back. “Let’s go home, look up this website and print off the form. It’s not like we stole the boat.  We’ll just take this mess one step at a time.”

Bruce dropped his head. If he had been a little boy, he would have kicked the dirt with the toe of his boot. “I wanted to get her into the water on our next trip to Chincoteague,” he grumbled.

“We’ll get it straight,” I reassured him. “I’ll take care of the forms and you can concentrate of fixing up the boat. Just think, the extra time will give us a chance to do it up nice.  She’ll be the prettiest ’71 Larson Shark out there when we get her into the water.”

“If we get her in the water,” he muttered.

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4 Responses to “Caveat Emptor”

  1. OldMack Says:

    A fine little drama. Tomorrow I have someone coming to look at my boat. I’m still looking for it’s title.

  2. train-whistle Says:

    thanks Mack. I’m still hoping you can fix that boat and take it out for one more sail.

    If you can’t find the title, a bill of sale with a letter from you saying the title was lost will suffice…at least in the state of Virginia it will. I’ve learned a lot.

  3. curly Says:

    Great story, Train. Worth the pain of having to laugh.

    BOAT: A hole in the water that you pour money into. (I’ve been filling these holes for years. No bottom.)

    One way around the registration problem: Remove any maker marks from the boat, grind out registration numbers and rescribe your own, then register the boat as ‘home-built’. In Cali or Washington, DMV merely glances at the boat and gives you new paper with no hassle. If it is Fish and Game, phttt, they won’t even look at the boat, just fill out the form ‘home-built’ and mail the fee.

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