Frank's Blog - Yes, Finally
The Older Boat - 19 November, 2016
I mentioned earlier that we tried to sell Rockhopper earlier this year. She didn't sell, thank God. While it would have been fun to have a bunch of
new projects to work on, I didn't have the time or the money to do so. We lied to ourselves about what it would cost to rehab another boat, just to
make it possible to sell Rockhopper.
Let's be clear. You will never, ever get back out of your boat what she cost. Never. Ever. Money spent on a boat is sunk. Period (pun intended).
I recently saw a statement that I sort of agree with. It was that all boats are going through periods of stepped decline, the steps being periodic
refits. No boat is worth more today than it was yesterday, although it may be close to yesterday's price if you put a new system in today.
There are three types of boats on the market. The first, and personal experience tells me this one is the largest, but I have no real data, are the
boats that have been through one or more major refits. These boats are at least five years old and one or more major systems has gone bad,
necessitating replacement and upgrade. Very few of us replace systems just because a new one came out. There are enough things to pay for
that you do not need to add in extraneous costs. There is always the addition of potential new systems (AIS, Single Side Band, a water maker,
e.g.), but very few of us are out throwing money at non-problems.
So, for some reason, something went bad on the boat and the owner repaired it or had it repaired. Now, there are three potential situations here.
The first is that the owner replaced it himself and he knew exactly what he was doing. This is the optimal position to be in, because the person who
did the work actually cared to do it right and knew how to. That is a very rare condition. In addition, when assessing the cost of the repair, the
owner knows what the parts cost, but will usually undervalue his or her effort. Most of us know that the $100 an hour that we pay to a yard for
repairs is not going to the person actually working on the boat. So, if I do the work myself, I may value the hours at $25, rather than $100.
The second possibility is that the owner did the work himself but did not really know what they were doing. So, maybe it got done right, but
chances are there are shortcuts and cost-saving maneuvers in there that may not be apparent right away but are going to come back to bite you in
When we bought Rockhopper, there was a switch at the binnacle that controlled the electric windlass. If you pulled it up, the anchor came up,
pushed it down and the anchor went down. Now, I am firmly opposed to not being able to see the anchor come up, so I disconnected that line and
made sure that you could only raise the anchor from the bow. However, I didn't take the wire out right away. I had other things to do. It was about
seven years before I finally went back and removed that wire.
Now, one of the things that bugged me about this wire was that it was three individual wires - white, black and green - in an orange sheath. I knew
that I had seen it before, but I never could figure out where. Of course, I never gave it a lot of thought - it was just another wire in the wire run,
waiting for me to remove it. When I finally did and I got it all off the boat and sitting on the pier, it hit me. This was an outdoor extension cord, with
the ends cut off. One of the previous owners had figured that it had three lines, which was what he needed, and it was nice and cheap.
The problem was that both ends of the wires were black with corrosion. Marine wire that is designed to be exposed to the elements is individually
tinned for corrosion protection. Wire that is intended to spend its entire life encased in rubbery plastic is not. So by cutting the ends and stripping
them back, the previous owner started a process that would eventually cause the system to overheat and possibly start a fire, if I had not removed
it. Sheer dumb luck, on my part.
The third possibility is that the owner either realized he could not do the repair safely or chose not to do so. In those cases, an outside vendor did
the work and the owner knows EXACTLY what it costs. Now, this does not mean that the job was done right. I have had repairs done all up and
down the spectrum of confidence and you rarely know, going in, whether or not the person doing the job knows what they are doing. You pays
your dollar and you takes your chances.
So, here we are, with a boat that has been recently refit. You, the buyer, have no idea what quality of work has been accomplished. Often, the
seller has no real idea how good the repair was. So, in your mind, the value of the repair is low. In his or her mind, however, the value is quite
high and quite real. So, unless the repair is very open to inspection, you have far more money to spend than the average person and you
REALLY want this boat - you are going to pass on it.
The second type of boat is the one that NEEDS a refit. These are also usually older boats and the systems have been failing for a while. This one
may be more than five years old, but may actually be newer. Something - or usually a list of some things - has gone kerflooey and the current
owner has been tolerating them, either because of a lack of resources or a genuine indifference to the loss. One of the boats that I looked at as a
replacement to Rockhopper this year fell into this category. There were a significant number of systems that had failed or were failing, like the
generator, heating system and fresh water pump. The owners, a very nice older couple (older than me, anyways), had lived aboard "back in the
day," but had always kept her in marinas. They had no need for the generator or the fresh water pump and they had "cruised" in Southern Florida,
so they really had no need for the heat. Unfortunately, given my cruising pattern, I would need all of those systems repaired and operational on
Day One or close to it, which meant bringing in professional help. Ka-ching.
Now, a lot of people who want to get started in sailing look at the boat in need of a refit as a bargain. We did. When we bought Rockhopper, she
was in the middle of a failed refit from a previous owner and we had to work on system in a hurry to get her up and running. Luckily, we had
resources because we were both still working at well-paying jobs, we weren't going anywhere for at least five years and wee could tolerate some
inconvenience, especially after our youngest son graduated from High School and moved out nine months into our ownership. He had low
standards, but a constant source of electricity and flushing water were on his list.
But - and I can't stress this enough - Rockhopper was my sixth boat and fourth project. My first project boat was a wood hulled power cruiser with
no engine that I had trucked to my yard. Within six months, I cut it up and had a huge bonfire. The second project was an aluminum hulled cuddy
cabined inboard, that I lovingly fixed up and hauled to the water, only to discover that over the period of time it took me to fix the interior and control
systems, the engine had seized up from water intrusion.
The third one was our first sailboat, a MacGregor 25 lovingly still called "little Rocky." I spent huge amounts of time sailing little Rocky and even
more working on her. We owned her for three years and I think I spent one of those years working on her various systems. I learned to rewire, do
boat plumbing and rigging work and abused myself, yelling at her (three) outboard motors. This was on top of a fifteen year career in the US Navy
as an engineer (admittedly, I worked on Nuclear steam plants, a mode of propulsion sadly lacking in the recreational boating industry - I would
LOVE to operate a steam engine). I have more than a basic knowledge of tools and their uses (and actual Navy training manual).
I am not saying this to intimidate new boat owners. I am simply pointing out that a boat needing a refit is a MAJOR project and you do NOT save
money by buying one. You simply extend the pain of paying for it.
Oh, and the last type of boat on the used market? This is the one where the previous (male) owner lavished all sorts of love and attention on the
boat, gave her every thing she needed, never mind the cost, and died suddenly and tragically of a heart attack, just after signing the check for the
last refit. The current (female) owner is grief-stricken simply seeing the boat and just wants it gone, no matter what the loss.
Call me when you find that one - I want to come rub your head to see if some of the luck will rub off!