top of page

You can't buy happiness, but you can buy a boat!

Every night I trawled e-bay, Boatpoint, Yachthub and any other possible online place looking for my next new boat. I had no money, few skills and fewer friends with the skills but knew I wanted to buy and live on a boat. My first yacht was a disaster. It had all the hallmarks of ‘Good from afar, but far from good’. However an old timber ketch, with plenty of work to do on board is actually a very steep learning curve. I was lucky that most of the learning happened whilst in port and not at sea. (The learning at sea will keep for another post).

So, in fact I have bought a boat the wrong way and (I think) now I did it the right way with the boat that will be collected next week. Also, when you make a ridiculous offer on a boat, i.e. less than half of what they are asking for it… Be prepared to make good on that offer. That very thing happened to me (Yes, I made a ridiculous offer) and ended up with an open timber motor sailer as a result. I am not complaining and the story of Shady Lady will also be one for another day.

Determine your budget, rig style and size of the new yacht, compare and evaluate.

My experience determined that I was looking for a fibreglass yacht up to about 40 feet (12 metres) having previously been slave to a 38 foot timber ketch. (Timber boats have a charm that no one can argue, but maintenance to enjoyment ratio is much higher. Do not kid yourself for a minute that this is not the case). Timber boats are left to retired engineers and skilled craftsmen who work for rich businessmen.

I had settled on a 10-12 metre boat because the size is seaworthy enough to go ocean cruising, large enough to have some privacy and small enough so that when you have to pay marina fees, the sting doesn’t hurt as much.

A monohull 12 metre yacht will also keep a nice pace and handle most seas that I plan on traversing. Having a ketch rig usually means you have multiple sail configurations available to you, but in 12 metres and less, multiple reasons dictate you will rarely see a production yacht with a ketch rig. I found as a liveaboard, the mizzen mast (The little mast at the back), was more an inconvenience and I had a recurring bruise on my hip from an extruding winch that would always get me when I was urgently dashing below for another tool or to turn the kettle off).

Lesson 1: Unless you are a rich madman or skilled craftsman with 100 hours a week up your sleeve, avoid a timber yacht lest you be varnishing and repairing much more than entertaining

There is never a shortage of used yachts for sale, and I had inspected my fair share all over Sydney. It was the middle of winter and boat brokers felt the pinch with sales being extremely slow. (If you are good at planning, aim to look and purchase in the middle of winter months as it is more of a buyer’s market during this time). Boat brokers in my experience are not as much like car salesmen but more like matchmakers - And I would compare buying your boat to dating and looking for the perfect partner.

I have found being totally honest with the broker is the only way to approach your potential purchase. If you are buying your first boat, it is usually best to go through a broker, but just remember they are also working on a percentage so if you see the same boat on a website advertised privately, and through a broker, be fair and go directly to the owner and don’t waste the broker’s time. (Negotiating directly with the owner will save you brokerage fees but you will spend a lot of time on board with the current owner trying to sell in the only way they know how… By imparting the love they have for their vessel onto you). If you are able, spend some time on board by yourself, as the owner will not show you things they are trying to hide.

Lesson 2: If same boat is advertised online by a broker and the owner, go directly to the owner. Beware the pitfall of staying on board too long with said owner and not getting a chance to go over the boat yourself

I had always known about Sparkman & Stephens. They designed the 34’ yachts that both Jesse Martin and Jessica Watson had sailed single handed around the world. I didn’t know too much about the larger yachts and the pedigree by which this design duo had established over the previous century. But this particular yacht, (Sparkman Stephens 39) had caught my eye, like the pretty girl on the other side of the dance floor that you wanted to ask for a dance, but were too afraid to ask. Well in this case, the dance floor was a 6 hour drive up the M1 and the girl was Curlew. We had arranged to meet on the dock and I watched as Mick and Chris brought her around, ok I was excited and drove through the night to get there early. We got on well from the outset and talked a similar language. Mick owned the boat for the last ten years and has systematically repaired or replaced everything on board from rigging to engine. We spent hours on board, had a cuppa and I was sold. (Well almost sold - I still didn’t have any money and told him that from the outset, having only just listed my house for sale).

Despite Curlew being an older yacht, launched in 1979, the fibreglass construction methods employed in the late 70’s I contend are much stronger than those used today. Another reason to look at an older yacht for potential offshore sailing. I couldn’t fault her, from her clean bilges to tidy wiring harnesses (Mick is an electrician and to have anything less would be criminal to him).

I deliberated for a couple of weeks over Curlew, ringing Mick occasionally to ask seemingly inane questions about how he many amp hours were in the batteries and what was the condition of the spare sails, all just to justify in my mind what my heart already knew, that Curlew was going to be my new dance partner. So after a little bit of dutch courage (and knowing that in two days someone else was going to ask my girl for a dance, I rang Mick to say that I wasn’t going to buy her… and the reasons were mainly financial. He then counter offered and asked me for a small deposit and to settle when my house was sold. Wow, I knew I liked this guy! This to me was a reward for my honesty and transparency, values that today are few and far between, especially in city business dealings.

Lesson 3: Try a little bit of honesty, it will shock you how liberating it can be for you, and people can smell BS from a mile away

The next step was to survey the yacht. In large purchases like an offshore sailing vessel, it is important to get a qualified marine surveyor to ‘survey’ your prospective purchase. It will cost you, in my case a week’s wages but is worth knowing what faults, if any, or negotiating points are available towards your purchase. It also shows the seller you are serious because now you have ‘skin in the game’. It is my opinion that the purchaser pays for the survey, and that if the purchase doesn’t happen for whatever reason they can then discuss with the seller what to do with that information, i.e. the seller may retain the survey information for other potential buyers.

In my case, despite there being discussion points that were more a matter of opinions than objections to buying the boat, the view from the surveyor was, “Mate, if you don’t buy it, I will!” And that, as they say is how Curlew and I shared our first dance.

You Might Also Like:
bottom of page