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Old 22-10-2007, 15:51   #1
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Buy cheap & repair ... or buy expensive and go?

I'm curious as to whether people have experiences or thoughts on something.

I'm trying to decide whether I should buy a relatively inexpensive boat that requires fairly significant maintenance work (which I'd do myself), or a more expensive one that requires relatively little work. I'm less concerned about the actual financial outlay, than in learning the vessel from stem to stern. I figure that doing substantial repairwork while tied up (and, possibly, living aboard) would give me a better understanding of the various systems in the ship before I find myself flummoxed with a problem in the middle of the Pacific.

FYI, for context, my goal is to graduate to bluewater cruising after spending a few years doing the "easier" Carribbean stuff. I'm handy with tools, but I'm not an experienced mechanic, plumber, or electrician. I do like to learn, but I'm interested in your opinions about which option is the saner one. For as much as I'd like to have intimate knowledge of my boat, I'd hate to have an emergency because I did something improperly.
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Old 22-10-2007, 17:03   #2
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I’m not sure anyone could really answer those questions other than you. If you can afford a new boat, and still afford to go now, you could probably also afford to hire someone to walk you through all the boats systems in detail. If you don’t have that kind of money, that leaves a couple choices. One would be a used boat in good shape that may or may not need some upgrades to match your sailing plans for a much more modest amount of money (and how modest depends on how willing you are to search hard and not fall in love right away); and the other is to buy a boat for very cheap that needs work to get up to usable standards, and then whenever that gets done, you can start upgrading. My choice in both my cruising boats has been the middle one. If I had chosen the new boat option it would have left me with a big boat mortgage and no chance to sail off into sunset. The third option would have left me no time to do anything else and would also have significantly added to my departure date(s). That’s just me though, and I’m wrong a lot.
In my experience, if the hull, rigging, sails, engine, and steering mechanism are solid when you start, the main things that will break are all those systems you add to the boat. If you add them you will learn a lot, and if you aren’t comfortable doing it yourself, make sure you stay on the shoulder of the professional you hire to do it for you. You will get to know your boat best by sailing it. Taking off full time cruising will bring out plenty of problems that weekend sailing didn’t, because the open sea adds a lot of strain on everything, and you are more or less using everything at once all the time! That confidence that comes from fixing your boat will happen sooner or later, and the good thing is, that most of those problems are going to occur as you head south near the coast, and you will have most of them sorted out long before the middle of the Pacific. I think experience handling your boat on the water is the thing you want to have confidence in, and is the one thing only you can get for yourself.
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Old 22-10-2007, 17:03   #3
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Look at buying a boat that has been well maintained but a few years old. I think this is the best value. If you buy a twenty-two year old boat, like I did, you are looking at replacing alot of things that don't really add value to the boat in poportion to their cost. For example I repowered, cost $17k, what did it add to the value of the boatmaybe $12 to 15k. I replaced the standing rigging, cost $10k, added very little to the value of the boat. But both of those repairs give me peace of mind. The boat I bought had not been very well maintained. When I get finished replacing everything that needs to be replaced I will only have a boat that is worth the same as the parts that I put into the boat. To determine the best value you need to look at how much money you make at your job and decide if it is better to pay someone to work on your boat for an hour or to spend twice as long (it always takes a non pro at least twice as long to do the job). If you are going to have the boat for awhile before cruising do your own maintenance and you'll learn alot there.
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Old 22-10-2007, 17:26   #4
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Do you want to sail or work on a boat...

I want to sail. Nothing kills a family's enthusiasm more than 10 weeks on land while the engine is replaced.

If you are going to be coastal/in-shore for a few years you will have plenty of time to learn the boat. Make sure the mast, rigging, sails, keel and rudder are in good shape.

Anything older than 7-years on the salt water will need the rigging evaluated IMO.

If you can buy 3-5 years old, sail for 2 years, refit the rig and then go you would have a solid plan IMO.
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Old 22-10-2007, 17:35   #5
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An "old" boat with a manual windlass will require less maintenance than a "new" boat with an electric. It's more about the amount and complexity of systems installed that you rely on, then after that it's the age.

A fiberglass hull with an aluminum spar is fairly reliable; it's all the other crap that breaks.
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Old 22-10-2007, 17:52   #6
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Pretty much agree with Tareua and Charlie. There are some people who enjoy working on old boats - I used to think I was one of them until I spent close to 3 years working on an old 40' wooden hull that never got off the hard. I like to sail and I expect to spend a fair amount of repair/maintenance time making that happen, but it works out better if I start out with a boat that's basically in 'sail away' condition.

Having said that, there is a breed of sailor (often called an old salt) who makes a distinction between the 'boat' part and the 'living' part. Buying a used boat from one of these guys is the best boat deal imaginable. They are easy to spot:

They are always single males - or at least no one has ever seen their wives or girlfriends because they hate the boat. The boat often looks like a derilect. The decks are faded and crazed, the stainless steel is dull, the exterior wood is faded - but, the the bottom is clean and fast, the running/standing rigging is fairly new, the ground tackle is extensive and well maintained, they have extra sails, and the engine is clean enough to eat off of. Below decks the stove and refrigerator work. The fridge contains 3 hamburger patties, a half dozen eggs, a half pound of bacon and 2 six packs of Bud Lite. The settees are stained, but you can't tell because they're covered with repair manuals and greasey tools. The head works, but the sink is clogged with hair and the V berth is full of dirty clothes. If you find a boat like that - buy it.
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Old 22-10-2007, 21:37   #7
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Good comments from everyone; I appreciate the feedback.
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Old 22-10-2007, 22:41   #8
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Aloha J9,
I especially liked the question: "Do you want to sail or repair boats?" I could never afford a new boat, both monetarily and mentally. I just couldn't spend that kind of money on a non-essential.
If I had it all to do over again I'd buy an older boat in fair condition that was in sailable condition and sail, repair, sail, repair, etc. until all essential systems were gone over, repaired, and/or updated. I chose the hard way and bought an abandoned boat in need of too much. I'm still working on it after many, many years. In my point of view I would not do that again.
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Old 23-10-2007, 00:23   #9
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Aloha J9,

If I had it all to do over again I'd buy an older boat in fair condition that was in sailable condition and sail, repair, sail, repair, etc. until all essential systems were gone over, repaired, and/or updated. I chose the hard way and bought an abandoned boat in need of too much. I'm still working on it after many, many years. In my point of view I would not do that again.
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I'm the guy that did it this way (above). I bought an old boat to rebuild but still sail-able. I would work on it in the off season, then get it ready to sail by the warmest months. I'd take a few good weekly cruises, take notes, then dive back into it again.

So far, I've spent a little more on repairs and up grades then I did for the whole boat and whats left is a short inexpensive list if I do the labor myself but the toughest physically.

But I know every screw, bolt, nut and strip of wood on this boat. I know what she can take for coastal sailing but shes a bit light for the open seas and plan to add more ballast before the finish.

Back to your question, If I were younger I'd surely do it again but my age is catching up with me for laborous work.

So if your young (under 45) and have lots of free time, go for it! If you have a family. I'd say buy newer and better shape. Old boats are like wives, they will demand your time and $$$ and if you have a wife and family jelously will set in if you spend too much time on the boat.

But like what SkiprJohn says a basket case will ware you down and you will not enjoy the boat at all. I've seen a lot that were half done then abandond all because they were not able to get sailing time in. It's like a marriage w/o sex.

There are two ways to learn! One, by doing it yourself even if you make mistakes. And two, by other peoples mistakes! And that's why so many of us hang out here on the forum, to avoid our own mistakes. To learn!!!.............................._/)
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Old 23-10-2007, 03:20   #10
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... There are some people who enjoy working on old boats - I used to think I was one of them until I spent close to 3 years working on an old 40' wooden hull that never got off the hard ...
Turning an avocation (hobby) into a vocation (job) is an excellent way to lose a good hobby.
During the 10 half-years that I made a living from boat repair, I lost much of my fascination & affection for all things “boat”; and much of my respect for boat designers & builders.
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Old 23-10-2007, 04:00   #11
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Too many dreams are caked in dust on the shelves of patience - you might have the determination and the patience to defer casting off, but potential crew may not. I would always advocate using your buying power as a motivated purchaser to secure a boat on which somebody else has taken the depreciation hit, but maintained her lovingly. Buying-power for individual items in chandlerys is practically non-existent when upgrading a "fixer-upper" - plus, every waking minute working on the new lady in your life may taint the enthusiasm of a significant other. Go as soon as you can with the best you can get for your money and your intended lifestyle and plans would be my tuppence worth. Then, again, I'd rather be working on my boat than working to pay for it . . . I guess we all have to find that elusive balance!! Good Luck!!
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Old 23-10-2007, 06:59   #12
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But like what SkiprJohn says a basket case will ware you down and you will not enjoy the boat at all. I've seen a lot that were half done then abandond all because they were not able to get sailing time in. It's like a marriage w/o sex.
And there I was thinking that marriage was the cure for high sex drive - LOL
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Old 23-10-2007, 07:22   #13
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I am planning to go the "buy cheap but older and then refit" route.

My family of 4 is planning to live aboard and cruise for 4-6 years. The kids will be 10 and 6 when we leave (probably.... we are flexible but we want our youngest to be at least 6 and she is 4 now). My wife and I want each kid to have their own cabin and this will also give us space to have grandparents and friends come visit. Given that our boat will be our home (we are selling our land home before we leave) we want it to be large enough to function as such comfortably.

I would love to pony up a giant chunk of cash and sail off into the sunset on a new Hylas 54 but so far none of the email notices relative to my winning the Nigerian lottery have panned out. But I have hopes!

Reality has largely sunk in and a used boat is in our future. Another aspect of this decision is that we focus on reminding ourselves that its not about the boat. A fancy new ultra luxury yacht would be sweet but not if the added costs result in a trip of 2 years instead of 6!

So I need a largish boat with all the nifty systems and such to comfortably live aboard ( a reality for many is that a happy wife is a cruising wife but a wife without a freezer or other comforts will not be happy ). I am also very handy with tools. I build my own racecars (Porsche RSR in vintage racing) and have restored over a dozen vintage cars and I have a great collection of tools. I am a mechanically inclined sort of sailer. Over the past couple of years as part of planning our escape I have purchased and read everything Nigel Calder has written as well as literally dozens of books on boat maintenance, upgrading and building. So I feel confident I can tackle anything systems wise a boat may need.

I have an upper limit for boat costs of $200K and would really like to keep that under $175K. I really just do not see many 50' range 3 cabin boats fully refit and outfitted for blue water cruising in that price range. At least not boats that are setup as I would want.

So my plan is to buy a suitable boat and do a full refit. Currently I lean toward a '76 - '82 Gulfstar 50 tri-cabin. Not the motorsailer type Sailmaster but the Gulfstar 50 version John Kretschmer speaks so highly of as a solid blue water sailer.

I plan to buy one that is solid but in need of refitting and upgrading for around $85K and then have budgeted $100K+ to cover the refit. I will plan on doing as much of the work as possible myself. I am lucky in that I am self employed and can work from just about anywhere. So I can keep the boat in Charleston or Savannah and stay on the boat working on it a week at a time up to every other week. I expect such a refit to take up to a year.

I prefer this strategy because when done I will know every system on the boat, all will be new, all will be well thought out and integrated and we will have what will be in effect a new boat but within our budget. This kind of strategy is more work and demands more time for sure but to me the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. The key I know will be in forcing myself to follow through on pushing the boat to completion. I will NOT have the refit drag out and spoil our cruising plans!

Critiques of this strategy are encouraged!



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Old 23-10-2007, 08:34   #14
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Tspringer:

I like the idea of your plan to get to know the boat intimately. By the sounds of it you have all the skills that you will need to get the job done. The problem I see is that you will be taking on a big job because of: a) the size of the boat and b) the age of the boat. For example the electrical system on boats of that vintage were not set up to have as much power as those of a more modern vintage. At that age the mast section itself as well as the standing rigging will need to be carefully examined. The engine will need to be seriously looked at. The hoses will all need to be replaced. Sails . . . I used a spreadsheet when comparing Islander 36's where I made a list of all the major componets and all the luxury items I wanted so I could see which boat was a better value. When I found the one I wanted -- well lets just say that it wasn't in the shape that was advertised.

Here is a thread that you may find interesting:

SSCA Discussion Board :: View topic - How much did your boat cost?

In the thread Third Day is nice enough to provide a list of his most recent spreadsheet showing how much money he spent on refitting his Pearson 365 (36' Ketch) he details how much he spent and on what. The total on a 36' boat was $95k plus another $20k that he had not detailed yet. On a 50' boat the number would go up I am sure.
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Old 23-10-2007, 08:46   #15
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I am also very handy with tools. I build my own racecars (Porsche RSR in vintage racing) and have restored over a dozen vintage cars and I have a great collection of tools. I am a mechanically inclined sort of sailer. Over the past couple of years as part of planning our escape I have purchased and read everything Nigel Calder has written as well as literally dozens of books on boat maintenance, upgrading and building. So I feel confident I can tackle anything systems wise a boat may need.
For some people this is a great option. It sounds like you have the skills, interest, desire and time to do the job.

The caveat of course is that you don't put a 50' boat in your garage and work on it in the evenings.

If you can get it in your back yard that would be great! If you have to keep it in a boatyard and the boat yard is close, that's pretty good. If the boat is at a yard 45 minutes from you, that really slows down the process. Unless of course you can stop working a real job and work on the boat full time - that would be awesome.

But the best thing is you have a plan and a pretty good idea of how to go about it. I admire the folks that refit their own boats. It's such a great accomplishment.
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