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Old 19-06-2007, 08:09   #1
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How to stay out of maintenance hell.

So here's my story.

Last fall I bought my very first boat - a 30+ year old Ericson 32. It was in reasonably good condition but I had no illusions. I knew that there was going to be a whole lot of fixing going onboard. But I knew that was part of the deal. I knew that if I was ever going to understand owning and maintaining a boat that sooner or later I would have to get my nose bloodied while fighting the good boating fight.

Well, eight months later I can report that it was every bit as bad as I thought it would be. I reckon my ratio of maintenance time to sail time is at least 20 to 1. This is simply unacceptable.

So here is my question:

How does one minimize the amount of fixing that has to be done on a boat? I'm not talking about preventive maintenance. I don't have a problem with that. What irritates me is the surprises - the things that break and usually at the worst possible times. In the middle of a storm, for instance. Or when you've loaded up the boat with friends and are about to leave the dock. What I want to know is what is the best strategy to pursue to reduce these surprises to a rate that preserves my sanity.

The ideas I have had so far.

1. Buy a factory new boat. Pay interest instead of for parts and labor.

2. Buy an old boat with a solid hull and do a COMPLETE refit. By complete I mean rip out EVERYTHING that isn't hull and replace it with new.

3. Get the hell out of sailing because what I'm asking for - an acceptably low rate of equipment failure - simply is not possible.

Now, at the risk of sounding nasty let me say this. If you're going to chuckle that smug and sadistic chuckle and offer some tired salty-dawg comment about how owning a sailboat is a labor of love and you've got to pay your dues and put in the blood, sweat and tears....blah, blah, blah....then just move on to the next post. I've already received these responses and I've noticed they come from two types - those who sail dilapidated rust-buckets and those who sold their boats long ago. That is, those who want company for their misery and those who gave up.

What I would like is some sound, specific advice. How does one own a boat and spend more time sailing than fixing?

Thanks in advance!

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Old 19-06-2007, 08:31   #2
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Take my advice with a grain of salt, as I still havn't made the jump into actually owning a sailboat yet, but here is what makes sense to me.

One partial solution would be to go with less or simpler systems.

No engine, no engine problems, or if you insist on an engine, an outboard would be a heck of a lot easier to fix in most cases than a diesel inside a cramped little compartment. For a boat your size you may be able to get by with just a simple sculling oar.

Instead of a furler with mechanical parts which could, and most likely will break, go back to the old fashioned hank-on jib.

Go with less electronics. I don't know where you will be sailing, but if it's just around the bay, there's no reason to have satnav/gps/chartplotters and all that other fancy stuff people say they can't do without. If you're going anywhere far away or unfamiliar, just buy a decent set of paper charts, a cheap-to-decent sextant(and learn how to use it), and MAYBE a handheld gps just for piece of mind.

Simplify your living systems. Do you really NEED that head, holding tank and all the associated plumbing? Wouldn't a bucket do an adequate job? There are liners made for buckets with odor and moisture absorbing things in them(basically cat litter) which are made to be able to be thrown in the trash if you're in an area where you can't chuck it, if you're more than I think it's 3 miles but it may be a bit more out, you can just bucket and chuck it.

Do you need that refridgeration/freezer system? Would a simple change in your diet, methods of food storage and a decent ice box make up for them?

You did not say what you had on your boat specifically that was causing you problems, I just simply listed some of the most common things I read about people having problems with on their boats. There might be more you can simplify and some or all of these suggestions may not apply to you, but they're just suggestions and ideas for you to do what you want with them.

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Old 19-06-2007, 08:34   #3
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Had a bad boat day, week, year? Been there doing that as we speak. Just a month ago bought a 44 gulfstar sloop that needs tons of work. I spend more time at the boat yard where it is on the hard than I do at home. Real job to the boat yard home to bed. That is my day. Luckily I am off for the rest of the summer after this week. I stay sunburned, sweaty and I hate teak. But I know, because I have done this before, that it is worth it. Two summers ago on our last boat we found a perfect anchorage off of a motu in Bora Bora and stayed put for an entire month. Weather was perfect. Our view was....can't think of a way to describe it. We got up at dawn and had coffee and scotchfingers with nutella. Went for a dive. To the local dive shop to fill back up our tanks. A little spear fishing for dinner. Back to the boat for a nap and then reading during the hottest part of the day in the cockpit under the shade tree awning. That month makes all of this worth it. With out a sailboat I would never have seen Cuba, the Panama Canal, Galapogos, Marquesas, French Polynesia, Cook Islands, the Kingdom of Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledona or Australia on a teacher's paycheck. On a sailboat is the best way to take your time and explore the culture.

That said. For the 5 months after we sold Rover and until we bought Morning Sun we had friends with boats and didn't have to do one ounce of maintenance. Friends with boats are the way to go if you don't want to work more than play.

Everyone who owns a boat hates their boat and is going to give up sailing sometimes. Many do give up.
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Old 19-06-2007, 08:37   #4
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I would say a person of your intellect, you should go with #1!

The two happest days in "some" boat owners life is the day he buys it and the day he sells it.
For some, it's not their cup of tea. They like the flavor but don't want to do the harvest. Pay the money and start fresh or get out of boating!
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Old 19-06-2007, 08:40   #5
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Well, I think that your 3 ideas make a lot of sense, but it's your choice. Oh, but new boats can require a lot of work to iron out the problems, as can boats that you have completely refit. Hmm, seems like I narrowed it down quite a bit for you.
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Old 19-06-2007, 08:55   #6
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Originally Posted by sluissa
If you're going anywhere far away or unfamiliar, just buy a decent set of paper charts, a cheap-to-decent sextant(and learn how to use it), and MAYBE a handheld gps just for piece of mind.
Forget the sextant, the naval academy has stopped teaching naval officers the use of a sextant.

DO GET A HANDHELD GPS. Get familar with using it. At the very minimum you can plot your position on your Paper chart to check yourself and use basic navigation in general. Compass, time, speed...etc.
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Old 19-06-2007, 08:56   #7
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Buy new. Get all the bugs out during commissioning. Things will go eventually but there are no little surprises caused by the previous owner. I was going to buy used but didn't think I could spend two years fixing problems caused by previous owners. Now the only problems I have to fix are the ones I made!!
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Old 19-06-2007, 09:58   #8
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Simplify, Regiment, Philosophy


Buy the smallest boat you need to do the job or the size you can afford the time and money to maintain. As others have suggested, calm down with the toys and focus on what is needed for your lifestyle. Don't buy a big boat for fun at the dock, but don't throw out the refrigerator if you can't live without it.


In March/April Multihulls, Darrel Smith provided his maintenance plan for living aboard a Privelege 37. He and his wife went through all the maintenance manuals for all the equipment and installed the checklists, work, inspections and cleaning into an annual calendar. They end up with a regimented maintenance plan that results in overall less work, a skipper and crew who know pretty much the state of the ship, proper separation of duties, and much better peace of mind.


Although I paraphrase, Jimmy Buffet, in "A Pirate Looks at 50", said that if you truly like surfing, you'd better enjoy paddling too, 'cause surfing includes a hell of a lot of paddling.

If you truly like boating, you'd better change how you look at all aspects of it. Maybe you can enjoy maintaining a boat. Ratty said, that there is nothing, simply nothing, more worth doing than messing about in boats. I suggest we change the "in" to "with"; or assume Ratty meant keeping her painted too, and keep smiling.

I can't wait to change out the old hoses on the head. Out of all the jobs, it's the most "interesting".
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Old 19-06-2007, 10:15   #9

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The answer is DEFINITELY #3. There isn't a boat around (new, used, etc...) that isn't going to break on you. The only way to keep up with the never ending breakdowns and failures is to have spares and fix things when they break. (I know.. not possible to carry spares for everything).

People on the water become experts at rigging up solutions a la McGyver.

Unfortunately, since the dawn of boating, this problem has existed. I doubt it will ever go away. The sea is relentless and puts materials to their test.
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Old 19-06-2007, 11:40   #10
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Gee, I am wrestling with how to give you meaningful advice that won’t seem “smug and sadistic.”

If you are expecting the same level of reliability in a boat that you get from mass produced, land based systems, you have unreasonable expectations.

Things do break unexpectedly and usually at the worst of times.

I went with an option between your #1 and 2. I bought a used boat in good shape. The survey turned up things that needed fixing/updating, but it was within 10% of my purchase price and was about what I expected.

Since then, each year, I have fixed things that broke and improved systems on an as needed basis.

The boat was a 94 purchased in 2001. After the initial work, . . . oops I started to list all the things I have overhauled or replaced and this post would become far too long.

Each year I do some preventative maintenance. I would like to do some planned upgrades, but usually the budget is used up with fixing stuff that needs it now. Right now I am replacing all the dead lights because they leak. See the how to have sexy windows thread.

You have to really want to do this. There are by actual count a bajillion and 53 boats that sit unused because the owner found it takes a lot of work to keep them going.

Having said all this, you could have purchased a problem boat and be experiencing more problems than the average sailor but what did you expect in a boat 30+ years old?

Aw heck, after all this, just go with #3. I don’t think your heart is in it.

She took my address and my name
Put my credit to shame
Sunspot Baby, sure had a real good time
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Old 19-06-2007, 12:02   #11
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A new boat will not eliminate the work, by any means. I was in a marina with my 1976 Pearson and had the pedestal torn apart and was trying to fish out some things I had dropped inside that I really needed (picture lots of sailorly lanuguage), when a guy with a shiny, new Hunter 46 (or so) docked in the slip beside me. He had just finished his shakedown cruise, and his list of problems--some serious--was much larger than mine on a brand new boat he had just paid over $300,000 US to buy. There is a structural level of broken stuff that is acceptable, and a cruiser lives with that or doesn't go cruising. When the level of broken stuff reaches a certain point, you haul out and spend lots of time earning your priviledge of going cruising again. The maintenance is part and parcel. Even if you buy a brand-new trawler.

I would recommend option #2, taking your time to get the boat like you want it, and simplifying systems as much as possible. No electric heads and that sort of thing. Then go cruising on a boat that you know thoroughly. There is no substitute for knowing your boat.
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Old 19-06-2007, 12:30   #12
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You build a system and it runs for a while then breaks down. You fix that breakdown and the next run time is twice what the first was. Next breakdown, fix, twice as much runtime again.

If your system is perfect and your fixes are perfect you approach infinite run time between breakdowns.

No perfect systems and no perfect fixes, I know, but I do think the salient point is that you have to use your boat to find the real problems. You can sit in the slip for years refurbishing and installing stuff but you're still going to have something go wrong almost immediately when you set out across the bay. (You may already be in this cycle so please forgive me if I sound condescending.) This goes for salts as well as newbs.

The best plan, for me, has been to get the boat basically seaworthy and start using it as much as possible. Fix the things that actually go wrong and upgrade the things that matter based on sailing the boat. Don't let "experts" on the internet tell you what you need!
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Old 19-06-2007, 12:40   #13
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I have a Challenger 32 that I am refiting as I sail. I remember one day where I had to reroute some hose for the emergecy pump in the cock pit. I am a big guy, 6' - 250lbs. I had to wedge myself into the side lazerette to fish the hose from behind the galley and into the space I was in. I was able to pull the hose, then contemplate how I was going to get out. My legs were in the shape of a pretzel, folded underneath me. I had to raise myself up and out of the hatch while twisting. I knew it was going to be tough. I wondered if I called the Harbor Master on my cell, would he send EMT's to use the jaws of life to get me out. My right foot became caught between me and the hull, my right knee was jammed against the cockpit wall and my hamstring started to spasm causing great pain. As my hammy became tighter and tighter, I started to yell and with great strength and effort hauled myself out. I stood in the lazerette breathing hard wondering if I would be able to walk again. I looked up and saw it was a brilliant So. Cal. early fall afternoon. Sun shining, breeze blowing, all was good.

I also noticed the little s*** heel teenager from the big power crusier at the end of my dock tooling around in the tender. It was a brand new, 14' center counsel Carib with a new 25hp honda on the back. It was pure white. Dad let him take it out in the marina. I looked over at the Power Cruiser. Dad, Mom and Daughter were drinking beer and watching a rental movie on a large flat screen TV in the cockpit. It sunk in that the tender cost more than my boat and all its equipment. I shook my head, strecthed out my hamstring, (which hurt like hell), poured a tall glass of rum and lit a cigar.

I knew that I was richer than they were beacause my boat was paid for, I could fix it myself and I was happy doing it.

End of sermon. If you don't understand, I can't explain it.
It's kind of like tearing up $100 bills while standing in a cold shower.
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Old 19-06-2007, 13:14   #14
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Aloha Kenny,

I would never tell anyone what they should do. I'll tell you what I'm doing. #2. I sail our club's boats to keep the skills alive. We have 5 Walker Bay 10s, 5 Hobie Ones, 13 Sunfish, 1 Hobie 14, 1 Hobie Getaway 16, 1 West Wight Potter 19, 1 Wharram 23, 1 Reinell 26 and 2 26 International Folkboats. I'm not close to getting my boat back in the water but I sail whatever, whenever I want.

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Old 19-06-2007, 13:21   #15
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what you do is face up to the fact that 8 months isn't really that long to work on a 30 year old sailboat. mine is only 20 years old and I have put in a year learning the systems and fixing what needs to be fixed. maybe your boat is too old and you need one a little younger than 30 that has been well maintained. but then you need to sell what you have.

sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most.
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