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Old 23-09-2008, 09:46   #1
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Buy now and fix versus save and buy later

I have tried to find previous posts to address this question but have not had much luck.
Basically I would appreciate some opinions on the title for this thread. I can see good arguements for both sides of this question. If one is able to find what amounts to a good hull with significant "defered maintenance" as they say in the real estate biz and then completely re-rig, re-engine, re-instruement it seems one would have a boat that is unlikely to have many surprises. Additionally if one did as much of the work oneself as possible you would have a better understanding of how your boat was put together and in the event of future mishaps would be in a better position to fix it.

Conversely the above process could be very expensive and it could be argued that a boat that has been mistreated could have structural problems that would not show up on any survey. It might be better to content oneself with paddling ones rubber duckie at the beach and saving money to buy the better boat several years hence.

In my own case I have extensive experience with house renovation but very little with boats. Hobie cats, kyaks and other ocean going vessels of this magnitude (pls note attempt at humour). My wife feels that anything other than brand new is likely to cause troubles.

Probably the only thing we agree on is that the boat needs to be a multihull.
Additionally if anyone feels there are other forums where this question would be better received I would appreciate that information as well.

Thanks to all in advance for your input.
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Old 23-09-2008, 10:07   #2
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Its all a big compromise and you have to figure out which elements of this compromise works best for you.

I see three categories of boats with grey areas in between.

If you have a huge budget then buy a new boat. There will always be some bugs that need to be ironed out when you buy new. You will though have fewer problems than buying a boat that is used.

If you have less than a massive budget then buy used and use your sweat equity plus whats left of your bank account to buy replacement parts and to make upgrades.

Only buy a fixer upper if you have lots of time and dont mind spending a year or two landlocked restoring your boat to operable condition. You will of course need a decent sized bank account to replace things and for upgrades.

Your wife has a point, if you have the money then why become a slave to your boat fixing problem after problem when you could be out sailing?

I don't see much benefit in doing all the work yourself so you know your boat better. You can learn your boat pretty darn well by spending a few days carefully looking around it and hiring a surveyor....thats good enough in my opinion. I think far too many people end up becoming slaves to their boats which takes the fun out owning the boat in the first place.

The term "pleasure boat"...should not be an oxymoron. Some people dont mind spending more time working on their boats than sailing...thats just not me though. Most wives and other women I know would much rather be out on the water having fun.

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Old 23-09-2008, 10:09   #3
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SK- I think there is lot to be said for your thoughts of buying a boat in less than perfect condtion and doing much of the upgraidng yourself. I've owned 3 cruisers and am in the process of buying my fourth. The first two were older boats. I ended up redoing all the wring and plumbing in both. I had no previous expereince with either, but did a lot of reading. The advantage was that everything was updated and I knew exactly how it all worked. I could trouble shoot most anything easily myself while out cruising.

My currnet boat is 33 Beneteau I purchase new, but is in charter. One of the main reasons I probably won't keep it after the charter contract is that the systems are complex and much of it is very inaccessilble. I'm worried I won't be able to easily trouble shoot things. I'm in the process of purchasing another older class boat that will have simple systems.

I also agree with you that while there is something to be said about doing a lot of the work yourself, one needs be be warry of getting into something over your head or getting into structural issues. There are a lot of "project boats" out there that an owner purchased, spent a lot of time and money on and are still not ready to go to sea. Also, one must consider the cost of storage/work area, insurance, etc while one is getting an older boat ready and decide if this in addition to the upgrade costs are worth it. Whether it's worth it or not will vary depending on each persons aptitude and priorities.

One last thought on your wife's comment: In my opinion, all boats cause problems. You need to accept that as a part of cruising. Even new boats need upgrades to be cruise ready and will have things go wrong. I also believe you don't want to be a slave to maintenance, but enjoy as much time out sailing instead. However, I've seen many examples of people with newer boats with complex systems waiting for parts or technical help. For me, an older, simple boat that I can easily trouble shoot is less likely to tie me down.
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Old 23-09-2008, 10:28   #4
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This can be a very difficult question, and there is no right answer for everyone. First, I firmly believe that there is little benefit in purchasing new. Even with a new boat, there will be things you want to change. With a used boat, you can purchase something that is late model (a couple years old), substantialy cheaper than new, and the previous owner will have made changes to the boat, many, that may be changes you would have made yourself.
I am sure many may disagree with this idea.
As for buying a fixer upper, this is also a double edged sword. On one hand, you can make the boat what you want, and often accomplish this for less money than buying a new boat to your specs. You will know what is in the boat, and, after completing the work, will know how to fix anything that goes wrong. The down side is that you can get stuck in a money pit, and need to be very carefull about the boat you choose. Make sure, if you are considering a boat tlike this, that you communicate your skills, and intentions to the surveyor so that he can advise you on the practicality of your plan in relation to the specific boat you are considering.
A project boat will require time. This will also provide an opportunity to get to know the boat. Purchasing a new boat, and heading out gives you no time to get to know the boat, or it's sailing characteristics. While things are less likely to break on a new boat, you will be more likely to break them if you are new to the boat.
The other downfall that so many people get caught in with a project boat, is trying to get everything perfect before you take off. Set a list of needs, and a list of wants. Then set a deadline. Make sure you get the needs list completed by the deadline, and you can always continue with the wants list as you go. If you wait until both lists are complete, you will likely never go.
If a friend were to ask me, I would say buy used. I would recommend a boat based on that friend's skills, and needs.
That is not to say there are no benefits to a new boat. I suppose, if I had unlimited money, that new Oracle trimaran sure looks like something I would want
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Old 23-09-2008, 10:52   #5
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No question if you took on a “project” and did it yourself, you would get to know the boat “intimately”, perhaps even more than you would wish and have all your spare time committed.

The big difference between fixing up a house and a boat is the cost (and availability) of marine materials. The price will amaze you and when buying on retail level, it is even more.

There will be an abundance of boats coming on the market if the economy continues in recession, so better to save and study the market, getting to know what your sailing priorities are and perhaps that distress sale of the perfect boat, presents as an opportunity too good to miss.
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Old 23-09-2008, 12:06   #6
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It would be simpler if boats were like house. It all would be quite clear since it is an area you are quite familiar with. Houses tend to require a great deal of labor often working with large amounts of inexpensive materials. Boats seem to have an never ending list of small items that collectively take more time to assemble than it does to build a house from the ground up. In short a boat is far more complicated than a house while the costs of labor and materials on a boat are far higher. while many unfamiliar skills can be learned the practice required often becomes the next project to un fix as it were.

Just about everything takes materials not commonly found or worse materials that seem quite similar and so easily assumed to be the same yet are not. Surprises a plenty when dealing what seem like simple processes require many additional steps to make it properly suited to the marine environment. The process of one repair causes examination to reveal others.

You might take any number of approaches but you will probably end up with more money left if you stick to basically sound boats that don't require much work. There will still remain a very large amount of effort and money required. Even a new boat is not entirely ready to go. There always seems a long list of small and nagging details that never quite get finished. When they do the clock has begun ticking and things once new now require upkeep. The cycle continues seemingly forever if you are keeping up.

Perhaps a better house analogy would pretend you want to add a bathroom to a house that was formerly a closet. You might imagine all the things to be done. Now imagine doing them with the closet door shut and you inside.
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Old 23-09-2008, 12:29   #7
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Shawn, all of the above opinions are valid - and it really does depend upon your budget, time and desire. Yes, some good deals can be had (although I would tend to avoid buying a boat that needs to be completely redone as in the final analysis, they are seldom a bargain).

My current cat was a bank repossession that I bought for about 1/3rd the surveyed value of 2 years before. It was cosmetically a disaster; having the said that, the hull was sound, the bottom had be blasted, faired and epoxied, and as the original owner was a marine diesel mechanic, the diesels (with only about 2800 hours) and all other systems were in excellent condition.

It also had canvas that was only 2 years old (including a complete cockpit enclosure), and an excellent and functional inventory including dual refrigeration systems, SSB, below-deck hydraulic autopilot, 160 gallon a day watermaker, wind generator, solar panels etc., etc.

Despite all of that, I am spending an incredible amount of time and money redoing the interior, replacing hatches/portlights, some running rigging, hoses, lifelines and sails. I could have 'gotten by' with the boat as she was - or should I say, somebody else could have. But I wanted a boat that was not only clean and attractive, but also ready for extended offshore cruising. And for this I wanted an inventory of new 'offshore' sails, new offshore hatches without any crazing, etc., etc.

Now, here is where the 'deal' may come in - I suspect that I would have ended up, for the same reasons, having made many of the same purchases on many newer boats that were cosmetically superior. In the case of a four or five year old charter boat, it is entirely likely that I would have spent more on top of an originally higher purchase price as the charter inventory is typically inadequate for offshore sailing, and the diesels typically have many more hours and much harder use. And the purchase price for a newer non-charter boat not equipped for offshore would have been higher still.

In the final analysis, only you will know your budget and timetable. But some deals can be had in 'fixer-uppers', so long as they are structurally sound and are not in need of other huge expenses such as repowering, etc.

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Old 23-09-2008, 15:03   #8
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Originally Posted by Pblais View Post


Perhaps a better house analogy would pretend you want to add a bathroom to a house that was formerly a closet. You might imagine all the things to be done. Now imagine doing them with the closet door shut and you inside.
I like that analogy. Also imagine that nothing is even close to square, so instead of taking several minutes to nail up a standard sheet of drywall, you have to play with cardboard for ever just to create a template, then cut some crazy curved shape out of plywood, which after checking for fit needs to be sealed with epoxy resin and glass, finished, installed, (but not before getting all that old liner glue off the wall) painted. Repeat several times....

I briefly owned a Telstar Trimaran. It had several interior problems, most notably was a ridiculously small head with a portipotti that could not be fitted with a real marine head. I decided to redsign the interior to more closely resemlbe the new generation Telstar. This led to cutting out most of the V-birth to convert it to a new head, shelving units and sail locker. I built a new galley where the head used to be in port aft of the salon. The old galley forward to starboard was shaved down to extend one of the settee births to a reasonble size and add a chart table. I also added a new folding salon table. Eventually I realized that the whole electrical system was dependent on lamp cord running through the bilge, so out it all came - a new location for the batteries, new battery switch, new breaker, and most wiring, lights and all electronics replaced. In the end it was all functional and all made sense to me. Unfortunately there was nothing I could do about the sailing characteristics, but I never regretted all the work that went into making it more efficient and having updated systems I knew well. I also liked that it cost me about 1/5 the price of the new Telstar.
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Old 23-09-2008, 16:04   #9
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If your wife is advising you not to you already have a couple of strikes against you.
If you do a project boat be sure to over estimate the time and dollars you will spend.
Good luck whatever you choose!
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Old 23-09-2008, 17:05   #10
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Originally Posted by shawnkillam View Post
In my own case I have extensive experience with house renovation but very little with boats. Hobie cats, kyaks and other ocean going vessels of this magnitude (pls note attempt at humour). My wife feels that anything other than brand new is likely to cause troubles.

I always answer this one the same way - Do you want to sail or be a boat builder?

Do not underestimate the time needed to overhaul a boat. Unlike a house reno that can take a few weeks boat renovations take years. In a house you go to home depot and buy what you need, contractors are plentiful.

In a boat everything that breaks is a custom repair. It took us 4 months to repair our bow pulpit as it had to basically be remanufactured from scratch. In the meantime I am working and have only weekends to do stuff.

My advice - By a smaller boat that you can sail now. Save your freedom chips for the big boat later. You will still have to do some outfitting on any boat and then go.

BTW - I think even new boats are going to have birthing issues. The production level is so slow that while they are called "production boats" the reality is that they are all hand built customs.
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Old 23-09-2008, 18:44   #11
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We bought a project boat.

For the first year or two, we sailed her as is, and there are certain aspects of her that are fine. She has a new (in 2000, anyway) Yanmar, and her hull is in great condition.

I *know* that I know a hell of a lot more than I did when I first started, and this is my second boat.

In some ways, I couldn't imagine doing this any other way. At this point we've completely dropped the rig (the mast and cables are a half mile away in a boat yard), I've yanked all the chain plates and put them back on, and have gone through a lot of this boat with a fine tooth comb. There's still a lot left I need to inspect and work with, but one nice aspect of a project boat is that you really get to know your boat.

The only downsides are that you will be busting your ass doing work, and that it can feel futile sometimes, because the boat is constantly trying to reach its Zen position, which is the bottom of the ocean. You need to spend a lot of time, energy, and money to fight for the status quo.

All in all, I'd get another project boat if I had to do it again. But pick a pretty one so that your work is worth something. Busting your ass to get an ugly boat in condition doesn't really offer much reward for your efforts.
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Old 23-09-2008, 18:46   #12
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Another aspect of a project boat: you can do a lot of things the way you want to. Cruising boats tend to be very customized for the owners, and we've certainly done some great modifications that would have felt silly to do on a new boat, as it would have involving yanking out perfectly good doo-dads. But if you're replacing an old or broken doo-dad, you're guilt free to do it whatever way you like.
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Old 23-09-2008, 20:16   #13
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There's a third option: build your own. That way you end up with a brand-new boat, and you can spread the financial pain over as long as you want. When it's finished you'll know every millimetre of every system like the back of your hand.
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Old 26-09-2008, 09:15   #14
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Thanks everyone for your input,
Does anyone have any experience with or opinions on taking a project boat to a lower cost area of the world, such as Brazil, Panama happen to be two that I know, living in the yard and having work/repairs done there?
Thanks again for all the information.

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Old 26-09-2008, 09:59   #15
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The labor costs may be cheap, but material costs can be high. If you want to replace a rig in, for example, Panama it will be VERY expensive. Not just shipping costs, but also import duties. And no chance of getting it replaced under warranty of course.

And the problem with a project boat is that you don't know what you need in advance. Nor will you have any contacts for anything - plywood, glues, tools, sandpaper etc

So my advice would be to do the work near your home

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