30 August 2009



You have finally reached that point in life where a boat is in the offing, but not a schooner, as in the poem. You've already made the decision for a motor boat, which is why you are reading this magazine. But the decisions seem endless; size, one or two motors, fast or displacement hull, new or used, galley up or galley down, and even where to look, but these are not the choices I am going to address. Instead, I want to steer you to a particular class of boats, one on which almost no advertising dollars are spent, one with little or no name recognition, unless it is for the designer or yard that built it, and that is the custom, one-off motor boat. Of course i am talking about previously owned boats. Building a new custom boat can be the most expensive way to go, and I am trying to steer you onto the most boat for your money, more boat than you ever dreamed possible within your budget.b
We have had our boat at Trawler Port and Trawler Fest, and in both cases, left her open for the public to view. Although she bears a famous name, Krogen, for her designer, she wasn't for sale, and you couldn't buy a boat like her, because she was a custom boat, in other words, unique. What we were trying to impress on people were the wonderful bargains available in the used market, for the one of a kind boat, the boat that is never advertised in the show case ads, the boat without name recognition, which usually reduces the potential buyer market to just a handful. Most people go out looking for a specific boat, new or used, like a Camano 31, or Nordic Tug 37 , or a Krogen 42, or a Flemming 55, and the magazines are full of showcase ads for all of these boats. But many top notch designers, design only custom boats, or some custom boats along with the advertised production models that may, or may not bear their names. To order your dream boat to your specifications would be a wonderful thing, but you are going to get a bill for Big Bucks For Your Boat. I am saying do the opposite; look for that custom boat in the used market, where her lack of name recognition usually makes the price very attractive indeed. It is liable to fall below the price of a well advertised new boat of half the size and half the features. In good hands, that older custom boat may have been maintained to a quality that makes her as good as new, sometimes even better, and the owner knows little or none of this cost will be recovered at the end. He keeps her up to snuff, because he is enjoying her, because he loves her, because that is the kind of boatman he is. This is the real bargain you are looking for. Don't be fooled into thinking that the cheap boat that looks like a wreck and probably is a wreck will be a great bargain; she will eat up your time and money faster than you can count it.
How do you go about this? First rule, everyone's first rule, is to decide where you are you going to use this boat, and how are you going to use this boat right now! Boats for the tropics are built one way, for the colder and wetter regions another. Boats planning to do waterways must look at all the height, width and depth restrictions. You must be very honest with yourself, and answer, "Where am I going to use the boat now.?" If you know for certain, in the immediate future, one to two years, and maybe three at most, you are going to be changing your cruising grounds to something quite different, you must throw that into the equation; anything beyond three years becomes quite iffy, and shouldn't keep you from buying the boat that is perfect for right now! If you live in the North America's North West region, you have a whole host of well built, custom boats to choose from, but most of these were designed with cold, deep, waters in mind, where keeping the boat warm enough takes precedence over keeping her cool, and shallow depths that are a reality of the east coast's Inland Waterway, or the Bahamas, may make such a boat totally impractical. Do your homework! Be brutally honeest about the chances for future plans coming true. This includes looking for that boat suitable for crossing oceans.
To be truly sea worthy in ocean crossing situation, certain features that make a boat grand for full time living as a coastal cruiser, especially in warmer climes, will have to be ignored. I am thinking of multiple large openings, dangerous off shore, but essential for comfort where the breezes blow hot. I am thinking of large open spaces that make life a pleasure in normal cruising mode, but again can be dangerous in long offshore passages, where you go beyond the range of accurate weather forecasts. The offshore passagemaker also excludes the light, fast boats built for speed. These boats can be the most comfortable when they are up on a plane, but when the seas get rough and tough, and they have to slow down, watch out. Usually a fast boat doesn't have the fuel capacity for long distances, but again, here is where that custom boat can become a winner. John Doe went to his naval architect and said, " I want a boat that can cruise the whole world in comfort, and safety. it must have the latest in stabilizer technology, so that like the fast ferries, we can maintain speed in almost all conditions. I want large picture windows, and either you design a super quiet generating system so we air condition all the time, or they must open, which means you design some sort of acceptable storm shutters, for ocean crossings.. I want some good speed potential, so I know it must have hugh fuel capacity, a very stiff hull, and will probably end up being a size that will require multiple crew members." Such boats do exist , and when they hit the market, chances are they will be real bargains. Such purpose built boats will have small demand, but if the purpose fits your purpose, and you are comfortable with the purchase price and the ongoing expenses, then go for it. More likely to fit your budget, is the grand boat for everyday cruising, and let the yacht transports take care of the ocean crossing part.
Price is directly related to size, and size is so vital it is usually the first figure mentioned in any ad. Do not be waylaid into buying more boat than you need because the price is so attractive. The bigger the boat, the smaller the market, so if you can really benefit from the size, and afford to maintain her, this can become your chance of a lifetime. If she is bigger than you need for where you are going with her, (back to Rule One) and if you can't really afford comfortably to pay her bills, from extra marina costs, to extra insurance costs, to extra everything costs, she will become a millstone around your neck. If you can't maintain her properly, she could become life threatening. How do you figure yearly costs of a boat? Old rule of thumb was ten to fifteen percent of the cost of the boat per year, should cover all costs, including berthing, fuel, insurance, up grades and maintenance. Applying this rule, don't use the cost you paid for the boat as a used boat, especially if she was a bargain of a lifetime. Use the approximate replacement cost of the boat. After all, if she is a sixty foot boat, her dockage fees will still be for those of a sixty footer, her fuel useage will be the same as when she was new, no one charges you less for anything because you got a bargain. Charges still relate to size, so don't buy more of a bargain than you need, or can afford.
Most of us look for boats close to home. Makes sense; we are usually going to use the boat close to home, we are comfortable talking to the people in the area, we can quickly learn something about the builder, and usually the designer, and if locally built and designed, we stand a good chance it will suit our immediate needs. We can "kick a lot of tires" that way. The use of the internet, or a good boat broker, and watching the ads in the magazines opens many doors beyond your neighborhood, and with that special custom boat, you need to have access to other doors. In fact another suggestion for you bargain hunters is to look in certain key parts of the world, where the passage maker may have arrived, and wishes to go no further. The Panama Canal Zone used to be such a place. All over the world there are boats, who because of their owners , ,illness or death, or sudden "change of plans", as the ads so often say, are on the market. Maybe it is in a territory where locals are unfamiliar with the designer, or the potential of the design, maybe there is no one to actively market the boat, and if she doesn't have a name that can sell itself, you will have a bargain in the making. It can be even more of a bargain if it is located in an area you wanted to cruise in the first place. I think having a good broker who can network, and is familiar with the ins and outs of buying procedures outside your home territory can be well worth his commission
Now for a little personal information, so you will have some idea of how we reached the conclusions we reached. First of all, we sold our previous cruising boat, a forty six foot cruising ketch for a third of her insured value. She was typical of the boat owned by people who loved her, and wanted her to always be equipped with the latest improvements, and kept in perfect condition. Being a production boat, her sale value was based on BUC Book prices. It's like owning an expensive home in an area of low cost housing. You will never recover the cost of the house..We are making the same "mistake" with our present boat, if you can call keeping her up to snuff when you live aboard full time a mistake. If you love your boat, you take care of her to the best of your financial abilities, especially when you really are aware that " you can't take it with you." This is why I urge you to buy the best maintained boat , rather than the cheapest, it will be by far the better bargain.
When we told our good cruising friend , who had swallowed the hook and become a boat broker, we were truly ready to move from a sailboat to a motor boat, he responded with a description of a boat he wanted us to see. It was a custom Krogen, a name that we only associated with a very unique sailboat we liked, it was sixty one feet, much bigger than we thought we needed, and it was a steel hull. The conversation went something like this:
Us: "Bob, it is bigger than we need, we aren't interested in a steel hull, and it is more money than we think we need to spend."
Bob: "It has just a single engine, something that can be hard to find, and the owner had it designed to "live on the hook", the way you like to do."
Us:" We really don't want to waste your time Bob"
Bob: Come down anyway, (to Miami) and we'll have our end of the season dinner together, and you'll have a look. If nothing else, it will help give you ideas".
We came, more for the social evening, because we truly were not interested in a steel hull, a prejudice developed from my father's influence, we really didn't think we needed 61 feet, and we were totally unrealistic about what a motor boat of a size larger than our sail boat to accommodate the growing size of our numerous offsprings' families, would cost. Of course we fell in love with her, but we weren't to be dissuaded, since she was the first boat we looked at. Another big issue we had with the boat, was the unique round hatches, which could be lifted and swiveled in any direction, to maximize airflow, an invention of the original owner. We were afraid of taking a wave,which might sweep them open. We talked about the boat all summer, poring over the plans, and one day I woke up and thought, "Why am I worrying about taking a wave on the foredeck. In our twenty some years of cruising the sail boat, where we threw ourselves in front of almost everything the Bahamas or Caribbean could offer, we only took on blue water twice, and all we had to do was reduce our speed to stop it. Now we are older, and a lot more cautious, our chances of this happening are almost nil. Forget about it" . Twenty one thousand cruising miles later, we are glad we did.
Looking at the boats in the boat show in the fall was the clincher. The truth of what a larger power boat would cost, especially in the new market, made the used boat look like a bargain. I also never saw another boat that had the all around visibility the Whistler. her original name had, which gave me some hopes in my being able to get it into a slip, and out again., Too many of the boats had stairwells not easily negotiated by someone with creaky knees. Very few of the boats at that time had refrigeration and batteries, fuel capacity and water making capacity to make living away from a marina, without a constantly running generator a possibility and a joy. The more we looked, the more convinced we became we had passed the deal of a lifetime. With heavy hearts, we called Bob and asked, out of curiosity, how much did he sell Whistler for. He said, "Would you believe, I haven't had an offer." We couldn't believe it, but we were overjoyed. Now we not only had a chance to buy our dream boat, but we had a bargaining position. And that is how we became the owners of our present pride and joy, more boat than one could ever expect for the price, and that is why I say, if you want more bang-or boat- for your buck, search out that custom designed, one off, whose first owner's dream was the same as yours is now. What about the extra size, and the steel hull? We love every inch of her, there is room for everything we could want to bring aboard, including having as many as six extra guests in comfort, and feeding and drinking "boatloads" of people. Her apartment sized galley makes big time cooking easy. Twice now the steel hull has been a life saver, once when our new engine failed during her shakedown, and I rammed a cement wall in the New River, and another time when I took a buoy on the wrong side, one of those situations where the colors reversed suddenly, and I ran up on an underwater stony ledge. Bless that steel hull; I no longer fret about hitting possible floating debris and being holed, and if we ran into the situation of being fired on like the two steel hulled sailboats coming up the Red Sea recently, we too might have the bullets bounce off of us. It does take extra maintenance, as Bob told us it would, but it's a small price to pay.
Here's wishing you the same luck we had in your pursuit of your dream boat, and looking in the used custom boat market may help that dream really come true.