New Versus Old

It's taken us a long time to get here - rounding Cape St Vincent in company

When we arrived in Lagos, Portugal, I recognised a very smart looking cutter berthed near us as belonging to people I knew, so when I could see there was someone aboard I wandered over to say hello. After a brief chat, I was told that this obviously ocean-ready yacht was now up for sale due to a change of plans. Somebody’s going to get a great boat here, I thought, and this got me thinking about our own experience.

Pèlerin, an Ovni 435 from the French builder Alubat, is our fourth yacht, and the first new build that we’ve ever owned. And that hadn’t been our intention at all, as we’d been dead set on finding a nearly new boat, fully kitted out if at all possible. It was only when that proved too difficult (we simply couldn’t find a boat close enough to our spec at a sensible price) that we decided to go for new. And that has had its good and bad sides, as may be expected.

Less to go wrong?

The good is that we have a boat that is very close to ideal for our requirements, equipped with gear that we trust (for the most part). And as the vast majority of the gear is relatively new, reliability has generally been good. We like her a lot, and are looking forward to really exploiting her potential over the next few years.

The bad is that it has all taken far longer to get to this stage than we would ever have believed possible. We’ve had to sort out problems from the build stage, and that has held us up on many occasions, which we had (perhaps naively) never adequately factored in – and talking to many other people with new build boats we’ve heard the same story (and worse – far, far worse). Some of the gear has been unreliable, chiefly the electronics package, a result we suspect of over reliance on the current drive to interface everything. But ultimately, the big drawback has been simply the time it takes to develop a good package into a yacht ready for offshore work. We’ve put literally months of work into this, even with much input at the build stage – it has truly been a labour of love.

So what are the alternatives?

A nearly new boat to our current specification would fetch serious money, even in today’s depressed market. Well-equipped boats with a good pedigree are always sought after. Part of the reason being contained in the above paragraph – nearly new gear implies reliability, you shouldn’t have to buy much else to be good to go, and some other poor soul has done all of the snagging and finishing. It’s an attractive package.

An older boat (say 10 years +) can be good value, but much depends on who has owned her and how much upgrading has been carried out during their ownership. Older electronics, for example, often present problems as spares are no longer available, and upgrading can be costly. Refits have a habit of running away from you financially, and at the end of it the boat may be in very good shape, but all of the time and money may not be reflected in the resale value should you put her on the market.

Buying an old nail and doing her up is only viable if you’re really capable, with a wide range of skills and plenty of time on hand, in my view. All of the problems inherent with older boats are there x 10, and it’s not for the faint hearted, although if that’s all your budget will stretch to, then it’s definitely better than not going at all.

So, if we were to be in the same position again, what would we do?

Almost certainly we’d go for a nearly new boat, accept the differences from our ‘perfect’ layout and go sailing. The only thing that might sway it would be if we were looking for a very specific type of boat (polar, for example), where compromise is more of an issue, when we’d want to work closely with a small, bespoke builder and hope to save the extra time at the build stage by having less to do post launch.

One final thought – much is made of the value of warranties with a new build, but we’d question this. Most yacht builders only offer a 1 year warranty (although some GRP builders offer up to 5 years for the hull), which is, in our view and experience, totally inadequate. As a simple comparison, take a look at cars – Jaguar offer 4/5 years, BMW 4, Volkswagen 3, and these are far less expensive items than a 40ft new build yacht. Perhaps if we, as customers, demanded warranties of similar duration for yachts, then builders would have to work far harder to deliver fault-free, reliable products, and that would in turn make buying new an altogether more attractive proposition. So why isn’t that happening?

Additional Reading

{ 21 comments… add one }

  • Victor Raymond December 12, 2010, 10:12 am

    Excellent article, as usual, Colin. Especially since I am in this exact situation right now. You have brought out some many extremely valuable pointers from one who has been there. I have a wonderful social boat, Jeanneau SO 45.2 and now desire the personal 4×4 of ocean going vessels. I have found what I believe to be the ultimate modern hull shape in the form of the Boreal 47.

    The question remains whether an older tried and true Garcia or Ovni would not suffice at a fraction of the cost. This question remains to be answered but your comments help shed light on the issues.

    Again, thank you.

    Victor

    Reply
    • Sergio Del Castillo December 17, 2010, 4:24 pm

      Hi everyone!!!
      I’ve been listening to all your interesting conversation in silence but very attentive.
      I’m now in Victor’s situation. I own a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 45.2 and I’m very happy with her, but I have also in my mind the seed of change.
      With big money I’ll have no doubt: Azzurro 47 or 53 would be my choice. Aluminium hull, prestigious builder, good performance, lifting keel for shallow draft and very good value when selling second-hand if necessary.
      Unfortunately, after checking my pocket, I decided to try something else. And I found very interesting targets, most of them already discussed here, like Boreal 44-47 or Ovnis.
      I would like to know your opinion on Allures 45. I visited her on Paris Boat Show and I found very interesting points. As I appreciate your point of view I’ll be pleased to hear from you about this.

      Thank you very much in advance for this and also for the excellent web.

      Sergio

      Reply
      • Colin Speedie December 18, 2010, 7:37 am

        Hi Sergio

        I had a chance to have an extensive look over an Allures 44 this summer, and was very impressed with the build quality and the finish. The owner was very happy with her, which is always a good sign.

        My only reservations would be the twin rudders, as I prefer the simplicity and protected nature of a single rudder, and the concept of a composite/alloy deck and coachroof. There may well be good arguments for this, but for me one of the reasons that aluminium is so attractive is that it can be all-welded, so avoiding any chance of leaks or through bolting deck fittings.

        Best wishes

        Colin

        Reply
      • John December 18, 2010, 10:30 am

        Hi Sergio,
        I have not seen an Allures, but after a quick glance at their web site the thing that struck me most was the asymmetrical design of their hulls with fine bows and very wide sterns.

        I know this is the fashion in some areas and that it can be a very fast and stable hull form when running, but I am not a fan of these hull forms for general cruising. One of many reasons is that such forms tend to round up hard in puffs when reaching, to the point that they may even self tack if the crew is not quick on the traveler or sheet.

        See this post for more thoughts on hull form.

        Note that I’m not saying that the Allures boats do exhibit these bad habits, only that I would want to be very sure that they do not before buying one.

        For those that want to have a look, here is the Allures web site.

        Note that we provide help and opinions on specific boats tailored for individual clients on a consultancy basis. Please see our Services pages.

        Reply
        • Victor Raymond December 18, 2010, 10:43 am

          John,
          I am wondering about the asymmetrical hull. Obviously you see that design almost everywhere now. Certainly it is evident on the Ovni and Boreal. Perhaps the reason for the dagger boards on the Boreal is to compensate for just the phenomena you describe. I know I have experienced it more than once on my Jeanneau. I thought it was due to rudder stall or lack of authority but perhaps it is, as you say, primarily a hull design weakness.

          Reply
        • John December 18, 2010, 10:59 am

          Hi Victor,

          I don’t think that the Boreal would be as subject to this vice, if at all. If you look at her waterline plane, the stern is not that extreme in relation to the bow, and in fact, as far as I can see from a few illustrations on their site, the hull is fairly symmetrical. See this page.

          In addition, I think the boards aft are to assist with down wind tracking. I’m no yacht designer, but my guess is that putting them down when close reaching or beating to windward would have little affect and might even be counter productive.

          Perhaps Jean-François would care to shed some light on this?

          Reply
          • Victor Raymond December 18, 2010, 1:03 pm

            John,
            Silly me, I was looking more at the top side form than the hull form where it meets the water. Yes, that makes total sense and would explain the improved performance of the Boreal over other current and older designs from other boat builders. I think Jean-François says it all when he states that the Boreal “remains a displacement hull”. I assume he means as opposed to a canoe or open design. I do know that my boat is almost flat in the stern and that probably explains its uncomfortable behavior in quartering seas.

          • Victor Raymond December 18, 2010, 3:32 pm

            John,

            I just re-read this on the Boreal web site.
            “The NACA profiled centreboard increases the boat’s draught from 1m to 2m85 (Boréal 50). Changing the board’s angle moves the anti-drift center forward and backwards, which can help to balance the rudder.

             The two 14° inclination and 4,5° incidence aft dagger boards, help to balance the boat when going to windward and reduce loads on the autopilot… This is done by adjusting the immersed (downwind) dagger board,

            Going downwind, with the centreboard (almost completely) raised and the two dagger boards down, the boat is on rails, gentle and pleasant to steer.”

             

             

          • Jean-François Eeman December 19, 2010, 4:24 pm

            Dear John,

            Daggerboards :
            I see you have posted a comment I wrote before (see below). It is correct about going downwind.
            But going windward we also use the daggerboard : from 12-15 kn real, I lower partly or completey the downwind daggerboard… It is one additional trimming tool. Well trimmed (daggerboard and mainsail) you do not have to use the pilot….

            Coming back from the Amsterdam Boatshow, I crossed two times the Channel (28 and 35 M) beating into the wind without pilot… (I did this with two journalists)

            When Jean-François Delvoye designed the boards, they were extensively tested by Jean-François’s son, who is an Hydrodynamic Engineer… Nevertheless we never imagined it would work that well…
            When Colin tested the boat, there was not enough wind (a few knots) but when Christopher Barnes was here, we were able to show him…

            Rudder:
            It is a complex hydrodynamic phenomena… Victor – I think – on your boat the hull is so that when your rudder is in the axis of the boat there is no space between rudder and hull… so the water flux is forced along the blade… But as the angle gets bigger, the more – especially at the end of the blade – there is space between the upper end and the hull and you lose effectiveness of the blade… I don’t say that’s not normal or that it is not good, I just say the useful surface of your rudder is not constant.
            It is one advantage of having a flat bottom plate…

            John, Colin, please react if you don’t share my point of view.

          • John December 20, 2010, 1:02 pm

            Hi Jean-François,

            Thanks for the thoughts. Very interesting that the boards work so well upwind. I really have no experience with such appendages on bigger boats, but I think that if properly designed, they make a lot of sense.

            I can now see that using the boards in conjunction with the center board will allow you to balance the boat as long as the hull is fundamentally well balanced like the Boreal.

            I do still think that the trend toward very wide sterns by some other designers is not a healthy one for cruising boats.

  • dietmar December 12, 2010, 8:15 pm

    Been there, done that. After looking around for 4 years to find a boat that suits our plans (aluminum, 45 to 50′, fixed keel, no more than 6’8″ draft, fast) we decided to have one built.

    Interesting experience and in the end we are really happy with the product, but it DOES take a lot of time. From the decision to build to watering the boat 2 years, but then it takes another 2 years to sort everything out and maybe modify some items to your requirements.

    Would we do it again? Yes, but probably I would plan to take one year off work to really follow the build process and prevent some issues.

    dietmar

    Reply
  • Colin Speedie December 15, 2010, 4:29 pm

    Hi Victor, glad you found this piece useful. In my view, so much depends on the boat in question. For example, we looked at a few boats that looked excellent in many ways, but had no insulation, which simply ruled them out for living aboard in our latitudes. With a new build that simply isn’t an issue.

    Dietmar, yes doesn’t it take time. I seriously misjudged that aspect, and I totally agree with you that taking a year out might be the way to finish things off. But I remain convinced that if the effort (and more!) is put in at the planning stage, this should pay off when it comes to the final run – a valuable lesson learned.

    Best wishes

    Colin

    Reply
  • Victor Raymond December 15, 2010, 5:21 pm

    Colin
    Regarding insulation, I have found a great disparity in terms of thickness, type and current value of insulation. In other words some 20 year old boats may have insulation but what is its insulating value today?
    Boreal takes great pains to insulate the hull above the waterline with a solid material held in place with adhesives. Small gaps are filled with expanding foam. In this case as with any new build you know what you are getting and can expect for your years of ownership.
    My question to you now is how important, in hindsight, were the two somewhat unusual criteria that limited your search? I am referring to the swinging keel and beachable characteristics that Ovni, Boreal, Garcia and others provide. Is it really as important for your use of the boat that you thought going in?

    Obviously you are not going to get the hourglass hull shape that John and Phyllis enjoy with the main manufacturers. Is that a compromise or just the evolution in hull shape that provides advantages over earlier designs? For a real 4×4 go anywhere anytime type of sailing vessel what are the top design criteria that one can not live without? We all have our wish list but what is ultimately important for anyone desiring this type of adventure?

    Reply
  • Colin Speedie December 16, 2010, 8:47 am

    Hi Victor

    Good point re the insulation. From what I have seen, the modern insulation materials are far superior in every way to many of the older options (such as rockwool for steel boats). And I’d agree that Boreal do it really well, and given its thickness it should be really effective.

    Regarding the lifting keel option, it was a very important factor in our decision making process. Our last boat drew 7ft, and it was a real penalty in many areas, and for exploring rivers etc. We use this facility all the time. Beachability was (and remains) a very secondary factor. We were also attracted by the ability to lift the plate off the wind, having heard how well these boats handle in that configuration – which we now know to be true.

    As far as hull design is concerned, we had to go with the type of boat we had selected – which is largely the same in all of them. Like any design they have their good and bad points, but for us the 4 x 4 concept included shoal draft capability. It’s also fair to say that there is also very little option – if you are looking for an aluminium boat, how many Morgan’s Cloud’s do you come across? I’ve no doubt that Morgan’s Cloud does many things that our boat would not, but in the end the compromise for us was at the Ovni end of the scale, especially as such boats were readily available, affordable, and very much suited our cruising plans – we wanted aluminium, shoal draft capability, simplicity and comfort, all of which we now have. But, no doubt there will be times when we would very much appreciate the looks and the traditional cruising virtues of John and Phyllis’ lovely boat – and who wouldn’t.

    Best wishes

    Colin

    Reply
  • Jean-François Eeman December 17, 2010, 8:38 am

    An interesting article, a lot of interesting feed-back!

    Here some of mine :

    Victor:
    As boatowner: In the beginning we choose a lifting keel “just” for the shoal draft. It is later that we discovered how different it was to beach and it opened up a complete different world. Now we do it all the time. Especially when it is windy, it is fantastic to go close to the end of the bay and dry out… We are very happy to rest on a keel box and not on the bottom plate of the hull. I think that makes a huge difference when you decide on which beach you can go or not…

    Colin:
    As client who ordered a new boat :
    Before having Juan sa Bulan 3 built I visited a huge number of boats and a lot of yards… I liked the whole process. At the end, one of the elements, which is maybe not very rational, was that I liked the idea of having a boat built for me… I was convinced (and I still am) that following closely the construction of MY boat allowed me to know her as good as possible…

    As boatbuilder :
    It would be silly to pretend that there are no problems after the launch of a new unit… BUT :
    - if you keep the number of extra, complicated, equipment limited you seriously reduce the number of potential problems. More and more pleasure boats are equipped as aircraft carriers :) Part of the art is to keep a boat simple !
    - a lot of “corrections”/”finetuning” after the launch is because you set the boat to your hand… Learning to live with her and adapting (you to the boat, the boat to you). This part of the process you also do have when you buy a second hand boat. And most probably in a higher proportion as the boat was not built to your specs… Unless you learned to live with her…

    About Pelegrin versus Morgan’s Cloud.
    I agree with Colin’s way of thinking… At the same time boats like Pelegrin go since 30 years all over the world even in high latitudes. It is a proven, accessible, affordable, maintainable, easy… concept

    Reply
    • John December 17, 2010, 10:43 am

      Hi Jean-François,

      Thanks for the very interesting comments. One of the things I really like about your boats is the keel box concept. I see the following advantages: lowers the center of gravity, provides some directional stability when maneuvering with the board up, provides good protection for the propeller and rudder. (Of course this is all theory in that I have never even seen one of your boats.)

      I, like you, really like the idea of being able to dry out easily and that leads me to a question: Is there any chance of your boat being blown onto her chine, or to put it another way, falling off the keel box, if the wind is blowing hard from the side, say storm force? If that happened do you think there would be damage?

      If there is a risk, would it make sense to have short bolt-on legs fabricated to keep the boat upright, like you see on keel boats in English and French harbours that dry out?

      Reply
      • Jean-François Eeman December 17, 2010, 11:34 am

        Dear John,

        Thank you for the nice feedback !

        Drying out with the Boreal :
        - very factual : We have dried out 42x with our boat. We have had lateral gusts for up to 40-42 knots (but not more) and the boat has always stayed up. But I do not want to say for lateral winds above that…
        (I was not on board but) Once the boat dried out half on a concrete block for a mooring, half in the mud… So the boat stayed upright for several hours and then when the mud compressed, the boat “suddenly” started sliding on its first chine. It was a slow movement, sliding not falling. I try to get a picture of it.
        - the keelbox is wide, the weight is in it so everything contributes to a low gravity point. The boat is conceived so she can stand on her first chine with an angle of 17°…In fact it is meant to dry the boat on her chine to clean under the keel. So the only reason – except for technical problems – to lift the boat is when you want to clean the keel and you don’t want to dive.
        - “sealegs”: Thye might enhance lateral stability but I’d rather slide on the side than take the risk to trip over the “leg”. I have the impression that would involve more risk for potential damage…(but that would mean extreme conditions).

        By the way: all this feedback, discussions… are very inspiring…

        Reply
  • John December 17, 2010, 9:58 am

    Hi All,
    A very interesting discussion, thanks to all of you for taking the time.

    On the shoal draft issue. Much as we love “Morgan’s Cloud” I can’t tell you the number of times we have wistfully looked at an interesting cruising area that was too shallow for us (2 meters draft) and said how much we wish we had a shoal draft boat.

    Further, to be able to go to a snug shallow corner of an anchorage to shelter from heavy weather or ice is very appealing, with the added advantage that you will be away from other boats that are confined to anchoring in the deeper water.

    Finally, as an ex 505 dinghy sailor with a feel for the dynamics of a hull with the center-board retracted, I strongly believe in the ability of lifting keel and center-board boats, if properly designed, to provide a comfortable and safe ride in very heavy weather, because they tend to slide or skid when hit by a wave.

    Reply
  • Victor Raymond December 17, 2010, 9:57 pm

    John and Jean-Francois
    Thank you both for your illuminating comments. I wish I could post some very beautiful and illustrative photos of the Boreal hull taken a few weeks ago when visiting the factory in Brittany. You will see the very fine entry, the very defined and carefully placed chines as well as the excellent workmanship these boats possess.

    In my opinion there is not another alloy boat in production today which solves, in a very simple and practical way, so many of the common issues cruisers face every day at sea, at anchorage and the marina.

    Reply
    • John December 18, 2010, 10:48 am

      Hi Victor,

      That reminds me that I must put together a Flickr Group so that we can all share photographs. I will email you as soon as I do this and it would be great if you could share your shots then.

      Reply
      • Victor Raymond December 18, 2010, 11:33 am

        John,
        I would look forward to sharing my photos of Boreal and other boats. It would facilitate these discussions and help others understand the issues.

        Reply

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