There is a strong argument for buying a used boat for long distance cruising. The purchase price is initially more affordable, the boat often comes with a fairly full inventory, and may be well sorted out and ready to go.
Such boats do exist, but experience suggests that the reality is more likely to be just the opposite. The price, which on the face of it may seem attractive, often proves to be less so once the replacement of worn and obsolete equipment has been factored in—refits are never cheap. If your ambitions stretch beyond normal horizons then the equation becomes even more complicated, as suitable boats are few and far between. And upgrading even a well prepared stock boat to meet the needs of a totally independent cruising life will come at a premium price.
The desire for a metal hull narrowed our range of options further. Over several years we’d looked at many steel boats that might have fitted the bill, but all had what might be termed fatal flaws—no insulation, worn out equipment and rust, rust, rust! Such experiences began to divert the search from steel towards aluminum. At the same time more and more highly experienced sailors had turned to this light, durable material for their craft, especially where high latitudes were the destination—think S/Vs Aventura III, Hawk, Morgan’s Cloud, Northabout, Pelagic Australis, Seal, amongst others. Their reasons for making such choices were highly instructive and chimed with our own thoughts, so the search began for a suitable aluminum boat.
Aluminum boats in the UK are very rare indeed, although far more plentiful in Europe. Boat builders in France have long seen the benefits of alloy construction, and the Dutch have followed suit, building on their mastery of the art of building in steel. Excellent used boats do come on the market, but we always seemed to hear about them too late—good boats at sensible prices were snapped up, and we undoubtedly missed a couple of beauties. At the same time, the usual mismatches in terms of our baseline, non-negotiable design features came up time and again.
Scrutiny of the prices helped to concentrate the mind—these boats hold their values incredibly well, a good thing if you own one, less so if you are looking to buy. When we focused on a couple of likely boats, worked out the cost of upgrading them to our requirements and added the inevitable bit extra, there was nothing much between them and a new boat, price wise. When we were faced with buying someone else’s compromise, however good the boat, the decision was made—we’d go for a new build. At least, too, with a new boat we stand a chance of having several years of relatively trouble free cruising.
So far we are happy with that decision. We have been able to build in many desirable custom features at remarkably little extra cost, one of the major advantages of building in alloy, and working with a builder who has done it all before. And we have had a major say in the interior, rig, deck and systems to create a boat that suits us from scratch. Time will tell whether we have got it right.