How Not To Buy a Cruising Boat


When you have owned and sailed boats for as long as I have, it’s easy to forget what a minefield the marine industry really is:

  • Incompetent, rapacious boatyards.
  • Brokers who make used car salesmen look like saints.
  • Surveyors who actually facilitate ripping off the buyer, instead of protecting them.
  • Rampant conflict of interest at every turn.
  • New boats that are totally inappropriate for the tasks they are sold for.
  • Gear specifications that are marketing-driven fantasies.

The list goes on and on.

It’s so bad that I would venture to guess that the vast majority of those who have bought an offshore boat have been badly screwed at least once—I know I have.

There are many reasons for this deplorable state of affairs but two main contributors are:

Not Telling

We all have a very human desire to hide that we have bought a boat, piece of gear or service that did not meet the claims made for it.

For example, when we published the story of the $55,000 we lost on a mast that didn’t meet our written specification and was uninsurable, at least half a dozen people wrote to us to relate their similar experiences—pity they waited to bare their souls until after we were out the price of a nice new car.

By the way, Jeff and Karen Siegel, who have already dramatically improved marinas with their crowd review site Active Captain, are, as I understand it, working on bringing the same crowd-based scrutiny to other areas of the marine industry—something we should all support.

Confusing Boats With Cars

For most of us, our only experience of buying large capital items before purchasing our first boat is a car. And, while I know there are plenty of horror stories, by and large cars actually work pretty well, even older second-hand ones, at least when compared to boats.

This car experience programs us with a set of expectations that we tend to apply to boats:

  • That a boat, new or used, can be bought and then sailed and cruised without the expenditure of tens, often hundred of thousands of additional dollars, pounds or Euros, and months, often years, of frustration and work.
  • Assuming that when we pay a boat yard to install a new piece of gear or fix something, that said work might even be successful more than a third of the time.

But the sad fact is that acting on expectations like this around boats, and particularly offshore boats, will often lead to disaster, although there are a few shining exceptions.

What to Do?

This situation should not continue. Here at AAC we are trying hard with the Adventure 40 project to develop a boat that will break the terrible cycle of broken dreams.

And we try to be honest about the huge mistakes we have made, like our first offshore boat.

Allies in The Fight

But on our best and most honest days we have hardly scratched the surface of raw confession compared to Deb and TJ Akey, authors of How Not To Buy a Cruising Boat.

While much of the book is full of standard technical advice—most of which we agree with, some of which we don’t—the real payoff is in the chapters where the authors bare their souls and tell all about how two intelligent people with deep mechanical and engineering experience (aviation, cars, and motorbikes) got simply screwed to the wall in their quest to retire to a live-aboard cruising boat.

And what makes the story even sadder is that Deb and TJ did most things right:

  • Read and researched a huge amount.
  • Bought and learned on a small starter boat.
  • Took some good sailing school courses.
  • Sailed offshore with John Kretschmer.

And still they bought the wrong boat for their needs, endured a brutal refit, and spent a boatload of money that they shouldn’t have needed to.

There is one piece of great news in all of this: Deb and AJ are finally out there cruising.

We recommend reading this book if you are thinking about becoming a voyager or coastal cruiser. We even stick by this recommendation for you experienced boat owners who have been on the water from childhood (like me).

And if you are contemplating buying an old boat with a view to refitting it, this book becomes compulsory reading.

Further Reading

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Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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68 comments … add one
  • ChrisW Nov 7, 2015, 10:44 am

    Eleven years ago, there was a book celebrating the “Wisdom of the Crowd.” Our knowledge management team examined the concepts described therein from an intelligence collection and processing context — what do people know that perhaps they don’t realize they know? This was part of a post 9/11 assessment.

    One thing we extracted was wisdom declines inversely with desire. The more we want an outcome, the less like we are to approach it wisely — well, DUH. The second was so many things are regulated these days that we subconsciously apply a “somebody is looking out for me” bias to our emotionally degraded wisdom.

    Added to that, buying and outfitting a cruising boat — even if it is going well — has the stress content of buying a house, embracing a new partner and an impending job change — the sum of which from the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale get you roughly half way to a major illness! If your life is already complicated you might want to deal with those complications before adding these.

    For the majority, equipping for offshore cruising is an emotionally burdened hike across a knowledge bog. To cross that bog with muck only to the knees one has to be ready and able to walk away from the whole thing without a backward glance.

    One thing required is to push ones self to utility thinking rather than romantic thinking. This is hard when the enterprise is fundamentally romantic, and it’s why cruisers to be are so easily exploited, the romantic part of their brain is involved in the decision making. Another thing required is the recognition that the tiny market called offshore cruising is the wild, wild west and P. T. Barnum’s attitude toward customers is too common for comfort. There’s a reason for taking a magnet when buying stainless.

    The second thing we found was Crowd Wisdom lives shoulder to shoulder with Herd Mentality. After a while, individual, highly specific knowledge degrades into misleading statistics. We belong to a group that keeps statistics on cruising equipage and behavior. This data base is shared freely with the membership provided they contribute to the data pool. When I read through it I see Herd Mentality (and some very old data in places where technologies have changed significantly).

    Because 83% of the Herd uses anchor X or radio Y, the probability someone new to cruising will use X and Y is increased and ultimately the percentage goes up — independent of the utility of the items in the new cruisers context. (Maybe this belonged in the comments on the last post).

    The anecdotes that accompany the statistics are at least equally valuable — common anecdotes being, it came with the boat, but we haven’t used it; it sucks, but less than the other choices; and so on. One that often doesn’t show up in print is, it’s not very good, but I can’t afford what I want. The point here is one should examine the alternatives available before looking at Crowd/Herd statistics.

    Finally there is expectation management. Preparing for cruising is like cruising itself. If one expects problems every step of the way, the few that crop up seem smaller and more manageable. If one takes the optimistic tack, we’ll likely see the boat on the hard in a backwater marina waiting for a discount buyer to finish the prep/cruise.

    • John Nov 8, 2015, 8:22 am

      Hi Chris,

      Once again, you knocked it out of the park, or for our UK readers, scored a six.

      In fact I would say that your comment is way more valuable than the what I had to say in the post above it…other than the book recommendation, that is.

      Usually when someone leaves a comment that I think is super-valuable I try to highlight a particular sentence that grabbed me…but in this case I can’t even do that, it’s all great.

      Thank you.

      • ChrisW Nov 8, 2015, 1:50 pm

        Thank you , John. We are on our sixth cruising boat. Only one was a horror story— the first (it was finely crafted from ply-rot). And it was a case of shame on the seller. We knew after that boat it would be shame on us. Of all I wrote, for us, expectation management paid off the most with our “fleet.”.

        • John Nov 9, 2015, 9:08 am

          Six cruising boats! That explains that crazed look you exhibited during our chat in Charleston! 🙂

          • ChrisW Nov 9, 2015, 9:49 am

            Nah, that was boat envy!

    • Marc Dacey Nov 8, 2015, 5:32 pm

      An excellent comment. I have spent a few years now essentially gutting and rebuilding a custom-built boat in order to make my own mistakes and to make it simpler to service and operate. Although there are exceptions, my trust in the morals and acumen of salespeople and “marine mechanics” is very low, based largely on what I hear from other people, and I have tried to, therefore, teach myself the skills needed to “repair boats in exotic places”. We’ll see how we do out there sooner than later. I love the bit about “expectation management”!

      • Deb Nov 8, 2015, 5:45 pm


        Expectations are so crucial to the outcome of any venture that nearly the entire first chapter of the book is dedicated to it. Expectations form the framework in which our experiences will live.

        S/V Kintala
        “How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat”

  • Deb Nov 8, 2015, 1:48 am

    First of all, thank you John for your review. I look forward to feedback from the readers on this site because, while sometimes boisterous, the comments are always intelligent, thoughtful, and well-founded, unlike so many other blogs and websites dedicated to sailing and cruising.

    Chris – Your comments are spot-on. The one factor you failed to mention, though, is trust. Because so many potential cruisers make the decision to cruise with very little prior knowledge of boats, their systems, or even sailing, they find it necessary to trust professionals that they assume (incorrectly) have the knowledge and skills to help them realize their dream. The largest factor contributing to our travails was our background in aviation. With that aviation background we were at least fortunate enough to KNOW that we didn’t know squat and did what we would have done in the aviation world: looked to professionals for the knowledge and skills we were missing. The difficulty, as John intimated in his post, is that “marine” and “professional” are two words not frequently associated, and the ability to trust wholly left out of the equation. And in case you think that we are exceedingly rare, a rather high percentage of cruisers we meet are either pilots or aviation mechanics so I imagine the trust issue has bitten more than a few.

    S/V Kintala
    “How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat”

    • John Nov 8, 2015, 8:41 am

      Hi Deb,

      Sadly, your point on trust is absolutely spot on. I’m going to guess that in the aviation world, if you contracted to have a new wing spar made, you could trust that it would not have an unspecified twist of 10 degrees—not so the marine world.

      • ChrisW Nov 8, 2015, 2:03 pm

        Thank you, Deb. We followed your blog for quite a while.

        There is a Russian proverb: “doveryai no proveryai.” Trust, but verify.

        We recently got bitten by a marine service provider. He told us the job was done. He launched the boat and rerigged her. We showed up to take delivery, and as I went down the list on the work order, I noticed something not checked off. When I asked him about it, I got a blank stare and “my guys said they couldn’t find any of those on the hull.” I pulled out my phone and showed him the picture I had taken of the items when the boat was hauled. He removed the considerable charge, but at that point we would have had to derig and haul again to finish the work, We hired a diver when we got back to our marina instead.

        He trusted his crew, but didn’t verify. We trusted him but didn’t verify. He’s a big-shot in the world of sailing and we have been owned by cruising boats for 43 years. . .

    • ChrisW Nov 8, 2015, 1:52 pm

      Thank you, Deb. We followed your blog for quite a while.

  • Erik Snel Nov 8, 2015, 8:03 am

    Recently I have hesitated in advising some people on how to start with a (2nd hand) cruising yacht. My gut feeling was that it would be a good idea to start out like we did, with a smaller starter yacht, to learn and be able to better choose a larger (and thus more expensive) yacht. This is the way we started out. However, looking back, the smaller yacht cost me a lot of additional money (although I reclaimed part through selling with profit) and even more time. I now feel that maybe we would have been better off saving all that time and money for our current yacht. On the other hand, we learned quite a lot with our starter yacht too…
    What are your thoughts on this?

    • John Nov 8, 2015, 8:37 am

      Hi Erik,

      Wow, a difficult one…but a really good question to be asking ourselves, thanks.

      I guess the answer is, like so many in cruising and life, it depends…mostly on the skills of the person(s) in question.

      But, on balance, I would say a starter boat is a very good idea. No, it’s not a guarantee of success—see Deb and AJ’s experience—but I think just buying a large boat, new or old, with no prior boat owning experience is pretty much a guarantee of failure, at least in the boat world as it exists today. (In fact it was exactly this problem that inspired me to come up with the Adventure 40 in the first place.)

      I think the key point being that, as Deb and AJ explain so well in their book, skills from another area, no matter how deep and seemingly similar, don’t prepare a person that well for cruising boat ownership. For example, AJ is a deeply experienced and highly qualified aviation mechanic, which you would think would prepare him to just dive in, but it did not work out well.

      • ChrisW Nov 8, 2015, 2:18 pm

        We have cruised with 25, 23, 29, 18, 40, and 40 foot boats. We found that size in not measured in feet or cu ft or tons (tonnes). We believe size is measured in comfort — fiscal and physical.

        A boat that is a financial burden is too big no matter how small.

        A boat that is a physical chore to maintain and sail and maneuver under power is too big no matter how small.

        A boat that fails to provide the space humans need to maintain their sanity and healthy relationships is too small no matter how big.

        So for my thinking the questions are: Can I afford this with out sweating the bucks or cutting corners? Can I handle this in all the situations I’m likely to encounter with my cruising plans? Can I maintain my sanity and relationships aboard this boat.

        Let the size be a derivative not a driver.

        • Stein Varjord Nov 10, 2015, 8:55 pm

          Frequently when reading posts here on AAC, I wish there was a “Like” button, as on Facebook. 🙂 This post and especially your first one above, are so interesting and spot on that I wish for an “Applause” button!

          • John Nov 11, 2015, 7:58 am

            Hi Stein,

            Now that’s an interesting idea. Not sure if it’s possible under Wordpress, but I will take a look at it for this winter’s site redesign.

    • Deb Nov 8, 2015, 10:05 am


      John is right that the answer to your question is “It depends…” Our decision to begin our cruising journey with a starter boat had to do with several factors. 1) We weren’t sure that selling everything and moving onto a boat full time was something we were actually going to like doing since we had never sailed prior to that point, 2) We were still working so we had a good bit of disposable income but didn’t want to commit the amount of money for a full size cruising boat in the event that we decided we didn’t like the life, 3) We knew we needed time to learn how to live and work on a boat which we did every weekend for 6 years, 4) We had a great lake nearby to learn on. As discussed at great length in the book, this approach may not be for everyone.

      We did, in fact, talk about the possibility of downsizing to a small efficiency early on and saving every penny till we were ready to go, traveling to Florida, buying our cruising boat, refitting it and leaving. This approach would have ended our cruising dreams post haste as we grossly underestimated the amount it would take to accomplish the purchase and refit and would have exhausted our funds without employment to produce more. We had been told by the “experts” that it would take 30-40% of the purchase price to get a boat ready for cruising. With our experience in aviation, we knew to increase that with a sizable safety margin, but it was still inadequate. We were technically more knowledgeable than most people we run into out cruising, prepared better than most, and still got caught short. I believe, though, that had we not bought our starter boat we would never have succeeded at all.

      S/V Kintala
      “How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat”

    • Matt Nov 8, 2015, 12:38 pm

      Well, the safe answer is of course “it depends…..”

      Broadly speaking, though, when people ask me this question, the answer usually works out to be some form of “start with something inexpensive and trailer-sized”.

      It is possible to decide “we’re going to sell the house and go cruising” with no prior experience, and succeed. (See, for example, .)

      In the learning phase, though, it’s very helpful to have a platform that will teach you what you don’t know you need to know. Things like how to trace a wiring fault, or whether you like water-skiing more than you like anchoring out, or how to deal with a grounding. You don’t want a huge amount of capital tied up in this project, because you are going to break a lot of things and it may turn out that boating is not for you after all.

      A few seasons of day and weekend trips on an inexpensive lake/inshore boat will teach you a huge amount about boat handling, safety, maintenance, different cruising lifestyles, and much more. Meanwhile, you’re still working and saving up for the big boat. The 25-footer will generally be easy to sell on a quick turnaround if you decide you’re ready to move up to a long-range cruiser, or if you decide to buy a motorhome instead.

      If, on the other hand, you go straight for the big yacht, all the same new-boater risks and pitfalls apply…. but they’re multiplied by the 10x greater financial risk of having a $120,000 yacht in play rather than a $12,000 trailer cruiser.

  • Dick Stevenson Nov 8, 2015, 12:23 pm

    Hey all,
    Among the many reasons why buying/kitting out an offshore boat has had such a disastrous outcome for so many and is/was challenging for us all: ultimately, I look to consumer ignorance as the bottom line. And lest I get accused for blaming the victim, let me assure you I see many others collude with the general sailing public being so poorly educated. The only way to counteract this is through better knowledge and education dispersal: one of the very great appeals of the AAC site.
    The collusive parties include:
    The maritime media big time. They are, in execution and in general, far more an advertising supplement to the maritime industry than any sort of journalistic enterprise with the best interests of their readers in the forefront of their concerns.
    The maritime industry: dealers, chandleries, manufacturers, At least one expects them to be committed to their product: so a buyer beware headset is hardly unwise.
    The maritime support people: boatyard personnel, surveyors, “independent” brokers, rally operators etc. where the expectation of expertise, integrity, and “on your side”-edness is expected and so often leads to disappointment.
    And lest one see the above people as largely venal: some are of course, but most are just self-servingly not willing to give the whole story while many are as poorly educated/experienced as those they are advising. How many of the above operate with any commitment to education when it may reflect adversely on an element of the industry or their bottom line? How often have you felt the above institutions to admirably hold the best interests of you, the consumer, foremost?
    There are also impressively few examples of boats that are solid offshore boats, so that wandering the boatyards/marinas/boat shows of the world is not educative of what goes into a seaworthy offshore cruising boat- one that meets the criteria that John has suggested as baseline. This is made more difficult as the criteria of relevance is generally not easily noticeable to the casual or uneducated eye. Thereby throwing one back on relying on manufacturers etc. to give reliable reports on their construction methods. A vicious circle fraught with pitfalls.
    And, for sure, the victim participates. Think about the last time you heard about a nascent offshore person/couple who had steeped themselves in the reading the gurus of cruising: the Hiscocks and their lot. There is a lot of wisdom in those tomes. Also, think of the number of skippers you have seen, and may know, who believe that they can just jump into offshore sailing, often by spending money on a bigger boat with lots of safety bells and whistles.
    Another contributing factor, I suspect, is that the pathways to learning are different nowadays. It used to be common for there to be what I think of as “guild” type learning/training which includes apprenticeship, incremental accrual of knowledge/experience over longer periods of time. I believe there to be less tolerance in the modern world for a “guild” type learning pathway and much hype about the various methods for gaming the learning curve.
    We are also relatively few in number, often isolated and on our own (less so now with the internet) and inventing/re-inventing the wheel as we go along. By the nature of our interests, we do not congregate in large numbers so much of the above is understandable.
    The heartening element in all this is that knowledge will emerge as, ours is an enterprise where it becomes abundantly clear what works and what does not: Mother Nature sees to that. Our responsibility is to ensure that her teachings get widely distributed.
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    • John Nov 9, 2015, 9:31 am

      Hi Dick,

      Lot’s of good points, as always. I particularly like the concept of “guild learning”. Having said that, we are going to have to see some fundamental changes in the way the developed world (particularly NA) works before most young people are going to be able to find time for said learning outside of trying to make a viable career.

      For example, many (most?) employers are expecting all employees to be available instantly 24x7x365 on their smart phones—makes it hard to concentrate on much else.

      • Deb Nov 9, 2015, 9:54 am


        So true on this point and there was certainly no one more susceptible to that than T.J. and I. He was an on-demand corporate pilot during our cruising prep and I was a salaried aviation marketing / parts guru, both working for demanding bosses. That being said, the very best training money we spent was our trips with John Kretschmer and most anybody who can afford his week-long trips can benefit from them as intensive guild learning. In fact, we know several Canadians who have since sold their boats and simply take two trips with John every year for their sailing fix. Of course they spend a lot of money with him, but substantially less than buying and maintaining their own boat for a short season and the learning is unparalleled. We receive no compensation from John for our recommendation. He has since become a good friend, and our recommendation arises simply from the value his trips provide for new cruisers.

        S/V Kintala
        “How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat”

  • Deb Nov 8, 2015, 1:02 pm


    Well said. While I agree that education is necessary and would certainly increase the odds of success, in our case it still did not alleviate our difficulties. Being voracious readers, we did in fact steep ourselves in reading the gurus of cruising for 6 years prior to leaving. We listened to all of the old salts and bought our boat based on that knowledge. It just turned out that, for us, that type of boat was not the correct one.

    Our experience goes to show that you can do everything right and still have a nightmare of an experience. Surely, several exceptions stood out as we made our progression to full time cruising. Had it not been for the knowledge we received from the AAC site, and a few other exceptionally well-crafted blogs, as well as the “guild” learning we accrued from our interactions and trips with John Kretschmer, we would surely have failed.

    S/V Kintala
    “How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat”

  • Dick Stevenson Nov 8, 2015, 1:16 pm

    And in addition to doing passages/training with experienced offshore sailors who are also good teachers, another reasonable way to accelerate the learning curve is to find someone like Colin as a consultant in the buying and fitting out of your offshore boat.
    Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

  • Dick Stevenson Nov 8, 2015, 1:30 pm

    As the AAC’s resident example (and I applaud and thank you for this) of an outcome that many/most keep private, it would be great to have you reflect on what might have been helpful to you and your husband that would have made the unfortunate outcome less likely to occur. I suspect your book would give a fuller and more nuanced view, but you report doing all the right things, but still went down the wrong road. Certainly there is always bad luck, but what would have helped you at that time?
    Thanks, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    • John Nov 9, 2015, 9:06 am

      Hi Dick,

      Good question, which I will jump in on.

      One of the things that really jumped out of the book for me was that I really could not put my finger on any avoidable mistakes made by Deb and AJ that lead to the bad outcome. Sure, they did plenty of stuff wrong, but I just could not see a clear way that an inexperienced couple could avoid those mistakes.

      Or to put it another way, the very sad conclusion for me was that there is no way for an inexperienced couple to buy an old boat, refit it and have a good outcome.

      • ChrisW Nov 9, 2015, 10:35 am

        Part of the dilemma is there is a (less expensive) majority among the “old boats” out there that are unsuitable for offshore cruising regardless of the couple’s experience.
        Racer-cruisers and cruiser-racers are marketing driven designs with features delivering dis-benefits in offshore handling, livability, and maintainability. And this isn’t just about the horror story boats, good designers/builders under market pressure and with excess enthusiasm produced some really scary boats.

        When I was a NAYRU and MORC measurer I always found it interesting to do my own analysis of how far from the “norms” racer-cruisers fell compared to boats that had been built to go fast or to cruise well.
        For me it came down to cruisers can be raced but racers and racer cruisers ought not be cruised too far from land. (One wanted a bomber, not a fighter plane.)
        As I went through the feature sets that bothered the most, three stuck up above the rest — skegless spade rudders, massive headsails, and excessive beam.
        In the years of cruising since then, most of the bad juju we’ve heard on the docks has been associated with those three and their associated equipment or with failed creature comforts (50-50).


        • Tj Nov 9, 2015, 12:58 pm

          I thought I’d jump in here for a moment. I completely agree that the “cruiser-racer” or “racer-cruiser” is likely to be poorly suited to live aboard cruising, but here pops up a problem with newer boats. From what I can see a large number of boats marketed as cruisers (and many that go through the charter market) have fin keels and rudder, including the new Tartan 4300 “cruiser”. On the other hand our Tartan 42, the last of Tartan’s IROC hulls (so far as I know) and built and marketed as a racer-cruiser, has a modified full keel cast out of lead and a beefy skeg. There is a truism for any boat cruising America’s southeast coast, the ICW, and the Bahama Islands: anything that draws more than 3 feet will eventually end up on the ground. As much as I would love to be living in a Tartan 4300, I’m pretty sure I could not afford the repair costs after a good hit. On most of the Beneteaus, Jeanneaus, Hunters, and Catalinas I have seen, I would live in mortal fear of poking one of those skinny fins into Mother Earth, or taking a side load blow on any of those rudders.

          So finding a less than 30 year old kind-of-budget-cruiser that doesn’t have seriously exposed hanging down parts waiting to get broken off, may be a serious challenge.

          S/V Kintala
          “How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat”

          • ChrisW Nov 9, 2015, 2:12 pm

            I understand the dilemma. When we contemplated really long range cruising, we concluded buying a properly designed but poorly executed boat and really fixing its weak points made more sense to us. There were boats out there that with improved/reinforced bulkheads, selective hull reinforcement, the addition of a skeg, repowering with a modern plant, rerigging, (and in one case we looked at adding draft). Then we went looking for the craftsmen who could do the work well, Ha, Haha, hahaha, I’ve got to stop. . . .

          • John Nov 10, 2015, 8:31 am

            Hi TJ,

            That’s a really good point. Having said that, there is no reason that fin keel boat can’t be built to withstand a hull speed grounding without structural damage—the A40 will be meet that requirement. And the really sad thing is that the extra structure required adds very little to the price of that, or any, boat.

  • Deb Nov 8, 2015, 2:10 pm


    I do have to clarify one point. When I say we “did all the right things”, I mean that we did all of the things recommended by the “old salts” and authors of all of the recommended reading. We clearly made MANY mistakes the solutions for which they neglected to mention and, while I don’t want to give away too much from the book, the biggest single mistake we made was in trusting that marine “professionals” were equivalent to aviation professionals. In aviation, one can trust that a professional will actually deliver the quality of goods and work he promises. This is guaranteed by the FAA. I realize that this level of regulation in the marine industry would render recreational boating unattainable to the average consumer due to the heavy increase in cost that would result, so I’m not suggesting it as a solution, only an observation. Specifically? We should have found a buyer’s broker that we felt we could trust and who would look out for our interests but, honestly, 8 years out we rarely encounter anyone in the marine industry who fits the bill and that is the saddest state of affairs.

    S/V Kintala
    “How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat”

    • Jim G Nov 8, 2015, 3:52 pm

      Hi Deb,
      Ordered your book this morning and am looking forward to the read, thanks for sharing your story!
      Would you say your primary issues were around buying the wrong boat (bomb proof blue water cruiser) for what your use turned out to be (mostly coastal) or was it hidden refit costs of an older boat?
      Thanks again,

      • Jim G Nov 8, 2015, 4:29 pm

        Hi Deb,
        Sorry about the blunt question above, I’m just wrestling with the question of the right boat for what will probably end up being a coastal, commuter type cruiser. My heart says go for the go anywhere boat but my mind is thinking more of a coastal cruiser. The A40 would be the best of both worlds if we can make the economics work. Thanks again.


        • Deb Nov 8, 2015, 5:42 pm


          First of all, I have to preface this comment with the statement that we repeatedly made in the book, there is no RIGHT way to go cruising, there is only YOUR way. I say that because what works for us may not work for the next cruiser, and this is at the base of what went wrong for us. We read all of the material available and listened to the old salts and made our purchasing decisions based on that knowledge. The problem is that we were different people and had different needs than those old salts, and their recommendations were not what we needed. Case in point: wind vane steering (oh brother here comes the heated discussion…). We installed a Cape Horn wind vane on the boat instead of an electric autopilot because we didn’t have the money to buy both, and the idea of having a steering system that required no power was intoxicating. The reality was far different: wind vanes work great on long ocean crossings where the wind is steady for days out of one direction and you’re traveling hundreds of miles without tacking. Not so much on coastal work where the wind is shifting constantly and the sailing area is constrained by channels, traffic, hazards and land, not to mention the hundreds of hours you will end up motoring. While we’re getting better at operating the wind vane, there is rarely a day that we don’t regret that purchase.

          Now, to answer your question. I wish I could give you a definitive answer, but the complexities of buying and outfitting a cruising boat (on top of the lifestyle changes required – see Chris W’s post at the beginning of the thread) leave me having to answer you with “a combination of the two.”

          I’ll give you a couple of examples. We were advised by everyone whose material we read that we wanted a smaller cockpit so that if we took a wave on open ocean crossings it would have time to drain before the next wave hit. Great idea. Except that we are on open ocean crossings less than a couple days a year and the other 363 days we are living on the boat and entertaining on the boat and would like enough room to seat more than four people with their knees touching. Not to mention that our pinched stern also severely limits the storage available in lockers so our aft cabin berth ends up being the garage.

          Another example: Kintala’s companionway is a true, blue-water companionway that only opens on the top without the drop board front opening. It means that the boat can’t be downflooded (another old salt piece of advice), but it also means that it is extremely difficult to communicate with anyone above. We end up both remaining in the cockpit the whole time on long passages, sleeping on the seats. As a result, the pilot berth became superfluous. We never, ever used it on passages because we couldn’t communicate. The pilot berth layout greatly limits the space and usable configuration of the interior.

          On the refit side of the question? Because we ended up being coastal cruisers instead of blue water cruisers, we underestimated the importance of certain pieces of equipment that the boat either didn’t have or had but was non-functioning. Example: Kintala came equipped with a very robust, but manual, windlass, responsible for handling the single most impressive and reliable piece of safety equipment we have onboard, our Mantus 65, but I confess: we’re getting old. We will never own another boat without an electric windlass.

          There is simply no way to understate the level of misrepresentation that occurred with the purchase of this boat. Were we led down the garden path? Absolutely (see all of the many comments above to substantiate this). In addition to having to deal with the repair and/or replacement of all of these items, we were doing it without the knowledge necessary to make good decisions, so some of the replacement items left us with issues of their own. I would like to think that our situation is unusual or even exceedingly rare, but since publishing this book we have fielded hundreds of comments, emails, and conversations that are even worse nightmares than ours.

          And that brings me to the final point in my convoluted answer: your budget. Most newer cruising boats will address many of the issues we’ve had with Kintala, so if your budget allows you to buy a newer boat (let’s say mid 90s or newer just for grins), you will likely (though not definitely) be relieved from our experiences. If you, like us, are a budget cruiser and can only afford a 30+ year old boat, chances are you will have a similar experience. I simply think that you have to decide how much you have to spend on a boat, cut that money in half, buy the boat with half of your funds and save the other half for the ensuing refit. If you happen to be one of the truly lucky ones who happen to buy a boat from someone honest like us and get away with a 20 or 30% refit, then your cruising kitty will be fleshed out with the balance and you’ll be ahead of the game.

          Now I only need an independently wealthy relative to buy me an Adventure 40…

          S/V Kintala
          “How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat”

          • John Nov 9, 2015, 9:15 am

            Hi Deb,

            Thanks so much for taking the time to answer all the of the above comments so thoughtfully.

            I have a tough question for you: (Feel free to ignore it if you feel it’s too personal.)

            If you added up all of the money you spent on your two boats what percentage of the cost of an A40 (say $225,000 with some added gear) would that represent?

            Also, do you have an estimate of the hours the two of you put into refitting the two boats?

            Obviously I have an agenda here, but, none the less, I still think it’s an important question.

    • John Nov 9, 2015, 9:23 am

      Hi Deb,

      Hum, not sure about the benefits of a buyer’s broker. The bottom line is that any broker, buyer’s or seller’s, gets paid when the sale goes through, which is a fundamental conflict of interest.

      I think it is better to pay a consultant with the required experience on an hourly bases. That way their interests are clearly aligned with the buyer. Having said that, I only know of two people I could recommend: Colin, and Steve.

      Disclosure: I don’t receive any compensation from either consultant, but Colin is a close personal friend and long time contributor to AAC.

      • Erik Snel Nov 9, 2015, 11:14 am

        When I bought my first yacht, I did not involve a buyers broker but instead asked a marine surveyor to have a look at the yacht. I told him I did not need a report, but wanted detailed information about what needed to be replaced, repaired or could otherwise become a problem. Because he did not have to take any responsibility (no formal report) and was paid by the hour, my interest was his. The result was an extensive list so at that point I new exactly what needed to be done. I would recommend this way of working to everyone, but assure yourself that you find a surveyor that knows his job!

        • Deb Nov 9, 2015, 11:41 am


          Don’t even get me started on surveyors. You have to read the book for our experience with multiple surveyors. And I do mean MULTIPLE.

          S/V Kintala
          “How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat”

        • John Nov 10, 2015, 10:34 am

          Hi Erik,

          You know, I think that might be a great idea and perhaps quite cost effective. I do think that part of the problem with surveys is that buyers thereof have an unrealistic understanding of the time it really takes to survey a boat, so if one agrees a fixed price there is no incentive for the survey to keep digging as he or she finds bad stuff.

          One other tip I would add. I would insist on being present for, and working along with, any survey work being done.

          Of course Dick is right that a proper report will probably be required in the end, but that could be a different project.

          But then again, as Deb points out, all of this requires a competent surveyor, and therein lies the problem, particularly for the inexperienced buyer.

          • ChrisW Nov 10, 2015, 10:52 am

            When we sold our Freedom 40, in the Annapolis area, we sold it to a very experienced marine professional from Boston who used his network to secure one of the best surveyors in the area. I showed up the day of the survey just to be available to answer questions. During the survey I took pictures of the surveyor on the cell phone a ~dozen times securing additional business and having a personal dispute with someone.
            The final report slammed the poor installation and condition of equipment not even belonging to this boat. For this the buyer paid $25 a foot.

          • Erik Snel Nov 11, 2015, 8:14 am


            Good point, it all hinges on the quality of the expert. It should be possible though, using your network to find one that several others have good experience with. In Holland I would know 1 or 2 to recommend…

      • Deb Nov 9, 2015, 11:36 am


        First, because it’s the shorter answer, I’ll comment on the buyer’s broker issue. I agree that a consultant is a great idea, one that has arisen for us after the book was published simply from reader’s suggestions that T.J. consider starting a consultant business of his own, offering his services as a full-time cruiser evaluating boats for potential cruisers. Should we ever purchase another boat, using a consultant like Colin will be a possibility we consider. We realize that at some point this thoroughbred will be too much for us to handle and we’ll move to a trawler to finish out our cruising days. That will open another whole can of worms since we’ve never owned a power boat either.

        On the cost, I will need to break it into two sections because our first boat was such a different experience, one which we detail extensively in the book. We had a very positive experience in the purchasing of our starter boat, which laid the ground work in some ways for the disaster that was our cruising boat. We purchased our first boat, a Compac 27, on our local lake from a member of the yacht club which we subsequently joined, and from an broker whose boat was in the slip next to where we berthed her and who later became a good friend. He was invested in the success of the transaction because we were his neighbors. The Compac had been meticulously maintained by her previous owner and, while on the expensive side for a starter boat, left us with very little to do other than routine maintenance. The major work we did on the boat included replacing a leaking holding tank, replacing the carpet headliner (which we didn’t really have to do but chose to do only because we’re a bit anal on appearance), re-skinning the bimini, and making some custom screens and shades. The boat initially cost us $20K and we sold it for a tiny bit of profit at $22K. You can still see it on the for sale blog we started at

        OK, on to Kintala. First of all, you’re right – it is personal – and, as a result, few people are willing to divulge the true information because it only accentuates their sense of failure. It is, in fact, a long-running discussion I’ve been having with Bob over at, that of unrealistic cruising budgets posted on cruising blogs which leave potential cruisers with the opinion that their cruising kitty will suffice when in fact they won’t because the information they base their decision on is incomplete. While we estimated for the purposes of the book that we had spent 100% of the initial cost of the boat to refit and outfit, I’ll be more specific for you here only because I know that it will help with your A40 project.

        Unfortunately, I don’t have any way to separate out routine maintenance from refitting expenses in my Quicken which I use to track expenses other than stating what we spent before we left in Oct 2013 and what we spent after we left. The accepted rule is 10% of the purchase price annually for routine maintenance. Ours would probably be slightly lower because we do all of our own maintenance, and routine maintenance would only be applied over the last two years of ownership since the first two years were spent refitting, not sailing. Our purchase price for Kintala was $62,500. To date, including routine maintenance, we have spent $133,000 total. Slightly in excess of $10K of that has been boat maintenance since we left two years ago.

        I know that you want to hear that we could have been better off buying the A40, but the reality of it is that we never could have afforded the A40. The only way we could make it work, with the cash we had on hand, was to purchase the boat while we were still gainfully employed and to refit it while working so that, however long it took, we would complete it without running out of money. Like most potential cruisers, we were juggling a mortgage, car payment, and money spent helping children and aging parents and had determined never to go into debt to buy a boat. That’s why we struck the possibility of putting a boat into charter service prior to taking ownership. There just wasn’t any other way we could see to do it.

        One other point worth noting: had we not lost our jobs when we did, we would have continued to work another year and our cruising kitty would have been sufficient to carry us through to Social Security. Since we lost our jobs a year early, we will be stopping to work early in the Spring of 2016 to earn enough money to bridge the gap to Social Security. This book, and my children’s books, provide coffee and beer money but not enough to cover that yearly maintenance budget.

        Lest this response open up the previous discussion from another one of your posts about AAC being for the wealthy, I go on record as completely disagreeing. I wholly support the A40 project and am excited by its promise to improve the cruising experience for the tier of cruisers that is one financial level above us. Were we slightly younger, the A40 could have become a real future possibility for us in the used boat market. I also wholly support AAC’s value as a knowledge base for potential cruisers as well as current cruisers, a fact born out by its inclusion in my list of blogs and websites we followed prior to casting off. Many thanks are due you for your consistent commitment to quality in the face of little appreciation and even smaller financial gain.

        I lay my financial soul bare here, so please be gentle. I already fully realize we were had and don’t need reminded.

        S/V Kintala
        “How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat”

        • Deb Nov 9, 2015, 12:14 pm

          P.S. – T.J. added to my comment that our $133K figure would have doubled if we had been paying the labor, so clearly anybody trying to do this who can’t do all of the work themselves would be better served by buying the A40.

          S/V Kintala
          “How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat”

        • Marc Dacey Nov 9, 2015, 12:58 pm

          Interesting figures, and, of course, sobering. We paid off our house in 2006 and remortgaged it six months later to buy the current boat. That mortgage, thanks to tenants, is close to be paid off…again. I’ve deliberately had very few labour expenses (mostly related to custom welding and stringer and related drive train fabrication beyond my current skill set) in my flywheel to prop repower because I wanted to learn. So because a great deal of time on boats is spent on owner-originated maintainence, one has to consider that the time spent as “labour” is, in fact, an opportunity to learn as well as a bill avoided.

          All that said, had the opportunity existed in 2006, buying an A40, even in semi-finished “kit” form, would have cost not much more than the current boat, and probably would have had us already underway instead of one more year until we leave. But, on the other hand, there are advantages to taking a teenaged crew instead of one of elementary-school age.

        • John Nov 10, 2015, 8:44 am

          Hi Deg,

          Thanks so much for being so transparent about the costs. I think that said transparency is about the most important thing that we who have made it “out there” can contribute to those trying to make it.

          My goal really was not to in some way prove that you would have been better off with an A40, but rather to better understand how the A40 fits into the price/value continuum, and you have really helped with that.

          As to being gentle. Frankly I’m pleasantly surprised by how little you and AJ have spent, given the problems you had to deal with—a tribute to your skills and financial management, I would say. You did way better than I did, particularly when adjusted for inflation.

          And finally, thanks so much for the kind comment about this site, it means a lot to Phyllis and me.

          • Deb Nov 10, 2015, 9:21 pm

            It occurred to me that I had neglected to answer the second portion of your question – that of how many hours we spent doing the refit. There is simply no way for me to accurately state that figure, but I can attempt to give you a very loose estimate. We bought the boat in March of 2013. We shipped it to our lake in June of 2013. We worked every weekend at least 3 and sometimes 4 days a week, and at least 8 hours each of those days (times two of us), from that point until we left in October of 2013. Some major projects, like the bulkhead table conversion, were done in our garage workshop at the condo which adds many many hours to the figure. It took Tj 3 months of evenings after work to do that table. (Project summary here: If you take 68 weekends times 48 man hours you end up with 3,264 total hours. Take away a few weekends for sickness, holidays, etc., add the ones for the table and it evens out somewhere around 3,500 total man hours. Take that times the average boatyard hourly rate of $90 and you get $315K. I have repeatedly stated both in the book and to people we speak with that if you can’t do your own work, you better be independently wealthy.

            S/V Kintala
            “How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat”

          • John Nov 11, 2015, 8:09 am

            Hi Deb,

            Thanks very much for remembering and reverting on that. Very useful stats that confirm my own experience with my first boat. The bottom line is that to make a refit worth while we need to essentially value our time at about $10.00/hour. This supports one of my standard pieces of advice: if you have a good well paying job, it is usually much better to stay in said job a bit longer and save the money to buy a newer boat, rather than quit and do a refit on an older one. (Of course, as I remember, that option did not apply in your case.)

            Anyway, thanks again. I’m hoping that I can pull all of this combined wisdom into an article with some rules of thumb to help people decide where to buy on the price to age continuum.

  • Jo Nov 8, 2015, 6:36 pm

    Two things make me wonder:

    In general, the European Union is a lot more advanced when it comes to customer protection. Does this also apply to boats? Or are the brokers, surveyors and craftsman in the USA worse cowboys than here in (western) Europe?

    The other question is, do we get for cruising the worst of the worse, or are the common charter- or day-sailing boat just as bad? And how ist it with the racers, are they better served? In my experience in my job, the further one uses a products from its core competence, the more problems one gets. The key seems to be, to buy products where the desing intention matches the intended use.

  • Dick Stevenson Nov 8, 2015, 7:06 pm

    Hi Jo,
    I have been cruising Europe for almost a decade (after decades of cruising the US east coast, the Bahamas and the Carib and out to Bermuda), about half the time in the Med and half in Northern Europe. My take is that whatever consumer protection there is, it has not made a marked difference among boatyards, marinas or surveyors. Their quality is similar and varies as widely as the US. Good service is not to be expected, but possible if you search/pull for it. I have no experience with buying/selling, but casual observation leads me to see few differences from the US, either in service or the quality of the boats.
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

  • Dick Stevenson Nov 9, 2015, 12:01 pm

    Hi Erik,
    I think that is a nice way to proceed, but I suspect most will need a survey report for insurance purposes.
    Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

  • Dick Stevenson Nov 9, 2015, 2:00 pm

    Hi John,
    Although the path to develop a viable career may have shifted over the last couple of generations, I am not ready to accept that change being the major story in inhibiting the development of sailing/cruising skills and experience. I know a number of 20 and 30 somethings and most are working the 40-50 hrs per week that many have done over the generations. (A major difference is that with couples, both are working). Most also have their weekends largely free. My observation is that there is a choice involved and the choice is how one spends his/her free time. I do not see major consuming hobbies (woodworking, sail racing, back country camping, car rebuilding etc.) as having the same draw as when I was younger. I am interested in whether others share this casual observation. If changes have occurred in free time use, I would suspect that the changes have a fair amount to do with the internet, but, again, this is only speculation.
    I do feel confident that choosing to have a viable career does not preclude also choosing to develop the hobby of sailing and cruising: leading some to further offshore adventures down the line.
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    • John Nov 10, 2015, 8:29 am

      Hi Dick,

      Interesting, I guess it comes down to which came first, the chicken or the egg. Is it less interest in time consuming hobbies has hurt sailing, or less time has made time consuming hobbies less viable. I guess I still come down on the side of the latter.

      Back in the day when I was building my businesses I worked a good 60-70 hours a week, but I think the key difference was that when I left work my time was completely my own. Today, for most people that have the kind of jobs that provide an income that can, or will, support an offshore boat, that is no longer the case, so people’s focus is diluted in their spare time in ways that we older folks barely understand.

      The other issue that’s making it hard is the huge increase in the cost of buying a house in relation to incomes.

      And finally, when both partners in a relationship have 50-60 hour work weeks, what little time is left over is taken up with activities of daily living: shopping, laundry etc. And then if they want children…

      Bottom line, I still believe that we (boomers) were, and are, a uniquely fortunate generation and therefore we need to be careful about what we criticize about the choices made by those coming after us.

  • steve Nov 9, 2015, 4:12 pm

    Hi John, Deb,
    Great and valuable piece on” How not to buy a Cruising boat” But if I may I’d like to give a little bit of real time positive encouragement to those who follow all of us who have blue water sailed before.

    I’ve been sailing across oceans for over forty years off and on. I’ve owned 4 blue water boats, one home built, two rebuilt and one new. When it comes to obtaining a blue water boat we fear the perfect storm yet most of us only face a storm and that storm we must. I don’t think we as serious cruisers or those who want to be serious cruisers will ever get away from the storm of buying a blue water boat. The stress, the time, the cost and the fear of failure in getting ready to cruise is a “right of passage.”

    Our boat now is a Boreal 44 which took 6 months on a waiting list and another 18 months to build. That’s about the time it took us to re-do our boat before, (Mason44) with a complete outfit to go cruising. When my wife and I had the Boreal built we hired Colin as our consultant because he really knows aluminum boats and speaks perfect boat French. Boreal is the best company I have ever done business with, they are even better than the company I used to own and I took great pride in giving great service. But that being said, can you believe we still had tons of stress, the time, the cost and the fear of failure over those two years. Thank god Colin and Boreal had patients with us as it does not matter how experienced you are you still have to pay your dues of stress, cost, time and fear of failure to get ready to go blue water sailing. In the end most of us get it right, I promise you if you are studious, patient, open minded and most of all have a real time vision of what failure means you will get through the storm of getting a blue water boat. And getting through that storm means you belong to a small tribe of wonderful open ocean sailors who have gone through that very storm like those going through it now and those who will go through it in the future.
    Good luck to all of you.
    Steve and Tracy

    • Deb Nov 10, 2015, 9:56 pm


      I appreciate what you’re saying but I have to respectfully disagree. Buying a cruising boat shouldn’t have to be a storm at all. It’s only a storm because we stand idly by and allow it to be that. Let’s take for instance your statement, “The stress, the time, the cost and the fear of failure in getting ready to cruise is a ‘right of passage.’” I’m a licensed pilot. Flying, especially aerobatic flying which accounts for a good many of my hours, is a complicated, life-threatening skill to master, and the acquiring of an FAA license to do it a “right of passage.” It involves complex machinery, challenging navigating, Mother Nature, trust in your mechanics, some measure of expense, and abiding by copious amounts of regulation. And yet, I can say unequivocally that at no point in the process of learning to fly or after obtaining my license did I experience a storm the likes of which I experienced in the process of buying a cruising boat, while even receiving the benefit of the pilot tribe upon completing my license.

      So, if one can obtain such a complex skill as the ability to fly, and the machinery to do this in, and the benefit of the tribe without the fairly consistent devastation that is buying a cruising boat, it seems that things in the marine world can be changed. The members of the boating, sailing, and cruising communities need to cry foul, kick the status quo to the curb, and support innovative design such as the A40. They need to speak out, ergo the motivation to write How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat. To remain silent reeks of the old philosophy, “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself.”

      S/V Kintala
      “How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat”

      • steve Nov 11, 2015, 10:44 pm

        I’m sure your book is an important read for those getting into buying a blue water boat, I may buy it myself and see what you have to say.
        But your comment, “that it does not have to be stressful, time consuming, costly or have the fear of failure.” I’m not sure where that comes from, I guess I’m just going to have to read the book. I’m willing to bet you drinks and dinner someday at anchor if we meet that no one that visits this incredible site who has built, purchased a used boat or bought a brand new boat didn’t have stress, time, extra cost and at least a few minutes of fear that they may have made a mistake getting their boat and that’s new and old school sailors. Heck, Colin Speedie and I have sat in Perlins cockpit, my cockpit for hour talking boats. I don’t want to speak for him but I bet half the conversations we had were what has gone wrong with our boats how there is always something breaking, how there is always something not quite right. That’s stress, time, cost, and fear of failure fixing the things we talk about. And we have pretty new boats from the highest of quality boat builders, we don’t own Hunters. How many times have we laughed and joked with other cruisers about fixing the head. Talking heads maybe funny over drinks but pretty brutal when fixing the damn thing, time I’d rather be doing some sailing or surfing.
        Owning a good boat is not owning a private plane, that plane is easy and I wish owning a boat was as easy.
        I see a lot of nasty talk of corrupt surveyors and evil brokers and I have met them, at least one broker anyway. Of the four surveyors hired, not one of them dishonest. Some just knew more than others. How can one man or woman surveyor in 8 hours find all your problems when it takes one to two years to rebuild a blue water boat to get back into a safe passage shape.
        We will never regulate our industry no matter how much we cruisers wish for it. New Zealand can do it but we can’t. I bet 80% of Americans if you told them you were a cruiser they would think, well you know what they would think.
        Lets be honest with those new to having the interest in wanting to go cruising that it is not an easy thing to do, it is really hard work, it is stressful, time consuming, always more costly than one budgets for and a boat can be a very terrifying thing to buy. I hope reading your book will help those new to cruising cut on the mentioned above. But lets not lie to anyone or ourselves like you said in response to my first post that this can be a lot easier. At the same time you have to tell the newbie that the rewards of the effort are great, But? If there was a magic bullet to the old philosophy a lot more people would be sailing the oceans.
        I honor and respect your efforts in helping others who want to sail.
        SV RC LOUISE

  • ChrisW Nov 10, 2015, 9:39 am

    When we were assessing whether to buy our current boat, we used much of Steve’s freely supplied info. It gave us confidence that our builder had gotten it right enough.

    However, Steve’s info and approaches will also show that doing the important bits right on a tight budget is TOUGH.

  • Bill Attwood Nov 11, 2015, 2:25 am

    Hi Deb
    I have been following this post with interest. I came to sailing as a small boy, crewing in dinghies, then sailing my own dinghies, crewing on yachts, then finally owning my own yacht – starting at 28 ft, now at 36 ft. I suppose this was the traditional way, now replaced by people with cheque books and little or no experience coming into sailing. I suggest that your comparison of flying and sailing are not entirely fair. You describe the long and presumably expensive path you took to become a pilot – compare this with the requirements of buying and sailing off in a yacht. In most countries as long as you can stump up the cash you can buy as big a boat as your heart desires. Tbe costs involved in the two activities are an order of magnitude different, and their regulation too. No question that your comments, and the general thesis of the post, that the marine industry is “broken” are accurate. I hope that the A40 will demonstrate a better way, but don’t believe that it will have a significant effect on the industry as a whole. As long as people are able to step into the sport of sailing without serving an “apprenticeship”, they will continue to be fleeced. I don’t believe that there should be any sort of regulation, such as a legal requirement to have a certificate of competence, nor that people should be expected to follow the path that I and most others of my generation took, but believe that caveat emptor applies. The best advice I would give a newbie, or even a competent sailor, would be to employ a Colin or Richard as advisor.
    Before you categorise me as a smart-alec, know that I am at the end of a 6 year refit of a “quality” cruising yacht. I should have known better!
    Yours aye,

    • Deb Nov 11, 2015, 12:07 pm


      First of all, no classification as a smart-alec required. I have been extremely grateful for all of the dialogue in these comments. It goes to underscore the quality of readers subscribing to AAC and the dedication that John and Phyllis have to maintaining a positive learning environment.

      Two separate thoughts arise as a result of your comment. First of all, we would gladly have taken the path that you took, but the opportunity never came along. In our career and family-raising years we simply were never in a place where sailing was presented to us as a possible means of exercising our adventurous natures. Had it been, we may have become involved early on (rather than in flying, motorcycling, and rock-climbing) and left to circumnavigate the globe, never even having a family at all, so I’m sure my three girls and nine grandchildren are very happy that it did not. It is clearly the preferred method of arriving at our present state of affairs and if people we talk to are young enough we always recommend it.

      That being said, to infer that people our age “with cheque books and little or no experience coming into sailing” are somehow less entitled to the joys of cruising smacks of elitism and exclusion. I say that not out of offense, because I am not offended, but merely as a statement of fact. I will emphasize a quote of mine in our book once again, “There is no right way to go cruising, only your way.” The richness of diversity in the cruising community is one of the things I most like about it.

      The second thought is that you are possibly correct on the comparison of obtaining a pilot’s license to going cruising. We purchased not one, but two planes during our years of flying and the total of those two planes and all the maintenance we did on them AND the cost of my pilot’s license nowhere near approached the sum we spent on this one boat alone. Nor did the hours involved anywhere near approach our hours invested in purchasing and refitting Kintala (see my comment to John above), even including both the hours it took me to obtain my pilot’s license and all the hours we spent maintaining the planes over the years we owned them.

      So you’re correct, it may not be a fair comparison because getting to this point in cruising cost substantially more, meant dealing with markedly less professional people in the industry, and left us with infinitely more heartache than purchasing two planes and getting the certification necessary to fly them.

      S/V Kintala
      “How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat”

      • Tj Nov 11, 2015, 1:09 pm

        Just for the fun of it I’m going to jump in here again. Comparing flying and sailing is interesting and informative, but doesn’t touch on the heart of the problem with the marine industry. “Buyer beware” is, to me, B.S. There is no excuse for deliberately defrauding people, and then being protected while doing so by the structure of an industry. For example, we are all pretty much aware that most surveyors, to put it charitably, are people of questionable morals and unsavory parentage. Yet we are forced to hire these people by insurance companies. We all decry regulation, but would it really be so bad if there was an outside agency that certified surveyors and a rule that surveyors could be held financially responsible when their shoddy work amounts to fraud? Wouldn’t it be true that, if such regulations drove the price of surveys too high, insurance companies would find a way to offer their services anyway? After all, it isn’t just live aboard cruisers who have to get their boats surveyed for insurance.

        The same applies to the maintenance end of the marine industry. The “average” is a horror story of technicians that are pure hacks, giving very little evidence of having even the most basic training. They are often “contract” workers who disappear soon after the work is done, making it impossible for them to be held responsible for their “work”. So rare is competent work done by reputable businesses that, when one is encountered, cruisers talk of them in reverent voices, sharing the find with other cruisers as if talking of buried treasure.

        And there there are the “brokers”…
        The boating world is now the true “used car industry”. The old “used car industry” has mostly disappeared. We buy a used car now, we go to a dealership, buy a car that has been inspected by industry trained mechanics and comes with a limited warranty. No one would buy a used car and then tolerate it breaking down just blocks from the dealer, having it hauled back, and spending 50 to 100% of the purchase price to get it “fixed” (see John’s original post above). We would rightly call for someone to go to jail if that happened. “Lemon Laws” grew out of the abuses of the auto industry. (An aside, I think the standard hull color for boat should be Lemon Yellow, just as a reminder.)

        The marine industry is a den of thieves. It will not get better until all of us involved, all the time, openly and loudly, talk about it that way. If and when we do enough, people will shy away from it enough that the industry will start taking a serious financial hit. Then, and only then, when their dollars start draining away, will the industry start to change.

        S/V Kintala
        “How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat”

        • Jo Nov 11, 2015, 2:04 pm


          Certifying surveyors and making them responsible would be a nice step, although it’ll help only a little. It’s easy to become one and going bankrupt with all funds gone is easy too. Around here, all those guarantees and certifications in the housing construction business are worth only very little. If you need them, the responsibles are long gone. The same was the case years ago in the software industry, and partially still is. Crooks, fools and clueless dreamers still are far too common.

          But not all is bleak, the past 10 years have shown a positive development in part of the industry. Whenever shoddy work became too much of a hassle with complaining customers, the big players started to improve their quality. I see the difference every day at work between common standard products and niche or bespoke solutions. The latter are usually horribly worse quality than the commodity solutions. I just had to deal with a bespoke accounting package for advocats in balkan countries. Less features than Quicken or similar, but the stability and easy of use of a dragonfart.

          I guess we’ll get the biggest increase in qjuality when it becomes cheaper for builders to doit right than to cut corners. Unfortunately it seems, that cruisers are on the wrong end of that development as boats seem to be designed for charter businesses and as marina-RV.

          So the important question to John: Are there news from the A40?

        • Jim G Nov 11, 2015, 4:23 pm

          Great comment on your experience and the state of the used boat industry. Super helpful for people like me who don’t have tons of experience with boats, am not particularly “handy” and might well be in your spot in a few years. (I’d probably be able to do half the work so, with your $60k boat, I’d be into it to the tune of about $270k and 1,700 hours… Yikes!)

          I work for an Ag company growing olives for olive oil in California and producing a high quality, honest olive oil. Our products represent about 3% of the demand for the U.S. and the balance is imported. The imported olive oil business, completely unregulated for years, has resulted in about 70% of “extra virgin” olive oil on grocery store shelves don’t meet the International Olive Council’s criteria for extra virgin. We are getting largely refined olive oil that is just being dumped on us because, not having a cultural heritage for olive oil, we don’t know any better. Now, getting ripped off for $10 bottle of olive oil is a different league than the $s involved in a boat.

          My point is that things in the olive oil world are changing through education. We are trying to shine a bright light on a sleazy industry that has had thieves and adulterators for thousands of years (google Tom Muller, New Yorker article or his book Extra Virginity). With your help, the help of this site and with boats like the A40, the boating world can/will be flipped on its ear for the better

          Thanks again and sorry for the food supply rant.


  • Dick Stevenson Nov 11, 2015, 11:13 pm

    Hi Steve,
    I expect the major point Deb and others have been making is that buying a boat and kitting it out for offshore sailing does not have to be as hard or as much of a crap shoot, as it is.
    Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

  • Dick Stevenson Nov 11, 2015, 11:22 pm

    Hi everyone,
    One aspect of offshore cruising sailing boats that rarely gets mentioned is how unique they are. In a small form of transportation, you incorporate: your home, probably 2 forms of propulsion, a power plant (or 2 or 3), utilities for (gas, sanitation, water), communications network, etc. etc. Does anything else in this world come close to covering so many bases in such a small area in such a harsh demanding environment?
    Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

    • John Nov 13, 2015, 9:41 am

      Hi Dick,

      I think that’s a really good point that many people miss, and in so doing set themselves up to fail. I always say “an offshore boat is like the space shuttle…only more complicated”. Joking of course, but it does make the point.

  • Rob Withers Nov 12, 2015, 3:29 pm

    For many (including, at the moment, me) the flipside of buying a new cruising yacht is selling an old cruising yacht. I’d be interested in people’s thoughts regarding how to balance the potentially conflicting issues of openess and selling the boat for the best price!

    A couple of years ago there was a blog by a chap who had bought a new v expensive 55′ swedish yacht for a circumnavigation. At least 1/2 the blog was catalogue of woes of things that broke or didn’t work to start with. His trip really did sound like the definition of blue water cruising as ‘boat maintenance in exotic locations’. On his return the yacht was put up for sail with the standard sales spiel of ‘just back and ready to go again’,’fully equipped for blue water adventure’. Oddly enough however, all the pages on the blog that detailed the maintenance woes had been removed. Reprehensible or sensible?

    • Jo Nov 12, 2015, 4:12 pm

      If in doubt, treat people the way you’d wanted to be treated in their position..

      You may lose a little in the short run, but it helps with the karma.

    • Deb Nov 12, 2015, 6:42 pm


      Jo’s comment is absolutely correct, and it was the philosophy we followed when selling our first boat. We also detailed everything wrong with the boat on our blog and what we did to fix it, and the blog actually helped us to sell the boat rather than hurt us because we were totally honest and it was clear to people that we were dedicated to making it the best boat possible through careful maintenance. I’ve had people tell me that they are hesitant to detail things about their boat on their blogs because of needing to sell them in the future, but it is not something I worry about at all. When it comes time to sell Kintala to move onto a trawler (Gasp! Did she just say that????), I think it will be clear to any prospective buyers that they are getting the best possible, well-maintained cruising yacht out there for the money.

      To the guy who deleted the stuff from his blog? Shame on him and I hope he gets the bad karma in return.

      S/V Kintala
      “How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat”

  • Mike hiscock Nov 12, 2015, 10:47 pm

    This is a great thread; however, there might be something missing—a way forward. Maybe it is in the book.

    There will always be boats purchased and refit. Could the people on this site who have been through it post the names of people who did a good job? While nobody is perfect 100% of the time, some recommendations would be a great starting point for people heading down the refit road.

    • John Nov 13, 2015, 9:31 am

      Hi Mike,

      Good idea, but we are not really set up, nor is it our mission, to be a crowd review site. That’s why I linked to Active Captain in the article since they are really good at crowd review and are, I believe, in the process of expanding that capability.

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