The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Refitting an Old Boat Can Work…For Some

Many of you long-term readers know that, when the subject comes up of buying an old and tired boat and refitting it as a way to get out there ocean voyaging inexpensively, I tend to be a spoil sport and start throwing around a lot of cold reality.

The Down Side

My four main problems with this course of action are:

  • Many (most?) people who take on a major refit are new to cruising-boat ownership, which poses a problem since the only way I know of to get the experience to do a proper refit is…to do a refit—a Catch 22 if ever there was one.
  • Very often the owner selects, because of their inexperience, a boat that has poor bones or, worse still, will never be a good boat for their needs, so that  they are no closer to having a good offshore boat at the end of years of work than they were at the start.
  • In most cases, the refitted boat costs more than buying a newer boat would. And if the owner cranks in their own time, even at minimum wage, that’s pretty much a certainty.
  • Generally, the economics go like this: buy old boat for X, spend 2 * X on refit, sell refitted boat for ~1.2 * X. The sad fact is that even beautifully refitted old boats are not worth a lot more than other old boats.

How do I know all this with such certainty? I learned it from my old friend Poor Stupid Bob (see Further Reading below).

The Up Side

But every so often I come across someone who has made a refit work in ways that has both given them pleasure during the refit and resulted in an offshore boat they love and actually go places in.

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Richard Elder

Hi John
As you know we have different perspectives on this topic. Yours from having been poor Bob busting his knuckles and pocketbook trying to refit a largish boat that was fundamentally unsound — and mine from building and refitting a large variety of boats which tends to create the false attitude that a successful refit is something anybody can do.

Your are absolutely correct— most amateurs who try to buy a cheap boat and refit it into an ocean cruising boat are diving into a black hole which they haven’t a clue about. $120k plus purchase price for a Cape Dory 36 lacking even an inboard engine? And this is a successful refit? LOL.

A new Beneteau will take you across the Atlantic and party 10 in the Caribbean, but if you have dreams of venturing beyond the milk run and want something New, aluminum and more capable you better have a large pocketboat.

I think there is another approach. Hire somebody like Colin to provide the experience and independent advice that you lack in the search for the best boat for your needs. Every penny spent will yield far better returns than putting the funds into the stock market casino! Search the world for a boat that suits your needs and that somebody has already spent the money on a proper refit. Believe me, they do exist.

No teak decks, blister hulls, rusty steel!

For example:

For 50k euro a 42 footer that was custom designed by one of the leading designers in the UK, built under Lloyds survey, and maintained in class for the first 7 years of it’s life. Major refit 4 years ago. Best design for a serious cruising boat of that size I’ve ever seen. (yes, including the Adventure 40!) It’s sitting in an out of the way tropical area half a world away–hence the price. I’d give it 50% odds that Coin or I would give it a clean bill of health and say this is the one. (hey, send me a plane ticket and I’ll evaluate those odds for you!)

Or a 45′ boat custom built for the early Ostar. Airex core, aluminum ring frame structure, nicely organized cored panel interior. Not a flat bottomed dingy. Never crossed an ocean– a marina and weekend queen. For 55k plus a maximum of 75k in new rod, sails and gear you could have something very special.

Alex Borodin

Richard, is that 42 footer you refer to called Finale, perchance? If so, I’m happy to see that someone with experience confirms my feelings about her. If only she weren’t so far…

Richard Elder

Hi Alex
I’ve looked at all the possible routeings that take that boat to where I want to cruise. They all have the wind on the nose for thousands of miles or no wind but an endless train of freighter traffic and 100% humidity. So she is for someone with a different agenda than mine!

Ernest E Vogelsinger

Richard and Alex, the Finale in Langkawi?
I found her listed on Yachtworld, and the very same boat as been sold in Phuket for almost triple the price. Quite interesting. If I was already in retirement I would certainly consider her even if she violates one of my more important requirements (tiller instead of wheel, and I want to look straight ahead as I always get a stiff neck at the tiller).
I wouldn’t be appaled by the location, going west via Micronesia-NZ-Horn and up the Atlantic to Caribbean and then Azores-Med would already give me half the circumnavigation…)

Richard Elder

Hi Ernest:
Finale potentiality violates another of my “rules.” No rusty old steel boats. Not that an excellent boat can’t be built from steel-especially if the deck and cabin are of a lighter material appropriate for boats in this size category. The reason I would consider this one is the probability that the Lloyds survey construction history and follow up provided her with the “good bones” so frequently absent in older steel boats.

I hate to crawl back into inaccessible spaces to service things like autopilots. So the unique accessible autopilot ram and linkage to the tiller are one of things that I find most attractive. Different boats for different folks!

Alex Borodin

That’s very interesting indeed. I reckon the current owner has bought her with the asking price $145k, then put a new deck on her, and lists her for $58k. This looks to me like yet another case where a refit will have worked for the next owner very well. See? Refits work!

Richard Elder

Or a mini-Morgan’s Cloud? Just on the market for 70k. No teak. John could tell you how deep the black hole might be!

Richard Elder

Hi John
A wise man once said: Keep the mast up, the keel down, and the water out. The rest is small stuff. (or something like that), I’ll settle for that as the definition of a proper refit.

I may have set a bit of a trap for you by mentioning a boat that is the closest thing to a Mini-Morgan’s Cloud. Boats are first of all an object of love, and it looks like you couldn’t resist the urge to define “refit” as “made better than new” LOL.
Boats serve many purposes. At first glance the Mini looks to me like a boat to keep in New England, haul out every winter, polish until it shines, and enjoy the classic lines and overhangs as one rows back to her on her mooring during a summer cruise. Not the boat I’d choose to “refit” for a voyage to Alaska or Patagonia. For a summer New England cruiser an immaculate paint job and polished stainless winches might outrank a new engine* but it does little to keep the keel down and the mast up.

Probably the worst boat for starry eyed dreamers to buy is the ultimate bargain- the $4,000 hurricane boat. Yet I believe that is the price Fatty Goodlander paid for his Hughes 38 that he found sunk in the VI. The bulkheads may have been floating around and the woodwork beyond varnishing, but it served them for three circumnavigations. Which goes to show that there are only rules and exceptions to rules!

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
Good observation. I suspect that a willing partner is far more important than is given credit. I also suspect that an unwilling partner has sunk more of these projects than time, money, skills etc.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Steve D

And by his own admission Fatty is a skilled dumpster diver, scrounger and bargain hunter for parts and services… Not disparaging Fatty in any way, I admire his accomplishments, seamanship and shipwright skills; he’s legitimate, but he makes the average cruiser look like a spendthrift.

Marc Dacey

We got a custom boat with a high differential of acquisition and replacement costs: every survey has had an estimate, for instance, of $300-$400K to replicate the boat as is, but we paid a fraction of that to acquire her. The refit has cost about $60K over the last 10 years, with perhaps $10K left to acquire the last few bits and pieces. Because I was in my early 40s when we got the boat, we didn’t have the pressures of time that others may find prompts paying for the labour of a refit. Scrounging has helped, too: 3/4″ oak planking that was left over from some McMansion’s renovation was obtained by me for free from Freecycle, and my Lexan storm shutters were also free. A chandlery’s closure meant I picked up spools of 5/8″ line for $50. Shopping boat show and online sales has saved thousands for us. I’ve obtained top-end, still in the package Wichard shackles and blocks from cruisers who’ve swallowed the anchor at 10% of cost. People chuck out amazing things, and I’ve been there to avoid the landfill. It’s made big-ticket items, such as our Furuno radar or the SPADE anchor, easier to pay for, as has that “willing partner” who recently equalled me in her RYA certifications and is emptying the boat of accumulated debris and unnecessary gear to make room for spares and provisions.

Today I’m buying paper and electronic charts for our trip down the St. Lawrence in a few weeks, plus line and heavy padeyes sufficient to rig Morgan’s Cloud-grade preventers. I don’t mind the cost one bit.

Ernest E Vogelsinger

For an offshore boat I’d be put off by the mentioned “rod rigging” (which I cannot confirm using the lores images), as you simply cannot reliably survey a rod as it may spectacularly fail without any sign of stress before. So I would need to change the standing rigging either to wire or to high modulus, and for this the boat is simply priced too high, IMHO.

Emile Cantin

If you want to see someone doing an extensive refit, and actually enjoying it, look for “Sail Life” on YouTube. It’s actually impressive how happy he is to sand fiberglass for hours and hours.

Petter Mather Simonsen

As an follower of Sail Life I can highly recommend to watch this joyful Dane toil away on his yacht. It also provides a good reality check on what a refit may entail.

Scott Dufour

It really is a amazing to see Mads’ enthusiasm for his project. I wish that I could bring even half of his curiosity and happiness to my boat projects. It’s as if he likes finding more problems in the boat so that he can learn new stuff. I’d trade a few years off my life to get just some of that personality trait!

I guess it comes down to what one wants to do with their time not at the office. Some people hike, some people play video games, some people watch TV or garden or collect short term dramatic romantic relationships. And apparently some people like to overhaul boats. But I agree with John – before you start on it, it’s best to know that you’re one of those people. And how do you know you are if you haven’t done it? Mads tried it on his smaller boat first.

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
Another route, the short version:
We were coastal/vacation and weekend cruising on a 28-foot boat with 3 children: something had to give. We bought a 38-foot LeComte Northeast 38 salvage as a write off from the insurance co. after it had mostly sunk and bounced on rocks for 3 days flushing and emptying with the tide.
It had one of your well-observed ingredients: good bones. For those not familiar: a NE 38 is a Bill Tripp design: almost a sister ship to his famous design, the Hinckley Bermuda 40.
Another ingredient: I did have fun doing the rehab (I jobbed out that work that took real skill: the fiberglass work, cushions (most expensive single item), rebuilt engine (mistake, should have gone new), although working with a headlamp at night after office hours is lacking in charms. It was however, initially wonderful to clean as all water/dirt/oil flushed right out the holes in the bottom of the keel. More important I learned a ton with the added freedom that it was unlikely I could do real harm.
Lastly, we sailed her for ~~16-17 years and only sold her as she was not what we wanted for an offshore live-aboard boat.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Charles Ethridge

How does one know if a boat has “good bones”? I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t always trust marine surveyors for this.

Richard Elder

Hi Ben
“Good Bones?”
One of my rules for buying an old boat is “no teak decks” because most are screw fastened into a balsa core. Last year I crawled over the Cape George 36 I built back in the early 80’s. She had teak decks epoxy bonded over an epoxy/glass subdeck with no fasteners. She spent her entire life outside in the “care” of 5 different owners-one of which left her abandoned in Southern Cal and was too lazy to put on the full boat cover sitting in the lazerette. When I saw her the teak decks still had another 5 years of life left in them with a minor bit of work and no leaks anywhere. Or since they were a structural part of the deck, it would be a simple job to grind them with a coarse grit and glass directly to the remaining teak. 99% of the sisterships from that era with conventional teak decks all had rotted sub-decks and bulwarks. Good Bones— you’ll know it when you see it!


Hey, John….. why don’t you just tell us what you really think? lol
Thanks for the good dose of reality. We all need that sometimes in our lives. Always easier on the pocketbook pre-mistake instead of post!

Timothy Grady

Ya But…
Hours worked are hard to put a value. Straight up is the $20/hr and maybe he could make more in his day job. Then there is the 6000 hours that would be back into his life doing what? Probably spending on vacation and or activities that require his hard earned money. Maybe the vacation is enjoyable but maybe working on the boat is also his enjoyment. I think very few of us think we can make money selling our boat and much fewer of those that think they can do.
I purchased a non project boat that was ready-to-go and am now spending “a bit” to get her ready. Rigging looks good, sails are OK, engine is good, mechanics are good, but do I want to find out that they are not as good as I thought out in the middle of the Pacific at 40 knots? It is kind of like not having a double oversized Spade in a big blow. So going back to the money spent on a project boat versus a ready-to-go boat, is not necessarily easy to calculate. Replacing systems on boats is proportional to your level of risk you are willing to take. True, one can not take a broken boat out (sort of trying to make a purse out of a sow’s ear). But then again, there are a lot of good circumnavigators that have gone on boats that I would not have day sailed on.

Your post always makes me think. Best value out there.

Timothy Grady, s/v Ventus

Jeffrey Harris

A little off topic, but for those with this kind of experience- any recommendations for preventative things that would be nice to do on a new build or newer boat? Things that would have made the rebuild go better if only they had been done sooner (or at all)!

Charles Starke MD

Hi Jeffrey
You definitely need a boat genie! Steve D’Antonio writes that we all need one!:
(This is also an excellent newsletter worth signing up to receive, but not as good as John’s and Phyllis’. John should double the subscription price, but then the subscription should include a boat genie!)
Best wishes,
Charles L Starke MD FACP
s/v Dawnpiper

Charles Starke MD

Please increase the price of membership!
Best wishes

Steve D

As a life-long boat yard hand, I love a good refit, however, I probably tell a client or would-be client at least once a month, “spend the money now and buy a vessel that is in better shape that does not need to be refit, or only needs minor work, you will almost certainly be happier, and save money in the long run”. The exceptions to this rule are for the extremely handy do it yourselfers who have the time, tools and skills to do much of the work themselves. Your point about not getting your investment back is also spot on.

And on this subject, one of my many industry pet peeves is the definition of the word refit, it’s used far too loosely (especially by brokers), far too often. A proper refit means that no system has not been replaced or rebuilt, from propulsion and steering to plumbing and electrical, it all has to pass through the hands of a skilled individual in order to classify as having been refit.

Steve D


We are on the same page.

While it’s geared toward power vessels, this two part pre-survey article may be useful to members.

John has already covered this subject in detail, and IMO enough can’t be said about the pitfalls of poor surveys. Toward that end, coincidentally, I just published an article on surveyor selection, accessible here

Marc Dacey

One point not covered is our approach: we bought a never-seen-salt steel motorsailer (and therefore very few rust issues) in 2006 and are just about ready to leave for world cruising. After a few seasons of sailing, I retanked, repowered, recanvassed, repropped and changed out the electronics to somethings from this decade. Was it expensive? Less than I thought. Was it educational? More than I thought. Surveyors like my work, in general, and while we’ve had some setbacks due to inexperience or simply the wrong solution applied to a given problem, the process of refitting and getting myself and my wife up the compentency ladder has made us more confident sailors…and more aware of where we still need work.

So the refitting process, spurred by economic necessity and a protracted timeline (which actually means our son, at 17, is viable crew and not just a passenger) has yielded immense amounts of experience and acquired skills necessary, in my view, for long-term voyaging. I know how to fix almost everything on board, and that which I can’t, I have a backup.

That seems a pearl beyond price to us.

Mark Smaalders

I fully agree with Steve D’s advice to “spend the money now and buy a vessel that is in better shape that does not need to be refit, or only needs minor work”, and his comments that a “refit” should mean all systems have been replaced or rebuilt. As John points out, this will typically involve far more time and money than most people estimate, and you won’t get your money out. Case in point: my partner and I are currently preparing a 42′ custom ketch for offshore sailing. We are the third owners; the previous second owners spent 20,000 hours of their time and $265,000 refitting the boat, including all new interior, rig, sails, etc (all painstakingly detailed, in 4 large binders, with every receipt). She went on the market for $250,000, we bought her for about 1/4 of that. Even after that there’s still work that needs to be done, which we fortunately have the skills to do. We also had the background (I’m a yacht designer and have extensive building and refit experience) to do our own pre-purchase survey to supplement that done by the surveyor, which was of value mostly for insurance purposes.

The take away? When buying a used boat look for boats with 1) good pedigree, in terms of design and build; 2) a substantial and thorough refit; 3) caring owners that kept up with ongoing maintenance. If you lack extensive knowledge and experience in both offshore sailing and boat building/maintenance get someone to advise you. As an aside, I would advise prospective buyers not to overlook custom-built boats, which can often be of much higher build quality than many production boats, but may not sell readily, and can offer very good value.

Alastair Currie

Just some observations from my experience of buying a 1974 Rival 41C over 10 years ago. The price for me was very good, £45k. I had paid off all my home debt and built a career, so was relatively comfortable with no debt worries. I sailed the yacht for about 3 years finding out what was wrong. The pre-purchase survey was a complete waste of time stating the obvious that could be seen by anyone with an ounce of common sense. I repaired and refurbished items while in commission e.g. windows leaked, they were sent off a few at a time to a professional window refurbishment company. As stuff became redundant through failure I removed it and did not replace if it was not critical for the type of sailing I am currently doing. This kept costs down e.g. old CTR Radar stopped working, removed and sold for spares on eBay. Eventually I had to take the boat out the water and trucked her to my home. I worked on her for 3 years, removing damaged and badly worn items, replacing galley, some bulkhead work. However, I ran out of patience and put her back on the truck, commissioned her, and sailed to a local yard and had them do the finishing work inside and got a professional rewire done. New sails bought at a discount last winter at a UK boat show and having a great time sailing her. I have spent the same again on the refurbishment / refit. However, it has all been cash paid so I still have no debt and retirement funding still in place. Boat could reasonably be sold for £50k today, she looks good, looks well maintained. It is still an ongoing project e.g. I took out the old Neco, converted the motor and wired it up to a modern Raymarine system, works a treat. If the Neco motor fails, which it probably will considering it is original, I’ll buy a modern rotary drive motor.

I worked 28 days on 28 days off, earned a decent salary and could afford to piece meal the work. However, I got fed up sailing bout in a workshop, I got fed up with a drawn out refit. Now that I have the boat as I want it (for coastal sailing), I am happy and on going costs are very low.

Was it worth it, not sure how to answer that? Well, I have a solid vessel that I know inside out, comfortable, secure, safe, enjoyable. I am getting to the stage where possible early retirement is just around the corner and boat is ready to go but will require the old plotter to be replaced, a new radar fitted, the Monitor fully rebuilt and possibly a universal joint replaced in the rod steering. I could have chartered a lot at a fraction of the cost and probably saved up enough cash to buy a decent second hand boat by this time. But this is life, it is what I did, I have no regrets, I prioritised the important stuff, family, debt reduction, pension before I took on boat ownership. That was more important than owning a boat. Whatever way folks go, make sure the important stuff to you is managed first. I know a couple of people who have taken chances, lost big time and they are too old to recover from the loss and are facing financial challenges for the rest of their years. Boat ownership will be a drain on ones finances, so think hard about what really matters to you and deal with that first.

Michael DeLorenzo

To me, this is a complicated topic with one’s own values, sources of enjoyment, the very slippery concept of opportunity cost of one’s own time as applied here (especially if retired), and so forth. And I think the replacement cost is hard to dismiss so easily. For instance, one can buy a well built “old” boat for one-tenth the cost of what is would take to build the boat new at the present time. And if you go shopping for the new boat to buy, as some advise, I find high quality boats that many would prefer suitable for high latitudes are pretty close the the “replacement cost” of the well built old boat. Pricing new, or relatively new, Boreals, Garcias, or Ovnis gets one pretty close to that replacement cost. And that figure is a large multiple of purchase price + refit cost of twice the purchase price of the older well built boat. Granted you don’t have a new boat, or new design, but that’s not the point here.
I was ready with checkbook in hand for the Adventure 40, which was such a great solution, and I think acknowledged the fact there had to be another way than what the current market offers. Good on John and others for giving it such a serious attempt. Unfortunately it didn’t work out, and spending the better part of $1M for a new boat is not something everyone wants to do. So we find other opportunities.

Paul Clayton

John Stone is one in a million – a man with a vision and the abilities to make it happen. And the 6,000 hours he spent on his boat can be looked at as hours not spent watching TV or hanging out at the local pub. Putting a dollar sign on your leisure time is pointless – where it brings us in the end is that we should all keep our noses to the grindstone of paid employment all the time, since any other use of time “costs us money”. And John’s CD36 couldn’t be bought for any amount of money – there is none other like it.

But most of us are not John Stone, and if our desire is to take the quickest and most efficient route to a well-found adventure boat, I have no doubt the best thing is to keep you day job and save money to buy one that’s close to ready to sail. With my lack of mechanical ability, my choice to restore a 1964 Alberg 35 is the long, slow road to having a cruising boat, but on the other hand every minute has been fun – well, other than trying to get the Atomic 4 to run – don’t get me started on Atomic 4s. In other words, boat work to me is leisure time – it’s just like cooking for myself (if I spent an extra hour at work I could buy a meal in a restaurant and have money left over), or building furniture (if I spent that time at the office I could buy the furniture for less than the time is worth), or working in my garden (if I spent that time in the office I could pay somebody to do the gardening and have something left over). But if you don’t enjoy working on the boat, it stops being leisure and turns into work.

Definitely check out John Stone’s web sites. There’s a lot worth seeing and thinking about. John’s a super-generous guy who was good enough to correspond with me about his boat work and let me use some of his pictures on my website.

Like the title says – “Refitting an Old Boat Can Work…For Some”.

Randall Walford

I agree with John`s calculations – buy a boat for X, spend 2X, and end up with a boat whose resale value is 1.2X. Ask me how I know! However the journey has been worth it. I know my boat and its systems, am not threatened by any squeak or creak, have learned how light weight 99% of surveys are, how most boat yards work ( pay $15.hour to unskilled relatives, call them `boat technicians, and charge them out at $100 per hour for twice the hours it should take to do the job) and, as a corollary of the last point, how to do myriad jobs myself. I have acquired tools and skills of necessity that will always stand me in good stead.
It, like all boats, is a compromise. But my focus has been self-education, creating reliability, customization to an aging body. It was helpful to start with a not-too-big (35 feet – not the stuff of offshore dreams) bargain boat by a good designer (Perry) with excellent glass work, no teak decks, and seasonal fresh water use. My approach was to buy a hull with good bones, good provenance, and a good pedigree and to figure that I would replace everything now rather than when it breaks at the most inconvenient time. Starting from that point, I am not disappointed. Don`t plan to sell, so don`t care about resale value. Heck, I think my two post-graduate degrees taught me much less valuable and practical things about life than this refit – and if I spent 50K on the refit, it is a fraction of the cost of my `higher`education… I`m good with it all. But hey, what do I know….

Nicholas Isaac

Hi John,

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with the “two great truths” — anyone considering a refit should be fully aware of the cold hard realities you’ve outlined before embarking on the process. That said, as you’ve also acknowledged, buying, refitting and owning a boat is only partly a rational endeavor, and sometimes the intangibles will justify an otherwise irrational choice.

In my case, I grew up sailing in the Pacific Northwest with my family on a 1964 Van De Stadt, Rebel 41, including multi-month voyages to the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, Haida Gwaii, etc.. They were the formative experiences of my childhood. About 5 years ago, as an adult, I rediscovered the boat languishing on a mooring having been seriously neglected by its subsequent owners. I bought the boat knowing that it would require an incredible amount of money and effort (of course, I still greatly underestimated both), but I knew the boat had great bones AND restoring it would bring a level of emotional satisfaction far exceeding anything I could achieve with any other boat… or perhaps any other material “thing”.

5 years on (and perhaps $130k in), I have fully refitted, re-powered, and re-rigged the boat and, in the process, taught myself to sew, plumb, wire, paint, splice, rig, etc., etc., etc.. I have enjoyed every moment, including the countless hours spent upside down in the bilges. I know every nook, cranny, pipe, and connection. This summer, I will be heading off to Haida Gwaii for several months with my wife and young baby to create formative memories of our own, hopefully with many more voyages on the horizon.

Could I have bought another boat for far less money and far less sweat equity? Undoubtedly. But I wouldn’t. Not in a million years.

Colin Beckmann

I refitted an old Beneteau Idylle 51. Paid 100k US for the boat which was par when we bought the money, and we have likely spend another 175 to 200K CDN on it. Lets say I have 300K CDN into this 33 year old boat.

Last week a guy I know who owns a 2004 Hylas asked me if after 6 yrs I would do a major refit again.

I asked him what he could sell his boat for after 10 yrs of cruising. Gave me a number I think knock off 50k

He paid 650K US for it 12 yrs ago. Fact is that one is center cockpit and the other an aft. Similar length, weight and performance. While the layout is obviously not even close, the fit and finish is as good on the old Beneteau as the Hylas. My interior is in great shape.

Then there is his 12 yr maintenance.

One is 20 yrs newer and a premium was paid and extracted for a huge band name with a great reputation and this will result in an easier sale and a better sail price.

The other was an old charter boat and took likely 1000 hrs of my personal time and likely 600 of my wife’s time. That is sweat equity that only we can redeem through use.

The boat is not worth what we paid for it but its not for sale. We have plans to keep it till forever.

I told him that yes I would do the refit.. I said… I have the money in my boat, it is finished and ready to go this year. I don’t have the additional 200-250K CDN to pay him for his boat or similar if I had not done this refit.

Is mine new….. no.. Neither is his. Mine can take me anywhere his can in the same comfort and style.

Its not always just about the dollars and cents. Your labour is free and should be considered so in your cost analysis. Its not like you could make more working more. This is in your off hours. Unless you are going to work the 7-11 on Saturdays your not making anymore.

So can you afford new boat that is in good condition but which will need a bit of money. They all do. If not do you have the time to fix that older boat. Not just clock time on a weekly basis, but time left in your life. Refitting a 50 footer starting when your 64 is not going to leave a lot of time to kickback and sail and explore. Most of us are not that great in our 80’s. Do you have the skills or can you acquire them. Do you like this type of work.

If the answer to all of that then go for it. Just make sure the boat has good bones. If you have to put bulkheads in and completely refinish and interior, its huge work and not worth it.

Richard Elder

Hi John
Ha Ha. Funny that you should posit Carlie Munger as a decision making model.

Back in the day I received a call from my multi hull designer friend Kurt Hughes asking if I was interested in driving down to Seattle to meet with someone interested in his Florida power catamaran project. I was somewhat familiar with the stillborn monster catamaran motor yacht sitting outside unfinished on the beach. The builder had proceeded with only study plans in hand, no structural engineering, and never paid Kurt. My advice was that it be cut up with a chain saw and hauled off to the landfill.

I had no interest in meeting the prospective client until Kurt mentioned that he claimed to represent Berkshire Hathaway. When we met I encountered a mousy little man in an ill-fitting suit who literally had a few sketches on a napkin. He represented that they had purchased a shipyard and the 110 x 45′ catamaran with the intention of completing it as a corporate yacht. In the yacht game there are all kinds of dreamers. but I soon concluded this guy was the most clueless I’d ever encountered.

During that era in Seattle there was a mystery fraudster who emerged every year or so to pretend to purchase a yacht using a false ID and rubber check in order to talk his way into a sea trial joyride. I decided I’d just met him. A few months later Warren Buffet made a run at cornering the world silver market. There standing by his shoulder on the evening news was our man, Charlie Munger.

PS: The catamaran motor yacht was eventually cut up with a chainsaw and launched in the nearest landfill. But what is a 3 million dollar decision when you have billions in silver bars?

Richard Elder

Hi John,
Nope, it was Charlie himself. I could be wrong about why Buffet and Munger were on the TV news several decades ago, but I’ll never forget those sketches on a table napkin or his total clueless about what was involved in the most stupid of refits.

And the value of any cautionary wisdom is certainly degraded by clear evidence of boat blindness that the Masters of the Universe are just as susceptible to as we commoners.

Dusty Van Schalkwyk

Think I’m exactly in this position.

New to cruising, and sailing in general. I’ve been wanting to cruise and travel for five years now. I lived aboard an unfinished 43ft Bruce Roberts for 3 years and owned it for one, I decided to sell before doing any major jobs and thankfully did not loose money.

I’m now looking for something as ‘ready’ to sail and as blue water capable as I can afford. Having read many guides books and watched different youtube channels I’ve developed an idea of what to look for but still lack the knowledge or experience when it comes to Brand reputation/construction quality – “good bones” / actual long distance cruising capability of the not so obvious makes. Would be great to get some help or hire an experienced eye to advise on particular boats – any recommendations?

With a budget in the $50k range separating wheat from chaff is probably compounded, I’m looking to live aboard based in the med for the first year at least (close to work). I’d really like to commit and get started instead of waiting another 2 or 3 years to save an additional 50k.

Thoughts ?

Ernie Reuter

Hi John And Phylis…….first off thanks once again for your consistency of information over all the years. It is one of the main sources of info that we used and continue to use in the refit of our Robert Perry designed 1984 Passport 40. It could be a very long comment so I’ll try to be to the point.
We purchased our boat in 2007 with the idea that it was the perfect boat for offshore coastal cruising which is what we primarily do. A perfect refit world existed. I was 5 years from selling my canvas shop to my partner. Bette my wife and I undertook the rebuild project together. We build a shed over the boat in Vermont behind my shop and proceeded to totally rebuild the boat with the exception of the outstanding teak interior which could not be matched…..and did not need it. All systems were replace by Bette and I. Thus we know the boat inside out…..every noise, wire, is traceable. Also teak decks removed and non skidded.

We relaunched in 2012 and have been living onboard for the majority of the time since….except when we go back to home base in Vermont. Boat stays in South Carolina.

Our undertaking was not for the faint of heart. I had good accounts to buy at good prices, a place to work on at no charge…..heated in the winter.
Dollars and cents wise we likely spend again what we paid for the boat and more. But……end result is we are confident in our vessel and out ability to fix most everything as it ages once again. Nary a day passes when we don’t look around with great pride in what we accomplished.

Once again in this turn key world today, our approach is not likely to be fancied by many but it has worked well for us……knock on wood.

Thanks again for a great site and your contributions to our project.

Ernie and Bette on SV Iemanja

John Stone

I am reluctant to comment on this post. An undertaking as significant as the rebuilding of an offshore boat is a personal journey. There are those who succeed and those that do not. I was successful beyond my expectations and I am enjoying the results of the effort today…that’s my reality. There is no but…. For those that did not succeed, that is their reality.

I think it’s unlikely you can convince people who were unsuccessful refitting or rebuilding an old boat that it remains a valid option. But, for some people, it might be the only viable path to obtaining a capable offshore sailboat. I was one of them. The naysayers do these people a disservice. Good thing I did not listen to them.

There is no one way or best way. There is just the way that works and the way that does not. The real challenge is figuring out the right way for you.

John Stone
SV Far Reach
Anchored, Christmas Cove,
Virgin Islands

John Stone

Success or failure of a boat rebuild has nothing to do with fatalism. There is no magic to it. Success comes from detailed planning and ruthless execution.

The sword cuts both ways regarding “refit stories.” There are also those who failed to succeed due to poor boat selection, poor planning, and poor execution (and sometimes just plain bad luck). Then, those same people, to make themselves feel better about their own failure, discourage those viewing a refit/rebuild as a viable path or disparage the results of those who were successful. That’s human nature too. (Not saying you did that.)

I have the opposite view of the value of disaster stories. I’d rather be inspired about what is possible, with proper planning and hard work, not frightened away by the things that can go wrong. The world is full of naysayers, hand wringers, and worriers. I never pay them any mind.

I’m sorry your boat “refit” did not pan out for you. It’s obvious it still smarts. That’s understandable.

Morally reprehensible? Your position of influence? Over a boat rebuild? Your hyperbole aside, I have never shied away from discussing the realities of a rebuild. I have written extensively about the difficulties involved and the pitfalls to avoid when considering rebuilding a boat for offshore sailing. We are, in fact, in agreement on many things. The details and pictures of my boat rebuild are there for anyone to read about including what proved to be exceedingly difficult as well as what went wrong….and of course the many things that worked out well.

I have no desire to comment further on this topic as (a) it’s taking up too much of my time as I prepare for my voyage home and (b) it’s clear we just fundamentally disagree about the value of the rebuild option.

I hope you find that smaller simpler boat you are looking for. I am happy to report I found mine.

Steve D

Otto von Bismark said, “Only fools learn from their own mistakes, wise men [and women] learn from the mistakes of others.” John, I believe that’s exactly what you are doing here, enabling subscribers to learn from, and avoid, the mistakes of others, as well as learning from what they did right.

In my decade plus experience as a boat yard manager, and decade plus (and counting) experience as a new build and refit consultant, I’ve seen far too many refits gone awry, it’s painful to watch, like the proverbial slow motion car accident, and it galls me as it does incalculable damage to not only the customer, but the reputation of the industry as well.
While there’s usually blame to go around, for those that entrust others to the task, the pitfalls are as follows…

– Failing to adequately vet the refit yard. Among other things, before handing the yard a large refit project, test them with a smaller project.
-Taking a hands off approach, and failing to recognize that as the vessel owner you are the project manager.
-Failing to insist on quotes or very firm estimates and a rigid change order process. If a yard lacks the confidence, experience and professionalism to quote a refit, the risk factor goes up exponentially.
-Saying, “I’m in no rush”, this is the absolute kiss of death for any boat project, especial refits. There should always be a schedule and sense of urgency.
-Failing to conduct a thorough inspection of the vessel and all her systems before the refit begins. Doing so avoids or minimizes the likelihood of finding major flaws, corroded tanks and keel bolts, delaminated frames and stringers, wet core etc, part way into the refit, after it’s too late to stop the process. I insisted on doing this even if the customer believed it unnecessary, I would agree that if I found nothing of consequence the owner would not b charged for the inspection. That never happened.

This two part article offers a guideline, as well as a crib sheet, for working with boat yards and the industry as a whole.

Part I:

Part II:

Ernest E Vogelsinger

Hi Steve,

“Membership in professional organizations such as ABYC and NMEA are veritable prerequisites.” (part 1 of your series)

Being located in Europe, could you name comparable associations for builders and yards?

Thanks, Ernest

Steve D


I’ve been meaning to tell you by the way, as an avid bird photographer, I love your last name. I assume “singer” is just a derivation of “sanger”?

These is no direct equivalent for ABYC in the EU mainly because the boat building standards there are mandated by law, they use ISO Standards, as well as the RCD or Recreational Craft Directive. Technically, yards doing work should be following these guidelines, with the operative word being “should”. There is an ongoing effort to harmonize ABYC and ISO. NMEA is international, those in the EU can belong to this organization and follow its standards.

Ernest E Vogelsinger

Hi Steve,

indeed, “Vogelsinger” means just “bird singer”. Guess one of my very early ancestors should have had a beautiful voice.
I don’t…

And thanks for your clarifications – I hope to be able to make good use of your guidances and primers when it’s about “my boat”. Couple of years to go, still.

Best wishes, Ernest

Patrick Dickie

I did a pretty extensive refit of my old and simple boat (Spencer 35 Mk II), then did my first bit of offshore sailing in her. I now have a fair number of additional items on my to do list before going offshore again (some things that I originally planned but never got around to, and others that I have added to the list as a result of my experiences).
For me the biggest advantage of the refit was one touched on in a few of the previous posts: the educational value. While reasonably handy, I didn’t have much experience with boat systems prior to the refit. I think being able to fix things is absolutely critical for cruising offshore or in isolated coastal areas. If you don’t already have the ability and experience to do so, going through a refit is a great way to learn.
My refit was certainly no money making enterprise, but for me it provided absolutely invaluable experience – both practically and psychologically. I wouldn’t have felt safe in the middle of the Pacific if I hadn’t done it.
I’m not sure a refit makes sense if you already know how to fix everything on a boat (even though having that knowledge of course makes a refit much easier and less costly). But I think a refit does make a lot of sense as a way of acquiring that knowledge. Not sure I’d go the refit route again if I was looking for another boat, but I think a lot of people would benefit from refitting at least one boat – I certainly did.
Cheers, Patrick

Devon Rutz-Coveney

Hi John… per the previous post I made on the subject about fibreglass boat warnings I am attaching the comment I made then (see below). The reason is: I think the subject is very close to being the same discussed here…. Like I posted before: IMHO buying and older boat, even one with problems, is a valuable learning experience. One which, in retrospect, I would gladly repeat! The experience gave me the education and ability to have the life I have…
Sailing should not be an elitist lifestyle… I cannot help but get the feeling from some (not many) of the posts by members, that this may be the very viewpoint some possess. In Vava’u Tonga a paid skipper (Rodger) on a very, very big yacht (paid crew, off-site owner) said to us: “I wouldn’t mind if they started charging people to visit here… it would keep all the ‘riff-raff’ out”……
This is just so wrong… on so many levels…. he said this to my wife and I with his big gold Rolex on his wrist and gold chain around his fat neck….
As you pointed out and I agree: it is all about people having a good time and enjoying themselves. If people can fix up an older boat, enjoy the process and sail away happy…… good on them!!! The work involved, the hard parts and the good parts, I will contend, make us better for the effort expended.

Hello John!
Great subject to debate on….
As the owner of a 70’s era Uniflite Valiant 40 I know what you are talking about. As a young lad (28 years old) I bought the boat with the idea of sailing into the sunset and enjoying life…. I had recovered from cancer and wanted to live a bit. The ‘marine surveyor’ I hired from the San Francisco bay area was supposedly a reputable guy. In retrospect he was an idiot…
The mid 70’s Valiants had big issues…. as we all now know.
It was 30 years ago that I bought the boat and moved aboard. I knew how to sail my first boat, a Lido 14 well and had experience as crew on other people’s boats racing……. and that was it.
As you can well imagine, it was a very steep learning curve, on a 40 foot cruising boat, sailing out the Golden Gate, singlehanded and ‘turning left’.
I have fixed (almost) every single thing the people at Uniflite (with the best of intentions) did building the boat.
This is the point of my contribution: if I could do it, so can others…
Sure, it takes time and money…. so what….. that is life. In retrospect, the boat ‘saved’ my life. At the time I could afford my boat and it was my way of having a life I could have only dreamed of! I have managed to keep it going for over 30 years, having a great time! I have lived within my means and fixed all the issues myself: replacing the aluminium tanks with integral (epoxy/glass) tanks, re-skinning the entire hull with new glass and epoxy (encapsulating the funky keel Bob designed on the earlier boats… even though he said it would not work, it is….. 20 years on now and counting!), re-wiring every single system, re-plumbing everything.
The boat had very little offshore kit so I paid people early on to select and install items only to discover hundreds of miles from shore that the money I spent was for very poor quality workmanship….each and every job failed due to some shortcut taken by the ‘professional’ installer! Essentially I had to learn refrigeration, marine electronics, plumbing, diesel and outboard service, fiberglass work, rigging, sail repair …. etc…. ALL the things that every good sailor does to keep his/her (fibreglass) boat going….
The point: why on earth contribute to consumerism and waste by discarding that which seems too old or unfit to fix? Many, many people, over the years, told me to ‘give the boat away’ and get something without all the issues.
More recently when repairing the boat’s oven/stove (the company who made it was out of business), a local classic aircraft restorer told me, “if someone built it, you can figure out how to fix it”…. he is right.
IMHO leave the new ‘flash’ boats to people with big wallets and no imagination…. they mostly just sit in the marina anyway!
People who aspire to cruising (in a ‘sustainable’ way) should consider an older boat needing work. They will learn the boat for sure and learn the skills they need to keep it going…. IMHO
One day, when I’m too old to keep the boat going, “they’ will drag me off of it…. Until then, I’m going to keep sailing!

Devon Rutz-Coveney

Thanks John… exactly …. Like I have written previously, It is all about enjoyment/enjoying life. My comments are targeted for those who may seem daunted by the prospect of fixing up an old boat and could end up actually listening to someone steering them away from a good experience.
Also, IMHO… I believe in making do with what we have rather throwing stuff out and buying something new… but that is just me.

Steve D

Having been in the business for over 30 years, over a decade of which running a yard, I’m afraid I agree. There are folks who can take on a DIY refit like this and those who cannot, most are the latter. Even if you are paying someone to do it, the vast majority run over budget and over schedule. I don’t mean to be a naysayer, but you have to be realistic, which means a thorough, accurate evaluation of the vessel, and quotes where possible for the work before you buy and begin respectively. With that approach you have a fighting chance of coming out with what you want for a known price.

Devon Rutz-Coveney

I have a bunch of photos from when we took our boat apart at our 1999 & 2003 refits…. Lots of problems after cruising in the tropics for 9 years…..On a Uniflite Valiant….. It was daunting to say the least. Sunny & I did most of the work ourselves.
The biggest job was re-skinning the hull. We paid a guy with a gelcoat peeler (still a new idea back then) to peel off all of the blistered hull… from the cap rail down…. on the older Uniflite Valiants the blister issue was not confined to areas below the waterline. After letting stuff dry out, we re-laminated: it was like putting up wall paper. One side of the hull one day, the other side the next. I discovered Peel ply… what a time saver!
80 litres of micro balloons troweled on.
We paid two surfer dudes $3000.00NZD combined total for 3 weeks of long-boarding/fairing. 8 hours a day long boarding…. two of them…. I hate long-boarding! Undercoats. Shadowcoats. 5 coats of Altex Marine LP paint.
Not a blister since! 20 years ago!!!
We were doing lots of other jobs concurrently. Lists of jobs.
The entire bill for everything: labour that we paid for stuff we couldn’t (or did not want to) do, paint, glass, epoxy, hardware, yard rental, haulage, mast out, new thru hulls, wiring, prop shaft, coupler ….etc… $14,572.00 USD…. 93 days of hardstand. We lived aboard the entire time….
We were very pleased and very proud of what we were able to get done.
In the midst of the ‘tear down’, when the boat was taken apart, people walking through the yard would gravitate to our ‘wreck’ shaking their heads and offering advise…. as they do…. everyone had an opinion! Many thought we would not make it!!!
Don Matson from Hutchison Boat Builders said to us : “it would have taken 6 of my guys a year to do what the two of you have done”….
Neither of us has any special training to do this. We researched and planned ahead of time and only hired out the GelCoat Peeler, Long-Boarding and Spray Painting. Alan Viatses book on fibreglass repair became my bible……
Ahead of the job we both had a REALISTIC view on what we were about to undertake and firm budget. We paid almost exactly this: $ 428.00 less than what we had budgeted.
Per what Steve D states, we got firm quotes from the people who did the other jobs and this is all that we paid them. If I had to describe in a word what got us through the project: ‘motivated’
People can accomplish amazing things when motivated to do so. Are most people motivated??? Maybe so, maybe not…. but IMHO, you don’t know until you try… and that is life….
If I made it sound hard… it was!… but Sunny & I both really enjoyed the experience and like I have said before, I would not change the past even if I could.

Devon Rutz-Coveney

One more comment John… re your statement: “life altering wealth destruction”…. as you seem to be someone my age, you should be well aware that this is a comment based on fear. What is wealth? Money? Good memories? Security?… There is an exhaustive list one can debate… the bottom line: we can’t take it with us once we expire…
The only thing we take with us is or memories. Best to have good ones. I will debate that no one can know for sure that times are really good for them, unless they experienced the contrast.
Perhaps too much philosophy for the site??

Devon Rutz-Coveney

Thanks John, This is what makes the world what it is: people with differing opinions… imagine if everyone was the same. I certainly do understand your viewpoint.
My statements are simply my opinion based on my experience … and just that… opinion…. I do not advocate that people behave foolishly…..
Since you brought up the issue of ‘old’ people: We have done a lot of volunteer work with elderly people and seen first hand what this means. It is frequently not so pretty. Even if one manages to keep their mind, it is a slow motion deterioration…….
And all the money and security in the world can’t fix it. In fact, with or without the money, we all end up in what you describe as a ‘sad situation’… You should see what some of the elderly people’s children do in the name of ‘caring and love’ for their parents…. It is pretty awful what some people can do to each other …
For the most part, western culture discards elderly people.
Many, if not all, of the elderly I have taken care of have told me…. “I wish I had done what you have Devon”…. just saying….
You and I clearly have different experiences that have moulded us into the people we are and I salute what you are doing….
I’m just offering another perspective to the debate about whether or not people should always discard old in favour of new…. ‘money’ is NOT the sole criteria when looking at an older boat…. ‘motivation’ is the big requirement (IMHO)…..with planning and strict budgeting, fixing up an older boat is great…. you’ll know the boat. Find a way to learn how to accomplish all the tasks that running a cruising boat demands to keep it going and your ‘home free’. If you have a big wallet and want to pay others for doing all these things for you…. great…..
I have written repeatedly…. ‘it is all about enjoyment’ …. but always keep in mind, some of the happiest people in the world do not possess all the material wealth that we in the west do…. The ‘prima facie’ focus on ‘wealth/money’, in my opinion, is a very corrupting influence…
All the best….