The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Talking About Buying Fibreglass Boats With Andy Schell

We have been publishing a lot lately about the pitfalls to avoid when buying a fibreglass boat to go offshore cruising, drawing on my own experience and the deep expertise of people like Steve D’Antonio and our own Colin Speedie—four articles to come from the latter. And, as always, the value of these articles has been much increased by comments from our members.

It’s all good stuff, but we don’t want to get so mired in the technical details that we forget the end goal: getting out there. So I spent a deeply interesting and fun hour with Andy Schell, who gets out there more than most, talking about how he buys and takes care of the boats that enable him, Mia, and the many people who sail with him, to do just that.

Here’s our chat in a video I have edited down to 20 minutes. (We talked about a bunch of other stuff, which we may publish in future videos.)

Yea, that might be a bit long, but I promise you won’t be bored.

If you have comments or questions, please leave then below, rather than on YouTube.

Boat Design/Selection Child Topics:

More Articles From Boat Design/Selection:

  1. Q&A—Sailboat Performance, When The Numbers Fail
  2. Talking About Buying Fibreglass Boats With Andy Schell
  3. US Sailboat Show Report—Boats
  4. Some Thoughts On Smaller Older Cruising Boats
  5. Wow, Buying an Offshore Sailboat is Really Hard
  6. Hull Design Torture Test
  7. Of Dishwashers and Yacht Designers
  8. Which Is The Best Boat For Offshore Cruising?
  9. Meeting Up With Steve and Linda Dashew
  10. Cruising On Less Than $15,000/Year, Including The Boat—What It Takes
  11. How Not To Buy a Cruising Boat
  12. Where Do We Go From Here?
  13. The Boat Design Spiral
  14. Spade Rudders—Ready for Sea?
  15. Trade Offs in Yacht Design
  16. We Live in Rapidly Changing Times
  17. Long Thin Boats Are Cool
  18. Beauty and The Beast
  19. Q&A: What About Ferro-Cement Boats?
  20. Thinking About a Steel Boat?
  21. Your Boat Should Forgive You
  22. New Versus Old
  23. Rudder Options, Staying In Control
  24. “Vagabond”—An Extraordinary Polar Yacht
  25. Learning The Hard Way
  26. The Real Story On The MacGregor 65
  27. An Engineless Junk Rigged Dory—Another Way To Get Out There
  28. S/V “Polaris”, Built For The Arctic
  29. Boats We Like: The Saga 43
  30. Designers of “Morgan’s Cloud” Have A New Website
  31. Q&A: Interior Layout And Boat Selection
  32. A Rugged Boat For The High Latitudes
  33. Q&A: Homebuilding A Boat
  34. Q&A: Sailboat Stability Contradiction
  35. Are Spade Rudders Suitable For Ocean Crossings?
  36. There’s No Excuse For Pounding
  37. Q&A: Tips On Buying A Used Boat For The High Latitudes
  38. Used Boat For Trans-Atlantic On A Budget
  39. QA&: Is A Macgregor 26M Suitable For A Trans-Atlantic?
  40. Q&A: Used Colin Archer Design Sailboat
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Rob Gill

Hi Andy, John,
Love your passion for Nautor Swan yachts Andy – if you get a good plastic boat (and your formula is easy to like) the boat you own, is the only one you will ever need and that is priceless.
Then John, your comment on the hour lost working on your boat that you will never get back (ie. not sailing), resonated with me.
Great comment Andy too, about GOOD class forums and support. When you have a “classic” boat (if a plastic boat will ever be accepted by the sailing community as such a thing), people seem to keep them and are passionate about their boats. In turn, this seems to reflect in the quality of the forum. Our previous yacht wasn’t so well supported and the forum was a general one for the brand – not our specific model. It showed. There are two active Beneteau 473 forums one on Yahoo and one on FB. You can get great advice on most issues (someone has been there) and who doesn’t enjoy discussing their boat?
Suggestion for anyone considering a plastic boat, see if there is an active forum for that specific model. If it’s a classic, it will have a forum – how many members are there?
Then ask to join the forum as a prospective XXX owner (we have had a few such people join the 473 FB group) and ask something like “Hi, love your XXX boats and looking at a couple. Please can anyone share known issues with the XXX and how can I tell which is a good one”? In my experience of seeing such posts, you will get VERY honest feedback because the forum is NOT open. People feel they can tell it like it is but also ask for input, knowing it will be given fairly – not to impress or criticise, which we know happens unfortunately in open forums. A bit like Attainable Adventure Cruising, but for your specific boat.
Like Swan, we are lucky there are Beneteau service managers both international and in country (working for the local agent) who have often spent much of their career with the same brand brand and are passionate about their boats and seem to know everything there is to know. I have only ever needed to ask once, in my case about a rudder shaft bottom bearing removal and re-fit. Had a reply back in 24 hours, which gave me the confidence to proceed. It makes a huge difference in reducing the time and cost of re-fitting or maintaining and the time you spend sitting in the yard at $100 a day.
We are lucky to have two other gems, the Beneteau on-line spares department run out of the USA for registered Beneteau owners. We can still get almost all parts for our boat and then US Spars who provides pretty much EVERY spare still for our mast and rigging. And in both cases, it’s mostly a stock services and at very reasonable pricing – this for a 16 year old boat.
Thanks for the watch. Rob

Andy Schell

Thanks for the comments Rob. I wish we’d have had this conversation now, as a few more issues have popped up in the new 59, and the owner’s forum has proved itself FAR more useful than I ever thought. It’s a long story, but to keep it short, I was able to get original drawings, specs and insights from people who have worked at Nautor themselves, and all while we were actually at sea, via sat phone comms. Truly amazing group of people that love these boats.



Hi John,

You’re amusing in your own way, sometimes perhaps without meaning to be. 900 articles and 20 online books don’t get you cruising. They put you in the hospital. I can appreciate your process though. It reminds me of the same one I try to take when confronted with a new project. Confirmation bias is real, and has more of an impact than most people realize. Your job isn’t to forecast sunshine, gentle breezes and no fault systems for us. Your job is to help us not be satisfied with seeing things as we would like them to be. Your job is to force us to ask, “What can go wrong? What do we actually need? How should we think about this?” This isn’t negative. It’s honest and real. When I was working, there was a sign on my office wall that read: “Life is like the sea. Slow to reward effort and aptitude. Quick to sink the unfit.” It’s up to us then to apply the knowledge you provide, in all of its worry and concern, and see how, or even if, it applies to us specifically, to our values and to our individual mission. Getting my haircut yesterday, the barber told me about a child of his who had recently bought a fifty foot sailboat in Europe. Turns out the hull was full of water. She said he was “fixing it.” He mentioned that a lot of drilling was involved. In my mind, I was rolling my eyes around and around, thinking all the while, “Let me tell you about this web site I read religiously.” OMG, that poor boy. Experience can be cruel. My own late night fantasy world has led me to hundreds of reviews of ocean going sailboats. As I’ve mentioned before, I think my wife might actually prefer conventional pornography to the sailing variety. Less dangerous. Less expensive. These reviews go on and on about hand holds, storage, accommodations, seat cushions, chain lockers, cabinets for wine glasses, features and so forth, and never quite get to how the ship performs underway, which is where they should start, not end. Talk about burying the lead. When they do talk performance, it’s usually, “She’s not fast but she’s ready to go around the world.” So is a sturdy rowboat. I think you’re heading in the opposite direction. Sailboats should not wallow. Double digit speeds today are attainable, particularly off the wind. My own cost any amount of money take any amount of time boat is from JPK . We sail on Lake Champlain and the JPK 38 Fast Cruiser is the one I would ask Santa to put in my stocking for Marjorie and I to sail. Keep up the good work. We need to know, and we need to know without having to suffer through it ourselves, if we’re smart.

Mark Gadue

PS. Reviewers of sailboats. Please do not write / say either one of the following:

“The day we tested her, the wind was out of the north between 4 and 7 knots, apparent. We set the gennaker and she tracked beautifully through the water, and was also easy to steer under power.”


“We didn’t go out today because the wind was blowing harder than 25 knots. We’re cruisers for God’s sake, not racers. We’ll try again tomorrow, when conditions are more favorable!”


Mark Wilson

Interesting comments above. And why only two ?

My takeaway from your talk with Andy is that, annoyingly, there are no short cuts when buying a boat whatever the material it is made from.

I am actively searching for a 40 foot boat at the moment.

There are plenty of ok boats out there, built by ok builders, that will probably get the job done. You can buy a well specced one of them, do a few of the upgrades you favour and they will probably get the job done. Some have even made it to Antarctica.

Then there are a few boats that you know are proper yachts, They were built by builders that didn’t cut corners. They were damned expensive new. They aren’t cheap now – even though they lack some of the modern conveniences. They don’t pretend to be everything to every man. They don’t often surf at 15 knots downwind, except maybe in the Portuguese Trades, which I once managed in a Rival 32. But they go upwind swiftly and comfortably – a point of sailing which occurs (like motor sailing) far more often than we like to imagine it will if we want to go to interesting places.

I have a list of ok boats which I look at. There’s about ten of them. They all have drawbacks of some kind or another: sail drives, dwarf chart tables, teak decks, bridge decks, built down to a standard rather than the opposite etc etc . I also have a list of approved boats. There’s two of them. Of the first there’s none on the market at the moment. Of the second there’s one but I can’t afford it

I was talking to a guitarist friend about my dilemma. To him it was simple. If you want to play great music get the best instrument you can. And as a part time sailor he said the same. Don’t buy your boat for the good times, buy it for the bad times.

Deep down in our lizard brains we already know this stuff. Andy buys Swans. They are expensive to buy, you can spend a fortune doing them up, but they are built like brick outhouses, they are fun to sail, great to look at and they don’t give up. Mucking about in boats means sailing to him, not maintenance. You could probably buy an old Swan with a dodgy engine, baggy old sails, a knackered teak deck and a tired interior and still circumnavigate. In reasonable comfort. Certainly much more comfort than most of my old sailing heroes like Slocum, Guzzwell, the Smeetons or Moitessier or Knox-Johnston.

Richard Elder

Hi Mark
Interesting that you should lump John Guzzwell with the hair-shirt crowd. (Well, he did circumnavigate on tiny Trekka!) But his first cruising boat was the substantial Laurent Giles “Treasure”, a boat I would rate higher on the comfort scale than a S&S Swan.

I still have fond memories of my first sail on something larger than a dingy. A moonlight night sail in the San Juans on board Treasure with Guzzwell and a group of friends.

Andy Schell

Bingo! Thanks for the nice comments Mark, and that’s always what I remind myself – the old timers and the working boats of the world sailed in FAR worse boats than I’m in, so keeps me positive 😉


Marc Dacey

A great talk and close observation, having attended one of Andy and Mia’s seminars, is one of Andy’s strengths. It’s also refreshing to hear that guys who grew up sailing, as did you both, I gather, do not love endless maintenance. The opposite case, those of us who arrived at sailing later in life, often have put in a lot of time refitting to “reset the clock” on the vessel of our choice so that we have the skills bank to deal with most of the things that can break at sea once we are on passage.

Regarding “the yard”: our first boat was a C&C design drawn for a firm called Ontario Yachts, solid hull and cored deck with IOR-flavoured lines. Just as with newer vs. older Swans, or the Pacific Seacraft-built Ericsson 38 mentioned, while there is a clear philosophy at work, Ontario Yachts built their C&C design a little beefier than did C&C, and in discussions with “straight” C&C owners, we had a lot to discuss, as these boats are in, charitably, late middle age.

So keeping tabs on the designers, the owners and the dates are probably a prudent way to hit that sweet spot to get a proven design and excellent build quality one need only tweak into the present, rather than do extensive work to ameliorate. Because that how you go sailing, isn’t it?

Alberto Duhau

Great discussion, a lot of common sense.

Scott Halpern

I had to smile when I heard Andy’s focus on design and the conditions / supervision that existed during the build. Most engineers (I’m an M.E.) understand that 90% of a products performance, reliability, cost, service-ability are irreversibly determined at the point of design release. When done properly you can feel the quality, mechanical integrity and appreciate the many thoughtful trade offs.

Andy Schell

Hi Scott,

Thanks for pointing that out. That’s what I always ask people when they ask me about boats – what was she DESIGNED for? That question actually answers a lot of other questions that come up!


Scott St Clair

Hey, Andy, the Sparkman and Stephens owners group you mentioned in the video, is it exclusively for Swan owners or are other S&S designs covered? How does one join said group?

Gregory Silver

John, I really enjoyed listening to this interview with Andy Schell. It brings a full circle to some of the most relevant stuff I’ve got from AAC in the almost 3 years since I subscribed. For background: I’ve owned a few fibreglass boats. The first one was a brand new 20′ keelboat and cheap to buy (consistent with the build quality), and I kept her for a few years of Wednesday night racing and weekend cruising out of Halifax, then sold her and bought a custom-built epoxy and plywood boat from the south shore builder, who built it on spec in the early 80’s and was never able to sell it (economic slump of the era). I got a deal on it when she was 6 years old and still in his possession. She never gave me any trouble and I loved her for her aesthetics and uniqueness and robust scantlings (except as a 22′ gaff rigged catboat I couldn’t stand up to change my pants, downwind runs were high adventure, jibing was an acquired taste and broaching was scary especially when the 100 square foot cockpit filled up). Still, I sailed her with great joy for about 15 years.

Back to the point of my response here. My next boat, acquired in 2002, was a 1983 Nonsuch 26. Great confidence in the builder, and as I got this from my Dad who owned it from almost new and sailed and maintained her well, great confidence in her condition. The plum here was, with over 1,000 Nonsuches built (at different sizes), there was, and still is, an active owners group with an online forum of hundreds of owners (around 600 owners in the association). This has been perhaps the most valuable and useful resource to my stewardship of this boat, as I do all the work myself, keep it in my home yard and at my dock. And I have a hundred consultants on line almost daily. Where I live (rural east Cape Breton) there are not any full service yards or conventional resources to draw on other than what I refer to as the local ‘rustic engineers’ talented as they are – and the owners group. So again, big points for an active and engaged owners group – for anybody considering buying a good old boat. And big points for the quality of engineering and design (and the philosophy of ‘keep it simple’), and the high build quality that is part of these boats’ legacy.

My most recent project has been refit of a 1980 Niagara 35 with the goal of cruising south in my retirement. Same builder and designer as the Nonsuch (George Hinterhoeller and Mark Ellis respectively). As some of your readers may know, she has a balsa cored hull (unlike the solid below waterline Nonsuch 26). I read all the warnings about cored hulls, and many sailing friends also raised red flags about that when I brought this boat home. I believed in the quality of the design and build from my personal experience with the Nonsuch. Although a very different boat than the Nonsuch, it has a lot in common in terms of construction techniques and philosophy, which turned out to be an advantage during my DYI refit. The Niagara 35 also has an active owners group that shares information and experience freely. So, further testament to the value of having a knowledgeable peer group.

Reflecting on some of the AAC wisdom I have tried to embrace – when I bought her I had no idea what it would cost to refit this boat (but I thought I did at the time). I bought it inexpensively from a PO who gave up on his dream after he got yard quotes, but it cost me more than what I anticipated to refit it – in dollars and time. I did all the deck and coach roof recoring myself (Youtube lessons); and replaced all critical hardware, original standing rig changed from rod to wire, rewiring and solar charging system, expanded house batteries, anchor and tackle, windlass, all new plumbing, new electronics for nav and below decks autopilot, one new and two refurbished sails, new opening ports, re-glazing of all other ports and hatches, etc. Some interesting fixes to legacy problems such as a wandering rudder post where it anchors underside the cockpit sole. Another completion of the circle of AAC advice is that magic number: I now have a hundred thousand dollar yacht (something I never expected to own). And I know she is ready to go where I want to take her. The cost? Two years of my time, and a continued working career part time meanwhile to pay for the refit (so as not to affect our precious cruising budget).

If for no other reason to write this message, I wanted to thank you for AAC, for helping me make decisions on my refit with some confidence, to your readers for their comments and criticism, and as I started this letter, to say that your Andy Schell interview brings the whole thing full circle for me. I will not cross any oceans, nor will I sail to Greenland. We are now planning our first cruise significant cruise with the renewed Niagara called No Rush, to Newfoundland next summer. And then to the Caribbean for what my mate and I hope will be a few winters of retirement living.

Apologies for the long ramble, but it’s far too windy to be outside today, there is snow in the air here, and I am a bit shack whacky.

– Greg Silver, St. Peter’s, Cape Breton