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.

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Meet the Author

John

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.

9 comments… add one
  • Rob Gill Nov 7, 2019, 2:59 pm

    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

    • John Nov 9, 2019, 8:51 am

      Hi Rob,

      Yes, great tip on checking for an owner’s forum or association before buying.

  • Mark GADUE Nov 8, 2019, 10:50 am

    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.”

    Or

    “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!”

    Really?

    • John Nov 9, 2019, 8:59 am

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for the support of what we are doing and the way we do it, much appreciated.

      And yes all that writing has taken a lot of time, but for me at least it has also, over the years, augmented my cruising, not detracted from it and I still managed well over 100,000 miles of it to date. In fact I’m not sure I would have done that much without the writing since I suspect I would have got bored and moved on to something else. And I’m still thinking about, and planning, new projects that integrate the two, so all good.

  • Mark Wilson Nov 8, 2019, 6:38 pm

    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.

    • John Nov 9, 2019, 9:05 am

      Hi Mark,

      Good analysis, I agree.

    • Richard Elder Nov 15, 2019, 12:18 pm

      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” , https://laurentgilesarchive.com/product/treasure-2/— 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.

  • Marc Dacey Nov 9, 2019, 5:21 pm

    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 Nov 15, 2019, 9:29 am

    Great discussion, a lot of common sense.

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