US$30,000 Starter Cruiser—Part 1, How We Shopped For Our First Cruising Sailboat

There's a "For Sale" sign on the pulpit. Could this be the one? ©Matt Marsh

We've had lots of discussion here at AAC over the last year about whether it's possible to sail away in a seaworthy long-distance cruiser without spending a substantial multiple of the average person's net worth. The conclusion so far? It ain't easy, but it's possible to end up with an ocean cruising boat for something on the order of US$100,000.

Not For Everyone

Even then, there're problems:

  • For many people a boat priced at $100,000, with all the attendant costs of ownership on top, is still well out of reach.
  • So is quitting one's job to work full-time on a boat refit.
  • And what if you find, a year into it, that cruising under sail just isn't for you after all? Will you be stuck with a boat that burns $10,000 a year just to dock, insure, and keep afloat, and which might take a year or more to sell once you list it?

An Attainable Alternative

One promising path: Start smaller, start simpler. Make your inevitable expensive mistakes with short cruises in a relatively affordable boat, learn what works and what doesn't work for you, and then look at your choices for stepping up.

So, what does a starter cruiser look like, for a couple or a family who can't cast off the dock lines just yet? Is it possible to cruise, short term, in a safe and seaworthy (albeit not too luxurious) sailing yacht, for no more than the average family in our position would spend on a new car?

  1. The Right Way to Buy a Boat…And The Wrong Way
  2. Is It a Need or a Want?
  3. Buying a Boat—A Different Way To Think About Price
  4. Buying a Cruising Boat—Five Tips for The Half-Assed Option
  5. Are Refits Worth It?
  6. Buying a Boat—Never Say Never
  7. Five Ways That Bad Boats Happen
  8. The Two Biggest Lies Yacht Brokers Tell
  9. Learn From The Designers
  10. You May Need a Bigger Boat Than You Think
  11. Sail Area: Overlap, Multihulls, And Racing Rules
  12. 8 Tips For a Great Cruising Boat Interior Arrangement
  13. Of Cockpits, Wheelhouses And Engine Rooms
  14. Cockpits—Part 1, Safe and Seamanlike
  15. Cockpits—Part 2, Visibility and Ergonomics
  16. Offshore Sailboat Winches, Selection and Positioning
  17. Choosing a Cruising Boat—Shelter
  18. Choosing A Cruising Boat—Shade and Ventilation
  19. Pitfalls to Avoid When Buying a New Voyaging Boat
  20. Cyclical Loading: Why Offshore Sailing Is So Hard On A Boat
  21. Cycle Loading—8 Tips for Boat and Gear Purchases
  22. Characteristics of Boat Building Materials
  23. Impact Resistance—How Hull Materials Respond to Impacts
  24. Impact Resistance—Two Collision Scenarios
  25. Hull Materials, Which Is Best?
  26. The Five Things We Need to Check When Buying a Boat
  27. Six Warnings About Buying Fibreglass Boats
  28. Buying a Fibreglass Boat—Hiring a Surveyor and Managing the Survey
  29. What We Need to Know About Moisture Meters and Wet Fibreglass Laminate
  30. Offshore Sailboat Keel Types
  31. US$30,000 Starter Cruiser—Part 1, How We Shopped For Our First Cruising Sailboat
  32. US$30,000 Starter Cruiser—Part 2, The Boat We Bought
  33. US$30,000 Starter Cruiser—How It’s Working Out
  34. Q&A, What’s the Maximum Sailboat Size For a Couple?
  35. At What Age should You Stop Sailing And Buy a Motorboat?
  36. A Motorsailer For Offshore Voyaging?

Matt, Engineering Correspondent, is a Professional Engineer and true renaissance man, with a wide range of expertise including photography and all things boat design. He has a unique ability to make complex subjects easy to understand and he keeps an eye on the rest of us to make sure that we don’t make any technical mistakes. Working as M. B. Marsh Marine Design, Matt designs innovative powerboats of all shapes and sizes.

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Richard Elder

Hi Matt
Great to see somebody trying to put the Attainable back in AAC! $700k Boreals may make me drool, but that doesn’t make them Attainable. Looking forward to seeing how you have approached the problem from a personal standpoint.

Here are two examples in different size classes that fit the bill:

A Kaufman designed Choate 40 with a newish engine, extensive sail inventory and a ratty interior. 22k.
A Lafitte 44 that the owner has spent every possible boat unit upon preparing for a circumnavigation. 70K in Pandemic Dollars would buy it. Brand new Beta engine, new standing rigging, new sails, solar panels, Hydrovane and electric autopilot, Spade anchor, dingy & motor etc. Recaulked deck that looks great, but in reality will need replacing within a couple of years. And maybe 15k to sail it to a nice warm and inexpensive place in the Post Pandemic World and have it de-teaked.

Scott Arenz

Great article, Matt! I’ve been thinking along these lines recently, and am very much looking forward to this series. The reality for most in the younger generations is that adventure needs to occur on a modest budget.

To that end, this rare deal on a nicely refit Bodega 30 caught my eye when cruising the classifieds: https://www.cruisersforum.com/forums/f152/bodega-30-a-238362.html

Scott Arenz
Atlanta, GA

Kevin Dreese

I don’t know much about that design ,but that boat for sale sure looks like a deal. That is a ton of work completed at that price. Looks like a solo sailors dream for $23k. New engine, new standing and running rigging, New chain plates, Harken winches, and on and on. Anyone planning a project like that should take a look.

Scott Arenz

My thoughts exactly!

John Harries

Hi Matt,

Very astute observation. There is only one good side to be on of that trade.

Kevin Dreese

Yep, been on the wrong side of it and it’s not great. Sold a Cape Dory 25 with new outboard, tiller pilot, battery, solar, etc and the boat was basically free. Probably would have made more money selling the equipment and donating the boat. But it went to good home and I didn’t have the marina fees.

Richard Elder

Hi Scott
Unless you are a singlehander and intend to stay that way, there is small and Too Small!

Philip Wilkie

Everything depends on attitude. There are many very good YT sailing channels these days, but Troy and Pascal (Free Range Sailing) are slowly circumnavigating Australia in a 30ft Clansman. It’s so small Troy can touch the portholes on both sides at the same time, yet they are seriously good cruisers with several years of challenging coastal experiences under their belt.

They both live on it full time and are currently in Tasmania doing a small refit, as the COVID thing has stopped them from getting to the places they want to go. Personally I find them highly inspiring, and living proof of what can be done in a small boat that fits well within the budget Matt is aiming for.

Richard Elder

Hi Philip
Of course attitude is everything. Luck and exceptional seamanship helps. The Pardeys accomplished exemplary voyages over their 40 year career and never owned a boat with standing headroom except for Lynn. (Lynn is about 4’11” tall) Their big boat (30 feet) was designed with no cockpit or footwell and no real place to sit while on deck. I certainly would have trouble maintaining a good attitude if my back were in continuous pain!

As a tribute to what an exceptional seaman Larry was, I can’t imagine a 54 day passage across the North Pacific from Japan in their 24′ Seraffin. A friend built an exact replica (he is also under 5′ tall) I’ve helmed it enough to conclude that the combination of a 6′ bowsprit, narrow entry angle, fat stern, and barn door rudder does not make for a seaworthy boat. I’ve seen that boat put it’s spreaders in the water during a 25 knot puff while bay sailing in flat water.

Big enough is better!

Scott Arenz

Hi Richard,

Yep, the size is pushing it! 🙂 (Glad to see you back here, BTW.) I’d definitely put the Bodega/Golden Gate 30/ Farralone 29 in the “pocket cruiser” category.

Lately I’ve been exploring the idea “how little boat could I make work” as one approach to start cruising in a year or two rather than five or ten. Not sure where the threshold of “viable size” is yet.

There’s also a Nimble 30 for sale on that site that’s interesting.

SA

Richard Elder

Hi Matt
re 20k being the lowest low bar for a cruising boat that could sneak out into blue water, I agree entirely. However I’ve found that 30 footers that actually are suitable for offshore use are as rare as hen’s teeth, and when they show up are usually as expensive as boats ten feet longer. In the 36-40 range there are 10X as many boats to choose from. This opens up opportunities to find a really exceptional boat whose owner has passed on, lost their business to the Corvid Panic, or simply gotten too old to grind the winches.

Peter Vandenberg

In 2009 I bought an Alan Buchanan fibreglass ketch, a Neptune 33. As the name suggests a 10 metre ketch, Perkins 4108 engine, a bit tatty but nothing I couldn’t do myself. In the last ten years, in the limited time I have available after doing my work (professional yacht skipper and instructor) I have sailed around Britain, spent 5 months in the Scottish western isles, 4 months in Brittany and keep her in the beautiful waters of Cornwall and devon. The boat fits criteria that Matt outlines here. Buying cost was £9000 in 2009. I’m pretty sure I could get that back as she remains in great condition. The med beckons – I work on bigger boats mostly, including AAC favourite Boreal’s and have yet to see weather and waves my Neptune 33 wont handle given I sail according to weather forecasting, not a calendar on this boat. I’m looking forward to the next instalment. Thanks for putting the attainable back in the AAC

Richard Elder

Peter,
To branch off slightly from the main theme, half of the budget boats one will come across will have a Perkins 4108 engine. You know, the one famous for being noisy, puking oil, and out lasting new designs like Yanmars and Volvo Perkins Primas while having parts that cost half as much. Hidden underneath that 1970’s tractor engine is a “modern” marine powerplant. Replace the rear oil seal with an actual seal, get rid of the mouse screen that passes for an air filter and add a oil separator breather and air filter, and then change out the little V belt pulleys for a toothed belt arrangement that can drive a large alternator and you will have an engine that might pass for a Beta if you paint it the right color.

John Harries

Hi Richard,

True, and Colin already did a full chapter on that: https://www.morganscloud.com/2020/05/03/planning-and-budgeting-a-refit-the-engine/

Paul Browning

Absolutely Richard, not to mention a motor that cruises at hull speed at 1500 – 1800 rpm instead of screaming it’s head off at 2500 -3000 rpm. Modern turbocharged small marine diesels are all wonderful, if you can put up with the racket.

Ernest E Vogelsinger

You’re almost describing the path that I will likely take from next year on – cannot wait for part 2!

Samuel Teel

Ever so timely. I recently sold my Haida 26 after cruising the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound for 5 years. We did many successive overnights but for the two of us, it was cramped.

We are looking for a cruiser just as described. One big concern for me is comfortable sleeping and below decks lounging. On Puget Sound we would cruise when it was cold and wet. Which often lead to much time below decks.(We’re Hardheaded) On our 26 foot sloop there was no place to really streach out or stand up straight. Hence our search for the boat in the article. We’re in North Florida now. I’m looking from Charleston to the keys.

John Harries

Hi Matt,

Good point on the berths, although I would say that 6 9″ is perfectly adequate and even 6′ 6′ is not a deal breaker, and I’m 6′ 2″.

The other thought I have is that people fixate way too much on standing headroom and even reject perfectly good boats because they can’t stand up throughout. The fact is that we really don’t spend a lot of standing below when living on a boat so having to hunch a bit should not be a deal breaker for an otherwise good boat. The exception is that it is nice to be able to stand in the galley.

Ben Logsdon

Matt, this is such a refreshing article. I typically have to take all the great advice on AAC and “downsize” to my budget, but this is in line with my budget perfectly!

I was considering letting my subscription expire because after reading all the great seamanship type articles, the discussion was always about boats and gear way beyond “attainable”, at least for me. If there are more articles like this in the works, I’ll gladly stay signed on for another round.

John Harries

Hi Ben,

As editor I can say that I was hugely excited when Matt pitched this to me and that I will be encouraging him to write more about this project. Also note that all of the refit series Colin and I are doing will apply to boats at this level, so, in fact, the majority of our posts in the last six months have applied to sub US$100K boats. That would also include the articles I have been doing about rig selection decisions. That will continue. You will also find that most of the chapters in our books on things like electrical systems tend to skew toward, and encourage simple low cost solutions. In fact my last post was a rant against putting too much expensive and complex stuff on boats, a theme I return to regularly.

Ben Logsdon

John
True. Maybe I let the recent in-depth review of the Boreal and the details of your beloved Morgan’s Cloud influence my comment a bit. She is one of the most thought out and carefully designed boats I have ever seen. I hope to incorporate some of your designs one day.

This is a timely article series as I’m going to be in search of a sub $30k “classic plastic” cruiser in the coming year.

John Harries

Hi Ben,

Good to hear. We have a lot more in the hopper to support that. It’s going to take me at least another three to four months, but I’m committed to finishing the refit planning and budget series: rigging, wiring, sails etc.

Richard Elder

Hi Matt
For you Canadians who live in a land where the water world turns to ice every winter, the first and best step to becoming a cruiser is to move to British Colombia. Your annual expenses will be instantly cut in half by getting rid of annual haul out, decommissioning, and storage fees. Sell the house, buy a bigger boat and live aboard full time and you won’t have to mow the lawn! LOL

Richard Elder

Hi Matt
My bad– I should have put the LOL at the start of my comment instead of the end!
The thing about bubbles is that they eventually pop. When I last lived in Vancouver ten years ago I paid $1200 CAD monthly for a beautiful garden apartment along the Frazer in an area that once was salmon canneries. At the end of the boardwalk was the old fishing village of Stevenston, where you could buy fish directly off the boat. A mile away was the southern terminal of the SkyTrain that delivered a traffic free trip to downtown. Perhaps $1200 is the rental pricing that will emerge again after the depression triggered by CORVID19 has its way with the Canadian and world economy.

Living aboard full time in the PNW is not without its challenges, but at least it’s not Maine!

Francois Berthelot

The way we see it, owning a boat is just like owning a travel trailer or an RV: 500$/mo in the summer for seasonal camping + storage fees in the winter. We used to have a travel trailer and just changed it for a boat, similar yearly costs. The big plus is: we could sell the pick-up truck and with all the money saved on gas and depreciation, refit the boat for cruising! Just a set of new tires for the truck was 1200$, that’s a lot of used boat parts right there.

Francois Berthelot

I can’t wait for the next part of this article!
We just bought an old Dufour 35 1977 for 25K CAD. It’s been on the hard, under shelter, for 11 years and little used before that. The boat is in great shape, with a newish Yanmar, only basic 12V, tiller with some new sails. It’s perfect for us: we’ve just spent 4 years living and traveling in a 24′ trailer, so we know what works with our family (2 adults + 6 y.o.). We hope to spend no more than 25K CAD to make it cruising ready and recoup most of the investment when selling. We do all the work ourselves, but there isn’t much to do: resealing everything, new plumbing, some electrical. I might change the keel bolts following your excellent articles (thanks!!). Some of the non-essential work will hopefully be done in cheaper locals along the way. We’ll launch next summer on lake Champlain, as the US border is closed.
Do you know of any major flaws I should be on the look-out for with this model of boat (Dufour 35 1977)? If you have experience with the boat, your feedback would be very welcomed!

John Harries

Hi Francois,

I believe the Dufors of that time were relatively well built. (I hear they had big time QC problems later on,) Good idea to change the keelbolts, and you will also want to get the rudder off for inspection. Colin lost his rudder on a Dufour of the same age due to the way they fabricated the rudder shaft: https://www.morganscloud.com/2013/07/09/spade-rudders-ready-for-sea/

Francois Berthelot

Thanks for the reply John!
The rudder has already been rebuilt, but I don’t know how well, so I guess it has to come out. Changing the keel bolts will be a pain, as we have to chip away a good layer of resin inside to get to the bolts and cut holes in the fiberglass outside to access the nuts. I keep a spreadsheet of every expense and take pictures along the way, so I’ll keep you posted on the final cost when I’m done.

John Harries

Hi Francois,

That does sound like a project.

Anyway, it would be great if you can report on how the numbers come out in the end.

Colin Speedie

Hi Francois and John
from memory the rudder is skeg hung on the old Dufour 35, so not like our ‘missing’ spade rudder. That doesn’t mean it should not be inspected carefully, even if rebuilt, for peace of mind, at least. I think the keel is encapsulated cast iron, but may be wrong. Michel Dufour was a belt and braces kind of guy so there may be bolts, too. Good boats by all accounts, popular with their owners – good luck with her!

Robert McDowell

My daughter just bought a 1982 Jeanneau Melody 34 with this exact plan in mind. It has all original gear and outfit, a Yanmar 2QM engine, freshwater use (for the most part), standing rigging replaced 4 years ago and she passed a survey (in and out with sea trial) Her plan is to live aboard during University and refit her over the next 2 years. She is sound, built like a tank but cheap interior. Her cut list is about 10,000 Euro for full up cruising mode. The boat is very sailable right now, Lisa sailed the boat down from Makkum to Schevingen, Netherlands, with 2 teenage crew, the day before lockdown, through the North Sea Canal overnight. (Oh to be 21 and capable again!)

So she has a cruising capable boat, a bit old in the tooth, but perfect as a “starter” boat for a younger person. She plans on using the boat during refit for offshore sail training in her Yacht club so as to generate a little income. And she plans on “leaning” on Dad for technical advise and sanding!

Robert McDowell

Yep Matt, as we are helping her with her lodging during Uni we now are paying 400 per month (Dock, 1x haulout and pressure and 2 weeks on the hard per year) instead of 700 for her rent in “The Hague” which is a place you can live on a boat year round if you are a little hardy. We are putting the extra 300 into her boat fund. And, we have a place to stay when we visit the Netherlands. She bought the boat with her own money, slowly earned over some years, but we have an agreement that we can commandeer her boat for a week or so to go sailing (well that was the plan, with Covid plans are ethereal!)
And, I do suspect your last statement is “on the money”!

Matt Kertesz

I was very excited to read this article. Having bought a pacific 30 about a year ago, we’re headed down a similar path. So far my girlfriend and I have been tackling small projects while we cruise and live aboard in Howe Sound (southern British Columbia). Keep up the great work at AAC!

Daniel McCarty

We have discussed having a “small” boat for years.

The problem is not only money but TIME.

Even if we could find a boat that we could afford to buy, and more importantly, to MAINTAIN, the time we would have to be on the boat is very limited. Even at this point in my career, where I have a decent amount of vacation, that vacation is often used up for family related events that would not include going on in the boat. Counting up the actual number of day where we could TRY to be on the boat ends up being a small number.

Taking the cost of the boat, plus the cost of maintaining the boat, divided by the number of possible days on the boat, ends up not making money sense. The time problem for us is made worse because we are 2-3 hours from the coast so just hopping in the car to go to the boat for the day, or to WORK on the boat, is not really possible, so the time consumed would need to be a day or two or three.

But it is worse than that small number because one can plan on going out on the boat but the weather says otherwise. This is minimized if it is your boat, but balancing time needed for work, family(who are not interested in boating), house chores, weather, working to maintain the boat, oh, and actually taking the boat out, becomes very problematic and ends up being a small amount of time.

Our current solution to the time and money problem, is to rent/charter a boat.

The weather problem is a bit worse with this option, we have had to cancel boat time because of bad weather, but that did not cost us money. We do have to work with scheduling the boat, which makes weather issues a bigger problem, but the trade off is that we don’t have any real money invested and we don’t have to spend precious time doing boat chores.

We have gone through the same calculation regarding owning a big RV. We had the chance to buy a well maintained RV, for a very good price from a family member, but when we looked at the cost to buy, the cost to maintain, the cost to use vs the time we would/could use the RV, it made absolutely no money sense to own an RV.

My suspicion is that many of the boats one sees sitting unused in marinas, is partly because the owner did not factor in how much time they actually have to use the boat, as well as how difficult boat time can be to find.

John Harries

Hi Dan,

Sounds to me like you have put far more rational thought into this than most of us do. Good on you. As to the charter/rent option, I think that in many cases that absolutely makes the most sense. The Europeans are way better at figuring this stuff than we are in North America, and much less likely to succumb to the lust to own something. When I gave a High Latitude course in Germany, of the 30 accomplished sailors in the room only two owned their own boats. The rest chartered or were members of boat sharing clubs.

Rob Gill

Hi Dan,
Like you, we chartered for 20 years or so as a family, around the world. Kids sports commitments, their hobbies and schooling dictate your actual boat usage.
From this experience, we figured out that foot for foot, metre for metre, the break-even for chartering is between 30 and 35 days usage per year, by estimating the total cost of ownership and applying a “cost of money” charge. By this I mean, owning a 13 metre yacht should be compared with chartering a 13 metre yacht (of a similar grade). In my experience not many families will manage 20 boat days, let alone 30 or 40, unless for the whole family, cruising is their thing!
20 years later we now own our “forever” yacht, with a lot of lessons gained from that prior experience. We currently average about 60 days a year. There is plenty of time to buy your dream boat, and you will know when that is by your charter days creeping up!
Br. Rob
PS. If I had my charter time again, I would buy a large alloy (for weight) spade anchor and break it down into a hold-all, swapping it over at the first opportunity with the undersized and blunt plough anchor, inevitably gracing the bow!

JOHN SHEPARD

It feels like I have channeled Matt’s thinking back in 2015 when I bought my CAL35 Cruiser to sail the PugetSound and Salish Sea off the BC coast. My focus evolved when I read John’s “Stop thinking about a boat like a used car!” message. I made a list of what things I want to do with the boat and then found the boat to fit most of those priorities. The priority list helped me sift through the noise and recognize the boat I wanted when I saw it.

My compromise included some refitting to the tune of 16K for new electronics, standing rigging and new sails. The benefit is when I discounted the price for the goodies on board, like a lightly used Inflatable dinghy, a new in box Wallas Heater, a lightly used 3 burner Force 10 stove, and a working Perkins 4107 with about 3000 hrs the boat with good bones cost a little under $10K .
The 6.7ft height in the salon, with windows that give her the look of a Pilot house boat (Lots of light in the boat during those grey fog/drizzle days in the BC/Washington climate, a nearly 7ft Vberth and rigging that is manageable for a solo sailor, makes me think Matt’s quest is attainable.

JOHN SHEPARD

It feels like I have channeled Matt’s thinking back in 2015 when I bought my CAL35 Cruiser to sail the PugetSound and Salish Sea off the BC coast. My focus evolved when I read John’s “Stop thinking about a boat like a used car!” message. I made a list of what things I want to do with the boat and then found the boat to fit most of those priorities. The priority list helped me sift through the noise and recognize the boat I wanted when I saw it.
My compromise included some refitting to the tune of 16K for new electronics, standing rigging and new sails. The benefit is when I discounted the price for the goodies on board, like a lightly used Inflatable dinghy, a new in box Wallas Heater, a lightly used 3 burner Force 10 stove, and a working Perkins 4107 with about 3000 hrs the boat with good bones cost a little under $10K .
The 6.7ft height in the salon, with windows that give her the look of a Pilot house boat (Lots of light in the boat during those grey fog/drizzle days in the BC/Washington climate, a nearly 7ft Vberth and rigging that is manageable for a solo sailor, makes me think Matt’s quest is attainable.

Stephen Hallowell

Matt, I really appreciate you writing this. We have 3 children under the age of 4. I’d like to find a boat that will simply let us get out on the water for weekends and vacation weeks safely and comfortably for the next 5 years, while we build the skills (and hopefully stimulate the excitement) for a bigger trip when the kids are older. The place I have the biggest questions, as I read all the articles here about the ideal offshore boat, is what compromises are acceptable for coastal cruising in the Puget Sound area that get the price below $100k that would NOT be acceptable for true offshore sailing. John’s done a good job of selling me on all the reasons why I need a rock-solid boat that will cost more… what can give when you relax the offshore constraints? Thank you!

Richard Elder

Hi Stephen;
As a long time Washington and BC resident I’d tell you that you do not need or should even want an offshore boat for sailing in Puget Sound or southern BC. Why spend your 100k on an old blister Valiant 40 that could, with a large pile of boat $$$ sail around Cape Horn? What you need is a reliable engine and good light air sailing performance because that is how you will spend 80% of your time. There is a whole class of boats that were designed for exactly your needs— the bareboat charter boat. Find a Jeanneau, Beneteau, Catalina, or even (gasp) a Hunter that someone needs to sell because sailing is no longer a priority or they have lost their business to the Crash. Forget small is beautiful– your soon-to-be teenagers will be much happier in their own cabins!

Dick Stevenson

Hi Stephen,
Many years ago, we were in exactly your shoes: we had been doing day sailing and occasional overnights on an 18 foot Cape Dory Typhoon with 2 children. One rainy weekend we decided we had to move up and went to a Sabre 28. We cruised it for years as we added a third child to the mix.
Sabres are far better made than other boats of that era and are quite nice under sail and are quite a safe boat.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Emile Cantin

I’m currently in the market for exactly that kind of boat. In fact, I’ve spotted one which would tick all my requirements (and yours), but it has a cored hull. However, it has a clean survey (not mine, I’d re-do one), and I’ve read a lot of reviews online that state that there haven’t been many problems with this specific model (C&C Landfall 38). The manufacturer is also a pretty reputable one, and this specific boat has done offshore racing (Newport to Bermuda) and an Atlantic crossing before.

Would you compromise on that if everything else is sound, or should it really be a deal-breaker?

John Harries

Hi Emile,

That’s a hard one. The best way to look at it is that core in the hull adds to buyer’s risk and absolutely requires a really good survey done by someone who really understands how to use a moisture meter. It’s also worth getting the hull thermal imaged to look for dampness. The point being that unlike most issues with second hand boats a soggy hull core can take the boat’s value to zero.

The other key thing to understand about balsa core in the hull is that even if the builder did everything right the boat can still be compromised because a previous owner did a poor job of keeping water out of the core.

Bottom line, it’s all about the survey.

You will find a lot more on how to make this call, including how to tell if a surveyor really knows what they are doing, in our Online Book: https://www.morganscloud.com/category/boat-design-selection/book-how-to-buy-a-cruising-boat/

Ryan McNabb

Thanks. This is right up my alley. I just bought my boat after years of looking and my criteria were nearly identical to yours. I wanted a boat made for serious offshore work, new or newish engine and rig, and basically no glaring deficits, for less than $20,000, and found a really clean Contest 31 made in Holland in the 70’s. It’s everything I could ask for and after just some basic fluffing and buffing I could cross the Atlantic or head off to Hawaii. I will do some upgrades (planning a “rolling” re-rig with Colligo Dux, new chainplates, and will add a manual windlass) but there are many seriously ready boats out there for less than $30,000, and frankly this criteria is far more interesting to work with in my opinion.

John Harries

Hi Ryan,

Glad you found a good boat. A lot of cost benefit in going small. That said, I don’t agree that there are a lot of boats ready to go offshore for less than 30K

I guess it depends on how you measure “ready to go” For example, I don’t consider a boat that needs new rigging and chain plates and has no windlass ready to go across the Atlantic or to Hawaii. Also, given that this is a 50 year old boat, what about the state of the rudder and keel bolts?

https://www.morganscloud.com/2020/03/08/planning-and-budgeting-a-refit-rudders-part-1-the-problem-defined/
https://www.morganscloud.com/2020/05/16/refits-keels/

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you bought a bad boat, but it’s as well to be realistic about what “ready to go” really means.

This is a good example of what it takes to actually get an even reasonably maintained boat ready to go: https://www.morganscloud.com/2016/04/27/refit1-a-trans-atlantic-boat-for-less-than-us100000/

And they did not address the rudder or keel.

Jacob Lloyd

Every sailor works to their own budget, and budget is a bigger factor in assessing what the perfect boat looks like than any other!

Five years ago I bought a 23’ twin keeler for £350. I spent £1200 on her and sailed her for four years including several times across the English Channel. She was cheap because she was small, because I replaced the chainplates and wire rigging myself and because I was happy with an outboard engine. But I didn’t want to sail her any further offshore than the Channel Islands.

A year ago I bought a boat that is just what is being looked for in this article, as I see it. We paid £6500 for a 1979 Rival 32 with a recent engine and 20 yr old spars. We then spent £10k on replacing all through-hulls and seacocks, standing rigging, chainplates and sails. We bought a bigger anchor and new wiring for lights, a new radio and new instruments and plotter, added a Solent stay for the stormjib, a used Monitor windvane and JSD tangs were bolted on astern and a solar array and battery bank added to power a small fridge/freezer. For around $27k we now have a solid, watertight boat capable of crossing oceans in safety, equipped to cat2 safety standards and with all the comforts of modern life ready for a couple to live aboard.

It required time and thrift but it absolutely is possible for the budget if time is spent, care is taken over each choice and a good working knowledge of the cost to renew each system is built up ahead of choosing the boat.

Now I’ve joined your excellent site to keep on learning from all of your hard-won experience, in preparation for our first bluewater trip on our own boat!

John Harries

Hi Jacob,

That sounds like a great project done right. Two more things I would want to check before going to sea, given the age of the boat, would be rudder integrity and also keel bolts if not encapsulated:

https://www.morganscloud.com/2020/03/08/planning-and-budgeting-a-refit-rudders-part-1-the-problem-defined/
https://www.morganscloud.com/2020/06/05/planning-and-budgeting-a-refit-keels-part-2-non-destructive-testing-of-bolts/

Both, a pain to do, but even if problems are found and fixed, you should still have a boat ready to go at a great reasonable cost .

Tyler Walkey

Hey Matt,

Great article, and pretty close to where we are in terms of budget. Would have been good to have read this article (and all the others on AAC) before buying ours, but I think we did pretty well.

1980 Ingrid 38 25k USD. All new electrical, very low hour 4jh4 Yanmar, new plumbing, tanks, watermaker, etc. She needs new standing and running rigging (seems fine, but age unknown). She’s heavy, but sails quite well, half wind speed up to about 10knts, and has some momentum. Very comfortable in heavy seas.

I am in the (light I hope) refit planning process now for a sail from California to Japan (where we live) and trying to separate wants from needs. reading as many of the ACC articles as I can as I plan and purchase items for the refit.

I think we got a great deal, and a good base to start with, but no autopilot, windvane, refrigeration, solar, or inverter as of now. I think aside from refrigeration, for us they are all close to being needs. Photos below of our purchase, haulout survey, 370 mile maiden voyage, and de-rig / dry storage.

Any general advice for our refit is always appreciated, especially for a local sail loft (San Diego area), or running/standing rigging re-rig advice for our boat.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/dz86S1MYp58umD5Q8