The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Finding and Buying a Dream

Having found our dream boat, we’re now down to earth with a bump as we settle into the old, familiar routine of long-distance boat love.

Sherpa is in Burnham-on Crouch in the far southeast of England and we are diametrically opposite in the far northwest Highlands of Scotland. She might as well be in the Caribbean, though, as we could probably get there in less time.

I’ve already made one 2000-mile round trip in a large panel van to pick up most of the sails (16 of them!) and sundries, and am now planning the next marathon journey. Despite our best-laid plans, we’re back to ‘Life in the Bus Lane’. 

Cutting Travel Expenses

That said, when we were doing the initial planning for this boat, unnecessary travel was an unpleasant and costly factor that we decided to eliminate as much as possible.

Particularly given that we were starting out with a small budget, we wanted as much money as possible to spend on the boat, not on the dubious comfort of some chain motel on a freeway exit road and dinner Chez Colonel Sanders.

Louise and I agreed, then, to stay at home unless the boat in question really ticked most of our boxes.

Like you, I’m sure, I have had my share of wasted journeys to some Godforsaken place to find that the “Ocean Ready” beauty promised online isn’t fit to cross a duck pond.

So what can we do to avoid wasted journeys while looking for a new boat?

Here are some tips:

  • Do your homework diligently well in advance.
  • Get to know the models that you have selected as your ‘possibles’ in-depth as far as you can.
  • Go online and track some of those models down.
  • Start with the description and specification sheets and work through them.
  • If you find an interesting boat, make contact with the broker or seller and ask if there is a recent survey available, or further information (such as bills for specific work) that could yield useful knowledge.
  • Look at the age of critical and potentially costly items, such as standing rigging, sails and engine.
  • Read between the lines, there’s nearly always something that looks wrong or seems somehow out of place that will raise questions for further exploration.
  • Look very carefully at any photos, and not just the immediate object in the foreground. Look around at the overall image. Blow it up on your screen if possible. Faults are not always flagged up but are commonly visible.  

Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted

Often attributed to Erwin Rommel

Ask An Experienced Boat Owner

I had a good working knowledge of many of the boats on our list as I am of the same vintage. I also have friends with extensive knowledge of many of the boats of that era, so I had a fair start. Maybe you know of some old timers who could offer some useful insights, too? You may turn up someone who owned the same model, which is always useful.

Colin is way too modest to toot his own horn, so I’m going do it for him: There is no better “experienced boat owner” to ask than Colin himself. I can come very close to guaranteeing that you will recoup his fees several times over and get a better boat than you would without him to advise you. Eds.

Search Tips

Simply trawling the web can be time consuming and frustrating with all the blind alleys and (sometimes) dubious claimed expertise out there. But well phrased and detailed Google search requests will unearth a great deal more valuable knowledge than might otherwise appear with a general search.  

And it can be a real challenge to sort the wheat from the chaff on forums, but some owners’ groups can be very helpful indeed, not just in terms of general information but also through links to suppliers of specialist spares and repairs for their models.

Old magazine reprints can often be found via the web, which will give you a feel for the boat you have in mind.

The Pitfalls We Guarded Against

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Stein Varjord

Hi Colin,
Very useful advice.

I find that the biggest enemy when evaluating these things is that we tend to fall in love with the idea of getting just that boat. That gives just as poor judgement abilities as in other love affairs. 🙂 We will tell ourself that even the clearly important issues are just quick fix details. Falling for a good boat is nothing wrong, but falling in love with the idea of buying it, and the glorious future owners pride is financially dangerous.

On bigger projects have been able to stop myself in the stride before it had serious consequences. I guess it helps considerably that on several low impact purchases through the years I’ve landed face first. There’s nothing better to teach us sobriety than some embarrassing experiences. It’s perhaps worth noting that I’m quite technically competent and have built boats, so I should be able to avoid the traps, but knowledge and skill doesn’t protect me against my own emotions.

I think perhaps it’s smart to not aim for “the dream boat” before we have experience from buying something far less economically binding. Buying a very cheap boat that actually isn’t worth it might be good. It will show us what “not worth it” really means, often in multiples of the buying price and always in multiples of planned time expenditure.

John Harries

Hi Stein,

All very true. I should know:

Ernest E Vogelsinger

*lol* with me it was my wife “I want that boat” – who could refuse such a wish from the admirality?

Kit Laughlin

Same with me. Ah—the Admiral!

Wim Vandenbossche

She was on my shortlist too.
She looked great when I looked at her and I was seriously tempted.
However, as an EU national/resident the Brexit/VAT shenaningans put me off and I ended up buying a similar era/design boat on the continent.

Fair winds and following seas.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Colin and all,
A thought about the picture of the anchor roller with the solid pin labeled “a functional bow roller…”
Having a solid anchor support/securing pin is, at first observation, very visually appealing: clean, strong, with a bit of elegance. I would suggest a few down-sides:
It takes very little momentum (boats are heavy and do not want to stop cold) for the pin to become bent if the boat bumps into the wharf/pier when stern-tying in the Med or elsewhere. And just a little bend can make the pin impossible to extract. Once I observed: a man busily cutting his pin with a hack saw (seemed a lot of work and a number of blades) in an anchorage. He had left earlier that day a stern tie where a wake had him bump the pier so slightly, he was not really even upset at the time. Another time, a neighbor in a Greek port who came in just a wee bit hot (and who needed the bend pointed out to him). He could not remove his anchor even though the bend was not at all dramatic. This latter skipper had no on-board tools to cut his stainless pin and I lent him a Dremel to do the job.
The second issue is that the height/dimensions of the pin are made for one anchor and other styles or a larger anchor will likely not fit.
Finally, the most annoying is if the pin holds the anchor just above the roller so the anchor swings from metal cheek to metal cheek, like a small bell ringer.
An alternative is a stout line rove through the hole in one cheek, through the anchor securing hole and then through the other cheek hole and tied over the top: done and dusted.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Stein Varjord

Hi Dick,
I absolutely agree! I’ve developed an allergy to metal in that location. Vulnerable and not very functional, as it can’t really be tightened. Rope is the answer. Several layout options. I like yours.

Wim Vandenbossche

Hi Colin,
I did indeed – now sail a Frans Maas designed Standfast 36 (1977).

Gordon Hinds

Buying an older yacht. I wasn’t as careful as Colin. Having raced yachts for decades I thought I knew a lot about boats. As it transpires I didn’t. Not cruising yachts. The boat I bought was worth a fraction of the price paid mainly as it had so many issues with the gear supplied. While it had new sails that was about it. It is a New Zealand buoy cold molded yacht from 1986, that weighs 7 tons for its 38’. It has a deep fin keel encapsulated into the hull and a skeg rudder. Fractional single swept back spreader rig. Volvo penta md40 motor. We love the boat and it gets nothing but glowing compliments from others.
So what was wrong? As it seems, a lot.
Feathering prop shot
Liferaft useless
Freezer compressor shot
Electronics only partially installed
Vhf radio received only – no transmission
Engine muffler/exhaust heat exchange shot
Oil cooler for transmission shot
Stuffing box shot
Running rigging needed replacing
New anchor windlass required
Gas not compliant, new oven required
Holding tank not connected
Winches needed servicing (one was frozen)
Endless dead wiring everywhere
No high frequency radio
– just the aerial
Dead batteries
No solar panel
No dinghy
Butchered window lenses…

The list goes on…

I paid $62k for it. It was worth about $20k given its condition. The problem is the owner (read vandal) would not have sold it for that amount but certainly a discount should have been negotiated.

Some of the faults were well hidden.

We nearly have her ship shape. But it’s been a two year slog and a lot of money…

I am thinking of reducing the draft (6’9”) with a bulb to 5’10” but that is me going a bit crazy…

Rob Cochran

Thanks for sharing. I have a boat on offer and am considering backing out of the deal. The standing rigging is 41 year old rod, the rudder is wet, mold in v-berth, small leak in hull/deck joint, autohelm removed, small anchor locker (not sure how it could hold required rode) safety gear missing, no tender, no outboard, original DC panel, some “cosmetic” cracks in floor. The following is not working: wind speed, radio, knot meter), stuffing box clamps need replacing, engine insulation needs replacing…
I am looking at 100% above offer price in updates. I would have a boat that is worth half of my investment. The uncertainty of insuring an old boat is concerning also.
At survey the batteries and water system was not hooked up and therefore all those systems could not be tested.
I think by writing this down I have made my decision. I thought this was the one and am not happy to let it go. It looked great and is from a reputable builder but was not updated where is matters most.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Rob,
And that is just what you know about: I suspect that there is equal to the amount you mentioned lurking in the shadows that will emerge when you get into things.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy 

John Harries

Hi Rob,

Your well reasoned comment got me thinking:

Charles Smallwood

Congratulations. As part of a syndicate I owned a SHE 36 (Pastime of Innisfree) for more then 20 years. Now retired, I have bought bigger but in many ways the SHE was the nicest boat I ever owned, solid, reliable and fantastic to windward. An Atlantic circuit in 2001/2002 included Gran Canaria to Union Island (in St Vincent and the Grenadines) in 18 days, good enough for a boat which is not a downwind sledge.

David Courtenay-Clack

Very good idea to join the owners club BEFORE buying if you are seriously interested. The forums can give a lot of useful info that might otherwise be unavailable.
Good luck with the sail home.