Project Boats -- Where Do You Find Them?
I am afraid that this post will sound a bit like the old southern line, "I''ve done this a million times and it never works" but here goes. In my lifetime I have bought and restored, or been paid to help restore, or have helped either physically or at least been an advisor on literally dozens of restorations. It can be done but restorations are rarely cost effective.
The worst case is a nearly completely stripped out hull. When you add up only the materials to put one into sailing and live aboard condition, even using salvaged parts and non-standard materials, you end up spending many times what the boat is worth or what you can buy a used already fixed up, updated and maintained version for.
Often when you talk about the major project boats in the size you are seeking there often are irreversible structural issues as well. By the time a boat gets stripped, bulkheads and other structural interior elements are often shot, allowing the boat to flex in a way that can greatly weaken the laminate.
The most successful reclaimation projects have been boats that someone else has started to restore and then run out of steam or money to finish. Often much of the supplies, gear and equipment is present just not installed. In the best case you can find a boat that is largely intact but just needs cosmetic work completed.
For example, probably one of the more successful reclaimation that I have gone through was the time I bought a race boat that had gone through Hurricane David with a hatch part way open. The interior of the boat had a waterline that ran around the boat part way up the seats but just short of the engine sump. The topsides was encased with mud from the storm and when cleaned in spots showed some minor scratches. There was water in the bilges above the floor boards. At the time the extent of the damage was really not obvious but most people assumed the worst. There had been several very low offers before I came along. I ended up buying the boat for somewhere between 2/3 and 1/2 her bluebook value. Most of the labor putting her into shape involved cleaning and waxing fiberglass and making new teak plywood deck inserts. Otherwise, she was fully found and operational and all she needed was some normal maintenance. I later sold her for about 25% more than had in her. The key in this case was an otherwise solid and intact boat which had been on the market for a long time and just looked scary.
In my lifetime most of my project boats have come from a lot of leg work. I typically have a circuit of visiting various boat yards in the area. I spot what look like derelict boats or boats that have been for sale for a long time and I keep an eye on them for a long while. Small sloppily run yards seem to have the best derelict rows. They don''t seem to have the energy to foreclose and cease the vessels or dispose of them once they do. If I see a boat that has been out of the water for several seasons, I might approach the boat yard office and ask what they know about the boat. Sometimes they are about to foreclose for lack of payment; sometimes it is simply an absentee owner; sometimes there is a rediculously high asking price; you just never know.
Sometimes you can find a boat sitting in a backyard behind someone''s house. I have bought two boats in my life that were sitting in fields unloved and untouched for several years. These tend to need a lot of clean up more than missing parts. On one it literally took years to get the leaf stains out of the fiberglass in the cockpit.
It is surprising how often project boats do go derelict mid restoration. I looked at a boat down in Georgia with a fellow that was a neat boat. There was so much stuff in the cabin that you could not walk through the cabin without unloading all of the wood, sails, and boxes of gear that the owner had purchased before running out of energy and money.
Here are a couple sources for online distressed boats
I would also track the listings with normal brokers. Often a boat with ''issues'' will stay on the market a long time and can be purchased quite cheaply.