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post #1 of 15 Old 07-16-2007 Thread Starter
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Boat Buying Question


I am new to the forum and have read through several threads that have offered helpful perspectives on the following general questions, but would value any specific comments/insights from experienced used boat buyers.

I'm considering buying an old fiberglass sailboat, roughly 28-35 foot, for use as a fair weather weekend bay/coastal pleasure sailer, weekend retreat, etc. Not interested in racing or overnight passages. Nights to be spent in slip, safely anchored or on mooring. Would like enough room to "relax and hang out in my boat with a girlfriend and/or a friend or two, etc.", but nothing fancy in way of features/appliances. Mostly stargazing/socializing/reading at night, kind of like camping, etc.

Clearly, a considerable number of manufacturers/models would meet these exceedingly modest needs.

Two very strong consideration, however, are economy and preservation of value. In short, given other demands on my life and on my time, I'm frankly not sure just how much time I would actually end up spending on the boat and sailing it. This conceivably may be the start of a process leading to long crusing and circumnavigation. Or it may be two/three years and out. I just don't know. If the former, I'd sell the boat and upgrade to a more capable vessel. If the latter, I'd like to be prepared.

Ideally, I'd like to get something for $15 - $20 G (less would be even better, $10G would be perfect), but I'd prefer to pay $30 G for something I can confidently anticipate selling for $30 G in three years than pay $15 G for something I have to throw away in three years 'cause nobody wants to buy it. Of course, I may keep it for 10 years, but I'm trying to cover all possible scenarios.

Based on reading I've done, it seems that the determinants of value are primarily condition of hull, deck, keel & attachment, steerage, rigging, then electrical system, plumbing and tanks, and engine, and less so, sails. Not much on inside electronic appliances and creature comforts. Given my anticipated useage, I don't need fancy or high-value equipment.

I don't mind if the electrical system, plumbing, etc. are shot (as long as I don't pay for them in the boat's price). I can use camping equipment -- i.e. propane stove, toilet, ice box, battery powered lights, etc. -- long as I can meet Coast Guard and any other applicable regulations. Given that I won't be racing it, even worn out sails wouldn't bother me too much. Or worn out rigging, or worn out anything, as long as it holds up for a few years of easy sailing and doesn't lead to deck/hull problems requiring expensive repair.

My nightmare would be buying a boat that somehow had severe deck/hull damage or expensive damage to systems that a surveyor missed (I sure wouldn't know myself by examining the boat). This is where I could see a risk in spending $15 or $20 G on something that would be impossible to sell for even $10 G -- if it sells at all -- in 2 or 3 years.

I've done a lot of "internet shopping", looking at classic plastic boats, etc. Probably all of them would meet my basic needs. I prefer the classic look. Not too keen on the high tech modern look, but am not willing to pay for it anyway, so it's sort of a moot point.

Why not charter? Well, I might. But I kind of like the idea of my own boat to putter around in and have as a retreat, as well as for re-learning sailing (used to daysail as a kid on a family boat, 26 foot, but that was years ago. Now in my mid-40s and looking for a source of relaxation, getting outdoors, new experiences, new friends, new energy into my life, R&R, etc. Chartering would not offer that on a consistent basis.

I have met folks who've done quite well with "cheap" older boats. One young (mid-20s) couple I met had bought a 28' Pearson Triton (I believe) for under $5 G and cruised the Carribean, and sold it for about the same price.

Any thoughts/ideas/comments would be appreciated, i.e.: Is this a reasonable scenario? What is risk of a erroneous survey? Any specific suggestions as to buying tactics? Any specific boats? etc. Also, related to the above, is there a point where a low-ball bid becomes downright insulting. I understand that bidding 20% or so below asking price is routine, but what about half? I guess some folks will take anything to get out of an old boat that isn't moving and avoid the storage fees. But I like to be civil and would prefer to be able to document a reason for a low-ball bid.

Thanks for any thoughts and suggestions,
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post #2 of 15 Old 07-16-2007
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If you buy a good boat for a fair price and keep it up and upgrade it a bit you will get more money for it when you sell it in a few years, but probably won't recover all you spend on it in upgrades.

Bad rigging needs to be replaced or you could loose your mast, big expense and dangerous.

Not sure what you mean by erroneous survey, get a survey.

Most sellers expect to take 10% less, you might get 15% or even 20% if the boat has been on the market for a few years. More? Depends on if it's overpriced and the seller is hurting. It costs in the neighborhood of $4000/yr + or - to keep a 30 footer.

I would generally find what is popular in your area, talk to lots of brokers or other sailors in your area to find out what the popular old boats are. In the San Francisco Bay Area that could be the Newport 30, Cat 27 or maybe an Erickson 30.
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post #3 of 15 Old 07-16-2007 Thread Starter
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Thanks for your comments Gene.

Regarding the survey, No question at all, I'd get one. However, I have come across occasional used boat buying articles that relate how a buyer had big unplanned expenses due to critically needed repairs that were missed in a survey.

I have no personal experience here, but these stories have caught my attention. Also, I've read of certain situations where parts of the boat can't be easily accessed in a survey (maybe related to the former situation). Nor do I have any way of evaluating a surveyor's skill--although I assume a well-regarded and experienced surveyor would likely do a thorough job.

I should probably add a quick thought that may not have come through clearly in my rather lengthy post above: I wouldn't tolerate any degraded system--rigging, steering, electronics, whatever--that in any way compromised the safety of the boat, its passengers or other boaters. I'd want it in good, safely sailable shape, or I'd fix it after the purchase. I would be responsible and very safety conscious. But any bells & whistles unrelated to safe operation aren't that important to me.
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post #4 of 15 Old 07-16-2007
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Sounds like the ideal boat would be a Catalina 30. Yes I know not very exciting, and the other boats mentioned might be better. But they are well. Known, easy to sell, easy to insure; surveyors are familiar with it; Catalina is still in business and you can get parts so easily. If you need a sail you can find a used one easily. If you want to buy a cheap dodger, you can order one online without having to have it measured. The layout is decent. I would get the inboard diesel; some older ones have Atomic 4s and are harder to resell. There is a reason Catalina sold so many of them.
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post #5 of 15 Old 07-16-2007
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Nothing wrong with a Triton for what you're describing. Any Carl Alberg design, in good condition, will keep you safe. The simpler you keep it, the fewer things to go wrong. Kerosene lamps and alcohol stoves work fine. So does a portable VHF radio. So does hand-pumped water and a plain ole icebox. If you're just doing local coast-crawling, stick with the smaller and cheaper boats on the scale you described.

But as you note, get a survey, and make sure the sails are serviceable (and reefable), since a new suit of sails can cost half the value of an old boat. If the hull, mast/rigging, rudder post, thru-hulls, and engine/stuffing box check out okay, I think older is better, since you can't lose too much on it. If something major goes wrong with a $30K boat, you'll have to spend the money. If same with a $6k boat, trash or donate it and you'll limit your losses. And if, as is more likely, nothing major breaks or wears out, then in 3 years you'll sell her for about what you paid.

Lots of models to choose from, as you pointed out. Your surveyor can check the condition. Me, I'd look for a reliable designer from 30-40 years ago, like Alberg, Phil Rhodes, Bill Tripp, whoever the youngest Herreshoff was then (I forget), Bill Luders, to name a few.
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post #6 of 15 Old 07-16-2007
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I would echo nolatom's advice. Narrow it down to a couple three models, and buy the one that is in the best shape. Pearson Triton, Pearson Renegade, any of the Bristol yachts in that size range, the Alberg 30, the Pearson Alberg 35, the Swiftsure are all "traditional" looking, cutaway keel boats that can be had for a relative song. Very safe, and when in good repair, very strong.
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post #7 of 15 Old 07-16-2007
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I had a Triton for a few years - it is an excellent boat. It is certainly Spartan as the interior more closely resembles that of a wooden boat than a more modern fiberglass one, but it is comfortable, very seaworthy if the major systems are up to spec, and - I think - a great looking small sailboat.

You can get a Triton in very good shape for $10,000 or maybe even a bit less. Most Tritons were built in Bristol and are known as East coast boats. The West coast boats were built in Sausolito.

If you're looking at an East coast boat, the number one concern will be the deck core. Many boats suffer from wet core. While this is a doable project (I did it), a recore is a big job. For $10,000, you should have a solid deck.

The West coast boats have solid glass decks, so core is not as issue.

Other concerns specific to a Triton are the mast compression beam. It's common for the original beam to have a check crack in it. It's an easy fix, but something to look for.

The Triton came with an Atomic 4 motor. They are venerable motors, but a more recent diesel would be a nice upgrade. You may want to look for that.

It is a very nice sailing boat. It gets to hull speed reasonably quickly, points surprisingly well given its keel shape, has a dry cockpit, and can very easily be handled with one or two people.

As importantly, the owner's group is absolutely outstanding. If you haven't already, you'll want to check out these sites:

New England Triton Association
New England Triton Association
Pearson Triton #381 Glissando | Restoring, Maintaining, and Cruising a Plastic Classic on the Coast of Maine
The Plastic Classic Forum :: Index
National Triton Association


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post #8 of 15 Old 07-16-2007
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Your plan seems reasonable and you should be able to accomplish it.

My observations are:
-Get the smallest boat you feel comfortable with. As boats get bigger they get a lot more expensive. And EVERYTHING about a bigger boat is more expensive, including hauling and storing, slips, sails, rigging, etc.
If you will have 2-3 people aboard for a weekend, a 28' boat would be OK. More than that and the 28 will start to feel real small.

-I would recommend sticking with the well known brands like Catalina, Hunter, Tartan, Newport, O'day, etc. You will have a much easier time selling a well known boat than the odd duck.

-The newer the better. The older the boat the less of a market there is for it. The more difficult it will be to find parts. Please note that *I* define 'old' as 30+ years. I don't think a 1980 boat is old, but a 1975 boat is.

-The suggestion of a Catalina 30 is a good one. I was looking for one a few years ago, but found a very nice Newport 28 instead. You can find C30's, in decent shape, for 20K, pretty much everywhere.

-Any decent surveyor will find serious issues like a delaminated deck, water logged hull, etc., so I don't think you need to worry about that. It becomes more difficult with engines. I don't know and simple method of getting an accurate estimate of the engine condition besides seeing how the engine runs now.

Good luck in your search.


Barry Lenoble
Deep Blue C, 2002 C&C 110
Mt. Sinai, NY

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post #9 of 15 Old 07-16-2007
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The Catalina 30 is a good choice. Two others I would consider are the Pearson 30 and Tartan 30. Both a bit better sailors than the Catalina with maybe a little less room inside and available for $10K to $15K. Find a good one and maintain and you will not lose money.
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post #10 of 15 Old 07-16-2007
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Get John Vigor's "20 Small sailboats to take you anywhere", and read it...

A lot of the boats mentioned in that book are both fairly decent boats for your short-term plans, as well as capable of handling ocean passages. My favorites from his book are the Alberg 30 and the Southern Cross 31. The major caveat of the SC31 is that it is an Airex-cored hull, and needs to be carefully inspected for hull water intrusion and possible delamination.

I'd also recommend Don Casey's "This Old Boat" and "Sensible Cruising".


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You know what the first rule of sailing is? ...Love. You can learn all the math in the 'verse, but you take
a boat to the sea you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as the turning of the worlds. Love keeps
her going when she oughta fall down, tells you she's hurting 'fore she keens. Makes her a home.

—Cpt. Mal Reynolds, Serenity (edited)

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