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post #1 of 16 Old 09-22-2007 Thread Starter
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Opinions - buying a 70's era boat

Hi everyone,

I'm looking to upgrade in size from a 1986 Catalina 22. Am I asking for trouble buying a boat from the 1970's? I have not actually looked at any in person yet, but have done lots of internet browsing at boats listed in my area (North East). Many boats I see that look interesting to me are from the 70's era, with good prices. I'm not afraid of a little work, but don't want to spend a fortune fixing a boat and never sailing the thing. Is 30 year old fiberglass/gelcoat too old?

In particular, I'm looking at Cape Dorys and Compacs.

Thanks for any insight.

-Jeff
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post #2 of 16 Old 09-22-2007
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You are going to have a lot of work ahead of you, but it's mostly conceptual and observational.

Here's some very broad bits of advice:

1) 1970s and even some well-maintained 1960s FG boats are still good for sailing for many years.

2) Most racers from this period have been worn out by now, and greatly superseded by new designs and materials. There are some exceptions, like with Sharks, CSes and C&Cs, all of which have enough critical mass of boats to get a competitive PHRF rating. But you don't say whether you wish to race.

3) A very important aspect is care and maintenance. A single owner with some skill might have bought Typical 30 foot Cruiser in 1975 at 40 and has had it put on the hard...properly...every winter since (In the North East, you have to think that every boat is only X years old times 7/12ths. Against this lighter use are the structural strains imposed by craning and cradling and the potential for leaky cores freezing and thawing every year, destroying the bonds). Anyway, said skipper is 72 now and is maybe looking to pass the boat on to a responsible buyer. That's the sort of deal you should look for. Well-cared for boats have frequently been repowered once and electrically upgraded twice or even three times in 32 years.

4) Look to the kind of sailing you'll do. 1970s boats were influenced strongly by the CCA and IOR design rules. Not all of them, but a lot of the production boats are masthead sloops with large J measurements, skinny, tall mains and big, overlapping genoas. While this is a great set-up for beating to weather with a crew, it is trickier to sail solo, where a more modest rig with a 100% genoa on a somewhat more modest J measurement is going to be easier.

5) When a fibreglass boat IS too old (due to cost-cutting measures in the later '70s and early '80s, some of those boats are "dying" sooner than those 10 years or more older), the signs are clear. Get Don Casey's book on evaluating the older sailboat (can't remember the exact name) and rely on a surveyor to guide you if you see what you like. Also, crew on an older boat in a race situation. It will show you the limits of the design, and even if you are a dawdling day sailer, it's good to know those limits.

6) Lastly, a lot of older boats are pretty primitive and "brown" down below. If you figure everything's good but the wiring (which is sometimes household grade and half-rotten and insufficient for current uses), negotiate that down. Better a "bare" Good Old Boat (a good if pricey resource magazine, by the way), than one where mistakes have just been soldered to other mistakes.

7) Don't fear the Atomic 4. A well-maintained one is good for 50 years.
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post #3 of 16 Old 09-22-2007
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Valiente offered some very solid advice. I would call particular attention to this point:

"3) A very important aspect is care and maintenance. A single owner with some skill might have bought Typical 30 foot Cruiser in 1975 at 40 and has had it put on the hard...properly...every winter since (In the North East, you have to think that every boat is only X years old times 7/12ths. Against this lighter use are the structural strains imposed by craning and cradling and the potential for leaky cores freezing and thawing every year, destroying the bonds). Anyway, said skipper is 72 now and is maybe looking to pass the boat on to a responsible buyer. That's the sort of deal you should look for. Well-cared for boats have frequently been repowered once and electrically upgraded twice or even three times in 32 years."

By way of illustration, one of my brothers is hoping to upsize from his Tartan 27 to accommodate his growing family. We recently went together to look at a "'70s Era Boat". This particular make and model is known as a rugged design with the potential for serious longevity. We were hopeful. Upon examination, we discovered that this boat must be one of the few from that vintage that has had ABSOLUTELY no upgrades made to it. Everythng (engine, sails, rigging, electrical, electronics, cushions, upholstery, etc etc) original, and completely worn out. It was like a time capsule -- the bad kind.

You do not want a boat like that. Find one with the upgrades that Valiente described -- the kind of upgrades that diligent owners would make over the yearts to a good old boat. That doesn't mean there won't be any projects, only that you shouldn't have to inherit ALL of them.
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post #4 of 16 Old 09-22-2007
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Jeff - I have been looking at similar boats to have a daysailor to single hand. What I have found is that most of them have cosmetic problems, its hard to get away from that. Lots of them have moss growing on the decks, not a good sign. What I have found to be the best boats are the ones that have replaced the outdated deck hardware, added roller furling, a good engine, rebedded the stanchions and the shrouds etc. The best response I heard from a seller was, "she could use a little paint, but I would rather spend my time sailing her." and it showed. The boat needed to be painted, but he had replaced all the hardware and rebedded everything, and the structure was very sound. As a general rule, boats that sit, rot, boats that sail, are taken care of. The boat I mentioned was a '75 Ranger 23. Still a decent design, asking 3k, sold in two weeks.

Great men always have too much sail up. - Christopher Buckley


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post #5 of 16 Old 09-22-2007
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I am the proud owner of a 1969 Bristol 29. I have been steadily upgrading all of the systems since I bought the boat, and I have finally gotten to the deck. Often the decks on these vintage boats have suffered because the owners did not do the re-bedding that the other posters mentioned. Mine likewise. But I have ground down all the wet areas, re-cored and glassed, and will sand down the non-skid and repaint next month when she comes out. The result is, I think, a boat that is really in good shape and good for another many years. Definitely look for a boat somewhere in that re-fit cycle. Now, of course, I am longing for a bigger boat, so I'll sell Black Pearl this fall or next spring.
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post #6 of 16 Old 09-22-2007
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Our son bought a 1972/3 Ranger 29 last year, it had been reasonably maintained and upgraded over the years, and surveyed well. He was able to buy it for something less than $9K US. It has a FWC A4, runs like a Swiss watch, quiet and smooth.

In the past year he has upgraded the sailing hardware (his choice, the old stuff was dated but functional), sold the radar(!) to me, replaced all the windows/ports (typical task for a boat of that vintage) and cleaned up and repainted the chalked deck.

None of these chores should be considered excessive when buying in that range, and none are too difficult or costly to do.

In the end he has a perfectly serviceable boat for the area he sails in, it's sound and did not break the bank. If you go into these deals with your eyes wide open, and with a good surveyor you can do well.
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post #7 of 16 Old 09-22-2007 Thread Starter
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Thanks for the info. Part of this process will be buying a well thought design to begin with I imagine. Earlier versions of my boat (Catalina22) had gas lockers that spill fumes into living space, weak shroud attachments and such. By the time Catalina got to my boat 1986, all these had been fixed.

-jeff
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post #8 of 16 Old 09-22-2007
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A friend of mine looked a long time and bought an 80 something Catalina 30?.

He found he was not in shape or knowledgeable enough to do all the stuff it required to get it "right".

Plus, as it turns out the broker and the surveyor are buddies.

The boat needed everything.
Sails repaired
wiring rotten
etc.

The time capsule from above.

He sold it finally for a substantial loss, but at least is not paying 300 a month for the slip plus insurance while it just sits and waits for more work.

Maybe that is why I don't have a boat right now.
I can do all that work but at my age (50+) I have no interest in "all that work" to be able to go cruising.

I will work longer and get a better/newer boat so I can just fix things as they come up and not all at once.

Best of luck.
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post #9 of 16 Old 09-22-2007
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Thats the way I feel about my next boat. I'd rather save a bit longer and get a newer boat that will require less of the heavy repair (hopefully). But now I hate to sell my boat after all the work I have put into her. Still, I can't cruise the family on the B29. But I have enjoyed the work on this one and have learned a lot in doing it. Enjoy your search. I highly recommend the Bristols and they are easily found in your neck of the woods.
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post #10 of 16 Old 09-22-2007
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Originally Posted by Faster View Post
In the end he has a perfectly serviceable boat for the area he sails in, it's sound and did not break the bank. If you go into these deals with your eyes wide open, and with a good surveyor you can do well.
Good point. The money and time he's put into it will never be recouped in dollars, but that's not the point. Old boats are just about the opposite of "fixer-uppers": you can rarely "flip" them and pocket a profit.

Having said that, if you find a boat with good "bones" (and this Bristol 29 sounds decent and is a notably good "couples/coastal/cruiser" boat), then you can put in the same amount as the purchase price to fix it up, but after that's done, the running costs are generally trivial. The amortization period is over 15 or 20 excellent summers, after which it seems like you got to enjoy the boat almost for free...
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