Thoughts on Newbie 1st boat purchase
First of all, I'm new here, long time reader, first time poster.
Quick history - I had originally planned to do a 'round the world motorcycle tour after about 20-30,000 miles in the Western US over the last 2 years. I'd had a '10 year plan' to 'get back into' sailing and eventually circumnavigate. I decided against the moto-tour as going from one source of gasoline to the next started to really depress me. Decided to buck up and do what I had always really wanted and have just bought a boat. I'll work for about 2 years, refit, and then head out with the loose goal of going 'round with the full expectation of taking a few work breaks to replenish the kitty. First, I know that I'll still need diesel, but a motorcycle and sailboat are apples to oranges.
Okay, that's out of the way.
I've done many hundreds of hours on the internet, not including many books, articles, and trips to see boats. I asked many of the questions that many seem to ask here, mainly, what is the best boat to ___________? I just wanted to share some thoughts so that those that may have the same idea as me might benefit from my experience.
I had a very small budget - 20k including tax & insurance. I considered this much less a restriction than an advantage. My opinion is that people tend to spend as much as they have and it's easy to make the 'wrong' choice first time out.
I planned on picking the boat I thought would be right for me with the realistic possibility that it may end up not being the right one, so I chose a boat I thought I wouldn't have too much problem selling if it came to that. With that said the boat also had to be in good enough shape to sail right away so that I could sail for about a year before I started upgrading in earnest for ocean passage. That way if it wasn't right and I wanted to sell than I wouldn't have put in too much $$ only to lose it when reselling.
What I learned:
1. Opinions are like *... everyone's got 'um. I did what I thought was reasonable research, found 3 reasonable models and then waited until I thought I found a good deal that met my requirements. Look - you never know with opinions, people can make nearly any boat seem like the worst or best of something with a little good prose. The most important thing is to know and understand the strengths & weaknesses of any particular boat and plan(& sail) accordingly. For example do the research to understand a full keel's pros and cons compared to a modified fin keel's. Remember if you ask others you are just getting opinions and while other's opinions are valuable, the most important opinion is your own.
2. Don't blow all your budget. My budget was artificially low. To be honest I did spend most of what I have now, but in six months I could have spent twice as much due to my personal financial circumstances. I didn't want to do that. I wanted to keep it small and simple figuring that it would be 'easier' to go bigger or more expensive later when my knowledge was better, and I wouldn't have as much tied up in the boat, which can take a long time to sell and still take quite a hit on.
3. Redefine size needed. My first thought was that I'd want a 36'. After pricing boats and reading article after article, post after post, saying, "bigger is not necessarily better," I started to believe. After carefully scrutinizing the adage, "each ten feet increases cost threefold," I came up with the opinion that that is correct. Maybe it's because I've been living out of 58 square liters of panniers on my motorcycle, but I know I really don't need that much, too much stuff can be worse than not enough
4. Prioritize. I decided that a strong structure was very important to me, pure comfort second, and length regardless a very distant third. I decided that I'd rather sail something easy to single-hand, VERY easy, and smaller so I'd have more time out there. This is how I see it, every day out there on a smaller boat beats the hell out of the same day working to refit a larger boat, or having to head in to make more money for the larger boat. Safety was always important to me and I always thought of it in terms of handling rather than equipment. What I mean is that I'd rather have something smaller that I could handle properly than to simply rely on the brute size to carry me through any rough weather. Keep in mind that knowing I'm in a 30' might cause me to make a different decision regarding route or window than if I were sailing 36'.
5. Don't believe the hype. People have been crossing oceans for a very long time, in all sizes and types of vessels. One doesn't NEED 36' or self-tailing winches, or roller-furling rigs, or whatever. Most 'things' are convenience. I qualify that by also writing that I fear many technological advances are learned by newbies so that without them sailing seems impossible. The majority of my sailing experience was when I was a kid and teen, rolling furlers, self-tailing winches, GPS, etc. were either not yet around or extravagant luxuries. If one learns to sail competently without many of these things not only does one become a better sailor, the convenience and safety of those items increase because one may actually understand the older, 'more difficult' processes. Know and respect your and your boat's limitations. Don't worry, you can always haggle on price if the equipment is 'antiquated' and learn on that and then upgrade.
6. Beware the broker/seller, but have no fear. Brokers and sellers usually have one thing on their mind - money. Realize this and be truthful and honest and expect the same from them. When and if you suspect they are not being honest or forthright, say so. I fall into the trap of wanting to sound like I know what I'm talking about as much as the next guy. What can I say I can be insecure at times. However, I've found that generally the more honest I am and the less I try to seem like I'm knowledgeable, the more I find out. When the seller or broker start to rattle off about what a beautiful new anchor chain stretcher has just been installed, and you don't know what they are talking about, take a deep breath, and just ask out loud, "what is that, how does it work, show it to me?" Many times I've done this and gotten the response that they don't actually know that much about it and that they'll find out a bit more and let me know. Usually this has resulted in both parties relaxing a bit and tends to flush out more honesty than anything else. I've found that being honest with my knowledge, but enthusiastic about learning without fear of embarrassment generally gets the broker/seller talking about what they DO know - let 'em talk and keep asking 'dumb' questions, you'll find what they really know and don't more quickly.
7. Surveys are exciting! If I could go back I would find someone who was having a survey done and somehow tag along, and I might even have a survey done of a model boat that I thought would be a possibility before I was really ready to buy. I learned more on the one survey I had done than any other single thing. This is the 'nuts & bolts' of what is and is not in good condition and WHY. One can read and talk forever on the design and physics of one boat as opposed to another, on individuals experiences with this or that, but getting dirty and rooting around the bilge trying to figure out how you might reroute the raw water intake will give you a much better practical understanding of the TRUE NATURE AND TIME it takes to do some of these 'minor' things. I'm a DIYer, I'll look at an engine and think, ahhh shucks, doin' a valve job won't be too hard, it's just getting in there and replacing a few parts. After fourteen trips to the auto parts store, grease head to toe, finally to be put on hold while the 'special' tool is ordered and flown in from some magical far away country I always think back and say to myself, well, it'll be easy NEXT TIME. Just keep that in mind when the broker/seller tells you of a problem and you both think how easy of a job it'll be, remember - you're the one that'll have to do it. I also see the survey as the point at which a possibility either becomes a reality or insanity. After the survey is when you really get an idea of the value of the boat TO YOU, and what work it will really need, rather than the work you will hope it will not need.
8. Title companies are paid way too well. The title company my broker used wanted $770 bucks to switch over registration, transfer Coast Guard(CG) documentation and to disburse the funds. Forget it folks. If you plan to go out of country and can't do your own transfer of CG documentation, you're in deep trouble. I called the CG and found out that for $92 and $8 a page bill of sale I could easily transfer my own documentation. The title company wanted $350 for filling out 2 one page forms. At this point another $350 may seem like small potatoes, especially on a $100,000 boat, but don't be afraid to stand up to what's right. The title company knows that you're ALMOST there and you're more likely to accept an outrageous charge for a very simple procedure. I protested and was able to get this for cost. Maybe you won't care but I hate getting jerked around, and I figure if I can't stand my ground on something this transparent and simple I'd be in real trouble in a third world country with an angry bureaucrat speaking a different language. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't nasty, but I spoke up and told them that I called the CG and they quoted me X amount for form Y. The title person looked at me and said, "well, you obviously did your homework, we'll just charge cost for that."
9. Depending where you are you may want to shop for moorage first and not after you buy your first boat. Here in the Pacific NW moorage is tight. I'm an industrious guy for the most part and am still just getting 6 month temporary moorage where I want it. Don't wait too late to line it up.
10. Keep the dream alive. After so many late nights bleary-eyed in front of the computer, the millions of phone calls, the dozens of trips to see boats, the opinions and reviews swimming in your head, and finally the endless list of things that will need to be done to the boat, don't lose the excitement that got you there. At first I was exhausted, but then after reading a few blogs on the refitting adventures of some of my favorite circumnavigators it all came back to me. Yeah, cruising is just working on the boat in an exotic location. But I knew that going in. I was now excited to get to work and get some of the major stuff done. I haven't even started yet but I've got my list, I'm completely ignoring the amount of money I know I'll need, dreading the wait, but imagining that first anchor in that perfect bay after some hellish passage and it makes me smile and want to leave tomorrow.
I hope this may help anyone thinking of doing the same, especially on a very small budget. I plan to have a blog of the experience from start to finish, including the refit. I'll post the address when I get it going. Any and all comments are welcome.