Project Boat? - Consider the Sad Case of K28
If people are totally new to sailing and have a very limited budget, they often consider taking on a project boat to make their dream of sailing come true. Sailing is a great sport and can be as inexpensive as you want or need, or it can be extremely expensive. Small boats cost little, especially used ones, and will give lots of fun as one gains experience while dreaming of a blue water passage in the future (will need a different boat, but that's for later if the budget won't support it now). With a project boat, people need to be realistic about their sailing knowledge base (very limited if new to sailing) and their skills as craftsmen. On this site, you can find examples of completed project boats that are works of art. But in backyards and back lots of marinas, you can also find horrible mistakes. First, know whether your skills, budget (parts cost money), and motivation to stick to long drawn out projects are likely to be sufficient Then, go to the bookstore (or on line to Amazon or Barnes & Noble) and get a few books on the basics. First is basics of how to sail. Second will be some books describing boats of similar size to your project boat to understand how they should be rigged. Forget, for now, books on racing, elements of yacht design, storm tactics, etc. They are for later...you need to keep it simple for now. Before you fix something, you need to know how it should be and why. Consider carefully before you fix what isn't broken and make sure that upgrade is really an upgrade. Because the budget is tight, spend your money wisely...marine parts from marine stores are expensive, but usually substituting parts from the local hardware store won't save you money in the long run. Now, the sad case of my previous boat, a Kells 28.
Years ago, I purchased a new 1977 Kells 28. This was a boat built in New England in two versions..mine was a factory built boat and the first version. The boat was more or less typical of other boats of that time and size: it had a v-berth forward, a head forward to starboard, a hanging area forward to port, settee/bunks port and starboard in main cabin, a single quarter berth to port, a sink, alcohol stove and storage to starboard, table for main cabin, and cushions for the bunks. The boat had some neat features, including 6 opening ports in the cabin, a reliable Yanmar single cylinder diesel (that would shake like crazy at low speed), fin keel with internal lead ballast in the keel, bulwarks along the deck to keep you on board, good sails, a swept back outboard heavy rudder (made backing tricky and could result in lots of weather helm when the wind picked up), and a keel stepped mast. Kells' attention to executing the details was not the best it could have been, but the boat met my budget at the time and was actually a pretty boat with it's blue bottom, red boot strip, white hull, blue cove stripe, white rub rail, light blue non skid, and teak cockpit seats, teak hand rails, and teak cabin top trim. I bought the boat at wholesale at the grand price of $14,000 by agreeing to let the backyard dealer show it as a demonstrator (Things were cheaper then). Now, if you haven't discovered it yet, you will -- there is lots of snobbery in the sailing world, just ignore it and enjoy sailing at your level....Owner's of boats similar to the really nice Sabre 28 of that time at roughly twice the cost might have described my boat as a piece of junk, but it served me well for 23 years. And in 23 years, you become very attached to the boat, so I have followed it after I sold it in 1999 for $7,500. Over time, the opening windows had developed some leaks which couldn't be stopped so I sealed the windows, the foam backed fabric above the bunks deteriorated with age and was pulled off, but not replaced, and leaks from the teak seats had caused some wood rot in the quarter berth overhead (main cabin overhead was molded fiberglass), at the battery box, and starboard bottom of the engine enclosure. I had replaced the cushion fabric with good quality marine vinyl and cushions looked like new. All of the interior was sturdy marine plywood covered with teak trim and white formica, and all, except as mentioned above, was in good shape. Above all, this boat was always in sailing condition. The new owner added roller furling and used the boat almost every weekend from spring through fall. Occasionally, I sailed with him and the last time was about a month or so before he sold the boat. He kept the boat for 3 years and then sold it to the current owner for $6,500.
The current owner was a divoiced, retired carpenter who wanted the boat to live aboard and was going to fix all the problems, and in general, upgrade the boat. He knew nothing about sailing and, as far as I could determine, the seller's demonstration sail was his first time on a sail boat. Most of the interior issues should have been easy for a skilled carpenter and he immediately jumped into upgrading. He obtained a slip at the marina where I have the bottom done on my boat and where I go from time to time for repairs or small parts. I introduced myself, explained about my prior ownership, and offered to go with him sailing a few times so he could pick up the basics of sailing. That sounded ok, but he wanted to move ahead with the upgrades and repairs. It started well. The boat was hauled and bottom painted. But in the bottom job process, he decided that it didn't need a red boot stripe (waterline), so that was painted over. Next, he decided that the boat needed new halyards (the old ones were fully serviceable), so he replaced those with new colored halyards. Soon, he had a dinghy attached to the stern, but at this point, things seemed to change. He talked about removing the engine for more interior storage and replacing it with an outboard. The sails came off, followed by the reefing lines, then the boom came off along with the mainsheet. Later, when I asked him about his sails, he said something to the effect that they had been damaged in a winter time car wreck by his daughter. Two oversized metal steps were bolted to the stern. Next, the vinyl mast boot cover came off to be replaced by an unsightly fabric and caulk combination. And so it went for 2 years in the slip. More and more things came off or new things were added. The forward large cleat in the foredeck was modified by inserting a king post or home made bit with the cleat remounted on top of this mess. Next, 4 galvanized cleats (mounted on wood blocks to raise them above the bulwarks) were bolted to the deck in various places with lots of caulk applied to try to seal the openings and cracks created when curved surfaces met straight sides of the blocks. Next, the forward hatch is sealed down from outside with lots of caulk. But, never once in the 2 years did the boat leave the pier.
Now, the boat moved into a new phase of upgrades. The boat was hauled and placed in the back of the boat yard. The mast was pulled off and laid beside the boat. A blue vinyl cover supported by bent PVC pipes covered the boat so the upgrades could proceed expeditiously. The owner appeared to have moved off the boat and temporarily into one of the yard's maintenance sheds. To earn a little money, the owner began to work for the marina as a general helper and seemed well liked. He pulled off the rudder...who knows why, and had it on saw horses so it could be sanded. Off came the teak seats, the teak trim strips on the cabin top, and the teak handrails. Off came the genoa tracks. The screw holes were glassed over and these areas along with the blue non skid were all painted white to match the hull and cabin top. New plastic hand rails in white were reinstalled. Two large circular grounding plates were added to the hull. All six opening ports were removed and replaced with new ones. But they were a different size from the originals (inability to find exact replacements was why I had not replaced them earlier). No problem, he fiberglassed the crevices left by the new size in one place and cut a larger opening in the vertical direction to accommodate the new size windows. Unfortunately, the glass work was not smooth and caulking around the new windows was not done well. The boat has now been transformed into a really ugly plain jane. This process when on for another 2 years, but slowed to a stop by the end of the last of the 2 years. The blue tarp cover is largely torn and tattered now with big pieces missing.
Over the last year, the boat has entered a new phase. The owner is nowhere to be seen for the last year. Weeds have grown up around the boat and the maintenance shed he used has been removed by the yard. I am afraid that, now, the next modification will be with a chain saw before removal to the landfill. The boat can't be sold as is....almost every single thing that has to been done has to be redone. I don't know what he did to the interior and the engine, but based on everything else, it's probably been altered also. Yard storage at this marina is at the same rate as slip rental, so with the bottom job, slip/yard rental, untold parts and materials, this owner has spent thousands on this boat. It's a sad story.
Had the owner done nothing except use the boat for the five years, he could have sailed it for 5 years (I, the second owner, or other people in the marina would have been glad to showed him the basics), and probably sold it within a $1000 or so of what he paid for it. If he had just replaced those interior wood and liner items, he might have even sold it for a little more than what he paid. Now, it is worthless, so he's out of his initial purchase price, all the routine yard/boat costs and all of the upgrade costs. And also untold manhours of work.
So if you are getting a project boat, take care the above doesn't happen to you.