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Old 06-02-2000
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Gary Kirkpatrick is on a distinguished road
Buy Your Boat in EuropeŚNow!

 
Europeans love to sail, taking every opportunity to get out on the water.
 
Ten years ago, we picked up a book called Little Boat on the Rhine, whose author's name I have long since forgotten. The prospect of cruising in the lands of fairy tales and castles, floating through the waterways of Europe, became the stuff of our dreams. Our excitement lasted through the entire 10 years, and this spring, we finally bought our first boat in Europe.

We had originally toyed with the idea of shipping our previous boat to the Continent, but the realities of time, cost, and taxes made it cheaper and easier to sell it in the US, and replace it with a used European boat. The added advantage is that we now have a boat that has almost instant resale value here.

If boating in Europe is a part of your dreams, now is the time for you to follow suit. The US dollar is resting at an all-time high against the Euro and individual European currencies, making the cost of boats here a very real value.

 
The Dutch have numerous one-offs and unusual craft.
 
There are plenty of boats from which to choose in Europe, including the UK and Ireland. Many are advertised on the Internet, making a study of the European market very easy for Americans to undertake before they get on an airplane. You can find all, or nearly all, of the same brands, hull types, and materials that are available in the US, as well as many older styles of boats and more one-off creations than you could ever imagine.

Except for some areas of the Med, European waters are generally cold, and, in the case of inland waters, fresh as well. This cold, fresh water is kinder to all hulls except wooden ones. We have found that electrical and other systems decline more slowly than in warm, saltwater of our previous boating area in the Gulf of Mexico. Consequently, many European boats built in the early 1900s, even ones with wood hulls, are still in daily operation. Used boats also generally hold their value better than in the US.

Steel and fiberglass (aka GRP and polyester) are the most common hull materials in Europe, with most external accessories made from stainless steel and, to a lesser extent, aluminum. Fiberglass seems to be more common in France and the UK, while in Holland fiberglass is much less popular than steel, but there are still plenty of boats from which to choose. Consider steel, especially if you intend to re-sell the boat in Europe rather than bringing it back to the US where fiberglass is king. Aluminum boats are also common, especially in France, and there is a good selection of wood and a few ferrocement hulls as well.

 
Well maintained older boats can be found in abundance.
 
Generally, November and December are the best months to buy a boat in Europe, since the selection is greatest and owners are looking to avoid winter storage costs. If the boat you are considering needs maintenance work, the fall and winter are excellent times to complete this refit before the boating season begins. We have found that trying to get upgrades performed in April and May is more difficult, because the yards are busiest in the spring. On the other hand, you may even be able to bargain for work performed during the off-season.

There are significant variations, naturally. The boats, as well as the prices, are all over the map. Where you buy in Europe can make a difference. Holland seems to offer the best buys, and there are several reasons for this. The Dutch are very thrifty, so they are less willing to pay top dollar for a boat. There are more boats per capita in this tiny country than anywhere else in Europe. Most of these Dutch boats are steel, stored in fresh, inland water, and seem to last indefinitely.

 
Small fiberglass boats are common throughout northern Europe.
 
Another advantage to buying in Holland is the lack of a language barrier. While it is possible to find some Dutch that do not speak English at all, especially in more remote areas, all the boat brokers are quite fluent. In fact, it seems that almost everyone speaks English. I have heard this is true in Ireland and Scotland too, but one day we were having a beer, listening to the worst English we had heard in Holland, and it turned out that the two men were from Glasgow!

The French seem not to be quite as thrifty as their Dutch neighbors, and want more gadgets on their boats. A higher percentage of used French boats are blue-water vessels that are stored in saltwater, since it takes too much time to get them inland into the freshwater lakes. Our brief survey of Italian yachts also suggested that there were far fewer from which to choose and that the prices seemed higher.

There is also a vast difference in the rates that marinas charge for dockage from one country to the next. Italian marinas, and those in the Med in general, are far more expensive than either France, Belgium or Holland. If you want to leave your boat in Europe for a while, paying $75 a month in Holland is a lot better than the $500 charged routinely in Italy. We did not study the boats or marinas in the UK or Scandinavia, and so we can't comment on those two large markets.

Boats in Holland, and in Europe in general, are normally tricked-out with fewer electrical and other gadgets than US boats. When we were surveying the vessel that we eventually bought, I asked the broker where the electrical panel was. He gave me a puzzled look, so thinking that we were experiencing an English boating terminology breakdown, I added that an electrical panel is where you turn electrical circuits on and off. However, his look of puzzlement was actually a look of astonishment—there was no need for an electrical panel since the boat had only one 220-volt outlet! Likewise, it also turned out that this boat had never had a battery charger. We did get hot water via an on-demand butane "geyser," but no shower either on deck or below. This, we have discovered, is not at all an uncommon situation.

There are other differences in European boats. Due to the colder climate and the icy waters of the North Sea and the North Atlantic, pilothouses are more common among European yachts. Having a pilothouse increases the length of the boating season, which typically extends from around April 1 until October 15. Vessels that are used along the coasts are also more likely to have radar than either US boats or vessels berthed on the inland lakes. Coastal fog and heavy shipping provide the motive here.

Many boats in Europe still use bottled gas for hot water, refrigeration, and cooking, although the trend is toward 12-volt systems, shore power, and alcohol. Except for the risk of explosion, we have found that our boat's butane gas system makes an excellent power source, because we don't need to use electricity.

If you purchase a boat that requires major additions or replacements, you may want to consider continuing to use US suppliers. Several English sailors with whom we've had e-mail contact maintain that US prices are far more competitive than those in Europe, even with shipping and the Value Added Tax (VAT) tacked on. US customer service appears to be better as well. If you carry items of significant value with you on the plane, be prepared to pay import duties. They don't take kindly to smugglers here, so make sure you declare what you are carrying.

Check out prospects at:

UK:

 www.marine-world.com/

Holland: (most sites are multi-lingual)

 www.botentekoop.nl
 Boats for sale by owner www.botenbank.nl/boatbank/index.htm
 Brokerages, with links to broker sites www.waterwerf.nl/koalite/ www.wehmeyer.nl has quite a few sailboat listings. www.yachtselect.nl

France:

 For barge sales, and possibly even sailing barges: www.h2ofrance.com/broke.html

There is a British waterways group, whose members are quite well informed and willing, if not eager, to help. Join at www.canals@nolist.com. Tell them I sent you.

 

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