The Joys and Pitfalls of Buying a New Boat
Sailing with Lin & Larry Pardey
Thoughts on buying a Custom-Built, Custom-Designed Boat
THE BUYER’S VIEWPOINT: “I want a boat that is uniquely mine, filled with all of the qualities and pleasures I missed on my other boats. I want the process of designing and building it to be fun, interesting, trouble-free. I want to enjoy working with the designer and builder.” (As witnesses to this scene, we know the buyer also feels that dealing with the designer and builder in hard, cold business terms is the antithesis to the whole dream.)
THE DESIGNER’S VIEWPOINT: “I want to please the buyer, but I would like to end up with a set of stock plans I can sell to other people. I want to get any publicity I can from having a custom design under construction. I also would like to try out a few new ideas and see if they work. And, of course, I need to earn a living.”
THE BUILDER’S VIEWPOINT: “I need this job. It will keep the crew going through the winter. If I can persuade the buyer to build it the way we built the last two boats, I can make some extra because I am set up already.”
Unfortunately, in the custom-boat field, more than in any other, each participant has his or her own agenda – agendas that may or may not be in conflict. Here, more than in any other boat-acquisition scenario, it is vital that the buyer have previous sailing experience and be fully aware of the true costs of boat-building. The costing methods discussed in chapter 3 of our book, Cost Conscious Cruiser, are similar to the guidelines still used by Sparkman and Stephens to give customers a quick estimate of what a custom boat will cost. If you multiply the construction time in man-hours by the shipyard’s normal hourly rates, then add the materials cost plus 10 or 20 percent to cover the yard’s profits, you can estimate the total construction costs you will face for a 30- to 45-foot (9.2-13.7m) custom-built cruising boat. Design fees average from 5 to 15 percent of the construction costs (stock plans are less).
|"Do not assume that overseas builders will give you a better or lower price. Shop locally and compare." |
Interestingly, four of the five designers with whom we spoke felt it was possible to have a custom-designed, custom-built boat over 35 feet for about 8 percent to 10 percent more than a similar-quality new production boat. The fifth, chuck Paine, flatly states, “It is more realistic to look at 30 to 50 percent extra, unless you are lucky enough to be on the right side of a foreign-currency deal.”
All five designers agree that this is not the place for the buyer with less than $400,000 to spend, nor is it the place for the first-time boat owner. You need serious boating experience to be able to speak ‘marine-tech, the language of designers and builders. A high degree of communication is required to allow you to explain your ideas and desires, to get the boat built strongly so it will sail well, and so it eventually, when the time comes, will have a good resale value. Ted Brewer echoed each of these designers by saying, “A lot of clients are too set on what they want. They don’t listen to their designers and they probably should. We’ve seen the same ideas tried time and again, especially interior design ideas. We know they didn’t work, but if the clients won’t back up and consider this input, we have to go with what they want.” Unfortunately, if you do not have the experience to comprehend the designer’s ideas and suggestions, the design that emerges might need to be modified during the building process. This is very expensive, as Greg Matzat of Sparkman and Stephens stresses: “Allow lots of time for the design process and for the selection of a builder.” Time spent at this stage means money and hassle saved later. Most cost overruns come from changing the plans partway through the building process. Remember that if you request changes after work commences, the builder will have to charge you time and materials costs above and beyond any contract price. Furthermore, the change might mean double the work, as the builder will have to remove the error, then modify the area around the change, before he can incorporate your new idea.
Barry Van Geffin of Laurent Giles, UK, adds, “People often forget to budget for a project supervisor. Even if they take on the task themselves, they should consider the costs of transportation and accommodation, as few people are lucky enough to live right next to a good boatbuilder.”
Additional Points to consider
1. Avoid being the first client of a new designer (especially if that designer is yourself ), unless you have sailed on some of his boats. This does not mean we recommend only the best-known designers. Lyle Hess, who designed our past three boats – Taleisin, Seraffyn and Cheeky (our faithful dinghy), was not well known. But we had sailed on two of his other boats and seen their racing history (and successes). Because Lyle was less famous, he probably did give us a lot more attention than other designers might have. If you choose a well-known designer, be sure that he will be drawing your boat, not letting his apprentice try his wings at your expense.
2. Avoid being avant-garde or faddish if you are building a cruising boat, even a so-called fast cruiser. The sailing world is a highly conservative one. Remember that water ballast and winged keels were touted as wonderful ideas for offshore cruising, and they have proven to be less than perfect in the real world.
3. Think carefully before using composite construction for a cruising boat. It will raise building costs by up to 25 percent and double eventual repair costs. According to the designers we consulted, it only serves the purpose of saving weight. Barry Van Geffin echoed all of the others when he said, “There is little justification for true light displacement in a cruising boat, especially when the vast majority of owners will ruin any speed advantage and possibly stress the hull and rigging by adding all of the gear and provisions they feel are necessary for comfortable cruising.” He and Chuck Paine added almost identical statements: “A moderate to heavy cruising boat not only has a better motion at sea and can be safer, but it’s also faster because you will be able to carry more sail area and keep the boat driving harder and still feel comfortable.”
4. Be careful when choosing a builder, and make a point to speak with several of his previous clients. Bob Perry warns, “If you visit a builder and see one of his clients living in a house trailer right on site, working to get his boat finished, be wary. The owner might be there because it is the only way to goad on the builder. He might also see you as his salvation, because your cash deposit up front could be the money the yard needs to get the current boat finished, so his recommendations might be self-serving.”
5. Do not assume that overseas builders will give you a better or lower price. Shop locally and compare. Remember that the cost of freight and customs to import gear, plus hiring an overseas project supervisor, can reduce the savings offered by cheaper labor prices. You will also be missing out on the pleasure of watching your dream come to life. But if an overseas yard specializes in the construction method you prefer, and if you catch the right side of currency devaluation, overseas could be a good choice.
6. Once your boat is being built, give yourself the pleasure of frequent visits, but do not interrupt the builder or his crew. A six-pack of beer delivered after working hours (5 o’clock) will possibly speed your boat along. A half-hour chat during working hours stops the whole crew, and to be fair to all concerned, you should be billed for that extra time if the yard is working to a contract price. You will be billed for the extra time if your job is being done at ‘time and materials.’
The biggest factors that will keep your new boat purchase on track, be it a custom designed boat or a production one, include -being experienced enough to know what you want, being fair and realistic about the true costs of new boats, keeping the costs within your means, and finding builders, dealers, and designers who earn and deserve your trust. Then be patient, logical, clever, and alert so that you can enjoy the whole procedure – from planning through purchasing to launching and beyond.
Sailing with Lin & Larry Pardey