To a sailor, it's nothing short of being a kid again let loose in a candy store. Imagine warehouses simply overflowing with parts for your boat, and at prices you can afford. Hatches, winches, anchors, sails, rigging, cleats, teak doors and trim . . . The list is just endless.
In the refitting of Serengeti, Sue and I have a wish list that easily rivals those sent to Santa back when I was a little boy in North Carolina. To purchase each and every one of these must-have items would quickly break the bank and require us to go back to work. Since this is not an option, we have been thrilled to find ourselves in probably the highest concentration of "wonderlands for sailors" in the world.
Move over Disney World and Universal Studios! Here on the east coast of Florida, we've discovered our own world of fantasy with the multitudes of marine surplus and consignment shops.
These places are not new. Sue remembers her dad's excitement, 20 years ago as they sailed into Fort Lauderdale, eagerly wanting to check out "Sailorman" that he had heard so much about from other cruisers. This is one of the oldest and biggest stores of this kind and is still around today.
Each store delivers it's own specialty items and consigned goods, but many seem to buy the majority of their goods from boat manufacturers and suppliers who have either gone out of business, or are no longer making a specific model. This leaves them with all kinds of stock that can't necessarily be used on their other boats or sold to their retailers, so they move it by selling in bulk. Thus it all ends up in these bargain basements stores, ready for you and me to snap up.
It's definitely a hit or miss way to shop though. To outfit your boat exclusively through surplus and consignment would take years of concerted effort and searching through many different warehouses and smaller shops. But it sure is a fun way to supplement your purchases from the big marine chandelries. You simply never know when you're going to find exactly what you're looking for, or something you just can't live without.
The surplus savvy shopper needs to be prepared with a notebook filled with measurements of his/her boat. A great deal on an 18-inch hatch isn't going to do you much good if your opening is 20 inches. Also, be careful when you purchase because return policies vary greatly from store to store.
In our cruising travels we've also come across a couple of excellent used/surplus marine goods sales that have sailors across the country earmarking the calendar. Twice a year, in conjunction with the spring and fall Annapolis Boat Shows, there is a huge sale that inspires sailors to line up at the crack of dawn. It's called BAM (Boat Accessory Mart), and is a great place to consign your own used stuff that you need to get rid of in order to make room for the new stuff you buy, here or at the show. You won't believe the prices! Last year, the only way I could find Sue again in the chopped sea of frenzied sailors was to look for the flag from the man-overboard pole we managed to snag early on. (Got the pole for $30 versus the $120 we were going to pay for a new one.)
Another great event is the Dania Marine Flea Market, which occurs each April near Fort Lauderdale, FL. This event claims to be the largest marine flea market in the world, and we believe it! We watched experienced flea marketers arrive early with their dock carts, over-sized backpacks, and even little red wagons to carry away the treasures that awaited. Truly a boater's fantasy come true. Don't miss this one.
Recently we got wind of an electronics and government surplus store in Orlando, FL, called SkyCraft that was purported to be of great interest to sailors. This store is simply laden with high-tech parts, gadgets, and wiring, and even has a bunch of NASA surplus items for sale. We walked the aisles wide-eyed, knowing that we'd be kicking ourselves later if we didn't stock up on some of this really cool stuff. We're not sure what we'll be doing with it all, but it's not every day you can find lightweight, high strength materials like mylar, teflon, and kevlar in every imaginable shape, size, and configuration, and cheap.
The real find of the day here was the pilot parachute we bought from the solid rocket booster for an actual NASA space shuttle. This parachute deploys first, when traveling at mach 3, creating enough drag to pull out the three main chutes that gently deliver the valuable cargo back to earth. These are one-time use items for NASA, and the store had a whole bunch of them, neatly repacked and ready to deploy. We hope we never have to use it as a sea anchor, but at $145, we couldn't pass it up. I'll bet NASA paid a whole lot more for it the first time around.
How do you know if you're getting a good value on a used item? It's not always easy. You must be current on what a similar new item would cost, and be able to make a judgement call on the condition of your used find. We carry around the catalogues from several of the big marine stores and compare costs carefully. Our standard mode of price acceptance is if the used part is half the price of a new one, we snap up the deal. These catalogues help you know if the surplus new items in the stores are a good deal or not. We also use the half price philosophy when pricing our own used items for sale, and have had good success with it.
So today, as a result of our new found favorite stores, we're proudly polishing the self-tailing winches we found that saved us hundreds of dollars, and eagerly awaiting the time when our decks are repainted, so that we can install the beautiful shiny new bollards discovered in another store. Last week we finally found an unused electrical panel from a Donzi motor boat at a fraction of its cost new that fit our needs perfectly. Our dilemma, do we remove the Donzi logo on the bottom of our new panel, or do we just con people into believing that we're sailing the new Donzi 46 prototype due out next year.
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