The Trick to Buying a Good ol’ Boat at a Great Price

To understand this secret-in-plain-sight, first you have to understand why a boat is referred to as “she.” There are several theories on why this is common worldwide.

The first theory on this probably ageless practice is that because, just like a woman, a sailboat is not only made of graceful, pleasing curves but is also always much stronger than she appears. The same way a man will essentially bet his life, and his loved ones’ lives, on the quiet strength of a good woman, he’ll bet his survival through serious storms on the open seas on a pretty little boat.

The second theory is that just like a woman, a boat will take all of a man’s time and money (and, despite any grumbling, give him some of the best days of his life.) A man will obsess and go to excess over a boat just like he will for a woman. He’ll joke that with both, it’s not the initial cost that breaks you: it’s the upkeep. He’ll tell you that on a hot, sultry night, or out in the calm of the moon, just by being herself she’ll make him forget all of his troubles, worries, and fatigue. He’ll proudly tell you that since a sailboat has as many tricks and teases as a woman, only a very capable man can handle either properly. He knows full well that other men may not be very interested in her at all, but after a few adventures with her in both good and bad weather, he doesn’t want even to think about being without her. She becomes a part of him, a part of his heart.

The third theory, touted most by sailors who are seldom if ever seen in the company of a woman, is that both women and sailboats are fun to ride.

The fourth theory, though, is the key to the trick. I figured this out on my own, but surely some other sailors have thought of it, too. Still, remember you read about it here, from me (and yes, this website is copyrighted.) When I’ve mentioned it to fellow sailors, most of them emphatically said something like, “If that ain’t the truth!” The most subtle but strong similarity between a boat and a woman is this: a man can go for years without finding a woman that truly captures not just his interest but his imagination, makes him dream new dreams and even becomes – whether or not she stays with him – part of his identity; then, when he does finally find one, usually within mere weeks, all kinds of wonderful women start jumping out of the metaphorical desert into the road in front of him, waving and smiling invitingly and lyrically singing, “I’m yours, everything you want and more, and all you have to do to get me is just look in my direction and smile!” Boats are the same way. (I know, I know: women say the same thing about men!)

So, I am not entirely joking when I tell you that a good way to find a great boat buy is to find a good boat buy first. (Um, no, btw, don’t try this with women: it’ll get messy, is very bad karma, and will not trip the cosmic gears in your favor.) Go get a decent boat, something solid and worth the money but also something that won’t deeply disturb you when it is time to say good-bye to the good buy for the better or best buy. Translation: get a trailerable daysailer. Then, go sailing, work on your boat, and keep your eyes and ears open.

I have a couple of stories to support this theory.

At my previous marina, two slips down from mine was an old Bill Tripp Columbia that was so sharp and clean she looked only a tenth her age, and the owner bought her for only $1,000. The P.O. (Previous Owner) was being transferred out of the country and needed to make a quick sale. So, when the soon-to-be New Owner came sailing into the slip across the pier in his recently purchased good ol’ boat, they met, they talked, and they struck a deal for just $1,000. The New Owner sold the boat he had recently bought and came out with cash in his pocket and a grin on his face.

Also at that marina, two piers over, a guy bought his 24 footer for $2400, and that included a one-year-old 9.9 outboard (about $1500 new) and the remaining 6 months of the marina slip lease (about $1000).

I met a guy who bought a used Catalina that was still new enough to smell like a new boat (sort of like a new car does.) The P.O. bought it at the Annapolis boat show in the fall, splashed her in the spring, quickly discovered that his wife and daughter did not like boating at all, and sold it for about $35,000 less than what he paid for it. Remember, it still smelled factory fresh!

The best buy I’ve ever heard of – and this was directly from the owner – was a guy who sold his cruiser-type powerboat and then bought it back a few years later. He sold it to buy a slightly bigger boat to live on, and he liked it, but he missed his old boat. Three or four years later he happened to be with a friend in a marina about 100 miles from his home, and he saw a boat that looked like his old boat, so he went over to take a look, for old time’s sake. Noticing a few pieces of gear and slight alterations, he realized that it was in fact his ex-boat, and he was sad to see that it appeared to be getting no use, on the hard and neglected. In the marina office he asked what the story was, and they told him that the boat had been sitting for years, the owner was in arrears, and they had just finished the legal paperwork to appropriate and sell it. “We’re too busy to play around selling boats; give us what we’re owed in storage and it’s yours!” So, the guy had sold it for $26,000 and bought it back for $2,600, and he said all she really needed was a good cleaning and an oil change. Wow.

There are some ridiculously good buys out there, and what they have in common is that they tend to have a strong element of “in the right place at the right time.” So, increase your chances of “lucking” into a deal like these: make your luck.

TIP: Great deals can be found at marinas. People do walk away from boats, and the marina will gain the title. Often they want to be in only the marina business and not have a sideline of selling old boats, so if they can’t find a buyer quickly, they’ll destroy the boat and hope the keel is lead so they can recoup some of their costs. Some of these boats are truly fit for nothing else, but some aren’t bad at all. Most will need some work, but they can be a deal. For example, I know of a marina that offered a decent boat for free IF you rented a slip for a year. (Note: not everyone who offers to give you a boat is doing you a favor.)

For Boat Restorers . . . and Someday-Sailors . . .