Rhumb Lines April 2011 Issue

Seduced by the Nearly Free Boat

Venture 21
A Seldén gennaker furler gives a boost to a Catalina 355 sailing near Annapolis, Md. (Courtesy of Seldén Mast)

Boats like the Venture 21, the subject of our used-boat review on page 8, often carry seductively low price tags.

Our review of the trailblazing trailer-sailer, the Venture 21, brought to mind a recent phone conversation with my friend Andrew regarding a similar boat.

“I just got myself a free sailboat,” he announced cheerily. “Well, almost free.” Husband, father, and the owner of a new business, Andrew had no time for a boat. But he’d sailed as a boy in England and, by jove, he wanted to start again.

“Uh-oh,” I said.

“What was that?”

“That’s terrific, Andrew.”

“Isn’t it? I can’t wait to sail her.”

“What kind of boat?” (It couldn’t be that bad.)

“Remember Rob’s little San Juan?”

It was that bad. Rob’s San Juan 21 was the proverbial “hole in the water.” Rob (not his real name) was a fine captain, but boat ownership did not suit his lifestyle. He ran other people’s yachts. Mega-megayachts. Hot tubs, helicopter pads, summers in St. Tropez, winters on Antigua—those kind of yachts. Once in a blue moon, he’d get a break, fly home for a couple weeks, and take the family “yachting” in their tiny, beloved, but sorely neglected San Juan. The irony of this arrangement was not lost on Rob.

Because the San Juan saw little use, the family’s outings usually involved some mechanical malfunction. But Rob was an Aussie; so for him, life was an adventure. A snapped centerboard cable was all part of the fun, mate.

When Rob and his family relocated to Sydney, their banged-up San Juan needed a new home. Andrew was delighted to buy it for next to nothing.

“I’ve got it anchored behind my house,” he said. Even over the phone, the excitement in his voice was contagious. I began to get worried.

I was sure that I’d warned Andrew about “bargain” boats. Abandoned in boatyards, lurking on used car lots, posing on the side of the road, these seductive creatures promise all the pleasures of sailing—and none of the financial pain. How many sailors have been lured to their doom by the Siren-song of Craigslist?

A week later, another call from Andrew confirmed my fears.

“I got a bit of a problem,” he said.

“I told you. . .” I stopped myself.

“I thought you’d say that. Well, it doesn’t matter anyway, it’s too late. I think.”

“Too late for what?”

“She’s got a big hole in her. I’ve winched her onto the flat behind my house.” He sounded crushed.

This was the saddest, shortest tale of boat ownership I’d ever heard. A norther blew up, and the anchor rode parted. Submerged pilings pierced the hull. Pounding seas folded the mast. He had sailed her just once.

In typical Brit fashion, Andrew was undaunted. He began grinding and fiberglassing the hull, working two days straight at low tide. He might have saved her, too, were it not for a second storm. In the end, two salvage pumps kept the poor San Juan afloat as it was towed to the nearest boat ramp and put onto a trailer.

Andrew listed the boat on Craigs-list, and a wide-eyed prospector soon appeared. A deal was struck and the battered San Juan 21 rolled away. She was just a shell of a boat, but her Siren song still piped at full volume.

Two months later, I got another call from Andrew. The excitement in his voice was contagious.

Apparently, there is no cure for this disease.

Comments (3)

I have always bought sailboats on the low end of price and brought them back up. Bringing a boat back up gives me great satisfaction and pride. My current boat is a $1350. Hunter 25 that I have $2500. currently invested in and she is now one of the nicer looking boats at our club. This month Cruising World featured the Alerion Sport, a 33' daysailor for a mere $215,000. Some folks need to buy new boats to keep up the supply of used boats for Craig's List.

Posted by: rocketj | July 2, 2011 7:06 PM    Report this comment

It all depends on how handy you are... and if you don't mind the time/value calculation of your labor. I bought a 40 yr old home built Fireball w/trailer for $450... put another $400 into it and now have a fine little racing dinghy... but I did put in over 100 hours labor fixing her up.

Posted by: Kent M | May 27, 2011 12:34 PM    Report this comment

Yes, but .... I have sailed a bargain Catalina 22 for years. Successful "do it yourself" repairs allowed a lot of very cheap fun. Sometimes the craigslist cheap boat is indeed worthy of excitement.

Posted by: ERIC R | May 25, 2011 9:46 AM    Report this comment

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