PS Advisor April 15, 1998 Issue

PS Advisor 04/15/98

How Old?
We are in the market for a blue-water cruiser to retire on and see the world, following 12 years of sailing our Dufour 27 on Lake Superior. Older boats, dating from the late 1970’s, like the Valiant 40 and C&C Landfall 38, and Baba 40’s from the early 1980’s, are available and within our budget. We wonder, if we buy a 20-year-old boat now, what will we have in 10 or 15 years? Will it be safe for ocean crossing? After what span of years will maintenance and upgrades not do the trick? Will this old boat have much resale value? Would it make better long-term sense putting our money on a newer Crealock 37?

Tom Bloom
Mary Diedrich
Minneapolis, Minnesota

You raise a very interesting point and one that we have long contemplated. In fact, we published an article in PS some years ago in which we made the case that some older boats aren’t worth upgrading. At some point the cost and man-hours (usually not counted in the equation) can no longer be justified. Better to spend more on a later model boat.

All of the boats you mention are excellent choices (perhaps excepting C&C, and that would depend on where you’re going). An early 80’s boat will be about 25 years old in another 10 years, which isn’t too old so long as it’s been well maintained. If you buy a decent one now and keep it up, we don’t see why it shouldn’t serve you well. On the other hand, a 70’s era boat will be 35 years old 10 to 15 years from now.

As the owner of a 1975 Tartan 44 with similar aspirations, we have dumped a lot of money into it. Our requirement is a sound hull, deck, keel and rudder (plus good design). We’ve always figured that the plumbing, wiring, hatches, etc., can be replaced, and we’ve done that. Still, other things age, such as teak trim, tanks that corrode, keel bolts may corrode that you can’t even inspect, and the holes in the deck from old gear seem to multiply. While none might be safety issues today, they begin to make one worry, especially as you get older and are not so reckless as in your youth. What if the diesel tank springs a leak in Pago Pago? What if a teak handhold lets go as someone is working his way forward in a storm? Is the rudderstock corroding inside the rudder...what if it lets go? Holy cow!

Offshore, you want to KNOW that nothing will break. Nor do you want to spend all your cruising time fixing things (though this seems inevitable regardless of the boat!).

There is no easy answer to your question, but we’ll take a stab at it anyway. Recognizing that much depends on the condition of the individual boat, we’d try to buy something that won’t be more than about 25 years old after the time you indicated. Younger is better, all other things being equal.

One aspect we haven’t touched on yet is that there are precious few offshore boats being built today. Those that are so qualified are semi-custom (Morris, Alden, Hinckley, etc.) and very, very expensive. Taiwan’s rising standard of living has priced their boats out of the market. So you can no longer buy a newer Baba 40 or Tashiba at a reasonable price. That leaves you with 80’s vintage Taiwan boats, which should serve well this decade and probably the next, but beyond that, all existing systems and all that teak is going to look pretty aged.

If you’re not quite ready to go cruising, we suggest not trying to buy that boat today. We’d wait until the cruise was several years off, then buy and start making the upgrades necessary. You’d finish right about the time you’re ready to go. If you buy too soon, you run the risk of all the upgrades being old by the time you leave, and much of it might then need replacing again.

You’ll have to have faith that there will always be good boats available, and they will. But if you’re ready now, an 80’s boat should see you through.

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