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2013-10-06

Ad astra

May require TLC

At any given point in time, I have friends and acquaintances either shopping for a new boat, trying to sell an old boat, or both at the same time. Clearly, I travel in rarefied circles. On the other hand, the demographics of sailing have made it a great time to buy a lightly used sailboat. While it's still not a casual purchase by any stretch, there hasn't been a greater disconnect in my memory between "dollar per foot", the measure that held when I got my first boat in the late '90s, and actual sailing enjoyment. Compared to, say, owning a cottage or riding horses, or even having two kids playing hockey past the age of 12, sailing pretty much anything under 35 feet looks reasonable as a proposition. And seeing as so many people who got into boating in early middle age in the '70s and '80s are now, due to age, illness or death, leaving boating behind them, the market is soft like fog.

New boats aren't getting cheaper, but the number of people who insist on having a new boat is even smaller than the number of people a) with money and b) with time getting into the sport/lifestyle/what have you in the first place: not many. It's cheaper by far to buy a slightly beat-up, or even a ghetto-fabulous, product of the Disco Era, to chuck out the plaid upholstery and just to go sailing As Is.

Ask me whether I would prefer to sell my first boat at a significant loss, or just pay a guy with a barn a few grand to stow it, hermetically sealed and ultrawinterized, until we return. It's a toughie...I've finally got it working properly!

Now for reasons I feel might be overjudged, my constant immersion in things boaty (even old, steel boaty) means I get asked to evaluate boats, to go look at boats on the hard by way of a "sub-survey", or to render my ignorance apparent by giving my limited and provisional thoughts on Yachtworld ads.
If you are expecting this to sell your boat, you may be doing it wrong.

Yachtworld, for those who haven't looked for a boat to buy or sell since the mid-'90s, is the Craigslist of boat vending: You'll see everything from junk (a.k.a "project boats") that should be an artificial reef to sheik's playthings. As a resource for both vicarious window-shopping and comparative research, it's invaluable, but it has also introduced into the once-clubby world of boat brokering an element of arbitrage.  That is, the local market for a particular boat model or line is now, thanks to the fact-checking abilities of even the average potential boat buyer, now a worldwide market. It is even more economical in certain areas to have better-built or more highly regarded sailboats shipped or trucked from "the cheap area" to one where those models are commanding a higher price, and to put the savings into something useful, like new sails.

There are many places where you can "pre-shop" for boats, and given the particularities of even something as common as, say, a Catalina 30, which is arguably the Honda Civic of production boats, there's going to be a lot of variation between year, "mark" and variable internals and even layouts.

Comes complete with parrot, treasure map and leftover treenails.
A surprising number of boats are semi-customized, either at the factory per request (this is particularly true of smaller-run, higher-value models) or are even one-offs, either custom-made to a commissioned or purchase design (like Alchemy is, although it clearly does not conform in some respects to its designer's drawings), such as the famous Bruce Roberts line of largely home-built (or home-assembled) boats, or are "from scratch". These singular efforts are often hard to sell, because their virtues were commissioned by clients with individual notions of what makes a good sailing vessel, and what they themselves wanted to see aboard. These are sometimes not the same thing.

So after seeing some pretty dire ads full of too much varnish and not enough below-the-sole plumbing, I developed the idea of what might make a decent boat ad. I may be in somewhat of a different headspace than most people when I evaluate "boat goodness", but cosmetics and anchor-themed antimacassars do not usually rank high.

With that in mind, I present the advertisement for S/V Maclas, currently on the hard and for sale in La Paz, Mexico.

Arguably "the money shot", this proves the boat in question can float, in calm water, in the morning. A good start.

Keep in mind that I am not shopping for this vessel, nor is anyone I know wanting an aluminum 43-footer with several clearly custom elements that would baffle many production fibreglass boat shoppers. Nor do I feature it because it's got several ideas similar in execution to my own boat, and is clearly made for offshore and not the regency of the finger.  I would say, however, that the website put together by the sellers has most of the elements I would want to see in terms of specifications and "hard looks under the hood" that, were they in more boat ads, would, I think, sell more boats. I can't vouch for this boat as it is rather unlikely I will ever see it; its ad, however, we can examine as an example of what I deem decent selling.

Line drawings or blueprints are like X-rays: they show a boat's good bones.

When you are considering a custom one-off, there is no real provenance other than maybe reputation. If you buy a Bob Perry one-off, it's probably going to be good. In this case, the sellers linked to the original designer, a person I hadn't heard of, but whose boats I pretty well instantly liked.

I can't see gaskets on those lids, though.
Now, this is a pretty unadorned cockpit, but it does show the potential buyer the on deck stowage and the optional tiller steering. You'd be surprised how many boat ads omit the cockpit, and yet its layout is near the top of what gives a boat its inherent appeal, being the nerve center and all.

Who doesn't appreciate a bit of trim?

Because this is a custom, offshore design with unexpected features like aluminum construction and  a transom-hung rudder, it's got to be acknowledged that its "weirdness" factor will put a lot of people off immediately. Fine. If one is not put off, however, details like the presence of a trim tab on said rudder will be very interesting indeed. The sellers realize they have an unusual property here and Yachtworld or dealing with a typical brokers would have yielded too many false positives and window-shoppers. You either want to see the fine tailoring or you don't.

A ladder on the rudder. Yes, I like this.
Speaking of which, an exhaustive list of specifications is never a bad thing. You never know what element of a boat's construction or measurements will attract a potential customer. One thing I like to see is cleaniless behind hatches and panels, and clear labelling.

I can't tell if this won't explode if you switch on everything at once, but it's a lot tidier than some setups I've seen.
I have found that while a certain amount of disorder and even grime is inevitable on some boats, if that boat and that crew are going any distance, dirt and clutter will try to kill them eventually. You want a clean and well-lit access to all critical systems; the absence of this is, unfortunately, a hallmark of some modern production boats. That and unsecured cabin sole panels.

Enough to make an amateur diesel mechanic weep, this access is similar to that on Alchemy: Just insert arms and tools!
Similarly, one can learn much from peering into the customarily dark recesses of exhaust outlets:

There is a little bit of staining on the stringer beneath the lower doubled hose clamps, but this is otherwise near-spotless.
Me, I would have doubled hose clamps on every part of exhaust line, but these are clearly stainless clamps and the area is very clean and, I would guess, easy to reach.

It's important, particularly with integral tanks, to have easy access for service and cleanouts.
These sellers clearly understand that any potential buyers are going to want to poke around in the guts. I am showing my readers only a fraction of what they've posted to indicate that if you want to sell a particular boat, you have to take particular care to cover the bases.

The fuel manifold could stand some labelling, but the setup looks good.

I have learned over the years that ocean-spanning small(ish) yachts will only resort to kitty-raiding repairs when absolutely necessary. They must be as shore-independent as possible, as well as having sufficient spares and know-how aboard to fix or jury-rig gear without off-boat aid. That's why they tend to front-load the bulletproof or at least commercial-grade equipment. That's also why you have photos that show clean installations of critical gear.

Would I steer you wrong?

With any custom design, you're going to get "original owneritis", wherein the decisions of the person who commissioned the boat are reflected, for better or worse and in light of subsequent events, in the current boat's gear. Such would be the case with this foredeck hatch. I understand the logic of putting in a hidey-hole for gear, and I know that doggable hatch is both effective and (ruinously) expensive...I just don't get why there's such an implausibly wee hole there.
Perhaps it's where the kellet elf lives?


Lastly, some ads, frankly, fudge their numbers. Headroom is exaggerated, number of useful bunks is doubled, draft is only sketchily reported.  As with all used vehicles, there is a temptation to roll back the odometer. This hour meter is pretty well what I would expect to see, and the owners weren't afraid to take a shot of it. I think that speaks to their desire that any potential buyer knows their boat to the depth of detail that they themselves appear to.

Seems plausible to me for a 1998 distance cruiser.
You are very likely, dear reader, to want this boat, or any boat at all. You are likely either boated up fully, or maybe came here thinking of a different kind of alchemy. Nonetheless, if you ever have call to read a boat ad, and do not see one resembling the detail provided comparable to that of S/V Maclas, you should carefully consider why that is, and perhaps pass by. I wish you fair hunting.















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