MAX EBB — NOTHING'S MORE EXPENSIVE I
t was obvious even from a distance that this boat had been neglected for a very long time. The decks weren't just dirty, there was dark green moss growing on them. Part of the sail cover had failed and fallen away, probably from long-term sun exposure, and the halyards — old wire-to-rope spliced affairs — had been in exactly the same position for so long that there was a light streak on the mast where the slatting kept the dust from collecting. The boat was for sale, and one of my most regular race crew was the prospective buyer. It would be his first boat, so he had asked me to drop by and take a look. "Are you sure?" I asked as I walked up to him, speaking very slowly and deliberately. "The price is right for a college student," he replied as he worked the bottom brush, borrowed from one of my dock neighbors. "You are destroying an entire marine ecosystem," I remarked as I observed how much old-growth biofouling was being brushed off the hull. "I think it will clean up pretty good," he said. "Hop aboard and have a look down below." The boat was a little under 30 feet long, one of the better examples of the Southern California production boats built in the early '80s. But it really was a disaster. The standing rigging had some visible rust, the cabin windows were cracked, the varnish was peeling, and the cockpit sole felt squishy underfoot. There was an irregular tapping sound coming from down below. "You are going to get this thing surveyed, right?" I asked as I climbed aboard, wondering if I could summon up the courage to enter the cabin. I was certain that a professional survey would point out so many expensive problems that it would knock some sense into my crew's head. "I asked one of my friends to do the survey," he answered from the dock. "She's not really a surveyor, but a naval architect, and she says that insurance companies are generally okay with that." He could only be referring to one person: Lee Helm. And sure enough, she was down in one of the quarter berths tapping away with a plastic surveyor's mallet. "Like, the hull seems okay, mostly," she shouted through the hull to her client." "Lee, shouldn't you be doing that from the outside, with the boat hauled out?" I asked. "Yo, Max!" Lee answered. "For sure. Page 86 •
• June, 2016
But, like, my 'client' can't afford a haulout. It's not a very complicated boat, and even if there are some blisters on the bottom, it's not like it's going to affect the basic structural integrity. These hulls last forever. "What about that soft cockpit sole?" I asked.
"I think it's amazing that there are life forms that can live on nothing but air and polyester resin." "Yeah, the cockpit sole is totally delaminated. But it will be years before anyone's foot punches through."
he interior was at least as bad as the decks, with torn upholstery, rust streaks under the chainplates indicating deck leaks, a long-dormant alcohol stove, and a head that belonged in a museum. There was mold on almost every surface. "What do you think?" asked the prospective captain as he joined us in the cabin. "I think it's amazing that there are life forms that can live on nothing but air and polyester resin," Lee remarked. "I think you should run away from this one as fast as you can," I advised. "Add up the cost of everything you'll need to fix it up, and you're much better off buying a much more expensive boat that isn't so much of a project." "You're no fun," Lee replied. "Most of the problems here are cosmetic, and the running rigging will work again after a good rinse." "The owner says the engine ran the last time he started it," added the starstruck buyer. "Tautologically correct," noted Lee. "But the battery is, like, flat, so we can't test to see if it still runs." "I wouldn't believe anything the seller says about the engine," I suggested. "There are old bolt-holes in the transom, in a rectangular pattern, telltale signs that there was once an outboard bracket on that stern. That's a sure sign that the inboard has gone to meet its maker." "Well, it does turn over," said my crew. "So at least it's not seized up." "Run away," I repeated. "Run far away. Add up the cost of the necessities: New standing rigging, new halyards, new sail cover, re-bedding the chainplates,
making new berth cushion covers, new lifelines, lifejackets, flares, battery, VHF radio..." Everywhere I looked, in the cabin or on deck, I saw something that had to be replaced or upgraded to bring the boat up to snuff. "But, like, none of that is essential for sailing," Lee argued. "Standing rigging?" I asked. "Yeah, there's a little rust, but I couldn't find any cracks when I looked at the swages though the magnifier. None of the wires have broken strands. I mean, half the boats sailing out of this marina probably have standing rigging that's not much better than this, so I think it's good to sail as is, just make sure the insurance is paid up and you have a good anchor ready to go. And, like, maybe sign up with a towing service too." "There's nothing more expensive than a cheap boat," I reminded the would-be buyer. "A better strategy, if this is the class of boat you like, is to look through the ads and find the most expensive one, not the cheapest. You will come out way ahead." "That only works when you have the moolah," Lee answered. "What does the sail inventory look like?" I asked. "Pretty good, considering," said Lee. "There are three bags of jibs and two spinnakers, all seem to be in serviceable condition if you don't count the mold. And, like, the main probably has some sun damage where the cover fell off, but that's localized. I think the sails are way more important than a working engine."
y crew then explained that when he told the owner who would be helping him check out the boat, the owner said that if we were both on board, we could
The June 2016 issue of the West's premier sailing and marine magazine.