by John Vigor, boating writer
The community of sailors has its fair share of bargain hunters. I think it’s reasonable to say that there are very few of us who haven’t at some time thought about finding a cheap boat, a boat we can update and renovate, and enjoy for next to nothing. The only problem is that it almost never happens that way. We never learn. A cheap boat seldom turns out to be a bargain.
There’s a fellow called Joe who used to live in Oakland, California, who related his experience on a boating website. Joe bought a Santana 22 with a trailer, a good hull, mast and boom, and several sets of usable sails for $500.
“I’ve spent two years working on the project so far,” he wrote. “I have invested somewhere close to $4,500 out of pocket, not counting storage, and now have a seaworthy (though not yet class-competitive for racing ) boat that I use on San Francisco Bay.”
During those first two years, Joe reckoned he worked on the boat for about 10 hours every week. He spent a lot of time rebedding hardware, adding epoxy plugs in the deck core all over the place and replacing a section of the aft bulkhead where fresh water had caused rot.
“That sounds like a short list,” he noted, “but the real list of tiny projects would go on for pages.”
Near the end of the project, Joe moved the Santana to a boatyard for a bottom job and to fair and repaint the keel and set up the rig. The big-cost items were the new rigging and the bill from the yard for the lay days while he did the work.
“I use a Johnson 6-horsepower two-stroke outboard, which I also bought cheap and rebuilt,” he said. “I never learn.
“I agree with others who have said that the Santana 22 is a great design. I also have to agree with others who have suggested that you should find a boat whose current condition and inventory of gear closely matches your ultimate needs. I take great satisfaction from the work I have done. I enjoyed the work, and it was a way to spread the cost out, etc., etc., etc. — but the investment required to do it this way completely overwhelms the cost of buying a boat in good condition and with adequate gear.”
Joe estimated that if he figured his own labor as an expense (even at minimum wage) and added that to what he’d spent, he could have bought three of the better Santanas in the Bay area for the same total cost — or he could have had a nice one in one-third of the time.
“I know this isn’t what any hopeful shopper wants to hear,” Joe concluded, “and I ignored the people who told me the same, but a cheap or free hull is not a bargain.”
John Vigor posts his boating columns to his blog on Monday, Wednesday, Friday.