Just how much does it take, in terms of liquid assets, to turn dreams into reality, to convert flickering mental images of swaying fronds into real living and growing palms on a South Seas beach? And how much of the rewards of life’s labours can safely be devoted to sailing without leaving the kids in rags and risking a terminal loss of enthusiasm for the water (or worse, for a life together full stop – with potentially painful and expensive consequences) on the other side of the marital bed? Note to catamaran sailors: yes, you can have a hull each if you fall out, but the two hulls need each other if you want to go sailing.
Fateful questions are these no matter how expansive your dreams and, indeed, your resources. People considering a self-build project need to be especially meticulous in their cost-assessment: underestimate the cost – in material, time and/or relationship terms – and the consequences could hardly be more grave. Let me make it clear that I speak from extensive experience on this subject, in fact I spend a significant portion of my time taking confession from sailors, listening attentively to what they have to say and then, should I happen to be asked, doing my best, quite forcefully where necessary (even when it hurts), to help them avoid repeating the mistakes others have made before them.
Often, of course, the question is put only in order to hear the anticipated answer – politely – from a second source. Sometimes it falls to me to be that second source. At other times though it takes almost missionary zeal and conviction to persuade sailing comrades with their heart firmly set on a particular yacht to cease and desist and advise them down a different path that seems more likely, in the final analysis, to deliver happiness and fulfilment. When I say happiness, I mean more than just immediate pleasure at the tiller or wheel. The right boat makes for a happy skipper, a happy life at sea, a happy bank manager and, most important of all, a happy home life: for what shall it profit the sailor to gain a fine yacht in the marina and lose life’s most treasured companion in the process?
Single-handed sailors can be a sorry sight and there is often no missing the desperation and loneliness behind ads of the “Skipper seeks …” type in the yachting press. Each bears life’s insults, disappointments and aspirations neatly packed away under one arm and hopes that the next partner – please let there be another one – will bring peace, contentment and harmony. But hopes are so easily dashed… Authenticity helps enormously, but how many people are really so straight and honest all the time, especially with the sands plunging ever faster through life’s hourglass and the natural urge for company physical and emotional tending to cloud judgement in both departments? Treacherous waters loom – a passage few seem to navigate completely unscathed!
OK, I digress, but then again have we not just landed right back in the middle of the topic at issue? Building your own boat is a labour of Hercules, an all-consuming, energy-sapping and finance-draining undertaking with the potential to wreck all but the most stable and well-founded of relationships. Stable and well-founded: hardly the stuff of romance, I concede, but there it is.
Once upon a time there was a very well known yacht designer in Germany who recommended wonderful boats for home construction by a sometimes (too) inexpert customer base with the implication that a 36-footer could be on the water for a song, relatively speaking. Statistics on the number of half-finished nautical building sites dotted around the country’s front and back gardens were less forthcoming, which is perhaps just as well, as they would have left many an amateur boat builder in shock. The tears of a chastened ex-enthusiast on the resale of an aborted project at the cost of materials only are always a hard sight to bear.
Life’s lessons do not come cheap (and just don’t ask how much it cost me to discover this). But the experience they teach stays with us even after the financial wounds have healed (or at least been superseded by new concerns). Boatbuilding, then, is a complex business: curves everywhere, no flat surfaces and no two elements from stem to stern. A house, by comparison, should be a breeze (you take my advice on house-building at your peril).
Unfinished home-builds do sell, but how well? Somebody might get a deal, but in the circumstances it is hardly likely to be the seller. Bear in mind also that one man’s dream yacht, the one he could only acquire by building it himself (so the story so often goes – listener beware), is just that: a vessel built to meet one person’s requirements or, at best, one family’s requirements (assuming at this stage that any partner involved has either bought into the project or long since exited stage left). It may not be to anyone else’s taste.
Bearing up, mentally, emotionally and financially, under the pressures of the build process over the years of painstaking work involved in realising the floating dream takes a very special type of person, one with a degree of talent and capability, organisational and commercial diligence and all around passion that are likely to bring in, or at least have the potential to bring in, serious money in the day job. That being the case, the question has to be asked whether it actually makes sense for anyone to build their own boat. Why not earn the money doing what you are best at and pay boat builders to do what they are best at?
Admittedly there are some jobs that make very little demand on a person’s mental and physical energy, that leave their incumbents hungry for a meaningful challenge and with the time to seek one out. Boatbuilding can be a diversion too: some people construct model railways, some clean and polish around the house every single day and some wage an incessant war on the weeds in the garden, so why not build a boat? Why not – because in most cases, sad to say, the outcome is not a boat but rather a part-finished project plus a heap of trouble of one description or another. Irrespective of one’s financial position, current and anticipated, it is unwise to stray far from the path of financial equilibrium. That, at least, has been my experience!
Perhaps the most direct way to bring the prospective one-off builder back to earth is to raise the matter of resale value (assuming, of course, that his or her partner has not already done so). Who, I ask you, is going to be eager to part with their own hard-earned in exchange for somebody else’s daydream incarnate? If this thought does not swiftly re-engage reality, in all probability nothing will!
One individual’s fantasies, let us not forget, can affect the destiny of many others: Dad’s dream today, the whole family’s nightmare tomorrow. Let me lay my cards on the table. I have acquired more than a few boats in my time and have always found the following principle very useful in converting my aspirations into ownership: buy second hand (only my Bianca 27 came to me brand new)! I have NEVER lost money selling a boat on, which, if you choose to look at it that way (and I’m hoping certain people close to my heart will, hence the sudden switch to upper case), means my SAILING HAS NEVER COST ME A PENNY.
I am more confident than ever today that I stand to enjoy my sailing more if I can be reasonably sure, in my heart of hearts, that any eventual financial loss will be small and that my hobby is thus comfortably affordable (and I don’t have to lie to myself in the mirror every morning)! The very idea puts a grin on my face every time it pops back into my head, although this might in part be a reflection of my peculiarly tolerant disposition (facetiousness alert). I have always kept my distance from new boats, helped, it has to be said, by my lifelong (so far) conviction that the old boats are the best. And for old, in this context, we might as well say second-hand.
Other markets have other customs. In the Anglo-Saxon world, buying a boat often goes hand-in-hand with taking out a loan, whereas in Germany the convention of only buying what you can actually afford to pay for tends to focus the mind rather more sharply on price (yes, there are exceptions and some people do indeed buy boats through tax reduction/avoidance schemes or, nominally, as a business investment, but the benefits seldom endure beyond the first tax inspection).
A glance at the main global internet sites for yacht sales suggests that the asking prices quoted for the thousands of identical or very similar models listed are unlikely to be left unchallenged by any of the few serious buyers in the market. The internet can be a merciless place at times for sellers, but for the potential buyer curious to discover just how much boat a given sum can procure, it can be invaluable. It is said that when push comes to shove, some brokers make more from buffing and maintaining the boats entrusted to them for sale than they do from actual sales. And some rely heavily on the small print, for example the easily overlooked little clause explaining that their commission is payable even if the vendor eventually sells the boat without their help. Thanks to the channels opened up by the internet, its owner is now usually the best salesperson a boat can have.
Yards today are often only able to sell new yachts if they are prepared to take a used one in part-exchange. The banks financing transactions like this tend to be more than ready to strike a deal on the asset acquired, which smoothes negotiations immeasurably and – who knows – might even open up the prospect of a bargain for the buyer.
I would urge anyone considering a self-build project to familiarise themselves with the yawning gulf that exists between the market price of second-hand boats and the – realistic – total cost of building their own yacht and to hold off on any fateful decisions until they have had time to reconsider the pros and cons and, with family in tow, to cast on eye over one or two possibilities from the second-hand market – just in the interests of perspective you understand. Viewing boats as a potential buyer makes a good family outing and if nothing comes of it, nobody will mind. Just go and see how far a little cash can go today and perhaps reflect for a moment or two on all the hours that could be spent actually sailing rather than sawing, sticking, grinding and filling. And on how the decision might impact on partner, kids (existing or planned), the dog, the cat (does the cat even want to go sailing?) and so on.
Everyone appreciates a skipper with the discretion and foresight to understand that the family, that fusion of opposites thrown together largely by fate, wants to spend its boat time enjoying the water, not caddying tools in the snow in the back garden. That way, EVERYONE can have a good time.
It’s the only way to go, suggests