Well, it's a long story, but the quest started in earnest in the fall of 2002. I had thought off and on about buying a larger boat (at the time I owned a 26 foot wooden lobsterboat). I had in mind doing some local cruising, maybe taking up to a few weeks at a time. My idea was that I would find something like a Grand Banks 42, keep that for a few years, and then move from the GB up to a real passagemaker.
I had been watching the various boat for sale listings for several years, but started getting serious about it. I also searched the Internet, and eventually settled on Yachtworld as the best site. I worked out my criteria and settled down to watch the prices (by the way, if you want a fantastic resource on how to buy a boat, get Boating for Less by Steve Henkel. It's a whole book dedicated to helping you buy a boat for less.).
The other important selection factor was that I was looking for a wooden boat. I like wooden boats. They are simple. They are safe. They look right. And best of all, used ones are what you might call "value priced".
I also limited my search to the U.S. and Canada. Although there were some attractive offshore boats, I decided that the whole delivery/shipping/tax/duty/travel hassle was too much.
As mentioned, I initially though of a Grand Banks. The 42 was very attractive, and the the 36 looked nice as well, and in fact the little 32 was a bit small but still attractive. We loaded up Yachtworld (use the "advanced search", anything else is wasting your time) to look for wooden Grand Banks. At any give time there is a nice selection of woodies, ranging in price from about $120K down to $40K.
This was interesting, so I decided to look at other wooden trawlers in the same size: Under 45 feet, wooden trawlers.
This produced an even more interesting list, with lots to look at. But it also exposed something interesting: There were a lot of "value priced" boats in the larger sizes. So I refined my search one more time, so that instead of selecting by size I was selecting by price. I set a lower limit of $50K (to weed out the real project boats) and an upper limit of $351K (which was more than I wanted to pay, but I was beginning to realize that the asking price and the selling price were two different things
Now this list was really interesting. It ranged from massive 90 footers down to exquisite 30 foot masterpieces. Clearly, 90 feet was too big. And I already had a small boat. So the final refinement to the search was boats between 40 and 70 feet, between $50,000 and $351,000, made of wood, with single diesel power, in Canada or the US.
I went to work narrowing this down into a list of a few dozen potential boats. After talking to the brokers, I came up with a list of a dozen or so, and decided that I would spend the Christmas vacation looking at about half a dozen (funnily enough, I had eliminated Island Eagle from this list, partially due to the age of her systems). Five were in the North Carolina / south Carolina area, and I decided to use the same broker to see all of the boats. Big mistake. I got down to North Carolina, and the trip was a disaster. When I got to the broker's office, he told me that the first two boats I was supposed to see (a Grand Banks 32 and an Alaskan 49) were both out of the harbor. The next day I was supposed to see two nearby boats, one of which was owned by the broker. "Nearby" turned out to be 2 hours drive, and to top it of the broker's boat was a piece of crap. The boat was appallingly poorly maintained. He was asking $169K, and it's not exaggerating to tell you that the boat was worth at most $50K. The next day was even worse: I drove down to Charleston, SC to look at a Grand Banks 42, and arrived at the berth to find that the boat had not been there for at least a month!
I learned a few lessons right there:
1) Deal only with the listing broker. Don't talk to anyone else, even another broker at the same brokerage.
2) Find out where the boats are located and plan your own travel.
3) Get good, high-quality, recent pictures. If the broker can't provide them, abandon the boat, because any broker worth their salt would provide them,l and the fact that they don't means that they have something to hide.
After that disappointing experience, I was off to San Francisco to look at another boat: Mareva. I'd done our research on the web, and this was a boat! Man, it was practically a ship! But I'd been burned already, and I didn't want to get our hopes up. Finally, I headed over to see the boat in its moorage.
To say I was smitten was an understatement. This was a beautiful boat, and the price was pretty darn nice as well: Although the asking price was $299,000, the broker told us in the first few minutes that he thought I could get the boat for $220,000. Well! This was certainly a lot of boat for that price. I spent a long day on board, and then came back the next day. I also managed to track down a previous owner and get some additional information.
There were some troubling issues -- for example, the major fire in the mid 80's, which the broker had "forgotten" to tell me about. There were also some deck leaks, non-functioning stabilizers, unknown engine hours, some rot in the topsides, and about a half-dozen other substantial issues. Still, she was a fine boat. After a few weeks of agonizing I decided that I would have our surveyor come down from Seattle and take a look. After another full day on the boat I had a better understanding of the issues, and decided to make what I felt was a realistic bid at $120K, with our "cut off" mentally set at $160K. The vendor was "deeply shocked and appalled" but came back with a lower price. After a month of negotiation, though, the two parties remained $25K apart and I decided that we would walk away from the boat.
At the end of this process I learned a few more lessons:
1) Ignore talk about other buyers. Make your own decisions at your own pace.
2) Make an offer for what you think the boat is worth. In our case, I offered $120K on a $299K boat. Back your offer up with a survey so the seller realizes the real story.
3) Set an upper price limit and stick to it (We didn't, by the way. Our limit was $160K, and we went to $175K)
4) Don't be afraid to walk away. The wooden trawler market is very illiquid, and the boat will be there for a long time. The price won't ever go up, you can be sure of that.
5) To paraphrase Mark Twain, don't trust anything you hear, and only trust half of what you see.
Bruised and battered, I retired home to lick our wounds and regroup. I decided that I was going to start over, going through the full list one more time. I reviewed each boat, and for those that I was interested in I contacted the listing broker and if possible the owner. I came up with about 20 possible boats, which I then ranked. I even made a point of telling every broker exactly what boats I was looking at, which served two purposes: I let them know that I had other options, and it helped them understand what sort of boats we were interested in.
The other decision I made was to have our surveyor look at the boats before I did. Although this might sound a bit backward, if you have to fly somewhere to see a boat it's worth checking the condition before going to the hassle and expense of travel. In the long run, I am very happy that we did this.
Finally, I had a new "master list" of boats to check out: Two Grand Banks in Florida, a Grand Banks in Texas, an Island Gypsy and an ex-RCMP boat in Ventura, and five boats in Seattle... one of which was Island Eagle. My surveyor had already checked and endorsed all of the boats in Seattle. I flew out to look at every single boat, joined by my father for the Seattle portion. At the end of a week we were exhausted, but we had a clear winner! Island Eagle turned out to be the boat that "said hello". After a short negotiation she was mine... pending a full survey and sea trial, of course. In mid-April I headed down to Seattle one more time, and after a long and grueling day of sea trials and surveying (which the owners were most gracious about) I came away the new owner of an old boat.
1) Talk to the owner before looking at a boat (not always a guarantee, illustrated by the "needs a little varnish" boat which turned out to have gaping holes in the foredeck covered with trash bags and duct tape... really!).
2) Make sure brokers know what other boats you are looking at.
3) If at all possible, get your surveyor to spend a few hour on the boats before you see them. Listen to what the surveyor says.
4) Search by price, not just by size. The are some great bargains in larger boats.