Saturday, January 07, 2012

Buying a Boat–Chapter 2 How we bought Herbie by instinct

As I said yesterday, people build up check lists of what they want in a boat, and looking back over ours, some items have stayed firmly on our list and others have changed subtly with time and experience.  In the end though, the check list has its limitations. At the time we were buying we rejected a couple of boats that, looking back now, might have been very good for us.

One that sometimes haunts me was a boat called Swanley which was on sale at Whilton.  She was a trad stern boat with (I think) a Ruston Hornsby engine in an engine room.  The hull had a very long swim (inward lateral curve) at the back, and I reckon she would have swam beautifully.   She was tastefully kitted out and obviously well cared for.  As far as I recall she would have cost us less than Herbie. So what put us off?  Well, mainly that we didn’t feel ready for a vintage engine.  The previous owner had left detailed instructions on how to start the engine, and these ran to several pages!  I don’t think I would be so scared now.  There was also the issue of exposed pulley belts near the corridor through the engine room and we worried that it would be dangerous for the grandchildren.  Nothing that the fitting of a handrail couldn’t have sorted I suppose.  I wonder where she is now?

So that’s one that didn’t fit our check list but might have suited.  What about boats that did fit our list and we rejected.   I suppose that I should state at the outset that we were looking at the budget end of the market.  We wanted a well maintained but not fancy boat, no more than about  5 or 6 years old.  The ads were full of them and on paper they looked pretty good.  On paper.  Many’s the mile we travelled to look at boats which looked ideal in the brochure and were very disappointing in real life.  Why? Well most often that they didn’t feel cared for.  Sometimes it was obvious – not clean, bodged up DIY etc.  We saw one or two boats where the DIY fit out looked like a two year old had had a go at it.  We couldn’t believe how bad the work was.  Some other boats were sound enough but still felt bare and unloved somehow.  If the bits you can see look neglected, what about the bits you can’t see?

So after looking at nigh on 50 boats, how did we end up with Herbie?  She was advertised on a broker’s web site with lots of photos.  Running through our checklist she had most of what we wanted and some extras too like the eberspacher and a morco water heater.  So far so good.  It looked a bit chintzy, but homely.

  Saloon to galley  Corridor

At the end of the blurb was this sentence.

This boat has been very well looked after and is exceptionally clean and tidy throughout with lots and lots of well thought out storage and systems which make it an ideal liveaboard.

Hmmm, worth a look after all the sad, tired boats we had seen.  We booked a visit, and discovered that the owners were still living aboard.  They were selling up to buy a bigger boat.  So off we went more in hope than expectation to meet them (with the broker)  on a temporary mooring at Stanstead Abbots.  It was a cold frosty day, a bit foggy too. Not the kind of day for boat shopping.

I don’t think Roy and Val, the owners, would mind me referring to them as elderly.  They were very welcoming and we stepped on board and were greeted by the warmth of the fire and the subtle smell of furniture polish, and of course a nice cup of tea and a piece of cake..  Even though they lived aboard with two labradors, everything was neat and tidy and wonderfully clean.  Talking to Roy and Val it soon became apparent that they had lavished love and care on the boat.  Roy showed me the engine bay which was tidy and spotless.  He told me about the engineer he used for servicing.  It looked like Roy was very particular about having stuff done right.

After a complete tour of the boat, we said our thank you’s and Kath and I retired to the nearby pub to compare notes.  I think we both knew straight away that this was a boat we could like and trust.  So different from the soul less boats we had seen up until then. It wasn’t just the check list, it was the homely feel of the boat and it was the trust we felt in Roy and Val.

Of course they wanted more than we could afford for Herbie so in the time honoured manner we upped our budget a bit and they came down a bit until we had a deal – subject to a short test cruise and a thorough tour of the working equipment on the boat.  They also had a two year old survey report done by a well known surveyor.  This suggested one or two things which needed attention, and Roy was able to demonstrate to me that he had dealt with every one.

The “sea trials” a week later were a joy, and we cruised up to Ware and back.  We got on famously and Kath and I were even more confident.  A couple of weeks later and Herbie was ours.

The moral of the story?  We didn’t just buy an empty boat, we bought the love and care of her by the previous owners.  We had the rare opportunity of seeing her in use as a home and seeing how the owners handled and managed her.  I guess we were lucky.  Most people move off a boat before they sell it.

In the end it all came down to a feeling of rightness.

Has Herbie turned out alright?  Were out instincts justified?  Yes.  I still think we should have driven a harder bargain, considering she was never an expensive boat to start with, but she still has a feeling about her that people like when they come aboard.  She remains a nice boat to be on, and that’s what matters.


Anonymous said...

We never did find that "right" factor when we looked at second hand boats (hence going down the bespoke build route) but I'm glad that you did!

I think how a boat 'feels' is important - all the checklists in the world can't replace that feeling of contentment that comes from being in the right boat on the right waterway at the right time!

Happy cruising!

Sue, nb Indigo Dream

Adam said...

Yes, I reckon the same applies to boats as houses: you know when you've found the right one (and you certainly know when you're looking at one that's wrong).

Will there be a future post addressing the issue of what to do about a boat's name when you've bought it? It seems most of us end up sticking with what we've got, even if we wouldn't have chosen it.

bert the gnome said...

Our 'checklist' is long, but Ithink it will be down to how the boat feels
that will be the deiding factor for us. Yo've put into words what we have been thinking


Nick Holt said...

Dear Neil, I couldn't agree more about the need for a wishlist/checklist but, so much more important is that sense of 'rightness'.

Having spent much of last year looking around endless 'Sierra' boats, numbingly samey, tired, listless and lifeless, we knew suddenly, and absolutely when we found the boat of our dreams.

It was love at first sight, though, importantly, it wasn't a 'blind love', we still checked it against the wishlist, and (of course) the boat scored highly on all points...

We're looking forward to amazing times in the years ahead, having found, as my wife Claire says, our 'boat with a bit of soul...'

Good Boating!

best wishes

VallyP said...

Great account Neil. The feel right element is so important.