How to Buy a Boat or…

A Fool and His Money are Infinitely Amusing

Part III


Since I seemed to having a bit of luck on the private side, I stopped bothering my broker and continued to scan as many private listings as I could while I was still talking with the Nauticat’s owner.

And on a whim one day I looked at the Alberta listings of Kijiji and CraigsList since I knew a lot of Albertans owned boats in BC. And not unexpectedly a search of Calgary’s Kijiji boats-for-sale listing came up with an entry for a 2003 Hunter 386 listed for a low, low price. I mean a low price. Low. There was one picture, a brief description, it floated the possibility of a partnership and that was it. I was immediately sceptical. I am a firm believer in the too-good-to-be-true maxim. So I sent an email off to the lister with a request for more info:


Do you have more specs for Rainbow Hunter?

Genoa, dinghy, engine hours, heater, full enclosure etc?

We have a year off and are looking to liveaboard for most of it, then maybe sell. What kind of deal were you thinking about with partial ownership?


This is what I got back:

Hi Bruce, Rainbow Hunter is completely equipped for all-weather sailing including full enclosure.

2300hrs on Yanmar 40HP. Heating throughout boat. We sailed Rainbow all the way to the top of Glacier Bay, Alaska in 2011. She is equipped with a complete suite of navigation gear with Raymarine Seatalk interface. If you are interested call me at xxx-xxx-xxxx. We can discuss to see if your needs can work in with our plans.


So this is where the phone aversion comes back in. There was no way I was going to phone him with so little incentive since what I had really been looking for a full spec sheet like one would see on any typical boat listing. A quick google showed that Rainbow Hunter had been in charter with Desolation Sound for the past few years and they had tried selling it at a much higher price with no luck. So between the lack of communication, the failed sale and the suspiciously low price, I decided it was a bit too sketchy for a novice buyer like me and put the boat out of my mind and continued my search.

Rainbow Revisited

It was starting to look like I would have to get an older boat. A boat built in the 2000s with sufficient length/volume to be comfortable during the long winter and the all important comfortable berth were all about $20,000 to $30,000 beyond the top end of my range—which eliminated the charter possibility. And with an older boat I would have to have enough cash reserves to do whatever upgrading would be necessary to make our adventure comfortable and pleasant. My list of upgrades for some of the boats I was looking at exceeded $10,000 and a fully equipped, I’ve got everything I want, boat looked like it was going to be $60,000 or more on top of the purchase price. Boat things are expensive.

So I sent a few more notes and enquiries on to my broker and got the now expected monosyllabic responses and none were too encouraging. The biggest issue I had was I wanted faith/knowledge that whatever boat I got would be mechanically sound enough for us to get a few months of holidays in before we needed fix anything. And that is a hard thing to judge from the internet.

Then one day when I did a search on Yachtworld looking for new boats listed in the last 3 days, I came across a listing for Rainbow Hunter at one of the Granville Island brokerages. At the much higher price. It hadn’t been there the day before. It had lots of pictures, a full spec sheet and hit almost everyone one of my must haves and wants. And as a 2003 it still had the possibility of going into charter. I felt the inkling of oh-oh.

So I checked Kijiji and the listing was gone. Desperately I sent another email off to the lister and he responded that he had just listed it with the broker. And then he wrote “Call me (xxx-xxx-xxxx) if you are really interested and I can see if I can cancel the listing.” So I called. I’m stubborn but not an idiot. OK, not that much of an idiot.

What a nice man. In his early 70s they were selling because they needed some ready cash and he was eager to see her go to a good home. The boat was in Comox and we could fly out on the weekend and see her if we wanted. Otherwise he had to deliver her to Vancouver for the broker. We talked for almost an hour and he promised to immediately call the broker and see if he could cancel the listing. The price we talked about was up a bit from his original Kijiji ask, but nowhere near as high as the broker had listed it for. I was officially excited. I sent a note off to Leslie at work and told her what I was getting us into and she seemed fine with it.

Missed it by That Much

A few hours later I got the expected call back and alas, sadly no, the broker wasn’t going to cancel the listing and had advised strongly that the owner stick with the new listed price. And who could blame him. But we had another nice long conversation and I was more and more convinced that this was the boat that everyone suggests you look for: one that was well maintained, well loved and kept current. Up until now they had seemed to be a bit of a mythical beast. Even the Nauticat had looked like it would need at minimum upgraded electronics and a few new doohickies and doodads. It was suggested I call his broker direct and go from there.

But I had a bit of a quandary. One of the questions that I had asked my broker, and received no answer to, was the nature of the contract or obligations between him and I. In real estate you sign an agreement for a term and that covers that and there was the time I’d gotten between two car salesman when buying a car—a scary experience I didn’t want to repeat. But since I wasn’t all that enamoured of my current non-email-savvy broker and didn’t really want to complicate things if I didn’t have to, I decided to send an email to the seller’s broker and ask him about obligations etc.

He got back to me with a reasonably detailed email and followed it up with a more detailed voicemail absolving me of any obligations to anyone. Good enough for me. We’d bought our first house using the seller’s broker and I had no problem with doing something  like that again. You either trust the industry or you don’t. I’d rather have faith than be paranoid.

Laughter is the Best Medicine

So I talked to the broker. On the phone. Hell, I was on a roll with the owner so why not? I retold the story of Kijiji and the ‘much lower price’ and was met with a professionally slick mixture of humorous disdain, in-joke camaraderie and sympathetic salesmanship. Surprisingly it didn’t rub me the wrong way at all. Maybe I am growing as a human being. Or maybe he was sincere enough to get away with it. After all it was my own bloody fault. Then he told me that he had “3 or 4 clients” looking for this type of boat and that they were coming in on the weekend to their “Customer Appreciation” weekend. I checked and there was indeed such a weekend listed on their website and I had no reason to doubt him when he said there was a shortage of these boats around. I knew very well there was a shortage since I hadn’t had any luck finding one. So I said give me a day to consult with Leslie and we’d get back to him tomorrow. He agreed.

Right around then I started doing the math between the original Kijiji price and the new broker-listed price. It was bad. Real bad. I had screwed up royally. Like 25% royally. Because I hate phones. Sigh. Still, now we had a broker to help with the survey and sea trials and to do all the paperwork; that ought to be worth something? And I could still make a lower offer right? A fool and his money… well, I always did like motley.

I talked it over with L and she said do what you need to. The listed price wasn’t unreasonable, within our budget and the boat looked like it would need almost nothing to get her ready. Despite the fact I wanted to call the owner and discuss it with him, I decided against putting him in that awkward a position and determined to call the broker the next morning. And so the next morning the owner called me. I love the way the world works sometimes. We talked for another hour and while I am pretty sure he didn’t intend to, he absolutely sold me on the boat: hook, line and anchor. Every question I asked came back with the answer I wanted. If all of what he said was true it was as close to a turn-key boat as I would be able to find. This really was the boat for us.

After I hung up I found a message from the broker on my cell and called him back. This phone thing was getting easier … as it usually does. We talked about the mechanics of making an offer and then I made one. Not laughably low, but low enough for my own sense of fairness. He filled out the paperwork and emailed the offer for my signature. I filled it out, wrote out a $5000 deposit cheque, scanned it and the signed document and sent them back. I had officially made a formal offer on the boat. We were committed, with the the only conditions being subject to sea trial, survey and mechanical inspection. That night we dropped the cheque in the mail and then we waited.

The next morning the broker called with the expected counter. It was close, but not too close. High, but not too high. We were officially quibbling now, so I said c’est la vie and accepted. And that was that. I had a boat. Subject to survey, sea trial and mechanical inspection of course. Which is scheduled for the 9th of April. I’ll fly out in the morning and be back before bed time.

Note that I seem to have acquired said boat sight unseen. Which is appropriate I guess because the previous owner bought her sight unseen as well and had her trucked all the way from Chesapeake Bay. Hell of lot bigger leap of faith than I made. But I will see her soon enough.

And that’s the long version on how I (we) came to be the proud owners of a 2003 Hunter 386.

Desolation Sound -  Otter Island anchorage - Rainbow Hunter 2


I got off the phone earlier yesterday with the broker. (I might give him a name after the deal has closed.) I had been doing some spreadsheets and was starting to get appalled at the number of things we need to buy to equip the a boat, so had asked for a brief inventory.

Seems the owner has set out to spoil us. The galley is fully equipped with cutlery, dishes, pots and pans. There is a handheld vhf, boat accessories like boat hooks, tons of spare parts and belts, custom bedding for the aft cabin, bug screens, winch covers and much much more. At this point it looks like I will have to pick up a few more charts and replace any outdated flares and extinguishers and that will be the sum total of outfitting needed.


How to Buy a Boat or…

A Choice, A Choice, My Kingdom for Less Choice

Part II


In fall of 2013, I left my job and spent the next year doing mostly contract and freelance work or, more often than not, not doing any work at all. At roughly the same time Leslie’s appointment as Chair of her department finally ended. And at the end of 2014 she applied for a Sabbatical. It was then I started dreaming. Of boats. And as those of you who have bought boats know, that means spending hours on sites like I hear it’s an addiction.

Late November 2014, I came across a posting for a half share of a sailboat in the BVIs on the Cruisers Forum I had started to habituate. A fellow in Winnipeg owned a half share in a Morgan 381 CC and his current partner was selling his share. We exchanged a few notes and it started to look like we could buy a half share for a very reasonable price and use the boat for most of the year of Leslie’s sabbatical. But we were the third in line and the guy who got there first bought the share. The whole story is here.

At the beginning of January, Tim Melville posted his intention to do a May circumnavigation of Vancouver Island and was taking on passengers. Leslie and I hemmed and hawed, and, for much the same reasons we jumped at the Broughtons trip, decided to book two spaces on his 42′ Baltic. That way I could work on my Coastal Skipper and maybe start in on my Yachtmaster.

Late January, 2015 went back to the Vancouver Boat Show. Fun, but still no boat in our future. Although Leslie determined she liked Hunters. And I determined I liked the Catalina 445.

Gemini Dreams

One thing that did happen at the boat show was we stopped and chatted with Ian and Shari of Nanaimo Yacht Charters, two of my favourite boating people. I had noticed in fall of 2014 that they now represented Gemini Catamarans as dealers. The Gemini cats have one of those love/hate relationships with people that some boat models have (Hunters seem to also suffer the same fate). I had no particular interest in a Cat but it would be a great platform for the sabbatical and provide lots of space when Leslie need to actually do some work. It occurred to me that maybe we could buy a boat for the year, then put her in charter after the sabbatical was done and still have a boat to sail whenever we wanted.

Ian made it worse by tempting me with offers of flying us to Miami to cruise on the new 2015 Gemini free of charge. We could buy the boat, cruise the caribbean for a while and then have it shipped back to the PNW by truck. All for the low-low price of a signed offer to purchase. This was the one and only time I seriously considered financing a boat. But no, it really didn’t make that much sense, so I told him to stop teasing the animals.


But id did get me serious about what I wanted out of a boat and what would work for Leslie and I. So I stared making a list.


My intention for Leslie’s sabbatical was to take her as far away from work as possible. (She had/has her own intentions but I have so far successfully managed to not let them interfere with my dreaming.) I investigated buying a canal boat in France, a sailboat in the Mediterranean, renting a villa in Spain, renting a cabin in the woods, taking a round-the-world cruise with Cunard and even buying a whole boat of our own in the Caribbean. Everything came with pros and cons. The biggest con for many of my schemes was that if we spent the money on a cruise or a villa, then that was money we would never see again. The benefit of buying a boat (I kept telling myself) was that if we did, we could recoup some of the expense when we sold it again.

During one conversation with Leslie where I was trying to sell her on the Caribbean idea, she mentioned that she’d be more comfortable in BC and I rebutted that winter on a small boat in BC might not be as pleasant as all that. Then she mentioned Victoria. Victoria has some of the nicest winters on the coast (i.e. actually has some sunshine). Leslie and I love Victoria. Victoria has libraries and museums and universities and parks. And I recalled that there were lots of liveaboard marina’s in Victoria. What a great idea.

A bit of investigating showed that both the GVHA (Greater Victoria HArbour Association) and Coast Victoria Harbourside Hotel and Marina offered 6–8 month winter packages for liveaboards during the winter season at really reasonable rates. A definite opportunity seemed to exist.

Opportunities Knocking

The next trigger was the appearance of Angelina II on Yachtworld. I recognized the name and looked her up. She was a 2004 Hunter 41 that had spent some time in Nanaimo Yacht Charters fleet. This set off that train of thought that this was a boat we could buy a boat for the year, then put her in charter. I sent a note off to Ian at NYC asking what he thought of her. He agreed she was a fine vessel but not to pay more than $130,000. While this was still out of our price range, it was possible with some creative financing and $27,000 less than asking. If we could imagine boats would go for $30,000 less than asking then our whole boat market had just opened up.


I asked around for some advice about brokers and decided to engage a buyer’s broker to  enquire. Brokers work a bit like real estate agents in that the seller pays for them and if there are two brokers (buyer’s and seller’s) then the fee is split. The buyer pays nothing. I contacted a recommended broker and set some wheels in motion. But alas, there was an offer on Angelina II already and she was no longer available. But now I had a broker.


To follow this next bit, you have to have an idea of my relationship with phones. It’s bad. I hate them mostly, avoid them as much as humanly possible and will ask anyone else to make  any necessary calls if at all possible. This is important for two reasons, the second of which will come closer to the end of this long and meandering tale. But for now, its important to realize that my broker was old school and I am addicted to the non-phone-like properties of email.

We never did talk. I would fire off emails full of detail and questions and he would reply with one word sentences and the very occasional paragraph. Now don’t get me wrong, all indications were that he was doing everything I wanted but conversing via email was just not his thing. I’ve run into people like that before and he had all the signs. I suppose I should point out, at this point, that we live in Edmonton, a few thousand miles from any boat we may or may not purchase. So we were relying on someone else’s eyes and ears to check out boats. He sent us a few prospects, but none really appealed.

I hadn’t given up my Yachtworld addiction and would fire off notes to my broker about boats I had seen and even went chasing after a 2007 Gemini catamaran that had been on the market for months. Listed at only $129,000 and new enough to go into charter after our year.  But alas, another too little, too late prospect as after months of showing up in my online searches it now had an offer on it.


Pilothouse Dreams

At this point I should mention a few things on our boat wish list. A roomy main berth. I had too much experience trying to hop out of bed suddenly in the cramped aft berth of the 33′ Shearwater that I knew I wanted a berth I could easily hop in and out of. Ideally this would be a centerline queen (with access on either side) like the Angelina II had but those were mostly in 42′ foot and larger boats and those were starting to look like impossible buys for us. I wanted some work space for Leslie. She has her own set of work habits and I wanted to accommodate them as much as feasible. Two heads or at least a separate shower. Having to wipe and dry the shower after every use just to use the mirror would wear pretty quick. Counter space in the galley. Again the Shearwater had taught me the frustration inherent in having to move all your prep to use the sink or open the fridge. It would get old fast. Lastly I wanted a good size holding tank. We’d been on at least one boat where it seemed we had to empty the tank every day and that wasn’t much use if we were  planning on spending a lot of time in one place.

Other wants included a full enclosure for the winter, good electronics, bug screens,  a good heater, a bigger dinghy and decent outboard, at least 100′ of chain and an autopilot. But these were all things we could add later.

After I announced I was actively looking for a boat, Dave W mentioned the existence of a 36′ Nauticat a few slips down from him in Blaine. It was an 1985 and the asking price was 85,000 usd. Dave mentioned the owner was willing to dicker if it was a private sale since it would save him the broker’s fee. Now I had actually seen this boat before. Their tender was a Portland Pudgy and I had come across  pictures of it on the site they had been building in preparation of selling.


The Nauticats are Finnish boats that are pilothouses. This means that they had two helms, one in the aft like a regular sloop and another inside a raised pilothouse. This model was a cutter rigged ketch. Cutter meant it had the possibility of two foresails and ketch meant it had a second mast (the mizzen mast) behind the main mast. The pilothouse divided the main aft stateroom from  the galley and v berth in the bow. It also featured a table, small dinette and lots and lots of light.


While this was not the sailboat boat I wanted, it definitely interested me as a liveaboard.  I contacted the owner and we exchanged a few emails. It sounded like a well loved and well kept boat. But that was when the obstacles started to appear. The first obviously was $85,000 usd was now around $106,000 cdn. Then it looked like GST would be due if I imported it and finally, since the boat was not made in the US then a 9% duty would also be applied be bringing the grand total up to around $120,000. While $120,000 was within the realm of possibility, it was unlikely anyone would want her in charter since she was so old and a bit of a white elephant in the charter business. That meant we would likely have to sell her and then we would take a big hit when selling. But she seemed like a great fit for our needs.

So I made an offer. It was really low. The response was quick, definite and very polite. “Good luck in you boat search.” And another one bites the dust.

To be continued…