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14 August 2013

Boat Buying Tips Without Too Much Salt (Pt 1) - Hulls

Be warned - I am an unseasoned and not very salty sailor. Any tips I share about boat buying are of the low sodium variety.

I recently found out that sailboats can roll-over when a big wave hits them. This means that you need to be able to hold your breath for 2 minutes by which time the sailboat should hopefully right itself. (By the way, I have started practicing holding my breath during my spare time.) This has led me to the realization that there may in fact be more to buying a boat than whether or not it has a cute name and what color the cushions are. Scott has been obsessed with boat buying for a few years now and often shows me links to potential boats for sale. He’ll go on and on and on about the engine, the rigging, the hull, the gear it comes with and other technical bits and bobs. At this point, I usually give him my patented cat-like disinterested stare and then look at the pictures of the boat to see what color the cushions are. If the owners of the boat have chosen a nice pattern for their cushions, then I might go on to check out the galley set-up. After that my interest wanes and I fix myself a snack and watch a couple of episodes of 24.

This whole holding your breath for 2 minutes thing coupled with the fact that we’ll need to write a pretty big check when we buy our next boat has led me to the conclusion that perhaps I should become a bit more involved in this boat buying process. Plus, Scott is a crafty one and it pays to keep close tabs on him. Especially when it comes to buying things. So I’ve started doing some research and reading up on boat buying during breaks between my meals and episodes of 24. But because I am a very unseasoned and not very salty sailor, I wouldn't take anything I say too seriously. Not that I imagine you would anyway. This is definitely the low sodium way to buy a boat.

Let's start with what's underneath a boat's skin (aka that super expensive marine paint). Like humans, boats have to have something underneath their skin so that they don't go all floppy. While we have bones, boats have wood, steel or fiberglass under their skin. Wood is one of the oldest boat making materials and with good reason - wooden boats look awesome! I love looking at the classic wood boats in the Viaduct in Auckland and part of me would love to own one. That is until Scott tells me how much upkeep would be required. And then there is the fact that wood rots. That certainly puts me off. I'm not too keen on the idea that the thing I am depending upon to stay afloat in the water could be rotting away underneath me. Of course, you can prevent wood rot but that comes right back to considerable upkeep and maintenance required. So, I think I'll just drool over the wooden boats in the Viaduct and consider other options.

This takes us to boats made out of steel. Right off the bat this doesn't sound appealing. The word "steel" just seems to evoke coldness and sterility. I would much prefer my boat to be warm and inviting. But there are some pros to having the steel boat and the big one for me is that you can hit almost anything and come out the winner. Steel is tough and it can hold its own against hard, floating objects and well as survive if it goes aground on coral reefs. Of course if you hit a larger steel vessel, like a big freighter, all bets are off. The downside of steel is that it rusts. So owners of steel boats have to do their utmost to keep water from coming into contact with the bare steel. Hmm...boats are meant to be in the water aren't they? I guess that is where that super expensive marine paint skin comes in handy.

Fiberglass (or glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) in Brit speak) is the other option. I was surprised to learn that it has only been used for around 40 years. Without giving away my age, I think it might even be younger than me. Don't I just feel old now. Fiberglass is very commonly used in the types of boats we'll be looking at. It is basically glass cloth which is saturated in liquid glue and then allowed to dry. In between the glass cloth and glue is a core that can be made out of things like:
  • Plywood - something I think Karate masters chop in half with their feet;
  • Balsa wood - something I think a 5 year old could easily snap in two without knowing how to do Karate;
  • Foam - cats would easily tear this to pieces;
  • Some sort of high-tech wood - this is sounding better than ply or balsa wood; or
  • More fiberglass - this is what our current boat is made of.

Does glass cloth and glue sound like something you would trust your life too? I can see why some people like steel! However, I have been assured by the many books and internet articles I have read that fiberglass is strong and impervious to water. But of course, like all things boat related, it too requires upkeep and maintenance because, yes you guessed it, water is its enemy. If you get moisture in your glass cloth and glue based hull then the core can rot. If it isn't rust, then it is rot.

Our Boat (Rainbow's End)
She is made of fiberglass
So after considering all three options, I'm guessing that we'll be going with a fiberglass boat. They're less upkeep than a wooden boat and more commonly used material than steel in the size of boats we'll be looking at. So there you go, I've learned a lot. In particular, that in addition to spending a lot of money on this new cruising life of ours, we'll also be spending a good chunk of time maintaining our boat! Hopefully, I'll be able to find some time in between boat maintenance chores to reupholster our boat cushions so that at the end of a long day I can sit down and sigh and think to myself, "Darn, those are real nice cushions."

If you're interested in other slightly eccentric posts on how to buy a sailboat when you know nothing about sailing or boats, check out this page.

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