Budget Boating

By Bill Sandifer

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 5, Number 4, July/August 2002.

Here's the five-year plan that rescued a $1,200 boat

A boat in the barn

Not so long ago I did not have a cruising boat, but I wanted one badly. My wife understood and said, "Take the $2,500 we've put away, and buy a boat." You may not believe that $2,500 will buy a cruising boat, but it did. I got a great boat plus money.

How is this possible? I began with a search for all of the cheap boats in the newspapers and looked at every one. It was discouraging. I contacted a local yacht broker, who said, "What do you want for $2,500? I told him I wanted a Pearson Ariel. He said he might have one for sale and to call him the next day. When I called, he offered to show me the boat. He said it had been raced hard and was not in good shape, but "What do you expect for $2,500?"

When I saw the boat it had a frozen Atomic 4 engine, loads of sails, deteriorated deck and maststep, and what felt like a shark-bitten rudder, but it was an Ariel, and it was floating. I bought it for $1,200 "as is, where is."

But I had to move it within 48 hours to clear the slip. I removed the plugs, filled the cylinders with Marvel Mystery Oil and waited 24 hours. I then bought a new battery and returned to the boat with a mechanic. He was not very optimistic but was willing to try to start the engine. When we spun it over without plugs in the cylinder, it sprayed Mystery Oil all over the engine room, but it was freely rotating.

A new electric fuel pump, a little carburetor cleaning, and the engine came to life. I backed out of the slip and motored home towing a dink with a dependable outboard "just in case." It was never needed. Once we were home I developed a five-year plan for the boat resurrection. Notice I did not say restoration. That is too ambitious. It was a resurrection.

Surprise profit

First, to raise money for the boat, I sold most of the sails through a used-sail broker. I received $1,500 for them, which surprised me. Now I had a profit of $300 on the purchase price. Of course I promptly spent that, plus $500, on a bottom job. I dropped the rudder by digging a hole in the yard and took it home for epoxy repair.

The five-year plan starts with finding the boat. Vessels like this are usually shunted to the back of the yard and neglected. You have to find the owner and make a deal with him and also with the yard owner to obtain free and clear title to the vessel. This will not be easy. The boat owner will see a way to make some money and rid himself of a liability, and the yard owner will want payment as he has been "storing the yacht" for a long period of time. Your job will be to make a deal with the yard man to move the boat once you have title free and clear of any and all boatyard liens. Next you've got to convince the owner to give you title to the vessel for something like $1,500. This can be done, but it requires great diplomacy.

There is no question of making an offer subject to survey. In a case like this, you have to be your own surveyor. The owner of the boatyard will probably not, for safety and liability reasons, let anyone board the boat, so you will have to survey her with your eyes and fingertips.

One potential problem is ice. If the boat has lived through winter weather on the hard, water will have gotten inside. There must be an open hull drain or through-hull to let the water out, but some probably remained and froze. Make sure it did not split the hull somewhere. Through careful observation of the outside of the hull, including the bottom of the keel, you should be able to tell if there is a problem or not. If it froze and split the hull, the boat will not sail again without a lot of help. This should affect your future plans for the boat and the amount you are willing to pay for her. Enough said.

First year

Many people start out these resurrections with lots of enthusiasm and little money. They decide to "do it right," and try to make the boat "like new." After a time, money runs out, the enthusiasm wanes, and the boat is once again a derelict. With good planning and a little patience this does not have to happen. What is needed is a five-year plan with definite, practical goals for each year.

It doesn't take long to make most boats weathertight and to get them floating. Pretty and glossy no, but usable yes. The object is to have a useable boat to enjoy, not one sitting in a yard to be worked on ad infinitum. The boat may only need a coat of bottom paint, a good cleaning, and a motor to be able to be used as a power launch. The professional mechanic and a battery for my motor cost $300. Old but good, these Atomic 4s. In the first year I had a boat good for picnics, beach runs, and quiet times on the water. Get the boat back in the water and enjoy it. Don't try to accomplish too much at the expense of no fun for the first year.

One of the first things you must do is be sure the boat is watertight and safe to operate while it is still out of the water, assuming you bought her in the yard. All below-the-waterline valves should be operated, greased, and tested. One way to test the valves "in the yard and on the hard" is to disconnect the old hoses attached to the inside of each through-hull fitting.

Attach a 54-inch-long hose (one foot longer than her potential draft in cruising trim) on the inside of the valve. Suspend the open end of the hose vertically and tie it off so it stays put. Fill the hose with water and go around to the outside of the hull and observe the through-hull. If water is seeping out, the valve leaks and needs to be adjusted or replaced. If there are no leaks, go back inside and slowly open the valve. The water should run out. Close the valve, dry the outside of the through-hull, and try again. If it is still dry on the outside, chances are the valve is good. Move on to the next one. Once you have checked all of the seacocks, replace the old hoses with new ones, and you should be ready to go. Since my boat was purchased in the water, I left all of the above until I hauled her out in the yard.

Good cleaning

Once the valves have been checked or replaced, it's time to move inside. First in importance is a good cleaning, followed by removal of all old, non-working, or broken items. This includes the old direct discharge head and all of its hoses and fittings. It is no longer legal anyway, and you really do not want to pollute. The valves should have been tested previously, so all you need to do is close and cap them off on the inside. I have found that PVC pipe caps from the local hardware store plus some Teflon tape works well. Replace the head with a Porta Potti or similar. Even if only temporary, this will work fine for limited use.

The other thing to check is the rudder tube and the top bearing. Check the bottom bearing for excess movement and play. If necessary, drop the rudder heel shoe and insert a bushing to take up the space and restore the smooth movement of the rudder. If there is no top bearing, consider adding an Edson rudder stuffing box to the top of the glassed-in rudder tube. It is well worth the little effort and moderate cost involved. I installed mine in one easy day of work.

Before you start to use the boat, you need to register it and get good life jackets, anchor and rode, and other U.S. Coast Guard-required equipment. All except the registration can be purchased inexpensively at a marine discount store. A Danforth-type anchor has worked for me and is not overly expensive. The idea is to get the boat in use again, not to make it perfect. In most states, the department of licensing oversees the titling and registration process. You can register at your local county auditor's office or at subagency branches of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The cabin trunk windows may leak, and you will probably have to redo the entire interior, but for this year the boat is ready to provide on-the-water enjoyment as a power boat. Your family will really enjoy the boat and think you're wonderful for finding this great boat.

Second year

What you do and when you do it needs to be determined by you and your pocketbook, but for year two and beyond a practical plan would be to check all of her blocks and deck fittings. Check the deck hardware, cleats, chocks, blocks, and the rest. Check the maststep and chainplates. Verify that the standing rigging is good, grease the turnbuckles, and check out the mast, particularly the mast base. I had to support the mast (it was stepped) with a jack and a 4 x 4 just to keep it upright so I could power the boat home.

Older boats usually have oversized (by today's standards) bronze turnbuckles and through-bolted chainplates. The chainplates need to be unbolted and pulled for inspection, but they are probably fine if they're bronze. If they're stainless steel, give them a really good inspection. Use new bolts to reset them and caulk under the chainplate covers with a removable caulking.

The masts and booms of this era are oversized by today's standards, too, and probably need only to be cleaned. Be sure to clean and lubricate the sail track before you step the mast. A product called Fast Track works well. I almost replaced my old mast track with one of the newer slide-in tracks before I tried Fast Track. I learned to grease the luff groove twice a year, and the main went up and down easily. Remove the spreaders, inspect each end and replace if necessary.
Rebolt them if that is the way they were attached. The cast-aluminum spreader bases are not of the same high quality as the mast, and they may crack over time. Try cleaning them up really well to be sure they don't have a crack in them. There is a product on the market called Dye Check. You can find it in welding supply houses. This is good for checking spreader bases, swage fittings on standing rigging, and the stemhead fitting.

Lots of sails

It will not be a problem to find good used sails for her if you need them. Used-sail brokers and your local loft will have lots of listings. Allow about $900 for a good used main and jib. This is for a 26-foot, sloop-rigged boat. Even if it exists, the old running rigging will be useless. Plan on about $250 for new halyards and running rigging. For the Ariel, we chose 3Ú8-inch low-stretch Dacron for all uses. Anything smaller, while strong enough, is too small for my hands. The mainsheet and jibsheet can be similarly sized.

Our Ariel had winches, which only need to be cleaned and greased, but the operations that sell used sails generally sell used winches also. Size l0 self-tailing would be nice, but you can use size l0 non-self-tailing if the budget demands it. You don't even need winches if you are willing to luff up into the wind, set the sheets, cleat them, and then fall off. You can live that way for a while in order to use limited resources for other priorities.

Since I am taking the liberty of listing my priorities, the rest of them would go something like this:

Happily sailing your new boat

First, the ability to power away with a clean boat.

Second, the ability to sail.

By the third year add the ability to picnic aboard, which calls for an ice chest and a Porta Potti.

In the fourth year, start the rebuild. Begin with the interior, first the V-berths (easy) and work aft to the galley (hard due to the drawers). Next, the main deck (new grabrails, lifelines, anchor roller, varnished tiller, rubrails, and so on). The Ariel had an original teak tiller that might have cleaned up enough to be varnished, but it was easier to replace it with one from a marine discounter. Finally, replace the old Plexiglas in the portlights if it's crazed or frosted.

In the fifth year you're ready to outfit for cruising (sun awning, lights, water tank, sun shower, and so on).

By the time you are at year five of a five-year plan you should have had a lot of fun already. We used the boat every year and did not notice that we were lacking for anything. I accepted the boat's limitations and worked to improve her slowly as money and time allowed. What was important was the fun we had, the peace of a quiet sail, and the thrill of a brisk reach.

When five years had come and gone, the Ariel was once again a boat to be proud of. More than anything I was proud of myself for finding a derelict and recreating the swan hidden under the dirt all these years. There is no better satisfaction than saving a wonderful sailboat to sail another day, month, and year. It is worth doing, and the boat will return the favor with safety, peace, and tranquility.

You can afford a small cruising boat on a small budget and have a lot of fun and satisfaction in the bargain. Good hunting!

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