Budget boats and budget boating – end point and final thoughts (for now)
I think it’s time to pull this thread of posts to a close, at least for now and until i can think of something new to say about getting by at the bottom end of the sailing bucket. In this post i want to explore the idea of a bottom line of boat ownership and boat management – the point where we can’t go any lower in costs and still get out on the water and do something interesting with our time on the water. There are other reasons in play as well – firstly that blog time has to make way for boatbuilding time and secondly that i’m working on my writing project and this time , the third attempt, i may have a viable start. I’ll carry on with my project blog but at most that’s a once a week post and pretty easy going because all i have to do is write about what iv’e done that week ; anyway and for now here’s a kind-of summary of my thoughts about boating at the microbudget end of boat ownership.
Put as simply and succinctly as possible i would say that the way of doing it at the minimum and still be able to do interesting things like go cruising and stay out overnight that we would want the smallest, simplest and least expensive boat that we can find (and with the most gear) that will do the job – generally that’s both smaller and simpler than most of us think. Secondly that we need to maximally reduce all of the normal costs associated with boating , that certainly means not paying out hard cash to keep a boat in a marina or on an expensive mooring ; rather that we have a boat that can be kept at home on a trailer or at worst in something like a dinghy park, cooperative sailing club or even a friendly farmer’s field. Thirdly that we do all of the work ourselves and develop a simple form of self reliance , stick with simple equipment for example a pair of oars and a paddle rather than an outboard motor , have minimal or no electronic gadgetry ( i accept that a handheld GPS and VHF have a place) rediscover older and more effective ways of doing things….simple and effective lashings are very ‘in’ for example and finally to adopt a more rugged and ‘Corinthian’ mindset that relies on skills and knowledge first and ‘stuff’ as a poor second.
Retired and de-tuned race boat as cruiser.
Above is my internet friend Gavin and partner’s everyday cruising boat and if you’re wondering it’s a retired Osprey class racing dinghy with a mainsail off a National 12. Last year i was offered an Osprey hull for free but then lost contact with the owner – it didn’t have a trailer, a rig or any gear so it would have taken some cost and some searching around for secondhand gear and interestingly another Osprey hull came up for free on the Apollo Duck site…..once again though it didn’t have a trailer or a rig. Gavin says that the Osprey is a lot more rewarding to sail than a conventional general purpose cruising dinghy like for instance a Wayfarer….a Wayfarer will do the job and there’s lots of them around and something like a GRP mark one or two can often be picked up with a trailer and gear for under a thousand pounds. Ok, so both boats are quite large for many city houses but both could live in the dinghy park of a local club at low cost and/or be towed behind a normal family car…..no specialized and expensive to run towing vehicle required.
Lets break this down a bit.
Firstly, the boat itself.
To keep this right up to date i went and had a look for boats for sale on the usual two places i look first ; Ebay (read ‘craigslist or similar) and Apollo Duck (online DIY boat buying and selling site). Starting with the mass produced all-rounder, the Wayfarer, there were 27 up for sale when i looked and the lowest price for an early GRP boat with rig, gear and trailer was just over £600 – with a small addition of cruising gear that should get you on the water for well under a thousand quid. The boat that got me all moist was a National 18 , with a rig and a trailer for £960 ……that would make a powerful small open cruising boat and i know of one on this coast that the owner converted to a modern lug yawl and it goes like smelly stuff off a shiny shovel…..i much prefer quick boats over dogs as you can always reef or de-tune a quick boat but you can’t make an undervanvassed dog go well without lots of money and time.
For a relatively large jump in the base budget the other mass produced all-round cruising open boats, the Drascombe range expect to pay around £4000 for a decent one – personally i don’t like them but many do and they seem to hold their value as long as they are cared for : if you like the shape but want a timber version there was a wooden one allegedly kept in a barn for 20 years going for about £600. At the higher budget was one dinghy that isn’t known that well unless you live in the south west of the UK and that’s the Devon Yawl – 16 feet and more heavily ballasted, they’re a powerful seagoing boat which i have a lot of time for and there’s even a few of the Cuddy version still around.
A general rule with finding budget boats is to look for the ones that were mass produced over a long time – there will be many more available at different budget points and one big reason they made mass production is that they somehow worked which isn’t always true of one-off race boats . It’s impossible for me here and today to go through an exhaustive list of dinghy classes that might work as general purpose cruising dinghy’s ; at the bottom end of the size range i know of a couple of Mirror dinghy’s used as cruising boats and then just a bit larger than the Mirror boats such as the Enterprise and GP14. I always fancied converting a less than extreme Merlin Rocket to a modern lugger…..there again i like quirky boats and i’m a bit of a boat dingus so there you go.
Boat, trailer and car.
This whole idea works best when you can keep a boat at home because then your storage costs are zero….you could of course ‘charge’ yourself a yard fee and then spend the income on sailing – only joking !. To work well and to be able to take the boat places then you do need a decent trailer and if you plan on travelling to Europe you’ll need an EU compatible trailer and it seems best to travel with a certificate of compliance just for the trailer ; iv’e only just started researching trailers for my own boat and it looks like a new one in break-back version, compatible with EU regulations will be around £1600. I used to have a specialized 4 x 4 towing vehicle because at one time i planned on towing the 1 ton Liberty but when that car came to the end of it’s useful life and was just getting too expensive to run we replaced that with a far more normal family car ; i’m glad because one thing that has just happened is that fuel prices have just shot up massively.
The boats that iv’e chosen to focus on in this final post will all tow behind an average sized family car – i’m not a petrol-head and barely know one end of a car from t’other but people i know who know about this kind of stuff say that around 1600 cc is about right for towing long distance. If that’s an issue and maybe you only chose to run a small and light vehicle or maybe don’t have yard space for a boat then keeping a dinghy in a boat park or cooperative sailing club might be your only option …..just chose somewhere that’s a good place to sail.
All the other stuff – how to be a bare bones budget boater.
Keeping, or building, a boat at home, has two big advantages – firstly that it should be zero cost to keep the boat there and secondly that there’s no time wasted in travelling to and from a boatyard : time not spent on the road is time not wasted i feel and at home i have access to my workshop , all of my tools , a kettle and the biscuit tin. The other great advantage of not being in the local boatyard for example is that the time wasters that hang around there and wander around talking to other boat owners aren’t hanging around in my backyard.
As i said earlier but i’ll state again slightly differently there’s a kind of Zen of being a budget boater where it’s easy to lay down the basics but an absolute sod to grind through the details : the easy and obvious things are to do your own work, as much as you can and slowly extend the range of things that you can do by just tinkering with them. The next thing that i find obvious is to not buy or read (mostly) anything from the yachting press – all you’re really doing is paying to be advertised at for equipment that , mostly, you don’t need ; ok so i cheat slightly and sometimes have a quick browse of the magazines that i like but can’t afford……Woodenboat for example should be on the top shelf along with the porn mags !.
The best way i have of expressing the ‘Zen’ of small boat management comes not from sailing but rather from simpler forms of outdoors practice such as hiking and bushcraft – when i used to teach that kind of stuff I often had to do the basic essentials of kit needed – my method being that of 3 lists : that which is essential, that which is useful and then everything else. Many boaters buy and stuff their boats with stuff that might come in useful one day…..even I had a ‘stuff’ locker on the Liberty and the same stuff had been moved from boat to boat at least twice.
Right at the end though i’d like to put a bit of meat on the Zen bones with a couple of examples that are bugbears of mine – one is about clothing and the other about fashionable and mostly useless multi-tools.
In an older post i wrote about my sailors ‘magic bag’ , the first version of which I put together in a shoe bag i was given as a present but never used in it’s intended role – that bag had a simple but effective set of tools, cable ties, seizing wire and lashing cord, various sticky tapes (Gaffer tape for the win !), a selection of fasteners and glue, a small first aid kit and personal care kit…..and at one time a £20 note and some Euro’s. In the post i wrote about a incident that occurred when i was temping as navigator aboard a racing maxi – there were some 10 crew aboard all with some version of a ‘posh’ Leatherman or Gerber multitool , on deck there was a problem and then a minor altercation as the owner went off on one : 10 guys and 10 multitools couldn’t undo this one essential shackle and the boss got a bit ‘shouty’. Up comes the old git and hands over a small adjustable spanner and a small molegrip……problem sorted.
Simple Zen rule ; carry things that are actually useful and not those which are fashionable.
The last word/s.
In 2019 i spent 110 days living aboard and cruising aboard my 22 foot Hunter Liberty – during that whole time i think i wore my expensive sailing jacket 3 or 4 times ; once definitely when traversing the Raz de Seine in lumpy/bouncy conditions and once shortly after on a cold and wet passage around the reefs and rocks off the big Eckmuhl lighthouse, Gulvinec and Lesconil. However, i wore my waterproof (mostly) salopettes nearly every day that i was at sea – 5 years and my salopettes have just about had it but my jacket is still pristine. Unless you’re a hardcore offshore race crew spending hours on deck a posh yachting waterproof jacket isn’t worth what you’ll pay for a nice (read fashionable, expensive and with the right logo) one. Our man Dylan Winter favors cheap working men’s waterproof jackets from Screwfix or similar…..seems to me to be on the right lines.
In the same trip i found i really needed a new pair of working shorts so just for giggles i went into the nice chandlery at the marina in Brest where i was waiting for my partner to turn up on the train from Morlaix/Roscoff. A pair of long working shorts with a nice sailing logo and designer name were a cool 80 Euro’s – i walked out with the 2 buckets i actually needed and then walked around to the big supermarket store to do our food shopping….and bought a better quality pair of heavy working shorts for all of 26 Euro’s.
Simple Zen boaters rule…..don’t buy clothes with yachting logo’s and designer’s names, in fact generally don’t buy anything with yachting on the label and even more generally don’t shop in marina chandleries unless there’s something you really need.
To quote a certain Mr Hanks……”That’s all i have to say about that”.