Month: September 2012

What makes a boat popular?

15 years ago I found a gaff cutter for some old friends. She started life as a Cornish sailing fishing boat built in Mevagissey around 1895, typical of hundreds such boats working Cornish inshore waters. Naturally they wanted reassurance that when they came to selling they would not find they had a worthless lump of very old firewood on their hands which I gave them with confidence.

Now 15 years later, 2 voyages to Scotland and back to C ornwall, many great days sailing around the West C ountry, Scilly Isles and the Brittany regattas at Douarnenez and Brest their ownership had run it’s course and she went into the market.

I always thought she was a pretty little boat, she just looked right, she was largely yard maintained, sound and tidy though by no means an immaculate restored boat like some we see but she had a certain charm which is difficult to define though instantly recognised.

At a price in the mid £20s I thought she represented good value for someone who appreciated these West Country sailing fishing boats even if at the upper end of the price range in these hard times. What I did not appreciate was the enthusiasm that would greet her in the market.

Some of you will have noticed her on our web site and disappear quite quickly when she sold within weeks. And if we had 3 more we could place them immediately.

Even after 35 years promoting these lovely old boats I still find it difficult to predict why one boat will attract a keen following while others which may be better value, much better quality or much better presented can hang around in the market for months with little interest.

Putting a value on the boats is not too difficult when you have sat at my desk for so many years. I can advise what work should be done to prepare a yacht for the market, where to put her if there is an option and offer history often unknown to the owner but the one thing I can rarely do is to say when  the yacht will sell. How long is an impossible question to answer as the example of the little gaff cutter clearly demonstrates and price is not always the controlling factor.

It is our impression that the sluggish market we have experienced for the last 3 or 4  years is not just a shortage of cash. If you are in secure employment, life is remarkably cheap with bargains to be had in every sector as business slash their prices to promote sales. I still come across people who are blissfully unaware that there is a big problem out there for many people and I have absolutely no doubt life is difficult for some but I am also aware that the money is still there.

If you part with your hard-earned cash for a significant purchase like a yacht, by and large your money is still there in the boat. However your running costs are spent cash, gone, spent, blown and it is these costs which worry people. Throw in a general lack of confidence in the future and we have a bit of a struggle to find new owners for many yachts, not solved simply by reducing the price.

I hope the present slow market will persuade the infra-structure behind yachting to examine their price structures and ask themselves if they are not actually milking the yachting cow dry.


Now  getting back to that bargain; if I were a betting man,  look at the web site and open the yacht called………………………………………. really?

Scottish visit

I was recently reminded that there can be no better sailing grounds in Europe than the West Coast of Scotland.

I said this to my friends on board their yacht in Troon Marina but was quickly reminded to qualify my admiration of their home waters with a caveat on the weather and the midges.


Crossing over to Hunter’s Quay on the car ferry with the blue mountains of Bute standing high above the blue waters of the Clyde under a bright blue afternoon sky there was nowhere better to be on the water.

They don’t make it easy for passengers on that ferry. No car park, no ticket kiosk, no cafe, no loo, just a ramp alongside the road apparently in the middle of nowhere and an insignificant sign. Car parking for a mile either direction is restricted to an hour so it was a pleasant walk in the afternoon sun.


I was on my way to see the Reg Freeman motor sailer Skelgoose in the Holy Loch. The same owner also had a fine little Silvers-built motor sailer and an exquisite Merron sailing yacht tender so it was a busy afternoon.


We looked at the Merron in the store at the top of the club slipway. A little beauty and quite a rarity, especially in this condition. She is an Arthur Robb design built in cold-moulded mahogany so minimum fastenings, relatively light and very strong. She had been the pride and joy of the previous owner for a very long time who apparently fitted her for cruising with lots of fascinating little details. She is totally complete and absolutely ready for use as a tender on your superyacht.

We sold the Reg Freeman ketch nearly 20 years ago for a London owner, then lying in the South of France. She came back to the East Coast and we lost touch with her until she turned up again on the Clyde. She seems to have slipped a little in condition over past years but is definitely on the way back up again in present ownership. She is clean and tidy, the engines have been rebuilt and upgraded to new spec and she is in full working order and ready to sail.

She must have been an expensive boat when she was built, all teak hull, twin engines and a good sized rig. The midships helm position is reminiscent of the bridge in The Cruel Sea but she also has an interior helm position for the more delicate helmsman as long as he does not need to see anything.

Reg Freeman was a tall man so his boats usually have good head-room and a feel of space – what I call a dressing-gown boat. You can wander around her as you would at home with no bending or crawling and all in 40’.

She has many interesting features like the railway carriage windows in the deck-house which drop down into a drained copper box or the saloon table which the owner apparently designed himself. It pivots, folds open, extends and transforms itself into either a coffee table or a dining table for 6.

The most startling feature is the blue galley. Formica was the obligatory modern hygienic materiel at the time but to our tastes it is a bit striking.


I was reminded of the day I took a lady to see a 45’ Camper and Nicholson sloop. I opened the heads door to reveal a light blue formica speckled with a gold fleck – awful. I was explaining to the lady that the finish the surface could be changed to whatever she wanted when she stopped me sharply – “What” says she,” and loose that exquisite original material, never in my ownership”.

There is no accounting for taste and fortunately we are all different. What a wonderful world!

The little Silver motor sailer was fascinating. She appears to have been an early version of the later Miss Silver design which proved so popular for the yard. Again, lots of lovely period features in her construction and finish, lots of fine old varnished teak, a slightly tight forward cabin but thre is a galley and a separate heads compartment and a nice aft cabin with a decent double berth. You would probably spend a lot of time on board in the lovely sheltered midships cock-pit and the wonderful old diesel which showed all the signs of being in perfect health. It has probably done fewer hours than my builder’s cement mixer.

The owner reports surprising sailing performance even though she is blatently a motor sailer, a feature I have personally confirmed several times in the past with John Bain designs.  I took a Miss Silver out of Dartmouth one day for a trial sail and was amazed at how well she went. Another time, a 36’ John Bain motor sailer left us in her wake in a Holman North Sea 24 when sailing with free sheets.

Just stuffed with character and with a good recent survey she will become one of the family for whoever buys her.
We are often asked to take on the sale of boats built in other materials as well as wood. We always refuse GRP because it is not a materiel we are familiar with, we are not up to speed with modern boats and we prefer to talk of designs and sea conditions rather than carpets, curtain and digital gadgets.

My car, my TV, my old iron and my computer all have built in recycyling costs but apparently modern grp yachts do not. Who is going to pay to get rid of all that white plastic? What are they going to do with it all? Who is going to deal with it? What do you do if you can’t give your old boat away?

At least we can put a match to our wooden boats and they revert to nature but  tons of white plastic looks like yet another nightmare for future generations.

Have you noticed that over the years highly skilled men have found ways to adapt rigid trees into some of the most beautiful shapes ever produced by man yet now they have plastic which can be moulded quickly and cheaply into any shape required they produce some of the most unfortunate yachts on the water. Who designs these things?

That said, I have some sympathy with steel as a boat building medium. It is more difficult to work than wood thus restricting design especially in smaller boats but does not require the same skills as wood. It is strong of course and more impact resistant for a given weight, steel build costs are much cheaper but corrosion is a bigger issue than in wood and maintenance is just as much work and not usually as pleasant.

By and large wood repairs are easier and cheaper and more open to the amateur requiring far lower technology. You can build a wooden boat with a bag of hand tools but you require some hi-tech stuff to build a steel boat.

My friends in Troon have a very fine big Dutch-built steel ketch, they have decided that she is just too powerful for them so she has to go so we agreed to take it on.

In this size of boat, you might be mistaken for thinking she is wood. A traditional yet quite modern yacht shape, she is varnished hardwood everywhere you look, a teak deck and has a nice feel to her.

Big centre cock-pit, an aft cabin which is comfortable even for my chum – who is not a small man – and his wife, 2 separate twin berth cabins forward, a good saloon, adjacent galley, dedicated engine room and all the gizmos of course. The rig is powerful yet manageable but this sail area does require a certain degree of fitness and agility though of course roller reefing headsails and self tailing winches make a huge difference and I reckon can add 10 years to our sailing lives.