Boat Show Reflections

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By Rich

As I suspected might be the case, we got a lot more out of sailboat walk-throughs during this year’s boat show than last year. Why? Because last year we attended almost immediately after buying our 1989 Sabre 42, while this year we had the benefit of a full year’s worth of extended cruising and living aboard. Here are my reflections after this year’s show:

  • The show is great fun, but is best used by serious buyers only to narrow down the range of choices. Walking through a show-prepped boat will give a general sense of  interior layouts and quality but two vital perspectives can’t be gained there: 1) how the boats sail and 2) how much / what form of storage they offer. Point #1 is obvious but point #2 is less so. Many of the boats appearing in the show are privately owned and the exhibitors (understandably) ask show attendees not to open drawers, cabinets, etc.  Our summer living aboard showed us that the form and volume of storage are vital criteria for serious cruising, but it was hard to learn much about the different brands’ offerings at the show. Serious buyers should take their short list and be sure to get an in-depth test sail of the candidates before putting down a deposit. Better yet, buyers considering a production boat can charter  models that interest them!
  • Serious buyers who are considering a new boat should walk through examples of the same brand that are offered on the used market to see how the product will wear over time. Some construction techniques “show” fine when new but will age very badly. Here is one example: Jeanneau creates slots in the overhead liner into which the bulkhead tops are inserted:

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Editor’s note: In the photo above, the bulkhead slot is unused because Jeanneau uses a standardized overhead liner for multiple cabin layouts. Unused bulkhead slots therefore are seen on many of their models. The gap between the slots and the bulkhead is filled with white caulk. When new, at a boat show, the installation looks fine:

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But over time the calk can shrink, yellow, and even attract black mold. We saw this first hand on our nearly-new Jeanneau charter boat a couple of years ago:

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To be fair, I don’t mean to pick on Jeanneau. In fact, their current product line is by far my favorite design language of any of the production boats and is the only one I would seriously consider for coastal cruising. We found the 409 we chartered in the BVIs to be an attractive, nice sailing boat. That being said an informed buyer will want to fully understand the manner in which such an expensive new luxury item will age. From this perspective, my feeling about the current Jeanneaus is “love the design, have some wish list items for the build.”

  • The used boat (“brokerage”) market creates extremely stiff competition for new boat manufacturers at present. We liked three semi-custom builders at the show: Hylas, Passport, and Outbound. Each of these three manufacturers exhibited excellent build quality – at least as far as the eye could see at a boat show. To whit, an interior photo of the Passport:

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Drool….

That being said, a little boat-porn shopping online after the show (or a walk over to the brokerage boat show!) and a buyer can find much better financial values than any new boat currently on the market. One storied brand (which shall remain nameless – I have friends who both own and sell this brand) in particular currently demands prices that are jaw-droppingly out of line with the products they offer.

While the idea of having a brand new boat built and tailored to one’s desires is a very exciting prospect — and we totally ‘get’ why the financially well-off would go for it — for our dollar we’d have a hard time  spending multiples of what we’d need to spend on a used boat. But there are trade-offs. Used boat buyers will need to budget for higher maintenance costs or be ready to roll up their sleeves like I did, the day after the show ended, to do things like replacing the Sabre’s bilge pump float valve:

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While considering our next boat purchase, then, our attention is firmly on the brokerage market for the perfect two-couple blue water cruiser between 50 and 60 feet long. We’d love more than anything to consider having one of these wonderful semi-custom new boats built but unless one of us hits it big either in the lottery or on an angel-round investment a new boat purchase will remain firmly in the realm of our dreams.

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