How I bought my used cruising sailboat

After my initial experience working to bring a little Coronado 15 racing dinghy back to life, I decided that I wanted a more substantial cruising sailboat. I wanted to copy Christian Williams’ trip to Hawaii, my original motivation to get back into sailing.

General Research

The Ericson 32 model choice narrowed down my search. I did some internet reading. There’s plenty of comment on message boards, but here’s a good article from Practical Sailor:

Given my experience with the little Coronado 15, I came to appreciate that I wanted to buy as new of a boat as possible. I learned the Ericson story – Bruce King, the 1990 dissolution, the next chapter with Pacific Seacraft. I started looking at boats.

Boat Visits

Back in Vallejo, where I had my C15 (mis)-adventures, there are several marinas. One is city-owned, and it is affordable by Bay Area standards. However, sometimes people rent a berth, and then they stop paying rent. Eventually the marina forecloses on the boats and puts them up for auction. I looked at an Ericson 27 (mid 70’s) that I suspect I could have had for a few hundred dollars. It was grubby outside. I had done enough reading to recognize the Atomic 4 engine. It may not have been a diamond, but there sure was a lot of rough. Besides, it was a 27, and I was supposed to be looking for a 32.

I moved on to Craigslist. I found a listing for 70’s 32-2 that a young guy had in Alameda. I think he wanted $14k. He had some great pictures that made the boat seem like it was in good shape. Housing has become so expensive in the San Francisco Bay that creative people are more and more seeking opportunities to live-aboard boats. This seller had done that. The boat, in person, was grubby. It also had an Atomic 4, which was quite loud in person. The gasoline scent permeated the cabin. I wanted to like it, but it was too much. And it’s a hull-stepped mast. I wanted the 32-3 series, keel stepped.

I tried to see another 1970’s 32-2 Craigslist listing. I don’t know if the seller was tired of showing it to people. He told me over e-mail that he would let it go for $4k to an experienced sailor. Maybe I didn’t come across as enough of an experienced sailor. Probably for the best I never convinced him to show it to me.

The next boat I saw was an ‘85 32-3. It had been outfitted with some racing accoutrements – an adjustable backstay and a rigid vang. The interior was kind of a mess. It looked like a dog had gnawed the upholstery apart. He was asking something in the low 30’s for the boat. I came to understand that he had the boat in contract the previous year and was unwilling to meet his buyers requests on request for repair. He seemed to still harbor some ill feelings about the experience. The other think I found problematic about the boat was the layout. I’m 6’4” and 225. I found it unlikely that I could ever really want to use a child-sized toilet, at sea, in such a diminutive head space. Ohh, but there was another boat out there for me, just for me: The 32-200.

I moved on from craigslist and over to Yachtworld. A local high-volume broker had a 1990 listing for a 32-3 for $39k. That seemed like a fancy price, but I had seen the low end of the market and thought I should see the high. We met at the South Beach harbor, and lo and behold, this 32-3 had a much larger head and the interior layout was different. It was only later I came to appreciate that the 32-200 is a 32-3 with a different, (and in my mind) much preferable layout.

Everything was in decent shape (so it seemed, so I wanted it to seem). There were sail covers, a dodger. I could see myself bringing the family on an overnight trip in the cabin in a way that I could not with the gas-fumed Atomics, or the ratted out alternative 32-3 I had just seen. “He’ll probably accept something in the low 30’s,” the broker said. I bid 31. He offered 34. I took it for the contract price.

I’ve spent the past 10 years buying, fixing, and selling real estate for profit. The haggling part is distasteful to me, but understandable when one is committing to a 30 year mortgage, huge debt. I was probably a great buyer for the broker. I just wanted the boat, it was as young of a boat as I could find, and it was the layout and model I wanted. I simply agreed. I also like the idea of leaving the transaction with an amicable relationship with the seller, because he would know a tremendous more about the boat than I do now. So far it has worked and he has answered a couple of questions for me.

I add this in part because I have seen a few references on the Ericson forum with people squeezing the last dollar out of a seller “I got ‘im to credit me X for this problem then I fixed it for pennies the next day.” On one hand I appreciate the hard-nosed negotiation, but, man if someone tried that with me, I’d probably tell them to eat the cost of their survey and buy elsewhere.

One lesson I would convey to others in a similar position, is that if you are buying a boat with a broker, you should be able to ask for and receive a report from that brokers for the relevant model from “SoldBoats” which is an information sharing resource for brokers to see where boats actually trade hands, not list. I eventually got this report later in the process, but it would have been better to get the information up front. It seems like Ericsons trade for a bit of a premium on the West Coast, perhaps because they are better known here? Maybe there are a few other people like me who like Chris’s videos.

So, into contract at 34K. We got a survey. He pointed out a few things. I really haven’t addressed any of them yet. The surveyor didn’t point out that the wheel brake was useless and that I was missing one of my in-boom reefing lines. Those are the actual sailing problems I’m currently trying to correct. He didn’t review all of the operability the through-hulls. But overall, he did a good job I think and found a loose rudder post. I was initially panicked, but after some time on the forum, it seems like this a problem that shows up with some regularity. The seller was able to get it tightened up before we closed.

I took the surveyor’s list of items to be fixed, I made some guesses at how much they would cost. I asked the broker for his estimates, and then asked for a credit from the seller. I need new lifelines, standing rigging, some other stuff. Traded price after the credit was $30k. I expect my year 1 cost will be another 50% on top of that. Maybe my boat would sell for $15K in Kansas or Texas. But I think it would take at least that much to put it on a truck and get it here. (If it doesn’t, somebody should start doing the Midwest/California Ericson arbitrage.) But anyway, this is a money-barfing hobby. I’m in it for the fun and adventure. There’s a price and value for that.

“Day 1: Let’s get this thing to Sausalito without running into anything.”

Sailing to Sausalito from San Francisco.

I’m planning another rambling entry on how I am approaching my boat renovation/re-commissioning process.