Yachting and Boating World put out a request asking for peoples experiences on buying their first boat. A handful of people offered their stories but they picked mine, I think because the journalist Katy Stickland was shocked I managed to talk my wife into letting me buy Sundance 8 weeks after having our first child!
Only a few snippts were used so I thought I would post up the rest of what I sent her.
I made the fatal mistake of being enchanted by one particular type of boat. I saw a very clean Albin Ballad moored up on Plymouth whilst visiting friends, I remember it’s beautiful lines and modest size. Next to the bigger modern boats it looked small but purposeful, big enough to take friends and family out but small enough to handle solo and maybe something I could afford one day. I had been looking at smaller cheaper boats, I lusted for a wooden Folkboat but knew I didn’t have the time and money to keep one. I then looked at an even cheaper Corribee, similar lines, affordable and a good reputation. I would have been happy sailing it but if I wanted to make a sailor out of my wife I would have to have a few more creature comforts, like standing headroom and a proper head!
We had been married just over a year and our first child was 8 weeks old when I bought Sundance. I had been brought up sailing dinghies and loved the freedom and independence it had given me, I wanted the same for my son. As with most young couples we had each been saving towards a house deposit but with house prices increasing every time we got close we decided we needed to live our lives now, not miss out on living for the sake of owning our own house. There’s no point waiting to buy a boat when you retire, because you may not be able to sail it when you get there. Having the little man meant my wife, Louise would be going back to work part time which would reduce our income and if a second bundle of joy came along it could be another five years or more before we could get a mortgage big enough to buy a family home. We are both good with money, we don’t have any debt and as long as the bills get paid we spend or save what’s left of our own earning as we feel fit. Although buying the boat was more to satisfy my wanting to get back into sailing, it’s an opportunity to spend time together as a family, have short breaks and bring our children up with some common sense and logical thinking sailing requires.
There’s a lot that can go wrong at sea and I want to eliminate as much risk as possible and although you can’t eliminate everything you can try to minimise it as much as possible. With dreams of crossing the Atlantic solo one day, apart from sinking and fire, three things that I wanted to minimise was the loss of the mast, the rudder and the keel. The more I researched the Ballad on owners groups and websites ( www.albinballad.co.uk is a great site with lots of information run by a couple sailing with their two small children) the more I convinced myself it was the ideal first boat for me. Firstly they were built in the 70’s the age of thick fibreglass and with an encapsulated keel I wouldn’t have any keel bolts to worry about. On top of the keel stands the mast, I have never liked the idea of deck stepped masts, there’s a lot of weight and force pushing down on not a lot underneath it. The thought of the mast on a solid block at the bottom of the hull puts my mind at ease (the Ballads achilles heel is the mast step so it’s worth checking it and reading up on what’s involved in repairing it). Lastly the rudder is skeg hung so although it’s not guaranteed hopefully it will protect it from objects under the surface. They also fall in just below the upper size limit for the Jester Challenge, something I’ve been following for a few years now, the Ballad seemed a great base for a Jester boat.
Deciding a Ballad was the boat for me I started looking at online classifieds, forums and owners groups. I had been looking at Ballads for a number of years whilst saving and selling everything of value. There’s only a few Ballads come up for sale each year in the UK, and I even started looking at adverts in Europe. In the end I posted a wanted advert on a Facebook yachting buy and sell page where I had a response from a Ballad owner in South Wales. It was only a few hours drive from my home in landlocked Shropshire so was worth going to have a look despite not having much information on the boat.
I met the owner of Sundance at Newport and Uskmouth Sailing Club and made my second mistake, falling head over heels with Sundance as soon as I saw her. I decided with my heart if the mast step, rigging, sails and engine were good and the owner was being realistic in it’s value I would buy her. I had actually seen her on a YouTube video I watched a few weeks before of the 2004 Three Peaks Yacht Race, Sundance was heading out to the start. She had just been taken out of the water and was sitting on the hard, it was ideal for having a good look around the boat. It was obvious the boat although had been looked after but was showing her age. She still had hank on sails, roller boom reefing, no self tailers and the lines were all on the mast, pros and cons to all. The instruments were ageing but she had a decent Beta 14 and a very good condition main, No1 and No4. Knowing the Ballad market and my budget we agreed a fair price for Sundance, a second viewing a week later the deal was done. Everything seemed right for me, it was the boat I wanted, close to home, within my budget with the right amount of updating to make the boat work for me.
I now owned a boat but didn’t have anywhere to keep it! I had planned on keeping the boat in North Wales as it was a good drive from where we lived and mooring are reasonably priced. My visit to NUSC was one big reason I bought that boat. The club is in the grounds of a power station so security is very good, the members are friendly, helpful, normal every day working people like myself. It’s also very cheap to keep a boat there, and without the club being so affordable I’m not sure I could afford the annual cost of keeping and maintaining a boat.
If you were looking at buying your first boat I would say, research it, speak to owners, find out the problems and keep an eye on the market to see what they’re selling for. If you’ve decided on one particular boat, be prepared to wait for the right one to come along. If you’re boating on a budget make sure you allow for gear that goes with owning your own boat, you can’t just buy yourself a life jacket, you need enough for the crew as well. You’ll need charts, flares, life lines and even things like an inflatable or a bosun’s chair, it all adds up. Get to know the boat, do as much work on it as you can, learn where everything is, get a handover sail with the previous owner if possible so you can get a feel for how the boat reacts in close quarters. There’s one thing knowing how to sail but it’s another thing manoeuvring your pride and joy in a tight marina when the wind is picking up other peoples boats are meters away from you, get some experience in a similar boat.
I had looked at crewing websites before but working full time including Saturdays and not being a member at a club it was hard to find someone willing to take you out. Being part of a club and talking to people opens up doors you can’t through a screen. I wish I had found and joined the club beforehand, I would have found plenty of people needed crew, so much so it’s possible I could have done all the sailing I wanted without actually spending any money on a boat! In reality though, I wanted to own my own boat, my own sanctuary something that could take me anywhere on all the adventures I wanted, and it was mine. They say an Englishman’s house is his castle, well mine is my boat.