Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Buying a boat?

Buying a boat to convert, especially a big old steel boat?

I'm posting this because I fairly regularly get asked about what is involved by people who come across my blog. I honestly didn't mean to buy a boat, now I have four of them....

I had no boating experience at all before buying Lady Jane, had not even been to sea or driven a boat before. A ferry across to France and a few spins in a friend's yacht was about it for me.

I've said several times that if I knew then what I now know, I would never have bought Lady Jane. Having said that, now I have her, I love both her and the lifestyle - including the hard work. I've found that in general, boating folks are great people and it is wonderful to be by the sea.

Before buying a boat, my best advice would be to find a surveyor you feel you can trust and don't worry too much about how much you pay for a thorough out of the water survey of your intended. It will be worth it in the long run. I relied on a survey done for the previous owners, which I now realise was a terrible mistake.

You may not like what the surveyor has to say, especially if you really like the boat and couldn't find anything else like her. If you do decide to buy the boat, at least you will have a reliable starting point and possibly more negotiating power over the seller.

My biggest problems have been as a result of things I discovered only once I started, simply because I did not know any better at the time. For example, what rust looks like in all it's forms and how easily rust all the way through apparently good steel can remain hidden until you start to chip it. - see the back deck, fuel tank and stern accommodation entries.

There seems to be all sorts of people who are only too happy to dispense advice, though in practice I've found many people don't know what they're talking about, and some are angling for work for themselves. No two people can seem to agree on paint systems for example. I've listened to many folks and made my own mind up based on what I've heard, internet research, trial and error and listening to the advice of the manufacturers.

I do listen to what people have to say though, and distil out the useful stuff for myself. On that subject, I would say that people who really know their stuff are worth their weight in gold.

A major consideration is the sheer amount of money you are likely to spend. I now track all the money I'm spending in the following classes on a monthly basis, each of which is a significant amount:

Painting - paint, paint brushes, rollers
Tools etc - wrenches, compressors, table saws.. the list is endless
Materials - insulation, wood, steel (all expensive stuff when you add it up)
Electrics - Wiring, invertors, generators etc.
Plumbing - Piping, taps, joints
Consumables - fuel, oil, propane, oxygen, cleaning fluids etc.
Safety - helmets, gloves, life jackets, goggles, fire extinguishers
Labour - Welding, general assistance
Moorings and services
Tender/Rib - Fuel, oil, spares etc.
Other - Whatever does not fit above

At some point I'll have to spend money on a radar, depth finders, VHF radios etc, which I'm dreading. Oh yes and I've not really done anything about qualifications yet, which will no doubt incur a significant cost.

One final point is the overall lifestyle - Although a lot of fun, it is a very committing project. Right now I'm spending up to three and a half days a week working on Lady Jane, with some evenings spent doing homework such as welding etc. I'm also planning on working down on the boat some evenings as well. This is hard on relationships, friends, other hobbies. I'm hoping at some point to be able to live on Lady Jane and rent out my house, this will save money/yield more money for the boat, and will also mean only one set of housework!

Ok, I know I'm sounding negative here, but forewarned is forearmed. If you know about this stuff in advance then you are prepared for it. As I said, I love it and am really looking forward to having Lady Jane looking good when I finally take her out for a spin - hopefully late in the summer.

As to sources of information - I've just bought Metal Boats by Bruce Roberts but have not had the time to read any of it yet. While the book is a little thinner than I was expecting for a book covering everything about metal boats, it does appear to be pretty good.

There are plenty of websites out there, though none I consistently use. As to other projects I know of, see http://timzim.blogspot.com/2005/12/another-one.html

The learning never stops.

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  1. "There seems to be all sorts of people who are only too happy to dispense advice, though in practice I've found many people don't know what they're talking about, and some are angling for work for themselves."

    Tim, truer words have never been spoken.

  2. There seems to be all sorts of people who are only too happy to dispense advice
    I'm gunna do it, too. Well, offer a suggestion, anyway. I've been thinking about your problems chipping rust. Have you thought about using a needle gun like boilermakers use for chipping welds? They aren't cheap and you need about a 13cfm compressor (min) to run them, so you might like to find a friendly bucket-head and borrow his to see if it would work over large areas before shelling out your hard-earned.

  3. No advice to offer (although I wish I did if it would be of help), only my sincerest admiration for the task you have undertaken. I'm sure it will all be worth it in the end, and you'll look back and laugh at the problems that paved the way to your labour of love being completed. I have the greatest respect for your project, and wish you all the best with it. I for one look forward to seeing Lady Jane finished - and then your real adventures can begin.

  4. Hi dirk

    I have a needle gun (the on-board compressor is pretty good). I've found that the air hammer and it's assortment of heads seems to be better for the job, as the rust is so deeply imbedded into the steel in places nothing short of brute force focused behind a chisel or pointy bit shifts it.

  5. Hi Gina

    Thanks for the comment.

  6. Hi Shaun

    Thanks for commenting.

    What I usually find is that, in retrospect, the toughest jobs were not really so bad after all. It's actually getting started that's the difficult bit.

    This whole thing is a big adventure.