A repower, new auto, more solar, lithium?, a water maker, more tankage. Oh my! Mine and Phillip’s heads were swimming. It felt like we were on the spinny tea-cup ride at the Magic Kingdom. But, we were committed. Although we had not envisioned tackling such an extensive overhaul to Plaintiff’s Rest until it was time to really, really go, Covid taught us the “time to go” shouldn’t be some amorphous mirage on the horizon. Now that we know the world can change in an instant, we knew we had to pursue our goal of full-time cruising with immediacy and far more tenacity. “Now is the time,” became our motto. And, with Plaintiff’s Rest already on the hard undergoing Hurricane Sally repairs, it seemed a prime time for us to finally get her cruise-the-world ready.
This started a conversation that Phillip and I would have over and again—end over end, end at the beginning and start again at the end—over the course of two dizzying weeks. Not only would this be a huge lifestyle change, i.e. switching from commuter cruisers who lived and worked aboard only part of the year to full-time liveaboards, full-time cruisers, the necessary overhaul to the boat, we knew, was also going to be a large financial investment. And, we know all boats are depreciating assets. Well, that’s putting it lightly, they are holes that we throw money into (because they throw adventure, pleasure, thrills, and mysteries right back). Generally speaking, you’re always going to lose money on a boat. Knowing that, and knowing we were about to throw a lot of money into our own hole, mine and Phillip’s motivation and reasoning became laser-focused on one goal: minimize our loss. We also knew the decision had to be void of emotion. While it pained us both to even think about parting with our 1985 Niagara 35, this was our future, our money, and the way in which we were about to spend the remainder of our most valuable commodity: our time. We simply could not let a decision of this magnitude hinge on “aww … poor girl, we just can’t do that to her.” If the wiser decision called for it, we were going to have to do that to her.
Phillip and I were approaching this as calculating professionals, focusing on the economic basics: minimizing our losses and maximizing our gains (the non-economic kind that is, all that a boat can offer, because the hole never really “fills”). Once we considered everything in tandem, with hyper-focus on our losses and gains in trying to decide whether to invest in our Niagara or prepare to tack, it soon became undeniably clear …
It’s time to buy a new boat.
Here’s how we got there.
MINIMIZING OUR LOSSES
Unfortunately, no matter how capable, clean, simple (and how incredibly wonderful!) our Niagara is, she comes with an undeniable truth. She’s 36-years old. She has already depreciated significantly and will only continue to depreciate every day. And, she will never sell for an amount equal to or greater than what we paid for her, no matter how many fancy systems we install. And, while I’ll readily admit I am no economist, I would imagine, after the initial large knock in depreciation (the “minute you drive off the lot” dive), that it’s a graduated scale thereafter, depreciating more slowly in the early years and more rapidly each year after she’s hit her third decade. Again, just a guess. But, I’ll bet I’m not wrong. Any boat that is only 5-10 years is going to hold its value better than our Niagara who will soon approach 40 years in age.
This meant every dollar we put into her to “make her” the cruising boat we felt we needed to do the kind of full-time liveaboard cruising abroad we had decided to do now, Phillip and I would never get back. That was simply a fact. Whereas, if we put those dollars into a new, or slightly used, boat that already had all of those systems and upgrades, we would likely be able to re-sale a newer boat and recover a much larger percentage of the amount we purchased her for. Hence, by buying a newer boat, we would undoubtedly minimize our loss if, for whatever reason, we had to sell her. The reality of it pained us, but it could not be ignored or denied. If we overhauled, all of that money would simply be embedded into Plaintiff’s Rest. Six zeros forever fiber-glassed into her hull, come what may. Would we enjoy the hell out of her with all of her new systems and the new places she would take us? Absolutely. But she would never be able to give us any portion of our overhaul money back. So, under the minimizing our loss category it was Niagara 00, New Boat 01. But, I mentioned “come what may.” That was our next quandary: insurance.
Another sad truth that struck us in wrestling with this decision: a large financial sum dumped into Plaintiff’s Rest would not change her insurable hull value. There would be no way to insure her for any amount that could guarantee we could recoup any portion of the cost of the overhaul if the worse happened. The upgrade itself was not insurable. This was a major concern. Having just (barely) survived Hurricane Sally in September of 2020, Phillip and I (and every sailor in Pensacola) are all too aware of how possible it is for a hurricane to sneak up on you in the Gulf and devastate your community, and most of the boats in it. If the worst happened, and another hurricane walloped us next year and, sadly, sunk our Niagara, our insurance company would only pay up to her hull value, which is a mere fraction of what it would cost to overhaul her.
Her surviving would be our only protection and that’s simply not guaranteed. Particularly where her extensive repairs, and the time they would require, would likely leave her, yet again, in Pensacola—well within the hurricane box—for hurricane season next year. Our plan, if we did keep her, was to haul out at the first sign of a storm and keep her hauled the entire hurricane season 2021, but that’s still no guarantee she’d survive inside the box. What was worse, at the time (December of 2021) our insurance on the Niagara was set to cancel in April with no other insurers writing policies at the time, due to the massive hurricane damage on the coast. So, there was a chance we would not be able to insure her at all, even for just a fraction of the money we were about to put into her. If we did overhaul our boat and she suffered some devastating damage in the coming years, our loss would be total. With a new(er) boat, however, we could easily insure not only the boat but all of her bells and whistles, too, and, at the very least, recoup our purchase price if something were to happen to her. Considering the insurance, over and above the inability to recoup any of our overhaul dollars in a resale, put the Niagara at another disadvantage: Niagara 00; New Boat 02.
MAXIMIZING OUR (NON-ECONOMIC GAINS) – LIFE ABOARD A COMPLEX BOAT
This realization got Phillip and I seriously thinking about going an entirely different direction. Should we get a … we banished the thought the minute it struck our minds. But maybe it’s time to … Scandalous! After enough toying around with it—a back and forth, end over end conversation that unraveled and rewired us—and considering the gravity of the cost, the repercussions, and the life we wanted to live going forward, we finally started to allow ourselves to at least entertain the thought of … (don’t say it … okay say it!) … getting a new boat. The minute this little door unlocked in our minds it instantly flooded our brains. It was a Pandora’s Box of wonders, fears, and emotions. A new boat? More systems? More water? Hot water? We could have hot water? Copious amounts of it? Fuel, too? A generator? AC, could it be? Don’t say it! Say it. But, Jesus, the complexity of those systems?! I’ll be honest, lithium kind of blows my mind. I don’t understand its voodoo magic. I also don’t know how to pickle a water maker. I’ve never worked on a hot water heater. I don’t want more thru-hulls. And, a boat with all of those extra systems will undoubtedly have to be bigger. Phillip and I were fully aware that in adding all of the things we were talking about adding to our Niagara, it would cramp what little extra stow space we felt blessed to have. But, we didn’t really want anything too much bigger, or heavier, as our Niagara had proven over the years to be just the right size for Phillip and I to single-hand as needed and easily jointly maneuver her or (when needed) man-handle her, even, if the occasion called for it.
Honestly, toying with the idea of a newer, bigger, more complicated, more costly boat wasn’t an instant “Yes!” for us, as we have always (always!) stuck to our mantra to K.I.S.S: Keep It Simple Sailor. Phillip and I adore the simplicity of Plaintiff’s Rest and relish in the fact that we know her. Every nut, every bolt. We know how to troubleshoot and repair every system. There is a lot of value in reaching that status, and we would simply be giving all of that up in switching to a new boat. Sure, much of our knowledge base—the mechanics of the diesel engine, the physics of plumbing and pressure, how pumps work, how to change the impeller, how to wire gizmos up, running batteries in parallel versus series, all things that function marginally the same on all boats—would translate, but not all of it. Purchasing a newer boat, with all the bells and whistles, would require a considerable amount of new time devoted to research and learning all of the new, far more complex systems as well as maintaining, troubleshooting, and repairing them. However, if we wanted to work aboard, which would be a heck of lot easier in a comfortable, spacious, quiet, climate-controlled interior cabin, Phillip and I had to take that lifestyle with all of the fancy systems it would require. As with just about everything when it comes to boats, it was a tradeoff. For that reason, this consideration—going from simple to complex—was a bit tougher than the first and resulted in only a slight win for New Boat: Niagara 00.4; New Boat 02.6.
Quality (of Life Aboard)
With New Boat in the lead, however, I think this final factor became our real tipping point. Our goal was to maximize our quality of life aboard by finding a boat that would not only allow us to minimize our loss (if the world flipped itself on its head again, or our health or financial circumstances changed) either through insurance or resale but one that would also let us live and work comfortably aboard full-time, that would carry us safely and quickly everywhere but was also fun to day-sail (think, not an 8-foot draft tank), that was practical but exceptionally well-built, beautiful but as simple as comfort would allow. Simply put, we wanted to find a premiere ocean cruiser. This sent us skittering down approximately 43.29 different paths (two more tickets for the tea cups please), considering boat after boat, slightly used, newly built, ones on back-order, others that were turn-key. We looked at Tartans, Hylases, Hallberg Rassies, for a brief crazy minute, the twin-keeled Sirius 40 deck saloon, even the aluminum-hulled Ovni 40. We were all over the place! But, we let our quest to maximize what we wanted to get out of the boat guide us in asking the important questions. What systems and design features were truly the most important to the life we wanted to live aboard?
This was our short, shifting list:
- Exceptional build quality with well thought-out design throughout
- Designed and equipped for crossing oceans
- Comfortable and intuitive design features for real world use
- Flexible sail plan that just the two of us would feel comfortable handling
- Proven design
- A draft under seven feet
- A mast height less than 65 feet
- Ideally no more than 40 feet in length
- Self-sufficiency built into the design (i.e., adequate diesel and water tanks)
- Alternative energy sources and impressive battery bank (ideally solar and lithium batteries)
- Space to potentially install a water maker or generator
- Comfortable and moderate cockpit (not too big but not too small) with the ability to brace and lay down while offshore and lounge and live-in when on anchor
- Minimal freeboard
- We liked the deck saloon or at least a close feel to it that offered an easy transition, and a connection, from cockpit to saloon
- Just one helm with the ability to walk around it comfortably getting in/out of the water
- Great visibility of the waterline 360-degrees
- Once I saw newer boats have “workshops” that became an Annie must
- A performance sailor
- An interior layout that we liked
- Exceptional space for stowage
- In other words, a Unicorn!
All of these things offered a completely different—not easier—but a more opportunistic, comfortable, safer cruising lifestyle. She would be more costly, sure, bigger to handle and dock, sure, more maintenance, sure, but …
Can you feel it? You’re starting to tip! Stay tuned next time. Now that we have shared our thought process on whether to overhaul our 1985 Niagara 35 versus buying a new or slightly used boat, we’re excited to share our boat hunt with you. Boy was it dizzying! If you were shopping for a new or slightly used boat right now, tell us, what boats would you consider to be at the top of your list?
Any guesses as to what boat we decided to go with are welcome!