Buying a boat online.
Disclaimer: This is a technical primer for those who want to know.
When we started this process it was inconceivable to me that we would buy a boat online without ever setting eyes on it. My plan was to go through all the on line postings for European Canal Cruisers on Apollo Duck and H2O and EYN and other boat broker sites. I would narrow the search to six boats and then fly over to Europe to inspect them and decide which one to put in an offer on. Along the way of narrowing my search down I began to realize that the functional and aesthetic requirements that I was using (more on these later) had brought me to the point that I could narrow the final six down to the one that best suited us. The next step was going to be technical and made by a professional survey of the one that I picked. In other words the myriad of pictures and specifications that I analyzed to make my choice were entirely possible to do online.
Some people of earlier generations that I talked with had flown to Europe and bought a camper. They had then spent several months travelling from boat yard to boatyard looking at boats until finally narrowing down their search to one that they felt ready to put in an offer on. Actually quite an enjoyable process in its own right with the potential for lots of adventures which is of course is what travelling is all about.
In this more immediate and connected age once I had chosen a boat from the online offerings I hired a surveyor to do a technical survey of all the specifications of the boat that was at the top of the list. Obviously the two top features were the hull condition and the engine. Then the other systems such as a bow thruster, heat and hot water, generators and inverters, fuel and water tanks, toilets and black water systems, and finally the quality of finishes such as wood work and upholstery.
So here we are today as I write, close to the final chapter in the process. We have just arrived in Holland and have seen the boat for the first time. On Monday we will sign the final papers of transfer of owner’ship’
Our initial criteria for selecting the boat for our European adventure were developed from two previous summer charters, the first on Bill Wolferstan’s Linquenda skippered by his son Jonathan, a 65 foot Dutch sailing Tjalk on the beautiful Canal de Nivernais in the Burgundy region of France. The second on a 38 foot Dutch steel cruiser self drive charter in Holland which we drove on a loop from Utrecht to Gouda to Amsterdam. We had also camped for a few nights on Marc Pakingham’s 72 Dutch barge in Rouen in central France. And one other influence was the classic cuteness of the English narrow boats of the Birmingham canals.
The first decision then, was between the romance, tradition and large size of the dutch barges, the cute and very narrow tradition of the English barges or the more modern mid sized Dutch steel cruisers. At this point price definitely became a factor. The large classic barges in good condition are typically well over €100,000. The English narrow boats start at about £40,000 and the Dutch steel cruisers start at about €30,000. Our basic criteria were clear. A comfortable live aboard for a year or more, not a project boat, i.e. ready to sail away, not too expensive, easily resalable at the end of the trip. A floating Chevy RV. The Dutch steel cruiser was the boat most likely to fill the bill. Although another contender was a retired charter boat from one of the charter companies such as LeBoat which start at about €40,000.
The first boatyard that I toured was in St Jean de Losne where the boat broker H2O has a large basin which has become a sales centre for all types of canal cruisers mostly with British owners it seems. I was visiting Mark who was having some re-plating done to the bottom of his barge. I looked at about 10 boats of which two were charter boats, seven were Dutch cruisers and the rest were more traditional barges. The Dutch cruisers were the ones that attracted me for ease of owning, handling and resale. One had been owned by an English couple for twenty years and they had lived on it full time for twelve years. It was for sale for €75,000 and compared favourably to others at over €100,000. It sold in two weeks.
So when I began my online search I was open to all comers but the Dutch cruiser was where I expected to land. I started the search with a maximum of €40,000 as I knew that an ex-charter boat could be bought for this amount which would satisfy the most basic of our criteria. The first search of Apollo Duck set just in the Netherlands (After St Jean de Losne we had been advised “before you buy anything see what is available in Holland”) with €40,000 as a maximum price yielded nearly 200 boats. The bulk of these were 9-10 meters overall. These are the ultimate Dutch Chevy RV. The Dutch weekend getaway. The summer cottage on the water. However for a year long live-aboard they are a touch small. The 10-11 meter range was starting at $35,000 and the 11-12 meter boats started at €40,000. These starting prices were for boats built before 1980 and rose rapidly for more modern boats.
From the listings I rapidly came down to about six top possibilities assuming that the descriptions were accurate. I sent off four queries to brokers. I received replies and asked for more information and more photographs. As each round of questions and answers proceeded I refined the criteria. I eliminated boats under 10 meters as too small. I eliminated boats over €40,000 as too expensive, and focused on boats closer to €30,000. Finally one of the brokers said he had a trade in that might fit the bill. A 10.5m Altena which was favourably priced at €27,500. We offered €26,000 which required a deposit of €3500 to be deposited in escrowe with the Dutch broker. And so started a new branch of our knowledge in international money transfers!
At this point I was still thinking of flying over to see the boat however after some reflection I realized that the surveyor was going to do a much better job of evaluating the technical aspects of the boat than I could ever do. So I hired a surveyor. Unfortunately or fortunately depending how you look at it the survey turned up too many problems to proceed. The owner dropped his price to compensate but we decided to look around some more. Under Dutch law if the price to fix the survey defects is under 5% of the price then the deal proceeds with the seller picking up the tab. Over 5% either side can call off the deal.
We moved onto another Altena 12.5m which was priced at over €40,000 and after some debate decided to make an offer which was accepted. On ordering the second survey Barbara said “ Are we planning to survey every boat in Holland?” The second survey showed some defects which we priced out at a local shipyard and then did a deal with the seller so that he dropped his price €5000 and we paid an extra €1875 which paid for the work.
So there you have it. A primer on buying a boat sight unseen over the net. The next post will undoubted cover how all this has played out now that we are here and have seen the boat. First impression: so far so good.