Used Boat Buying: To Buy or Not, “Fuzzy Logic” at its Best

This first installment in an ongoing account of buying and owning a 1988 J/35 sailboat answers the basic question: why own a boat?

9th September 2010.
By Paul Grimes

In the computer world, “Fuzzy Logic” is the term given to a method of programming that attempts to emulate the way a human brain thinks – where variables are considered based not only on their numerical value, but also on how exact or approximate they may be, how big a threat or benefit they represent, etc.  Yet even with such techniques, it’s hard to imagine a computer running its numbers and spitting out, “What you need to do is buy a boat.”

Even for a good-looking J/35 like this one, it’s hard to imagine a rational computer running its numbers and spitting out, “What you need to do is buy a boat.”

Boats are depreciating assets.  They require constant attention and create a continuous stream of expenses.   In many areas they are only useful for half the year, if that, and you certainly can’t drive the kids to soccer games in them.  So unless you are in a business that requires a boat, there is no logical reason to buy one.

The Hobie 33 was fun to own, but not as versatile as the J/35.

But for some of us, while owning a boat is a pain, not owning one is painful.  Starting with my grandparents, my family has been lucky enough to live near the water and be on the water during the summer.  My wife and I have tried boat ownership three times before – a J/22 with my sister for two years, a J/35 for two years, and a Hobie 33 for another two years.  Then, after selling the Hobie, we were “boatless” for two years.  None of this sounds very logical, even in a fuzzy way.  The J/22 was fun, but we wanted to try something bigger.  The J/35 was a big jump, and the size of the project was a bit overwhelming, so I decided that we just had to sell the boat.  The Hobie 33 was an attempt to find something a little more exciting and more manageable.  It was both, but not by much, and was not as versatile as the J/35 had been.

So, each one lasted only two years before we sold it.  My friend and semi-boat partner in these efforts, Louis Mariorenzi, concluded that I was just into the fix-up part of these projects and then lost interest.  “As soon as you get to replacing the stanchion bases, that’s the kiss of death.”  I hope he’s wrong – we’ll see.

The first J/35 was a great boat... so why sell it after only two years?

The past two summers have had their benefits – it’s fun to race with other people on their boats rather than being consumed by your own project.  And it’s nice to step off a boat after a race or at the end of the season and not have to think about fixing what broke, unloading the boat, winterizing, storage, etc.

But something is missing without a boat.  Crewing on someone else’s boat is fun, but you can’t take the whole family.  And there’s more to a boat than racing. It’s a great way to escape the scheduled world of jobs, corporate structures, and youth sports practices – to go daysailing, swimming, fishing, cruising, with or without guests.  There’s freedom in owning a boat, even freedom of expression – to run your boat the way you want.  Ironically, you even start to miss the ongoing project, which can be hugely satisfying as you get to know the boat and it becomes more “yours” with each modification or upgrade.

Even with that, it’s hard to take the plunge and decide to buy.  You have to pull out the big rationalizations, like, “My friend, Phil, who just put three girls through college, says that whatever we save for college will get taken by the schools anyway.” Or a fun one, “Think of it as an inexpensive beach house.” Or the king of them all, “Our kids aren’t getting any younger and neither are we.”   So armed with those mantras, it’s on to Boats.com for hours at a time… and the process begins.

Next up:  Used Sailboat Ads

Paul Grimes is an engineer and marine surveyor living in Portsmouth, RI. Read his detailed reviews of the J/35 and Hobie 33.


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