Soon after buying Dolce Vento, we learned just how much work it would take to “bring her up to snuff”. This outfitting work, not to be confused with maintenance, fell clearly into three categories: enhancements we wanted to add (e.g., dinghy davits, stack pack), fixes for problems found in the pre-purchase survey (e.g., new dripless stuffing box, engine hose refit), and later, as we began to dig deep and use the boat, unexpected work we called the “OMG, we have another disaster on our hands” (e.g. drive shaft misaligned with engine transmission, worn helm shift cable).
If was clear to us that we were not capable of accomplishing much of the work ourselves. The extent of my handyman skills revolves around sewing, hanging pictures, deep cleaning and polishing, applying duct tape, changing light bulbs, and tightening faucets. John’s skills are more extensive, but he knew nothing about boat construction, systems and equipment, so he was cautious, concerned he would break “B” while working on “A”. Although we started to educate ourselves using, among others, Nigel Calder’s in depth books on boat outfitting and maintenance, we resorted to buying help.
We did know from the beginning that the work would be expensive (we had detailed estimates for each work item or equipment purchase against which we tracked costs) and we had put aside a healthy renovation budget (13% of the purchase price), thinking it could all be done during the winter months. However, once the work was underway,the costs doubled as we kept saying, “While your working on that, how about doing this?” Also, mid-way through the “outfitting” renovation, unexpected problems emerged. In the end, we spent twice as much as expected and it took 50% more time than expected to complete the work.
Lesson Learned: Know what is needed and not needed. Before you turn over your boat for “outfitting”, do your research to understand what you are going do need based on the type of sailing you will be doing and the life style you expect to have on the boat. Coastal and off-shore sailing demands more safety equipment, better electronics and stronger sails than Bay or lake sailing. When living aboard do you just need the basics to enjoy the sailing life or are you wanting to replicate land living aboard your boat? Set priorities for what gets done now and what can wait until later.
There comes a point when you just have to say, “We’ve done enough. It’s time to sail.” Otherwise, you may never leave the dock. We’ve seen it!
Lesson Learned: This ol’ boat was just like this ol’ house. Although we’ve owned two boats previously, they were bought new, under warranty. Our only costs were normal maintenance which required us to set a budget, but didn’t come anywhere near to breaking the bank.
Everything I read said that buying a used boat might be a bargain in the beginning, but it’s easy to endlessly outfit it as you work to achieve a state of boat perfection. Even if we had the skills to do more of the work ourselves, it would have taken more time, because we could only work on one thing at a time after we figured out how to do it. Also, a piece of equipment can be bought at a reasonable cost, but the labor to install it usually costs more than the item to install. You must decide how much time, skills and money you have. If your goal is to go sailing and live aboard as soon as you can, you’ll end up spending the money on buying the expert skills. It’s that or endlessly work on the boat, live in a construction site, and not sail much.
Lesson Learned: Use your first year to build skills and knowledge. There are boat owners who proudly “do it yourself” all the time. The older the boat, the more excited some people are to stop a persistent leak, replace a refrigeration system, or replace a hard to reach bilge pump all by themselves. Some do it to save money, but, in my personal opinion, many do it for the challenge. If you are into DIY, then join a listserv to meet and discuss all types of work and options with you cohort.
However, for many of us, DIY is not our natural inclination or we’re getting too old to crawl around in the boat or up the mast. However, do not abandon the boat when you turn over projects to vendors; instead be there and be present. Use this first year to learn from them by asking questions, getting demonstrations and illustrations, and observing during the work and reviewing the work in detail when it is completed. We are now more comfortable tracing lines, pulling cables, testing connections, and maintaining heads. Always remember — do not be intimidated by the guys who tell you how easy it is to do the work yourself — you can’t be an expert in everything and, quite frankly, neither are most of them.
Do take-on whatever projects you can – large or small. It will give you a real sense of ownership and accomplishment whether its sewing new cushions, installing new hoses for the head or water lines, woodwork, sail management, or the simple chore of replacing traditional lights with LEDs. You will be proud of your boat and what you do to maintain it.
Lesson Learned: Collect and organize your tools and parts so you can find them when you need them. In our early sailing years, we kept everything in two large sail bags and, because of this, spent more time trying to find a tool or part rather than actually using it. Each of us had a different logic for storing stuff, confusing each other. Many times the words, “Where in the hell did you put that?” rang out. We solved the problem by buying three smaller tool bags along with six canvas bags which I sewed and provided labels for. Then we sat down together for a whole day to jointly inventory everything and decide where to store each and every item. Bags took on categories. One small tool bag has the “we use these almost every day” tools with the smaller pliers, screw drivers and the like. Another bag has one side devoted to “adhesives” and the other side to “electrical” parts and tools. One canvas bag is devoted to “plumbing parts” and another to “extra deck hardware”. You get the idea. Now we both can find things quickly, giving us more time to fix a problem. The forward head shower has become the de facto bag storage room.