Welcome to the 2019 Boating Season on Buzzards Bay and beyond!

Since I’m in southern California and most of you aren’t boating yet, things will be pretty quiet around here til March or April.

That doesn’t mean I’ve be resting on my laurels! I’ve been busy catching up on restaurant and marina reviews from last season, but you won’t see them until spring.

Mattapoisett Town Wharf – Winter 2019

Okay, it’s not quite boating weather yet, but it is winter Boat Show season.

Based on my email in-box, it seems like every boat broker I know is hosting a party at boat shows up and down the East Coast. And as we all know, if you own a boat, you’re always thinking about “your next boat” (unless you’re ready to hang it up).

I have been thinking about this topic since I read this piece at boattest.com called Advice for First-Time Boat Buyers. Sadly, I see almost as many people making mistakes on selecting their second or third boats as first time buyers.

As a kick-off for the coming season, I thought I’d share my thoughts on boat buying.

Before I get into my sage advice, I want to share a concept I call

The Quest For The Perfect Day.

I invented the concept of the Perfect Day to help rationalize the irrational cost of boating. We all have perfect days in life, some more than others, but never enough. I was paying my boating bills one year and counting up my perfect days, sadly, there were only about 20. You know the Biggie’s – Christmas, my daughter’s birthday, a day at Fenway Park, etc.

Then it hit me, virtually every day out on the water with my friends and family had turned out to be a Perfect Day.

So I divided the cost of boat ownership per year (about $5,000) by 9 (the average number of perfect days) and figured each perfect day on the water was costing me about $550 and suddenly, boating was a bargain.

Typical Perfect Day with Gary McGrath

That calculation is also where this whole discussion about perfect days got complicated.

In the Whaler, I had 8-10 perfect days per season and most of those were limited to The Chartoom, The Cape Cod Canal, or just a ride up the Weweantic River. If we ventured to Oak Bluffs or Barnstable and got hit with a snotty ride home, the day ended up less than perfect.

We didn’t pick up many more perfect days with the 33′ Mean Kitty, but we significantly expanded our destinations and our perfect days retained their glow even if the ride home was a little rough.

Once we got into the 37′ and 41′ Back Cove’s the whole world changed. I don’t even bother counting perfect days anymore – there are just too many. We launch in late April and haul her out around Halloween. If we go a week without being on the boat, it’s unusual. We sleep on the boat 15-20 nights and take trips to Maine, Rhode Island, and New York.

And while it’s true that my annual cost of ownership is now north of $20,000, I’ll bet my cost-per-perfect-day is under $500!

Oh yeah, I also have a lot more perfect days in lousy weather – like the rainy day on Block Island, Nantucket, or the weekend on the Cape with our friends last August.

So when you think about buying a boat, calculating the cost of ownership, resale value, and all the nitty gritty details, just remember, you’re not really buying a boat, you’re putting a down-payment on a block of Perfect Days.

Think Through Your Boating Mission

Boating means different things to different people, but for most of us, buying a boat is major lifestyle change. If you’re young and just starting out, your time and probably your budget is limited.

Before you fall in love with something sexy at the boat show, think long and hard about the mission for your new boat. The road to disappointment in boating is paved with boats that don’t do what their owners expected them to do.

Here are some “mission oriented” things to consider before you buy you’re first boat:

What Mission can you afford? Notice that I didn’t ask “what boat can you afford?” Even a little boat is pretty expensive, but the purchase price or monthly payments, can end up being pale compare to The Total Cost Of Ownership.

  • Sail boats are powered for free.
  • Boats powered by gasoline cost 50% or more per mile more than diesel
  • Anchoring is free – dock and dine can get expensive
  • Tubing or Water Skiing uses fuel – gunkhole picnics do not.
  • A boat on trailers don’t cost money for moorings, slips, or launch service.
  • Probably the most important thing about affordability is resale value.

Resale Value – If you end up hating boating, the last thing you want is to be stuck with a boat you can’t sell. And if you love boating, you’ll probably want to “move up” in a year or two and you’ll expect top dollar when you trade your boat in.

The best way to assure good resale value is to buy a great brand. Unlike cars or houses, the resale value of different boat brands differ wildly. I ran both my Boston Whaler and Hydrasport for 6 years and got back about 50% of my purchase price in outright sales. I traded my two year old Back Cove 37 for a 41 and got almost my full original purchase price back (less commissioning, electronics, and taxes).

On the other hand, I have friends who went with bigger boats from lessor brands thinking they were getting more “bang for the buck” and later discovered old boats of a lessor brand had virtually no resale value.

What Mission can you handle, how will you learn to handle more? My brother-in-law had a golf buddy who came into some money and bought a boat. It was a big boat – a Grand Banks 49′ trawler. He kept it on a slip at Kingman Marine. One day he invited us out and after driving an hour to get to his boat, he said “we’ll just hang out at the slip today, it’s too windy.”

“Too windy?” It wasn’t too windy to go out on Buzzards Bay in my 26′ Boston Whaler!

The truth is, he didn’t know how to handle his GB49 (by the way, a 50′ trawler is not an easy boat to handle in wind; it’s underpowered and unless you have both bow and stern thrusters, you can get real trouble fast).

Then there’s my old friend Jimmy Gowing who has a 15′ Whaler. He’s taken it to Cuttyhunk and Nantucket. But Jimmy knows Buzzards Bay weather like the back of his hand and would never get stuck anywhere at 11:00 AM when the wind typically kicks up. His brother Steve has a 24′ Robalo and he takes the 60 mile trip to Nantucket frequently. He avoids the afternoon blow by leaving after 4:00 PM as soon as the Southwest Wind dies down. These guys know their boats, they know Buzzards Bay, and they know exactly what they can handle.

I’ve had friends ask me to “teach them to drive the boat.” I’m not sure I can do that on Buzzards Bay. We have rocks everywhere, sudden 20 knot winds, leeward harbors you can hide in, and spots like Woods Hole, The Canal, or Red Brook harbor where other boats seem to do a lot of crazy things.

Imagine the perfect day – what does it look like? Back to the idea of The Perfect Day. It’s kind of like your mission, except now bake in the nuances of your home port; local winds, tides, and weather.

Thinking back to 2001 when I bought my first boat, my perfect day would have been loading a half a dozen friends and family into the boat and running over to Oak Bluffs for lunch. In fact, that’s exactly what we did for our 2nd or 3rd trip out. Going over was great. Coming home was probably the most frightening day I have ever had on the water.

The sad truth was that my 26′ Whaler was ill suited for the perfect day I had envisioned. That dream day needed a different boat. A bigger boat would have worked, but I didn’t have a budget for one. Maybe something with cabin instead of a center console like a 25′ Parker.

By the same token, if my home port was 20 miles north on the lee side of Cape Cod, I could have gotten my fill of Perfect Days in a 16′ Whaler.

Boat Upgrading – Forget Two Footitis

One of the old adages among boaters is something called “Two Footitis”. The idea is that we’re all looking for a boat that’s just 2 feet longer than the one we own. I suppose it’s valid in some classes, but not for me.

When I think about buying a new boat, I never think about the length of the hull; I always think about the problem I need the new boat to address – my goal for the boat.

Let me illustrate…

As I said, the mission for our 26′ Boston Whaler Outrage was to take the kids tubing or run over to The Chartroom for lunch, and maybe an occasional trip to Martha’s Vineyard or Cuttyhunk.

It kind of worked until I expanded it to include more lunches on Martha’s Vineyard, it fell flat on it’s face. As those of you who made the same error know, the turn of the century Boston Whaler hulls have no business on Buzzards Bay. I had a problem that I needed to solve.

The Whaler drove home the old adage “act in haste, repent in leisure” like no other major purchase in my life. Our next boat had to get me home in anything that might kick up on Buzzards Bay. This was no small task and certain this problem wasn’t going to be solved by buying a boat two feet longer.

Actually, that’s not completely true. I probably could have solved the “getting home” problem with a much bigger boat, or one with an enclosed boat that enabled me to drop my speed and pick my way home through the spray.

But Mrs. Horne has always felt that we needed to get a bigger boat than the one we had or “why bother?” In her mind, a 28′ boat simply didn’t qualify.

I had two other constraints; I knew many of our perfect days involved bringing 6-8 guests on board and I since we were only going out 10-12 days a year, my budget was capped around $150,000. This meant that my next boat was likely to be another Center Console – a big Center Console.

The 33′ Hydrasports Center Console

After some research, I realized that more mass and a deeper vee to enable me to cut through waves, fly over them when necessary, and generally land softly without pounding like the Whaler. I started looking at the offshore fishing machines like Yellow Fin and Regulator. These were very nice, but very expensive.

Eventually I discovered Hydrasports. They were heavy, deep, and relatively big for their advertised hull length. I seatrialed a 29′ footer down in Rhode Island, but settled on the Mean Kitty – a 33′ Hydrasport Center Console. This boat was not just 7′ longer, it was literally twice the mass of the Whaler.

It handled most everything Buzzards Bay dished out. The problem was that it accomplished this by skipping across the top of our 3-5 foot chop at 35 MPH. Not for the weak of heart.

After 6 years of loyal service, Mean Kitty started showing her age. And when your mission is 10 Perfect Days on the water, a mechanical failure is simply unacceptable. We were boat buying again.

The Back Cove Downeast 37

We were a little better off financially, so I thought we could swing up to $400,000 on the new boat. We were getting older and so were our guests. Flying over 4 foot chop at 35 MPH was no longer fun. The time had come to travel in dryer, more civilized manner.

My sites were set on Back Cove due the high build quality and good value.

Boston Yacht Sales had a 30′ demo in Falmouth and Joyce Richards arranged for BYS Owner Mike Myers to take us out for a seatrial on Vineyard Sound. Since we had no intention of sleeping on the boat, it was really perfect. It had a good sized cockpit, amble seating in the cabin, and down below it also had a table that sat four (it converted into a v-berth).

In my mind, the mission was still The Chartroom, Vineyard, and maybe Plymouth. The Problem I was solving was “how to stay dry in crappy weather.” The 30′ was the perfect solution, but Mrs. Horne stepped in and said “we’re not buying a new boat that’s three feet shorter!”

We seatrialed the Back Cove 34 and the Traditional 37, but neither felt like they could serve our initial mission of day tripping with 6-8 of our dearest friends. That’s how we ended up at The Maine Boat Show in August of 2014 and buying our Downeast 37 – Tenacity.

A Perfect Day at Block Island on Tenacity’s massive aft cockpit…

Tenacity was perfectly suited for the new mission – taking 8 friends anywhere in any weather from April to October. Then we decided to start cruising overnight and our friends wanted to join us.

And with that, the mission changed and Tenacity had a problem!

Mrs. Horne, Mary Lee, and Peter testing the guest bed on Tenacity!

Not only did our overnight guests lack privacy, but those seat cushions were very tough of their old bones.

The Back Cove 41

If you follow these pages, you know the crazy story about how we went from thinking our next boat was 4-5 years away to signing papers in less than 6 days.

The new mission called for two comfortable sleeping cabins. It also had to serve all the prior missions of the Whaler, Mean Kitty, and Vigilant.’

I wanted to stay with the Maine Built quality (Back Cove or Sabre), and my budget was definitely limited. The Back Cove 41 was already on my radar and when I looked closer, I saw that it actually exceeded the specs for the new mission.

  • Two Cabins
  • Two Heads
  • Both Cabin/Heads could be closed off to create two mini en-suite’s
  • The salon and cabin were larger than the 37

With this move, our Perfect Days are only limited by the number of days between Easter and Halloween!

When In Doubt – Follow The Seasoned Vets

While I’m all for people doing their homework and discovering their own perfect boat, I’d be less than honest if I didn’t tell you this is generally a hit-or-miss proposition. That’s what I did and I got it wrong 2 out of 4 times.

I’m not suggesting that you don’t do your homework, I’m just saying make it easier by learning from the veterans boat owners in your home port.

In Mattapoisett, there are a ton of Grady Whites and quite a few Robalo’s. If I were looking to spend 6 figures on a boat, I’d start with those brands. Obviously, if you’re looking for something bigger, you’ll find a lot of Back Coves and Sabre’s in Buzzards Bay and the Islands.

Now just for the record, I’m not shopping for a new boat (yet), but missions have a way of changing and I do have two grand kids who love boating