From car-crash viewings to wasted journeys of hundreds of miles, Wayne Palmer shares the steep learning curve of buying his first boat

Buying my first boat taught me a hell of a lot about the industry and the sailing community.

Everyone said ‘Don’t do it’ but I am 16 months in and loving every minute, despite the COVID-19 restrictions scuppering any sailing plans.

After three years of a boat club membership I got fed up of fat, slow cruisers and at peek weekends they were unavailable anyway.

I’d still recommend such a scheme for day sailing and the odd overnight but I’d got to the stage where I wanted more.

I’m a racer at heart, inshore, a couple of Fastnets,  the Round Britain and Ireland Race (RBI), with some easy long-distance cruising with my partner in between.

All my racing was as crew so wanted to try is as a skipper and I wanted to learn more.

The first thing I discovered when buying my first boat was that there isn’t a boat in existence that ticks every box – at least within my 60,000 budget.

A J109 Flying Jackal on her mooring. Buying your first boat

Flying Jackal on her mooring in cruising set up. Credit Wayne Palmer

I spent weeks looking for something that could do everything and the first reality check was the need to compromise.

I looked at 40ft boats around £100,000 thinking I could get a deal at the end of the season. It didn’t work.

It took me a while to understand.

Someone selling a boat is not like somebody selling a car or a house; the motivation is not the same.

Some owners are happy to leave the boat on the hard at a high price and wait it out because they are not desperate to sell.

They don’t need to haggle

Other sellers simply over value their boat.

They know what they spent on it over the years and heaven forbid if you hit the owner with a big snag list.

I viewed one boat in Hamble I liked but it needed work doing.

I put a list together, got some idea of costs to do it and emailed the owner.

He told me how offended he was in very few words!

I started talking to brokers.

Not all brokers are the same.

servicing a winch on a boat

Wayne was happy to take on the simpler maintenance jobs on Flying Jackal, like servicing the winches, but wanted some things fixed professionally. Credit: Wayne Palmer

I viewed an eight-year old boat on the hard with one broker, we walked through their office directly out onto the boat as they had a balcony set up so no ladders to climb.

The boat had all the lighting on, it was cleaned within an inch of its life, all sails had been cleaned and were packed within one cabin, all the documents were to hand, they had all the history of the owner including the log book of the trips taken.

We talked, they knew everything and even understood what the boat would really sell for (it sold a week later).

Other brokers struggled to know where the boat was in the yard!

Some knew nothing about sail boats only motor.

I thought I knew my way around a boat but one day looking at two quite different boats I took a professional sailing friend of mine.

I learned so much and really recommend you take an expert to one of your viewings; he removed the emotion and looked at the detail.

I drove 200 miles to view a boat that had been with the same owner for 20 years.

It was an older boat and I had expected the owner to be fond of his boat and for it to have been kept to a good standard.

This was not the reality.

He had also made personal modifications over the years.

Beware of this, as there is a high chance that an owner had made and change here or there.

Try to find out what they are before you arrive to view.

By then I had some experience and it only took me 10 minutes to know the boat was not for me.

This wasted trip did motivate me to really research the boats before I arranged a viewing so that I knew something about each boat I visited.

But you can’t really research the owner.

Buying my first boat: A ‘car crash’ viewing

During another boat inspection ton a swinging mooring, I took the chance to take the boat out for a sail with the owner.

My partner and I joined the broker and the owner on board.

It was blowing more than 30 knots but the owner seemed happy and I was confident in my own ability, so we went out for an hour.

It was a car crash.

The boat was completely overpowered because the owner said we did not need a reef!

The broker was petrified the winches so stiff they hardly worked, and the clutches were slipping.

I sent my partner below to listen for anything unusual as we were heading back in.

I started the engine only for her to shout that we were taking on water.

I didn’t sail with just the owner after that as I preferred to be sure of the skills onboard.

a mirror in the head of a yacht. When buying your first boat, you may be able to do cosmetic improvements yourself

Cosmetic touches, like replacing the heads mirrors was easy but made a big difference to living aboard Flying Jackal. Credit: Wayne Palmer

It was clear that in real terms the negotiation for pricing on a boat was between 5% to 10%.

Also, I decided that I needed to purchase a boat as new as I could.

Boat design and technology has really advanced over the last 20 years and I felt that a newer design was best for me.

This information helped me reduce my search further.

What I really did not want to do we be a tyre-kicker and waste people’s time.

From that point on when I looked at a boat I knew it would be in budget, the correct type and age so then all I had to do was inspect the boat itself.

This narrowed me down to the last two boats I looked at. One of which is now mine.

Buying my first boat: final decisions

The first boat was an old 45ft J boat, slightly over my budget and older.

We went to view it and it was such tough one to walk away from.

The boat had been loved for sure.

Owned by a family for years but maintained professionally, the boat needed only an electronics upgrade and some sails.

The dealbreaker was because she had a shoal draught.

I want to race offshore so I needed a deep-draught yacht, which will always sail better than an otherwise identical boat with a shallower draught!

I was also surprised by the cost of sails!

It was this second discovery that led me to my boat.

The bigger the boat the bigger the bills, without question that meant I need to look for something smaller.

Southampton Boat Show

Attending a boat show can help prospective owners to narrow down their choices

I had to forget long-distance cruising in comfort if I wanted to race.

My partner and I decided that I needed to get the racing out of my system and then, when I’m ready to slow down and stop work, to upgrade to a larger cruiser.

Along came the boat show and the second-hand boat show, which runs alongside.

We had more of an idea what we were looking for and within an hour we were sitting on a 10-year-old J109.

The broker was short-staffed due to the main boat show so we were given the keys and told to help ourselves.

It was great. She was on the hard and we had a good poke around.

The boat had raced, was reasonably up together and had a sail wardrobe.

There were compromises – no third cabin, no windlass, limited storage but hey, this was the first boat.

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The boat was nearly £80,000 so I wanted to talk to the broker more seriously.

We met at the main show and it turned out that as the boat has been taken in part-exchange by the broker, we could agree a price on the spot.

We agreed on £74,000.

As part of the deal I was given a copy of the survey they had done.

We went through this and agreed who would pay for what and I was good to go.

Then time stood still, it took a complete age to get everything sorted and the required work completed.

In all I sailed the boat about 10 weeks after we shook hands on the deal.

Selecting trades, sorting insurance and other documentation all took time.

Because the yacht was on the hard I did not undertake a test sail – a big mistake on my part.

A couple sailing their first yacht

Wayne and his partner Sally enjoy their first sail on Flying Jackal. Credit: Wayne Palmer

Everything highlighted on the survey had been done but a survey won’t tell you if the engine wont start or a seacock leaks.

It’s almost impossible to check these things when the boat is still out of the water.

My saving grace was the day I collected her.

I took a couple over very experienced friends with me, and the broker, who is a sailor,  surprised me with a bottle of champagne.

He was wearing his sailing gear as he wanted to come out with us to ensure we were happy with her.

It was 30-plus knots again but this time I was the skipper and owner!

We were only out for an hour, but it was my hour on my new boat.

A sting in the tail

On our return we opened the bottle of champagne and that’s nearly the end of the story, but not quite.

During the hour on the water I’d noticed the steering was stiff to move.

After a few more short sails things hasn’t improved so it was clear I had to get the boat inspected.

I sailed for about a month and lifted the boat.

It was not my original plan and there were costs involved of course but it had to be done.

There was a fault and it was expensive to fix.

The broker had been great, so I rang him and after a couple of conversations he agreed to pay for the work.

I was lucky here as we had never actually agreed the purchase was subject to sea trial.

A race crew on a yacht

Wayne’s race crew – they are the reason why he bought his first boat. Credit: Wayne Palmer

Flying Jackal is now fully coded, all shiny and racing or cruising all the time.

She still has no windlass, lacks storage space, doesn’t have a third cabin and her keel is quite deep for rivers but I am sure I’ll get those things on the next boat!

I do, however, have inhaulers, barber haulers, retracting bowsprit and more bits of string I could ever need or learn how to use!

I’m a bit of a social animal and for me that’s what sailing is all about.

Buying a racer means I get my friends who I med racing – Nikki, Mark and Sarah – on board more.

Happy days!

Buying my first boat: Lessons Learned

  1. Make compromises when buying your first boat.  I realised I was not going to find a boat that truly does everything within by £60,000 budget. The bigger the boat, the bigger the bills, without question. If I wanted to race, I had to forget long-distance cruising in comfort and look for something smaller. Despite these compromises, I actually spent £74,000.
  2. Take a knowledgeable pal. I thought I knew my way around a boat but when I took a professional sailing friend along with me, I learned so much. He removed the emotion and looked at the detail.
  3. Beware DIY modifications. As much as boat owners may love their boats, the reality is that some personal modifications may not be to professional standard.
  4. Do your research. To avoid wasting your time and the potential seller’s time, ensure it’s in budget, the correct type and age so all you have to do is inspect the boat itself. Boat design and technology has really advanced over the last 20 years, so make an honest appraisal about the kind of boat you would be happy owning. Really research the boat before you view, and ask questions of the seller.
  5. Realistic haggling. I believe that in real terms, the negotiation for pricing on a boat was between 5% to 10%. If an owner does not need to sell they may be unwilling to negotiate, or make take offence at your list of faults with their pride and joy.
  6. Undertake a test sail. Taking the boat out for a spin on a test sail is a must if at all possible. I overlooked this when buying my first boat as the vessel was on the hard and everything highlighted on the survey had been done. It is only out on the water that certain faults will emerge, particularly with the steering, the engine and the rig when under load. If you can’t test sail, the purchase could be made subject to sea trial.
  7. Allow time. Don’t expert buying your first boat to go through in a hurry. It can take a long time to hunt around for just the right boat, and then surveys and the legalities of transferring money and contracts can take surprisingly long.