Custom Search
   boat plans
   gift certificates
Join Duckworks
Get free newsletter
on this site
by Dale Lily - Eufaula, Oklahoma - USA

Many of us would love to charter a Beneteau 38 for two or three weeks and go cruising. Most of us cannot afford to do that. But, there is another way. Cruising grounds are everywhere if you change your image of 'cruising' just a bit.

A few years ago my wife and I tried a very different approach. We bought a very solid and sailable 29' Hinterholer for $3500. Our purchase included a fine 9.9 Yamaha four stroke outboard in a well and all the essential accoutrements for sailing. (Oh yes, you can buy a fine boat for that price or less.) The boat had been neglected since the owner moved up North. We were at St. Pete's Beach, Florida, near Tampa Bay. We spent two months, not two days, sailing northward among the Islands. We even visited Tarpon Springs and the very interesting Greek sponge divers. During our trip we spent some leisure time cleaning, polishing, sanding, varnishing and a bit of trim painting. At the end of the two months we sold the boat for $6,000 and went back across the country to Idaho from whence we had come. Our return trip was entirely financed from the profit on the sale. We took two months to get home in our 22' motor home.

You can buy a neglected (not abused!) sailboat almost anywhere and do what we did. One caveat: be sure the boat is readily saleable if you expect to make a profit. But there's more to the concept. If we had bought that boat and then given it away at the end of our cruising time, we would still have spent less money than for three weeks on the chartered Beneteau. We also had the freedom to choose any destination which is not true of charters.


There are literally thousands of very good boats from 24 to 33' available in sail away condition (not necessarily pretty condition) in ports and marinas, all over the country, that can be purchased for less than $5000. Here's an example: we bought an O'Day 25 at Stockton Lake, Missouri. She was well equipped including wheel steering a very good Evinrude outboard and really fine tandem trailer. We paid $3400. I regret that we did not plan for at least two weeks on that beautiful lake, a serious mistake on our part. Everything that was necessary to refresh that boat could have been done while cruising. We towed her back to Lake Eufaula, here in Oklahoma, cleaned her up, sanded teak and oiled it, and put a newer compass on the pedestal (Ebay for about $45). We spent less than $100 in material costs and sold her for nearly double what we paid. We should have cruised Stockton Lake; who knows, we might have stayed there for a couple of months. Had we done that and then sold her for half of what we paid, we would have had a wonderful cruise for far less than a vacation staying in hotels or renting in a RV park.

We bought a well kept and equipped Columbia 23 (Alan Payne design) in Portland, Oregon for $2,350. She sailed the Columbia River, some lakes in Idaho, Lake Mead and Lake Mohave in Nevada, and then took us to San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico, on the Sea of Cortez (55 miles per hour on a beam reach and a trailer). Along the way our little craft made a fine camp trailer. We took our time and spent nearly an entire winter season, from October to April, exploring and sailing where we wanted. In Mexico we had the great privilege of spending time with Mr. Burl Ives of music and acting fame. Mr. Ives loved to 'hold court' on his little 20' Flicka named Sparrow. He and Dorothy spent lots of time in San Carlos and he loved sailing in the Sea of Cortez. We also explored the coastal area north from San Carlos. There are at least thirty-eight fine anchorages in about forty miles of coastline and the fishing is fine. We could not have afforded such an extended vacation while living in motels, RV parks, or any other way that I know. At the end of our sojourn we sold the Columbia for a little more than we paid for her. We put nearly no money into her, but quite a few hours of pleasurable polishing, sanding and sail stitching (got caught in a sudden storm on Lake Mead). That entire trip cost us less than the cost of a month in motels while eating meals out. We even had an exciting moment when a whale inadvertently tipped our little craft onto her port side when he nudged us going by. He did no damage but to our sense of security. Did you ever encounter a gray whale up close and personal? Wow, they are huge!

Some have suggested that you cannot buy a suitable, safe and well equipped boat for the money we are talking about here. Someone challenged this concept and suggested most people could not or should not buy a sailboat cheaply and expect to do the necessary work. The objection was primarily because of the difference between their concept of cruising and mine, the size of boat necessary and especially the danger of hidden faults that would take extensive repairs. Most of the objection centered on mechanical needs. I agree to some extent. But the boats I have restored are an entirely different breed of cat. Other than the Hinterholler, all have all been 25' or less. Dave and JaJa Martin sailed a remodeled Cal 25 around the world. It is not difficult to find very fine, but neglected, boats anywhere in this country. Let me give you a 'right now' example of the boats you can buy. In my front yard, awaiting help to launch her, is a very nice (and pretty) Neptune 24 with a fine Mariner outboard, good anchor, chain and 100' of ½" rode, a nearly new porta potti (which I recommend because of the lack of pump out stations in most lakes and in the Sea of Cortez). She sits on a sturdy, no rust, double axle trailer. She has five good sails, no damage to mast, boom or rigging, nor to any fiberglass (minor chips) or wood. We pulled her about two hundred miles from northern Oklahoma. She needed cleaning up. I replaced two or three shackles and pins, put in a cook stove ($96 from Ebay), replaced the forward navigation lights ($30 from Ebay), then sanded and re-oiled all teak. I checked the thru hulls for proper operation and leaks, and assured that each hose end was double clamped with stainless steel hose clamps. My total repair cost is under $250 (she had good bottom paint, but I bought a quart and touched her up then added a couple of coats along the water line). She has standing headroom for my wife and a removable cabin sole allowing standing headroom for me if I wish to do that (It's a great, original part of the design.). She looks good and is now ready to launch.

Oh! You want to know how much she cost me initially? $2,200 which included a new battery and good tires on the trailer. So I have less than $2,500 invested, along with several hours of work. I would gladly sail her anywhere coastal and certainly in any of the lakes with which I am familiar. I have sailed a bunch of them from Florida to Washington State and many points in between. She is ready for the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, but at 82 years of age I think I won't return. We lived there for six years and have made many visits in the 61 years since I first went.

One more example may help you understand the possibilities. In Mexico we bought a stored, dirty, and neglected O'Day 25 for $2,000. We cleaned her up nicely and sailed for a couple of seasons. I then sold her for $5,000 to a friend who spent a lot of time in Mexico. He has been sailing her there for nearly 10 years now as far as I know. He bought a new engine as a hedge against failure in difficult situations, and he suffered the loss of a forestay a couple of years after I sold her. Fortunately, the jib prevented the mast falling until he could make a temporary fix. Otherwise she is just maintained and sailed. I never paint a boat to sell it. Rather, before I buy I rub out a spot or two on the hull to make sure it can be polished to a reasonable shine. I did paint one boat because we hated the color, but we kept her for fifteen years and used her in Oregon, Idaho, Lake Mead in Nevada, and in the Sea of Cortez before bringing her to Lake Eufaula where we sailed her for three years.

Let me add one more element to this whole concept. If you buy the boat in Texas, do not hesitate to use her for a camp trailer while going over to Pensacola, Florida. You'll get some stares, but she will be well suited to that usage as well as sailing. Just be sure you take along a good step ladder or have a boarding ladder that reaches near enough to the ground. It is well within the capabilities of anyone who has built a small sailboat to restore a good old boat of this type. If you resist that urge to go big and have an inboard mechanical wind, and are able and willing to do a bit of work, you can sail in whatever lake or coastal area you may wish while spending far less than the cost of charters. Oh, and you can keep the boat. Fair winds and following seas.

Note: I am retired from the United States Air Force and from years of ministry. I have written a number of books concerning Christian living. I am remarried, after losing my first wife to cancer and Betty and I live near Lake Eufaula in Eastern Oklahoma. Green Country and not many miles from the beach where Sail Oklahoma takes place.

To comment on Duckworks articles, please visit one of the following:

our Yahoo forum our Facebook page