Small Stuff

Published: April 2013

Anchor symbol In the wake of Sandy, a number of our readers have written in wondering what happens to "totaled" boats and how they might be able to get in on the action. Are there deals to be had? Yes, no doubt. But before you start searching the liquidators' websites, think twice — and then a third time. Many bargain hunters, and even some skilled boatbuilders, have purchased what they thought was treasure only to discover it was little more than trash. Even if you are not bargain hunting, beware if you're looking to buy a boat sometime in the next few years. One thing worse than paying a bargain price for what turns out to be junk is paying market price for it. There is no CARFAX for boats.

Photo of Superstorm Sandy damage at Mansion Marina

Mark Clarke, a surveyor with 20-plus years experience and a member of the Society of Marine Surveyors (SAMS), sent us an email to point out the danger. "I have seen many vessels repaired after being totaled, to be sold again with no disclosure or history to the unsuspecting buyer." He points out that when a vehicle is totaled, "most states issue a ‘rebuilt title' [or salvage title]. This results in a lower purchase price and a clear understanding that [what the new owners] are purchasing is rebuilt." No such requirement exists for boats. There is no national database or insurance database for these totaled vessels.

"In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina," Mr. Clarke wrote, "many totaled vessels were brought to South Florida for repair, then were either sold here in Florida or made their way up the East Coast. Some vessels were repaired by the owners themselves after being totaled and sold without disclosure. In general, these owners did not have the ability to repair these vessels properly. As a surveyor, all I can do is ask the seller during the pre-purchase survey if the boat has been totaled, or what insurance claims were filed. There is no history that follows the vessel. There is no doubt in my mind many vessels have been totaled more than once."

Professional builders can and do strip storm-damaged boats back to bare hulls and rebuild them as well as or better than new. These boats can be good buys, and, on some, the rebuild will be fully documented. Where documentation doesn't exist, it can be difficult to separate these boats from those that were owner repaired — or not repaired at all — especially if the boat was trucked several states away from storm-damaged areas before being sold.

So if you're buying a boat in the next few years, ask for a detailed history. If it could have been in the Northeast in October of 2012, but does not have documentation detailing repairs, think twice. Even if you've already fallen in love, treat the boat as suspect and instruct the surveyor to look for evidence of storm damage.

Photo of a Hot TugPhoto: Hot Tug

Anchor symbol The Supreme Court has decided: Just because it floats doesn't mean it's a boat. To make its point, the Court provided a few examples of floating non-boats: "a wooden washtub, a plastic dishpan, a swimming platform on pontoons, a large fishing net, a door taken off its hinges, and Pinocchio (when inside the whale)."

So why is the Court concerned with the definition of a boat — or, more generically, a vessel? As Seaworthy reported in the October and January issues, after the City of Riviera Beach got into a dispute with Franz Lozman, they "arrested" his floating home in 2009 under the Rules of Construction Act, which defines a vessel as "every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water." Not only did the city arrest it, they executed it. The city auctioned Lozman's home at a judicial sale, bought it, and then had it destroyed.

In Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, Florida, No. 11-626, Lozman argued that the two-story, boxy plywood structure with French doors and no motor or rudder was not capable of being used as a means of transportation on water but simply a home that happened to float. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit disagreed and held that the craft was a vessel, subject to admiralty jurisdiction, and the city had the right to arrest it. Supreme Court Justice Breyer, writing for the majority, more or less scoffed at the idea that anyone would take to the sea in a plywood box with French doors, citing Pinocchio in what may be a first in the annals of the Court. The city was ordered to compensate Lozman for his destroyed non-boat.

Anchor symbol Seeing a solid wall of steel rising above your boat is one way to get religion — fast. A ship moving at 20 knots covers a third of a nautical mile a minute or six statute miles in 15 minutes. If two vessels are closing, they will converge even faster. Sitting in the cockpit of a small boat with your eyes six feet above the water, you can see about five statute miles to the horizon. Depending on your boat speed, that ship could be over the horizon for less than 10 minutes before it's on top of you.

Photo of a second ship approaching
Photo of a second ship approaching eight minutes later

That's why it's critical to keep a proper watch at all times, even on what appears to be an empty ocean. Bob Bauer sent us two photos that illustrate the point. "The attached photos are from a trip I made in 2004 sailing from La Paz, Mexico to Hilo, Hawaii aboard a Hans Christian 38T. I took the two pictures approximately 2,400 nm west of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico without changing my position in the cockpit. The time between pictures is exactly eight minutes. We did contact the ship on channel 13 and they told us that they had us on their radar at 12 miles out."

In this case, the ship quite likely made a small course correction before the crew even saw it. But counting on that could be very bad for your heart.

Anchor symbol For some reason, Murphy has always seemed to have it in for boaters. "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong," ought to be stamped into the gelcoat above the hull identification number on every vessel before it is launched. When we're not on our own boats, the editors at Seaworthy are grateful to Murphy for providing us with plenty of material. Robert Hanley wrote in with yet another example of Murphy at work. He shared an article by Ted Streuli from Galveston county's newspaper, The Daily News, about the ill-fated voyage of the Boomer Schooner (no, we didn't make that up).

The crew wanted an adventure, which is why they signed up for the Harvest Moon Regatta, the Lakewood Yacht Club's late-October race from Galveston, Texas to Port Aransas near Corpus Christi. The 150-mile race would take the mid-'70s Pearson 365 more than a day to complete. Despite a frontal passage that brought light air the first night and 30-knot winds the next morning, the crew was having fun — until the backstay chainplate succumbed to the combination of corrosion and shock loading. It broke, but the crew managed to secure the sails and the backstay without losing the rig. Instead of a fast sail in gusty beam winds, they were looking at an uncomfortable motor to — somewhere.

But where? That simple question became complicated when they realized that no one knew for sure how much fuel was in the tanks. They chose the closest harbor though it took them farther from home, and seven hours later, seasick, bruised, and soaked from being tossed around in six-foot waves with no sails up, they finally pulled into Port O'Connor fuel dock at Matagorda Bay. Most of them would have liked to call it quits right then, but someone aboard must have had a silver tongue, because they left after fueling as darkness was falling, bound for the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (known locally as "The Ditch") that would take them back to Galveston.

But where? That simple question became complicated when they realized that no one knew for sure how much fuel was in the tanks. They chose the closest harbor though it took them farther from home, and seven hours later, seasick, bruised, and soaked from being tossed around in six-foot waves with no sails up, they finally pulled into Port O'Connor fuel dock at Matagorda Bay. Most of them would have liked to call it quits right then, but someone aboard must have had a silver tongue, because they left after fueling as darkness was falling, bound for the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (known locally as "The Ditch") that would take them back to Galveston.

With half the crew incapacitated by seasickness and the other half exhausted, they wandered around in the dark, followed a local catamaran into The Ditch, ran aground avoiding barge traffic, managed to power off, and, with the engine stalling every few minutes, finally coasted into Matagorda Marina. Boomer Schooner again lost power coming in past the jetty, but instead of impaling itself on the rocks, it bounced off some sandbags and somehow found its way to a safe berth.

As Mr. Hanley points out, "This story contains many of the same problems which you frequently refer to in your publication. The rigging had not been thoroughly inspected, the auxiliary engine had not been serviced. The fuel filter had not been changed, nor the fuel tank filled." In other words, though Murphy was at work, he had a fair bit of help with this one.End of story marker



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