Friday, June 8, 2007

The Sea Trial

Often a broker will handle the sea trial himself and the buyer will never meet the seller. In this case it would be just me and the seller.

Taking a boat out for a sail is not as casual as taking a car for a test drive. It doesn't happen until the buyer has put up real money as a deposit. Pretending to be a boat buyer is not a way to get in a free day of sailing.

Instead, it is meant to demonstrate that the boat works as it should. The engine can get it out of the slip, and back again. The sails can be raised and lowered and they are in satisfactory condition. The steering system works. The electronics that are advertised to work, actually do work. (Old electronics on old boats seldom work, which is built into the asking price).

The sea trial is scheduled in advance and unless it is stormy, that's when you go. A smart buyer in Southern California will set up an afternoon trial because that's when the wind is most likely to be blowing. If it turns out to be a beautiful sunny day with a fresh breeze, you've hit the jackpot. That's how it worked out for me.

The Nissan 9.8 hp outboard was cold and the seller assured me that it had not been started since I had first seen the boat a week earlier. It started instantly with a push of the electric start button, and fast-idled to warm up.

There are a lot of good reasons for using an outboard as auxiliary power for a sailboat, especially an old sailboat whose inboard engine has gone bad. I already had gotten a ballpark estimate of $12,000 to $13,000 to replace the Ericson's old gasoline engine with a new diesel. The estimate assumed that the new engine would be half the cost. The other half would be the installation, which would require re-engineering the installation and replacing most or all of the other components such as propeller shaft, fuel tank and exhaust system.

Frankly, I didn't appreciate the complexity involved in re-powering an old sailboat. Nor did I know that in the coming months I would become intimately acquainted with all those issues.

I know of several old boats in the same size range as the Ericson 30 where owners have removed old gasoline engines and hung outboards off the transom.

The result is a lighter boat, better fuel economy, a quieter cabin under power, and big cost savings. When the Nissan was purchased, its list price was about $2,300. When and if it needed service, it was light enough to be removed and hauled to the shop, saving an expensive bill for on-the-boat repairs.

On the other hand, its presence ruined the the aesthetics of the transom of the Ericson 30. It was awkward to lower it into position and raise it out of the water afterward. It was difficult to shift the transmission. And steering by turning the outboard--especially helpful when backing out of the slip--was tricky.

So, as we did back out of the slip and head out of the marina for Santa Monica Bay, I was thinking of the outboard as a temporary expedient and assuming that I would soon have the inboard Albin working.

Once beyond the seawalls, we encountered light winds, a small swell and just enough wave action to demonstrate how smoothly the Ericson rode through the sea.

The mainsail was easy to hoist, running up an external track on the aft side of the mast rather than up a slot extruded into the mast. I mentally chalked that up as a plus. There was a mast-mounted winch for the main halyard, but used only to snug it up the last few inches.

The main on my current boat--the one I would soon put up for sale--had to be hoisted using a winch mounted on the cabin-top, or better yet, with a crewman hauling on the halyard at the mast while another cranked the winch.

At the bow the Harken roller furler looked to be a recent installation and worked well. The sails were old, soft, grubby, and daylight shone through some of the stitching on the main. The main could easily have been original. But we weren't racing. The sails trimmed well and the boat quickly proved that it would be nice cruiser in its current condition.

As we motored back to the slip, I paid close attention to our route, looking for the numbers on the ends of the gangways, and memorizing the path from the owner's slip to the boat yard where the boat would be hauled for its survey a few days hence.

It would be up to me to motor the boat back to its slip once it was out of the yard. The owner and I already had figured out how long I could keep it at his slip. I had my own slip in my own marina, but it contained my current boat, which wasn't even officially for sale yet.

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