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Ever Bought a Boat Sight Unseen?

We bought Olson 30 #66 in Richmond sight unseen about five years ago.She’s been a fabulous boat for us, both for Zen sailing on San Francisco Bay and for 15 singlehanded circumnavigations of St. Barth in the Caribbean.  

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Generally speaking, buying or attempting to buy a boat sight unseen is not something to be recommended. Just ask Dan Hayes and Rose Alderson of Gabriola Island, British Columbia. In the January 20 ‘Lectronic, we reported that, having sailed their Catalina 34 Aussie Rules across the Pacific, the couple sold her in Australia, then agreed to buy a Catalina 400 “fixer-upper” in St. Martin in the Eastern Caribbean.

After they’d made the long flight from Australia to St. Martin, red flags immediately started flying when the woman who claimed to own the boat refused to even let them go aboard until their check had cleared. Strange, no? It got even more weird.

“The woman’s story kept changing,” reports Rose, “and she kept trying to get us to deposit the money in different, impossible ways to someone not listed in the sales agreement — which she’d never even signed. We finally said enough is enough. Maybe we’ll find another Catalina, maybe a boat in Croatia, or maybe we’ll build a house first.”

Beware, as there are still plenty of pirates in the Caribbean. If we were Dave and Rose, having flown all the way to the Caribbean, we’d look at other boats in St. Martin, a huge yachting center; in the British Virgin Islands, an even bigger yachting center where countless charter boats come out of service; and even down in Le Marin, Martinique, where they have lots of Euro-based boats on the block.

But it raises the fun question of whether you’ve ever bought a boat sight unseen, and how it turned out. We’ve done it twice, and still own both the boats. The first was the Leopard 45 cat that became ‘ti Profligate. But it wasn’t truly sight unseen, as Tim Schaff of the sistership Jet Stream and the folks at BVI Yacht Charters had given her their seal of approval. The second was Olson 30 #66 that just happened to be in Richmond. She was such a bargain — about $4,000 — we didn’t see how we could go wrong. And we didn’t. Now named La Gamelle, she’s living on a mooring in St. Barth now, and we’re drooling, as we’ll be sailing her again in about three weeks.

But enough about us, we’d like to hear about your experiences, if any, buying a sailboat sight unseen. Email Richard.

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Profligate on her own hook in the rather deep water of Yelapa. The dark color of the water indicates how deep it is.
The Melges 24 Shaka shakes off her rig on Friday at Key West Race Week, in breeze building past 20 knots and monstrous seas.