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Yacht Experience Matters

Breaking the commonsense barrier for know-it-all yachstmen.

September 23, 2020
Steve Haefele illustration
Experience can often be the best teacher. Steve Haefele

A number of my industry pals have been voicing a common gripe. The internet has provided a fresh crop of boat buyers who know all there is to know about boats, and who don’t appreciate the wisdom of those with practical experience. Would you be wise to a pitch that promised the moon? Don’t answer. Please read on.

If you can learn to fix a Rolex or suture a wound by watching YouTube, then why not learn how to invest in the pastime? There are legions of self-appointed pundits online to explain all you need to know. Marine mavens have been with us since Noah.

And before internet experts nudged dreamers off the dock, there were plenty of enablers. Most yacht-design clients I dealt with arrived with a maven in tow. In many cases, these were simply friends of the victim who enjoyed hearing their own sea stories and promoting their brilliant solutions to the challenges of marine design. I recall one who insisted that self-contained plastic heads fit for a pop-up camper were ideal for a 60-foot motoryacht. “Why not a 5-gallon bucket?” I deadpanned.

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Mavens were often friends of a client who’d tired of their freeloading pals bumming rides on their boating budget. Others practiced self-promotion for profit. On one project I remember, the client’s interior decorator conjured an arrangements plan for a 100-footer with a crayon set. The problem? The boat was 80 feet. I pointed out the challenge, and the client took me aside and explained the facts: “Eighty feet is all you have, and if the decorator isn’t happy, my wife isn’t happy—and no boat.”

In custom projects, mavens are often hired hands and come with the title project manager. Customers often bestow this honorary title on a captain, surveyor or designer. I have always found this amusing because, in truth, once a contract is signed—for better or worse—the builder is the only project manager. And for richer or poorer, the change-order markup ensures that the builder will remain happily married.

There is certainly value to having your own qualified eyes and ears at the shipyard, but the details of construction and outfitting should be agreed to before wood is sawed. Surprises in new-yacht construction are usually not good ones. Design revisions after the fact should be avoided because they can cost more than cash. Unexpected weight gain can have serious effects on performance.

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The truth is, there are more “experts” willing to tell qualified dreamers yes than no. When choosing a professional in the marine industry, I’ve always recommended asking two simple questions: Have you ever done this before? Did it work?

If the answer is no and you move ahead, then you are a pioneer and might realize a faster return investing in commercial space travel to the moon. So, you’ve searched the web and found a 200-foot semi-submersible bowrider with A-list accommodations and surface speeds over 100 knots. Go get ’em. Godspeed, John Glenn!

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