Neglected boats seem to find me. People call to see if I’m interested in buying or can help to resurrect old wrecks. I try to give advice or direct them to the help they need. So it wasn’t a big surprise to get a call from a friend a couple of weeks ago.
“Know anyone interested in a 32-foot Black Fin Sportfish?” asks my buddy Bucky, “I know a guy whose brother died and he’s stuck trying to get rid of his old boat to settle the estate.”
No one I’m familiar with is looking to buy right now, especially for that size boat, but I’m curious enough to ask a few questions. What year is it, what’s it got for engines, how long has it been sitting, was it winterized when it was put away, does he have a title, and how much?
Bucky couldn’t answer any of the questions up front so we take a trip to see the boat. It is sitting uncovered in a yard, under a tree, of course. It is filthy, covered in dirt and green mold. The blocking under the keel is crumbling and the boat is hanging on the jackstands. We meet the new owner, Bob, a retiree, and get the particulars.
The cabin is wide open and filled with trash like someone was using the boat as a clubhouse for drinking parties—it has a lot of mold on every surface. A quick look at the head and I’m ready to gag. All the seat cushions on the fly bridge and bolsters in the cockpit are ruined. The engine hour meter reads 704. I open the engine boxes to look at the engines—the rust, corrosion, cracked hoses, and mice nests date the neglect. I don’t bother to tap the hull or survey further but climb down to talk with the owner.
He’s pretty sure that he can pay someone to clean it up for only a $100 and get the engines started himself—thinks his brother paid 100K for the boat, but doesn’t want to put any time or money into the boat. Asks me if I want to take it off his hands, as is, for that much, and I laugh!
“I’m sure your brother paid good money for the boat, these were great boats in their day,” I say, “but boats don’t appreciate, they depreciate and ones in this condition without any usable equipment, won’t find much interest in this tough market unless you are willing to sell very low.” I start to silently estimate the costs of restoring the boat to serviceable condition in my head and tell the owner I need to do some research before saying anymore. I can tell from his attitude however that he is overvaluing the boat and underestimating the rehab work and costs significantly. On the ride home I talk to my buddy Bucky about the owner’s unrealistic expectations.
I get home and call a broker friend of mine who looks up some recently sold boats of the same vintage and configuration, but also in great condition. To my surprise, they sold in the 50k range and the same boat with gas engines sold for 30K. Next I call a certified Caterpillar mechanic who worked for me some years back to ask what it would cost to get the engines going and give me an honest assessment of their condition. Armed with this estimate of $9-20k per engine I start to guess at the countless hours of rehab and think about all the other things likely to need replacing, like a new head and plumbing, just to take it back to good, let alone great condition.
The engines in this boat are the big unknown and the big risk. If you could bar them over and prove they aren’t frozen, then start them from an alternative fuel source (the fuel tanks on this boat should be emptied and inspected), then you could assess the engines’ conditions. My mechanic contact suggested it could hypothetically be as much as $23-25k per engine for a complete overhaul, eating up the potential $50k value of the boat.
With the owner still thinking he could clean this up for a few hundred bucks, add a new battery to fire those low hour engines, and be tuna fishing tomorrow, I don’t see a way forward. My own estimate is that anybody buying this boat would have to invest $20k at minimum above the purchase price even if they did their own work. And they’d be taking on a big risk of finding other problems once they got the engines running. So this Black Fin may remain a diamond in the rough, until the current owner is either willing to invest time and money to prove the value himself, or lowers the price enough to make the risk/reward worth the effort.
It may be a diamond, but right now it looks more like coal.