The Inspection & Survey

So, I’ve walked you through how we got to Hunter, what our budget was…and the logic behind it. I also walked you through the offer, and the haggling, with me and the seller settling on a price of $46K against a $55K asking price. We entered into a contract at that point, and I started looking for a surveyor.

But hold up, there was one important step prior to the contract…or even the offer. And that was…

The Inspection
I’d been on the sailing forums long enough to have read many, many threads and discussions about how to carry out an inspection prior to a survey. One of the most prolific of those sources was a pretty great thread on Sailnet:

Boat Inspection Trip Tips

BUT while I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for a boat, this particular thread, as with these discussions in general, just hit me as a bit over the top. For example, I wasn’t about to buy a moisture meter and a phenolic hammer and start tapping and “reading” decks on my visit to a boat I was interested in. Sure, I understood the basics about (and necessities of) both of these things. But I DIDN’T know enough to feel comfortable that I would understand what I was seeing and hearing. Furthermore, I didn’t bring along a Volt-Ohm multimeter. Same issue. There’s a very good reason there are professional surveyors in the world. And I’m perfectly content to pay them a few hundred dollars to do their job on a boat I’m 80% sure I want to buy based on MY inspection.

So, what was my approach to MY initial inspection? Be very thorough without pretending to be a surveyor. Pretty simple really.

To this point, I’d looked at maybe 10 boats over the years…6 of them being Hunter 40s (though I was never really in a position to buy). I’d done enough research and seen enough of these boats to know the general problem areas (leaks from the deck hardware, potential blisters, bad refrigerators, leaking ports, broken heads, problems with the holding tanks, water damaged wood surfaces, etc.). I’d seen many of these issues first-hand in those I’d inspected. But all in all, most of the boats I looked at were in pretty good shape. It had been a great training ground for inspection – though probably frustrating to the brokers whose time I wantonly wasted.

As I mentioned before, I found this particular boat on YachtWorld. It popped up right around the time I was seriously looking, and what caught my eye was the price, the photos of the boat, and the location in Kemah…just a few hours away and the place I planned to keep the boat anyway. Here are a few samples of those photos in the YachtWorld ad:

I liked all the canvass (pride of ownership), the furler, and how squared-away the deck looked.

More canvass, pushpit seats that didn’t come with the earlier H40s, the LifeSling, and an almost full compliment of winches.

How could you beat a new Isotherm refer unit? Sweet!

Obviously well-taken-care-of and nicely decorated. I also like the more traditional wood cabinets in place of the plexi sliders on the older H40s. Nice. And the boys were crazy about the flatscreen entertainment center!

A nav station someone had really cared about. Full boat sound system with switchable speakers. Pimpin’.

No saggy headliners like the Benes! And no dorm fridge like the older H40s. Very nicely taken care of wood surfaces.

And it may not matter to you, but decorative touches like this meant, to me, that the owners had spent a lot of time on this boat…taking care of it. Sure, it wasn’t my taste in decor, but still…

My obvious weakness…the centerline queen berth. And I noticed the valuable compliment of cockpit cushions to port.

A nice clean head. Who can argue?

V-Berth looked to be clean and well-taken-care-of. And the boys STILL loved the entertainment center and remote!!

Engine looked clean – newish alternator – no oil in the bilge.

Liking everything I saw, I contacted Pat, the broker, to arrange a visit and drove down to Kemah on a Monday morning. The boat was just a few slips down from his office.

I took my iPhone and a flashlight. That’s it. No Gilliganesque Utility Belt with moisture meters, phenolic hammers, and ohmeters hanging off it. I’d done enough research over the years, and enough inspections of other boats I’d been interested in to know the big things to look for. And to know what I wouldn’t know.

My first impression was good. She looked to be in good shape.

She generally matched her YachtWorld photos – which is always a bonus.

I really liked the fact that she already had radar. This was important to me in light of the UNLIT rigs in our area.

It was all looking great…BUT…you have to remember something very important: YachtWorld photos only show the sexy. There’s usually a pretty fair amount of skank elsewhere on that great looking boat. Sure enough, as I began to look closer there were issues. From a problematic head, to delamination at a bulkhead, to water damage, to stress cracks in the deck gelcoat, etc. – there were items that would need attention:

The aft cabin showed signs of water infiltration common to these boats. H40s are notorious for leakage in this area. One of the reasons is that THERE ARE NO DRAINS IN THE LAZARETTES! WTH??

Though the engine looked to be in good shape, there was definitely some corrosion. It also looked to me that the engine mount was broken. I took note of this.

There was some nice expensive equipment onboard. I was stoked to see this new Xantrex TrueCharge battery charger.

And the VHF and SailComp racing compass was a nice bonus (valued at $1500 combined). The Jensen tunage wasn’t bad either.

The JRC radar screen only at the nav station bothered me a bit as I prefer it at the helm.. but I did like the Tri-Data instrument down below. This would be great in races.

A linear-drive SmartPilot AP. Now THIS was a nice bonus…and worth some serious coin.

Though there didn’t appear to be any real water damage above the sole, there were places in the sole here and there that showed some delam and rot due to water. I could deal with that later. Overall, though, the plywood-veneer sole seemed to be in very good shape.

Obvious issues with the joker valve – and an indication that the boat had sat empty for a good while. Time to lay off the curry.

The broker had told me that the boat had been raced for a few seasons. This became obvious as I found several stress-cracks in the gelcoat in areas where lots of sail would have transferred loads to the deck.

Definitely lots of loads in the past. Likely due to the pumping of the mast…maybe under spinnaker?

I checked every seacock I could find. They all seemed to be in good shape – although most only had one set of clamps. I’d have to put that on the mtx list.

The bilge looked good. There was a bit of freshwater in the bottom of it, but not bad at all.

The v-berth showed signs of persistent moisture….mold on the liner. There was definitely a pretty substantial leak somewhere.

Well – I found that leak. This concerned me. It was some significant rot at the bulkhead. Was it structural?

The only other obvious item I found was the running rigging, much of which, except for the main halyard and jib sheets, was in very poor shape. But that didn’t worry me too much. I could deal with that over time.

As is normal with the first look at a boat, I wasn’t able to start the engine or really dig into anything – but I’d seen enough for me to decide whether or not I wanted to go further on this one. What does going further mean? It means you start spending money.

It is a strange thing in the world of boats that before you can really “get a peek under the hood”, you have to make an offer, enter into a contract, and write the first of many big freakin’ checks for the deposit (refundable though it may be). With a car, you test drive it before you make that offer. With a boat, it’s a leap of faith that is often all too blind (as you’ll see).

I liked this boat. And though there were definitely issues that would require some coin – the price and year-model was still very much in the right spot. So, I decided to go for it (you can see the pricing and haggling process in the previous post.) The photos above came in handy when pressuring the price downward.

The Survey
Once we were under contract and I’d written that check for $4,600 (10% of the offer which would be held in escrow) it was time to set up the survey. I called around and got some recommendations on my own. I’d heard horror stories about using a surveyor recommended by the broker. And though I felt pretty comfortable that I had an honest broker in Pat on the other side of the deal – I wanted to be sure. After several calls and recommendations, I ended up hiring a great guy Lou Stahlberg of LHS Marine. I wholeheartedly recommend him.

I sent these photos, along with my notes from the inspection. I also sent my list of questions I’d presented to the owner, along with his responses. So Lou had everything I had. We set up a haulout at a nearby boat yard and nailed down the date. Lou encouraged me to attend the survey…which I was planning anyway.

I showed up on the morning of the survey at 0800 and Lou was already hard at work. He was an ex-Coastie. We hit it off immediately, and he was incredibly patient as he walked me through the details of each item he was inspecting. This is one of the best learning experiences you can possibly have for your new boat. You shouldn’t miss it.

Lou walked me through the electrical panel, the AC unit, the refrigerator, the generator, the radar, and more.

The Phasor generator took a while to start, but she ran fine and powered the AC and microwave. Not bad.

The rotted bulkhead turned out not be structural – and Lou said it would be a relatively easy fix for a good woodworker. And there were no other significant issues on the interior of the boat. So all was good there.

Next came the deck. Lou found a tiny crack in the swage of the starboard intermediate shroud. I was amazed that he saw it. The guy was good. This find prompted me to call a rigger to set up a rigging inspection aloft. Another invoice – another check.

Lou also pulled out that famed moisture meter and phenolic hammer and began sounding and taking readings of the deck. Sure enough, between the anchor locker and the v-berth hatch there was moisture and delam. It was in an area about 2′ X 3′. I asked Lou what he thought a repair like this would run. He estimated $2,500. This prompted Pat (the broker) to immediately call the owner with the dreaded line, “We’ve got a problem…” He came back a couple of minutes later with a reduction of $2,500 off the agreed price. Everyone was being reasonable. Good sign.

There were no more issues with the deck. Even the stress cracks I was worried about turned about to be just gelcoat cracks – no wetness beneath them. I could deal with those later.

Then it was time for the haulout. We motored over to South Texas Yacht Services on the other side of the marina.

Yours truly acknowledging the paparazzi. My broker-buddy Pat at the helm.

We eased into the lift bay and the crane started doing its thing. It was at this point that Pat, the broker, said those magic words, “Now there will be blisters.” Ah…blisters. One of the biggest fears in the yachting world. NOW he tells me.

Overall, the bottom looked great with only a light buildup of beasties. She was powerwashed and Lou and I moved in for a closer inspection.

Sure enough, there was what Lou called a “moderate” amount of dime-sized blisters on the hull and rudder. It looked like a lot to me – but he assured me he’d seen much worse.

Now I had done a pretty good amount of research on the dreaded pox of doom. And I had found out a couple of things.

1. Blisters are common in the warmer southern waters where boats float year-roound. I’ve seen estimates that 90% of boats in these waters have them.
2. They’re not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things.

I came across a few articles on the issue:

Blisters Don’t Matter! – by Jan De Groot
Oh No! My Boat’s Got Blisters!! – by Jeremy Hood
Singing the Boat Bottom Blister Blues – by Brian Cleverly

The main question is…are they “structural” – meaning, is the underlying laminate being affected? Or are they “superficial” – in just the gelcoat and/or barrier coat? Lou assured me he’d have a good idea of that answer with a thorough hull sounding. So he began tapping everything with his phenolic hammer. After about 30 minutes of banging around he was comfortable that these pox were primarily superficial. I spoke with the boatyard guys who said they charged $50/blister to grind and fill them prior to a bottom job. Obviously doing every single one of these blisters would be exorbitant. But Lou and the boatyard guys said just maintaining the worst of them at each bottom job would ensure that things didn’t get out of control.

So, decision time. I have several options:

1. I could walk away and try to find one of the ten-percenter boats that didn’t have blisters. Maybe I’d find a Hunter 40 that was pristine – but that was very doubtful unless I found one up north that was hauled every winter. But then I’d have several thousand in costs for moving the boat down here to Texas – THEN I’d likely end up with blisters on that boat in a few years anyway.

2. I could take my surveyor’s (and boatyard’s) advice and just maintain this very common problem.

3. I could spend months and thousands of dollars doing the dreaded bottom peel on this boat…which, again, would likely have the same problems again in a few years.

I knew this wasn’t a safety issue. And I knew that I had no desire to do an extensive bottom peel – not worth the money by any means. I just wanted a boat that I liked, that I could afford, and that I could sail. But at what cost? The problem with blisters comes when selling the boat. There would be a buyer who would use this commonly dreaded problem to drive the purchase price down…just like I was about to do. I could live with that. This was not, after all, a financial investment. It was a boat that was somewhat “disposable”

So it would be the maintenance route for me. Despite the pox of doom…I kept the deal alive.

The Test Sail
We dropped her back into the water and motored out into the bay – as Lou stayed below and checked out the engine. Though my arm was still very messed up from the accident, Pat let me drive her while he graciously tended the sheets. The wind was in the 15-20 range so we pulled out one sail at a time.

She sailed like a dream.

After 30 minutes of absolute glory we headed back toward the marina. I’d made up my mind. This was going to be our boat.

Survey – $560
Haulout/Wash – $220
Rig Inspection – $380
TOTAL – $1,160

Now bear in mind – this was almost $1,200 I stood to lose if something hadn’t checked out. This is the serious gamble of the yacht purchase. $1,200 is a lot of coin to simply blow out over the water if you decide to bail. The flip side is that you ABSOLUTELY have to be willing to lose that money if things look too expensive to fix. It’s a tough balance and is just the unfortunate price of yacht shopping.

I was now ready to make my final offer and close on the boat. Little did I know the Vesuvius-style eruption of cash that was about to occur…

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