Five Year Plan

Budget Boating

By Bill Sandifer

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 5, Number 4, July/August 2002.

Here’s the five-year plan that rescued a $1,200 boat

A boat in the barn

Not so long ago I did not have a cruising boat, but I wanted one badly.
My wife understood and said, “Take the $2,500 we’ve put away, and
buy a boat.” You may not believe that $2,500 will buy a cruising
boat, but it did. I got a great boat plus money.

How is this possible?
I began with a search for all of the cheap boats in the newspapers
and looked at every one. It was discouraging. I contacted a local
yacht broker, who said, “What do you want for $2,500? I told him
I wanted a Pearson Ariel. He said he might have one for sale and
to call him the next day. When I called, he offered to show me the
boat. He said it had been raced hard and was not in good shape, but “What
do you expect for $2,500?”

When I saw the
boat it had a frozen Atomic 4 engine, loads of sails, deteriorated
deck and maststep, and what felt like a shark-bitten rudder, but
it was an Ariel, and it was floating. I bought it for $1,200 “as
is, where is.”

But I had to move
it within 48 hours to clear the slip. I removed the plugs, filled
the cylinders with Marvel Mystery Oil and waited 24 hours. I then
bought a new battery and returned to the boat with a mechanic. He
was not very optimistic but was willing to try to start the engine.
When we spun it over without plugs in the cylinder, it sprayed Mystery
Oil all over the engine room, but it was freely rotating.

A new electric
fuel pump, a little carburetor cleaning, and the engine came to life.
I backed out of the slip and motored home towing a dink with a dependable
outboard “just in case.” It was never needed. Once we were home I
developed a five-year plan for the boat resurrection. Notice I did
not say restoration. That is too ambitious. It was a resurrection.

Surprise profit

First, to raise money for the boat, I sold most of the sails through
a used-sail broker. I received $1,500 for them, which surprised me.
Now I had a profit of $300 on the purchase price. Of course I promptly
spent that, plus $500, on a bottom job. I dropped the rudder by digging
a hole in the yard and took it home for epoxy repair.

The five-year
plan starts with finding the boat. Vessels like this are usually
shunted to the back of the yard and neglected. You have to find the
owner and make a deal with him and also with the yard owner to obtain
free and clear title to the vessel. This will not be easy. The boat
owner will see a way to make some money and rid himself of a liability,
and the yard owner will want payment as he has been “storing the
yacht” for a long period of time. Your job will be to make a deal
with the yard man to move the boat once you have title free and clear
of any and all boatyard liens. Next you’ve got to convince the owner
to give you title to the vessel for something like $1,500. This can
be done, but it requires great diplomacy.

There is no question
of making an offer subject to survey. In a case like this, you have
to be your own surveyor. The owner of the boatyard will probably
not, for safety and liability reasons, let anyone board the boat,
so you will have to survey her with your eyes and fingertips.

One potential
problem is ice. If the boat has lived through winter weather on the
hard, water will have gotten inside. There must be an open hull drain
or through-hull to let the water out, but some probably remained
and froze. Make sure it did not split the hull somewhere. Through
careful observation of the outside of the hull, including the bottom
of the keel, you should be able to tell if there is a problem or
not. If it froze and split the hull, the boat will not sail again
without a lot of help. This should affect your future plans for the
boat and the amount you are willing to pay for her. Enough said.

First year

Many people start out these resurrections with lots of enthusiasm and
little money. They decide to “do it right,” and try to make the boat “like
new.” After a time, money runs out, the enthusiasm wanes, and the
boat is once again a derelict. With good planning and a little patience
this does not have to happen. What is needed is a five-year plan
with definite, practical goals for each year.

It doesn’t take
long to make most boats weathertight and to get them floating. Pretty
and glossy no, but usable yes. The object is to have a useable boat
to enjoy, not one sitting in a yard to be worked on ad infinitum.
The boat may only need a coat of bottom paint, a good cleaning, and
a motor to be able to be used as a power launch. The professional
mechanic and a battery for my motor cost $300. Old but good, these
Atomic 4s. In the first year I had a boat good for picnics, beach
runs, and quiet times on the water. Get the boat back in the water
and enjoy it. Don’t try to accomplish too much at the expense of
no fun for the first year.

One of the first
things you must do is be sure the boat is watertight and safe to
operate while it is still out of the water, assuming you bought her
in the yard. All below-the-waterline valves should be operated, greased,
and tested. One way to test the valves “in the yard and on the hard” is
to disconnect the old hoses attached to the inside of each through-hull

Attach a 54-inch-long
hose (one foot longer than her potential draft in cruising trim)
on the inside of the valve. Suspend the open end of the hose vertically
and tie it off so it stays put. Fill the hose with water and go around
to the outside of the hull and observe the through-hull. If water
is seeping out, the valve leaks and needs to be adjusted or replaced.
If there are no leaks, go back inside and slowly open the valve.
The water should run out. Close the valve, dry the outside of the
through-hull, and try again. If it is still dry on the outside, chances
are the valve is good. Move on to the next one. Once you have checked
all of the seacocks, replace the old hoses with new ones, and you
should be ready to go. Since my boat was purchased in the water,
I left all of the above until I hauled her out in the yard.

Good cleaning

Once the valves have been checked or replaced, it’s time to move inside.
First in importance is a good cleaning, followed by removal of all
old, non-working, or broken items. This includes the old direct discharge
head and all of its hoses and fittings. It is no longer legal anyway,
and you really do not want to pollute. The valves should have been
tested previously, so all you need to do is close and cap them off
on the inside. I have found that PVC pipe caps from the local hardware
store plus some Teflon tape works well. Replace the head with a Porta
Potti or similar. Even if only temporary, this will work fine for
limited use.

The other thing
to check is the rudder tube and the top bearing. Check the bottom
bearing for excess movement and play. If necessary, drop the rudder
heel shoe and insert a bushing to take up the space and restore the
smooth movement of the rudder. If there is no top bearing, consider
adding an Edson rudder stuffing box to the top of the glassed-in
rudder tube. It is well worth the little effort and moderate cost
involved. I installed mine in one easy day of work.

Before you start
to use the boat, you need to register it and get good life jackets,
anchor and rode, and other U.S. Coast Guard-required equipment. All
except the registration can be purchased inexpensively at a marine
discount store. A Danforth-type anchor has worked for me and is not
overly expensive. The idea is to get the boat in use again, not to
make it perfect. In most states, the department of licensing oversees
the titling and registration process. You can register at your local
county auditor’s office or at subagency branches of the Department
of Motor Vehicles.

The cabin trunk
windows may leak, and you will probably have to redo the entire interior,
but for this year the boat is ready to provide on-the-water enjoyment
as a power boat. Your family will really enjoy the boat and think
you’re wonderful for finding this great boat.

Second year

What you do and when you do it needs to be determined by you and your
pocketbook, but for year two and beyond a practical plan would be
to check all of her blocks and deck fittings. Check the deck hardware,
cleats, chocks, blocks, and the rest. Check the maststep and chainplates.
Verify that the standing rigging is good, grease the turnbuckles,
and check out the mast, particularly the mast base. I had to support
the mast (it was stepped) with a jack and a 4 x 4 just to keep it
upright so I could power the boat home.

Older boats usually
have oversized (by today’s standards) bronze turnbuckles and through-bolted
chainplates. The chainplates need to be unbolted and pulled for inspection,
but they are probably fine if they’re bronze. If they’re stainless
steel, give them a really good inspection. Use new bolts to reset
them and caulk under the chainplate covers with a removable caulking.

The masts and booms
of this era are oversized by today’s standards, too, and probably
need only to be cleaned. Be sure to clean and lubricate the sail
track before you step the mast. A product called Fast Track works
well. I almost replaced my old mast track with one of the newer slide-in
tracks before I tried Fast Track. I learned to grease the luff groove
twice a year, and the main went up and down easily. Remove the spreaders,
inspect each end and replace if necessary.
Rebolt them if that is the way they were attached. The cast-aluminum
spreader bases are not of the same high quality as the mast, and they
may crack over time. Try cleaning them up really well to be sure they
don’t have a crack in them. There is a product on the market called Dye
Check. You can find it in welding supply houses. This is good for checking
spreader bases, swage fittings on standing rigging, and the stemhead

Lots of sails

It will not be a problem to find good used sails for her if you need
them. Used-sail brokers and your local loft will have lots of listings.
Allow about $900 for a good used main and jib. This is for a 26-foot,
sloop-rigged boat. Even if it exists, the old running rigging will
be useless. Plan on about $250 for new halyards and running rigging.
For the Ariel, we chose 3Ú8-inch low-stretch Dacron for all
uses. Anything smaller, while strong enough, is too small for my
hands. The mainsheet and jibsheet can be similarly sized.

Our Ariel had
winches, which only need to be cleaned and greased, but the operations
that sell used sails generally sell used winches also. Size l0 self-tailing
would be nice, but you can use size l0 non-self-tailing if the budget
demands it. You don’t even need winches if you are willing to luff
up into the wind, set the sheets, cleat them, and then fall off.
You can live that way for a while in order to use limited resources
for other priorities.

Since I am taking
the liberty of listing my priorities, the rest of them would go something
like this:

Happily sailing your new boat

the ability to power away with a clean boat.

the ability to sail.

By the third
add the ability to picnic aboard, which calls for an ice
chest and a Porta Potti.

In the fourth
, start the rebuild. Begin with the interior, first the
V-berths (easy) and work aft to the galley (hard due to the drawers).
Next, the main deck (new grabrails, lifelines, anchor roller, varnished
tiller, rubrails, and so on). The Ariel had an original teak tiller
that might have cleaned up enough to be varnished, but it was easier
to replace it with one from a marine discounter. Finally, replace
the old Plexiglas in the portlights if it’s crazed or frosted.

In the fifth
you’re ready to outfit for cruising (sun awning, lights,
water tank, sun shower, and so on).

By the time you
are at year five of a five-year plan you should have had a lot of
fun already. We used the boat every year and did not notice that
we were lacking for anything. I accepted the boat’s limitations and
worked to improve her slowly as money and time allowed. What was
important was the fun we had, the peace of a quiet sail, and the
thrill of a brisk reach.

When five years
had come and gone, the Ariel was once again a boat to be proud of.
More than anything I was proud of myself for finding a derelict and
recreating the swan hidden under the dirt all these years. There
is no better satisfaction than saving a wonderful sailboat to sail
another day, month, and year. It is worth doing, and the boat will
return the favor with safety, peace, and tranquility.

You can afford
a small cruising boat on a small budget and have a lot of fun and
satisfaction in the bargain. Good hunting!

Join Our Sailing Community. Subscribe Now!

Complimentary monthly supplement

  • featured articles
  • news from the helm
  • mail buoy
  • book reviews
  • sailor photos
  • and much more

Good Old Boat News Flash!

Our website is getting some long overdue improvements! has merged with

Thanks for your patience while our website is under construction.