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A Captain's Berth

Buying or Building Your Own Yacht is a Risky Venture that Requires Long Months of Investigation
Edward Kiersh
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Winter 95/96

(continued from page 2)

"The key reason to work with a broker is that he knows the 'comparables,' what boats are available, and what they're selling for," says Steven Kletjian, the CEO of UNICCO, a facilities service firm, who has purchased three boats through Gerry Hull. "A buyer naturally wants to pay as little as possible for the boat and what should be on it. But here, too, a good broker provides price guidelines, and can bring that buyer back to reality."

A note of caution: A buyer must trust the broker implicitly. (A few other agents with good reputations are Bill Sanderson of Camper & Nicholsons of Palm Beach, Florida, and Merle Wood of Merle Wood and Associates in Ft. Lauderdale). The broker is more than just a chaperone, escorting clients around the globe. During this often costly search, which can last from three months to three years, the agent serves as negotiator, an evaluator of naval surveys and, to boost a client's confidence, a hand-holding confidante-cum-psychologist.

"Looking for a boat is kind of a forced march from country to country," says Jeff Chapple, the semi-retired president of Marlin Management Services in Burlington, Vermont, who spent $30,000 on a few months of traveling before finding and buying a 115-foot Codecasa powerboat in Antibes. "You see so many boats, you can't remember them all. But a knowledgeable broker, the non-high pressure type, gets the buyer through this grind. He's a friend, yet he also gets you to think through the entire process."

Once an appropriate yacht is found, the broker negotiates the deal, typically receiving 10 percent of the price from the seller. The adventure, though, isn't over. An experienced broker arranges sea trials and inspections, which necessitates his calling in marine surveyors and machinery experts to write reports detailing everything from the hull's condition to the performance of the electronics. If it's determined that a yacht needs a refitting, a broker will often go back to the seller and renegotiate a final price.

"If the hull or engine needs major work, I want a good price adjustment to compensate for the defect," says Hull, who adds that deals become dicey when repairs hit the mid-six-figure range on $2 million to $5 million boats. Otherwise, "talks usually go smoothly," he says. "Sellers realize that whether it's this buyer or the next one, defects must be fixed. The only deal-breaker is when these repairs are going to take a very long time. Buyers want to go cruising; they don't want to be in a yard for six months."

There's an exhilaration from being in the hunt, the thrill of discovery. But there's also a flip side at times--the disappointments of seeing unimpressive yachts, plus the frustrating twists and turns of stalled negotiations.

Most new buyers, if buoyed by seasoned advisers, find the resiliency (and savvy) to overcome the challenges of a lengthy search. Yet others, after seeing numerous boats, have an epiphany of sorts. Dissatisfied with what's in the water, they decide to buy a new boat; they either go with a production boat or choose the custom route. As Gerry Hull says, "This is another journey. In fact, it's a whole new ball game."

Go to any boat show, and it's easy to think you took a wrong turn into a Miss Universe pageant. Women in bikinis come flying at you, flaunting brochures, champagne, gifts--a whole world of giveaways. Here, talk is cheap. Every boat, to the salesmen manning the exhibits, is the "yacht of your dreams."

A prospective new boat buyer should visit one or two of these shows. It is truly an experience, and along with all the production boats on display, a few reputable custom yachts are mixed in with the glitz and flashing lights. Just be careful. The P.T. Barnums are everywhere.

A planet removed from these noisy jamborees, there's Don Kenniston. A dour type, he picks and chooses his words, but as for a smile, forget it. He just sits in his muted Ft. Lauderdale office next to a few wooden ship models and basks in the magic of tradition.

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