Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Cost of ownership: Classic vs Modern

"I'd like to own a classic but I couldn't possibly afford the cost to maintain one; I own a modern fiberglass trawler instead."  How many times have I heard that or something similar?  So many that I finally had to look at the numbers.  Were my classic boating expenses that far out of line with reality?  Could I be having just as much fun for a lot less money by simply buying a new, modern boat? Think of it -- no more varnishing.  With the time and money saved I could take up golf!

So, today we'll look at the actual cost of owning a classic boat (my own) and compare it to the cost of owning a modern fiberglass cruising boat.  I was surprised when I first did this comparison three years ago and I think you will be too.  It turns out that the long-term costs of owning a classic boat and a modern fiberglass trawler are nearly the same.  Not possible you say?  Read on.

I began thinking seriously about the cost of ownership when I began to prepare a seminar addressing the practical aspects of owning a classic power cruiser.  I've presented the seminar at the last three Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festivals, and the core of that talk is about financial and time commitments.  Initially I planned to just add up all my past costs of owning Compadre, and perhaps divide by the number of years I've owned her, to give folks an idea of the annual cost of ownership.  Of course, those were big numbers, as the owner of any boat knows.  Boat ownership is not a rational undertaking -- no one would own a cruising boat if they simply looked at the numbers.  We all know there is a huge emotional element in boat ownership, and most owners would rather not know what it really costs.  But I had a seminar to do, so I plunged ahead!

I quickly realized that the important question was not what it costs to own a classic boat, but how that cost compared to owning other types of boats.  How much more expensive was owning Compadre compared to what my friends were paying for new, or nearly new, cruisers of a comparable size?  In other words, how much more was I paying to enjoy the benefits of owning a classic?

In doing this comparison, we must first consider a few basic facts:
  1. The purchase price of wooden boats, including classics, is relatively low compared to new boats.  Good classics in the range of 35-45 ft often sell for between $50,000 and $100,000.
  2. Well-maintained classic boats don't depreciate.  In most cases, depreciation ended in the distant past.  (It's important to note that they don't appreciate much either, and that will be the topic of a future blog post.)
  3. Because the purchase price is relatively low, classics commonly are purchased with cash, so there are no financing charges.  In fact, the purchase price of many classics is about the same as the cash down payment on new or nearly new boats.
Compadre at Princess Louisa Inlet

First we consider Compadre.  She's a 43 ft Stephens cruiser built in 1929.  The purchase price was $75,000 in 2007.  The annual costs of owning her over a 10-year period from 2007 to 2017 are as follows:

Next let's look at the annual cost of owning a modern boat -- in this case a 31-ft Ranger Tug.  These boats are abundant here in the Northwest, so they clearly are within the means of many boat owners.  I chose not to consider a brand new boat, but rather a nearly new 2014 model that I saw advertised recently, reasoning that many purchasers would prefer this because someone else has already outfitted it and paid a bit of depreciation.

Ranger 31 -- A popular Northwest cruising boat.

Assumptions:  Purchase price:  $230,000.  Down payment:  $75,000.  Financed at 4.25% per year.

My estimate of annual ownership costs over a 10 year period for this modern boat are as follows:

Notice that I didn't include the purchase price for either the classic or modern boat in the annual costs because one gets that money back when the boat is sold, less any depreciation during ownership. (*Also note that the yacht club moorage numbers include pro-rated dues and initiation fees -- Truly a good deal).

Of course, no two boats will have the same expenses over time, and different owners will incur somewhat different expenses over any given period of ownership (after all, "your mileage may vary").  And you may choose to argue with some of these numbers based on your own experience. 

Nevertheless I think the message is clear:  All boats are expensive.  With modern boats you pay a lot up front and can expect relatively few expenses for repair and maintenance.  Here depreciation. financing, and sales tax are major costs.  With a classic, your initial expenditure is small but you have substantial future maintenance costs.  Interestingly, you pay about the same amount in the end in both cases; your expenses just come at different times and for different reasons.  As they say... "You pay now or you pay later."    

In summary, next time someone tells you that owning a classic boat is way too expensive, just point out the number of shiny new fiberglass boats on the water.  A lot of folks manage to buy those new fiberglass boats... They could all afford to own a classic.

As always, I'd be interested in hearing your comments.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Messages from the past: In this case, a rear-deck repair.

In many respects owning a classic is no different from owning any other boat.  As you know by now, that is one of the main themes of this blog.  With all boats there are things that might have been done better, either by the builder or by folks who came along later.  We are fortunate that Compadre was well designed and built to a very high standard by Stephens Bros.  But because least 13 owners came before us, there has been ample opportunity for folks to mess things up.  Luckily we have found only a few problems that could be attributed to poor repairs or restoration. 

One problem we had known about for some time was around the hatch on the back deck -- it moved up and down when you stepped on it.  Not supposed to happen.  As 2016 came to a close we could put it off no longer.  It was time to pull up the teak and deal with it.

Compadre's teak decks, and some of the underlying beams, were replaced about 15 years ago and generally are in good condition.  Beneath the half-inch teak boards is 3/4-inch marine plywood resting on fir beams.  Around the hatch in the back deck, water had leaked inside the hatch opening, and then seeped between the teak and the underlying plywood, causing an area of rot extending a foot or so in all directions.  The teak was fine, but the plywood and underlying beams were rotted and needed to be replaced.  This was going to be a big job, but one I felt I could do myself.  The first step was to pull up a few teak deck planks to investigate.

Beginning to take up the teak deck.  Hatch is in the foreground, looking aft. 
Fortunately the teak was just screwed down, and not glued.  With a little care the screws and bungs (wood plugs covering the screws) could be removed and each deck board came free.  This was significant because the teak could be cleaned up and reinstalled, thus eliminating the cost of new teak decking and the time required to fit each piece.  So far, so good.

Directly beneath the teak was waterproof membrane.  Nicely done.

Between the teak and the underlying plywood substrate was an elastic, waterproof membrane.  This is a product for the roofing trade called Ice and Water Shield, and was meant to keep any water that leaked through the teak deck seams (not uncommon on teak decks) from coming in contact with the plywood.  This is an excellent product and sells for about $130 per roll, so whoever did this deck installation did not skimp on materials.  I promptly bought a roll to use on my repair job.

So with all this fancy waterproofing, why did we have a rot problem?  In spite of using good materials, the installer forgot one important thing:  Flashing around the hatch opening.   The teak and plywood simply ended at the hatch opening, with the raw edges covered by some teak trim.  A little rubber seam compound between the trim and the teak deck boards was the only thing keeping the water out.  I'm sure it didn't take long for rain water to begin to find it's way behind the seam compound and back under the fancy waterproof membrane.  Eventually an area about 1-foot wide on each side of the hatch was saturated by water and rot soon followed.  Some simple flashing around the opening, as is typically done around house windows, would keep this from happening again, but first we had some work to do.

Removing rotted plywood underlayment.

Hatch framing and deck beams also were rotted. 
Finally, all rotted plywood removed.
Once I had the plywood trimmed back to sound wood, it was time to confront the deck beams and rectangular hatch framing where they contacted the rotted plywood.  They would have to come out as well.  Measuring carefully so I could rebuild the framing later, I cut out all the bad wood, with a taper on the two lateral beams to allow me to scarf in new replacement pieces.

Hatch framing removed and existing beams tapered.  Ready for new wood.
Scarfing in new vertical-grain Douglas fir deck beams was time consuming but not difficult.  These were through-bolted to the stubs of the existing beams and glued with epoxy.  The new hatch framing then followed, held in place with new silicon bronze screws.

Replacement deck beams in place.

New hatch framing.

Detail of hatch-frame joint
 With the framing in place it was time for new 3/4-inch marine plywood.  It would be in two pieces, and in order to be sure it would bend enough to conform to the curvature of the deck, I made a series of shallow cuts (kerfs) on the underside of the plywood with a circular saw.  This worked well, and the plywood was fitted and screwed down without difficulty.

Cutting saw kerfs on the underside of replacement plywood.
The image below shows the new 3/4-inch plywood decking, screwed in place and resting on the fir hatch frame.  The next step was to ensure that this rot problem would not happen again.  Which means keeping water out.  Which means flashing.  I decided on a two-part system consisting of self-adhering flexible flashing, overlain by sheet metal.  I started with a "butterfly" piece at each corner, then added long strips from corner to corner.

Self-adhering flexible flashing at the corner.

Self adhering flashing all around.

Ready for metal flashing.
I was confident that the self-adhering flexible flashing would prevent any water from contacting the wood, but it is not durable enough to stand on it's own in a high-traffic area such as the deck hatch.  It would need some protection, and for that I chose metal roof flashing.  This is sheet steel, so there is some risk of rust, but I planned to paint any exposed metal with marine enamel for extra protection. 

First piece of sheet metal flashing.

Flashing corner detail.

This is not going to leak again.
Next came the new waterproof membrane.  This has a peel-off adhesive backing, and firmly attaches to the old membrane around the edges of my patch, and to the new decking and flashing. 

New waterproof membrane atop the plywood and flashing.  Ready for teak.
Replacing the teak boards was a bit like doing a jig-saw puzzle, making sure each piece went back where it was installed originally.  With two boxes of bronze screws, and nearly 200 3/8-inch diameter teak bungs, the teak went on with few problems. 

Teak back in place.  Installing bungs in screw holes.
The joints between the teak deck boards are filled with a special caulking made just for that purpose.  It's black, comes in tubes, and can be very messy.  A little masking tape (OK, a lot of masking tape) helps control the mess.  After the caulk sets, the tape is removed, and there is little left to do.

A thin strip of teak trim around the edge of the hatch covers most of the metal flashing.  In spite of all the rot in the fir deck beams and plywood, the original teak trim was still good.  Amazing stuff, that teak.

Finished, and good as new -- maybe better?
Overall, this was a very rewarding project.  Things went more or less according to plan, although the extent of the rot was greater than I expected.  I did not keep track of my hours, but the work was done as time allowed over a two-month period.  If I had to guess I'd say I spent about 2-3 man-weeks on the job.  And the out-of-pocket cost was a few hundred dollars in materials.  Much cheaper than going to the boatyard!