The 30-minute self survey

SnowmaggedonMoving home at the age of 26 had me feeling a bit lonesome as everything in my hometown has remained much of the same, while I’ve changed dramatically. I envy the loners, I really do, but I’m a social creature and always have been. But with my newfound alone time I’ve found something incredible: focus. I’ve saved enough money for my boat, a professional marine survey, and the imminent upgrades it will certainly need right away. I’ve even stashed extra funds away for some travel for travel’s sake before I move aboard in Spring. I’ve studied closely what designs, designers, and builders have created inherently seaworthy vessels, and specifics I need to bear in mind when I examine a potential purchase. The Self SurveyRecently I traveled to New England to look at two boats I was very keen on. They were in my price and size range, and I loved their lines and reputations. Luckily I was able to replace the diamonds in my eyes with concrete and see them for what they really were…

Disclaimer: I am still a beginner and looking to soak up as much information as possible! If you see anything in the photos below that I’ve called wrong, or failed to notice, please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!

Surveying the Sea Sprite 28The Sea Sprite 28

Using notes from the book, “Inspecting the Aging Sailboat,” by Don Casey as a guide, I found some issues needing repair that were far beyond my skills.

Her rudder moved easily, the prop as well. Her top sides had lots of little bumps but I likened it to cosmetic only. Her bottom had layers upon layers of paint, easy to remedy with some scraping, sanding and painting. I tapped around the thru-hull fittings and the sounds resonated sharp. I found no overwhelming indication that the hull was in anything other than good shape.
paint job
Sea Sprite 28 rudder

Down below was another story. The boat was out of the water on jack stands, yet still the bilges were filthy and full of water. That meant two things to me, 1) the owner didn’t maintain clean bilges so what else could have been neglected, 2) water was getting into the boat.

Dirty bilge

I knew going into it that this boat had some issues, as it was advertised as needing “TLC to bring her back to her original glory.” Plus, she was priced nearly 70 percent lower than any of her used sister ships for sale. The hardware on deck that houses the boats’ spinnaker pole is apparently the source of a leak that has caused damage to the bulkhead veneer on the port side of the boat, but with a few pokes of my knife it seemed the damage went deeper than the decorative layer of wood. While I was sounding the cabin floor I also found rot on the port side at the bottom of the head door where the “wall” meets the cabin sole. It was wet, soft, and alarming. I also noticed salt crystals and other signs of leakage high on the hull, which could indicate hull to deck joint leakage, but I’m not sure.

Pretty quickly I realized these issues were beyond my skills for repair and I didn’t bother doing anything other than a light once over on the mast, rigging and deck.  30 Minute Self Survey

The owner has only had the boat for a one season, and he didn’t get a survey, nor did he know how old the rigging was, when the last time the hardware was rebedded (something important, especially the chainplates, on the SS 28 according to owners forums). He planned to fix the boat up, but other boats came into his life so this one went up for sale. I don’t doubt his honesty or integrity, and I think the boat is priced fairly. This Seasprite 28 will certainly make a sailor who is a little more suited for the task of refitting very happy.

Another major factor was her sheer size and girth, she seemed like she would be too much work to single hand. The cost of maintaining her inboard diesel engine was the third strike and I had to let this boat go.

I want to outfit, not refit my first sailboat, and I don’t doubt that a boat meticulously maintained by its previous owner is out there for me. In my next post I will go over my findings on the second boat I surveyed in New England,  a Bristol 27.



  1. Hi Emily,
    Thanks for reading my modest blog. I’m watching with interest in your search for a good seaworthy vessel.
    I’m not sure of your budget, but I noticed a FC22 in FL for sale by POP yachts. Looks like most of the hard work is done with a very lovely interior.
    The boat with trailer is listed for 33K. You could probably get it for under 30K, ditch the trailer for another 5K and get a nice FC22 for 25K.
    It has an inboard engine which can be a plus or minus depending.,, The motor has been rebuilt and I guess is ready to go.Lots of brightwork to go over etc. but nice boat. They claim the sail inventory is good with tanbark sails in very good condition.
    Anyway good luck with your search!

  2. Ahoy,

    Thanks for your interest. Even if I could afford an FC, I can’t afford to maintain her. Unfortunately even a FC for 25K is well beyond my means. Maybe when I’m 50 I’ll have that kind of dough. For now my pockets are pretty shallow.

  3. Hi Emily! Good to see you’re out there looking. Whatever you end up doing, I hope you find something with a tiller that feels right in your hands

    • Wow Matthew!! That means a lot coming from you!! Thank you so much for your kind words. Hey, I never told you but my brother and his wife had a baby and his name is Henry!! I love him so much it’s a feeling I never anticipated. Tell Sara hi for me and thanks heaps for checking out my silly little blog. Yours is full of wisdom keep writing and snapping amazing photos !! Cheers!!!

    • PS– do you think I’m right and the bulkhead is in fact rotten? Or am I an overconfident idiot?!

      • It really depends what you want. Everyone probably gives the advice about how to find the perfect boat. No one usually suggests this, but when you’re looking for a cheep first boat, sometimes it’s not a terrible idea to grab the cheapest thing you can find – not with the intention of fixing it up, but just to have a place to lay your head, prepare your own food, and maybe sail lightly. You can make mistakes and maybe even trash it, but by the time your done you’ve learned a lot about what you like, what you can handle, and you’ve been able to live without paying rent for awhile.

  4. No, you’re right. Sometimes I think I focus too much on the “perfect boat,” caution must be thrown to wind at some point otherwise what’s the point of this whole thing? The thought of buying a sailboat, for me, is irrational in itself. This boat in particular ain’t cheap, though. So, the search continues with all advice in mind. Thanks for your feedback. I know you had a Sparkman Stephens before Fiddlehead, anything else before that?!

  5. Emily,
    Yes the FC is a bit of work to maintain. It’s kicked my ass a bit. I disagree somewhat in that I think you should take your time.
    Only buy a boat with lead ballast integrated into the keel. No keel boats. Old boats have corrosion in a lot of hidden places like covered chainplates and keelbolts. Sail is another thing. The tendency may be to overlook them but at the minimum they should be at 50% with no holes, wear spots etc. Sails cost a lot of money and can sink your budget. A boat with a bad diesel is another problem. They are expensive to fix. A good 4 Stroke long shaft with electric start and charger is a good option. Remove the crappy diesel, use that space for something else, and put on an outboard mount and be on your way.
    In your post you mentioned that you were looking at a 26′ Bristol. Beware that a lot of the Bristols have concrete ballast. Some have lead ballast. A lot have Atomic 4 engines, which are solid engines but I prefer Diesel. Others have the Universal Diesels.
    I’ve read that the bilge sump on the concrete models is a bit shallow, as a lot of concrete is needed. These are good boats if you get the right one. I would definitely get a survey on the Bristol.
    There are a lot of these boats around. There is a Bristol Corsair next to me at my local Marina. The owner came to ill health and could not pay his yearly fee. The Marina owner is 85 years old and couldn’t give a crap. It sits there. When I’m there I pump out the water in the bilge to keep the boat from getting ruined.
    This kind of boat can be had dirt cheap . They need work though. This one needs cockpit seats re-glassed. New awlgrip on the decks. Bottom paint, Diesel service, new sails and Canvas. In other word what you would expect of a boat thats been sitting in the water for years ignored.
    Anyway I’m rambling but take your time and make sure the basics are solid. A cheap boat may be cheap to buy but you may wind up hating life when it starts sucking money out of your pocket with no hope of return.

    • Ahoy, thanks for your input! I definitely have read a lot about the Bristol’s and there is a corsair I’m going to see soon which the owner has assured me is led ballast. It’s my dream boat and my fingers are crossed as she’s the perfect size for me. We’ll see…No matter what boat I get, a pro survey is going to happen. My self-surveys are basically to decide whether or not its worth the dough for a pro survey. I only want to pay for a survey ONCE, so I am very careful in my initial findings. Would love to see some photos of your FC, I sailed on one quite extensively she was really a work of art. Fair winds!