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Budget Boating

I love all the new boats I get to cover while reporting for PassageMaker Magazine-and recently I've written about craft by Nordic Tugs, Grand Banks, Ocean Alexander, Ranger, Fathom, Northwest and American Tug, as well as some luxurious custom yachts. But, as a working journalist, I can't afford any of them. When I bought my 42 Grand Banks in 1990 it was then 11 years old and it was all I could do to pay for it and to go cruising. (A pittance of an inheritance helped.)

While covering the annual Boats Afloat show on Seattle's Lake Union in September, where most of the new cruising/trawler-type yachts carried price tags of $500,000 to a million or more, I decided it was time to go shopping for boats that could be bought by folks on a boating budget of $100,000 or less. I decided they would have to be good craft capable of the coastal cruising I like.

I almost tripped over the first.

Browsing the waterfront in Anacortes, I spotted a familiar shape in a long line of Nordic Tugs at the Nordic Northwest brokerage moorage. It was a 36-foot Roughwater, a boat built to a design by Ed Monk, the iconic Pacific Northwest designer whose boats are known for their sea-keeping qualities. Many Monk boats were built for commercial fishing offshore and in Alaska. And a lot still are in service, after decades of use.

An Air Force officer named Harold Paris, who served in Korea, Vietnam, and Taiwan, began building Roughwater boats in 1969 in Taiwan and sold them through a brokerage in Marina Del Ray in California. The first boats were built of wood, but Paris soon switched to fiberglass. The fleet ranged from 29 to 58 feet. Production ended about 1990.

I am a softy when it comes to Roughwater boats. More than 30 years ago, when I was driving a plastic 20-footer, my family and neighboring friends chartered a 35-foot Roughwater for a long, rainy Labor Day weekend. My neighbor was a skilled seaman; I was not. I learned much from him that weekend-but I also decided that serious cruising should become part of my life. So Roughwater takes some blame/credit for where I am today. (For a lot more about Roughwater boats see an article I wrote for the February 2001 issue of PMM titled Roughwater: An Enduring Ed Monk Classic and a really affordable boat)

The 35 had an aft cabin and somehow we found sleeping space for three teenagers and four adults. The 36 I found in Anacortes has sport-fisher styling, with an open aft deck, a pilothouse, and a galley and forward stateroom under the long foredeck. She looked good, but not quite like Roughwaters I have known.

A few weeks later, I hooked up with her owners, Larry Brower and Leslie Asbury, and learned their 36 - a 1974 model named Rhapsody - indeed is a little different.

When they bought the boat five years ago she had a raised pilothouse that was protected from the weather on the sides and back only by a canvas enclosure. Larry and Leslie cruised Pacific Northwest and Canadian waters for two seasons (72 days one year and 75 days the second) and concluded canvas was not the best. Larry sketched a plan for an enclosed deckhouse. A skilled woodworker, he first built a mockup of 1/4-inch door skin. Satisfied with the design, he then built it with marine plywood. He added windows, framed in teak, to match original windows and created side doors for easy access to the deck. A settee long enough to serve as a berth stretches across the aft wall.

His eye is good. The styling matches that of Roughwater perfectly.

With the aid of a professional, the couple painted the exterior and the interior and refinished the teak sole and trim. They added electronic navigation to supplement the original and still functional Benmar Course Setter autopilot. They cleaned up the engine room (where there is a single Perkins T6-354) and installed a bank of four golf cart batteries for house use and an inverter to power a computer. The boat has heat-a small Dickinson oil burner in the galley and a Red Dot system that uses engine heat to warm the cabins. She has an under-the-counter refrigerator, a large galley sink, and a dinette table in the galley that will convert for sleeping. A head with a hand-held shower is at the foot of the steps linking the pilothouse and galley.

The master stateroom consists of two bunks in the bow. It would be easy to add a filler section at the head of the bunks to create a large, double berth. Larry says it truly is a two-person boat, but that he and Leslie have had guests aboard overnight without problems.

Rhapsody's systems are basic, but appear to be well done. The new batteries, for example, are stowed in boxes that are properly secured. The new inverter is firmly mounted on an engine room bulkhead and the wiring would meet contemporary specifications. The engine room is amazingly clean and open, with good working space. Too often on a boat this old one would expect to find a web of mysterious wiring and hoses-but not on Rhapsody. On the aft deck there's a new fiberglass box holding a pair of propane tanks. The box is secure and properly vented over the side away from any openings and the tanks have the required valves that prevent over filling.

Larry says he operates the turbocharged Perkins at 1750 rpm and cruises at about 7 knots-depending on wind and current-with fuel burn averaging about 1 gallon an hour. She carries 160 gallons of fuel in two tanks. Because she sips diesel, Rhapsody certainly has the range needed to cruise the Inside Passage to Alaska. She has the hull, too. "I'm not a cowboy," Larry says. "I am cautious, but this boat is really able."

After all this work, Larry and Leslie decided to move from their home in Everett, Washington (where he taught in a high school for more than 30 years) to Florida to be closer to family. Rhapsody could not be part of their new life, so they listed her for sale. Not many Roughwaters are on the market and it's difficult to set an asking price, but Larry and Leslie, in a hurry to leave the West Coast, settled on $59,900. One offer was withdrawn after a surveyor identified engine problems, which have been corrected. I think the price is a really good deal and probably undervalues the boat. Rhapsody should sell quickly.

Cruising boats selling for $100k or less are going to be used. That means that a buyer's best friends are the surveyors who come aboard to inspect the hull, deckhouse, and the engine(s). Don't scrimp here.

Would-be buyers can do some pre-survey sorting, however. A good broker can help here, but shoppers-maybe with the help of knowledgeable friends-can handle some of this themselves. Consider how you would use the boat, then walk through it and try to imagine where you will stow all your gear-from pots and pans in the galley to fishing rods, crab pots, spare parts, groceries, and clothing. Where will your kids and their friends sleep? Look for stains below windows that indicate leaks. Look for messy wiring and plumbing. Look for a clean boat-a sign that someone has cared. If wood was used in construction, be vigilant for problems and, if the deal looks promising, find a surveyor who knows wood boats. Determine operating costs, from interest on a loan, to moorage fees, insurance premiums, and fuel consumption. Read the owner's maintenance log. I wouldn't buy a used boat whose owner couldn't provide a record of maintenance and repair. Don't be put off by engines that have several thousand hours on the clock; good diesels properly maintained will run nearly forever.

Looks good? You can see yourself casting off for a weekend or a month in a boat that seems to meet your dreams? Make an offer and call the surveyors.

Rhapsody is almost one of a kind. It's unlikely another just like her will show up on the used boat market. Other Roughwaters are available occasionally, however.

There are many other options, too. I've owned two old Grand Banks boats with success, and it may surprise some that in today's strained economy there are many used GBs for sale for $100,000 or less. If you want fiberglass, GBs within that budget limit usually will be 32 to 36 feet. If you like wood, 42s and larger may be available for $100k or less. Wood 32 and 36 GBs will be much less. I like the DeFever Passagemaker family and there are several available for less than my arbitrary limit. In fact, there's a huge family of DeFevers available. Early Nordic Tugs (26 and 32) may fall into this price range. An abundance of Taiwan-built trawlers also are for sale at any moment, but go for the newest. And be sure to call the surveyors.

Choose a builder you like, go to and enter that information and choose the price range that fits. You'll have hours of entertainment. The glistening new yachts we see at boat shows are comfortable, seaworthy, and usually luxurious. It's hard to imagine not being pleased with one of them. But older boats are meritorious, too, even if they lack marble countertops, leather upholstery, TVs that drop down from the stateroom ceiling, and dishwashers in the galley. They are affordable, probably more conservative in styling, and they will take you anywhere a million-dollar yacht will go.