Sitting at a café overlooking “Palace Row,” where the big catamarans floated at the Miami Boat Show, I had a startling realization. Most of the potential buyers I observed being passed from greeter to salesperson to loan specialist to closer were the same people you might see in a Ferrari showroom.
I found this disheartening, but reminded myself that this was just how the world works, and I best get over it. Still, it troubled the part of me that continues to believe that the ocean-going sailboat, with its combination of form and function, is one of humanity’s crowning achievements. It also saddened me that bluewater yachts seemed to be morphing from rough, tough sailing machines into floating McMansions.
Whether a boat could actually sail or handle a Force 7 gale in a seaworthy fashion seemed less important than whether she came with a surround-sound entertainment console and a cappuccino machine. When I asked one salesman how his boat would do on a lee shore, I had to explain the term. He thought it had something to do with the Confederate Navy.
Beyond my own personal disappointment, there was a much more far-reaching consequence that disturbed me. Boat shows used to ignite dreams, but now I suspect they might extinguish beyond-the-horizon aspirations. When I first started strolling boat shows, a million-dollar sailboat would have been such an aberration that she would have been marketed like a P.T. Barnum attraction. Now, that price tag is as commonplace as Corian countertops in wraparound galleys.
This impression that sailing is now reserved only for the extremely wealthy must be intimidating to those novices who know that such high-end vessels will never be a part of their future. It is difficult to not imagine them wandering the docks both amazed and discouraged. Fortunately, I have good news for you low- and mid-budget dreamers: the cruising world still has a place for you. Though boat shows may showcase the best of the best, there are still dozens, if not hundreds, of your dream homes seeking a new owner.
There are still plenty of sea gypsies wandering the Wide Waters in humble abodes. The average cruising boat has plenty of pleasant creature comforts, but not many over-the-top “look at me” luxuries. So don’t discard your dream just because the boat show blues have got you down.
Here are some basic suggestions to help rebuild your confidence and get you started. Learn to sail through inexpensive community programs. Don’t be put off if they use tiny sailboats. This is the best way to learn. All the great Olympic sailors started in little boats. Offer to crew for people and learn various ways of doing things. As you gain knowledge and skill, you can start to focus on buying your own boat. Check the used boat ads in the back of this magazine. Contact your local yacht brokers. Do some one-week charters in exotic places. Check out online boat buying resources like Craigslist, Yachtworld and Boatquest. Try out a boat-sharing program like those mentioned on page 56.
Finally one last bit of encouragement: I have been out here living the millionaire’s dream in my sweet little $30,000 sailboat for nearly 30 years. If I can do it, so can you.
Ray Jason cruises the Banana Latitudes in his rough, tough 30-foot sailing machine. You might enjoy his blog: theseagypsyphilosopher.blogspot.com
Photo by Peter Nielsen