'If you bring a van round to my garage, I’ll give you the rest...’

One man’s boat trash is another man’s treasure…

I feel sorry for people who can only afford new boats: they know what they’re getting and don’t know what they’re missing. Where’s the mystique in that?

When I bought my 1983 Sailfish 10 years ago it came with so many extras that I still haven’t finished going through its inventory.

This shows what incredible value second-hand boats provide compared with new ones where most everything is optioned, from seat cushions (stripy ones even extra), nav equipment, horseshoe lifebuoys, anchor and chain, fenders, warps and crockery to the mast, sails, hull, keel and deck.

In fact, so well-equipped was my Sailfish that there are still several intriguing mystery items on board whose function I cannot fathom.

Buyers of new boats will never know this wonder of discovery, nor will their lives be enriched by the humbling generosity of the second-hand boat vendor. It fills you up. In fact it fills your boat up, and your garage.

Used-boat vendors want nothing more than to see their beloved boat, that their children took their first water steps in and who were conceived aboard when the boat went aground more or less upright on a moonlit night (too much information), go to a good home.

You feel even more grateful when they disappear into their garage at the last minute and emerge with another wheelbarrow-load of gear. By now you feel so bad about how much you’ve chiselled off the asking price you hitch up the boat as fast as you can for fear they might go back on the deal – or even worse, you might feel the urge to offer them more money.

When seven generations of the family line up on the drive, with a three-legged, one-eyed Labrador called Bosun, to wave goodbye, it melts your soul.

You flick on your windscreen wipers ‘til you realise the tears are on the inside. I’m getting emotional just thinking about it. Pity the new-boat buyer whose eyes merely sting from gelcoat releasing agents.

The inventory of your typical second-hand boat includes not just a suit of sails, but generally an entire suite, among them some without holes and others that might actually be for the boat, plus one that you thought was a spinnaker but is actually a viscose curtain.

Rope is also a feature of old boats – miles of it when you add up all the bits of UV-degraded polypropylene in handy two-foot lengths.

It’s all treasure, including the charts showing where land used to be when the boat was built, and the punctured fenders which are soon to feature in a 12-part PBO DIY restoration project. These also make great dog chews (in fact, that may be how they got like it: that Labrador looked mean). Think I’ll send it in as a PBO reader’s tip – £30, ker-ching!

My Sailfish came with pre- decimal tide tables and an earlier almanac, historic artefacts of national importance. The free chart plotter only lacks a dial. I’ve still got one of two lifejackets that were probably supplied new with the boat in 1983.

One travelled with me to dozens of boat jumbles, and when no one bought it I decided on impulse to pull the cord – and it inflated! Joy tinged with regret (they don’t make stuff like they used to). I’ll pull the other one at Christmas.

Ten years on, there are still things that puzzle me: one is the plastic America’s Cup souvenir mug with a hole drilled in the bottom – I presume it’s self- draining for offshore use. Another is a bit of wood with two leather straps riveted to it. There’s no point in giving details cos its function has eluded the very greatest brains in the Sailfish community.

This mystic plank still taunts me, and in fact everyone I know with an old boat has something on board that’s totally stumped them. Old mate Ted has exactly that on his ancient Westerly Renown, a hand-worked stump sticking out of the bulkhead, the purpose of which eluded him until he realised it was the stump of a severed hand. The previous owner didn’t have a prosthetic limb, but just wanted somewhere to mount his cherished wristwatch.

When you buy an old boat you inhabit someone else’s world; and Tony Smith, who took over Shoal Waters, the pocket cruiser of legendary East Coast adventurer Charlie Stock, hasn’t yet fathomed all Charlie’s fitments, but finds endless enchantment in the boat’s cabin. On a rack there’s a message in a bottle, with Charlie’s photo and home address inside. It’s the EPIRB of a bygone age. Magical.

Of course, I would never sell my Sailfish, but if I did I’d do as every other boat owner has done down the ages. Load it with tat you’d otherwise take to the council tip or a charity shop. Then I’d add a mystery object that would forever taunt the new owner into an OCD obsession. For good measure I’d throw in a tin of ready-hardened varnish – you want to give value.


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