Of course you don’t actually ever need to buy a boat. There are plenty of great sailing clubs out there where you can join up, do your bit towards helping out, and blag loads of free rides or tuition from people who are generally only too happy to share their passion. You can also sign up for a number of RYA sailing courses which will usually include the use of a dinghy and all the gear. You can hire a boat and make a bit of a holiday around it at some inland lake even. After this though you will, I’m afraid, be even more determined to get a little boat of your own and start planning your own adventures without anyone else telling you that your time is up.


Wayfarer dinghy. Hired on a big lake in south west France. Really cheap and a perfect way to explore the area.


So now you know you simply have to get one, how is it possible? Well, in my opinion the best way of getting a lot of boat for not much money is to scour the internet auction sites in the early onset of winter. A lot of people will be looking to offload a failed project boat, or simply a boat they have no storage room for, in order to raise a bit of Christmas money. I know this may not sound like the best time of year to be spending out, but if you can scrape together a bit without having to go into borrowing, it will definitely be cheaper. In the spring everyone will be looking and obviously prices will reflect this. Be careful though, don’t buy too big or too broken. Ask yourself why it’s being sold. If it’s old and wooden steer well away. I love wooden boats but they require a massive amount of time and money to restore them if they turn out to be duff. This can mean corroded fixings on a carvel (planked) hull or soft plywood hiding inside a mirror dinghy. It’s just not worth the risk.


Old Hurley Silhouette Mk1 was a bad buy for a first time cruiser. It seemed cheap at £70 but alas it had some serious rot issues that were beyond my ability to fix. It was sold on and restored by a nice chap who was an excellent carpenter. ( Sorry, original photo was accidentally deleted and has now been lost forever.)

Glassfibre then. Not always pretty but very tough and once its sound it’ll need no further attention for years. Remember that sails are very expensive and you will definitely need some. Make sure they are with the boat, that they fit the boat, and that they are not full of holes or bad repairs. Slight damage can be repaired of course but as soon as you have to pay someone else to work on your boat the costs will spiral. Anyone can repair a bit of fibreglass damage or broken wood trim if they take their time and do some research. Look on youtube for tutorials or buy some good old fashioned books on the subject.

Don’t go too big either. The shoestringsailor will be acutely aware of the cost of craning a boat into the water each season…. and out again. Far better to have something small enough to trail about and self launch somehow. Also moorings are usually charged according to length and depth. A short bilge keeler will cost very little per year compared to a longer, deeper vessel. I can trail Macavity home for her winter work but at the moment I can’t self launch. This is a pain because it means cranage fees each time. A yearly cost of £220 that I needn’t be paying. I’m working on an idea for a launch trolley though….


This is my old car trailer that I’ve modified to carry Macavity. Think I could make up a sacrificial trolley to launch her into the briny and save on crane fees.

The model of boat you end up with might also come down to cost I’m afraid. The popular models with a huge following will always be more expensive than the less racey, slightly porky, old plodder. Don’t be too concerned about this though. If I had done my research and looked up what people actually thought of the Westerly 25, I probably wouldn’t have bought her. This would have been a tragedy. I loved the look of her right from the start and despite some initial problems with getting her to perform like a boat should, I’ve now got to grips with her weak points and made some modifications to sort them out. Result: a good classic boat perfect for my type of sailing that’s very stable, quite quick, and very cheap.

Look at a lot of different boats in your area and be realistic about your ability to fix them. Compare prices across different sites for your potential buy. Haggle well, and call in a few favours to move it home. Friends with trailers are friends indeed.