The Boat Always Knows Page 2

Spectator - October 2002 - Part 2

Spectator — October 2002

By Tom Fexas

The Boat Always Knows
Part 2: Coincidence? I think not.
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My First Sales
When I was selling my very first boat, a wholesome, virtually trouble-free wooden 31-foot Wheeler that had been in the family a long, long time, my Dad and I made the fatal mistake of discussing her sale while sitting in the cockpit. Immediately the boat, which had been tight as a clam's butt for some 20-odd years, suddenly and mysteriously sprang a leak. Coincidence? I think not. Other problems developed concurrently, including a gas tank that dumped about 50 gallons of fuel into the bilge the very next time we refueled, an alcohol stove that refused to ignite, batteries that went bad, a radio telephone that malfunctioned, and a dingy that was lost.

The first car that I ever sold acted similarly. Before I knew any better, I had a huge, befinned `60 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz convertible. The car was extremely complicated and had "power everything," including, believe it or not, power no-draft windows and a little electric motor in the radio that changed stations at the press of a button in the floor. The damned wiring harness between the body and the driver's door (which contained most of the controls) was massive--about five inches in diameter. I distinctly remember cruising along the Clearview Expressway in New York with my buddy Rosco telling him I had seen the light and was going to buy a brand-new 1963 Jaguar XKE to replace the big Caddy. Immediately after I spoke the words "to replace the big Caddy," the no-draft window on the driver's side started cycling uncontrollably. Then the top developed a leak, the brakes started malfunctioning, and the triple carburetors went out of sync. At end, I was happy to unload the slug for about half of what I was asking for it.

Since those two moments of revelation, I have never discussed the sale of a boat or a car while aboard or anywhere near it.

Kiss of Death
I've seen it happen time and again. In the 1950's, a friend of the family with no prior experience in boating decided to buy a boat because his best friend--my Dad--had one, and he thought it would be good for his family. He purchased an absolutely dreadful Jersey Sea skiff built sometime in the 1930's. She was about 27 feet long, with extremely low freeboard and an exaggerated banana sheer, with a trunk cabin and little pilothouse. The boat was a constant headache to him, and he decided to dump it. Not knowing any better, he taped a "for sale" sign on the windshield while the boat was at a marina berth in Whitestone, New York. The very next day, he returned to find the boat on the bottom. All that was visible was the top part of the pilothouse with the "for sale" sign proudly displayed on the windshield! I saw it with my own eyes. Yes, friends, a "for sale" sign on your boat or car is the kiss of death.

This raises the question of exactly how you can advertise or show a boat (or car) to a prospective buyer without the boat knowing or suspecting what is going on. You have to be cool. You need to take the prospective buyer aboard as an innocent visitor who is merely curious about your boat. It's fine to show all your boat's workings and describe her attributes, but when talk comes to negotiation of price, do that as far away from the boat as possible. Feel free to run an ad, but never take the publication containing the ad aboard. You may think this senseless, but given a choice, don't you always walk around a ladder instead of under it? Why tempt fate? Since I have adhered to the above rules, countless sales have gone off without a hitch...the boat always knows.

Tom Fexas is a marine engineer and designer of powerboats. His Web site is

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This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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