Buyer's market for old sail boats

17:00, Aug 16 2014

Glitzy yacht marinas throughout New Zealand are hiding a dirty little secret - thousands of worthless boats riddled with "pox".

Pox affects many of the older New Zealand-made fibreglass or glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) boats that created a cheap entry to what was previously a rich person's pastime, in the 1980s and 90s. Pox makes the hull look like it's covered in blisters but the end result is a hull that will eventually let in water, creating the floating equivalent of a leaky building.

Pox, or osmosis, is similar to rust in a car - treatable, but expensive. "Osmosis isn't the kiss of death, but it is kissing away $30,000 on a 40-foot boat. It's curable but it costs money," says Christine Bird, of Auckland's Busfield Marine Brokers.

Pox, coupled with a downturn in those entering the market for a boat since the 2008 global financial crisis, has created a band of owners with unsellable boats.

"The market is pretty sad," Bird says.

"Auckland is still a city of sails but there are a huge number of used boats on the market."


Marine Inspections' Mike Menzies, a specialist in GRP boats, is equally gloomy. "They are shabby and tired," he says of the old GRP boats, "they are just worn out. The fleet is getting to the age where time is catching up."

Yachting New Zealand chief executive David Abercrombie also concedes there are problems selling boats. "The buyer has the upper hand these days."

The sinking boat market has been dominating the country's most popular sailing web discussion panel at with some contributors suggesting that talking about the problem isn't helping sell boats. The discussion was kicked off by a person claiming that the number of sailors had fallen sharply. "Who is going to buy our used yachts?" he asked.

Trade Me this week had 1090 yachts for sale. The nation's keeler fleet is about 6000 boats, many 20 to 30 years old.

Another sailor said his yacht "sucks money" but no one wanted to buy it so he was trapped with it.

Menzies said anyone thinking the time was right for a bargain might be right but warned that fixing an old boat isn't cheap. "They are full of osmosis, stuffed engines, original wiring and when you add it all up I just say to people, ‘[the seller] should just give you the boat'. They get to the stage where they are worth nothing."

Bird doesn't solely blame pox for the ebbing market, with the high kiwi dollar also playing a role.

She says a new imported 12-metre Bavaria 41 keeler can be purchased for $325,000 with extras. Similar-sized New Zealand second-hand boats are going for $270,000, and "they're old boats with old issues", she said.

Sunday Star Times