Last week I went down to Gosport boatyard to do the final pack up of 6X, the Trapper 300 which has been part of our family life for nearly 30 years. My Dad, "the Admiral", decided at the end of last year that it was time to let someone else take on the responsibility for the boat. He is 79 this August and was starting to find the maintenance and upkeep too much of a chore. I had been the main user of the boat for the last ten years, with him having a few day sails in gentler weather, and have appreciated working alongside him on the annual cycle of anti-fouling, engine maintenance, fitting out, laying up. But the boat would always belong to him, and as long as I was sailing it he would feel responsible for her upkeep and safety. So, reluctantly, we turned our thoughts to selling it to someone else.
As most sailors know, there is no guarantee that you will find a suitable buyer for an elderly boat, and in the last six months we have discussed Plan A (sell) and Plan B (no sale). Once you've made the decision to sell, the costs of keeping the boat going (boatyard storage costs, cleaning, upkeep etc) start to weigh heavily on your mind and pocket. We decided that if we hadn't sold her by September 2013 we would seriously be looking at Plan B and sending her to the breaker's yard. That would have been a sad conclusion to the life of a boat which, having been well-maintained over the years, was in good shape, although needing a little TLC to bring her up to scratch.
In January this year we looked at the possibilities of selling. Going through a broker would cost £1000 up front - which when you know the boat's value is around £7000 maximum, takes a big slice of money with no guarantee that she would sell.
We decided to try marketing her ourselves, and spent a cold January day putting together a comprehensive inventory and clearing some of the clutter off the boat. I set up an account on the boat selling website apolloduck.com (http://www.apolloduck.com/) chosen because in browsing for online boat sales, it seems to come up most often.
It took a few hours to put together the advert, scanning photos, listing the credentials. I also set up a separate gmail account for selling the boat so that I could manage enquiries on behalf of my parents - and maintain some privacy for our own email addresses. A featured advert on the Apollo Duck website costs £40 for six months. We had been advised to keep her in the boatyard, so potential buyers could get a good look over the boat easily – and a surveyor could get to all the parts that need inspection. As the boat was going to be sitting there for some time, Dad negotiated a discount rate for long term storage with the boatyard of £20 a week.
We also did a bit of marketing alongside the Apollo Duck advert, but it was helpful to be able to give the link to the web ad in our posters and emails to possibly interested parties (such as the Trapper Association, the local sailing clubs in Gosport and of course the LSC website).
Meanwhile, we had to get the boat ready for showing to any prospective buyers (and take some pictures of the interior, which doesn't look at its best when laid up for the winter with no cushions or fittings). An inclement Easter holiday saw me scrubbing and polishing the interior and decks and scraping and antifouling the hull. Luckily I had some help from my daughter Naomi home from University and cousin Janet visiting from California. They offered! As my hands froze to the core during the last coat of anti foul I swore I would never paint another boat's hull, ever again. (I swore some other things too).
We had a smattering of enquiries early in March, notably a couple of PhD students from Southampton University, both sailors, who were looking for a boat to live aboard and go sailing on. Although it seemed a romantic ideal, a Trapper 300 is not really a boat for long-term living - particularly during the Winter months.
As the weather improved, so did the number of enquiries, and although not inundated with them, there are enough people around who value the enduring 'sailability' of the Bruce Kirby-designed Trapper series. Kirby, of Laser dinghy fame, put together a strong, safe cruiser-racer in the Trapper - we just needed to find someone who was inclined to buy it.
By early May we were seriously considering Plan B when we got an enquiry from someone on the Isle of Skye. It seemed a long way from the Solent to look at a small boat. We then got another serious enquiry from someone in Alicante.
Although the man from Alicante was planning to turn up and sail the boat through the French canals without a survey, the buyer from Skye had been in touch first and we gave him the option of first refusal.
Dad and I spent another weekend scrubbing, polishing, wishing we'd not done the anti foul as by this time rainwater had run down from the topsides leaving the bottom half of the boat looking streaked and untidy.
We rigged the spray hood, mainsail, got the sails down to the boat and waited for the arrival of our potential buyer.
I had asked him why he was prepared to travel so far, and the answer was that with 60 per cent of the UK's pleasure boats kept in the Solent, and the only other similar Trapper for sale in Shetland (not much easier to get the boat back) it was 'needs must'.
We showed the boat comprehensively, with my Dad having gone as far as disconnecting the engine water intake pipe in order to show the engine started reliably (for those who don't know this trick, you put the intake pipe in a bucket of water, then start). Dad admitted afterwards that he was mightily relieved that it did, indeed, start first time. As it was a very hot, still day we were able to rig one of the foresails as well and demonstrate the roller reefing. On reflection, I think that all helped with the sale, as we were clearly not trying to cover anything up. We also both had a lot of sailing faith in the strengths of the boat, which we were able to demonstrate.
So the buyer went back to the Isle of Skye and we waited for news. Luckily he had decided this was just the boat for him - for cruising the Western Isles and taking part in a weekly race series near his home. Perfect, just what Bruce Kirby had in mind when he designed this class. He made an offer under the asking price, which we had expected, subject to survey. Now for the survey, which gave my Dad a few more sleepless nights.
A few things came up in the survey which needed attention - upgrading the seacocks, changing the engine hoses and pipes, some work on the rudder stock. The price was negotiated downwards and settled at £4000 - our asking price had been £6500. But everyone seemed happy - we were delighted that she was going to a good home and getting a new lease of life after 30 years of family sailing.
The next problem was how to get her to Skye. The buyer had talked about the logistics of sailing her round – I even offered to do a trip down to Falmouth to get her part of the way. We also investigated the cost of haulage and in the end a Scottish boat transport company gave our buyer a very good price for a return trip having delivered a coastguard vessel from Scotland to Newhaven for decommissioning.
There was another flurry of boatyard activity as I went to derig and pack up the boat (so the mainsail, spray hood and fittings that we'd carefully rigged for showing the boat all came off again). The mast was taken down by the boatyard, which sadly cut the masthead light wiring above deck level, the only bit of work that was less than satisfactory. I should have stayed and watched while the mast was stepped. I was, however, there when she was loaded onto the lorry. The driver showed great attention to detail as he propped and strapped her. The boatyard owner commented that it was, "a proper job" - not like some of the loads they get coming in.
So 6X went on her way by lorry to the Isle of Skye - a new home, fresh waters and not so many other boats to share her space with. Bon voyage, old friend.