Never one to shun over-ambition, our Born Again Boater Nick Burnham begins his search for a sub £10,000 boat at the very top

When I was at school back in prehistoric times there was no such thing as the Internet. There was, however, the Autotrader. My car mad friends and I had a game: set a budget and find the best car for sale for less than it.

The figure was usually a mythical £1,000 (it seemed a realistic amount, never mind the fact that we were 15-year-old schoolboys with no jobs, two years away from even a provisional licence) and the result was usually a hoary old 4.2-litre Jaguar XJ6 for some reason.

The parameters might have changed – cars have been replaced by boats and the dog-eared Autotrader is now the Internet – but the game remains exactly the same.

The difference is that the figure is no longer mythical – this is real cash. My cash. And whereas we never had to concern, ourselves with the on costs of an old Jag that had been to the moon and back, I’m going to have to run it too.

Amusingly, the maritime equivalent of ‘bag o sand’ Jags do exist. A genuine Princess or Fairline is tantalisingly within reach. A seventies Princess 25 with a petrol engine can be bought for sub ten thousand. It would just fit on my eight metre berth too…

And I found a Fairline 21 Weekender for just £5,850! It needs ‘a little work’ however. There’s even a Sunseeker within budget. An XPS21 on a road trailer no less. Imagine being able to answer ‘So, d’ya have a boat yourself?’ with ‘yes, a Sunseeker actually’.

Closer inspection reveals that this sub £5,000 beauty has an engine that ‘requires some attention’. For the right person either could be ideal. I’m just not the right person.

A Fletcher 18GTS for £6,900 in Plymouth looks good. The cuddy cabin might be a little tight for sleeping but would be enormously useful as a day space for coats and gear and the 3.0-litre Mercruiser petrol engine should be reasonably economical.

We view the boat and find much to commend it. Some money had been spent, both mechanically and on very smart new cockpit upholstery. On the outside it’s rather more in keeping with its age, suffering a mis-matched colour repair, a lot of fine scratches and tatty decals. One for the ‘definitely maybe’ pile.

Then I get a call from James Barke of Essex Boatyards (now boats.co.uk) with the fateful words ‘I know it’s a a bit more than you wanted to spend, but…’.

It’s a Fairline! A 1983 Holiday, a 24ft four berth cruiser with recent canopies and upholstery but the big news is that it has a virtually brand new engine and outdrive, a Mercruiser 4.3 V6 petrol. It’s for sale for £14,950 but James is open to negotiation…

Fairline-Holiday-1

I visit the boat, it looks in good shape and James offers me a great deal. I’m sorely tempted, but I just can’t rid myself of the feeling that, since we’re unlikely to stay aboard often (I live a 20 minute walk from the marina), I’d be pushing around an awful lot of cabin that would rarely be used. Ultimately I just can’t fall in love with it and reluctantly I pass.

After a few more false starts I spy something amazing! A 1996 Skibsplast 660D, bang on budget at £9,950, that ticks all the boxes: Scandinavian build quality, a cuddy cabin with a sea toilet installed, and the Holy Grail for small boat buyers – a turbo diesel engine.

The benefit of this cannot be overstated. I used to reckon about 6 gallons an hour on average for my 4.3 litre V6 petrol engined Monterey. The Volvo Penta TAMD22 105hp diesel in the Skibsplast should use less than 2GPH!

Admittedly it will only get two thirds of the distance in that hour (cruising at 20 knots rather than 30), but then marine filling station diesel is 2/3 the cost of petrol.

I arrange an appointment with the brokerage, Parkstone Bay in Poole. It’s for sale as the owner simply hasn’t had time to use it recently. In fact it hasn’t even been in the water for over a year, and it’s looking sorry for itself.

The gelcoat is completely matt, the upholstery is grubby, there’s a tear in the canopy and one of the seats, the engine and drive are overdue a service, the bilges are wet, the fore-hatch seal has come away, and on and on.

But fundamentally the boat appears solid, and more than that it fits the bill perfectly. It just desperately needs some love. It desperately needs me…

Skibsplast-1

The problem is that with boats at this price level and condition, any figure to allow for work to be done becomes a major percentage of the cost of the boat. Nonetheless I grit my teeth and put in an offer subject to survey and sea trial.

It’s rejected, but the owner comes back with a figure he’s prepared to accept. It’s still too high. I add another £500 to my offer but the owner isn’t budging further. It’s just going to cost too much by the time it’s put right.

Reluctantly I give up and go back to the drawing board, or more accurately the Internet. But the Skibsplast niggles, it is such a perfect boat. I look for another but there are none on the market.

The owner and I are £1,500 apart and I feel I’ve gone as far as I should, but I decide on one last roll of the dice. If he’ll split the difference and drop another £750 I’ll have it!

The broker, Claire Mein, puts it to the owner, he says he’ll think about it over the weekend. Claire promises to let me know as soon as she hears anything.

Sunday afternoon, she does exactly that. Someone else has offered more, the owner has accepted and the boat is off the market.

This, I know, is boat buying. It’s just part of the ups and downs to be expected when you walk into that boat yard and risk falling in love with something. But I have to admit I am absolutely gutted.

Next time on Born Again Boater: With the Skibsblast fallen through, Nick tries to move on, but can he set his heart on another boat? Whoever said buying a house was traumatic?