Owner’s upgrade: Why upsizing to my 32ft boat wasn’t all plain sailing

Buying a bigger boat isn’t always as easy as it first appears but the rewards are worth it in the end. Matt Dale reveals the truth about upsizing…

How hard can it be? You want a bigger boat. You search for a bigger boat. You find a bigger boat. Then you buy a bigger boat. Except it rarely runs as smoothly as that…

We bought our bigger boat in January last year and had her delivered in February, but the search started three years ago. In fact, the process itself began at least a year before that when I set out to persuade my wife Jillie that we needed to upgrade our 19ft Yamarin 59HT.

Putting on a dodgy American accent and quoting Chief Brody from Jaws with the immortal line “We’re gonna need a bigger boat!” would have been counterproductive. And my actual thought process of “I would like a bigger boat because I want a bigger boat, because it would be nice to have a bigger boat,” wasn’t going to cut it either.

Much like the infamous N+1 formula (which states that the optimal number of cars/golf clubs/surfboards etc. is the number you already have +1) I just felt we needed a bigger boat.

While Jillie wasn’t averse to the idea, she did start asking awkward questions such as: Where would we keep it? What would the annual running costs be? How much would we use it? Even I had to admit that these were valid points, especially the last one – I’m a farmer so August is my busiest month.

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After a lot of pestering, of a level that a three-year-old would have been proud of, Jillie came around to the idea of a larger vessel (or at least got bored of my whining) and relented to start looking at potential boats.

Thankfully, marina browsing is one of our favourite pastimes. Wandering up and down pontoons window-shopping boats is actually a great way to decide exactly what it is you are looking for.

If the owners happen to be on board, then make nice noises about their boat and you will often be invited aboard for a look. We are all suckers for compliments, especially if they relate to our boat, child, dog etc.

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This resulted in one particularly memorable and very enticing tour of a brand new Sargo 31. The utterly charming owners had collected it from the Hamble and stopped in our local marina of Falmouth on their way back to the west coast of Scotland.

This helped us narrow down the choice to a Scandi-style commuter boat with an enclosed wheelhouse. Scandinavian boats tend to have a good reputation for build quality and seakeeping while something around 30ft would have enough room for the pair of us to cruise and liveaboard for a couple of weeks at a time.

We liked the idea of a simple two-deck layout with a sunroof rather than a flybridge, a usable foredeck and a decent aft cockpit, but it was only when we started looking in earnest that we realised we also wanted side doors and walkaround decks.

To us the idea of being out on the water is to be OUT on the water, not boxed in. For that reason we did originally start to look at open sportscruisers too but I soon decided that I didn’t want all the faff of flapping covers and plastic windows with their fuzzy views.

The hunt begins

Our list of must-haves was starting to take shape. It had to be 28-33ft long with an enclosed wheelhouse, a diesel engine (preferably single to keep running costs down), shaft drive (less to go wrong and easier to maintain) and decent side decks. And most important of all it had to fit our budget of £50,000-£80,000.

This in turn led to our preferred shortlist of boats: Nimbus 310 or 320, Skilso Arctic, Saga 29, Beneteau Antares 9 or 9.8, Jeanneau Merry Fisher 855 or 925, ACM 31 Elite or Aquador 32. And so the search began.

The French-built ACM was the first to catch our eye as it fitted most of our requirements and was typically £20,000 cheaper than its Scandi counterparts. A friend of ours has owned one for years and is delighted with it, which was encouraging. There also happened to be one languishing in a local marina that we had a good nose at.

The hunt for a new boat took several twists and turns along the way

As there were half a dozen for sale in Brittany, I had this romantic notion of taking our car across to Roscoff and spending 10 days touring the area looking at boats before buying one and cruising it home. And then Covid hit. Ah, the best laid plans…

With hindsight our timing could not have been worse but having started the process we were loath to give up now so we channelled our efforts into finding something closer to home.

Although we live in a popular boating area, there is not the volume of vessels here in Cornwall that there is in the south of England. Many hours were spent trawling through the pages of MBY and browsing various boat sale websites, still further hours phoning brokers across the entire southern half of the country.

The first boat that we actually viewed was a twin-engine Nimbus 320 in Chichester in December 2020 between lockdowns. Ken from Blackrock Yachting was the epitome of patience and we never felt pressured.

But the boat wasn’t for us. The two diesels seemed to be shoehorned into the hull with limited access to them, especially the port engine. The main berth was a diagonal one that meant one of us climbing over the other to get out for a pee in the night, and it was little wider than a standard 3ft 6in single bed at its narrowest.

We have been married for far too long to enjoy such close physical proximity and being at that stage of life when getting up in the night is pretty much a given, we could foresee knees or elbows being cited in subsequent divorce proceedings! We also looked at a Saga in the same marina but it did not do it for us either.

We kept looking and eventually found another Nimbus privately in early 2021 but by then we were in the second lockdown and couldn’t get up-country to see it. I had it surveyed anyway and offered a deposit on the condition that the faults highlighted by the survey were fixed.

The owner duly fixed the problems and put it back on the open market for more money! It was the start of the long lockdown silly season and the second-hand boat market had gone mad. Boats worth £200-300K were regularly being bought unseen, selling within an hour or two of appearing online. We kept on looking but had mentally parked the idea of upgrading.

We still had Sula, our Yamarin 59HT, and Dina, our 12ft aluminium Seastrike, and a 15ft oyster punt rowing boat so we could still enjoy getting out on the water. In fact, we did our longest trip ever on Sula that summer, lasting six days and taking in Devon and Fowey (see MBY Aug 2022).

The Dales cruised around Devon and Cornwall in their Yamarin 59HT Sula in the summer of 2022

Change of luck

However, in September 2021 our luck finally changed. I had come across an Aquador 32 for sale privately earlier in the year and thought it a good-looking boat that ticked all our boxes.

It was shaft drive, Scandinavian built with twin sunroofs, side decks and side doors and a decent sized cockpit. The owner had brought it across from Northern Ireland to use on the Severn but was now thinking of getting something bigger.

We had had a good discussion and got as far as negotiating a price but he’d decided to keep her after all. I was disappointed but understanding; his circumstances had changed, he was a pleasure to deal with and he hadn’t messed me around.

Molly, an Aquador 32, was looking a bit tired when the couple first laid eyes on her

Then months later, out of the blue, I had an email from the owner saying that he was about to put it on the market with a broker but would give me first refusal at a price which I
thought was very fair. It was near the top end of our budget but the boat was worth every penny of it.

He had spent a lot of money on it, so although it was built in 1999 he had fitted a new prop and shaft, a new calorifier, all new 240V electrics, plus a new inverter, freshwater tank, pump, fridge and sink tap. It was meant to be a long-term boat but then they hit a submerged log in the river, did some damage and fell out of love with the whole idea of boating.

First viewing

As a result, when we finally got to see Molly in the flesh in December 2021, she had been sitting in a yard on the Hamble for almost seven months and was looking rather sad. The rear sliding doors had been removed and the engine taken out for a thorough overhaul.

But we could see through that and agreed to buy her subject to a sea trial. Whilst the engine was out, the heat exchangers were stripped and cleaned, the turbo was rebuilt, the block was repainted and new belts were fitted.

The date for the sea trial came in January and although the owner was unable to make it, he had hired a skipper and we were joined by someone from the boatyard and a mechanic. Molly was great and when I pressed the skipper for his opinion, he agreed she was a good boat.

Molly finally leaves the yard in Hamble, where she had sat in a yard for seven months

Because this was a private sale rather than through a brokerage, we had joined the RYA so as to be able to use their sale and transfer paperwork. We met the owner and his wife for lunch in a pub near Gloucester and three hours later we were the owners of Molly.

We were all a little tense without the services of a broker to hold and hand over the money but we cleared that hurdle by making sure we both had copies of all the contracts and paperwork.

Thankfully, the owner was a gentleman and dealing with him from start to finish was as easy as hoped. In a small world like farming, where reputations are hard won and easily lost, this really matters and when it came to the negotiations it meant we were both able to trust each other.

In February 2022 RMS Transport delivered her the 250 or so miles from Hampshire to my yard in Cornwall, where Falmouth Crane Hire was ready and waiting to lift her off. By late April Molly was on our swinging mooring just down the hill from our house. I could see her from our fields.

Matt and Jillie flanked by their daughters Louise and Penny on board their new boat

If the whole boat-buying process was stressful, then owning and running a new boat was almost as much so, at least in the early days.

The leap in size and complexity from a simple 19ft sportsboat to a 32ft semi-displacement cruiser with 12V and 240V systems, a sea toilet and holding tank, bow thruster and windlass – all with no manual or handover briefing – was a bit overwhelming to say the least.

I am a reasonably confident and competent person – I run a 650-acre farm and own tractors with GPS autosteer accurate to 30mm – but it still took a bit of getting used to. I wasn’t on the point of selling her again but I wasn’t finding our outings very relaxing in the early weeks.

Matt’s daughter’s dog, Otto, isn’t the only one thrilled with the extra space aboard

We started with a number of day trips to find our feet; motoring across Falmouth Bay to the Helford or Gillan, or even just across the Fal from home to St Just in Roseland. Even that brought with it its own challenges; the main one being anchoring. Sula was so easy; a folding anchor, 3m of chain and a rope rode, often on a trip line from the beach.

Molly, with her size and weight, plus the 8mm chain and windlass, was more tricky. I would size up the wind and tide, check how the other boats were lying, drop the hook and set the anchor.

Yet somehow, and seemingly in defiance of the laws of physics, Molly would end up facing across the other boats and far too close for comfort. The big turning point for us was our trip to Fowey in June. Fowey seemed like the perfect destination for our first proper shakedown cruise.

Moored up in Fowey during their first proper shakedown cruise in Molly

From our base at Restronguet it is around 26nm away. You are well in sight of land all the way and, as we had been there several times before, it was a familiar destination. We waited for a weather window to arrive and headed off on 13 June. Whilst not as fleet-footed as Sula, Molly covered the distance in 1hr 20mins. We dropped the hook off Polridmouth Cove and spent the afternoon swimming.

We headed around the corner to Fowey at around 6.30pm, with a plan to pick up a harbour mooring and to cook onboard. We should have made a move sooner. All the buoys were taken; the clue being the steady stream of boats that had been passing us all afternoon.

Luckily there was a space on a mid-channel pontoon. It was fenders out and tuck in on the end. I was very happy to get alongside without mishap and, as fate would have it, our friends Martin and Sally were just upstream in their ACM 31.

The gods were less kind thereafter. I had been busy on the farm before we came away so hadn’t had time to prep properly. I knew we probably needed water so I planned to fill up at Fowey on the first morning. The tank has no gauge and is made of opaque plastic so there is no way of knowing how much is in there. It turned out to be about a cupful.

We did at least have drinking water. Then we tried cooking on the Wallas paraffin hob. It didn’t go well. We had never used anything like it before. You are supposed to just push the on switch then sit back and wait for it to do the rest.

There was lots of flashing and a strong smell of diesel but no heat. Jillie put on a brave smile and set to work cooking on our little festival stove. Our first night in Molly and we ended up freezing in bed with no water and all the windows open to get rid of the smell of diesel.

It was during a summer shakedown cruise to Fowey that the couple adjusted to life on a bigger boat

Successful sojourn

The next day dawned bright and sunny. We topped up our fuel and water tanks and sussed that we needed either the engine running or the fridge turned off for there to be sufficient voltage for the igniter on the hob. Things were looking up.

We managed to squeeze in on the end of the pontoon again but on the outside where it was sunnier. I had now got the hang of berthing Molly, helped by the fact that she is very forgiving and predictable, and slid in just in front of an immaculate Seaward Talisman 49. A lovely walk and a day on the beach followed.

Most of the third day was spent back at Polridmouth with more sunning and swimming before heading west and homeward. There was a bit of a sea running that would have been a very bumpy ride in Sula but Molly made light work of it.

Rather than heading straight home, we opted for a night in St Mawes. We had planned to pick up a harbour mooring but as they were all taken, we dropped the hook. We got it right first time again – I was getting the hang of it.

Extending the summer cruise with a final night in St Mawes

St Mawes is only about 3-4 miles from home as the crow flies but it is on the far side of the estuary and about an hour’s drive away by car so it felt like we were still very much away on holiday.

Late afternoon the following day, we pottered up the Fal to our mooring just downstream from the Pandora Inn. It had been a wonderful few days away and a fantastic exercise in getting to know our boat.

She now felt familiar rather than bewildering, a floating home from home. It had taken us a while to get there but like all the best journeys that only serves to heighten the satisfaction when you finally arrive.

Now the fun could really begin with more nights away and destinations we would never have dared attempt in Sula, some of which we’ll be reporting on in a future issue of MBY. Watch this space!

First published in the February 2023 issue of MBY.

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