After buying a cut-price 1995 Princess 440 sight unseen, Bryan Williamson spent the money he’d saved on refitting it exactly how he wanted it…
Jacqueline and I have always been into boating. We both grew up in Jersey and still live here today so the sea is in our blood.
As soon as our two children were old enough to walk we bought a second-hand Princess 30DS and over the next 12 years we gradually traded up – firstly to a Fairline Corniche 31, then a Phantom 38 and eventually a Phantom 46.
Cruising as a family around the Channel Islands, France and the south coast of England was the perfect holiday for the four of us and we have so many happy memories of those times.
However, in 2008 a health scare in the family meant we couldn’t use the boat as often as we used to. We sold the Phantom in 2010 and for the next 10 years remained boatless.
Perhaps it was the onset of lockdown in 2020 or simply the fact that our grown-up children still liked the idea of coming boating with us, but 18 months ago I started to feel that familiar urge to get out on the water again. After a 10-year hiatus it was time to buy another boat.
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The hunt is on
Initially, I started searching for another Fairline Phantom 46 but it soon became apparent that I wasn’t going to find one within my notional budget of £100,000.
I started looking around to see what other three-cabin flybridge boats I might be able to buy instead and in March 2021 I chanced across a 1995 Princess 440 for sale in Plymouth advertised at £115,000.
It looked pretty good in the photos and by happy coincidence was called Claire, our daughter’s name, so we felt this one was beckoning to us even though the description said it needed some updating.
Secondhand boats were in hot demand at the time due to overseas travel restrictions and I knew I had to move fast to avoid losing out so I put in a cheeky offer of £80,000 subject to viewing it in the flesh. Even so, I was rather surprised when the offer was accepted.
Covid restrictions meant I had a brief window to get from Jersey to Plymouth and back again so I booked myself onto an overnight ferry returning that same day.
When I did get to the boat, my heart sank. It had been used as a liveaboard for the last nine years and the constant wear and tear had taken a heavy toll.
The interior linings were sagging and coming away from the bulkheads and ceiling, the leather sofas in the saloon looked tired and shapeless, the helm seat was so worn the leather had split, the cockpit and flybridge cushions were a write-off and the teak and gelcoat were covered in grime.
I normally wipe my feet before I get on a boat – after viewing this one I felt like I needed to wipe my feet when I disembarked!
Despite her shabby appearance, mechanically the boat seemed pretty sound. The engines had only covered 240 hours in the last nine years, it came with a fair bit of paperwork and the engine room itself looked reasonably tidy.
I could see it had potential. If the hull and engines proved to be in respectable condition, we could always sort out the rest of it with a comprehensive refit.
I already had £20,000 left from my £100,000 budget so if I could chip a bit more off the purchase price and supplement my original budget with a bit of contingency money, that would leave me around £30-£40k to spend on a refit. I revised my offer to £70,000 and waited to see what the seller would say.
Perhaps not surprisingly, he refused my revised offer on the basis that he’d already taken a £35,000 hit on the asking price.
Knowing how hard it would be to find another suitable boat (I’d already spoken to three other brokers all of whom had nothing on their books), I agreed to stick with my original £80,000 offer subject to survey and sea trial.
The survey didn’t reveal anything we didn’t already know but did confirm that the hull was as solid and sound as I’d hoped.
The sea trial was a bit more eventful as the port engine cut out, but thankfully it was just a bad case of fuel bug rather than anything seriously wrong with the engine. To his credit the owner agreed to cover the cost of polishing the fuel and changing all the filters. A few days later the boat was finally mine.
Counting the cost
At that point we could have brought the boat straight back to Jersey with a view to refitting it there but given that Plymouth is the home of Princess Yachts and teeming with related marine businesses, we thought we might as well get the refit done there.
I invited four companies to tender for the work. The brief was for a full interior refurbishment of all three cabins, both bathrooms, the saloon, galley, helm seats and companionway as well as the cockpit and flybridge upholstery.
The quotes ranged from £38,000 to £46,000. Ironically, SETAG Yachts’ was the most expensive but the way they presented it gave me confidence that they’d do the best job of it.
They sent us drawings of what it would look like, explained the whole process in detail and committed to a timescale of just 3-4 weeks. I’m sure the other companies we spoke to would have done a good job too but the professionalism of SETAG Yachts’ approach meant we felt more comfortable going with them.
True to their word they maintained the same level of customer service and communication right the way through the process. Even before we’d started they came back with a series of mood boards to determine the kind of style and colour scheme we were looking for.
Some we liked, some we didn’t but it was a really good way of envisaging what the end result would look like. Jacqui really enjoyed the process, picking out colours, fabrics and leathers that would give our finished boat a more personal touch.
With their designer’s help we ended up opting for a textured fabric with a vertical weave for the bulkheads that gives the boat a more contemporary feel than the usual tan-coloured faux leather finishes.
The refit begins
Once we’d decided on the colour scheme we let them get on with it, returning just once mid-way through the refit to check on progress. Even then we didn’t go on board as we didn’t want to spoil the surprise of seeing it fully transformed for the first time.
Inevitably, there were one or two things that didn’t go exactly to plan or fell outside the scope of the original quote but SETAG were very quick to explain the situation, offer a solution and send us photos of what it looked like.
For instance there was an issue with the lining around the dashboard that was hiding various holes where old navigation equipment had been removed. They suggested filling in the holes then covering it with a white leather panel to hide the joins at a cost of an extra £900. That aside, the whole job came in on time and on budget.
We did get separate quotes for that too but as SETAG came back with a quote a few pounds more than the others we agreed to go with them again.
The big reveal
On the allotted date for the big reveal, we flew over to Exeter, hired a car and drove over to Queen Anne’s Battery to meet Chris Gates at our newly refurbished boat.
We could hardly believe it was the same boat, everything about it looked totally different. The wow factor when we stepped on board for the first time was incredible. It felt like a brand new boat inside but one that had been designed and built just for us.
I am genuinely delighted with how it has turned out. I knew I was taking a risk buying a boat in that condition and inevitably it did end up costing a bit more than I’d originally budgeted for but I’m convinced the end result is better than if I’d spent the same on a secondhand boat in good condition.
We cruised it back to Jersey in August and spent the rest of the summer getting to know our new boat with trips around the Channel Islands and over to Granville. The engines haven’t missed a beat and we’re now looking forward to our children joining us on board for some more extended cruising next year.
Taking into account the purchase price of the boat, the interior refit and a further £8,000 worth of exterior and mechanical works, the total bill came to around £138,000 but I don’t regret a single penny of it.
It may seem counterintuitive to buy a relatively cheap 26-year-old boat and then spend more than half as much again doing it up but not only have we ended up with a brand new interior that looks and feels far more modern than any 15-year-old boat we might have got for the same money, but it makes financial sense too.
Since the refit I have had our boat revalued at more than £140,000 but there’s no way I’m going to sell it now that we’ve got our own custom built boat to enjoy for the next few years.
List of works
New mattresses, new curtains, new carpet and underlay
New mattresses, new curtains, new carpet and underlay
Window bands re-cover, new bulkhead material to curves; headboard panel upper re-cover; headboard panel lower re-cover; new mattress (double sprung); lower bunk surround re-cover; new carpet, underlay and binding; new curtains; new speakers; starboard head; mirror replacement
New fridge; new microwave; new hob; inspect and certify gas system; new catches where missing; sand and varnish floor
Replace side linings port and starboard, new curtains; replace upper linings in place of existing ‘ostrich’ material in helm area only; new carpet and underlay; new port sofa; new starboard sofa; helm seats recovered; upholster panels under and on top of helm; two leather panels to replace timber; new drinks fridge
External upholstery; bulkhead replacement; headlining replacement
Cockpit and flybridge
New cockpit upholstery; new flybridge upholstery; new teak table; new flybridge helm seat
Hull compound and polish; antifoul; change main anodes; repair minor gel dings
Total cost: £46,000
First published in the April 2022 issue of MBY.
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