Buyer beware...

A hasty pur­chase be­comes a hair-rais­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for the new owner of a mo­tor­boat, re­ports Roger Harper

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents -

An un­scrupu­lous boat owner, a dodgy sur­vey and a boat that could have be­come a fire­ball on the wa­ter

Afew years ago, know­ing of my in­ter­est in mo­tor­boats, a friend called Anne (not her real name) told me she was look­ing for a mo­tor­boat suit­able for her and her chil­dren to use in the shel­tered waters around where she lived in Corn­wall.

She went on to say that she’d seen two or three boats so far but the one which in­ter­ested her most was be­ing of­fered for sale by a large yacht bro­ker and was moored in one of the yards nearby.

When I asked her what ex­pe­ri­ence she had of boats she told me that she’d done a con­sid­er­able amount, both sail­ing and mo­tor­boat­ing while liv­ing abroad in the Mediter­ranean and Per­sian Gulf.

It was ob­vi­ous Anne was quite an ex­pe­ri­enced sailor, but she did ad­mit she had lit­tle knowl­edge of the me­chan­i­cal side of things and in­tended to go on one of the me­chanic’s cour­ses which were reg­u­larly held at her yacht club.

A cou­ple of weeks later Anne phoned to say she’d bought the boat she’d told me about – a well es­tab­lished type of 32ft, four-berth, twin-en­gined mo­tor­cruiser with a glass­fi­bre hull. Apart from my sur­prise that she’d de­cided on such a size for her first boat I agreed with her choice, even more so when she ex­plained the need for a de­cent toi­let and shower, and twin cab­ins to al­low pri­vacy from her chil­dren and their friends if they stayed overnight while boat­ing with her.

I asked Anne about its con­di­tion and if she’d been for a trial cruise. She told me that the bro­kers had con­tacted its owner and ar­ranged an ap­point­ment for her to view it the pre­vi­ous week­end. She was quite ex­cited from what she’d seen.

Ap­par­ently, the boat’s owner told her that the ves­sel had only re­cently un­der­gone a com­plete re­fit, with both en­gines be­ing com­pletely over­hauled by a qual­i­fied ma­rine en­gi­neer, and had a com­plete list of what had been car­ried out, with pho­to­graphs, etc.

The owner had sub­se­quently al­lowed her to go right though the boat and look

wher­ever she wished, in­clud­ing start­ing and run­ning both en­gines. But he had been un­able to give the boat a trial run as the tide was dropping and would not al­low enough time to get back to its moor­ing.

Anne was de­lighted with the boat’s con­di­tion and its clean­li­ness, par­tic­u­larly af­ter the dis­gust­ing state of some of the other boats she’d seen. It was ob­vi­ous she was de­ter­mined to buy this boat.

When I re­peated my cau­tion about buy­ing a boat without an up-to-date sur­vey she ex­plained that the owner had re­newed the boat’s in­surance only a few days ear­lier and that the in­surance com­pany had in­sisted on a com­plete out-of-wa­ter sur­vey be­fore is­su­ing a cer­tifi­cate. She had a copy of that sur­vey along with an­other set of pho­to­graphs taken dur­ing the boat’s re­fit.

She took out a file, which showed nu­mer­ous pho­tos of the boat; both in and out of the wa­ter, and the var­i­ous stages of its re­fit; en­gines be­ing lifted out and stripped in a work­shop and re-fit­ted.

The stages of its re-paint­ing and in­ter­nal re­fit ap­peared to have been pro­fes­sion­ally car­ried out and I had to agree that it seemed ev­ery as­pect had been cov­ered in a full and com­pe­tent man­ner.

Sound sur­vey

I was even more con­vinced when I saw the boat’s sur­vey had ap­prently been car­ried out by a re­spected ma­rine en­gi­neer. His sur­vey was ex­cel­lent. He’d ob­vi­ously gone through the boat with a fine-toothed comb. He’d found one or two mi­nor de­fects but at­tached to the sur­vey were pho­tos of all th­ese be­ing rec­ti­fied.

On see­ing this I had no hes­i­ta­tion in agree­ing to Anne’s re­quest that I’d bring the boat back to her home port with her the fol­low­ing Satur­day.

On our ar­rival at the boat­yard I was sur­prised to see the boat was not yet afloat, but ly­ing in the mud at the side of the har­bour wall. We met the boat’s owner, who asked us to join him on board so he could show us the con­trols, radar and ra­dio, etc. He kept look­ing at his watch, and ex­plained that he was fly­ing to Spain later that day on hol­i­day – in fact, as soon as he’d com­pleted the boat’s sale – so he asked that we sit down and com­plete the trans­fer as quickly as pos­si­ble.

To my sur­prise, Anne took out a large wad of notes and passed them over for him to count. I had pre­sumed she’d al­ready paid for the boat through the bro­kers who had ar­ranged its sale.

Af­ter count­ing the money, he made out a re­ceipt and com­pleted the boat’s bill of sale then, af­ter apol­o­gis­ing for his haste, and say­ing how much he would have liked to have been present when we cast off, he left.

I was far from happy and asked Anne what had taken place since our last con­ver­sa­tion. She ex­plained that af­ter fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tion, she’d called the owner and made an of­fer to buy it. Ini­tially, he re­fused her of­fer, say­ing he’d taken an­other per­son for a trial run and was wait­ing for the bro­ker to phone him with that per­son’s agree­ment to buy. He fur­ther ex­plained that she should have con­tacted the bro­kers and asked them to for­ward her of­fer to him. But on hear­ing her dis­ap­point­ment at miss­ing out, he agreed that it would be ‘first per­son first’.

He then com­plained that the bro­kers would be tak­ing ‘a large pro­por­tion’ of the pro­ceeds of the boat’s sale even though they’d ‘not re­ally done any­thing to help’. How­ever, if she was pre­pared to pay in cash he’d ac­cept her of­fer and not in­form the bro­kers of its sale...

I was hor­ri­fied, and pointed out that by deal­ing di­rectly with the seller she’d not only bro­ken her agree­ment with the bro­ker that she would only deal through them, but also – and most im­por­tantly – her pur­chase would not be cov­ered by the bro­ker’s in­surance should any­thing go wrong. All his talk of an­other buyer was a typ­i­cal sales ruse and al­most cer­tainly un­true. Fur­ther­more, if he was so read­ily

‘I no­ticed the tem­per­a­ture gauge on the port en­gine was con­sid­er­ably higher than that of the star­board one’

pre­pared to break his con­tract with the bro­ker, just how hon­est were any other of his com­ments?

Time to cast-off

By now wa­ter was sur­round­ing the boat from the ris­ing tide and only a short time later we were afloat. I started the en­gines. Ev­ery­thing ap­peared OK so we cast off. Anne was so pleased. Her face said it all!

Half an hour later and we were ap­proach­ing Ply­mouth break­wa­ter, just be­fore en­ter­ing the open sea.

Once again, I walked around the boat en­sur­ing all was in or­der for our forth­com­ing pas­sage. It was then I no­ticed the tem­per­a­ture gauge on the port en­gine was con­sid­er­ably higher than that of the star­board one. Its oil pres­sure was also quite a bit lower, so I sug­gested we head over to­wards the near­est vil­lage where, in calmer waters, I should be able to take an­other look at the en­gines. At the very time I was say­ing this, the port en­gine slowed, then stopped.

I took over the helm and headed to­wards the shore. It was then I re­alised that the boat’s move­ment in the wa­ter felt quite dif­fer­ent from ear­lier.

A few boat lengths from the beach I slowed the re­main­ing en­gine, took it out of gear and went for­ward to drop the an­chor. Af­ter un­do­ing the an­chor’s fas­ten­ings I found I had to lower it by hand as the winch was seized solid.

Then, af­ter only a cou­ple of me­tres of chain, I saw the end com­ing up through the hawse pipe. No more chain, just a short length of rope!

For­tu­nately, we were near some empty moor­ing buoys, so I stopped any thought of us­ing the an­chor, and was lucky enough to be able to pick up one of the buoys, bring its chain on board and drop its end over of the moor­ing bol­lard at the boat’s bow.

Af­ter this I went back to stop the star­board en­gine, but on pulling its stop ca­ble noth­ing hap­pened. I lifted the en­gine cover and tried to move the stop con­trol on the side of the en­gine’s fuel pump with my hand. I burnt my­self – it was glow­ing red.

Not be­ing able to stop the en­gine in a nor­mal way, I took a rag ly­ing in the bilges and held it over the en­gine’s air in­take un­til the en­gine stopped.

en­gines awash

It was then that I took an­other view of the boat and its en­gines. I was hor­ri­fied! The en­gine com­part­ment was awash, with wa­ter al­most cov­er­ing both starter mo­tors. I quickly went to the switch panel and tried the one marked ‘Aft Bilge Pump’ and for­tu­nately it worked. I felt very re­lieved!

Af­ter a few min­utes’ pump­ing, the en­gine space be­gan to empty and I tried to see where the wa­ter was com­ing from. It seemed to be from some­where un­der­neath the star­board gear­box, but as it had stopped flow­ing, I thought it more likely to be a leak from the en­gine’s cool­ing sys­tem.

I was fu­ri­ous, both at my­self for tak­ing the boat’s sur­vey at face value, but also at the man who had quite hap­pily taken Anne’s money while ob­vi­ously know­ing the boat was un­sea­wor­thy.

I de­cided to try and limp back into Ply­mouth, moor up and try and fix the prob­lems the fol­low­ing morn­ing. How­ever,

‘i lifted the en­gine cover and tried to move the stop con­trol on the side of the en­gine’s fuel pump with my hand. i burnt my­self. it was glow­ing red!’

when I tried to restart the port en­gine, I only got a quiet ‘thunk’ from the starter.

It would not even turn over. It was ei­ther seized or its bat­tery flat.

The star­board en­gine did start, but by now the ex­haust man­i­fold was so loose that flames and fumes were com­ing straight out into the boat rather than go­ing down its ex­haust. I also saw that wa­ter was again pour­ing in and re­alised that the leak was ac­tu­ally from this en­gine’s cool­ing sys­tem.

Know­ing we’d not be tak­ing the boat any fur­ther, I de­cided to ra­dio the coast­guard, ex­plain we were safely moored, then ask if they knew any­one who could tow us in.

To add in­sult to in­jury, the ra­dio would not trans­mit. For­tu­nately, I had my mo­bile with me and con­tacted the coast­guard with that. I learned that as the Port of Ply­mouth is un­der the con­trol of HM Har­bour Mas­ter I would have to ar­range our tow back to the ma­rina with them.

Ap­par­ently there were some ‘naval move­ments’ that day and to avoid any chance of our tow in­ter­fer­ing with th­ese we must use a Navy tug. The sight of this huge leviathan ap­proach­ing would have been fright­en­ing had we not known it was com­ing to our aid.

It took but a few min­utes to tie us up along­side. I had thought we’d be pulled on a long rope but was told they’d not have any con­trol of our move­ments on a rope, so along­side it must be.

Tow­ing trou­bles

Al­though the tug moved quite slowly – for a tug – to us it seemed as if we were fly­ing! But nat­u­rally all plea­sure has to be paid for, doesn’t it? Wa­ter was be­ing forced the wrong way through the star­board drive leg. Not only was the en­gine space flood­ing, but it was over­flow­ing into the hull as well. A quick shout brought some at­ten­tion from above. The tug slowed as we were asked our prob­lems. A large pipe was passed down. Two gulps and the hull was empty. An­other gulp from their pump and the en­gine space was empty too. To have such a suc­tion pump must be fan­tas­tic. I later saw its size: big­ger than both Perkins en­gines fit­ted to Anne’s boat.

I was be­gin­ning to worry about the cost: four men, this large tug, fuel etc. It was probably more than the boat was worth!

Af­ter we’d tied up, the cap­tain came aboard and started to cal­cu­late the ac­count. He must have seen my face as he gave me his bill. I need not have wor­ried. It was far less than I had ex­pected. He then ex­plained that as he was on his way back from tow­ing a ves­sel out to sea, he had only charged us a nom­i­nal amount, adding that he thought it un­fair to profit from some­one else’s mis­for­tune.

Once back in port Anne asked me what she could do? From the seller’s com­ments about go­ing on hol­i­day it was ob­vi­ous he had no in­ten­tion of be­ing con­tacted, even if still in the area. So I phoned the en­gi­neer who’d sup­pos­edly com­pleted the sur­vey on which my friend had bought the boat. He told me he had ab­so­lutely no knowl­edge of the boat and had never even seen it, let alone sur­veyed it.

This whole af­fair was get­ting murkier and murkier and I felt we had no al­ter­na­tive than to con­tact the po­lice. The ven­dor had well known the state of this boat be­fore al­low­ing us to take it to sea and must have been aware we could quite eas­ily have lost our lives.

How­ever, the po­lice did not seem in­ter­ested. I pointed out this was sim­i­lar to a per­son know­ingly sell­ing a car in a dan­ger­ous state with a fraud­u­lent MOT, but they re­fused to take the mat­ter any fur­ther. Anne’s solic­i­tor tried to ob­tain some form of sat­is­fac­tion through the courts, but af­ter dis­cov­er­ing that the ven­dor was a ‘man of straw’ he ad­vised us to leave matters as they were and make the most of a very bad job.

The boat was even­tu­ally lifted out and sur­veyed by a dif­fer­ent qual­i­fied ma­rine sur­veyor. This sur­vey negated just about ev­ery point in the one given to my friend; it even listed the fact there was se­vere cor­ro­sion on both ex­haust man­i­folds and that one had cor­roded to a large hole, pump­ing ex­haust gases and wa­ter back into the boat.

We had the en­gines in­spected and were not sur­prised when told there was no sign what­so­ever of th­ese units ever be­ing over­hauled. Just about ev­ery­thing on the boat had to be re­paired or re­placed be­fore it could be re-launched.

Then, while mov­ing some up­hol­stery to get ready for the re­fit, Anne dis­cov­ered a copy of a sur­vey that had been car­ried out on that very boat a few years ear­lier.

From read­ing it, it was ob­vi­ous that the ven­dor had not only copied that sur­vey word for word and sent it to his in­sur­ers to ‘con­firm’ the boat’s state, but also – and of more im­por­tance to us – to in­flu­ence my friend’s de­ci­sion over its pur­chase.

‘Al­though the tug moved quite slowly – for a tug – to us it seemed as if we were fly­ing!’

prop­erly main­tained or re­built – like this one – a perkins 4108 diesel should give years of de­pend­able ser­vice

A Navy tug towed the mal­func­tion­ing mo­tor­boat back to port

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.