Why “Rampage” or how to buy a boat.

February 19, 2013

Why did we choose Rampage?

Recently a comment on the blog made us pause for a moment. Paul, who is thinking about following in our wake when he retires in the not too distant future, asked why we had chosen Rampage as opposed to any other boat and what we have done to modify her for the live-aboard life. So, in direct response to these questions and to give you something to read in what is otherwise a pretty boring part of the year, here is part one of our explanation to the question “Why Rampage?”

Just worth mentioning here that the deathless prose in thsi blog is not interupted by pictures, as we could n’t find any that were worth putting in after all this time!

I think that the first part of the answer must be to talk about why we decided to run away to sea. As you will know if you’ve read the blog, I spent just on 35 years in the Army until I was booted out at the age of 55. Our intention on my retirement was to ‘do something’ rather than my trying to find some sort of second career, as we reckoned we’d have enough money from my pension to live on fairly comfortably. Over the years leading up to my retirement, it had become a frequent topic of conversation on long car journeys and I suppose we’d narrowed things down to three options: 1. completing our dive instructor training and going somewhere warm and sunny to teach diving, 2. buying a round-the-world air ticket and going travelling like aging hippies or 3. buying a small property somewhere with the above climatic conditions.

We eventually rejected the dive instructor idea as it was, frankly, a bit too close to hard work. J had reservations about carrying all her worldly goods in a backpack and staying in dubious hostels so in January 2008 we went to northern Spain for a week looking at properties in the Gerona – Barcelona – Tarragona area. We found several that we quite liked and were in the process of starting to think about how to release equity on the house when the banking crisis really bit hard and we decided it would be foolish to sink money into Spanish real estate.

At the same time as all this was going on, J decided that she really couldn’t face having a certain birthday in the UK with all the attendant fuss and bother, so she demanded a holiday with a difference outside UK. At this stage we had owned a little Hardy Pilot motor cruiser for some years, so J was comfortable messing about on boats, living (albeit for short periods) in a confined space, and knew a bit about charts and navigation etc but she had never sailed so I suggested that perhaps she might like to learn to sail a yacht. We could then both acquire some bits of paper to prove our competence to handle a sailing boat. She agreed and we booked RYA Competent Crew and Day Skipper courses back to back with Corfu Sea School to cover the period of that awkward birthday.

We had a brilliant time with Steve and Tanya who run the school and came away more or less convinced that we had the skill set needed to handle a sailing yacht and that we also both really enjoyed living on board a boat. And so started the search for a suitable yacht.

Of course, the next question that arose was which yacht to buy? Once you start looking for a boat, you rapidly realise that there are an enormous number of boats out there for sale, varying from the expensive sail away brand new ones to those that, whilst cheap, frankly should have been consigned to the scrap heap some time ago!

OK. I don’t want to get lost here in a great discussion on retaining a UK property or selling it. That frankly doesn’t form part of this blog, which is all about “Why Rampage?”. However, before going on to talk about choosing a boat, we do need to briefly touch on the unwholesome topic of money. We worked out that we have about £65,000 to purchase the boat and fit her out as a live-aboard.

The budget sorted, the next thing to do was to ask for advice from those in the know. Now this is always a bit fraught, as those in the know are as likely to have prejudices and unreasoned enthusiasms as you or me, so a filter is always a good idea. I joined various forums on the internet and we sent emails to our instructors in Corfu and one or two other people asking their advice about suitable types of boat. I also have an uncle who has been living on board a boat in the Caribbean for the past 20 years or more, so we dropped him a line as well. Interestingly, both Steve from Corfu and my uncle gave basically the same advice which was to buy as big a boat as we felt comfortable handling and that lay within our budget. Steve added a rider that we should buy a ‘known brand’ of boat and not a one-off or one from an obscure maker, as this would make it difficult to sell at a later date.

So that led to the next step. We had learnt to sail on Steve’s yacht Mafalda II a Bavaria 390c, which was just over 12 metres long. We decided that this was about as big as we wanted to go. In addition, a fair number of marinas have a break point in their pricing regimes at 10, 12 and 15 metres, so we wanted to make sure we stayed at or under 12 metres length overall.

We then turned our minds to the internal layout of the boat. We have 3 grown up children and our eldest daughter had 2 children at the time. This led us to think that the best layout for us would be one with 3 cabins: a main one for use plus 2 guest cabins to enable us to accommodate Naomi and her family.

Finally, we need to ensure that the boat had all the whistles and bells in terms of the equipment fitted to her, so that we could find our way easily, anchor without too much effort and that life on board would be enjoyable and not a constant grind of life against the grain. In other words, the boat would have to have all mod cons, as the estate agents would have it.

So that gave us a block diagram of our boat. It would have been built by a know manufacturer, be no more than 12 metres long, would have 3 cabins, be reasonably well equipped and cost no more than £60,000 so as to leave a reserve for any modification work required.

Given these parameters, I spent many happy hours searching all the brokerage websites looking at one boat after another. It quickly became apparent that there were not many boats fitting our requirements to be had in the North West and North Wales. We did look at a few boats, including some demonstrators in Conway Marina but apart from one Bavaria 38 in the 2 cabin layout, none of them met our requirements. Most of the boats on sale were very tired and overpriced and would need a lot of work to bring them up to the standard we needed.

So we took ourselves off to the South Coast round the Solent where there seemed to be more boats than you could shake a stick at. We started off looking at the classic British makes such as Moody and Westerly, all of them between 15 and 25 years old. These boats, often very well maintained, were expensive and often their electronics were of a previous era or non-existent and their internal layouts felt cramped and crowded. The internal layouts were, of course, dictated by the hull shapes, which is narrower than a modern boat of similar length. In addition to this there had been a tendency when the boats were built to squeeze lots of extra berths into the boat, which tended to use up any spare space, thus giving a cramped feel to the accommodation below deck. For all of these reasons, we moved away from these older boats and started to look at the modern volume builders such as Beneteau, Jenneau and Bavaria.

We looked at a fair number of boats and finally fixed on Bavaria as our maker of choice. The interior finish of the boats we were interested in used a lot of dark wood rather than the French makers GRP mouldings, we liked the layout of a linear galley down the port side of the saloon and 2 seater island sofa with a hinged lid giving access to the capacious storage underneath.

Having made this decision, we could now focus entirely on looking at the various Bavarias on offer at the time. There were a fair number of them, including a clutch of ex-charter boats at a good price. We looked at various sizes from the 32 through to the 40. We thought that we could perhaps make do with a 37, would be happy with a 38 and the 40 would be too big both in terms of handling and in marina costs. The others, whilst well found and attractive would simply not be big enough in the long term.

It eventually came down to a choice between 2 Bavaria 38, both built in about 2000, both well fitted out and well maintained. One had been a charter boat and had the advantage of being fitted out to meet the MCA coding requirements, which would mean that it would be easy to get her re-coded if we ever wanted to use her as a business. The other had been a private vessel, sailed by her owner and his father in the usual fashion of occasional weekend sailing with the odd 2 – 4 week holiday once a year. She had a better range of electronics on board, had been fitted with a Brunton Autoprop and was in slightly better decorative shape than the ex-charter boat. So we put an offer in on her. This was quickly accepted and we then embarked on the purchase process.

First, the broker asked for a deposit (if I recall correctly, to was 5% of the purchase price). This secured deposit is refundable if the buyer wants to back out for cause at any stage until completion but it serves as a demonstration of goodwill. The broker places the money into their client account, so that if they do cease trading, the money is protected. It is as well to check this has happened by getting the deposit confirmed by the broker’s bank. Be very wary if the broker is not prepared to let you arrange this. Once the broker has you deposit, a contract for the purchase will be drawn up and signed by both buyer and seller; the contract stipulates what will remain on the boat and the overall terms of the sale. Do check this through carefully!

Just as in buying a house, you really do need to get the condition of the boat checked by an independent, qualified surveyor. There are lots of them out there, use the internet to trawl through them and find one that fulfils the basic requirements of belonging to a professional body, has liability insurance and who doesn’t have any nasty rumours circulating about him on the internet. We used a chap called Nick Vass, who charged a very reasonable fee and produced the report by email within a couple of days of the survey.

If at all possible, I would recommend attending the survey. The surveyor wll dig about in bits of the boat that it is possible you won’t even know about and ill point out any weak spots as they go. Frankly, one of the questions to ask a prospective surveyor is “Can I come with you for the survey?” If they are not willing, then find another one, as this is one of the few opportunities you’ll get to have a disinterested person giving your prospective home the in depth once over. Don’t forget that in addition to the cost of the survey, you’ll have to pay for the lifting out of the boat for the surveyor should that be required.

The survey will inevitably pick up some faults with the boat. Some will be trivial, cosmetic things that you might well have already noticed, others will be more serious. For instance, when looking for our motorboat the survey on one candidate revealed a leaking gas system, a major safety failing. Look through the list of faults, talk to the surveyor and decide which ones must be rectified before you can go ahead with the purchase. There are 2 ways to approach this; either get an estimate for the work and ask the seller to reduce the price by that amount or ask them to carry out the work before the sale. We opted to ask the seller to carry out the work, which he accepted and the work was done to our satisfaction.

Next comes the sea trial. If the boat is on the hard, you’ll have to pay for a re-launch – nothing for free in sailing except the wind. For preference, the seller should attend the trial and do most of the difficult stuff, like leaving and returning to the berth, as the boat is still his and therefore if he dings it, he pays for the damage! Take the opportunity to check out everything on board during this trial, not just the engine, sails and electronics. Try out the toilets, make sure the calorifier heats the water by way of the engine, that the water system doesn’t leak and so on and so forth. The list is endless and you’ll miss something that you later find doesn’t work! Also check to see if there are user manuals on board for all the fitted gear; make a list of any that are missing so that you can get hold of them later – the internet is a very good source for this sort of stuff.

You also need, at this stage, to check the paperwork that comes with the boat. Whilst it is not absolutely vital, it is very useful to have the original receipts and invoices for the boat, as this will confirm it VAT paid status and also its conformity with the EU Recreational Craft Directive (RCD). Both these bits of paper are the sort of thing that horror stories will say that you will need to produce to various nasty foreign customs agents as you sail round Europe. Well, it may be strictly true but in 3 ½ years cruising we’ve not been asked for them and neither have we ever met anyone else who has been asked for them. But they’re nice to have and establish the boats history if nothing else.

If you’re happy after the sea trial, then the purchase is almost complete. All you now need to do is pay the balance of the purchase price and the boat is yours. The broker will send you a bill of sale in the format preferred by the register of shipping, which talks in terms of you owning 64/64ths of the vessel. This is your proof of purchase and names both you and the seller and must be kept safe.

The final bits are to arrange berthing for your new boat and her insurance cover. In our case, the marina where she was lying when we bought her were happy to have her remain there until we were ready to move her later in the year – the thought of the Bristol Channel in February didn’t appeal! Our insurance brokers for our motor boat gave us a very competitive quote for her cover, so that was easy as well.

The next blog will be about the modifications we made to what is an Average White Boat (AWB) to make her our floating home. Hope that this has been of interest to people out there – do let us know if you enjoyed this rather long post!



  1. Not that I wiould ever get Charlie to pull his roots out of Duckington (a week is a long time in his books!) it was interesting to see how to came to buy a boat, and how to do it, WRITE A BOOK YOU TWO!!

  2. That was an excellent summary, thank-you.

    I have often explained this sort of thing to others and I have not done it half as well as you. 🙂

    If you don’t mind, I will borrow that next time I get asked the same question.



  3. A separate point for you. I went through a very similar process though starting from monohull sailing. I ended up finding that a catamaran was what I needed. It has ended up meeting all my requirements better than I had expected. The only snag with cats is that they are expensive!

    Did you ever consider a catamaran?


  4. Duncan, thats all just fab!! I am very inspired by you and J’s journey and tails…. would love to come out with Jinny sometime as it really does sound idyllic!! Looking forward to next blog, Love Lisa

  5. Brilliant, Duncan. For some reason, although subscribed, it didnt notfiy me that you updated ! Just what I was after – may well have more questions over the coming months. Linda and I are about to do our Day Skipper (for Me) and Comp Crew (Linda) with Sail Ionian at the end of May – really looking forward to it.

    • Glad you enjoyed it and hope it’s useful to you. Feel free to ask any questions!

  6. Well, we’ve taken the first step! With some doubt as to my stay in Saudi being extended, retirement may be a couple more years away than thought! So we’ve bought 1/2 share of Bav39 instead! She’s called Iona and is currently with the Nisos fleet, so you may well see her around while you’re in the Ionian. We’re back out Oct 12th, but not on her, as far as we know!

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