If you’re looking at buying a 40 year old fiberglass cruising sailboat you’re probably wondering what kind of refit you’ll be looking at and how much that refit will cost.
In this article I am going to break down the refit I had done on S/V Counterpoint, my Bristol 45.5. Per my pre-purchase survey:
The Bristol 45.5’s are a well-built and sturdy vessel. Attention to the larger issues will assure a long life ahead. These issues are common to any older vessel.
Now, of course, the boat you’re looking at might have had some of these refit items addressed already. The boat’s pre-purchase survey is your best resource for figuring out what projects her refit will entail.
Every sailboat is different. That’s even more true about 40 year old boats than it is about modern production sailboats. Counterpoint’s 40 year refit is not a template; it is merely one example.
I knew buying a 40 year old boat that the refit would be substantial. I could have searched for a boat where much of this work was already done but I preferred the opportunity to have the work done to my standards. If you’re looking at a 40 year old boat you may be better served by finding one where the seller has kept up with some or all of these refit items.
I wasn’t trying to buy a project. I set out to buy a sailboat that I could sail and eventually live aboard. With a substantial refit I expected having the refit done professionally so that I could enjoy the boat instead of spending all my time working on it. I was shopping for a yard to do the refit at the same time as I was shopping for Counterpoint herself.
40 Year Sailboat Refit Costs:
Let’s jump right in. Here is how I spent $94,000 on S/V Counterpoint’s refit:
Later in this article I will go through each of these projects but first I’d like to discuss a few headlines before diving into the details.
Time vs. Money
I spent $53,000 on 883 hours of labor for this refit. $53k is a lot of money no matter how you slice it. $53k is 70% of Counterpoint’s purchase price.
I’m sure I’ll hear from plenty of people about how much money I could have saved if I had done the work myself. I would certainly have spent less money on the refit, but what would it have cost me?
Let’s assume I worked 8 hour days every Saturday and Sunday since the day after my first sail aboard Counterpoint: July 5th, 2019.
I’m also going to give myself the benefit of the doubt and figure my labor is half as efficient as professional labor on these projects. Even though I don’t have a yard full of tools and parts handy. In spite of the fact that I’ve never before attempted jobs like these (except the bottom paint and additional bilge pump install). That I’d be working solo on some jobs that would best be done with two or more people. That I don’t have existing relationships with the sub-contractors necessary for these jobs.
This is an alternative story of my life since buying Counterpoint, in table form:
|Professional Labor Hours
|Amateur Labor Hours
|Refit Time in Weeks
|– 2 Weekends / season
The last completion date is a project completion date projection assuming I missed two weekends in 2019, two weekends in 2020 and two weekends in 2021.
So $53,000 bought me just over two years of weekends back; not just two seasons but two entire years of weekends. Bought me back sailing during the 2019, 2020 and 2021 sailing seasons.
Time and Money aren’t the only trade offs. If I had spent nearly 2000 hours working on Counterpoint I think I would be well on my way to an entry level boat yard laborer; I still own Counterpoint so the knowledge and skills would not go to waste. I would also have accumulated a substantial workshop worth of tools.
I’d also probably be a very bitter boat owner barely having the chance to sail my boat during the first 3 seasons owning it.
Am I ecstatic about having spent $53k to have a yard refit Counterpoint? Not really. But I am very happy with the results of the refit. Even in hindsight if I had the chance for a do-over I’d approach the refit the same way.
Estimate vs. Actual Cost
I did not get estimates for every part of S/V Counterpoint’s refit. But I spent a lot of time and effort getting estimates and evaluating boat yards for the most expensive projects in the refit.
With everything that the tank project would open up aboard Counterpoint I figured even if I got an estimate for fixing all the projects I knew about more work would come up. My hope was that all of the work choosing the right yard for the big projects meant good quality and fair prices for the smaller, un-estimated ones.
Here I break down the $93k I spent on the refit to calculate how the estimates lined up with the actual cost:
Overall Johanson Boatworks came in under 113% of what they estimated. I was satisfied with that level of accuracy.
I was also pleasantly surprised that the additional work came out to under $20k.
I went into great detail of how I chose the right yard for the replacement of my diesel and water tanks in the bilge here. All that’s left to discuss is the numbers.
The tank replacement project came in 14% more than estimated which I was OK with.
The tank project was 54% labor. The largest expenses for the project were the tanks themselves; they were custom fabricated on site using the original tanks as templates. This way the only fuel and water capacity I lost was due to the additional thickness of the newer tanks.
Thru Hulls & Seacocks
The seacocks on S/V Counterpoint were in rough condition when I bought her. Some of the newer plastic ones seeped seawater when they were closed and the bronze seacocks were as corroded as any seacocks I had ever seen (they did all work though).
I had all 15 of them replaced. Johanson and I did not spend nearly as much on that part of the estimate as we did on the tank projects. I erroneously told them there were only 12 seacocks to replace so I counted the $2,617 for the additional three as additional work. So for the 12 seacocks quoted the quote was exceeded by 10%.
I opted for bronze seacocks, not fancy plastic. The bronze seacocks are bombproof and the originals had lasted almost 40 years which worked for me.
I opted for the top of the line Groco BV seacocks because (1) I wanted them to last the full 40 years and (2) the thru-hulls and seacocks seemed like the absolute worst place to try to save money. The seacocks and thru hulls themselves were the most expensive part of this project; parts were 54% of the cost of this project.
Chainplates were a survey item:
Before any long voyage, suggest removal, inspection and re-bedding of the port and stbd fwd lower shroud chainplates.
I figured getting them all inspected and re-bedded while the mast was down was a good thing to have checked.
This project was all labor and it cost less than half of what Johanson estimated.
This is my heading for the canvas work I had done. None of this was on the survey nor on my radar really but Johanson noted some canvas work that should be done.
The jib was not going to last but the main sail, mainsail cover and dodger will probably last years if I take good care of them. So I opted to have that work done.
This was the biggest surprise. I had the diesel inspected by a diesel mechanic and he did not notice any problems. I had always felt the transmission shifted roughly but I figured it was merely showing its age.
Getting Counterpoint from the dock I dropped her off at into their hangar Max from Johanson also noticed the rough shifting and brought it up on our first call after they got the boat. He found it concerning and wanted to pull the transmission and send it out to be serviced. I didn’t want to run the chance of losing power maneuvering between million dollar yachts in a marina someday so I signed off on the work.
It turned out that the transmission needed a significant rebuild. Johanson Boatworks also found that the shifting was so rough that several of the bolts connecting the transmission to the flywheel had sheared off. The flywheel had to be pulled out of the engine to get everything put back together correctly.
Max Prop Service & Shaft Seal
These were both survey items. The existing dripless shaft seal was corroding to the zinc used as a backup collar to keep it from leaking. The Max Prop was working but the surveyor noticed it had enough play in its operation to justify servicing it.
Johanson installed a dripless stuffing box; I wasn’t even aware this was an option but given that the existing Dripless Shaft Seal was already setup to circulate engine cooling water it made sense. A proper stainless steel collar was installed as a safety measure.
The Max Prop service was described by the max prop invoice as “routine”.
While the mast was down I had Johanson replace some of the wires and remove the old TV antenna.
The survey noted I should inspect the base of the mast where it sits in the mast boot when it was next down. It was in great shape. Just to be safe the bottom of the mast that goes into the boot was painted to prevent corrosion.
Inspecting the base of the mast on a keel stepped mast is a very common note on surveys; it’s always suspect and unless the mast is out of the boat it’s impossible to truly inspect.
I did ask Johanson to fix the anchor light but they were unable to complete that project before Counterpoint left for the sailing season. It’s some difficult to diagonse wiring problem that I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of 🙁
Johanson added a coat of ablative bottom paint to Counterpoint. She was quicker early in the season due to this improvement in the bottom paint
During the season I had noted one of the deadlights and the centerboard block on deck were the most significant leaks. I had Johanson rebed these while Counterpoint was being refit. Not a drip since.
The deadlight could have been done whenever but the centerboard block was best done while she was on the hard and the centerboard supported.
Backup Bilge Pump
The survey indicated that the bilge pump would need to be replaced:
Recommend repairs to the automatic bilge pump.
It wasn’t actually broken though; it was just wired unusually. The bilge pump has to be switched on at the breaker panel in order to work automatically. Then there is a second switch to engage the bilge pump in manual mode.
I got it working the first day I stepped aboard. The previous owner saw this recommendation and bought a replacement bilge pump and left it aboard; meaning Counterpoint came with a spare electric bilge pump.
While Johanson was comissioning the boat they noted that the bilge pump should be wired directly to the batteries and they wanted to fix it for me. Instead I had them install a second bilge pump in the deep bilge above the existing “primary” bilge pump. The secondary bilge pump is wired directly to the battery. That way if the primary bilge pump fails the secondary bilge pump will kick in. And if one pump of the two is working and can keep up with the water ingress the flooding will be limited to the deep bilge.
Johanson went over every system as a part of commissioning. They found and fixed lots of little things. The “full service boat yard” service was reassuring, like an additional post refit survey where they fixed all the little things (and a few medium things) they found.
They fixed a handful of small problems. A new sump pump for the aft shower. New strainers everywhere. Replacing a shower head. Other assorted bits. But mostly this item was the time taken verifying each system and giving S/V Counterpoint a deep clean after her very dusty refit.
Unfortunately one problem snuck under the radar. About an hour and a half into our delivery from Penobscot Bay to Boston Harbor I went below to look over the diesel and noticed a diesel leak in the fuel return system. It looked to be an old problem that the previous owner had fixed with JBWeld but the repair had failed and diesel was spurting out.
The leak a seep at all at idle speeds but as the RPMs went up diesel was spurting out:
We could have completed the delivery under sail just using the diesel for maneuvering into the docks at low RPMs. Unfortunately some internet sleuthing while underway indicated the part necessary was no longer available from Westerbeke so some custom fabricating or tricky repair would probably be necessary.
I decided to turn around, pass on a diesel shower to kick off the season and let the professionals take care of this final repair.
Johanson repaired the fuel return line and Counterpoint was ready to go again by the following weekend. I SAY AGAIN: Johanson repaired the fuel return line and Counterpoint was ready to go again by the following weekend! Somehow they managed to get Counterpoint ready in less than a week during the busiest part of their year. If you’ve ever tried to get ahold of a boat yard during that time of year you’ll understand how impressive that is.
Maybe what you take away from this article is don’t buy a project boat. That’s a good lesson to learn with somebody else’s money. Congratulations!
As I said above, knowing what I know about the refit and having lived with the results for two seasons I would do it the same way for the most part.
What Would I Have Done Differently?
If I had known that the transmission work would wind up costing $4k and that there was a diesel fuel leak on the engine that cost $1k to repair I probably would have had Counterpoint’s diesel replaced. The back of the napkin numbers I’ve gotten for re-powering Counterpoint were all around $25k; the $5k of surprise diesel work was 20% of a re-power that I’ll probably want done during the next 5 years.
A re-power would have saved me getting a quick diesel shower from the leak, aborting my first delivery to Counterpoint’s summer slip (which was my most expensive cab ride ever on top of the 5k) and the adventure of sailing back onto the mooring after the sun had gone down.
I would have made the problem with the anchor light known to Johanson earlier so that it could have been remedied while the mast was down.
I can’t think of anything else. There were no issues with the boat that kept me from enjoying the 2020 sailing season or living aboard for two months during that season.
S/V Counterpoint Article Series
If you care to read more about my journey buying Counterpoint checkout the additional articles below: