sailboat swimming

Battered old boats deserve our love. Let us count the reason why.

We try to keep her in good shape, but our Catalina 30 is over 40 years old, and as the number of cracks in her gelcoat grows, so do the lengths of the old ones. Up north, the season is short, and maintenance and repairs must be juggled with the fact that we love to sail. This isn’t easy, because a day that’s nice enough to fix a leaky portlight or repair gelcoat is also a day that’s nice enough to get on the water. Priorities.

Thus, we sometimes feel a little sheepish docked beside newer vessels that gleam like wet crystal, sporting canvas free of patches or stretched seems and instruments that match (and work). But these feelings are short-lived because we’ve found, over the years, that there are advantages to sailing a battered old boat.

Boat Per Dollar

I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that my battered old boat didn’t break the bank; I’ve got a lot of boat per dollar. But the boat-per-dollar factor is a subjective and variable value, difficult to quantify until long after the purchase date. I bought my old girl at an estate auction almost 20 years ago. I was the only bidder on the cradled sailboat in the back yard and bought her for $6,000, the reserve minimum. It’s easy to be blinded by the low cost of an old boat, and the saying is true: There is nothing as expensive as a free boat. So, go in eyes wide open, carefully weighing the advantage of the low cost against any work you may not be able or willing to do on your own.

Less Stress

Chips happen. But one more chip or scratch added to the hundreds already there is far less stressful than a single nick in a new boat’s pristine gelcoat. Many of the boat owners in our marina enforce a no-shoes policy on their new-ish vessels. Shoes line the docks in front of them as if they were at a boat show. No, thank you, I hate to think of all the stubbed toes.

There’s Always Something to Do

Besides sailing, there’s nothing I’d rather do than work on my old boat (heck, if you don’t like working on your boat, you shouldn’t have an old one). Fortunately, a battered old boat provides no end to the list of things to do, always some reason to spend some quality boat time. And I keep it simple; just because I can’t fix everything doesn’t mean I don’t do a spot here, a chip there, when I can. I learn new skills, and the old boat just likes it when I show her some love. Who doesn’t?

Natural Selection Drives Boat Selection

The bad boats don’t grow old, and not every hull is created equal. My Catalina 30 is hull #306 of some 7,000 made. To have survived and sailed regularly for over four decades means she’s a winner. So, if your battered old boat is still sailing, you know she’s a good one. Those folks down the dock with the new boat? They’re still wondering what they have.

Those Looks, and Look-Aways

There are always a few people in the marina who look down their noses at any less-than-pristine vessel. If you sail a battered old boat, you know what I’m talking about, and it can sting a little. But, chin up. You’ve quickly identified those folks with whom you wouldn’t want to interact anyway. And it’s OK to feel a bit sorry for them. After all, when they’re not at the marina, they’re probably working extra hours to make their boat payment.


I’ve come to realize that this is my last boat. She’s big enough and seaworthy enough for who we are and where we sail, and with sweat, blood, and history, I have cemented a bond with our battered old boat that would be very hard to undo. For almost two decades she’s been the core of our summers, and our love is more than gelcoat deep.