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The Smart Buyer - A Lifestyle change could mean it’s time for a new boat

The author's son Jake and husband, Darrell, fishing near Sarasota, Florida, on their Parker.

My husband, Darrell, and I lived aboard our 32-foot classic ketch Tosca for a decade, sailing her from Miami through the Caribbean to South America, the South Pacific and Asia. When we sold her in Malaysia and moved to Newport, Rhode Island, the first thing we did was buy a new boat.

On the surface, the two sailboats had few similarities.

Tosca was a pre-World War II, British Columbia-built, 12-ton wooden double-ender with a 6-foot draft and gaff-rigged sails. Our 1976 Javelin 14.5, an Uffa Fox-designed fiberglass daysailer, weighed less than a ton and spent its youth racing around cans at the Saunderstown (R.I.) Yacht Club. Despite the differences in displacement and sail plan, both boats filled a need we had at the time of purchase. Although our slow and safe double-ender was ideal for a multiyear Pacific cruise, we knew we wanted something lighter and faster for our new weekend-boating lifestyle.

“There are a plethora of reasons people switch boats,” says Rob Birchfield, senior sales consultant at MarineMax in Venice, Florida. “They have grandkids. They’re not skiing anymore. I’ve seen people go from small boats to medium and large, and then back down again.”

Birchfield says MarineMax works hard at getting people into the right boat. “You never want to hear someone say they bought the wrong boat. We want to head that off.”

Birchfield, who says boating is both his profession and his passion, finds himself acting as a counselor when a client is thinking about switching boats. He’ll ask questions and listen closely to identify what has changed and make suggestions about boats he believes will suit the person’s new lifestyle.

When one activity dominates your boating hours — be it sailing, fishing, skiing or just enjoying a day on the water with friends — your boat should match. If that changes, the boat should change. Age is one of the leading reasons people switch boats. “We see a lot of people that want to trade what they have for a boat that fits their grandchildren,” Birchfield says.

Pontoons have become a popular choice. “Pontoon boats are really taking off,” he says. “People want to take their friends out dayboating, or they want to go boating with their kids. [These boats have] a single flat, level surface, so if you want you can even roll a wheelchair on and off.”

Relocating to a different region of the country is another common reason people switch boats. “We had a couple that moved [to Florida] from the Great Lakes area. They came in looking for a 19- to 24-foot cuddy,” Birchfield says.

The couple planned to use the cuddy for dayboating but did not intend to spend the night aboard. Birchfield showed them several deckboats, and they were sold. “They’d never considered an open deckboat around the Great Lakes,” he says.

After sailing the Javelin for a couple of years in New England, Darrell and I bought a Parker Walker Bay 2150 with a Johnson 185 outboard. Our boys were 1 and 3 years old at the time, and we’d searched for a boat that would allow us more time on the water. Although we kept the Javelin and used it for daysailing, the Parker offered more options for our young family. The enclosed helm provided weather protection on early spring and late fall days, extending our boating season, and the comfortable cabin gave us a warm, dry spot for the kids to play during a storm. The solidly built, heavy boat was in excellent condition and handled seas well, which gave us the confidence to roam farther offshore and down the New England coast.

When we moved to Sarasota, Florida, we brought the boats with us and used them for a year. After the recession hit, we couldn’t keep both boats and decided to sell the Parker. Although it was an excellent boat and perfect for New England, we found that we didn’t need the deep-vee hull for the way we were using the boat in Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The fuel-burning 2-stroke was not a good fit for motoring up and down the Intracoastal Waterway, and the Parker did not have a trailer. Our boys were now school age and did not need the cabin. The Parker was simply more boat than we needed.

North-Carolina based Parker has an excellent reputation for building solid, dependable boats that are popular with the Coast Guard and and other commercial users, as well as with boaters. We were able to sell our Parker quickly to a family in Virginia for the price we paid for it.

During the past several years, we’ve added a few more boats to our Florida fleet. We bought a Catalina 22 for overnight trips to the islands around Pine Island Sound, and we have a kayak and a 12-foot RIB for fishing and diving in the Gulf. The 1983 centerboard Catalina has a shallow draft and a double-axle trailer, and we have plans to sail her north into Tampa Bay and south to the Everglades. We may trailer the Catalina to Lake Okeechobee and cross the state through the lock system.

When the kids are a little older, we’ll start looking for a larger, heavy-displacement, bluewater cruiser. We might need a boat for another multiyear Pacific cruise.

February 2015 issue