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Sailors share time, cost of ownership

Inspired by a successful charter near Corsica a few years ago, two Texas men have launched a business to help people experience the joys of owning a new sailboat, without all the hassles.

Grant Headifen and George Bonelli, both of Austin, Texas, are the owners of SailTime, a “fractional sailing” program. For a monthly fee members share a new sailboat. SailTime takes care of the maintenance, insurance and slip fees.

“Our mission is to increase the number of people in the sport of sailing,” says Headifen, 40, a New Zealander who moved to the United States many years ago.

The program works like a time share, and guarantees each member a minimum allotted number of daytime, evening and weekend hours to use the boat. The key is the online reservation system in which members can schedule up to a year in advance, or they can make last-minute reservations if the boat is available. Each boat is shared by a maximum of eight owners, so there is ample sailing time.

The men were inspired after a vacation in Corsica. Along with a group of others, the men chartered a sailboat and quickly became accustomed to the luxury of a new boat. Upon their return home, they looked around at all the older boats sitting in the marina, including Headifen’s 29-foot “clunker,” and started to brainstorm ways to expand opportunities for people to own new boats.

They estimate that many people use their boats about twice a month, and about once a year they may take a one- or two-week vacation aboard. Yet slip fees and insurance, plus the hassles of maintenance, can be draining, they say. Older boats may be more affordable, but there is still the upkeep to consider.

Their goal was to make ownership easier, more affordable and more pleasurable.

“Forget the rest and go,” says Headifen.

SailTime’s owners also hope to tap into a market of new boaters — people who have been interested in sailing but could not afford a boat, or did not want the hassles of boat ownership.

SailTime membership costs about $385 a month, depending on the location and size of the boat. Members also pay a security deposit of $1,500 and another $1,000 for a “getting started” training package. There are no long-term commitments, but members are asked to give three months notice if they wish to drop out of the program.

The program also offers boaters a more affordable option to purchase a new boat. Owners can enroll their new boats in the program, which takes care of maintenance, slip fees and insurance for six years. Through membership fees, the owner receives monthly income from SailTime, which can be applied to the boat loan. After the six years, the owner has his own vessel, free and clear of further obligations to SailTime.

Headifen, a former mechanical engineer and avid sailor, and Bonelli, a former project management consultant, started with the concept nearly four years ago and launched the first boat in 2001. Since then they have expanded to 12 locations and have about 45 members. They are currently negotiating more franchises and expect to soon have at least 20 locations, including a franchise in Spain. Members can use sailboats at other SailTime locations, providing they are certified. SailTime has a fleet of Hunters, in part because they are easy to sail and maintain. The two companies recently forged an agreement to promote each other’s products.