Below is an old Alberg 30 from the late 60's, looking good at the time this photo was taken, with new topside paint and good sails. If you're looking for a sailboat like this to buy, especially one that's located far from where you live, you want to be sure the seller's photos are current and accurately represent the condition of the vessel. Now there is an easy way to get the photos you need without depending on the seller. Read on for more.
If you've ever been in the market for a specific type of boat, particularly a cruising sailboat in a certain size and price range that fits your needs, chances are you've had to look beyond your hometown unless you happen to live in a major boating center like Annapolis, Maryland or Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Popular online classified services like Yachtworld and Boat Trader usually have at least a few examples of every type and size of production sailboat, but the ones you might be interested in can be scattered far and wide.
After losing my Grampian 26, Intensity to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I was in the market for a replacement cruising boat until I eventually gave up on finding the right one and decided to build my own. Naturally there was a shortage of good boats left on the northern Gulf coast, since so many were either badly damaged or destroyed like mine. Several hurricanes in a two year period had greatly reduced the available choices in much of nearby Alabama and north Florida as well. I perused the online ads for months, seeing many likely candidates listed in New England, the Annapolis area, south Florida and on the West Coast - all far enough away to make going to look a time-consuming and expensive proposition. Of course most online advertising sites allow the insertion of photos, and many of the listings included lots of views of the interior and exterior of the vessel for sale.
Naturally the owners of these boats want to project the most positive image possible because they want to make a sale. Many of the photos used in ads are low image quality, making the boat look pretty good overall but lacking sharp details that make a real analysis possible. When calling or emailing about a particular boat for sale, a common response I got from boat owners is that "I don't have any recent pictures" or "these pictures are a few years old." Other boat sellers will use downright deceitful techniques, posting photos of a boat in her better days and representing them as current. This is especially true of ads on sites like EBay, where sellers hope to make a sale before the prospective buyer even sees the vessel in person.
So what can a boat shopper do? If there's a particular vessel offered for a deal that seems just right for your needs, you can do like I did several times and take a chance on going to see it. I took two 1800-mile round road trips to south Florida, as well as some shorter trips to look at boats that were all much worse in real life than in the advertiser's photos. The Alberg 30 shown in the photo at the top of the page is a prime example. I was interested in this boat after finding the ad for it on an Alberg 30 online message board. There were no photos in the ad, but the owner responded to my email query by sending a few, including the one above and the collection shown below. For the price and the included equipment, this deal seemed too good to pass up. After a few discussions with the owner, who lived in the U.K., but kept the boat in south Florida for winter sailing, I drove 800 miles to yard where it was stored, with high hopes that I had found a suitable cruising boat.
What I found when I got there was an old, dilapidated Alberg 30 in need of everything. Nothing short of a total restoration would bring her up to my standards, and it was obvious that some time had passed since the photos above were taken. Below is just one sample of the forward deck area. I wish I had taken more photos, but I was so disappointed I didn't bother. The interior was a wreck, and the engine was a rusted hunk of metal covered with old, peeling paint and grease. It was a project I would not have taken on even if the boat itself was free. Even all the extra equipment advertised, such as the self-steering windvane, was rusted, frozen up, and useless.
Another potential candidate for my next cruising boat was a Wharram Tiki 30 catamaran that was for sale in the Boston, Massachusetts area. I had long been interested in this design and was already considering building either a Tiki 26 or Tiki 30. At the time, I also owned a smaller Tiki 21 that I was restoring, but already knew was too small for my long-term needs. When this Tiki 30 came up for sale at a reasonable price - actually less than the cost of materials to build a new one, I was excited about the possibility of going to Boston and either sailing it home or loading it on a rented trailer to bring it back. The owner pointed me to a site where this photo was posted, showing the Tiki 30 as it appeared when he bought it from the original owner several years previous. It looked good then, but as you can see, this photo reveals very little detail.
I asked the seller for more photos, considering the distance involved for me to come look at it, and he obliged a few days later, sending me more than a dozen current photos taken with a high resolution digital camera. Opening the photos on my computer and viewing them at normal size, the boat looked fine. But the advantage of high resolution images is that you can crop small areas and resize the photos to zoom in, revealing things you would otherwise miss. Below is view from the bow, showing the whole boat, which looks pretty good.
And here is a close crop of the same image, showing the port bow detail, where you can tell much about the build quality by looking at the shape of the sheer line and seeing how it is not very fair. (You can click on these images right here to see a larger version and see what I mean)
Here's another view of the boat, showing the port hull interior and bunk. It looks pretty decent here.
But look at this crop, showing the overhead hatch. The opening looks like it was chopped out with a dull hatchet.
These are just two examples. Using Photoshop, I could examine all the images and crop details from other parts of each photo. What I saw was a Tiki 30 that appeared overall to be okay, but was built and finished way below professional standards in almost every detail.
Some may think I'm being too critical of this particular boat. For the asking price it was still a good deal for someone. But having built a smaller Wharram cat and at the time being in the process of restoring an amateur-built Tiki 21, I knew what to look for and what would be involved in bringing a catamaran like this up to my standards. I was grateful to the owner for sending the high-resolution photos, as it saved me a trip to Boston.
But what do you do if the owner of the boat you're interested in does not have a good camera or is not willing to send you images of good quality? For one, you could look up a marine surveyor in the area and have the vessel inspected, but if it turns out to be a no-go like these above, you'll be out several hundred dollars. It might be less than a trip to see the boat in person, but could get expensive if you have to go through several boats.
A new and better option, at least if the boat is in North America, is Tim Purpura's
Based in Dallas, Texas, Tim Purpura has built a network of professional photographers in major U.S., Canadian, and Mexican cities to serve the needs of businesses and individuals who need photos taken in a particular location. The members of the network are all equipped with high-resolution digital cameras and high-speed Internet access, so they can go out and take the photos you need and have them on your computer screen in as little as two hours in many cases.
I think this is a great service for boat buyers, as there are network members in most major coastal cities and the list is growing. From the Dispatch Photo Service website you can scroll through the state and city listings and find the photographer for the area where the potential boat is and then email or call to request exactly the photos you want. Most of the photographers will also have a cell phone on the job with them, so when they get to the marina or boatyard, they can communicate with you about the details you want photographed.
The price for the service is quite reasonable. Tim asks that all members keep their hourly rates in the $35-$50 range, with a two hour minimum. In many cases the two hour minimum is enough, especially if the boat is in a city where the photographer does not have to drive far. So for $70-$100 you can have all the high resolution photos you want of the boat, which is a fraction of the cost of a marine surveyor or a trip to see it in person.
I think Tim Purpura has hit upon a brilliant idea and I'm sure the network will continue to grow as more people in need of remote photography learn of this service. To see sample photos and learn more about the service in different cities, go to Dispatch Photo Service and view the listings. Many of the members have their own websites with more about their photography experience and services offered.