A Good Idea?
How could I have not loved that 28 Topaz? It was the boat I first went offshore on and learned how to fish in," explains Joe Riley.
In 1980 he bought one fresh off the assembly line, seeing it as a great way to spend more time with his fishing-addicted son. Life was good back then off Ocean City, Maryland. As Riley tells it, "Tuna and billfish seemed to swim right to the transom like rats to the Pied Piper." They got so good at fishing that Riley and son started taking on charters. It was fun, but running the little Topaz seven days a week soon got old. After three years they moved up to an 42 Ocean Yacht, and the charter business grew with it. Then they bumped it up to a 46 Ocean. But times changed. His son took over a dry cleaning business and started a family of his own-the Ocean was put up for sale. "We fished together less and less every year," says Riley. "So when I found an old 28 Topaz sitting in a yard, this lightbulb went off over my head. What a great way to spend time with my son again."
The boat was a rebuild from the keel up. Riley admits that the experience wasn't much fun. He did what work he could, which was a lot, but left the critical stuff to professionals. When the dust settled, he had an excellent boat that could take him and his son fishing once again. Yet way down deep he had to admit that the second Topaz just didn't live up to the first.
"Don't get me wrong," says Riley, defensively. "It was a great boat, performed beautifully, and never gave us any problems. But it couldn't compare to the original."
It took him some time, but Riley now understands why. "There's something about going out on the ocean for the first time, or catching that first billfish. It can only happen once." He confides the second time never had that same feel of adventure or, as he puts it, romance. Eventually, he sold the boat. He wasn't soured by the hard work or complications of restoring it. The magic just wasn't there. Get Smart Stephen Kelly's 19' Robalo was his second boat. It was 1982, he was 25, and life was good. "I wasn't married, had a decent amount of disposable income, and some friends to go boating with," explains Kelly. He picked up the boat inexpensively, did some work, and bolted on a new motor. Fishing, skiing, and blasting around were par for the course up near Newburgh, on New York's Hudson River. After three seasons, he sold it and moved on - he's owned 12 boats since. Yet the siren call of that beat-up Robalo stayed with him.
Kelly's latest acquisition was a 45' Hatteras. A nice boat, but not exactly "fun." So off he went in search of an old 19' Robalo. Most were in pretty bad shape, in need of major rebuilding. The project looked daunting. So much so that the one he bought sat for 16 months before he even found the time and energy to start. A poor engine installation had left the wood transom completely rotten, and the rest of the boat was a nightmare as well. Instead of finding the great little boat and the fun he remembered, Kelly had found a serious project.
"The reality is that no boat is the same as it was 20 years ago unless someone has done a lot of work on it or kept it in a time capsule," says Kelly. He eventually sold the boat, quite cheaply, to a young guy Kelly says reminded him of himself. "I would have loved to have had that 19," says Kelly, "But I just didn't want to be the one to do the work."
What Kelly discovered, as did all the others in this story, was that if you're thinking about rekindling that old flame, let someone else light the fire first. Buy a boat that another person has done the work on. You almost never get your money back on a rebuild, so let someone else go through the hassles and take the hit.
Also, be honest. Was it the boat you loved or just the times? In most cases it's the latter. All good advice and I wish I could take it. But right now there's an old aluminum scow in my neighbor's weeds that's just like the one I had when I was a kid. Hammer out the dents, caulk the holes - I know I can bring it all back, just like it was long ago...never let the dream die.