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Reaching for Sky

The Story Behind a Yacht Sale  –  As tourism numbers drop and the charter fleet goes into mothballs for the summer (and maybe beyond), yacht sales is one industry sector that seems to be showing some muscle. To the casual observer of the local yacht brokers' websites and in conversation with buyers and brokers, cautious optimism seems to be the keynote.

In this perilous environment, one obvious question is, who are the buyers out there? And what are the brokers doing to entice them to write a sizable cheque? To find answers to these and other questions, we examined a single transaction and interviewed both the buyer and the broker to see how the transaction unfolded from each side.

The boat in question is not your usual Caribbean 40-foot white plastic flotel, but a well-preserved 1970 Hinckley Bermuda 40. Designed by William Tripp, the Bermuda 40 is a head-turning classic yawl whose lines mark her as a yacht for the ages. Eagerly sought after by aficionados, the B-40 has reliably been described as one of the most beautiful yachts afloat and was the design that established Hinckley as a top-quality builder.

The eventual buyer of this classic yacht, Heather Lane, had not been thinking of any such purchase but found it while idly scanning the Internet as a distraction from personal travails. “I had no intention of being a boat owner,” the Canadian mother of two told YG. “You know, you have the dream, but it doesn't necessarily mean you go after it.”  Heather's troubles had started when her house was destroyed by a wayward driver. “A car ran into it in the middle of night just like an earthquake.”

 

Gathering her children, Heather moved to a new house, in Quebec. “Because of the crazy way the insurance company was handling my claim, I sold the house and bought another one,” she said. “In that time frame, about eight months, the new house had a fire, and we lost everything to smoke damage. So here we were, a pretty close family but a family in crisis. I'd just had it. We ended up in Old Quebec with just one bedroom for the three of us: a 7-year old, a 17-year old and me.”

In order to preserve her mental composure, Heather began dreaming of a past adventure she'd had on a beautiful wooden yacht, a Hinckley. “I never get depressed. I think that's a luxury. But I started going to the Internet to look at Hinckleys. I had done a delivery once on Nirvana which used to be Nelson Rockefeller's yacht. Then it was owned by David Ray from Banister's Wharf in Newport. I refitted her with Jim Thorpe, who passed away not that long ago. I got lots of offers to sail as a cook, but I didn't want that, and I persuaded them to take me on as crew. We had four days of gales and lots of stuff happened, and it was the time of my life—so I always wanted a Hinckley.”

On top of her daydreaming, Heather said, “I decided I'm never buying a house again. So I'm on the Internet looking at Hinckleys, and there were a couple for sale. One was in New York and the other in the Caribbean. I wasn't really looking to buy a boat in the Caribbean. Life was chaotic enough. Anyway, I just sort of loosely started making some calls.”

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One of the calls Heather made was to Clive Allen of BVI Yacht Sales, who was representing the owners of Sky. “Heather had made it quite clear that she was only basically browsing the Web,” Clive told YG, “and she's always been in love with Hinckleys after delivering a wooden one. This had remained a passion, something in her heart.”

Sky wasn't a new listing but had been on the market for over a year. “They were, let's say, semi-motivated sellers,” Clive said. “It was a love affair, which generally happens with a boat like that, a classic. They'd sold everything here in the BVI.”  Having spent several years in the BVI, the sellers were eager for a change. “They'd been down here doing their five-to-seven year stint and the dream of having their children and grandchildren down here on a regular basis didn't materialize as we think it might,” he said. “Sky was their last remaining possession. It was never going to be sailed by them again, and they had no reason to come back. The boat had become a day sailer just a few days a year.”

Originally listed at $129,000—not an unreasonable listing price for a boat like this—Clive dropped the price to $119,000. “When they'd gone and it wasn't selling, on our advice they brought it down to $99,000, which created some interest,” Clive said. “We went from 119 to 109 to 99 and I tried very hard to stimulate the market. Very, very hard. At 99 we were going to go to 89. But I said, “Look I've got loads of inquiries.” So I went to everyone who had inquired over the last four months. I mean everyone, a good 30-odd people, to put in an offer. Anything considered. And nobody came back. Nobody. Not even with a ridiculous price. It was quite surprising.”

Heather, meanwhile, wasn't sure what to do. “I talked to a friend of mine, who said ‘Do you really think this is a good time?’ Like, shouldn't I be thinking of somewhere to live? And I said ‘Yeah, yeah, you're right,’ and I just let it go,” she said.

Clive saw the window for striking deals was closing rapidly. “This time of year buyers know sellers don't want to take on the risk over the summer period. Everybody's going to be prepared to drop that five or ten thousand, if they have to, to say goodbye to their boat before the hurricane season,” he said. “So we basically stuck it out there at $69,000—and then it exploded. Then the world went mad. I had brokers who wanted to do it themselves. Brokers from the States who were just going to sail it up to the States and flip it. Now everybody wanted this boat. The phone was off the hook, and I don't know how many emails a day I was replying to. It was just full on.”

Back in Quebec, Heather was still fretting over her situation. “I got an email from Clive saying they'd drastically reduced the price,” she said. “I didn't call my friend. I called Clive, talked to him for a few minutes and hung up the phone. I thought about it for two minutes, and I called him back and put in an offer. I knew if I did not, I'd never live with myself. At least pursue it and see what happens. Clive was telling me about all these offers he was getting and that he was just inundated. But mine was in first!”

Clive was waiting for whatever offers his price drop had flushed out. “She was a very proactive buyer because she got the purchase and sale agreement signed and back to us before anybody. She went with her heart. The others were going, ‘Yeah, salesman's story. Yeah, broker's story. Of course there's nobody anxious to buy it, he's just slinging us one.’ But that wasn't the case,” Clive told YG. “There were about eight people out there, and they all wanted it. She signed, and she was down within a week. She saw it, and we plopped it in the water, had it professionally surveyed. Of course issues came up as they do—it's a boat. Before she left, she signed the acceptance. Quite quick.”

Heather moved quickly. “I talked to my ex who lives in Ottawa—didn't tell him about the boat though—he still doesn't know. I said, ‘I need to go to the Caribbean, can you come and look after the kids?’ So he came. I bought a ticket and came down. Geoff Williams surveyed the boat. I bought it. I won! I had always thought I was going to live on it, but I had no plan. I'd never owned a boat. I hadn't been sailing in ages. I did no research. Zero. I knew nothing about buying a boat. But I'm not about to spend any money unless I think my investment's protected. At that price, my investment's protected. I wasn't going to lose anything, nor do I have any intention of selling it. I'm a risk taker anyway. I'm not independently wealthy. I'm not even your average person with a real job. I'm someone on a subsistence income who just happened to have a couple of accidents which allowed me to do it,” Heather said.

The fact that she was the buyer who came through surprised Clive. “I must admit it was a surprise. You never know who's going to buy a boat. You have to take everybody as equal. Even with all our experience, you never quite know. At the beginning, I wasn't 100% convinced it would have been Heather. But after a few conversations on the telephone and following up by email I started to feel that it was in her heart,” he said. “Once the sale had been consummated, and the acceptance had been signed, everybody agreed—seller, buyer—that they would like some contact. In fact, just prior to the final signatures, I let the sellers know about Heather and the book she's wanting to write and the things she wanted to do and her sentimentality towards the boat rather than it being just another piece of floating plastic. And, because of their love for the boat, of course they went with that. Heather had that on her side because sentimentality came into it in a big way here. And then they got talking by email, and Heather offered that anytime they should be anywhere in the area where Sky is, they were welcome aboard,” he said. “They even offered that they would come and pay for a charter and Heather was ‘No, no, no—you're guests on board.’ So I hope there's a wonderful relationship between the owners. The old owner loved her, the new owner loves her and I think they could all meet up sometimes and enjoy that boat together.” 

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