Get feet wet before you take big plunge Boating courses, charters might be better alternative to buying right off the bat

October 11, 1998|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

Sailing is becoming increasing popular among people nearing retirement age: empty nesters with an urge to get away from it all and to see a little something of the nautical world.

But for numbers of would-be cruisers, the leap into the slow-paced world of sailboat cruising represents a tough hurdle -- how to learn to sail, buy a boat and slip away without selling the house or emptying the 401K account.

Rick Franke, general manager of the Annapolis Sailing School, said there are three basic steps an empty nester should take before sprinting into cruising.

Enroll in a formal, hands-on, on-the-water sailing course.

"We have learned in our years of operation that kids learn by absorption: You put them in a boat, they knock around for a few days and they learn how things work," said Franke. "If you do the same with adults, you end up with seasick adults. Adults need formal instruction, as much hands-on learning as possible and a chance to realize sailing is an outdoor sport and that, on the occasions when you find yourself sitting in a puddle in a rain slicker, it actually is fun."

Sail for a season with friends or relatives to learn more about boats and boating.

"If you live in this area, you probably know someone who has a boat," said Franke, "and he or she almost always needs crew for that expensive toy they've bought and don't use nearly enough. Get aboard as often as possible to broaden your experience with boats and with the boating scene in general."

Try living aboard by signing up for an extended sailing course or by chartering a boat.

"You need to be sure you like it before you plunk down $150,000 for a boat and are mortgaged to the hilt," said Franke, whose school has taught thousands of students of all ages through the years.

A good and increasingly popular alternative to buying a boat is to charter one. Charters are available on Chesapeake Bay and throughout the world, and a number of national and international charter groups are represented at the sailboat show, including operations that have lease/charter arrangements.

The Annapolis Sailing School, for example, offers basic two-day introductory courses for $250 per person, weekend liveaboard courses on the bay for as little as $455 per person, and a seven-day liveaboard course on a 50-footer in the Virgin Islands for as low as $1,970 per person.

A trip through the docks and aisles of a sailboat show can reveal a worldwide variety of new and used boats suited to any or all cruising or racing plans.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association recommends the following steps for boat buyers:

Determine how the boat will be used and look for versatility in design.

Determine what you can afford, whether making an outright purchase or purchasing on an installment plan.

Start out with a long wish list and narrow it down, without sacrificing safety, basic cruising necessities or convenience to save a few thousand extra dollars.

Talk to friends who boat and to local dealers and boat show reps, read reviews and technical articles in boating publications and surf the Internet, checking manufacturers' websites.

Shop around and pay close attention to package deals, which may mean substantial savings over a bare-bones boat that has gear added later.

Figure the operating costs -- insurance, dockage, sails, lines, electrical equipment, fuel, general maintenance and winter storage.

Shop for financing too, especially at boat shows, where interest rates are continually subject to change.

Make a deal that fits your situation on all fronts -- and keep in mind that newer often is prettier but not necessarily a better deal.

"What we say to empty nesters -- and we have a lot of them who are looking to develop an interest after they retire -- is that we recommend that you not burn your bridges," said Franke. "For example, rent your house, don't sell it. That way you can go home again."

The correct course

Excellent boating courses are offered by several volunteer organizations as well as private companies. For information on a sailing or power course near you, call:

U.S. Power Squadron and U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary courses, 1-800-336-BOAT

National Sailing Industry Association, 1-800-535-SAIL

Annapolis Sailing School, 410-267-7205

Womanship, Inc., 1-800-342-9295

Pub Date: 10/11/98

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