State sets sale of yacht on eBay

Auction: Md. officials are testing the online waters to get top dollar for the official vessel.

December 09, 2003|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

To sell a 112-foot yacht considered too costly to operate, the state of Maryland is turning to the same online auction service used by thousands of consumers unloading comic-book collections, Beanie Babies and KISS concert tickets.

The state yacht, the Maryland Independence - a power vessel built for the Canadian navy to hunt submarines during World War II and retrofitted for passengers in the 1970s - will be listed for sale on eBay starting Thursday.

State officials won't disclose their minimum asking price but hope to recoup at least as much as the $295,000 to $375,000 an appraisal says the craft is worth.

"We obviously are hoping for a lot of dollars," Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday.

Maryland spent more than $600,000 in 1986 to buy the boat, which is used most frequently now by nonprofit groups touring the Chesapeake Bay.

During a campaign that focused on restoring fiscal discipline to Annapolis, Ehrlich promised last year to sell the yacht, along with a state airplane and luxury boxes at the Camden Yards stadiums. Such amenities were symbols of waste and excess, he said, for a state yearly facing projected deficits.

But the pledge has been difficult to fulfill. The sports seats, along with the rest of the stadium, are owned by the Maryland Stadium Authority. The Orioles and Ravens leases contain clauses giving the suites to the governor free of charge, so relinquishing them won't raise money.

Similarly, Maryland leases the King Air plane frequently used to transport prisoners, and would have to spend cash upfront to buy out the contract, resulting in minimal savings, officials said.

But the governor said he wants to make good on at least one part of the promise. So the yacht will be listed for sale on an Internet service with 86 million registered users.

"We feel it's a novel and fun approach to selling the asset," said Paul E. Schurick, a spokesman for the governor. "I know this is the first time the state has done anything like this."

Officials say the boat is sea-worthy, but its commercial uses are limited under maritime law because of its Canadian pedigree.

While the state will save $230,000 yearly by slicing the boat's operating costs from its budget, Ehrlich said he still thinks the governor should have use of a watercraft to woo the occasional CEO of a relocating business. He has asked his staff to come up with an alternative, and said he would welcome donation of a boat to the state.

A glimpse at the eBay site yesterday showed that few people are using the online giant for boat sales. A search for the word "yacht" returned auctions for fewer than 20 vessels, ranging in price from the $3.3 million Butterfly McQueen to a high bid of $3,050 for a 1954 Chris Craft-style boat.

"Doesn't it sound like something they dreamed up over a cup of coffee?" said Douglas K. Coupar, general manager of Authentic Yacht Brokerage Inc. in Annapolis, which specializes in historic boats.

Coupar said that while some owners of expensive boats are turning to online listings, they miss out on the specialized knowledge and services provided by seasoned brokers.

"Normally, I think it's an exercise in great futility," Coupar said. "It's certainly not a way for a serious seller to market a serious vessel."

Yacht brokers like Coupar typically collect 10 percent of the selling price as a fee. Maryland is paying the same percentage to The Advantage Group, a Maryland company that a statement from the governor's office says will handle "the logistics and fulfillment of the sale on eBay."

Boyd K. Rutherford, head of the Department of General Services, which is overseeing the sale, said reaching out to more customers is worth the effort and that he hopes to capitalize on the novelty of selling the official state watercraft.

Online auctions' use seems to be catching on. "We are aware of at least 14 other state governments that have used eBay to sell unclaimed and surplus inventory," said Jordan Glazier, general manager of eBay Business, in a statement.

Ehrlich himself, however, is known to be computer-unfriendly. He doesn't have a computer on his desk and said he has never made a purchase on eBay.

"I've been busy for the past two years," he quipped.

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