Md. yacht sells for less than appraisal

Governor's boat fetches $275,100 in online auction

State will receive $247,590

December 22, 2003|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Maryland's hopes of fetching top dollar for the governor's yacht were dashed yesterday as the former submarine chaser sold for less than the appraisal price in an online auction.

The 112-foot custom motor vessel sold for $275,100 on eBay after a flurry of bidding that pushed the price up almost $23,000 in the last six minutes of the auction.

The sale of the yacht -- tentative, pending confirmation of the winning bidder's ability to pay -- fulfills a campaign promise made by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. during last year's campaign.

The yacht was appraised at between $295,000 and $375,000.

After deducting a 10 percent commission paid to The Advantage Group, the company that marketed the yacht online, the state will receive $247,590 for the vessel -- for which the state paid $600,000 in the 1980s.

Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said the governor was pleased with the price fetched by the yacht.

"The whole purpose was to figure what to do with underutilized state property and how to maximize its value," he said. "It's a good example of fiscal responsibility as we enter the legislative session."

Anne Hubbard, spokeswoman for the Department of General Services, said the state will reap benefits beyond the purchase price.

"We have to keep in mind that it saves the state $228,000 a year that was set aside for routine maintenance and salaries," Hubbard said.

The purchase price and the savings will get Maryland about $475,000 closer to closing the $700 million revenue shortfall it faces in next year's budget. Besides the occasional recreational trip for Maryland governors, the yacht was used to woo out-of-state corporate executives during cruises of the Chesapeake Bay.

Ehrlich's promise to unload the yacht was one of several pledges he made to divest the state of items he portrayed as symbols of luxury at a time of budgetary crisis.

Two of those pledges -- to sell the governor's stadium skyboxes and a state-owned airplane -- ran into practical barriers to carrying them out. But the yacht proved to be marketable.

The Maryland Independence was built in 1944 by LaBlanc Shipbuilding in Weymouth, Nova Scotia, for use as a Canadian navy submarine chaser. It was refitted two decades ago as a passenger craft.

The Advantage Group's advertising for the yacht said it is in good condition and that its interior has stayed dry since its refitting. Its amenities include a main salon, a dining area, three guest staterooms, two guest bathrooms, two crew quarters, a sun deck and a galley.

Its selling price might have gone higher if not for the fact it cannot be used for commercial purposes in the United States because of its foreign origin.

At the time they announced plans to sell the yacht on eBay -- an Internet-based auction service with 86 million registered users -- Ehrlich administration officials said it would be a "novel and fun approach" to selling the vessel.

After the announcement, some traditional yacht brokers questioned the decision to use The Advantage Group, a Romulus, N.Y.-based company whose eBay product line is dominated by such items as restaurant supplies, Christmas decorations and curtain rod brackets.

The yacht was listed on eBay for 10 days, with bidding starting at $150,000.

The bidding passed the $250,000 mark about 12:30 p.m. yesterday and then stalled at $252,200 shortly after 2 p.m. That remained the high bid for more than two hours, until a three-way bidding war broke out at 4:12 p.m.

Three eBay customers using the names "mikebuild," "vickigolf" and "jtwmuse" went back and forth until the scheduled 4:18 p.m. close, when jtwmuse emerged as the winner.

Left disappointed was Vicki Pfingst of Sacramento, Calif., whose bid of $275,000 was trumped during the final minute. She said she tried to counter the winning bid but that her computer froze.

Pfingst said she and her husband live on the Sacramento River and had planned to moor the boat there so her father could live on it. She said she read about the sale in a local paper, looked up the yacht on eBay and fell in love with it.

E-mails sent by The Sun to the winner and second runner-up went unanswered, so their identities could not be learned yesterday.

A fourth bidder -- Robert Rynarzewski of Woodbine in Howard County, who dropped out shortly after the action passed $250,000 -- said he had been thinking of operating the yacht as a floating bed and breakfast.

Hubbard said General Services Department officials would consider using eBay again to dispose of major state assets.

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