There’s an old saying that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. This may apply to those looking for a deal among northern Caribbean yachts ravaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017. There certainly was a lot of devastation. Some estimates place damage in hard-hit islands like the British Virgin Islands at over 2000 vessels, including many of the sailboats in the charter fleets. What is crucial, according to island-based marine surveyors working in these hard-hit areas, is to do your homework before potentially buying one of these vessels.
Types of Damage
“Of damages observed in the hundreds of boats we surveyed in the BVI, dismasting was the most common followed by cases of hull penetrations and extensive damage to railings, bimini and dodger frames and arch systems,” explains Todd Duff, a BVI-based marine surveyor.
In St. Maarten, about 95 percent of marina-based vessels were destroyed, according to Garth Steyn, marine surveyor and owner of the St. Maarten Sailing School, based at the Simpson Bay Resort. In addition, “directly after the hurricane there were a lot of hiccups in the salvage operations. So, some of the boats spent a fair amount of time either partially submerged or completely sunk. Damage to these vessels is, in my opinion, compounded. There were deals if you were in the right place at the right time.”
What to Look For
Buying a salvaged or a hurricane damaged vessel is something that people consider when looking for bargains, says Jose Menoyo, surveyor at Sea Services, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “Generally, if it is a salvage, it will have some damage. These boats are a total loss to the insurance companies since the costs of repairs are higher that the insured value.”
When a boat is deemed a total loss, it will be no small feat to bring back to fully serviceable condition, according to the BVI’s Duff. “Sometimes the damages far outweigh a boat’s potential value when repaired, if you consider the cost of the repairs and the inevitable loss of value compared to a boat that has not been wrecked.”
There are also the boats that are deemed constructive total losses (CTL).
“This is mainly seen in older boats where the insured value is not that high. For example, a Tiara 35 (motorboat) sustained minor damages to the hull, water intrusion to the cabin, outriggers and other damages. The vessel was insured for $40,000 and the repairs were almost as high as the insured value. For the insurance, that will be a CTL. Usually the owner collects the complete insurance and has the first option to keep the boat. If not, then the insurance company will sell the boat to the public usually for a very attractive price. There may be cases where you hit the jackpot and get a $1,200,000 yacht for a fraction of the price and in the end not spend much in putting the vessel back in order,” says Sea Services’ Menoyo.
‘Recycling’ some vessels that were CTLs to willing buyers enabled these buyers to get the ‘wrecks’ for a song, says Captain William Howe, owner of Howe Marine Surveys, in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. However, “The storms were so strong and the damages so great that many vessels are really beyond repair for a reasonable cost, even if the buyer was to do all the work. For example, one 60ft excursion power vessel that I surveyed looked good above the waterline, but the keel had been punched up into the hull, essentially breaking the back of the vessel and planting the vessel on the shallow reef. It is too expensive to repair the vessel.”
Yet if one has the skills, ingenuity and desire, it is possible in some cases to undertake repairs on a boat and end up with a vessel that you might not have been able to afford to own in an undamaged state, according to the BVI’s Duff. “Buyer beware for sure because I cannot tell you how many times I have seen people buy a boat that needs extensive work and the jobs just never get completed, or they get done incorrectly which renders the boat unusable or at least destroys its resale value.”
In evaluating a DYI project on a hurricane impaired boat, consider how the craft was damaged.
“If the vessel was underwater for a period, then in such cases you must consider factors such as: marina fees, contractors, engines, generators electrical equipment, wiring, electronics, carpets, structural damages and the list continues with any hidden damages found during repairs. Then, start doing a rough estimate of all the repairs required to make the vessel seaworthy for a better perspective of the actual costs of repairs,” says Sea Service’s Menoyo. “If the vessel is laying sideways on land, it is a different story because you don’t have the water damages. Oftentimes there is minimal or no structural damage and the damages that do exist are purely cosmetic. These types of damaged boats are a better bargain since you don’t have the sunken factor in the formula.”
Always remember that at the end of the day the history of the vessel won’t change if the boat sank or if it was a salvage boat, says Menoyo. “If you have two similar vessels for sale at a similar value, but one is hurricane salvage … That will give you some thinking and investigating to do.”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.