Searching for the Perfect Boat

25 Jul

Gigas.  Well truth be told, it should actually be gigas. Stereolepis gigas with the “g” in lowercase since it’s a species name.  That’s the scientific name for the Black Sea Bass, or Giant Sea Bass which cruise around southern California kelp beds.  At any rate, I thought of the name Gigas as soon as I saw her, it just popped in my mind and stuck there like gum on a hot summer day.  Gigas means giant in Latin, it’s an oxymoron for what I was naming her as she was a tiny boat.  I’m not 100% that is gong to be her name but I like it, at least for now.

But I should step back a bit and tell the story first about my boat search.  I’ve only owned two boats in my lifetime, a older Boston Whaler Montauk 16.5 with a Yamaha 4stroke 100 hp outboard and more recently a Boston Whaler Outrage 18 with a Honda 4stroke 130 hp engine on her.  Both boats would be my pride and joy, the Montauk was bought from a good friend and served as my primary dive platform until I couldn’t take the harsh ride anymore.  I learned a lot about freediving and spearfishing on that boat as she could take me to Catalina Island to dive the deep clear waters.  The only reason I sold her was to upgrade to a bigger boat, the Outrage.  I named both of the boats C-level.

The first C-Level Boston Whaler 16′ Montauk with Yamaha 4stroke

BW Montauk.  Having a boat speeded up my learning curve on yellowtail!

Although I regret selling both boats, selling the Outrage was probably the bigger of my mistakes.  I shot some big fish on that boat and with a 60 gallon gas tank I had about 180 mile range which meant I could visit most of the islands around here.  Her bow didn’t pound like the Montauk, and it was a fairly dry ride as I had extended the plexiglass windshield even higher to shield me from the wind and spray.  I made a lot of modifications to her over the years with speargun racks, dive fin holders and even a hot water shower.  Man I still miss that boat.

18′ Boston Whaler Outrage with Honda BF130 4stroke

But like I always say, sometimes life gets in the way of fun.  Once my son Hawke was born I found it harder and harder to take C-level out as I had to have at least two other divers with me to foot the rising gas costs.  My buddies also had boats and I found myself grabbing rides with them as it was more convenient and their boats were also a lot nicer and roomier.  So C-level spent a lot of time in my driveway and the sun began to wear at her tires and I knew she would have problems if I didn’t start running her regularly.  That’s how boats are, they need to be running to keep varnish out of the engine passages and water out of the gas.

So I thought about my options and eventually sold her, of course right then it happened that it would be an epic white seabass year and I missed out on a lot of trips.  Then yellowtail season crept up and I again missed the calling of the sea as my buddies started having families of their own or couldn’t go out on the days I was free.

Pretty much when the white seabass started showing and I couldn’t stand it anymore I started searching a lot harder.  My goal was to find a boat that was open ocean worthy and got about 5mpg and was hopefully light enough to tow with a smaller suv.  The boat and motor had to be around 10k and the motor had to be bulletproof as I planned on going to the islands.  That pretty much narrowed my search to 14-17’ skiffs, power catamarans, center console aluminum’s, and Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RIBS OR RHIBS) Here’s what I learned along the way and in my defense I’ll preface my stories by first saying that there is no perfect boat, each will have their strengths and weaknesses.  This is all my opinion only, you can take it or leave it, I’m not here to argue about it because one thing I know is that owners will be the first to defend their boats!

My first search involved small power catamarans, something like a 14’ Livingston or a 17’ Twin Vee.  Not only were these boats very hard to find, they were almost impossible to find with a 4stroke locally.  I finally sourced out a 15’ Livingston and the owner swore to me the boat was in excellent condition.  He said it several times, I can hear it echoing now, “Excellent condition”.  It had a two stroke on it but the motor was also said to only have 50 hours on it and was in “excellent condition”.  The pictures on craigslist looked great, the problem was the boat was way out in San Jose and I live in south orange county.  But I talked to the owner and he swore it was a great reliable boat so I took the day off, jumped in my truck at 4am and headed up to San Jose.  It was seven hours each way with a bit of traffic.

As soon as I pulled up I knew I had made a mistake.  The boat was in hideous condition.  There was some weird yellowish repaint on the deck and the rollers were all compressed.  The deck was soft in spots and the engine?  It was 50 hours on a REBUILD, it was in horrible condition as well.  I spent about ten minutes looking at it and then turned around and made the additional 7 hour trip home quickly before I changed my mind about strangling the guy.

What I found out later is that power catamarans are excellent boats with great gas milage.  The plus is they ride soft over MOST swell.  The downside is if it’s a beam swell (waves hitting you on the sides) it is downright terrifying and the boat skips all over, it does not surf like my whalers did and does this odd pitch where the passengers (me) feel unstable.  I know this because several of my friends own catamarans and in bad conditions it was a white knuckle ride.  If I were to get one I’d get the biggest one I could afford, I like them a lot but they aren’t the magic carpet ride that I had heard about, especially if it’s a small one.  If you get one 17’ or larger, you definitely want one with two engines if you can find it because of the twin hull design.  On a single engine you’ll get a lot of cavitation from air running between the hulls.  Someday when Hawke is older I’ll look into a 26′ one as they make perfect spearing boats.

A real  nice 14′ Livingston Power Catamaran that I couldn’t afford

The next search included RIBs.  There’s a lot of plusses to a RIB.  The inflatable tubes take a beating in swell and dampen the shock as you come down, so generally it’s a softer ride.  They ride very well and get super duper gas milage, we are talking 7-12 mpg if they are set up right on a four stroke outboard.  The downside is they are very expensive, a new 16’ with a 4stroke is going to run 20-30k dollars and I could only find used ones in the 8k range and a lot of those had sun damage or other problems.  The tubes also have a lifespan and the replacement cost of a lot of the tubes is close to 10 grand, you want to stick with hypalon over pvc as hypalon lasts a lot longer.  Finally deck space is much smaller than on a boat, when you look at a 16’ RIB it actually only has the space of a 12’ boat, I like to take a lot of back up gear and clothes so it would make for a cramped ride.  They are also very wet rides when you are hitting a lot of wind swell, most of my buddies wear wetsuits when they are on their RIBs.  Most of the ones in my price range had 2 strokes on them.  So I kept them in my searches but couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for.

Another one of my searches included Hobie Power Skiff or a copy version called a Caliboogie skiff.  The Hobies are darn near collectors items and were designed to surf waves.  The hull cuts through most swell although if it is windy you are going to get wet.  The skiffs are super light weight and get better than 8 mpg in some situations when outfitted right.  Some of them have huge motors on them, like 75 hp and scream in flat water!  The only problem was they stopped making them years ago, the Hobies I saw were in terrible condition and needed a lot of work.  And any with a good 4stroke were asking 12k.  The Caliboogie was a nice alternative, they were about a foot larger and had a better deck layout.  But I saw two that had cracks in the chines of the boat and that’s a no no in rough ocean water.  I also questioned the reliability in rough conditions in open ocean.  My montauk and especially my Outrage were bullet proof, I could take almost any conditions and in the Outrage I never worried about the ocean conditons changing much.  In a 15’ 700lb hull that might be a different story.  And at any rate I couldn’t locate one that I was interested in, at least in my price range.  Most guys loved theirs and didn’t want to cut the prices on them, any that were cheap had a lot of work to be had.  There’s a newer option called Razor Power Skiffs and I believe they were renamed to Power Skiff company or something like that but you will have to do your research about those as I’ve heard of some problems with them in the past models.

Aluminum skiffs came into the picture later on.  Able to cut right through the rough chop with their deep v hulls, light weight on towing and get 5 mpg or more!  Very appealing to me thats for sure.  Two problems I were told was that aluminum skiffs all have a certain lifespan in the ocean.  The ocean eventually robs the aluminum of its parts and the hull becomes thinner and thinner. If you are towing them you should not be using pressure treated wood as the chemicals in the wood react badly with the aluminum and speed up the electrolysis problems.   Regardless, eventually there will be holes, and it is often difficult to patch them correctly.  Unfortunately due to the price range, most that I looked at had leaks that the owner couldn’t find and when I read up it was said the only way to find the leak was to fill the boat up with water and see where the drips occur.  The final straw was when I heard that if you take a large wave over the bow the boat can sink.  Now that I have a family I have more things to worry about and that pretty much sealed the deal on aluminums.

I considered Triumphs which are roplene (a type of plastic) molded boats.   I missed out on a terrific deal locally and the other ones were out of my price range and although I heard they were good I’ve heard that they also may have imperfections from the mold where owners noticed that there were curves in the boat.  It was also said pounding seas can make the screws back out of the plastic, however that’s not a huge problem to me.  From what I’ve read though, most owners like theirs as long as they didn’t have the curving problems. 

I inspected some Seacraft 18’s, lots of great history and I’ve seen some online that were absolutely beautiful.  Heavy fiberglass and very well built boats but the ones in my price range were pretty beat up and had older two strokes on them so I kept looking. 

Whalers were great choices and man they really hold their value.  Which was a problem because the guys with the older Hulled Montauk 17’s with two strokes were trying to unload them for 7-10k! It didn’t matter, I was only looking for post 1985 Whalers because of the hull design

After a few months I started getting pretty discouraged.  What I found out when I actually started looking at inexpensive boats is I was always looking to get something one step bigger or nicer.  And that brought the price from 4k to 6k to 8k pretty quickly.  My buddy brought up a solid point.  He said “it’s really nice to have a boat that can make it to Catalina”.  Anyone who knows me knows I love diving at the island.  A lot of the smaller 12 RIBS (they are really in surplus and you can get a 4 stroke for under 5k) are great local boats but it’s sketchy taking something that small that far out.  So it meant jumping to a 14-18′ RIB and as you go up in size on a rib the prices increase almost exponentially.  The same went with smaller skiffs, they would do fine locally but in rough water it sure would be nice to have a dry ride.  Pretty soon I was back to looking at 16-18′ skiffs and about 8-10k.

And then a boat appeared on the bloodydecks website.  It was originally advertised as a 16’ Radon.  I did a lot of research and emailed Don Radon because I thought the boat was more likely a Radoncraft and sure enough Don said that it was a Radoncraft Bahia and was either built by Innovator or Davis.  Don Radon is known for building very seaworthy boats, many are used as commercial fishing boats.  The Radoncraft I was looking at was a very nice 16’ with a 2 stroke engine on it and a T top.  The Radoncraft Bahia’s are beautiful boats with clean lines.  This one had a lot of built in storage areas including one with a removable fish hold!!  It was wider than any other 16’ boat I’ve ever seen and had heavier fiberglass construction with wood only in the transom.  Just in my price range, but the downside was the 2 stroke was only getting about 3mpg on plane. I was pretty sure I was going to try to buy that Radoncraft Bahia and I started doing research about the 16′ Radoncrafts.  Every single review and owner said that they loved that boat and that although it was small and you still had to pick your days in the ocean, it had a dry ride.  After getting soaked on my last few trips (the last one pumping the fuel bulb of my buddies 17′ cat on the way back from Catalina and being soaked all the way) I was really looking for a dryer ride.  I kept reading up and along the way found one for sale in Florida.  This boat was identical to the one in Huntington Beach except for one very important difference.  It had a Yamaha INJECTED four stroke engine on it!  I emailed the owner that night and the next day found out that it was still available.

Built in fish hold and two side compartments plus anchor locker

Let me digress a bit.  I’m a bit partial to Yamaha four stroke engines as they have better quality control and are thought of to be a bit more reliable than some of the other four strokes.  On any engines, a lot of the older carbed 4 strokes often had carb problems when they sit too  long, the small intakes tend to gum up.  I talked with a few independent mechanics and asked them to rate their favorite 4 strokes.  Most of them said Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda in that order.  I would say that each has it’s advantages and disadvantages but from what I’ve read I’d have to agree on the Yamaha.  I loved my Honda and we have a Honda BF 225 at work but they have small corrosion problems and we had a major common problem that I read about online which Honda would not warranty.

At any rate,  now there were two almost identical boats, one of which had the exact engine I would like to have but it was 2500 miles away. The thing that really attracted me was that he was only asking a bit more than what the guy with the 2 stroke was pricing his out at.  This is very common on the east coast, there are so many boats there that used boats often sell at a fantastic price.  A new Yamaha 4 stroke outboard rigged is about 9k, I’m talking about just the engine alone! And this one only had 200 hours on it and the owner wasn’t asking much more for the entire package.

Every other boat I was looking at immediately went on hold.  The owner in Florida was a really nice guy but I was super sketchy about doing an out of state deal.  I asked around and one of my buddies in Florida volunteered to go and check out the boat for me, even though it was two hours away from his house (thanks Matt!)!  I didn’t want him to have to do that and luckily found a surveyor that was based not too far from the boat. 

The surveyor ended up checking out the boat and indicated it was in good condition.  That surveyor was really thorough and had certifications from Admiralty Consulting and Surveying.  His name was Wayne Robinson and he was AMS certified.  His contact info is: 407-688-1221 and his email is  Wayne tapped all over the hull, used a moisture meter and double checked pretty much everything, and had a comprehensive summary printed for me when he was finished.  It really put my mind at ease doing a long distance buy. 

The owner and I had agreed that I’d wire the money and as soon as he got it he’d fed ex me the keys and papers.  At the same time I was still trying to get bids in for shipping.  I used, posted the distance, weight and length of the boat and started getting bids, they ran from about 1800 to 8000 dollars. 

I had lined up a carrier that was going to use a flatbed to put my trailer on it and then found out he couldn’t do it until the end of the month.  I didn’t want the buyer to have to keep paying storage fees and luckily I found another carrier who could bring it down. He was going to have to hitch it on the back of his suv which is what most of the guys were doing on uship.  The owner of the boat assured me that the trailer could make the 2500 mile trip and the deal was set.

I had good luck on uship but I read some horror stories about contract shippers there, the worst being someone using a guy who had never towed and who crashed the boat on the freeway without having any insurance.  If you are using, here’s what you want to do.  Post up a pix of your boat and have all the details down, height, length, width, weight, if it’s on a trailer etc.  The bids will come in and you can select which one you want.

You want to check the feedback as it is terribly important to make sure the guy has experience transporting boats on long distances and has any permits if your boat is overweight or length.  If you can have it hauled on a flatbed that is a lot better than having it towed on it’s trailer.  It will save you from having to worry about bearings, axles, tires etc.  On your end, uship charges I think 5% as a “service charge”.  On the shippers/carriers end, they get hit with a 12% charge.  Because of this you want to make sure you get everything in writing so the guy doesn’t try to add fees later on.  You will have to pay the payment on uship via credit card and they hold it until the guy delivers you boat and then it’s released to them.  If you have a contract drawn up with all the totals etc and both parties sign it beforehand then there won’t be any problems.

I wasn’t smart enough to do that but I was really lucky with the guy I chose.  We agreed on the price and he stuck with it.  He really worked hard to get the boat to me on time and kept in touch twice a day to update me on where he was.  It only took him three days and the price was worth it rather than have me fly to Florida, rent a truck and drag that boat back to my house.  My shippers name was Marvin Davis, his contact email is: and his cell is 865-291-7287.  I’d definitely use him again to tow a small boat.

And in the end?  Three days later I met Marvin who had my boat in tow.  The boat came back in great condition and is back home in California where she belongs.  I hitched her up to my truck and drove her home.  I’m currently outfitting Gigas to get her ready for her life as a freediving boat.

So here’s what you want to do if you are looking for a smaller boat.

1. List what is important to you and focus on those aspects when you are searching.  There will be no “perfect magical boat”.  You will have to figure out what is the most important, gas useage, towability, or ocean capabilities.  Go to sites such as,, etc.  This is a great write up on some of the aspects about different kinds of boats:

If you do a google search you will find you will have TONS to read up on.  I spent probably six months searching and I was doing a daily search every night on craigslist and also doing research around four hours a night every night.  It was way worse than school, lol!

2.  Go check the boats out, you will have to see lots of boats to learn what you are looking for.  Stand on their decks, listen to engines, ask guys who know wtf they are talking about.  If it’s a good boat and priced well it will sell within a few days to a week, sometimes in hours.  Don’t worry, another one will come up.

3. If the boat is out of state or if you don’t know boats hire a surveyor or send out a buddy who knows boats.  You want to check for water intrusion in the hull, cracks or patches etc.  The deck will more than likely have small spider cracks on them, that is normal.  If it comes with a trailer make sure the trailer is also in good shape.

4.  If you are doing a deal out of state it makes sense to use a escrow company. I didn’t do that but it would have been safer.  It will cost you a bit though and it depends on if you know the owner of the boat or trust him.  I sent a surveyor out and spent a lot of time talking to the owner.  I also asked the owner a lot of questions, many questions I already knew the answer to from research but I wanted him to confirm what I’ve heard.  The bummer about the Florida trailer is that smaller trailers don’t have to be registered in Florida but they sure do in California!  I’m spending time in the DMV getting it retitled, you have to fill out paperwork, have a bill of sale (or better yet certificate of origin or title) and have DMV or CHP do an inspection and return the paperwork.

5.  Finally, make sure your vehicle can tow your boat and you have a place to store it.  If you are using a carrier make sure they have references and if you are using uship I’d adhere to my cautions above.  You definitely want a shipper/carrier with a lot of good feedback and that knows how to tow a load.


One Response to “Searching for the Perfect Boat”

  1. Ross Talner August 30, 2014 at 9:30 am #

    Great post! I got the livingston 15.5 shipped from Oregon.

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