Confessions of a boat syndicate owner: The good, the bad and the ugly
With the level of boating luxury he desired out of his financial grasp, David Vandyke had resigned himself to a boat-free life, until he read an MBY feature about shared ownership…
When I was a young boy I remember my parents, uncles, aunties and cousins all being keen on the great outdoors. That meant camper vans, tents, hostels and eventually, for my mum and dad, boats. I hated them all.
Even from an early age, while friends and family were all waxing lyrical about being at one with nature, I felt like a fish out of water. The comforts of a warm, dry bed were something I never tired of; home-cooked meals and four walls made of brick were essentials to my make-up.
I tried camping and went boating with my father many times, and I always came to the same conclusion. I relished the company and sense of adventure but I wanted to enjoy them while staying warm, dry and surrounded by the type of creature comforts that a spoilt, rich kid would take for granted. Except I wasn’t spoilt and we were far from rich.
Growing up didn’t seem to make any difference to my deep-seated hatred of discomfort, especially when it came to small boats. I recall one particularly miserable trip as a teenager, when two friends and I spent a night anchored off the Isle of Wight in their tiny fishing boat after a particularly spicy curry.
It was like bedding down in the middle of an orchestra warm-up session (the trumpet section being particularly rowdy). I vowed that I would never allow myself to experience such horrors again.
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If you find the costs of running a boat prohibitive, why not think outside the box and consider shared ownership?
The following day I fell into my bed at home, with the window open, and slept the sleep of the dead. I awoke feeling fresh as a daisy but with an overarching sense of surprise that despite the horrifying discomfort, I had loved being on the water. It just felt right. It was me. I had to do more of it.
Over the ensuing years I joined my parents on their boat as often as I could, but when it came to buying my own boat, life just got in the way. Marriage, business, property, travel and cars seemed to suck up most of my spare cash. I never dropped the dream but how could I satisfy my love of the good life when my wealth – or lack of it – would never allow me to own the size of vessel my psyche demanded?
By the time I was 40, I had managed to amass a small property portfolio and by 50 this was mortgage free. My two businesses remained successful and I came to the realisation I might finally be able to own a boat. In case I still hadn’t got the message, my wife bought me a subscription to MBY, which I still have nine years later.
The trouble was that even the 40-footers I ogled at in the magazine every month screamed – “you’re still not rich enough!” It wasn’t quite true. I could have afforded a vessel of around £500,00 but I would have had to sell one of my rental properties to fund it, which would have reduced my income to a level where I would struggle to run the boat and our house, cars and so on.
I never gave up but I also had to be realistic enough to know that it might never happen. I’d achieved most of what I wanted to in life and could have died with only one regret. But one regret is one too many. I had to satisfy that craving or risk meeting my maker with a boat-shaped chip in my soul.
Sharing is caring
And it was thanks to an MBY article on shared boat ownership that I discovered a potential route into the kind of boating lifestyle that I craved at a budget I could afford. I began scouring the back pages of the magazine to see what was available.
After a bit of research I found a 1/8th share (equating to six weeks use) of a boat in Greece for just £10,000, plus running costs of £300 per month. The boat, an Aquarius 53, was built in 1971, had a wooden hull and looked lovely. The interior needed updating of course but ten grand!
I was about to arrange a trip to view it when someone pointed out that the boat was based on the island of Lefkada, five-hours drive from Athens airport, which is itself a four-hour flight from London. With such a long door-to-door journey I’d spend almost as much time getting there and back as I would staying on the boat for each of my allotted weeks.
A few months later another advert caught my eye. A 1/8th share in an Azimut 58 called Freedom based in Mallorca for £35,000 and £400 PCM. It was still comfortably within budget and it looked to be a beautiful boat. So in February 2022 I booked a flight to view it.
The boat had a few issues but was seaworthy with good engines. Above all, it looked comfortable. And the convenience of getting to Mallorca was matched only by the perfect cruising grounds the island offers.
I signed up for it. Soon my name appeared on the owners’ register. There was just one snag. For the first year of ownership the insurance demanded that we had to have a captain on board when at sea. I had assumed that once I had completed my day skipper course, the boat was mine to do as I wanted.
I called the insurance company and the patient broker told me that 90% of boating accidents occur in the first year of ownership and most, if not all, insurance policies have this demand. My wife was actually quite relieved about this and thought that a captain on board would be more relaxing for both of us. I hate to admit it but she was probably right.
The next item on the list was my day skipper course, another prerequisite of ownership. I hired an instructor and did the course on my new boat. It was four days of intense focus but it was the best learning experience of my life.
I was now one of eight fully qualified skippers who co-owned the boat. I’d met two of them during my course and both were now firm friends. But what about the rest? And how would the dynamic of multi-ownership work? Would too little get done or too much because once split eight ways it seemed relatively cheap?
Well, both scenarios are true and a few more. Firstly, the WhatsApp group. As soon as I joined, dozens of messages were being pinged back and forth about all manner of things, including the bimini shade, liferaft, lights, air-con and so on.
As the boat was nudging 20 years old and hadn’t been terribly well maintained there were plenty of things on the snagging list. What I didn’t realise was just how serious and urgent some of the pending jobs were.
For example, the anchor windlass was broken and needed replacing. The liferaft was out of date and had been removed for inspection. The fan belts on the starboard engine were loose. Considering I was the final share buyer and the boat had been in syndicate hands for many months, I did wonder why some of these issues had not been sorted sooner.
Too hot to handle
Ironically, most of the minor issues such as WiFi, TV, Netflix, doors, sealant in bathrooms, bedding, monogrammed towels and so on had all been taken care of. The boat looked great. But behind the scenes, lurked matters that would make me wonder if this boat really was the dream I wanted. For just around the corner a nightmare was about to unfold…
It was my first outing on the boat – other than my day skipper course – and my wife Angelika and I were going to spend seven days on board. We arrived in Alcudia late afternoon on a sunny Thursday in June, full of excitement.
The boat had been empty for a week and the minute I opened the saloon door I was hit by a wall of heat. The boat, facing south and without covers on any of the screens or windows, felt as hot as a furnace.
No problem. Keep the patio doors open to allow the heat out and crank up the air con. So I pressed the four switches and waited for the cool air to arrive. Nothing. Nada. The saloon’s air-conditioning system was dead.
There I stood, staring blankly at the air-conditioning panel, willing it to kick in. There my wife stood, staring at me wondering what I’d got us into. We said nothing. The only saving was that the air con in the cabins was still working. At least we’d be able to sleep. Wouldn’t we?
A familiar buzz
At 7pm we took ourselves off for dinner and, for a few hours at least, thought nothing more of broken systems and hot saloons. On our return, we readied for bed in our cool cabin and turned out the lights.
Now I know that boats are noisy and air-con units emit a certain sound, so we rammed in our earplugs and for a few seconds the world was silent. But as soon as my head hit the pillow, I felt a vibration buzzing through my skull.
My wife and I sat up, looked at each other and shook our heads. I removed my earplugs and said I’d turn off the air con and open all the hatches. We bedded down again but then my arch nemesis started to bug me – literally.
As I was dropping off I became aware of a slight itch on my leg. I passed my hand over the skin and felt the tell-tale lump that indicated only one thing. Mosquitoes. On went the lights and several squashed mosquitoes later I tried to sleep again.
And for some of the night I succeeded but by morning we met in the cockpit to draw up a plan. We simply could not go on like this.
Forced to decamp
We booked into a nearby hotel for the next few nights and I composed an email to the rest of the syndicate questioning why such important jobs hadn’t yet been attended to and insisting that they be expedited. I was even prepared to give up some of my precious days on board so the work could be done.
Within days, the air con was fixed, the new fan belt ordered and the vibrating water pump serviced while we still stayed in the hotel and used Freedom as a day boat. It wasn’t how we had envisaged using the boat but it actually suited us very well.
On our second day afloat, we headed across Alcudia Bay to Colónia De Sant Pere where our skipper had recommended a restaurant called Del Nautico. The beam sea made the one-hour crossing a little uncomfortable but the sky was blue, there was a sea breeze to keep us cool and we found a berth in the small marina.
We wandered around the streets of the pretty town and had one of the best lunches we’ve ever had – anchovies, tuna and Iberico pork, cooked simply but to perfection. And all the time we were looking out over the marina to Freedom, moored on a visitor’s berth. Suddenly, it all made sense and by the time we got back to the boat we agreed it was one of our best days ever.
And that’s boating for you. There may be more to manage and more opinions to take into account on a shared boat like ours but once you learn the dynamic of your syndicate, you’ll soon find a way to make it work. So I know there are many more ‘greatest days ever’ just around the corner and my dream has finally become a reality.
First published in the September 2023 issue of MBY.
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