Avoiding boat show blindness and being shafted by salesmen

Sterndrive express cruisers have their place - just not up an isolated river.
Mark Rothfield
On a Mother’s Day mission last Thursday night I wandered into an electrical store looking for a new Polaroid instant camera (they’re back in vogue apparently) and came out clutching an iPad under the arm that wasn’t busily scratching my head.

But that’s nothing. A mate of mine went shopping for a second-hand, shaft-drive diesel displacement cruiser to putter around the Myall River (NSW) and was within a heartbeat of buying a sterndrive petrol express sportscruiser.

It was nothing like what he wanted for a waterway governed by 4-knot speed restrictions, nor would it suit a mooring some 30 miles and a packed lunch away from the nearest marina. So how does it happen?

He suffered what can only be referred to as ‘boat show blindness’, a temporary but financially painful disease commonly contracted from silver-tongued brokers.

Glistening at the dock, he saw a bonus mid-cabin courtesy of the motors being set aft. He saw a big cockpit and a relatively small pricetag. He heard the blessed assurance, 'sterndrives are fine these days'.

There was barely a thought of refuelling or mechanical service, while running cost concerns swirled into the mists of desire … never to be considered again. For a novice like him, the need to adjust the trim tabs of a small, weight-sensitive express cruiser would only become apparent when it was planing like blazers.

Sterndrives are fine … fine indeed for boatbuilders, that is, because they eliminate the need for shaft and rudder installations and allow designers to cheat on internal space. They are fine, too, when shallow bars are present or you like to nudge up to the beach.

They’re much better nowadays in respect to corrosion resistance, though petrol motors lingering from the heyday of express boats (late nineties, early noughties) are simultaneously hitting that dubious age where replacement is preferable to a rebuild.

There are hoses, rubber bladders and oil lines permanently residing in the water. Installations can be cramped, and it’s essential to run a blower for several minutes prior to starting the engine.

You can't go past the simplicity of a shaft in older boats
Mark Rothfield

For my money, and for my mate, the three keywords for a boat over 15 years old are fibreglass, diesel, shaft. Of course, if you spend considerable time at, or close to, a marina and like to dash between destinations then an express sportscruiser should come into reckoning.

The important thing is to not be swayed from your original intent. Buy the boat you want, not one that someone wants to sell you.

But the iPad was a hit, thanks for asking...