Seeing is not believing - you need all your senses when buying a boat

It takes more than 20:20 vision to get a clear picture of the perfect boat.
Mark Rothfield
In moments of quiet reflection, I sometimes try to picture life through the eyes of a blind person. It would be dark, drab, frightening and bewildering, I imagine, but also rich in sound, smell, taste and touch. Ironically, this could infuse the decision-making process with greater clarity, for the rest of us have our judgment clouded at times by using our eyes too much.

Love at first sight leads to all sorts of problems – we’re attracted to the gorgeous girl or guy across the dimly lit bar who’s shallower than Lake Eyre in a drought, or we buy the hopelessly impractical coupe when it’s a station wagon we really need.

We look for labels as confirmation of fashion whereas a blind person buys purely on passion. Because they can’t see the difference between Target and Tommy Hilfiger, for them it’s about the fit, the price and the feel.

‘Feel’ can reflect quality but not always, for true quality is skin deep. It’s not just in the fabric but the stitching as well.

Now, once you finish reading this column, think about the boat you’ve always wanted. Then, close your eyes.

I wonder, could you really pick the difference between a Sea Ray and a Bayliner, or even a Princess from a Fairline, just by touch and smell?

I doubt that I could, not even after 30 years in the boating game, whereas I’m reasonably confident I could tell a Mercedes from a Mitsubishi, or a Jaguar from a Jeep.

It says something about the repetition that’s rife in the boating industry … engines are alike, hull shapes are similar and layouts are merely variations of a common theme. There are precious few production limbs to go out on, sadly.

As a blind-folded buyer, you would rely solely on ‘gut’ feel.

You’d walk through the boat and ‘see’ whether you bump your head or shins. You would rest on the seats and lie on the berths, monitoring for comfort and texture.

You would start the engines … is it quiet, is there vibration, anything to betray the integrity of design and manufacture? You would drive the boat – a terrifying prospect for the rest of us boaties, although 20:20 vision doesn’t necessarily create a perfect boat handler.

Does it ease onto the plane? Is the ride softly cushioned? Does it roll and rock? Is it nicely balanced?

At some point, at the helm, you will finally sense the thing that matters most. You will have found the intangible, indefinable and indefatigable X factor that defines the vessel’s soul.

Every boat has a personality, a mojo, a coolness, but it can only be detected on a plane far higher than sight alone. It will lurk in the heightened sensation in your fingertips, not the rose-coloured glasses that most of us wear at boat shows and when perusing the classifieds.

The point is thus: When it comes to buying a boat, seeing is not believing. Go into it with your eyes wide shut and your gut engaged, and your long-term vision will be clear as crystal.