Sailboat Saturday: The Watkins 27

In an effort to become more consistent with posting, I’ve wanted to get into a rhythm with a basic post format. One that stuck in my head was to write about the most enjoyable time waster I know; trolling Craigslist for new sailboats!  I can’t explain the pleasure that exists in researching all of the “What if?” thoughts that come with finding a diamond in the rough.  Sometimes the sailboats are in great shape and could sail away today.  More often, they need some love and tenderness to be brought back to their full potential.  And in those cases, there’re many examples where a frank discussion on prioritizing could be beneficial.

The structure of these posts will attempt to do a few things:
1) Describe the “avatar,” or situation and person who might be looking at this particular style of sailboat.
2) Describe why the particular sailboat in question could make a good potential live aboard for that situation.
3) Key factors to consider for the person looking into the sailboat.
4) And lastly, a few recommendations for first steps after the sailboat was purchased.
So, let’s talk about the Watkins 27
Situation:
I’m a 23 year old college graduate, just out of a computer science program and moving to coastal North Carolina for my first job.  I’m just about 6′ tall, like to run, and enjoy playing video games on the side.  I learned to sail while in college, but haven’t ever owned a boat before. I’m looking for an adventure post-college, and figure this may be a good way to spend a few years before moving on to my next gig.
A Classic Coastal Cruiser
The Watkins 27 first came to my attention in 2009.  I was in the process of selling our Tartan 37 over in Guam, but sitting around in Maryland waiting for my new job to start. It was killing me.  The thought train circling my head kept saying “Well you could just buy a sailboat now, mooring it out in the Chesapeake, and enjoy unemployment for a bit.”  I knew I wanted something smaller than the Tartan 37, and the 27-30 foot range was ideal.  Then a Watkins came up.
http://www.watkinsowners.com/albums/w27/index.htm

Watkins 27 Under Sail

This week, another Watkins popped up on Craigslist. Basic information includes the following:
Price: $6000
Year: 1979
Size: 27′ long, 10′ beam, 3’8″ draft, and 6’2″ headroom
Equipment: All the standard sailboat gear (head, alcohol stove, fridge/cooler, 2 way VHF radio, AM/FM/CD player…)
Engine: Yanmar YSM12 with some recent work completed
Sails: Main sail, storm jib, genoa
Bonuses: Garmin GPS 2006C with navigation cards; wheel steering
What makes this a good potential liveaboard?
1) Headroom: When analyzing a sailboat purchase, consider all of your decision factors with this criteria: what can I change after I purchase the boat, and what am I going to be stuck with?  Two in particular are headroom and draft.  Without substantial modification, these will be fixed and unchangeable.  The Watkins is one of the few sailboats under 30′ that boasts this kind of headroom.  And as a 6′ guy who lived aboard a 5’10” Cal 28, I can tell you how enjoyable having that kind of flexibility is.
2) Draft: Along the same lines as headroom, this boat draws just less than 4′.  Perfect for cruising the barrier islands of North Carolina and more than capable of cruising up or down the East coast of the U.S.
3) Equipment: For $6K you’d get a Yanmar diesel engine.  In the end, if a sailboat has a working diesel engine, you are probably better off keeping it and maintaining it in good condition than changing it out.  I personally subscribe to the philosophy of Yves Gelinas’ Jean de Sud and James Baldwin, and enjoyed several sailboats converted from gasoline inboards to gasoline outboards.  I wouldn’t consider a replacement diesel unless it was a great deal, for this particular size and age of sailboat.  After all, you could likely spend over $10K in a new installation, more than the cost of this boat in the first place.  But, with a working diesel you could consider some well thought out upgrades to make sure it lasts you a good long time.
4) Build/Layout: The Watkins is a pretty solid coastal cruiser.  It has a wider-than-average cabin, good coamings in the cockpit, and (to me) appealing lines.  One of the nice conveniences to sailing, wheel steering, is included in this model. And the arrangement below decks would support having a computer station in the settee, using the table.
http://www.watkinsowners.com/albums/w27/index.htm

Watkins 27 Layout

Factors to consider:
Other than the typical survey checklist, a few items I’d be concerned about during my in-person inspection:
  • Engine condition: Again, one of the appeal factors is a good condition diesel engine. I’d want to know how it was used, maintained, and what the state of the entire system is (fuel tank, hoses, exhaust, cooling, etc.) When in doubt, have a mechanic come by to assist.
  • Steering cables: Duck into the cockpit locker with a flashlight to inspect the condition of the steering system. While steering by wheel is convenient, replacing the cables is not. That said, it’s completely within the realm of the do-it-yourselfer to replace these cables if necessary.  Keep an eye out for cable wear, broken strands, and corrosion on the turning blocks and quadrant.
  • Sails: The listing didn’t specify, but this is a pretty stock set of sails.  Check for wear and tear, fit (raise them up to verify the size is accurate), and for versatility: how many reef points does the main have? What condition are the batten pockets in?
Most of the equipment list is pretty stock for a boat of this vintage.  One should expect to see the typical boat gear necessary to get out and about safely. This post isn’t meant to be exhaustive of a pre-purchase survey, and a well informed buyer will do a thorough job of inspecting the entire boat.
Next steps:
A few things I’d consider:
  • First, ensure the top five priorities are met. See Attainable Adventures for more detail, but until confident of these, I’d forego any significant modifications.
  • Power: Depending on the context, being self-sufficient in power production is the next step I’d make. Solar panels on the stern or sides of the pushpit railing, or on deck, would make a big difference.  A wind generating system may also be valuable depending on the intended location.
  • Dodger: In this case the boat came with no additional covering, and I’d posit that a dodger should be the first item on the list. At anchor or in port a simple boom tent could be rigged to reduce heat from sun glare, but a dodger would allow full headroom and movement even in increment weather. And be a luxury when sailing out of Cape Fear into the rolling surf!
Caveat:
 These are my thoughts, not gospel. Each person’s situation is unique, and each sailboat is different. Just because something is possible to do, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the only way to do things or even the best way!  Consider these good entry points and thought-drivers.
So… any other sailboats you re interested in? Shoot me a note in the comments and I’ll keep my eye out in the Craigslist listings.  Stay tuned for the next installment in two weeks.