Steele’n TIME
Restoration of a Beneteau Oceanis 390 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
by David Steele

Beneteau Oceanis 390A new chapter in our sailing lives began inadvertently that Wednesday night in May 2005. That was the night I was minding my own business innocently surfing through the sailing accessories up for auction on EBay as I needed a new cleat for my 28' Lancer sloop which I had been sailing for close to 20 years.

For some reason I decided to look at sailboats that were presently up for auction. Although not particularly in the market for a new boat, one is always enticed with the thought of bigger and better so I concentrated my search in the 40-foot range. I felt a sense of excitement when I peered at the screen and one item stood out that had just been listed five minutes before. It was a 1990 Beneteau Oceanis 390! Ever since I started sailing I have loved the look of a Beneteau and hoped one day of owning one however due to the high cost of such a boat this dream would be very far off in the future or a remote possibility at best. I said to my wife. “Look at this, Loretta! A Beneteau, and it’s cheap!”

Testing the boat outIt was 9:30 in the evening and the EBay auction was currently at $5,000 after being listed for only twenty minutes. As I read the ad, it revealed that the boat wasn’t perfect but was in fact a project boat. Pictures showed fire and water damage to the interior and decks. The cockpit had been partially restored but the pedestal remained melted to the floor. The ad detailed extensive fire damage to the aft cabin, master head, companionway and cockpit. My wife and I briefly joked that this was the boat for us. The next morning still curious about the boat I logged back on to the Ebay auction to see the status. The price was still $5,000; could this be the maximum bid? Logging on a second time that day, I noticed a disclaimer on the auction saying that it was also for sale on site and that if it was sold on site, the owner would cancel the auction.

This really got me thinking, I live in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and the boat is for sale in Ashtabula, Ohio which is about a nine hour drive, would it be worth the drive just to look at it or a waste of time? A few hours later with this question still lingering in my mind, I decided to call the seller of the boat to ask him a few questions which he graciously answered. When I hung up, I felt a little discouraged by the conversation as he did not really know much about the boat. As it turned out he was selling the boat to recoup money owed to him as a result of a lawsuit with the owner for repairs and storage fees. Apparently the boat had been in his yard for four years while the owner tried to restore it. The owner quickly realized that he was in over his head with the restoration and was trying to sell the boat privately and cut his losses.

At lunch that day, I called my wife to ask her if she wanted to go on a road trip.
“Where?” she replied.
“To go see the Beneteau!” I said.
“Are you crazy? We can’t afford to restore that!” she replied astounded at my naivety. Cutting her off before she
could continue I said, “No, we’re not going to buy, it just look at it, after all, it is a Beneteau.”

Original companionway.I was thinking, why not go look at this boat so we could say we tried and maybe it wasn’t for us. Less than 24
hours after first seeing the boat on Ebay we were in the car and headed to Ohio. Maybe we were crazy! We drove all night to make it to the boat yard by Friday morning as we had set up a meeting with the seller when he opened at 9:00 AM. We actually arrived early to see the boat first before meeting the seller. That morning was far from a perfect day with pouring rain and fog when we arrived. When we entered the boatyard there was this huge glossy white hull off to the side surrounded by boats and industrial equipment that looked like they were placed there by Hurricane Katrina. My wife and I looked at each other and said, “That can’t be the Beneteau, it looks almost new?” We jumped out of the car and quickly walked around the hull, it was almost in mint condition with a few minor scratches like any boat would typically have. We continued to survey the exterior amazed at the condition and thinking this would be an amazing deal. “Lets get a ladder so we can climb up and look inside,” I yelled from under the bow while trying to get out of the rain. We found an old wooden ladder in the debris pile of nearby boats and leaned it against the swim platform and began to ascend into the cockpit. My wife climbed aboard first and before she was at the top of the ladder stopped and said “You’re not going to believe this?”

Replying, “Is it just like the hull?” “No not quite, we should get back in the car?” she said. I started my climb not knowing what to expect, when I reached the top I was extremely disappointed with what I saw. It was evident that there was indeed a fire as the cockpit and cabin top near the the companion way had been partially rebuilt to a rough fiberglass stage. The pedestal base was still in place but melted to the cockpit floor. The decks were all pitted from what must have been melting plastic. All hatches were broken, apparently by the fire fighters in order to ventilate the boat while fighting the fire. No deck fittings, winches or traveler.

As we proceeded into the boat the companionway stairs almost broke under our weight. It was amazing how much water was coming into the boat due to no companionway hatch and the deck hatches being broken, it was like we were still standing outside. Someone had actually gone to the trouble to drill a one inch hole in the bottom of the boat so the water could drain. The aft cabin was totally charred, cabin sole water damaged, the main skylight was dislodged and leaking, all headliners were either melted or smoke damaged. Everywhere we looked there was soot, leaves, wasp hives and although it had been cleaned after the fire it was a disaster.

“How could anyone do this to a boat like this, leave it to the elements?” I asked my wife.
“Oh well we weren’t going to buy it anyway, we were just in it for the road trip right?”
We were completely overwhelmed with the poor condition of the boat; the pictures that were on Ebay must be of a different boat?

As we were climbing down from the boat the seller was arriving and met us at the bottom of the ladder. Still disappointed with what we had seen we had a brief discussion with him on what more he knew about the boat which was a little more helpful but still not encouraging enough to buy it on the spot. He mentioned that he had been told that the fire was caused by vandalism and had been limited to the cockpit and aft cabin areas. The owner of the boat had owed him about $20,000 for repairs and storage, and he took him to court and had basically won the boat in the settlement.

He explained to us that his bottom line was $11,000; he was amazed at the response he was getting from the Ebay ad and that he had also been speaking with potential buyers in New York and Australia, these buyers were sending surveyors to the yard later that day. During our discussion I decide to throw out an offer of $6,000 which he quickly declined saying that $11,000 was his bottom line and that he was confident he would get a least that if the auction was completed. We bid him farewell saying that we would call him when we got home if we were still interested.

As we were driving home a friend called me on my cell to find out how the boat looked and joking asked if we had purchased it. When I described the condition to him I must have forgot about all the bad we had just seen because for some reason I was starting to embellish them and they didn’t seem to be as bad now. I told him that it would be a lot of work and that some of it I was unsure of. “Man, it’s a Beneteau and if you can get it for cheap go for it, if anyone can repair it you can,” he joked. I began to reflect on my previous 20 years of sailing experience and boating repairs. It could certainly be done; I had a sound knowledge of anything electrical or mechanical and was also not a bad carpenter. My friend mentioned that the bidding was now at $10,000. When we hung up my naive enthusiasm was back, I said to my wife, lets call the guy back and make a deal with him, we can take five years to restore it and if we can’t we can sell it again, This may be our only chance to own a boat like this!

By this time we were 3 hours away from the boat, we called the seller back and after a brief discussion he agreed to meet us at 4:00 PM. We turned around and drove as fast as we could back to the boatyard still not knowing quite what we were getting ourselves into.

When we arrived we struck a deal for the $11,000 price before the bidding went any higher. The seller also mentioned that the surveyors had shown up and actually gave the boat a better grade than he had expected and he was awaiting offers from those potential buyers shortly. The seller turned to us and said he would like a deposit because of the other interest, we agreed and offered a $500 deposit, he responded with a $5,000 demand.

“Where am I going to get that kind of money on a Friday afternoon at 4:30 PM? Remember I am also Canadian in the USA,” I asked. “Bank is down the street,” he snapped back.

Original panel.I was a little frustrated with this apparent roadblock set up by the seller because I think he could smell more money from the other buyers and did not want to go back on his word. By the time we drove to the bank it was about 10 minutes before closing time, I walked in and asked for the manager. I explained my situation and asked for a bank draft to be paid with a cash advance from my Visa, the manager agreed and I was on my way back to the boatyard within minutes. As we pulled into the parking lot I looked at my watch, it was less than 24 hrs since we left home and still less than 48 hrs since we had first seen the boat on Ebay. What an emotional roller coaster ride it had been, “I still can’t believe we are doing this,” my wife said. It was at this moment that the excitement started to change into reality, this was the boat that we really had no intention of buying when we left, no clear idea of what was wrong with it, no real plan on how and where to restore and no idea on how to get it home. Now we were sitting in a parking lot with a bank draft to buy the boat. I turned to my wife and said, “Do we really want to do this?” “It’s up to you,” she said. “No, We have to be in this together if its going to work, lets take a chance.” With that I walked into the boat yard office and signed the deal. We now owned the boat of our dreams! It took about two and a half months to make the arrangements to have the boat shipped back to Canada but we were in no rush as we continued to sail our Lancer 28 on Lake Superior, and this was supposed to be a long term project anyway. During the time I was waiting for the boat to be delivered I started doing some Internet searching on the parts/pieces required to restore the boat to its original condition.

This article will continue in the next issue in May 2008.Dave Steele has been avidly sailing the Great Lakes for over twenty years, logging over 18,000 miles in his travels. From their home located at Harmony Beach, Ontario, Dave along with his wife Margaret (a.k.a. Loretta) and their two daughters Morgan and Mikayla spend as much time as they can exploring the remote northern shore of Lake Superior and Lake Huron’s North channel.