I Bought a Yacht — and No I’m Not Rich

For alot of people, buying a yacht doesn’t feel like a viable option. When people think of the word “yacht”, they think massive super yacht, that costs upwards of a few million dollars. They think of something like this:

However, this is quite the misconception. A quick google search for the term brings up the wikipedia article about yachts, stating the following:

To be termed a yacht, as opposed to a boat, such a pleasure vessel is likely to be at least 33 feet (10 m) in length and may have been judged to have good aesthetic qualities.

So according to Wikipedia, you don’t have to invest millions of dollars to be able to be a yacht owner. Quite the opposite actually. Many sailing yachts can be bought at prices of a new car. The yacht won’t be new, but many yachts that are 30 to 40 years old are still in good shape and just need some work to be sea worthy again.

Over the past two years, I developed a passion for boats and sailing that brought me to the point that I went out and bought a sailing yacht myself.

A Little Bit of Background About Me

Before you think that I’m priviledged and have all the money in the world to spend on whatever I want, let me tell you a little bit about myself first.

I’m an American who grew up in a small town in Connecticut. My parents are both german and decided to move to the states before I was even born. However, being born to two german citizens, gave me the german citizenship as well.

Instead of attending college and taking up a student loan after high school, I moved to Germany to start an apprenticeship for software development. If you are unaware of what an apprenticeship is, it’s a dual program where companies offer to educate you while you also work for them. They teach you what you need to know on the job and the theory is taught at a vocational school, or Berufsschule. While in an apprenticeship program, you also get paid an apprentice salary, which for me was only 600€, but at least it was something.

In addition to having been able to save some money from my apprenticeship, which wasn’t much, I also work a full time job, with which I can pay off whatever I have to, since I still live at home with my younger brother (19) and sister (16). I chip in occasionally when we go grocery shopping and also pay some rent so that my mom isn’t left paying the entire apartment by herself.

Having no student debt and no apartment to pay for, I can choose to spend my money on whatever I want, which in the coming years will be to pay off the loan I took up in order to pay for the yacht.

Why did I look into buying a sailing yacht?

This is quite a simple explanation. I’m in my early twenties and have recently started to think about where I want to be in five to ten years from now. Most people my age want a luxurious house, maybe a pool, a family, you know, a normal life.

A normal life like that, in my opinion, limits you to a certain amount of freedom. You have responsibilities that you have to take care of whether it be taking your dog out for a walk, paying for a mortgage, paying off student loan, etc.

These responsibilities limit you, whether it be financially or otherwise and keeps you from wanting to do what you actually really want to be doing. For me, that one thing I want to be doing is travelling around the world.

We’re always told that we have to work our entire lives to be able to afford the luxury of travelling. Work towards your retirement and then you can do whatever you want to do. Well…. what if you don’t want to wait for retirement to be doing just that? That’s what I’ve been thinking for the past two years or so and have been looking for a way to combine my work as a software developer and my dream of travelling my entire life.

A normal life never seemed appealing to me for the above mentioned reasons. I don’t want a normal life where I have a mortgage for a house or apartment that I work for just to pay off. I don’t want to be stuck in one place for foreseeable future. I don’t want to wait for retirement just to be able to travel. For the most part, I just don’t think I’d be happy settling for that. I want to be able to travel my entire life.

Knowing for certain that this is what I want to do, I started looking into alternative ways of living and stumbled upon van life. For those unfamiliar with the concept of van life, it’s the idea of moving into a built out sprinter van and hit the road while working out of your van. Van builds range from very simple to really complex with full bathroom and kitchen setups. The problem with van life for me though is that it is something I am not very passionate about. I mean about living in a van and taking care of your car. So I continued searching for alternatives.

Just one of many examples of a built out van

At some point I stumbled across some Youtube channels where people shared their life living on a sailboat and travelling around the world like that. For me, this was definitely the way to go since I am very passionate about boats and sailing in general. So, I started to look into buying a sailing yacht.

My History with Boats

The Neptun 22

At the beginning of last year, or as many of you will remember the year by the beginning of the Corona Pandemic, I started to get into sailing. But even before I found out that I have such a big passion for sailing, I was introduced boat life the year prior (2019).

My moms boyfriend had introduced me and my younger brother to boats in Frankfurt. He owns a Seacamper and took us on it for a spin every now and then. We enjoyed spending time on his boat so much that we decided to buy our first boat as well.

A Seacamper — the kind of boat my moms boyfriend owns in Frankfurt am Main

In late April 2019, my younger brother and I decided to buy an old 1972 Neptun 22.

The purpose of this boat was to get us introduced even further into the world of boats by having and using it as a past time hobby after work or school just to relax and drive up and down the Main (Frankfurt am Main) with. This definitely turned out to be one of the best things I have ever done in my life. I never knew that owning a boat could be so great.

I had plenty of fun times on this boat, even if we were just using it locally within a 5km stretch of the river. Whether it was taking friends out at night and having a drink or two while listening to music and talking or just going out alone, anchoring somewhere on the side of the river and reading a book, it was always a joy to be out on the water.

Chartering a Motor Boat in Berlin

My passion for boats was confirmed again just a few weeks later, when my family and I decided to go on vacation in Berlin and charter (rent) two motor boats. We had an 11 meter and a 15 meter boat, to share between 7 people.

The 11 meter boat was used by my mom and her boyfriend and the other one hosted my sister, my brother, his girlfriend, his girlfriends friend and me.

We spent a week cruising the Spree stopping along the way to sleep at public stopping spots and enjoying the water.

The entire experience was new for me since I had never spent more than a few hours on a boat before. To summarize what it was like, it’s kind of like taking your apartment, shrinking it, and putting it on the water. All of the necessary amenities (toilet, kitchen, electricity, heater) were all given, showing me that living on a boat is a viable option.

The two captains of the 15 meter boat we chartered in Berlin

Chartering a Sailing Catamaran in the Baltic Sea

There was one more trip that I would like to mention that really weighed in on my decision of buying a boat. This was the summer of 2019. My older brother and his girlfriend, decided to join the rest of the family in northern Germany in spending a week cruising the Baltic Sea on a Lagoon 42, a 12 meter catamaran. We chartered the catamaran on the south east part of Rügen, which is an island in the Baltic Sea. I had never been on a catamaran before and was excited to be lucky enough to even be able to spend one week on one.

Lagoon 42

Now, no one besides my moms boyfriend had any sailing experience whatsoever, so we relied on him to show us the ropes. We set out of the marina to start heading north towards Stralsund, which was our first destination on the trip.

To hoist the sails on a sailboat, you’re supposed to turn into the wind to make it easier on yourself, since the sails just flap and have no pressure on them.

We did just that. We wrapped the sheets (the ropes used to control the sails) around the winches (the things you turn to pull in the sails or to stow them away) but only managed to unfurl the genoa (the big sail in the front of a boat) from its furlor (the thing that wraps up the genoa). The main sail refused to be hoisted. The person on board with some sailing experience, owned the same boat a few years prior but had his boat equipped with electric winches to make hoisting the sails easier, also failed to hoist the main. So, we decided to just use the motors instead. However, this turned out to be fine as well, since we still had a very enjoyable time spending time together on the water.

The family gathered together on the catamaran in Stralsund

We motored up to Stralsund where we stopped for the night and went into the city to go and get some food.

The next morning, we continued our journey north to Hiddensee, with the intentions of passing Rügen on the northern side and be able to circumnavigate the island. We stopped in Hiddensee and decided to explore the town and enjoy the sightseeing and stock up on food and drinks. That night is when we noticed the weather starting to change.

The forecast for the remainder of the week was 30 knots of wind gusting from the west, something that would make itself very noticeable the next morning when we set off to pass the northern side of Rügen.

After a good nights rest, we set off to try and go north. On the way out though, we had our first little hick up. My younger brother was at the helm trying to bring us into the channel to go out onto the open Baltic Sea. The water ways up there are very tight and you have to pay attention to where you’re steering at all times, otherwise you risk running aground. And that is exactly what ended up happening.

My brother thought he was in the center of the channel, as he was going off of what he saw. However, the chart plotter was saying something else. It showed our position just left of the channel, right on top of a spot that would run us aground. Just a moment after looking on the chart plotter, we felt a slight resistence, as the boat had stopped moving.

We quickly pulled out a red towel, to notify nearby boats that we were unable to move and tried everything to get the boat unstuck, until we finally made it out off of the sandbank by getting lucky with the current, winds and usage of the engines.

After this exciting moment, we continued onward towards the exit of the waterways and onto the open Baltic Sea. Remember how the forecast had predicted winds of 30 knots or more? This is when these conditions really made themselves be known.

We left the waterways and noticed that the waves were getting bigger and bigger as we went further out. Like flies dropping, each person on the boat started to feel the effects of sea sickness one after another. The boat was bouncing up and down as we beat into the waves. The dishes in the kitchen started to rattle around in the cabinets and I was the only one left on deck.

I scanned the horizon to see if any other boats were out and saw absolutely no one. Having no experience in this whatsoever, but being able to judge that that was a bad sign, we decided to head back in to the waterways and back down to Stralsund.

This didn’t matter, though as we had a very good time staying up talking, eating and drinking each night that we were on the boat. It brought us together more than any other family vacation ever had.

The last bit of the trip was the part that made a big difference in my liking for sailboats.

On our last day on the boat, we headed back down to the southern part of Rügen, where we had tried to hoist the sails at the beginning of the trip. This time, we decided to try again, since it was our last day. We brought out the genoa, which was easy and decided to just stick with that. It was at least enough to get us moving.

Once the sail was unfurled, we turned off the engines and it was just dead calm. You could hear the splashing of the waves on the bow, the breeze in your hair and enjoy the peace and quiet of the boat rushing along the waves without the motors humming in the background. It was almost as if we were one with the waves and the wind. It truly was an incredible and unforgetful experience that made such an impact in my view of boating in general.

There was no doubt in my mind after this experience that I wanted to learn how to sail and start have this feeling more often.

Learning How to Sail

At first it seems like a daunting task: so many new words, definitions and things to get used to. It seems like there are so many ropes on a boat that you can get tangled in, but it turns out that sailing is actually quite simple. Once you understand the physics of it, it all makes sense.

The way that sailboats work, is very similar to how an airplane flies. On an airplane, the wings are shaped in a form called a foil. The purpose of this shape is to create two different kinds of pressure.

The air that hits the front of the wing creates two different types of pressure. The lower part of the wing creates a high pressure area, while the upper part creates low pressure. Combining these two pressures and high wind speeds, creates what is called lift, which is what makes and airplane fly.

Converting this to sailboats is very similar, just that its not on a horizontal level, but a vertical one. The way that sails are positioned when sailing, creates the same types of pressure. When the sails are trimmed, or positioned, correctly, they create the same shape of an airplane wing. This creates the same type of high and low pressures.

However, on sailboat this isn’t enough, since without anything underneath the water to control this pushing motion, the boat would just drift. That’s why sailboats have a keel underneath the boat. It acts as a counter resistance underneath the boat and ensures that the motion that the sails create isn’t sideway, but rather forward.

The types of courses a sailboat can sail. Each one requires the sails to be trimmed in the right way in order for the maximum amount of lift to be created.

In early 2020, my mom, brother and I decided to take a sailing class, taught by one of the members of our boating club. The first 2 months of the class were just pure theory. Trying to understand how the sails on a sailboat should be trimmed correctly, getting to know the rules of the water, etc. To make an understandable comparison, it felt similar to taking drivers ed in high school.

As the course continued, the corona pandemic started to further unfold. This prompted the instructor to delay in person classes and after a month of trying to setup her laptop and understanding how to use it, it was already late April.

My brother and I decided that we didn’t want to wait to get out onto the water, so we decided to buy a used Laser 2, for 1300€. We drove two hours north of Frankfurt to pick it up and were so eager to try it out when we got back, that we did just that. We had no idea what we were doing, but figured that if we just hold the sails into the wind, we would move forward.

And I must say, it didn’t matter that we didn’t know what we were doing. We were having fun and enjoyed the beauty and simplicity of sailing.

As the year progressed, we were able to meet up with our sailing class again and finally we could really learn how to sail. We practiced sailing circles around our instructors dinghy, manoeuvres like jibing and tacking and buoy overboard. It was a lot of fun learning all of this and it really helped me understand how sailing worked and how to trim the sails correctly.

Eventually we took our sailing test and passed it with flying colors, even though the wind was the strongest that we had ever experienced on the Main before. As they say, smooth seas don’t make good sailors. In order to improve, you have to constantly challenge yourself and put yourself in ever increasing challenging situations.

Moving onto Sailing Bigger Boats

The summer rolled around and my family and I decided to take our Neptun 22 and camper van up to the Netherlands to do some sailing for two weeks. Since we had never really sailed a larger boat, we were excited for the experience.

Throughout the first week, we went on day trips through the lakes and canals of Friesland, taking in all the nature and beautiful scenery that we came across.

Sailing on Groete Brekken in Friesland

At some point in the trip though, we were having troubles with the outboard engine of the Neptun 22. This brought our summer sailing fun to a very abrupt halt, since without an engine we weren’t able to get out of the canal next to our camping grounds.

The second monday of the trip, I was so frustrated that I brought up buying a new boat as a joke. I had already been thinking of this half a year before and had already done a lot of research on boats. My mom jokingly agreed with me and the rest of the family joined in. And that is how the ball started rolling on the idea of buying yet another a boat.

Remember how at the beginning of the post I mentioned why I had been looking into buying a boat before anyway? My younger brother has the same aspirations as I do and my mom said that she would help finance the yacht, if we were to get one together. Since we are very alike and have always agreed on almost everything, we decided that this was a very viable option.

So, the next morning we set off on our very spontaneous adventure of looking for a yacht to buy.

A Hallberg Rassy we looked at, which was outside of our budget

Of course we had a few criteria the we were looking for, when we looked at boats:

  1. Large enough for two people to live on full time (+35 ft)
  2. Amenities such as a galley (aka kitchen) and two cabins
  3. Enough storage for food, equipment, etc.
  4. In good enough shape that not much has to be done on it (we learned later that boats always require work and maintenance, but thats for another time)

On our search, we started by googling “marinas in my location” and specifically picked out those with yacht brokerages. At the end of our search, we had only viewed boats in 3 or 4 marinas.

The first 2 or 3 marinas that we visited turned out to be selling boats that were way out of our price range (50,000€). They were all boats for which we said they were ok, but not ideal so it wasn’t that much of a disappointment. They were either too small, too dark or just not cozy enough for us to really fall in love with.

At the end of the day, we drove down to Lelystad, which has a marina which has a rather well known dutch yacht brokerage.

There were two boats in particular that we were interested in taking a look at. One was a Van de Stadt 38 and the other a Sigma 38. We took a look at the Sigma first and saw that it was kind of run down and not really something we liked. Again, it just felt too dark and worn down.

The Van de Stadt on the other hand, definitely was something we were interested in and was within our budget (38,000€). From the outside it looked like a standard 38 foot boat, but on the inside it felt far more spacious than any of the other comparable boats that we looked at. It had a teak deck, which looked to be almost as good as new, the mast and sails were in a very good condition, the motor looked to be in very good shape as well and the bilge showed little sign of any rust, as it was a steel boat.

The Van de Stadt 38

After taking a look at it, we decided to call it a day and went back to our campsite in Lemmer.

The next day we wanted to go through a checklist to ensure that we covered every aspect that is of importance when buying a boat. The first thing we wanted to check was the engine.

I headed back to the marina office to ask for the keys for the boat to see if the engine would start and came back with a large grin on my face, as it felt like this would already be the boat we would end up buying. Back at the boat, we put the key in the ignition and the engine wouldn’t start…. :(

I went back to the marina office to tell the yacht broker, Bouke, that the engine wouldn’t start. He walked to the boat with me and brought a battery charger, as the starter battery was the most likely to be causing the engine problems.

Once we got to the boat, we charged the battery for a few minutes and tried again. Like magic, the engine started and sounded very good. No abnormal sounds were coming from it, the amount of engine oil was still good and we were very pleased with the result.

We continued with our checklist, checking the sails to see if they were in good condition and didn’t have tears or holes in them, checking the bilge for rust thoroughly, etc. We did find some rust in the bilge, but had decided that it was manageable with some rust treatment (turns out that it was a little more rust than we thought. But I’ll save that for another post as well).

Our checklist confirmed that the boat that we were looking at was in a good condition. We all looked at each other and were all thinking the same thing: let’s buy this boat!

After all the formalities, we placed an offer on the boat for 36k, for which we received a very answer for from the owner, saying that he was in agreement with the offer :)

The picture we took after buying the boat.

My brother and I are in debt to our mom for 36,000€, which we are continuing to pay off over the next few years, but we are happy to be in debt as this is definitely worth the investment and is just the start of our big adventure.

My brother and I are already planning on setting sails in the next 3 to 4 years, which by then we hope we can earn enough money to keep us going. Seeing that we are both software developers, this shouldn’t be a problem, but who knows. Like I said, the adventure has just started and there’s alot of things that we still want to do on the boat, such as equipment upgrades, safety upgrades and liveability upgrades before we start cruising full time.

Overall, the experiences I have personally made with boats and sailing in general have convinced me that living on a sailboat and travelling around the world while working freelance projects is a very viable option that I am working towards. It may be a tough journey with lots of lessons to be learned to get there but overall it is worth the sacrifices that I am going to have to make along the way. I am choosing adventure over comfort and can’t wait for the experiences I will be making in the coming years.

Software Developer for ING Germany. Expanding my horizon in any way I can. https://felixseip.de