Caveat venditor – let the seller beware

Good Buddy glides through a serene Essex Harbor. Photo by Tom Belcher

Over the years, I’ve sold lots of stuff on the internet. Everything from Swedish cars to antique rototillers and, for the most part, the transactions have been fairly straightforward. Goodbye baby bike trailer – don’t let the door hit you on the way out – hello cold, hard cash.

The difficult part has always been finding a quality buyer. There seems to be a class of professional tire-kickers out there, and, of course, increasingly sophisticated scammers.

So imagine my surprise last fall when I listed my much-beloved 1966 Pearson Commander, Good Buddy, for sale, and thought I’d found a great buyer. The buyer – for the sake of this piece, we’ll call him Charlie – was a huge fan of boats designed by Carl Alberg, and we bonded a bit in our correspondence, talking about Alberg’s various designs. A time was set for Charlie to come look at the boat.

Charlie met me on a weekday morning, and together we took a launch out to Good Buddy. First impressions? Charlie was a bit scruffy, but certainly kind, and someone who definitely liked to talk. I’m told, mostly by my wife, that we have this last part in common.

Here’s how the boat-inspection went: Charlie took a perfunctory look around without going below, sat down, and began to tell me his life story. I worked hard to redirect, but gave up after two hours. He was still talking when I picked up the radio and called the launch. “Sorry, Charlie,” I said, “I’ve got stuff to do.”

Charlie, nonplussed: “If I give you a cash deposit, will you hold the boat?”

Say what, now?

I thought he hated the boat!

No survey required. He’d be back in a few days with the balance.

Not only was it more like a week before I got my money, but Charlie asked if it would be OK if he left Good Buddy on her mooring for a month or so while he got his affairs in order. Irritating, yes, but part of the deal was that I’d be able to continue using the boat. The prospect of this outweighed better judgment.

Six weeks passed and by this time Essex Harbor, where Good Buddy lived, was mostly empty. And then one night, at 10 p.m., this text: “Hey Bob, it’s Charlie – just got done sailing Good Buddy to Groton. What a lively little sailer!” Apparently he’d grabbed her that morning. As crew, he’d had along a woman he’d met a few days earlier, and her dog. It had been a six-hour sail.

Finally, it seemed, this boat, which I’d been through so much with, was out of my life. Good riddance? I still wasn’t sure.

Fast-forward three months. One day Joe Burke, the owner of Points East, e-mailed me to say he’d just gotten a strange call from a woman who owned a marina, and claimed my boat was in her yard. He forwarded me her number.

I thought about this for a while. Probably some sort of scam. Unless . . . unless . . . .

I picked up my phone, and called Charlie. No response. Ditto my texts. With a sinking heart, I called the marina owner, who confirmed my suspicion: Charlie had abandoned the boat in Groton.

“Do you have copies of the bill of sale?” the marina owner asked. She sounded tough on the phone, like she could beat me arm-wrestling.


“Well, then it’s still yours. And you need to get it out of here.”

With dollar signs dancing in my head, and butterflies in my stomach, I did what I apparently do best – talk – and gradually convinced her to pursue “abandoned boat” paperwork. In the meantime, I said, I’d try and track Charlie down.

So how does this end?

I never found Charlie, but then several weeks ago he magically re-appeared at the boatyard. According to the marina owner, he told her that he wanted a slip, and intended to live aboard the boat there for the summer. The marina owner told Charlie in colorful language where he could go – after he paid her what he owed, of course, and removed the boat from her premises.

The lesson here? Caveat venditor – let the seller beware. Make copies of stuff when selling a boat, and take the registration numbers off the side, asap.

I’m not naïve enough to think this is over. Not by a long shot.

In the meantime, I have a new boat. So far, no drama.

Let’s hope the trend continues.