A floating cottage on the lake
Sailing provides a great getaway opportunity, and can be remarkably inexpensive

Don Lulham has a very stressful job. As president of Canadian Counter Measures Electronics (CCME) Inc., his clients, governments and major corporations, rely on his expertise to ensure their communications are not being bugged. As if that wasn't enough, he also markets a line of cable fault detectors.

Ironically Lulham rarely shows signs of stress, a phenomenon he attributes to Wolfie, his 26-foot Grampian sailboat, which Lulham docks at the Lord Reading Yacht Club in Beaconsfield.

Just the phrase "yacht club," conjures the image of millionaires sipping martinis in an exclusive setting. But on closer inspection the sailing lifestyle can be a remarkably inexpensive hobby with many attractions.

"There's nothing like being out in the water," Lulham said. "I can sit on my porch and in about five minutes I get bored. But on the lake it's so peaceful, I could spend all day there.

Just about every free night and weekend of Canada's short sailing season, Lulham can be found navigating the narrow channels of Lac Saint-Louis, or anchored at "Party Bay," a secluded area amidst the lake's small islands where boaters in-the-know converge to schmooze and trade tales.

Sailors form a unique sub-culture among Canada's boaters said Cy Kertzer, the commodore at the Lord Reading. "They're a bunch of idiots," he joked. Kertzer is a powerboat owner who likes to highlight the contrast between the two groups. "(Sailors) tend to be doctors, engineers, architects and educated types. Most of them wouldn't even consider owning a powerboat."

Powerboat owners tend prefer to relax, rather than spend a lot of time learning how to operate their craft.

Sailors claim that using the wind to power their vessels puts them at one with nature. It's a feeling they say is hard to describe to non-participants. Sailboats' slow speeds also provide an increased feeling of distance from the pressures of daily life.

Sailing has a well-deserved reputation as a sport for the affluent, and several of the craft docked at the Lord Reading Yacht Club, have market values in the $200,000 to $400,000 range. That doesn't include membership fees, docking levies and maintenance and other ancillary costs.

But according to Ken Wagner, president of Ken Wagner Yacht Consultants, getting started in sailing can be much cheaper than that. For one, not all sailors are yacht club members. Some eschew the social aspects of sailing and save money by storing their boats in their back yards, and docking them at public moorings during the sailing season.

Wagner who - depending on the season -- advertises between 40 and 100 sailboats on his Web-site, is one of the city's most active used boat brokers. Most of Wagner's sales are made during the off season, which he says is probably the best time to buy.

Sailors have an easier time of parting with their boats when they can't use them, and thus the number of listing shoots up during late fall and winter months. But demand has been picking up in recent years, and certain categories of boats are getting harder to find used.

Wagner regularly lists weekend cruisers, which sit and sleep between two and four people, in the $6,000 to $8,000 range. And day-sailing craft such as Lasers, which are small boats with no amenities -- can be found even cheaper.

"People think you have to be a gazillionaire to own a weekend cruiser," Wagner said. "That's just not the case."

Canadian sailboat sales saw a huge surge during the mid-1980s. But after the 1991 recession, several domestic manufacturers such as C&C Yachts ceased production. Today the vast majority of boats sold are second-hand, imported or custom-made.

However according to Sandy Currie, president of the Canadian Marine Manufacturers Association, demand has been picking up in recent years. But he can't say by how much. "The industry doesn't know that much about itself," Currie said. "But by talking to our members there is a sense there sales are increasing."

Canadian boating statistics are hard to come by, because only vessels with motors larger than 9.9 horsepower are subject to compulsory registration.

According to Currie, demand for sailboats has shifted as baby-boomers -- a big source of Canadian boat demand - get older. Two decades ago, speed and performance oriented craft were popular. But today customers are demanding expensive comfort oriented features such as large water tanks, cushy seating, easy-to-use instrumentation and occasionally even air-conditioning.

David Caringi, publisher of Canadian Yachting magazine confirms that there has been a renewed interest in the sport during the last three or four years. Like everyone we talked to, he can't cite specific boat demand statistics. But Canadian Yachting readership, pages-printed and ad sales - all bellwethers of industry interest - are up by about 50 per cent during the last five years.

Caringi also confirms the trend to bigger more luxury oriented craft, which purists are calling "floating Winnebagos." "Design trends in newer boats have gone from slicker to easier-to-handle craft with more amenities," Caringi said. "You could call them floating cottages on the lake."

According to Wagner, sailboats retain their value extremely well. "If I sell you a $100,000 boat today, there's a good change that in three or four years you could re-sell it and get you money back, give or take five per cent," Wagner said. "These boats are made of fiberglass, and if they get torn they can be patched up almost indefinitely."

Wagner also cites lower interest rates as reducing boat costs. "The bank's aren't paying you anything for your money," Wagner said. "You may as well have it sitting in a dock."

Lulham concurs. "I can't think of any weekend getaway that is cheaper than sailing, not a cottage, not anything," Lulham said. "And there is certainly nothing that is more exciting."


Photo caption: According to Don Lulham, shown here with his boat at the Lord Reading Yacht Club, sailing can be a great way to forget about the stresses of work.


Sidebar: Estimated cost of owning a small weekend cruiser that seats and sleeps two according to Lulham

o A used 22' sailboat with a keel, starts at about $6,000
o Mooring fees in the Montreal area run about $400 per season
o Winter storage fees are approximately $250-$450
o Annual maintenance and overhaul $200-300
o New sails and other capital equipment replacement should cost about $250 per year
o If you join a yacht club fees range from $1500 to $2000 for the year for a smaller craft (between 22' and 26"). This includes dock space, storage, launch and haul plus membership.






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