AS I LOOK THROUGH the advertisements in Craigslist I am struck by how many boats for sale are described as “perfect,” in “turnkey condition,” ready to step into and be sailed away into the glorious sunset.
It makes me want to ask you a personal question: When you sell a boat, do you confess all its sins? Do you tell the prospective buyer about the leaks, the engine problems, the weather helm, the soft spots on the foredeck?
Do you misremember when the rigging was last replaced? When the bottom was last anti-fouled? Do you have a story carefully made up about why you want to sell this boat?
What I’m really asking is whether you should divulge to a prospective buyer everything you know about your boat. Well now, I beg you to humor me for a moment. If you’re a man, try to imagine it’s your wife or girl friend you’re trying to sell. That’s not hard to imagine. They have a lot in common.
Let’s be honest. Lovers have secrets. Some things are private, intimate, known only to the two of you. Such things should surely stay secret. There is, after all a code of honor even among the meanest thieves.
And there is a line when you are selling a boat, a line that separates not only truth from lies, but also separates what a buyer needs to know from what he really can’t reasonably expect to know if he has any sense in his head at all.
You alone will know where that line is. Your conscience, of lack of it, will be your guide. Some of us have a more developed conscience than others, of course. But that’s for the buyer to judge. Nobody said buying a boat was easy.
Personally, when I’m buying a boat, I never ask if she leaks. I have never owned a boat that didn’t leak somewhere at some time. I don’t want to hear the seller telling me she never leaks. I want to be able believe with all my heart what he said about the engine being brand-new and the sails being replaced only last year.
In the end, I guess the boat seller’s creed could be summed up reasonably this way: Don’t ever tell an outright lie. But tell the whole truth only when sorely pressed.
Advertising is the greatest art form of the 20th century.
— Marshall McLuan, Advertising Age, 3 Sep 76
A man moves into a new apartment and invites a few friends around for a housewarming drink. One of his friends notices an old hammer hanging on the wall. "What's that dirty old hammer doing there?" he asks.
"Oh, that's not a hammer, it's a talking clock. Look, I'll show you."
He picks up the hammer and starts banging it against the wall.
A voice comes from next door, shouting: "Fer chrissake keep it down in there, it's half-past goddam eleven!"
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)