Starting to get a clue

Or so I thought - until we met a guy


Regal Window Express

Narrowing down the choices

I spent a lot of time in total if not continuously working to narrow down what might work for us online, across online searches, forum reading as well as blogs, older online reviews and anything I could find - as well as relying heavily on the search options on and similar sites.  I’d pretty much narrowed it down to we’re looking for a cuddy cabin or smaller cruiser at that point.  Buy how big, and what brand(s)?

Price was a consideration, but also my own experience - smaller boats aren’t too tough to manage, and recent-ish rentals of pontoons and jet boats went well enough, but I just wasn’t confident in going ‘big’ or needlessly so.  It seems nearly everyone in the boating world goes through ‘2-foot-itis’ at some point, sometimes often, always wanting to get a ’slightly bigger’ boat, while selling and buying boats can get expensive pretty quickly unless you luck out.  We also have some relatively tight slips at our marina, as well as some spots with shallower depths, so my thinking was as small as we could go while also giving us what we ’need’ from a boat.

I had come to the general conclusion that this amounted to a 24’ cuddy cabin, although it was difficult to find what we were looking for in one - factory HVAC/AC and a non-porta-potty head/toilet with a storage tank, preferably also with a shower.

While I liked the idea of outboard engines, that just isn’t really a thing on a real cabin cruiser, especially older ones, although you can find some center console and other boats that are more like cuddies that fit that bill, which might be an option for some, but I sucked it up and acknowledged I’d be looking at an I/O setup at this point in time. 

Brands - where to even start?

This was  a bit more challenging than expected.  It turns out some bigger brands are not so well thought of, so did a ton of research there, asking friends with boats and a whole lot of forum reading and online searching. For older boats, the real value is likely in the maintenance that’s been done vs specific brands, although I still tend to think a shoddy or cheaply made boat out of the gate is even less likley to hold up when looking at older boats. Even so, some boats had very different layouts, and considering how my wife and I will be using the boat, some very nice boats were pushed out of contention due to layout, options missing, or just unknown-to-us brands and similar reasons.

Finding the boat you’re looking for locally is not always easy

The boat selection locally wasn’t the best, especially once we’d locked in on the general type and specific options we wanted. Online searching I’d initially set to the US and even worldwide to examine boat layouts and options while refining our specific year, models, brands, etc. Note that every boat maker’s model designations can be utterly confusing, but even moreso as you may be learning what each ‘type’ you may not know the official name for…actually is. ;)

I’d found a very nice ChrisCraft 26’ locally, but couldn’t get a response.

There was another 26’ Chris Craft, older, needing a bit of work, a few states away, which led to a real forced thought of - once we find the boat, how do we get to see it, and how do we get it home? I’d now done several fly and drive/rides for a car in GA, a car from NY to TN and a motorcycle in Iowa, but it was kind of unlikely we’d be able to do a ‘fly and boat’ where lakes are involved… and while I’ve driven a car trailer and some medium sized trucks a handful of times, I wasn’t sure I was up doing a cross-country drive of my own, with a truck I don’t yet own, towing a boat and trailer than could easily hit 10K lbs. Transport services are an option, although buying a boat sight unseen - can be a definite risk, especially if paying retail/near-retail prices versus a rare amazing deal of some kind.  

Narrowing down brands and models - and price, yet again

2002_sea_ray_260_sundancer_8_lg web

The searching continued, and where I would up, whether right or wrong, was this - a combination of layout, brand reputation, and options led me towards Crownline, Regal, Monterey, Sea Ray and Chapparel for my theoretical 24’ cruiser.  I really liked the look of the Regal Window Express cruisers, but they were difficult to find in the budget, year range and size combinations I’d started honing in on.

Crownline, for all intents and purposes, seemed to be a solid, nice looking, well laid out boat, without the brand recognition of Sea Ray and Chapparal, and more importantly also had the ‘port side lounger’ layout topside that I think would be best suited for my wife and I when underway.

I had over time still stayed in the ‘around $15-20K, but now maybe up to 30K range, still preferring $20K or close’ range. So yeah, always fun to be so targeted on a very ‘specific’ range, but in reality, while I’d love to be in for $20K or less, the cross-section of models, options and years, as well as general availability, forced me to consider being a bit more flexible and ‘let’s see what we can see.’

Before committing to a specific model(s) to search for, I really wanted to get on board a few, even if the most likely candidates for sale would be a long drive or even plane trip away. We’d gone to both marinas within driving distance, looked at all the boats, and looked for local boats for sale any way we could, from bulletin boards, craigslist, Facebook, Boat Trader searches, etc.

At this point, it was October, and it was becoming a reality on yes, we’re doing this, and we’d been on the local slip waiting list at the local marina. 

I think we just changed our mind...

On one of the trips to ‘go look at other people’s boats,’ there was an older (maybe 2000?) Regal and a very nice Sea Ray Sundancer 260 right next to it, and not much else in slip that was what we were really looking for.

We checked both out best we could without touching someone else’s boat, and went to the next row of slips. Coming back, we ran into the owners of the Sea Ray and starting chatting, me asking all those obvious ‘new boat guy’ questions, but really wanting to know - were they happy, how did they use it, and would they do it again? They offered for us to come check it out, and my wife, being one of the nicest people in existence, had already started to say 'no, we don’t want to inconvenience you’ when I jumped in with ‘My wife is going to say no, but abolutely YES PLEASE!!’ so we got a nice tour.

They actually had just moved up from a 240 Sundancer, which was too small for them in headroom and overall, which is exactly what I was hoping to know as we couldn’t find one locally-ish to step aboard. They sometimes worked from the boat and spent a lot of time on it. I found out the 260 (for 2005 anyways) had more headroom than the 240, which was a concern for me at 6’ tall. The cabin and whole boat were very nice, although I don’t quite get the ‘here’s a sink topside’ layout. Maybe it’s great and I just don’t get it?

So now we’re looking for a 26 foot boat

Interestingly they had said they were considering bumping up in size again, still considering. Their boat was VERY well kept, with generator, so I knew it was out of the range I was willing to do on this time around, anyways, but had learned - ok, a 26’ cruiser it is, and adjusted all of my online searching accordingly. We also got warned the 5.0 in many 260 Sundancers was ‘adequate’ but a bit under-powered. That’s a relative term, of course, but enough people said it on forums and elsewhere, and of course - I kind of like fast when possible, so …. duly noted. :)  There were also the Chapparal and other brands’ models to consider.

Time for some more boat shopping!