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Darling on deck: Kristin Ducote on buying boats at auction

Darling on deck: Kristin Ducote on buying boats at auction

When an auction promises a euphoric reward, Kristin Ducote reminds us that barging in can bring bidder’s remorse...

A few stars shone bravely through the haze of city light above the complicated maze of floating docks that packed the Intracoastal Waterway. I took a sip from my sparkling flute and glanced at my watch. He’s late.

The champagne was good at the Feadship Heritage Fleet cocktail party. But when your husband is late to meet you at the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show (FLIBS), he’s probably buying something and I was on high alert. Indeed, Chapman finally appeared with a grin that stretched from ear to ear. Oh no.

“What did you buy?”

“It was a bidding war!” His face glowed. “But I swooped in and got it!”

I took a long sip of champagne. “Got what exactly?”

“You know that huge glass barge that looks like a floating apartment building?” I drained my glass. Yes, I knew it. It was a celebrated structure of steel and soaring glass built as a sales centre for a yacht company with a commercial-grade kitchen below deck. It had been home to some of the greatest FLIBS parties of all time. But what were we going to do with it?

After more champagne, Chapman’s enthusiasm finally reeled me in, sucker that I am, and our imaginations ran wild. We could rent it out for special events. We could turn it into a floating bar in the middle of Biscayne Bay that would make Jimmy Buffett beg to be best friends. We could make it a floating club with annual memberships and weekend festivities. We could lease it out for rap videos with famous artists arriving by jet ski. The options were endless for these 10,000 square feet of entertainment space… weren’t they?

The next day a man tracked us down on the docks and offered us a considerable profit to flip him the contract. But by then we were hooked. We’d found a unicorn. We closed on the barge and alas, before long, reality set in. We don’t know anything about running a restaurant. We’re too busy to manage a members-only club. Do you know the legal red tape involved in renting out a venue for a music festival VIP room?

Within months, we knew it wasn’t a unicorn. It was a tiger, and we had it by the tail. Every time we needed to move the damn thing, it cost thousands of dollars to tow, plus we had to bind specialty insurance before moving an inch. Many marinas wouldn’t allow us in because it blocked the view. And when we did finally rent it out for special events we ran into permit issues and liability red flags. Not to mention the maintenance!

After struggling to make the barge work, we finally sold it to a developer as a sales centre for his waterfront project. In the end we made it out mostly whole, though we had to accept hours on the developer’s Gulfstream jet as partial payment to bridge the gap!

The barge debacle is only one of our many FLIBS experiences, but it’s the one that taught us the most: don’t let your imagination rush you into an anomaly asset. Remember the buy is always easier than the sell. Take the first offer you get. Don’t mistake a tiger for a unicorn. And, ladies, if your husband is late for a boat show cocktail party, go find his butt before it’s too late!

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