11 March 2018

Classic Boat Magazine and The Yachting Year Annual, feature

Insuring the past – What is an old yacht worth?

Simon Winter Marine was asked his views regarding what old yachts are worth. A two page article featuring in both Classic Yacht Magazine and The Yachting Year (Sailors Annual 2018), written by Rob Peake.

Simon Winter tells a good story about hanging head first over the windward side of a fishing smack, banging along in a head sea, trying to squirt ‘gunk’ into a tiny seam in the hull that was threatening to sink the boat on the other tack. “We made it home, let’s put it that way,” he recalls with a laugh. 

Tales of derring-do on working boats don’t quite fit with the stereotypical image of an insurance broker, but Winter was toddling around on smacks before he can remember and his family have owned working boats all his life – the smacks Rosa & Ada (1908), Unity of Lynn (1906 and on the National Register of Historic Vessels) and Maria (1886) and Bristol Channel pilot cutters Cornubia (1911) and Mascotte (1904 and also on the National Register of Historic Vessels). 

His father left school to work on the Thames sailing barges in the last days of trading under sail, and ended up becoming chairman of Medway Ports. Winter Jnr went to the highly academic Canterbury school, before university and a stint in the City as an investment banker. He was running the yacht account for an insurance broker, thinking he’d found the best way of combining a passion with work (‘and to date I haven’t tired of it – that’s the danger!’), when family reasons persuaded him to move south west in 2006. He set up as Simon Winter Marine, specialising in classic boats (75% of his business is classic), and today insures most of the working boat fleet along with many classic yachts around the world, from 21ft canoe yawls to 100ft Fifes. 

His office in Seaton, Devon, is perhaps more working boat than Edwardian yacht, and Winter himself is agreeably unshowy, exuding the energy and quick-thinking of the City broker, coupled with a sleeves-rolled-up approach to things that is typical of many sailors. The company’s insurance policies, while standard in many respects, sometimes reflect his no-nonsense approach. 

“I don’t believe in discounts for qualifications,” he says. “You find people with a certificate in their hands who are calculating whether or not to anchor in exactly 3.62m of water. A lead line and some common sense will tell you where you can anchor, not a one-week course.” 

A large part of his job involves putting a value on yachts that are often irreplaceable objects. “The adage is that the boat is only worth what someone is prepared to pay for it,” he says. “As far as insurances are concerned, we would always prefer to insure on the market value, not replacement or new build value. Market value can be difficult. We work closely with surveyors and owners and yacht brokers on this. We’ve never had one where we haven’t been able to reach some accommodation between parties.

“Obviously you can’t replace a lot of these boats. They’re unique. But they still do have a value.” Can you ever add on the restoration cost to a boat’s value? “Possibly,” he says, “but it’s unusual. The rebuild would have had to have been done recently.” 

Winter is happy enough to talk insurance, but really he wants to talk boats, and sitting in front of a massive photo of the 2012 St Mawes Pilot Cutter Review on his office wall, he launches into ‘what is a classic boat’. 

Classic Boat Yachting Year Old Boat Value







“If it looks right, it probably is right,” he says, before adding: “I think that’s actually a Tommi Nielsen quote! There’s a long development of what most people would call a classic, boats like Mariquita or Kelpie, and then there is where we are today. A Twister, for example, or a Vertue and all those pocket cruisers – are they classics? I would describe them as design classics, but not classic yachts. 

“If you row away from your boat and think ‘that’s beautiful’, then you have a classic. On a smack, the look of them, at anchor particularly, they’re just amazing.” Refreshingly, Winter is not short of an opinion and in a lively conversation about yachts old and new – amid which he laughs at himself as a ‘ruddy-faced insurance broker’ – he shares thoughts garnered through first-hand experience of the classic scene big and small. 

“It’s day in, day out what we do, but you can always learn,” he says. “We have built up a huge network of experts around the world to help assess claims and support customers. “We describe ourselves as specialist, which by definition means that we do understand the market. We understand how the boats are constructed, how they should be maintained and run, the type of sailing they are doing and from a practical background, the areas where they are sailing and mooring. “Generally all yacht policies will cover and exclude the same things, but as far as the classic yacht policy is concerned, it’s as much to do with the broker you’re dealing with, plus the support that we have from underwriters in settling claims. 

“At the information-gathering stage, pre-inception of the policy, we’re asking all the relevant questions, which if you’re not immersed in this work you may not consider. That means there’s less chance of a claim potentially being declined.” He says there is no common claim among wooden boat owners, although the nature of the material means ‘gradual deterioration’ is seen by insurers as a higher risk than on plastic or steel boats. 

“If a claim is made, a specialist broker will understand the nature of the issue and can assist with managing repairs, locating suitable surveyors, yards, shipwrights and can have a sensible discussion on the type of repair, or how the repair is carried out. These are all three or four way discussions between the owner, surveyor, insurance broker and shipyard.” 

As a sailor himself, he is more than aware that having to make a call to the insurance broker is precisely what every client wants to avoid. “A five-yearly survey means problems can be picked up early,” he says, “and meanwhile, even though in the majority of cases it is like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs, we continue to remind clients of the importance of checking boats regularly, ensuring moorings are adequate and in good condition, lines doubled if necessary. The basic rules of seamanship never change.” 

Winter is a family man with children at home aged from five to 16. He relishes the Devon life and his eight-minute commute to work by bicycle, but he’s less than complimentary about Lyme Bay as his home waters. “I used to sail in the Bristol Channel, which could be called ‘interesting’, but at least there you can sail a pilot cutter!”



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