Pick up this month’s edition of the ad circular Hawaii Boats & Yachts Magazine and you’ll see it on the cover: a racing yacht sailing in front of Waikiki, its big blue and red spinnaker full of wind.

The 30-foot High Tension is on sale by its owner for $38,500. Chances are, it won’t be for long.

“When a good boat comes on the market, it sells immediately,” says Todd Duff, a longtime boat surveyor who says the yacht market is the hottest he’s seen it since the 1970s. “It’s the free market economy: supply and demand.”

When Chris Frendreis found his yacht, Blown Away, for sale in Honolulu, he says he knew he had to act fast to buy it. “There aren’t many boats in Hawaii that are this clean that haven’t been picked over,” he says. Stewart Yerton/Civil Beat/2021

Sean Doyle, managing broker of Ala Wai Yachts in Honolulu, was in Tahiti last week inspecting a 45-foot catamaran with plans to buy it and sail it back to Honolulu.

“Guys are having to buy what’s available, not what they want,” Doyle said. “Every boat builder in the world now has a five-year waitlist.”

These days, the typical boat listed for sale by owner gets snatched up in a month or two, said Jocelyn Palafox, publishing director of Hawaii Boats & Yachts.

In the past, she says, vessels could languish unsold for months.

“I had one that was in the magazine for over a year,” she said.

Duff, Doyle and Palafox’s comments reflect a consensus: it’s a seller’s market for yachts in Hawaii and elsewhere. And as they explain it, the reasons are firmly anchored in the culture and economy of the Covid-19 pandemic.

One of the world’s largest yachting firms also said in April that industry reports suggest the market is the strongest it has been in four years.

IYC said the brokerage market saw an increase of 45% in the first quarter of 2021.

“Buoyed by a wave of first-time buyers enlightened by the benefits of yacht ownership, brokerage has also seen existing owners upsizing their yachts, as well as acquiring multiple boats in various locations around the world,” it said in a press release.

Sailors “Know How To Get Away”

Some of the reasons are mundane, like the same low interest rates and bull stock market that are helping drive housing sales.

“It works really similarly to real estate,” says Doyle.

There’s also a psychological factor.

“I’ve seen all sorts of news stories and Facebook posts of really discontented and unhappy, maybe even scared people out there that want to extricate themselves from the madness, but just don’t know how or where to go about doing it,” Duff wrote in May 2020 in a guest column for the magazine Cruising World.

“And then there are the sailors,” he continued. “These people do know how to get away, and most have a pretty good idea of where to go and how to go about it.”

It’s the same dynamic that’s been driving record sales of recreational vehicles, Doyle says. Except the yachts — he calls them “escape pods” – float. And instead of national parks, they go to beautiful bays and harbors.

And it’s not just rich people jumping on board, says Duff, the author of “Bargain Boats and Budget Cruising: The Fine Art of Selecting a Great Boat, Outfitting It, Living Aboard and Cruising It on a Minimal Budget,” which was published in August.

Some people who left the workforce at the height of the pandemic are opting to sell their house, buy a boat and take to the open seas, Duff says. That’s on top of the standard cohort of retirees and younger people seeking adventure.

High Tension Yacht
Amid a sellers’ market, Chris Frendreis is offloading his 30-foot racing yacht, the High Tension. Courtesy: Chris Frendreis

And all of this is driving sales.

“You could find good deals in the past,” Doyle said. “You can’t find good deals anymore.”

Duff, who last week was in Virginia preparing a newly bought boat to sail to the Caribbean, recalls putting a boat up for sale in San Diego in July 2020.

“The first guy who came to look at it paid the asking price, no questions asked,” he said.

All of this is hardly news to Chris Frendreis, owner of the High Tension. In fact, Frendreis says, good yachts are in such demand that he jumped at the chance to buy the 39-foot cruising yacht when it came on the market in Honolulu for a good price in July.

Although the High Tension is a specialized yacht designed for racing, he hopes it won’t stay on the market for long amid the high demand.

“I don’t know if it’s as hot as the housing market,” he says. “But it is a sellers’ market.”

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