Random thoughts (on buying a Pandora)

Not without reason, is the Pandora a popular and sort-after boat in the second-hand market. However, reservations have been voiced about their physical condition given that the boat could well be 20-30 years old.
The main areas of doubt are perhaps the less visual and obvious than ones of, design and build qualities, stress and age problems, future maintenance costs etc. However, perhaps my own and my Pandora sailing friends experiences could help to remove or mitigate such concerns.

Design and Build Quality

There is no doubt that the late E.G. Van de Stadt the Dutch-Designer of the Pandora was both an artist and a boat-builder/designer who understood glass-fibre and used it as it was intended to be used. The design and build quality have stood the test of time and a well maintained boat today is more than a match for its modern successors never mind its contemporaries. This was certainly the opinion of the ”Practical Boat Owner”, which in a used boat test in December 2000 of a 30-year-old Mark 1 stated:

After all, we were sailing a real classic, a well-built, good-looking little cruiser with a first -class pedigree that contrasts sharply with many of the unattractive, poorly-designed and cheaply built offerings from the ’60′s and ’70′s.

Price/Repair Risk Factor

A POA member is currently negotiating to buy a 28-year-old Pandora including full cruising inventories, electronics, modern 10hp outboard-motor and a four-wheeled braked trailer and cradle in good condition all for around £3,000. Now this price seems to me to be tremendous value for money and has the effect of excessively discounting the cost of any future major repairs and restoration.

Hull Condition

Water Absorption

The big worry with old glass-fibre hulls is of course water absorption and in the more serious of cases, Osmosis. Now I am no expert on this subject, but those who have considerable experience in glass-fibre advise me that water absorption is usually only a serious problem, if your boat is left in the water all the year round, and thus never has a chance to dry-out. My own boat (which is only in the water approximately five to six months of the year) was surveyed for insurance purposes on its 20th Anniversary. The findings regarding water absorption was that, even though the moisture content readings of the hull and topsides were regarded as high, no treatment was required to be undertaken because the problem was considered to be at an early stage and no Osmosis blisters were present. Nevertheless, in view of the surveyor’s report we had the topsides re-sprayed with a cellulose car-paint and with great care, completely stripped off all the old antifouling and re-primed, antifouled etc. If you plan to keep your boat in the water all-year, then you should consider having a proper yacht survey before you buy, with the hull’s humidity tested with a hygrometer. The report could well be useful latter, as you may well find that you need a survey for insurance purposes. Keen (and rich?) Squib sailors at our club have their boats brought ashore between each race series, just to avoid their hulls becoming heavier through water-absorption.


Has been described as “Fibreglass Measles” and the blisters looks like this:


For the blister to be of an osmotic nature, it must have a round shape be located under the gel-coat or similar surface and contain an oily liquid with an acetic smell. I must admit I have never seen a Pandora with this complaint and hope I never do, but I think it is important to bring the matter up as I have heard a lot of wild and erroneous talk about Osmosis and old boats. It must be emphasised that water absorption by itself is not enough for Osmosis to occur, this happens only when water reacts with a water-soluble substance forming an oily liquid (polyvinyl acetate) under the blister. For a very full and superbly authoritative account of Osmosis from which a lot of the above comments have been drawn, I would refer you to an article entitled “BEWARE OF BLISTERS” by Gino Ciriaci appearing in Nautica Magazine. One final point regarding Osmosis, be very careful if the boat you wish to buy has been out of the water for a considerable time, maybe even years. For during this drying-out time the blisters will have become smothered and the antifouling uneven, thus hiding the telltale swellings and other defects.

Keel Bolts and their Housing

Keel bolts are loved by Marine Surveyors and are a “pain in the bum” to the rest of us. We worry that the keel/s will drop-off while we are sailing, and we worry about the proper time to replacing them and the horrific cost involved therein. Of course the big snag is you cannot see what’s going on, to get your replacement-timing right. In a recent boating newsgroup I noticed the following posting;

Recently I read in PBO or Yachting Monthly that there is no recorded case of a cruising yacht losing a keel and sinking.

I had (in the year 2,000) the twin keels of my Centaur lowered, so that the keel bolts could be inspected, the bolts were still shiny bright S/S just like the day they were fitted in 1973. The man in the yard said, “I told you so”

I must admit that I belong to the school that thinks “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”, but with some caveats:

  • If the boat is leaking through the keel joint bedding, this is an obvious danger signal and if you have got to renew the bedding you should replace the bolts at the same-time.
  • If the Keel-bolts heads are rusting badly (access through the cabin-sole) then the longer you leave the repair the more difficult it will be to remove them. Incidentally, I have seen that Denso Paste (whatever that is?) is recommended as a good rust-preventative for the bolt-heads.
  • When the boat is suspended on its hoist/crane prior to launch/retrieval, check the joint bedding for separation and for any sideways play in the keel.

On the previous mentioned survey on my boat, it was recommended that in the next five years (25 years total) it would be prudent to drop the keel and renew bolts/bedding etc. I have done nothing yet but I am keeping a very careful watch on the situation!


The importance of proper maintenance of this item has already been stressed in other articles “Random Racing Thoughts” and “Red Hot Chocolate’s Meltdown”. In both cases the subsequent repairs were extremely expensive. I would therefore advise any new Pandora owner if he has any doubts whatsoever about the condition of his boat’s rudder and its skeg, pintles etc. to get a competent boatyard to examine and report.Its very much a case of “a stitch in time saves nine” situation.

Racing Buying

Whilst worrying about the condition of your prospective boat purchase hull etc. it is very easy to forget about the condition of its sails. If the sails are old and misshapen, and they nearly always are! Then a complete new suit of sails from a good sailmaker is going to cost you as much or more than the boat! So pay a lot of attention to the sails, their age, maker, shape, condition and the racing success of the seller. A trial-sail would answer a lot of questions. My idea of a good racing-buy, a fin-keeled 700 with a complete, one-year-old set of North sails for £4,000.


In case this list of possible faults is off-putting to any potential purchaser, lets put the record straight. According to the original maker’s estimates, to buy a new Pandora today would cost at least £18,000. It has been noted early on in this article of the exceedingly poor price that second-hand Pandora’s command today in the market place. This poor market valuation has had the result of making the Price/Repair Risk Factor of buying a Pandora extremely attractive!
Have you seen the price of new dinghies these days?
© Michael Colclough

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