At Newport Beach boat auction, bargain hunters don't go overboard

At Newport Beach boat auction, bargain hunters don't go overboard
Richard Mays and Mel Fitch check out a sailboat during an auction of abandoned vessels in Newport Beach on Dec. 5. (Kevin Chang / Daily Pilot)

Standing on a dock at the Harbor Patrol office in Corona del Mar, Harbor Resources Manager Chris Miller pointed to a rundown red sailboat that had been abandoned by its owner.

"Let's start the bidding at $20," he announced to a crowd of about 100 people who had come to shop for bargains at an auction.


The group remained silent. A few eyed the boat and shook their heads, ensuring that it wouldn't again raise its sails and skim the waves. Vessels that aren't sold at the auction are destroyed.

Miller told potential buyers that they shouldn't bid on anything they weren't interested in using. Those boats often end up abandoned again.

"It doesn't do anyone good to have derelict boats" in the harbor, he said.

After a moment of urging bids on the ill-fated sailboat, Miller moved on to the next item, a yellow single-person kayak that appeared to be in good condition. It proved significantly more popular than the sailboat, and the bidding quickly went to $180.

Brandon Brewer, 25, of Dana Point lost out on the kayak but did have the winning bid of $40 on a canoe. He said he's bought other boats, "something to fix up and have fun with."

After the Orange County Sheriff's Department Harbor Patrol impounds a vessel, its owner has several months to claim it. If it isn't claimed, the boat is auctioned, with proceeds going to the city or county, depending on where the boat was found, Miller said. Newport Beach has held the auction three times a year since 2003.

Last week's auction raised about $2,000, which will go toward the cost of disposing of the boats that didn't sell. "The goal is to find these boats a good home with someone who wants to use them," Miller said.

Shoppers picked from among 33 sailboats, kayaks, canoes, whalers, dinghies, Bayliner Capris and inflatable boats.

Mel Fitch of Newport Beach took her daughter, Alix, 23, to the docks to check out the boats. But Alix's father had given her strict instructions not to let her mother come home with anything.

Mel Fitch once went out for sandwiches and arrived home with a Chihuahua puppy, so her husband and daughter weren't taking any chances.

"I'm just making sure my mom doesn't overspend," Alix Fitch said.