Bidders nab boating deals

Crusted over with brine and barnacles, their plastic bodies faded, the 20 or so watercraft stacked on the dock weren't the prettiest boats in Newport Harbor.

But to the small crowd who braved Friday morning's chilly breezes hoping to score a deal at one of Newport Beach's periodic abandoned-boat auctions, the assortment of old kayaks, dinged paddleboards and sagging inflatable boats looked like a potential gold mine.

"There's a lot of junk out here," said Brandon Brewer, 24, who picked up two 9-foot inflatables with outboard motors intact for $480. "But there's some good stuff."

The vessels for sale last week were among the dozens of craft abandoned each year in the harbor. Left at public docks or set adrift in the water, these forsaken watercraft are impounded by the Orange County Sheriff's Department Harbor Patrol.

When the supply of impounded vessels starts to pile up, the city gives maritime bargain hunters the chance to take the unclaimed craft — which the city or county would otherwise pay to destroy — off its hands.

The sales typically bring in a few thousand dollars, which Newport Beach's Harbor Resources Manager Chris Miller said makes a dent in the cost of getting rid of derelict boats that aren't sold.

Before he came to the city in 2003, he said, the auctions were held only sporadically. Since then, though, he makes sure to hold the events two or three times a year.

"I'm like the auctioneer guy," Miller said.

Friday, Miller rounded up the prospective buyers for a quick run-down of the ground rules.

"This is cash only," he said, raising his voice to compete with sea lions barking in the distance. "It means we settle up right here."

He explained that buyers would need to leave their names, phone numbers and addresses, so that if any of the boats ended up unattended back in the harbor, authorities would know who to call.

Then the auction began.

First up was one of the inflatable boats Brewer nabbed.

At $260 — but with a "real expensive motor" attached — the dinghy made for a nice "fixer-upper" to add to his collection, the Rancho Santa Margarita resident said.

The second boat he won appeared to be a bit more of a question mark, he said, because the engine had been painted over.

"A lot of these are like this," Brewer said, adding that a boat he bought at an auction in Long Beach had ended up leaking. "You don't know what you're getting."

Meanwhile, Miller made his way down the list.

"Christmas is coming," he nudged, as bidders battled for stand-up paddleboards.

New boards can sell for upward of $1,000. At the auction, Laguna Beach resident Gigi Scott snagged one for $340.

"It's for my Christmas stocking," she said.

Lifelong Newport resident Chris Welsh won two of the boards, along with a kayak.

He also came away with what was perhaps the morning's biggest steal: a weathered 16-foot sailboat for $40.

Welsh, who also bought a kayak and two stand-up paddleboards for visiting friends to use, said the sailboat will take some work, "but that's got to be the deal."

"That was the one I didn't intend to buy," he said with a chuckle.

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