Sail condition - Dart 15 sails are generally very robust, and can last 10 years or more, whilst remaining reasonably competitive for racing. However, places to check are between the luff rope and the plastic batten pocket for tears or repair patches, wear at the bottom of the bolt rope, scuffing where the sail hits the shrouds, and condition of battens - check for splitting or de-laminating (@£100+/set to replace).
Hulls - Obviously check all along the bottom, particularly in the skeg area for splits, repair damage etc. and the sides / top for stress cracks.
Mast - 1 or 2-piece check for dents / kinks - should be generally straight.
Trampoline - very important piece of kit as it holds the whole boat together and helps prevent the hulls twisting independently of one another - check the stitching and bolt ropes. Also check that the boat has a full cover with it, as boats left out in the elements will be exposed more to sunlight, which ultimately will have an adverse effect on the fabric (@ £300 to replace)
Rudders - Check blades for damage, repairs - these are made in 2 halves and can split down the edge. Lifting the tiller arm allows the rudder to pivot upwards when in shallow water, so check that the mechanism works properly.
Rigging - Check for broken strands / rusting, although you can replace it all for around £35 .
It would also make sense to check our web-site for the nearest club to you, and pay them a visit one weekend. You will find us all most helpful and willing to chat to ensure you find a good deal.
Paul Smith 1961(Beaver S.C) Yorkshire
Don't get too hung up about how old it is, it's the condition that counts. Details on age/value of D15s can be found by looking in the Buy & Sell Guide section, although it gets a bit vague pre 1987. Regarding competitiveness, perhaps the most important thing to check on a 'Spark' is the hull condition. If it has been neglected in the past (e.g skeg damage not repaired), it may well have soaked up some water, which obviously will make it heavier, and therefore slower. If it is possible to weight the hulls, they should not be more than 33Kg each, if kept in good condition. In fact they may be less than this on old 'Sparks' since they did not have the inner storage compartment fitted. Another important part of the boat to check is the trampoline, which if left un-covered for any length of time, exposed to the elements, will start to become brittle, and be more likely to fail. Also check the mast for kinks - it should be generally straight (1-piece or 2-piece). Standing rigging is fairly obvious to check for broken strands, also relatively cheap to replace if suspect, so don't worry too much here. If all is well so far, then providing the sail is in good condition, there is no reason why an old boat should be any less competitive than a newer one, and should certainly be worth £700 minimum - what else can you buy and get so much enjoyment from for that kind of money? The final factor on a boat's performance depends of course on the ability of the helm, so the rest is down to you! So good luck and hope to see you on the water soon.
Paul Smith 1961 (Beaver S.C.)
Sounding out by phone
The Mainsail and the trampoline are expensive to replace so make sure that they are OK. The rudder lock mechanism can give trouble if the boat has been consistently grounded. The skegs get chipped but are relatively easy to fill/repair.
I've always found a quick telephone call with the owner fairly informative. You can usually tell with a few searching questions, such as:
How much has it been used lately?
Have the sails been replaced recently? If so what colour are they (you can guess the vintage of them from this - see our buyers guide)
What is the condition of the sails? Any tears infront of the Batten pockets?
Do the rudders lock up & down OK?
Does it have a jib? (old Sparks came without and it had to be added with a kit)
What colour are the hulls (red fades much worse than blue).
Has it been kept under a cover (if not the trampoline can be damaged by UV light)
If it still sound OK, think positive and go for it. It could be a nice ride out!
I once went from Stevenage to Inverness to buy a Dart 15 after a telephone conversation with the owner.