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Owner auctioning off his yacht online

Talk about putting your money where your mouth is. Sully Sutherlin, president and co-owner of USauctions.com, plans to have his boat, Minx, a 74-foot Awesome luxury catamaran, on display at the Oct. 29-Nov. 2 Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show while he auctions it off online through his Web site and a link to eBay, where the bids are taken.

Sutherlin is auctioning the boat "no reserve." Bidding starts at $1, and beyond that there is no minimum bid for a sale. High bid takes the $1.5 million yacht.

"My own boat is a guinea pig," says Sutherlin, who founded USauctions.com 11 years ago to sell "hurricane-damaged, distressed, salvage and liquidation" vessels for insurers.

He says an auction also can be a good way to loosen up the yacht brokerage market. It moves a boat fast and uses today's market to determine its value.

Minx has been for sale through traditional brokerage channels for a year. Sutherlin says the brokerage market has been sluggish because owners are holding out for too much when boat values are down 40 to 50 percent. Buyers, meanwhile, are looking for rock-bottom deals. No-reserve auctions sell boats now and let market demand drive the selling price.

"We sell items to the highest bidder - period," he says.

Sutherlin says he could wind up unloading Minx for $700,000 or $800,000 in the seven-day auction. "I'm pretty sure I'm going to lose money," he says. How much he doesn't know, but that's the name of the game right now. Values are way down.

Sutherlin says he and his wife bought Minx as their retirement boat while they were negotiating the sale of USauctions.com to investors. But then the economy tanked, the deal fell through, and their hopes of retirement receded. His wife, Nickie Richter, runs USauctions.com, while Sutherlin operates Paradigm Marine, which does vessel salvage and recovery, and heavy marine construction.

Sutherlin's broker, Walter Strzalkowski, owner of Yacht Search and director of Prout International's power cat division, says buyers at auction typically bid on the high side of what a boat is really worth, so owners could do a little better than they might in a straight sale.

"It's a good way of getting the maximum return in the least amount of time," Strzalkowski says. "The interesting thing will be watching where the price goes. He is willing to take a chance."

Sutherlin hopes he'll not only sell Minx at a reasonable price, but entice more brokers and owners to auction big yachts through his Web site.

"Auctions make things happen," says Strzalkowski.

Minx will be on display on the face dock of the Lauderdale show's brokerage section, north of the Las Olas Avenue bridge.

— Jim Flannery

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