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When I was younger, I bought a sailboat. The price was right, I wasn’t married, and I had some good times going out on the lake with it. But it was an old boat when I got it, and after I got married and started a family, it wound up staying out of the water for several seasons. Two summers ago, over a couple beers, a buddy of mine offered to help me do some work on it and get it back in the water. It was a gentleman’s agreement that once we got it fixed up, he could take it out when I wasn’t using it.

I paid for all the materials. Marine varnish, new sails and rigging, refurbished cabin, etc. We spent a lot of time working on it together. Finally, after a lot of elbow grease, it’s ready to be put back in the water. The catch is that my friend just got transferred to North Carolina—which is a drag because I’m going to miss him, and we both worked so hard getting the boat ready. More of a drag is that he’s started hinting that I ought to pay him for the work he did on it, since he won’t be around to use it. I told him he could use it whenever he was back in town, and he just rolled his eyes at me.

I feel bad that he’s leaving, and I feel bad that he feels I should pay him, but the truth is I couldn’t have afforded to pay him to do the work. That’s why it sat unused for years in the first place. We agreed it was a project we’d work on together, and when it was done, he’d have the benefit of using the boat. That seemed pretty generous to me at the time. Now, he’s acting like he’s some contractor I’m stiffing. I don’t want to point out that we had no contract, but we didn’t. How do I handle this? I don’t have the extra money to pay him, and I don’t want to feel guilty taking the boat out with my wife and kids.

Ted Turner

The Omniscient One says: He doesn’t have any right to expect you to change the understanding of your arrangement because of changes in his own life. It’s his choice to move or stay and has nothing to do with you. However, if you feel strongly he should receive something then settle on a healthy number for the sale of the boat and tell him if he can sell it at that price you’ll be happy to share a portion with him, obviously not half since you own the boat. If you sell it you’ll be ahead a few bucks, he gets some cash, and if you still want to sail it’s not that difficult to find someone who will take you out on their boat.

The Practical Cogitator says: Don’t feel sad, Sailor. Here’s what you need to do: Load up your iPod with Jimmy Buffet tunes, a few Bob Marley songs for good measure, and a little Johnny Cash’ll serve you well. Stop by the corner store grab a 12 pack, then go pick up your friend and hit the high seas. Toss a few back, enjoy the water, the sun and master the winds. Before you know it, you’ll be singing and laughing and enjoying each others company. Sail back in safely, tie the boat off and then tie one on with your buddy.

The Straight Skinny: You know what’s great about friends like this leaving town? They leave town. And they hardly ever come back. And that means you’ll be able to push this unpleasantness into the corner of some dark dusty closet and forget about it. That’s what I would do. If you feel compelled to clear the air, the results may be an escalation of his unpleasantness—after all, he wouldn’t be hinting that you should pay him if he didn’t believe he was in the right. Which he isn’t.

So let him go.

Smart Money says: Your friend is a douchebag and a greedy asshole. You didn’t ask him to transfer and he knew the deal. Let him use it when he’s in town. If he continues to be a jerk, burst into tears and tell him you can’t afford it.

If you really feel guilty, ask him how much he thinks he should get and pay him a small sum until the debt is paid off. If he asks to borrow the boat when he’s back in town, charge him for it.

Strictly Classified says: I can see both sides to this story, however I would think that your friend would understand that you have rather limited resources, or you wouldn’t have needed his help. If you can swing it, maybe you could work out some sort of trade arrangement, like helping him move.

The Sales Guy says: He offered to help fix it up...offered being the significant word. If you had asked that would have made a difference and worth some sort of compensation. You feel bad he’s leaving town and that’s genuine, your offer of an open-ended use of the boat on visits home is a very generous gesture as well. Throwing him a going away party will also go a long way.

It’s not like you knew he was leaving, and I guess neither did he, but in the end, his leaving town and the resulting melancholy is not on you.

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