It’s a challenge

Trying to figure out everything you need to know while cruising to live, survive, thrive and stay safe (before you need to know it), is a bit of a challenge.

I spent the better part of four years digging around the internet and playing with excel to try to get an idea of what we might need, what it would cost and if we could afford it all. There are a lot of naysayers, opinions and pundits out there. The advice “go now”, seems spot on but perhaps not exactly responsible. What kind of boat do you want or need? Are you going to work or not? Will you cruise year round or not? For me, there’s a balance to everything. I often wish I’d started cruising in my mid-30s when I could afford to take five or ten years away from my career… but then some of the newer technology (electronics, boat construction and communication) would not have existed. Today, it is possible to run a business or work a day job remotely from a cruising boat. Not so much twenty years ago.

Where you want to cruise and how far you want to go is really the first question you want to ask yourself. If you’re thinking about just staying in your local area and not crossing oceans or making significant upwind passages (ie the thorny path or off shore back from Cabo), then you don’t need much of a boat. If you want to cruise the eastern USA in the ICW and maybe pop over to the Bahamas for some of the winter, then you don’t need a “blue water” boat for that. You need a seaworthy boat, one that is not going to be dangerous or sink out from under you… but you don’t need a full keel, double ender to visit Chicken Harbor (aka Georgetown, Bahamas). Your production sailboat will do just fine. If you want to go further (or think you might want to go further), then you’ll want something more. I’m not saying there aren’t any east-coast Hunters or Catalinas in the western Caribbean. They’re there. I’m just not sure that I’d want to take one on a 15 year circumnavigation without some serious refitting. There is a difference between coastal and off shore.

I looked at financial numbers for cruising from a number of sources. These really helped me to get an idea on what the cost of cruising is. These numbers fluctuate based on many variables. Setting aside boat insurance, a boat mortgage and health insurance, there’s food, entertainment, maintenance, fuel, immigration/cruising charges and communications. You can choose to eat rice and peanut butter or steak and veggies. You can choose to maintain your boat on a shoestring budget or not. Can you cruise on $1000/month or $500/month? Maybe… But while there are lots of free things to do, do you go on vacation to just sit around the hotel room? Similarly, it’s free to drive a car until it runs out of gas or needs a repair. For us on a 40′ catamaran, we’re looking at $3000/month as a bare budget and $6000/month as a full-on-party-style budget. This does include health insurance and boat insurance but does not include a boat mortgage. We like cold drinks with ice, hot water, the occasional night running the air conditioner and going to more than one country a season. We will haul out for four months every year when in a hurricane zone and pay someone to grind/paint the bottom. We like to go see things and eat in a nice restaurant occasionally. We like our Netflix and internet access. We have the skills to fix most issues short of an engine failure or a complete re-rigging. Can you cruise on $1000/month? Sure, if you’re only going to do it for a few months or maybe one season. Will it be fun? Maybe not.

I’ve read many, many sailing blogs about the process of buying a boat and getting it outfitted for cruising. The boat buying process: the brokers, the surveyors, escrow and that new (or used) boat smell. Once you have a boat, you need to outfit it with electronics, solar panels, house batteries, a watermaker, blinds, electric heads, bedding, cookware… an endless list… oh, wait… sails and new running rigging… maybe a dinghy and outboard? If you’re buying a used boat, you’ll need to look over all the systems to know where things are and how they work. You’ll want to make some upgrades like dual fuel filters or LED lights (I mean the house and running lights, not underwater LEDs). Maybe the boat comes with a dinghy. If you buy a new boat, you’re looking at buying many things new plus dealing with “new boat gremlins”.

Once you have your boat and you have outfitted her with all the latest gadgets, you might think you’re ready to go. Do you have any of the skills needed for cruising? Let’s assume you know how to sail and have been on a few charters. Let’s assume you’re mechanically inclined and can fix a two-stroke outboard and a diesel inboard. Maybe you did some DIY at home and understand electricity and plumbing. What do you know about charts and navigation, because the chart plotter might die somewhere out on the Bahamas Banks. What do you know about weather and forecasting, because it might be a real bad idea to take that 20nm day sail to an exposed anchorage if there’s a 40kn blow coming. What do you know about emergency medical care and self rescue, because maybe you have a satellite phone, but 911 (or 112) doesn’t work well 1500nm west of the Canaries… or worse, 10 days east of the Marquesas.

Some say cruising is actually boat repair in exotic locations.