Pat Schulte gave his take on the cost of cruising here and Charlie Doane gave his here, but an article in April’s Cruising World by Jimmy Cornell (Are we allowed to refer to Cruising World on a SAIL website?) got me pondering the subject. Spendthrifts!
One guy said: “Before setting out, I’d spent about $85,000 on new equipment and getting the boat in top condition with many spares on board, so that the running expenses wouldn’t be high.”
For $85,000 I could have bought my entire boat, ready to set sail, twice over.
Jimmy Cornell’s article probably tends toward sailors who take part in his cruising rallies, where they pay a fee to sail in flotilla, and I assume have some nice meals and parties with berths waiting at various stops.
A budget cruiser would never do this.
He mentions one cruiser who said he got by on $1000 per month. That’s more like it.
I lived like a king for ten years on $8000 per year, but I didn’t keep records the way the Schultes did. I took delight in only checking my bank account every few months, and just knowing that cash, in the currency of the country I was visiting, would come spewing out of the ATM machine when I needed it. I’d spent years perusing my “portfolio” daily, and saving my pennies, and it was very liberating not to give it a thought while cruising. I know how much money I had when I started, and poof, it was all gone ten years later and I was broke. Money, and life, well wasted.
My spending habits were ingrained early on; a philosophy in practice.
Let me put it this way, people: You get to cruise around paradise on a sailboat, so your new job is being thrifty and resourceful.
Cruisers who talk about all the flights home, all the meals out, and all the incidentals, are maintaining the shore-based habits while cruising. Cruising is about embracing a new lifestyle, one that gives a lot more free time, and this free time can be used, in part, at being resourceful with spending.
One of my influential cruising books is:
…and the short story, The £200 Millionaire, By Weston Martyr, which is reprinted in the appendix, and kind of sums up the whole thrifty cruising ethos.
Another influential book was How to Survive Without a Salary, By Charles Long. He presents a lot of sound financial-philosophical advice that we all should have learned in high school, but one piece I’ve kept close to my heart is this: With any new purchase, procrastinate. If you just run out and buy a new windlass the moment you want it, you’re throwing money away. Just file it in the back of your head that you want a new windlass, then at some point in the next two months a friend will be giving away a windlass, you’ll see a cheap windlass at a garage sale, the guy at the boat show will be selling his windlasses 50% off so he doesn’t have to fly home with them, or somebody dumped a perfectly good windlass and all it needs is a new motor. If you wait two months, a new windlass will come into your life at less than full retail.
Also, it seemed that the cruisers that Jimmy Cornell profiled were older, and age is probably the most important determining factor. When you’re in your twenties its romantic to take off cruising with no money, no medical insurance, no EPRIB, and three changes of clothes. Do this at sixty-five and you’re irresponsible.
A few points:
-The only real cruising expenses are food, fuel, clearing fees, boat maintenance, and medicine. Anything else is fluff, and should be examined carefully.
-Having food prepared by professionals, who bring it to you while you sit in comfort, and then clean up the mess, is a luxury we’ve come to take for granted. Don’t. A meal out, while cruising, should always be special. For the cost of even a cheap meal out, you could prepare several, perhaps many, aboard. Same for cocktails. You’re anchored in paradise: The view from your table can’t get any better.
-You fly home for a visit when you find the super bargain of the century, not when you feel homesick. Sorry Igor, I had to miss your wedding because I was sailing across the Pacific, but Igor, why don’t you and your bride spend your honeymoon with me in Palau. Get it? Why fly home to visit when visitors are fools not to take advantage of meeting their friend in paradise for a sailing holiday. Make them come to you. They will. Then the problem is getting rid of them.
-When you’re in Tahiti you don’t eat bagels and lox, you eat baguettes. You’re in freaking Tahiti! You can’t be happy with fresh baguettes?
-No money can be spent at sea, unless you lose very badly to your shipmates at backgammon.
-Entertainment expenses? These cruisers keep naming entertainment expenses in their budgets. You’re in freaking paradise, you can’t entertain yourself with snorkeling on the reef, hiking to the waterfall, taking the dinghy up the estuary, surfing, beachcombing, reading, or swimming?
-Marinas are the enemy. You’ve entered a lifestyle where your daily fixed costs are zero, and staying in a marina quickly destroys this. If you need to stay in a marina to do repairs or provision, go for it, but get in, get out, and go anchor. Some people get hooked on marinas for the social life or the security. Don’t.
-You have to get used to leaving your boat unattended. Yes, the prospect of a robbery or dragging onto the reef is scary, but the alternative is being chained to your boat, and this isn’t liberating. Get confident with your anchoring, and ask cruising friends to keep and eye on your boat while you’re away.
-Jimmy Cornell’s article talks about all the anchoring expenses and fees in the Med. Most cruisers I know have been avoiding the Med for decades, for just this reason. If it’s your dream to sail the Med (I’ll go someday) know it’s going to be expensive.
-Your time-money balance just flip-flopped. You now have lots of time, and no income, therefore it is now worth spending four hours to repair a $100 pump. Back when you were working, spending four hours to repair something you could replace for $100 would have been foolish.
-Never hire anyone. You can learn how to fix it. You may make mistakes and you may waste lots of time, but in the end you’ll have picked up a new skill, you’ll understand that part of your boat inside and out, you’ll have saved money, and you’ll know you didn’t cut some corner that will cause it to fall apart in the middle of the ocean. Except marine electrics: Always hire me as your marine electrician. You could never figure this stuff out yourself, and I am smart.
-If you hear the cruising permit for Paradise Islands has gone up to $100 per day, then you’re not going to visit Paradise Islands this time around. Paradise Islands will realize the error of their policies or their government will be overthrown in a coup, and the price will drop next time around. The Islands Next to Paradise Islands are pretty good too. Just go there instead.
-You can brew your own beer aboard. After a few batches it’ll taste great. The first batch will not.
During my first year of cruising I met a family in Costa Rica, an Englishman with his American wife and two kids on a Bristol Channel Cutter 28, a small boat that seemed big because of the long bowsprit and boomkin. The boat had no inboard engine, but they had a 5HP British Seagull outboard that could move the boat in a pinch. The four of them lived on a fixed in come of $2500 per year, and they’d bought the boat for $17,000. They had never spent a night in a marina. The clear-in fees to Costa Rica got them a six month cruising permit, so they’d spend exactly six months in Costa Rica. They cruised slowly, always under sail, with no goal in mind. Their boat looked great and they doted on it. They loved the boat so much that they closed all the seacocks every time they left, in case of a plumbing failure. They ate of lot of fish they’d caught, and rice. A great proportion of the world lives happily on fish and rice. They ate coconuts, and made coconut candy aboard. In the tropics, coconuts are free, as are lots of other fruits and nuts, if you’re willing to scout around. They ground their own grains and baked their own bread. Health insurance? Pah. They exercised, ate healthy, and took care of themselves, so they wouldn’t need it. Foolish? Nope, a rational life/money decision that enabled them to lead the lives they wanted. They were delighted with cruising, and said they’d never dreamed they could have it so good…on $2500 a year. That’s only $50 per week, for four people. Impossible? Not if you’re willing to buy rice in 50 pound sacks, fish every day, buy grains in bulk, and be a little creative and resourceful. These people weren’t poor. In fact, they were healthy and vibrant, with smart, healthy kids who could climb coco palms and dive for clams.
Point being, I’ve heard many people say they dream of going cruising, but they can’t afford it. But what they’re really saying is that they want to go cruising with the same lifestyle and security they’ve got at home PLUS all the advantages of cruising. They want to have their home to come back to, grandma’s china waiting for them in storage, worldwide medivac insurance, and total financial security. Cruising means a big change in all that stuff, a change for the better, methinks.