The cost of cruising: the rest of Totem’s maintenance list

6 Mar

The roundup of our current maintenance projects isn’t complete without a look at the work we’ve recently done. Totem is just one case, but a reasonable stand-in to consider the kind of work that a well used cruising boat goes through after five plus years in the tropics. It’s a different perspective than offered by the general rule of thumb, and that’s fine by us: we take good care of our baby.

1. Prop shaft and bearings. Looking good now, but turned out that it had a few kinks.

2. Bottom job. We won’t expect to get five years out of this one like we did the last, but we should be covered until at least South Africa now.

3. Replace through-hulls. Original (32 year old) units replaced… excellent peace of mind.

4. Haul out. Essential for #1, 2, and 3. We spent a week on the shipyard at Satun and had a great experience.

5. New holding tank. Now here’s something that you REALLY don’t want to have fail catastrophically! Better to do it before it’s an absolute necessity. Ours showed signs, so it was replaced.

6. Foredeck sun cover. Not pretty, but great for keeping cool. Covering the foredeck has made a big difference in comfort in the tropics, lowering temps for the kids’ cabins at the forward end of Totem. Unfortunately it cost me the one spot on deck that was big enough for a yoga mat. Oh well, small sacrifices!

7. Service alternator. Aside from being a routine job, we’ve had to rely on our engine for power many times in the last few months, as the local weather around the equator has been less cooperative than you’d think (cloud cover from squally days, and generally not enough wind to make the turbine very productive)- so having the alternator in good working order is especially important

8. New dinghy. Our Avon dinghy was 19 years old. We really can’t ask for more than that! The hypalon became so thin that it was popping new leaks daily. We got a good price on a slightly smaller aluminum bottom hypalon dink in Phuket, and it joins the fleet at left of mother ship, kayak, and… I think that’s a fishing cooler converted into an sailing outrigger. Meanwhile, we sold our never-used spare dinghy to defray the cost. Better yet, because the hull of our old dinghy still had plenty of integrity, the company we bought our dinghy from took it to refurbish it and give it to a local sailing school that had lost their tender in a recent storm. Win/win/win!

Coupled with the work we plan to do in the coming months, this puts our maintenance costs at somewhere over $25,000. It sounds daunting to budget cruisers like us, but compared to the “rule of thumb,” we’re feeling pretty good about it.


  1. Behan Gifford

    We had a poorly made plastic tank, probably 6 mil polyethylene. The main issue is the tank would dramatically over-flex: either “implode” (pressure sucked out) or bloat like a whale (pressurized). With the relatively thin material and extreme flexing, it was a disaster waiting to happen. There were other problems: the vent was undersized (1/2″) and clogged often. It was undersized for the boat (about 15 gallons). All other fittings were hidden at the bottom, so any issue meant putting on waders- yuck. Very happy to have it replaced.

  2. Jonathan Caldwell

    Pray, Behan, do tell….what are “the signs” of a holding tank failing? Material: alum, glass, plastic?

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