The cost of cruising: Totem’s maintenance list

3 Mar
watching the bay

Totem is just a sample size of one, but it’s not a bad proxy for the maintenance you might expect on a well-found boat after a handful of years of tropical cruising. It’s one thing to talk in theory about how to account for the cost of maintenance while cruising; hopefully this look at what we’re addressing on Totem makes it a little more real.

These are the non-negotiables: the things that have to be addressed near term. They are safety essentials or gear we need to replace, and work that’s all planned for the next few months.

1.   Battery bank. Our batteries have had an excellent service life, running over five and a half years already- can’t complain! They have been on a steady decline, and it will be peace of mind when the replacements arrive.

2.   Liferaft. Our Winslow 6-man raft should have been re-certified a couple of years ago, but (contrary to the Winslow reports and website) there was not a a service center in Australia that would touch it. We’ll be able to get this done in Singapore when we head south in a few months.

3.   EPIRB battery. We have two EPIRBs on board, and one has a battery past expiration. This replacement is also waiting for us in Singapore.

4.   Safety gear check/update. This runs from checking various alarms to making sure all our fire extinguishers are in good order, to new lifejackets for the kids (they seem to keep growing…).

5.   New bimini and weathercloths. Ours are falling apart. They have looked hideous for a couple of years, which frankly, is fine. They’re doing an excellent job of providing sacrificial protection from UV damage, and it shows! Since they need replacing, we’ll look to improve water catchment at the same time.

mainsail repair

6.   Headsail repair. The UV strip on our genoa is currently flapping in the breeze. I call the streamers our Nepalese prayer flags, although they’re not nearly as colorful. We are the classic example that the cobbler’s kids have no shoes, since Jamie is a sailmaker! There’s spare Sunbrella on board, but we don’t have a sewing machine. We’re hoping to borrow or barter for use of one soon, since this is a straightforward job for him to do.

7.   Mainsail cover. Kind of like the bimini, the main cover has done an excellent job of providing sacrificial protectioni. The boat gremlins have made it mysteriously shrink and the sun has destroyed the stitching and zippers. We could repair it (check out the great fix Clark did on his boat!), but are leaning towards working with Jamie’s sailmaking connections for a good value on a stack pack instead.

8.   Replace torn settee covers. They’re so far gone, that the foam is now getting damaged, so these need to be done soon. I’m really disappointed that our fancypants Brisa material (so pretty!) is literally disintegrating after ~5 years… I expected more.

9.   New stanchion bases. Original stanchions on Totem are showing signs of failure, so we’ve been working through replacements. We can get these fabricated locally for a fraction of the cost of off-the-shelf new ones and have complete confidence in the full set.

10.   Replace failing soft sides on dodger. This has to be done every few years, and it’s time again. This time we may get a whole new set of sides instead of just swapping out the glass and reinforcing the stitching, since snap fittings are breaking and the Sunbrella has finally had it.

11.   Water tank. Our stainless water tank is original and weeping from pinhole leaks. We’ve done stopgap fixes, but really need a new tank.

Diagnosing radar troubles

12.   Radar / display. We got a great deal on a second hand radar in Australia, but it lasted less than a year. Despite the face Raymarine still sells our model at retail it’s considered outdated and unsupported (buyer beware!). We’ve done without, but really want one on board before ocean crossing. Jamie’s drooling over the advancements in radar and dreaming about the possibilities… we’ll see.

13.   Engine service. Our Yanmar 4JH3/TE has provided excellent service, and we’d like to keep it that way, so will baby our baby with a full tune up for her 5,000 hour mark.

Changing the engine oil

14.   Main halyard. Our topping lift doubles as a backup halyard, but the primary is vectran that’s probably about a decade old. It’s time to replace it.

15.   Rig inspection. We do this regularly and don’t expect any issues, but it’s got to be done.

16.   Spares. Between filter, oil, and anodes we’ll put about $800 of disposable spares on board before crossing the Indian Ocean.

17.   Rudder/skeg inspection. We participate in an owners group for the Stevens/Hylas 47, Totem’s sisterships, and another owner of a similar vintage hull reported some issues: we’d like to be absolutely certain we don’t have any. It will mean another haulout, but that’s relatively inexpensive in Southeast Asia.

The cost of all of those must-dos? We estimate that it’s somewhere north of US$12,500, but it’s hard to know until they’re done. And really, this is just part of the list: we’ve already knocked off that amount over the last few months, enough to leave the kitty pretty much on fumes at one point! On the other hand, being in Southeast Asia has been massively helpful in keeping costs down. Many of the things we do here are so inexpensive that they don’t even hit the list- like our $15 alternator rebuild, which would be far more costly in other parts of the world.

Yeah… we’re definitely making up for some lower cost years! Still, nothing like the rule of thumb estimates that get thrown around.

Up next:  work we’ve recently completed in this maintenance round, and projects we’d like to do (but aren’t really essentials).

Intrepid do-it-yerselfers find reading this on the Sailfeed website to be personally gratifying.

This article was syndicated from S/V Totem - a family sailing the world


  1. Behan Gifford

    Hi Cameron, we change when we need to vs waiting for a place to dispose, which mean we have to store oil sometimes. In developed countries it is often possible in marinas, in less developed countries someone often wants the waste oil for re-use.

    Hue, that’s the truth!

    Melissa, it probably is no comfort that we have a deep nostalgia for snow.

    Øivind that’s great! We loved Koh Phayam. Will we see Ariel in Croatia in… oh, maybe 2016?

  2. Cameron

    Great to see you guys have one of the vacuum oil changers. I just bought one even though I’m scared to think where I’ll keep it while cruising. Do you guys ever store it full or do you only change oil in places where you can recycle? How easy is it to recycle oil where you are?

  3. Melissa Morgan

    You people in your tank tops and shorts is really irking me today, as I just came in from a 17 degree day out there. March 4th, 17 degrees with no relief in site. sick sick sick to death of the cold!

    Great article!

  4. Oivind Magnussen

    Great article, we have been following you since we spotted you on Koh Phayam in Chrismass. Most of the items on the list are familiar items; we have a 15 years old Oceanis 411 in Kroatia (due to be taken out in a couple of weeks), the signs are pretty much the same.

    Keep posting :-) one day we want to follow in your wake :-)

    Øivind Magnussen
    Norway / S/Y Ariel III

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