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retirement on a sailboat.
Possible Problems / Issues / Challenges section
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Zaphod Beeblebrox: "There's a whole new life stretching out ahead of you".
Marvin: "Oh, not another one".
- Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
- Get out of "spending whole life in an office and an apartment" rut.
- Have fun.
- Explore world.
- Get out of rat-race.
- Learn new skills.
- Meet people.
- Live life a new way.
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed with
the things you didn't do than by the things you did ..."
- Mark Twain
"It is part of the nature of man to start with romance and build to a reality."
- Ray Bradbury
From Tony Bullard on the SailNet liveaboard-list:
Often a lot of people new to the idea of cruising ask questions that really boil down to what is
the "right" way to cruise.
I think it is very important to understand there is no 'right' way, there are just lots of
different ways. ... For each of us the right way will be
different and change over time.
The really important thing is to get started, try some form of cruising that is right for the
moment and go from there. I see and talk to so many people, now in their mid-70's, who kept waiting
for the perfect right moment to go cruising. Guess what? They never made it before their health
Sandy and I are just 9 weeks away from full-time cruising. It's incredible just how many things try
to get in the way of our departure date. Our land friends, realizing we really are about to
leave, are putting additional pressure on us to stay. Things KEEP BREAKING on the boat. But,
except for a hurricane in the gulf we will depart over the Thanksgiving Weekend, even if we have to have
someone tow us out into Tampa Bay.
Even if everything gets screwed up and we become destitute and homeless, at least we tried it.
Much better than never trying at all.
Don't get too intimidated by the amount of information on this site
and the number of things to know about cruising. You don't have to know it
all right away, many people cruise successfully without knowing much of it,
it will become clearer as you get your hands on the equipment, and there
are books and fellow cruisers and boatyards to help with it.
Summarized from article by Tom Neale in 7/2004 issue of BoatU.S. magazine:
Tips for living aboard:
- Live aboard for the right reasons. It won't be carefree. Cruising close to home can
be more fun than long-distance cruising.
- Be realistic. Don't feel you have to circumnavigate or go to the Tropics. Do what you can afford.
- Be comfortable. No need to do without refrigeration and other comforts.
- Extended cruising is different from weekend cruising. Extended cruising takes
a different boat, more skills, different mindset.
- You need a serious dinghy.
- Having tools, spares and skills to fix things is critical:
will make you safer, save money, give you freedom.
- Weather skills are important.
- Anchoring is a critical skill. Get good ground tackle.
- Practice cruising near home before taking off on a big cruise.
- Don't try to run on a schedule.
- Figure out how to handle mail.
- Figure out how to handle communications.
- When you're ready, go. Don't wait for everything to be perfect; it never will be.
- If you can't afford to retire, don't. There are lots of ways to cruise other than long-distance full-time.
Various types of boating:
- Day-sailing (go out for 4 or 8 hours of boating on a weekend day).
Good: doesn't require fancy equipment; can take friends out often; can
still live in nice house and have normal job.
Bad: can't get to really interesting places.
Good: can hone skills; enjoy competition; enjoy teamwork.
Bad: expensive; specialized; need to find races; probably need crew.
- Living aboard (using the boat as a house, in a marina or at anchor).
Good: can have normal job; doesn't require fancy equipment.
Bad: can't go to really interesting places; engine may decay from disuse;
some marinas are getting bought out by developers;
may have bad neighbors.
- Coastal cruising.
Good: lots of interesting places to go in USA; still
have access to nice facilities (stores, internet, medical, etc);
close to safe harbors; not as much equipment needed
as for longer-range cruising.
Bad: can't go to really interesting foreign places;
hard to have a steady, normal job.
- Long-range cruising (for example, Caribbean).
Good: could spend a lifetime seeing the Caribbean.
Bad: need good boat and skills; need language skills and vaccinations;
can't have any job because foreign countries won't
give work permit; will be separated from friends and family;
medium level of danger (from weather, accidents, crime, disease).
- Ocean passagemaking.
Good: can go anywhere in the world.
Bad: need top-notch equipment and skills; highest levels of
separation and danger.
You can start with one type of boating and migrate to others,
as you work out your lifestyle. I started with coastal cruising,
and after 3 years I started some long-range cruising.
- Learn tons of stuff about boating (read, take classes, sail small boats).
- Quit job.
- Give up apartment.
- Go to Florida.
- Buy big sailboat.
- Live on it and sail forever (?).
I considered moving to Florida and getting an apartment
and job there, while looking for a boat. But a casual
search didn't show many good computer programming jobs in Florida.
My girlfriend wanted to find a waterfront house in Florida that
had a sailboat-capable dock, so she could have a house and I
could have a boat. Houses like that are very expensive.
And we would have ended up with two big things to maintain.
As soon as you even start thinking about living on a boat,
start simplifying your life:
- Sell house and get into an apartment.
- Sell extra vehicles and equipment and furniture.
- Reduce number of credit cards, bank accounts, etc.
Reduce the number of bills you have to pay every month.
Reduce the amount of paper mail you get; pay bills online.
- Avoid accumulating new things, especially things that
will be hard or costly to get rid of later (pets, new cars).
From Tom Gessler:
... No burning of bridges, because you will probably eventually return as all of us do.
You must have something to come back to.
Don't buy a big boat before you're ready to live on it. Big boats
take a lot of time and attention. You don't want to have the boat
sitting decaying and running up bills in a marina or boatyard in Florida while you're back in Utah trying to
sell a house or something.
"If everything's under control, you're going too slow."
- Mario Andretti
My plan (and I kept to it):
- 1999 - 2000: Take classes, build up sailing experience,
read books, do research, ask questions.
- Start of 2001: Look for sailboat to buy in Florida.
- 3/2001: Sell my junk, quit job,
move from CA to FL, buy sailboat.
- 2001: Coastal cruising and living aboard in Florida Keys.
- 2002-2004: Cruising in Bahamas, Florida, Chesapeake, inland rivers.
- 2005-2014: Cruising in Bahamas and then Caribbean.
- 2015: I've had enough; I want to sell the boat.
S.V. Date's "An Atlantic Odyssey"
Very good book: "The Cruising Life" by Jim Trefethen
(on Amazon - paid link).
Different types of cruisers, why people should/shouldn't cruise,
what kind of boat to get, etc.
Book worth reading (just okay, not terrific): "Managing Your Escape" by Katy Burke
(on Amazon - paid link).
Covers making the decision, career, budgets, kids, money, mail, insurance.
But a bit superficial and incomplete, and definitely a bit outdated.
From David Guenther on Cruising World message board:
Make sure you have a good sense of the reality before you do anything major.
I had an acquaintance who had the dream. He spent three years building a boat from scratch.
He was an engineer and had done a marvelous job. With one year left until completion,
he figured it was time to try the cruising lifestyle -- and discovered he didn't like it.
He never finished his boat; just sold it for what he could get.
On the other hand, selling everything and going is the ultimate commitment.
You will give it your all because you have nothing to go back to.
There is really no truer test.
What you will probably miss most are your friends, family, and other people in your life.
But modern technology makes it easier to stay in touch and you will
meet many new friends along the way.
Although some people maintain a house/condo to return to upon occasion, that didn't work for me.
I had rented out my house and it was trashed by the tenants.
I ended up worse off financially than if I had just sold it and the problems of dealing with
it both distracted me and undermined my enjoyment of the cruise.
Presumably, my experience was atypical. But, if you go this route, it highlights the
need for a good rental agent/caretaker while you are away. And remember, if you keep
a house/condo that is rented out, you will not be able to return to it any time you want.
That means you may need to rent shore-based accommodations anyway, which is the same
situation you would be in if you had sold your house.
Had I to do it over again (and I plan to), my current thinking is to sell everything
but invest a portion of the proceeds. The principal amount will be a reserve which I can
use to resume shore-based living when the cruise is over or for an extreme emergency
while cruising. The income generated by the principal will add to the cruising kitty.
The balance of the proceeds becomes the upper limit to the amount I will invest in a boat
and equipment. If worst comes to worst, it is an amount I can afford to lose.
And if I succumb to the desire for shore-based living while cruising, I will just rent
someplace for a while in an interesting location I have never lived before,
temporarily substituting one journey for another.
From Nancy Birnbaum on World-Cruising mailing list:
... Anyway, the thing that the guys didn't relate that I think is as important as the technical
information, is the emotional aspect of preparation for cruising.
Before my mate and I left on our voyage, we took a very helpful course on compatibility,
communication and relationship dynamics. Unfortunately, the course is only offered in
Colorado right now, but you could probably find something similar in your area, or even a
good relationship counselor. I'm talking "preventative relationship counseling" or call it -
The difference for most couple between their regular lives and their cruising lives is huge.
It's way different being together 24/7 in a small space with little privacy and less timeouts.
Even if you get along great, you'll benefit from taking some time to access your
relationship and discuss "what ifs", "what do we do when," and "how should we handle ... ?"
The biggest surprise for me (and know that I have two degrees in Psychology and ran a
counseling program!) was just how stressful it would get for my mate, and therefore, for
me. The more stuff broke, (and things will always be breaking) the more stressed out he
would get. Amazingly, he was able to fix just about everything that did break, but it all
took it's toll. The more stress, the more arguments, lashing out, etc.
I found out from cruising couples that men often have a harder time adapting to cruising
life if their job was how they identified themselves in their "life before cruising." They
simply had no new "identity" and felt a bit lost. Of course most of them become diesel
mechanics and boat technicians! But, I guess it was easier for me since I had interest in
many things. I brought along my jewelry/bead-making supplies and either traded or
sold or just played with other cruising women along the way. I kept a journal and created
and maintained a web site of our voyage, shopped for interesting provisions, took lots of
pictures and just enjoyed the sun, water and touring. We sharing most tasks except for the
"blue jobs/pink jobs." He changed the oil, I cooked! We both navigated, prepared the boat
for departures, ran and monitored all the systems. He anchored, I steered. We both
docked, ferried fuel and water.
It's important to have some kind of hobby or craft or something for the long passages,
rain days or to share with others.
Last, but not least ... The very best part about cruising for me (and my mate too) was the
incredible fellow cruisers we met along the way. Some of the best folks you'd find
anywhere. Be sure to create some "boat cards" (like business cards, but with your boat
name, make and your info on it. Maybe a picture of the boat or you two as well!) to give
out to folks.
From "The Cruising Life" by Jim Trefethen (on Amazon - paid link):
Don't buy the boat too early in the planning process.
A boat is expensive to store, it depreciates, you lose the opportunity
cost of the money, you have to maintain it even while not
really using it much, you may buy the wrong thing before you
Don't spend all your money on the boat. Some cautionary tales:
Jamal Thalji's "They sold everything and bought a boat to sail the world. It sank on day two."
From /u/BMCBoid on reddit:
11 Things I wish I knew before I started Sailing:
- Learn on a dinghy - A dinghy will instantly punish you for any mistakes you make by capsizing.
A keelboat will let things get a lot worse before you even know that there is a problem.
The dinghy's are the hardest to sail and the most sensitive to trim. Learning on a tiny little boat
is cheaper and it teaches you excellent sailing habits.
- Sailing is very expensive. - It seems that just writing the word Marine on something
allows a marketer to triple the price. You can find suitable replacements that are not marketed
as marine quality, but it is difficult.
- Finding good crew is very hard - Most sailboats take a couple of people to run. I got a boat so I
could go boating as often as I like. One thing I didn't realize at the time is that if I wanted to go
sailing every weekend, I should just go to the marina and ask people at the gate if they need crew for a day.
- Don't spend all your money on the "fun" stuff - I was thinking of refitting the interior on my boat
but then the steering broke. That was really costly, so it's important to remember to have some money
and time set aside to take care of the critical operational items.
- Don't give your crew a time that you will be back at the dock at the end of the day. Generally when we go out,
it's to get away from it all. I generally try to tell people to set aside their day if they are coming out sailing,
as working to a schedule when you don't need to isn't as fun.
- Bigger boats are easier to maintain - I had a 26' boat and every time I wanted to work on something,
it was on my back, twisted up and in the dark. I now have a 35' boat and getting to everything is much easier.
I can sit comfortably and work on nearly every system with excellent access.
- DIY is your friend - This is where the real savings of boat ownership comes in. If you can manage
to take care of the basic maintenance and cleaning yourself, that is where the real cost of ownership comes down.
- If you don't have SCUBA gear, don't do your own bottom scrape - I tried this. After an hour of taking a breath,
diving under, scraping a few feet and then coming up for air, I was totally exhausted and realized the $70 is so worth it
for me to not have to do this every few months.
[I disagree with this one. I am/was a full-time cruiser, and used snorkel gear to scrape the bottom of my 1973
Gulfstar 44 motor-sailer (44 feet long, 14 foot beam, acres of wetted surface). I had the time to do it, no hurry
to do anything else. And doing it yourself keeps you in touch with what's going on below the waterline;
is your zinc okay, your cutless bearing, your prop, your rudder, your hull, the through-hulls ? And it prepares you for when
you are out cruising/sailing and get a line or net in the prop and have to snorkel down there to remove it;
no SCUBA diver available then.]
- Lessons are worth their weight in gold - I did a ton of reading before I got really into sailing on keelboats.
I knew a lot of the general principles as written but nothing can replace the value of an experienced and
knowledgeable person showing you the ropes while out sailing with you. I highly recommend going through the
ASA courses as a step one into sailing. You will be out on the water better prepared than most of the people out there.
- Expect things to go wrong and Don't Panic - I once heard a saying that said something along the lines of
"the true measure of the skill of a sailor is the sum of the mistakes he has recovered from". I have had a
few equipment mishaps and thankfully nobody hurt. I think the best advice is to keep a cool head whenever
something breaks and understand that you are going to be OK. Try to find a creative solution to fix things.
- If you can dock or anchor before solving a problem, do that - If you can safely do it, get the boat to a
steady state where you don't need to mix operation and repairs. There is so much less stress involved if you know
you and your boat are secured before you start worrying about how to fix an equipment problem.
How to cut ties with land:
- Start early (right away); everything takes longer than you'd think.
- Simplify your life; get rid of furniture/house/possessions.
Don't put stuff in storage: it's expensive, stuff rots or gets stolen,
they'll sell it if you're late paying a bill, and
you'll just throw it away later after paying to store it for years.
From Mary Heckrotte on The Live-Aboard List:
... you could rent a storage
unit as we did. Now, of course, after 11 years
cruising, we wonder what's in that storage unit, what
could possibly be worth the $60/month we pay (that's
$7,920 if anyone is counting!!) And on top of that,
we never have enough time when we are Stateside to
sort through the stuff, so we just keep sending in $60
a month for unknown junk that's probably all rotten.
Go figure! It's just madness. Better to get rid of it
before you're stuck with it!
- Have a plan and goals, but accept that there will be adjustments and changes.
- Enjoy the learning and the process; don't expect everything to change from not-fun to fun on some magic date.
From article by Webb Chiles in 10/2006 issue of Cruising World magazine
- Find a place where you can live aboard a boat.
- Get a boat.
There is no magic answer to what to get, but used, fiberglass and 36-37 feet is a nice choice.
- Move aboard.
Probably cheaper than paying rent ashore, and eases the transition when
you finally do sail away. And you'll know the boat better. But living aboard
while working ashore has its own challenges.
- Sail the boat and get yourself in shape.
Generally overlooked by those planning to go cruising; they work on their
boats and buy equipment, but don't sail them enough.
- Set a precise departure date.
When the day arrives, don't put it off because there are a few more things
to fix on the boat; there always will be a few more things to fix.
Unless the weather is horrible or something major is broken, stick to
From Gary Zuehlke on the SailNet liveaboard-list:
Other "sacrifices": living with fewer possessions,
consuming less, being more self-sufficient, being more
flexible (weather, breakdowns, etc), being more exposed
to weather/nature, living a less conventional life.
I wondered how people managed to live aboard myself.
When I asked people I got one of two answers, either
have lots of money, or lots of sacrifice. ...
I figured I would have to go the
sacrifice route. The amazing thing I learned really
fast: they are really good sacrifices. The one I
realized the quickest, it is cheaper to do your own
boatwork, rather than have someone else do it. Some
would call this a sacrifice, I chalk it up to
learning how to do new things. ...
Possible Problems / Issues / Challenges
From Norm on the IRBS live-aboard mailing list:
Learn everything you can about electrical systems [and] fuel systems.
After living aboard since 1981 and about 4,500 miles I
have found these two systems have demanded most of my engineering attention.
Search my site: