There have been a few threads posted by people looking to take six months off and cruise
. Since I did that last year (including probably a worst case scenario of losing the inboard engine); I thought Iíd share my costs, my thoughts, and my advice.
The TL;DR version is: it was expensive (but not ruinously so), time is worth more than money
, donít buy your boat in Florida
, day sailing
is much different than cruising, stay away from old, raw-water cooled inboard engines, and despite the issues that I (and probably you) will have, it is definitely worth it!
Costs, since this is what everyone always asks about first. These reflect all boat-living expenses incurred over about six months from when I started boat shopping
(late Feb) to when I reached home for good (early September)
Purchase, Commisioning, Insurance: $10,059
Boat Gear: $1,986
Food/Drink Out: $2,460
Boat Repair: $2,871
Other (Old Life, Tourism/Check-in Fee, Clothes, etc): $315
As a backstory, my work contract
ended Jan 1 of 2015 and my long-term relationship shortly after, so I figured that if there was a time to cruise
, it was now. I would have left right then, but my mother broke her arm and I spent a month and a half caring for her. But, in mid/late Feb, I flew to Florida
, stayed with relatives, and rented cars to check out about ten boats (the entirety of the sub-$10,000 Ďcruiserí market) over a five-day period before finally buying
a well-kept Pearson
28-1, which had had soft spots on the deck
redone, recent deck paint
and antiskid to cover the deck repairs
, the mast
step replaced along with other relevant mast
work including chain plates, some solid engine maintenance
including new muffler
piping, and tankage and included new-ish sails
- including a drifter, an older autopilot
, new running rigging
, LED lighting
upgrades, and some other perks. The PO had bought her for $7,500 and put in about $6,000 in documented parts
- he did all the labor as a professional engineer
and machinist building custom industrial and consumer prototypes. I sailed the boat from Tampa, to the Keys, refit
her at a friendís dock
, sailed to the Dry Tortugas
, then to Marathon, and from there straight to the Berries and Abacos, and then to Charleston and north through the Pamlico until I reached home (Severna Park, MD).
Out of the above non-living costs, I would say about $13,000 are recoverable (the boat purchase
, the boat gear
, and the boat repair items-the largest of which is a Tohatsu 6 hp sailpro with about 100 hours on it in addition to its mounting hardware) probably at a recovery rate of 50% of amount paid, on average (note, I didnít pay for labor for any of the boat repair, thatís all material costs). So the all-in cost at the end of the trip comes to about $17,500, or a monthly bill of about $2,900 per month, which is about what it would have cost me per month to stay in Boston (of course I would also have been earning a paycheck then!). The non-recoverable, non-living items are the flight down, the rental car costs, the insurance
, and the USCG registration
crapped out after three or so weeks of ownership
, 50 hours, and one trip to the Dry Tortugas
. With an older boat, the diesel is much of the value, so this sucked, a lot. My understanding going into this, was one is really looking at three things to be in good shape: the hull
, the rigging/sails, and the engine
- and losing the engine may be the most expensive part to replace. Diagnosing that the engine was, officially, crap took about two months in Marathon (a month of that though was a week in the Bahamas
with my twin brother for our 30ths, a week in California
after the death of my uncle, and a week circumnavigating the Keys with new friends, as well as a few days off - Iíve excluded the trip costs as they likely wonít be relevant to anyone else) and if the engine hadnít gone, the majority of those boat repair and dockage bills wouldnít exist - to the tune of about $3,500. So if you avoid my fate, you will have saved some coin! The issue with my engine (blown head
gasket) would be fixable, if not for the fact that 35 years of salt water
have corroded the block, head
, and gasket
into one solid piece - so stay away from raw water
cooled engines. On boats these size, consider going with an easily replaceable outboard
, though opinions on that are mixed on CF.
Much of how I approached this was penny-wise and pound foolish, as well. Buying
a nicer, if not bigger, boat (I wanted Marc Johnsonís Sea Clipper 28 but it sold right before I went down to FL) would have both saved the diesel and mooring
costs, as well as paid off in other areas. For instance, my food
out bill is high because I was using a butane stove and a cooler for long-term living on the hook. With a better set-up, I would have cooked more on the boat. The cost of a high-end cooler and recurring ice purchases largely would have paid for an Engel (with a 100w solar
panel, I often had more electricity than I needed, even without a 55-amp diesel-driven alternator), and would have been a hell of a lot more convenient! Something to think about.
With costs out of the way, weíll move into tips and findings:
Donít buy this kind of boat in Florida
Most of the internet
seems to agree that Florida is the best and cheapest place to buy a boat due to the large amount of boats available there, the fact that many people end their cruises in Florida, the nice weather
, the proximity to the islands, etc. This may be true for some types of boats, but for the types of boats that most of the sabbatical people are asking about (<$10-15k, single
or double-handed), Florida isnít the right place. Sure, there is always the Ďdealí that comes along infrequently where a Canadian coupleís oil
field caught fire and they need to sell right now and return home long-term, but my finding in the Florida market after talking to many sellers, brokers, and other sailors is that the constant demand for cheap
boats by poor liveaboards puts a floor on boat prices, and old, cheap
boats in Florida are likely to have many more issues with them than similar boats up north (sun exposure, constantly floating in salt water
, etc.). Every boat I looked at except the one I bought had evident issues at self-survey (internal chainplates that were rusting through the paint
someone had stupidly slapped on them, engines with rear mounts not bolted in at all, warped masts, condemned standing rigging
, bilges thick with oil
, obvious signs of neglect, etc. etc.). Coming back to the Chesapeake and looking to sell my boat in September, I was blown away by what great deals on fantastic boats there are here - I almost bought two more! I would recommend buying something around Maryland
south in September when owners start to face haul out
bills, and then sailing south. Oriental looked to have some good deals as well. Also - donít set yourself up to feel pressured to buy - I was burning through rental cars and was just ready to get gone by the end of February, or I probably would not have bought the P28.
Vacationing is different than cruising and other tips
My previous experience was daysailing hobie cats and keelboats, and a few overnight/week-long trips to the Vineyard, Provincetown, and Harbor Islands from Boston Harbor Sailing Club, and a couple of charters in the BVI. None of this really prepared me for the reality of how hard living on and maintaining a boat can be.
A week on a boat is fun - more is work. On charter
or in the Vineyard, thereís always something to do: friends, bars, swimming, cooking
, walking, etc. Alone on a boat, well, after the first couple of weeks, I read a lot of Anne Rice novels from the free cruiserís library in Marathon. And after the first few beaches in the Bahamas, there was really only so much more I wanted to see; going up the Pamlico with its endless variety, as well as having a friend join me for the trip, was fantastic, in contrast.
, not sleeping for days at a time really sucks.
Donít try to convert a daysailer/weekender into a cruiser.
Itís not worth it and nothing is strong enough on the boat, as-is. The boat came with a little hanging roller on the bow pulpit, and I bent the roller and the pulpit taking the chain up in some short, steep chop on the Bank, and tore apart a bull horn sailing the anchor
out in the Abacos (since I could no longer use the roller). Also, the boat itself is probably pretty unsuitable. I had no double lifelines
forward, no forward or interior
handholds or lee cloth attachment points, etc. Doing any kind of foredeck work is rough - no handholds so I had to straddle the bow on both sides with my legs to hang on - so tying the anchor
on after leaving a tight anchorage, fixing furling
line issues, dropping the jib
, etc. was always a bit of an experience (I did have jacklines
and a tether). I could have put the handholds in, but by that point I was trying to quit working and spending on the boat! Hauling chain by hand is rough - rope
is much easier. It would have been nice to have two anchors on different rodes - but on a small boat there was no space for an extra rode
without doing major rework - so I chose a solid all-nighter over something more easily deployed and retrieved, and regretted it every time my elbow
started to throb. Thereís no real dedicated chart table in the Pearson
28-1, so keeping track of where I was outside of GPS
coordinates was tough. The only available space was covered in all the stuff I needed right away! Binos, radio
, asthma meds, etc.
People say a 5 foot draft
is okay in the Bahamas, but you need a solid dinghy motor
to make that work (I was rowing). I missed a lot because I couldnít get inside the bank going through the Berries - but of course what I did see was beautiful. But also with a 5 ft draft
you canít cock up, especially in the Pearson. Because it always wants to sail rather than luff into the wind
, single-handing there is a bit of a mad dash to bring the anchor up and lash it in and then a mad dash back to grab the tiller and get us turned away from the shallows, other boats, etc.
I thought I could get some writing done, but not on a wet monohull
heeled over 20-30 degrees! The Pearson 28-1 doesnít even get to hull speed
until 25ish degrees over.
On a small boat, the best sea berth is the quarter berth, but itís either a lazarrete or storage
, and if you donít think you need either of those, load up for three months in the Bahamas and realise how wrong you are!
Relatedly, small boat load carrying capacity is a serious thing. I spent most of my trip heeled five degrees to starboard with the waterline on the starboard side a half inch above the bottom paint
. Not ideal.
On a small boat, you can choose one of three things: Sunshade/Bimini, clear access to the side decks, or standing headroom
in the cabin
- this can be a bit of a dangerous situation when single-handing and running around the decks.
General life stuff:
The inefficiencies of cruising life really got to me. Walking along the same stretch in Marathon for a month, just to get another crappy meal at Hurricane
, or to Publix to get a sandwich, really blew. Having to spend hours just trying to do a simple thing - also a drag. Any boat project
seemed to take hours - between researching, finding parts
, getting advice, moving stuff out of the way, and actually having to do work in a cramped space. Having to lug stuff back to the boat (like five gallon jerry cans over two miles in the Bahamas), awful.
I survived in a state of perpetual low-grade sunburn, and spent most days under passage
trying to avoid the sun. Usually this meant laying down in the cockpit
and shifting to get extra bimini
The myriad little cuts and scrapes everywhere burned every time I got in the saltwater, and they took forever to heel.
After cruising, I no longer race
to get everywhere. I was always trying to go 5+ knots well-heeled before. Now I reef down and am quite comfortable doing 4+, sitting in comfort in the cockpit
rather than bashing around everywhere.
is everywhere - itís on the foredeck, itís on you, itís on everything you touch, and itís slippery as sin and burns like hell.
A lot of cruising lassitude and emotional frustration set in after the first two months - ĎOh, Iíd like to change the sails
, but why get upí or ĎI should really put in some dyneema
as a second set of lifelines
- but Iíll just chance ití. THIS IS THE ENEMY! In addition, I felt that anything I did cruising, I had to weigh against the risks. Is it worth it to get out of the cockpit to move that jib
fairlead - even though itís nighttime, the deck is slippery with salt
, and Iím tired?
All this sounds like Iím whining, but I actually really like sailing. I love sailing Boston Harbor and its islands. I enjoy chartering boats for a week or two. The big difference is that charter
boats always work, and also itís a rarity and an experience each time, and something one grows to look forward to. I can have a lot of fun helming and singlehanding
my OíDay skiff or the Sonar I used to rent in Boston for hours at a time - constantly adjusting sail trim, points, etc. I used to love dipping the sonar to the rails, but I hate doing it on my cruiser as it feels like something may break far from help, and I own it! Plus, everything falls off its perch. I also loved getting salty in Boston as the shower
at home felt so good. A little salt for a day is great, cruising was just an over-abundance of a good thing. Even the BVI for a week is grand.
By the end of my cruise, sailing Saga had started to feel more like a chore, except for the first few minutes of each day when we started to gather steam and I trimmed her up just right. After that, it just got tedious. I went up high peaks and down low valleys emotionally: fretting about all the time I was wasting in my life, the worries over things breaking, and wondering if I was truly happy out there. Really, in the end, I think I might just not be a good solo sailor - capable, sure - but I much prefer company.
I think my future tag line might read: seeking voluntary crew position on Great Lakes
during high summer, in luxury catamaran
There is nothing I should have been doing instead
All those negatives aside, taking this trip is what I needed. Once you feel like you should be sailing, it wonít let go of you. I took three months off before grad school
to go surfing in Indonesia
, which was fun, but wasnít compelling. The idea of cruising grabbed me and wouldnít let me go - and as I made other decisions (grad school
, new jobs, same relationship) I was continuously thinking that I should be out there sailing. While Iím not sure I want to be a cruiser as the lifestyle is entirely too slow for me (Iím in my early 30ís), the memories of seeing peacocks at Mooreís Stone Crab on Longboat, a full moon in the Atlantic with no one around me, and a transcendent view of a red/blue sky shining through storm clouds after fighting squalls for 24 hours will be with me until I die or lose my mind. If I hadnít gone sailing, Iíd be sitting behind my desk in another job and in another (or the same) relationship that just wasnít right for me. If youíre thinking about taking a sabbatical, do it, because if you donít, youíll continue to wish you had.
The friendships you develop are also great. I recently raced to Cuba
with friends met along the way, and this summer, am sailing to Maine
(with frequent crew joining me throughout, however!).
**Credit where credit is due: CF was invaluable from when I started fantasizing about going sailing in 2009, to day-dreaming about taking three months off in New England
, and then when I actually started the trip, BoatPokerís self survey
site was a great help, Atoll helped me out tremendously (and in real time!) as I dragged through the Garrison Bight anchorage in Key West
, and then DeepFrz, Terra Nova, Uncivilized, Scout 30, and a host of other CFers helped me sort out my engine and answered a bunch of sometimes sailing specific, sometimes philosophical questions. Very much appreciated everybody!
Edit: Should have realised this post was incomplete without a coming home picture!