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Old 15-03-2009, 16:26   #1
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Four Month Cruise Sanity Check

I've got a plan that I'm excited about, because I think it may allow me a chance to live my cruising dream for a bit. I'd appreciate feedback from people who have had a bit more experience with boats and the cruising lifestyle, particularly as to whether this is totally not sane, or merely risky.

I took a charter trip a few years ago in Florida, to the Dry Tortugas. Ever since then I've been thinking that I would really like to live on a boat sometime, and spend my time cruising around looking at good new places. But I've got a house, a good job, and family here in Minnesota, and the idea of selling the house, replacing the job, and offending the family all at once in the course of acting on the usual 5-year plan has been a little more than I've wanted to tackle.

The alternative plan that occurred to me recently would be to acquire a boat on the west coast, and take a 4-month leave of absence from work to cruise it first near the point of purchase, but eventually south to Mexico. (I've followed the accounts of the Baha Haha each of the last several years, and wondered when and how to make it my turn to go.) The wind-down process would then depend on whether I decided that cruising was something I would continue to do, or merely something I was glad to have done.

I can see that some parts of this will be challenging -- I expect the greatest challenge to be in buying a decent boat, on a budget, at a great distance, on a limited timeline, to be the biggest challenge. I'll most likely be posting further questions about the details of that process.

So what do you think? Can it work?
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Old 15-03-2009, 17:16   #2
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So what do you think? Can it work?
Not unless the rest of your family wants this as much as you want it. If just one person does not want to do it, then you have a problem.
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Old 15-03-2009, 17:19   #3
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I suppose that is an important detail -- I'm single with no kids; it's my parents, siblings, et cetera who are in the upper midwest.
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Old 15-03-2009, 17:25   #4
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The process of buying a boat and making ready takes a while including all the planning you might expect. The ability to jump on a boat new to you and jump off is also difficult as well. Familiarity avoids a great deal of mistakes that even experience can't always get you ready for. Doing all those remotely in anticipation of a 4 month trip is perhaps too great a challenge. Being able to acquire the boat and get some time aboard and shake down all the fittings and gear is something that just takes time.


Just as no boat comes ready to sail no sailor jumps on one for an extended trip and just goes. I think your time might be better spent on a long charter where you fly in and do shorter sections sailing with less pressure. After that you might decide if the purchase of a boat makes more sense. Buying a boat to decide in 4 months does not seem all that fun or easy. It could be easier and more fun.
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Old 15-03-2009, 17:44   #5
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I agree with Pblais. Trying to get a boat setup to go thru the canal and up the other side would be difficult at best. Not saying it can't be done but it would cost $$$$ b/c you would have to hire someone to do all the work for you and probably mange the project. A good boat for this trip would be an Islander 36. If you look at the Zac Sunderland website he is circumnvigating one currently. There was a lot of owork that went into getting the boat ready. I think the site will help you understand the amount of work involved. I'm not saying it is impossible. Just difficult. I am preparing my boat for a trip like that. I live in California and bought the boat in Vancouver. I do almost all my own work and I am closing in on the boat being ready two years into the project. You might try one of the Mahina expeditions. They do tours for cruisers. It would be cheaper than buying a boat, getting it ready and then figuring you didn't like it.
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Old 15-03-2009, 18:05   #6
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Thanks for your comments, Paul. I appreciate your perspective. My intention would be to spend a considerable portion of the four-month window (hopefully less than half) living aboard, day sailing and taking other short trips. With no work obligations during that time, I could sail every day that the boat was not laid up for work. I would expect to gain skill and familiarity somewhat faster than if I were limited to sailing only evenings and weekends due to a job. Does this seem true? Are there a lot of tasks around selecting and acquiring equipment, or making improvements to the boat, that will just require a lot of time to pass (for instance waiting for hired work to be done) regardless of how much of my time I can dedicate to them day-to-day? (I don't mean to imply any disagreement. I want to make sure I understand your reasoning.)

Most of the charter opportunities I've found have been limited in geographic area, and have involved boats much newer and of rather more charter-oriented design than what I would consider buying. Can you recommend places were I should look for the kind of charter you have in mind? Are there things I should look for while chartering that will help me understand the fitting-out process better (aside from what gear I use on the boats)?

For those of you who have transitioned from land-based life to cruising, I would be interested in hearing about the milestones you reached while building the skills and the boat you would use, and how much time you spent working on them.
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Old 15-03-2009, 18:34   #7
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I suppose that is an important detail -- I'm single with no kids; it's my parents, siblings, et cetera who are in the upper midwest.
Then that's another story.
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Old 15-03-2009, 19:05   #8
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For those of you who have transitioned from land-based life to cruising, I would be interested in hearing about the milestones you reached while building the skills and the boat you would use, and how much time you spent working on them.
WARNING: Do not proceed with your cruising dream or it could change your life irrevocably forever.

That being said, We owned our boat for about 4 years before deciding to set out full time. In that time we basically coastal cruised 3-4 days a month or less.

When we decided to go full time it took me almost two months on the hard to get the boat reasonably close to live aboard. Living aboard is completely different than weekend trips or day sailing.

We left end of December (2008) and within the first month we added a wind generator, changed some interior arrangements, and dealt with fuel problems.

Month two we figured out we needed a different dinghy, dealt with electrical issues, broken parts, and fuel tank issues.

Month three we finally started sailing (after motoring the ICW south) and figured out we really needed a windvane, two or more solar panels, and completely rethink the fuel filter system.

All that being said, I know the boat inside and out, but we haven't gotten very far. We've had a great time and are better for the time in many ways.

There's no easy answer to your idea. Remember sailing is long periods of boredom punctuated by brief moments of sheer terror (that's the learning curve). If you decide you hate living aboard- you're stuck with a boat that will likely be hard to sell and you live half a country away. Even if you love living aboard, it is likely you'll spend the first 4 months fixing or fiddling with the boat and not making much distance.

you can read more about our experiences at JC McDowell and the Family Unit

If you are dead set on your plan- consider a trailerable boat. It could be a cat, tri, or mono. By being small enough to trailer you won't invest that much moolah and either way you can haul it home to figure out your next move.

I've never sailed the west coast, but I can highly recommend the south Atlantic coast line for small coastal cruising. You could spend 4 months just in Florida!

The company that makes the Gemini Cats make a folding tri that looks intriguing. Something small but seaworthy.

Do it- It'll change your life one way or the other. Worse comes to worse you can check off a the "I wish I..." item. Just go as small and as inexpensive as you can, you're going to want to change a lot of stuff anyways if you really end up living aboard.
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Old 15-03-2009, 19:11   #9
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no sailor jumps on one for an extended trip and just goes.

We did. Flew to LA, bought a boat in Dana Point (Ericson 35), and sailed to Mexico, all within a week.

We spent twelve months cruising Baja then sold the boat for $3,000 less than we paod fo rit. Cheapest sailing I've ever done.

At the end of it the family were convinced, we got a bigger boat and stayed out another ten years.
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Old 15-03-2009, 19:13   #10
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Hi jpmoe

...a good job and a house are worth holding onto right now. Taking sailing vacations whenever and wherever you want, getting a break from those Mn. winters would be a good alternative to the drop everything and go.

Do you have a portable trade/profession?

I'd take my time, get some more sailing in, visit different parts of the country. Rather than buy a boat, maybe sign on as crew on one of those Baha ha trips, or others. Owning and maintaining a boat from 1000 miles away is not my idea of fun.

Take some time, plan the career change that gets you closer to your sailing grounds, you can then visit your family or visa versa. I'm sure if you relocate to a warmer climate they'll come knocking.
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Old 15-03-2009, 19:30   #11
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What about a very large trailer sailer?

Given your short time frame and the time needed to prepare a boat for cruising have you thought about a large trailable yacht.

I'm thinking in terms of a keel yacht on a purpose built trailer, designed so that it can be lifted off by a crane or a travel lift (both of these are likely available near nice cruising areas).

Some means of raising the mast would also need to be devised.

You may need to buy a truck to tow it (not too expensive second hand) and to commission an engineer/blacksmith to build the trailer.

When the time comes you could drive to your cruising area, plonk the boat, park the truck and be off.

In the meantime the boat could be parked near your home, so that the never ending stream of maintenance, repairs and upgrades can be done in comfort.

Given the high cost of keeping a boat in the water this may not be an expensive way to go.

Others on this forum may be able to advise on the upper limit for special permits without escorts.
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Old 15-03-2009, 20:56   #12
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Having lived in the Twin Cities 28 years you may be stuck in a winter mindset. Wait two months and post back in the morning. Late April is a far better month to make such decisions when the daylight is long enough to see things clear. What is possible is not always prudent. Spending a month getting the hang of things only gets past the really dumb stuff. It would be different if we were talking a day sail around Big Island bit the Pacific adds a few twists with a lot colder water.

Should you be contemplating a solo trip there are far easier ones you could choose. Why bite off a hard one when you don't know what you really want? A month to make ready would be ambitious if you had 12 months to prepare. We have a few threads from those that tried it and prepared longer. I think the idea is just fine but the reality isn't as easy as the romance. There are a multitude of ways you could spend 4 months and sail more than your dreams. The destination means nothing when sailing - because you are already there! Don't loose the idea by making it farther than realistic.
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Old 15-03-2009, 21:05   #13
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It amazes me...

...how many boats are sailed to Baja and then put up for sale.

Don't be one of them.

Better yet, take advantage of one of them for your four-month cruise.

Realize, however, that the Coast Guard doesn't patrol the Sea of Cortez. You screw up down there, you may be on your own.
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Old 16-03-2009, 06:15   #14
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I would counter that with a home, a steady job that allows you to take a sabbatical, hopefully money in the bank- Now is a great time to have an adventure!

For a scaled back version- maybe charter a boat for 4 months. You'll get a great deal. Go to the USVI, BVI, or some other sailing paradise and spend your days sailing between islands.

I don't think you should commit 100% with no plan B, or plan c for that matter. See if you can figure out how to run a scaled back experiment in living aboard. Here in florida boats are abundant and not terribly expensive. For 4 months you might be able to spend less than 10-15k to buy a boat and sail around to experience the 'real' liveaboard experience.

We just met a couple that travel trailered to Florida from Washington State and bought a 41' Morgan. They never sailed anything bigger than a 26' sailboat before. They spent the first three months in a slip living on the boat and only recently started anchoring out.

You build on experience and you got to start somewhere.

Of course, they're alternator went out, they bought a new dinghy, they bought a generator, and list goes on....but hey! It's a boat!
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Old 16-03-2009, 08:17   #15
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i kinda agree with a lot that has been said before - i took up sailing in 2000 and bought a new boat in 2003 - it took a while to get it cruising ready - i left last may for a shake down cruise from miami to woods hole mass and back - getting back to miami in late november - even with a new boat things broke - things did not go as planned and everything took longer than expected - i single handed the entire trip except for 2 days
then again - i met some great folks who helped me along and really taught me how to cruise - sailing and cruising are two different animals - back in miami my admiral decided that i was having to much fun so she quit her job and is joining me and we are off the 1st week of april - it has taken us 2/3 months to get the boat ready to go again - we do not know when we will be back to miami for any period of time as we will become full time cruisers at that point in time -- not that we worked at it very hard but it takes time and includes a bottom job which we did ourselves - we know things will break so we are stocking up on parts and things to fix things -
four months is not very long - one suggestion is to crew on a baha boat which really makes a lot of sense in that if there is a good cap'n you can learn a lot in a short period of time - another good suggestion was to do the atlantic coast - lots of boats here and with some good negotiating skills you may be able to charter one for a 4 months and get a lot of cruising in without the issues of boat ownership (more on that later) and the third suggestion was to go to the bvi's and charter for 4 months - again with the economy in the tank they may be more willing to do something out of the box to keep a boat running -
as for boat ownership remember it is not just the cost of the boat -but depending where you are there are sale tax issues, licensing, dockage, insurance (if you can find it) and the list just keeps getting longer and longer - for four months charting may be the way to go
as for what you need on the boat - pam wall of west marine in the ft lauderdale store and who has circumvaned and sailed a lot put together a list of items for the full time cruiser that should be on the boat before leaving - now you say you are not a full time cruiser but for 4 months you will be and trust me things will break - she passed the list out at the miami boat show a couple of years ago and if you call her she may send you one - i do not agree with everything and some items i think she left off but we all have our preferences and it is a good starting place
good luck and fair winds
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