Cruising With The Bear

12/15/2008

By Tom Morkin

This log really could’ve been called: “Look honey, someone shrunk the cruising kitty!” Does your stock portfolio look a tad mauled of late? Has that malevolent bear ravaged your savings and threatened your cruising life or cruising plans? Fear not dear reader. Just in time for Christmas I’ve compiled my Top 10 list of ways to save money while living on a sailboat!

Liz is a whiz on the sewing machine. There’s almost nothing she can’t make

1. Live on someone else’s boat.

2. Don’t move it.

3. Keep it out of the water.

4. When things break don’t spend money, time, and energy to fix them, they’ll only break again if you do.

5. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Better still, don’t use it! (From Eileen Quinn’s song “Working on my boat’’)

6. Never, ever, race your own boat.

7. Get your boat out of North America and take it anywhere but Europe.

8. Always keep at least two gallons of vinegar aboard. Use it everywhere.

9. Develop a taste for rice and beans. An appetite for rice and beans can sometimes mean freedom from the need to swallow the hook and return to work. It may even keep you trim, and in good shape.

10. Throw away your refrigerator. Without a fridge you won’t eat as much. Furthermore, you’ll drink less beer and hard liquor.

Doing a blister job yourself is no fun, but it gets more enjoyable when you think of all the money you’re saving.

On a less flippant note, our cruising kitty, no doubt like the majority of cruisers, has been mauled by the bear running amuck throughout the world’s stock markets. No doubt, around the many anchorages and marinas of the world, thousands of cruisers are asking themselves what they can do during this period of economic instability. What can a pair of cruisers who finance their cruising largely from a long-running bull market do to minimize that cracking sound coming from their nest egg, and still be able to cruise in a manner to which they have become accustomed?

This financial meltdown no doubt will also play havoc on the plans of many who wish to go cruising long term. Financial projections made in saner times are now out the window and many people are questioning the feasibility of making the break. Those who’ve cast off the docklines may be questioning their resolve and wondering how they can make their “freedom chips” go as far as possible. What better time to talk about money and cruising or, more pertinently, how to save money while living aboard and cruising.

Liz and I made the choice to go cruising relatively early in life, when we were in our 30s, over 20 years ago. We kissed away the combined salaries we would’ve enjoyed in those prime money making years of our 30s, 40s, and 50s. Instead, we basically sailed for about 12 of the last 23 years, taking our retirement on the installment plan — sail for a couple of years, work for a couple. It’s worked for us. It keeps the sailing fresh and the work is more enjoyable or at least more palatable when your last day of work is easily visible on the time horizon.

Long-term cruisers like ourselves tend to do our own boat work and spend less time in marinas.

 

It does however mean we find ourselves surrounded by lots of present-day cruisers who’ve taken a different tack. They’ve put in their time, maybe 30 or 40 years raising families and working “for the man.” Unlike Liz and I, who’ve taken the dessert first, they’ve held back. Not surprisingly, these two different strategies result in different approaches to many aspects of cruising. For one thing, it means we “lifers,” through necessity, have been more diligent in the saving-money department. Other long-term cruisers like ourselves tend to contract out fewer boat jobs, spend less time in marinas, usually are more apt to keep systems simple (usually we’ve learned the hard way) and are generally harder to separate from their money than those who’ve come to the party later in life.

Below I chronicle some of the ways we’ve saved money (and still do) while living the life we choose. Bear in mind it’s not our intention to advocate or recommend some of our strategies. So far, they seem to have worked for us, but may be totally controversial or even inappropriate for others.

Size Matters

Big is beautiful and may even be more economical when talking cruising boats. Most people would agree that bigger usually means more comfortable at sea and at the dock, and usually faster, but more economical? Certainly not in all cases, but so far for us it has been. Sure, one can argue a bigger boat costs more to repair and rigging, sails, and deck hardware are all more expensive than for a smaller boat. More paint is needed for each bottom job. Marina charges and haulout charges are higher. All true.

Yet after 14 years of ownership of Feel Free, I’m convinced we’re money ahead because we have a 50-foot boat and not a 40-foot boat. First, Feel Free has proven to be a relatively low-maintenance boat. There have been no major outlays for sails, rigging, or deck hardware. We have overhauled the engine but only after 13 years. Second, because she’s relatively large compared to the average cruising boat, she makes a comfortable liveaboard. Onboard boat projects are more bearable because there’s more room to spread tools and materials out without violating your comfort zones and living space.

Feel Free’s relatively large size allowed us to generate income through chartering.

During haulouts and times of major projects, we’ve always been able to continue living aboard, never needing to stay in a hotel or rent an apartment as I’m sure we would have if we were living in a 35-footer. More storage space means we can capitalize on bargains when we see them, and buy in bulk. This includes food, fuel, bottom paint, drinks, engine parts such as filters and spare parts. Making cheap and good homemade beer is easy because the necessary bottles and brewing containers are easily accommodated. Although we have no plans to charter again, we did generate income we couldn’t have with a smaller boat. More space also means visiting family and friends can be housed on board rather than in hotels.

Liz’s sister and brother-in-law, Mary and Chester, visit in Hawaii. Their cabin was in the bow, ours in the stern, allowing privacy.

There are a lot of well built, well looked after 50 footers from the 70s and 80s that sell at a discount compared to the more modern 40 footers. It’s been and continues to be my belief that dollar for dollar there’s more value in the bigger and older boats. We’re certainly happy we took the bigger, older, cheaper route when we were boat buyers.

Boat Insurance

For 90 percent of our cruising life, we carried no boat insurance of any kind. Now we carry third-party-liability insurance only — not comprehensive hull insurance. We now carry the liability insurance for two reasons: First, we have to have liability insurance to enter many countries of the Mediterranean; second, one cannot escape going into crowded marinas and harbors while cruising in the Med where the probability of damaging an expensive boat is elevated. Fortunately this insurance is a small fraction of comprehensive hull insurance; in fact, it amounts to less than $200 U.S. per year, whereas complete hull insurance would be 15 times that amount.

Based on annual premiums of say $3,000 for our 51-foot boat, worth about $150,000 over 23 years, we’ve saved close to $70,000 U.S., almost half the value of the boat, by forgoing it! That $70,000 buys a lot of boat gear to make our operation a safer one. But, you’ll not find me on any pulpit preaching the concept of “self-insurance.” It’s a tough call for most cruisers and everyone has to make their own plan.

The Price Of A Good Haircut

Less weighty and certainly less depressing than saving money by going without insurance includes living without a barber. In 23 years based on six haircuts a year at say $15 a cut, we’ve saved on my head alone, almost $2,000 by Liz cutting my hair. She also cuts her own hair so our total savings in the hair-cutting department must be in the range of $4,000.

Liz, here seen in Eritrea, has been cutting my hair for 23 years, saving us a lot of money.

To Your Health!

Don’t buy beer, make it! Years ago in Hawaii, a couple of budget cruisers introduced me to the joys of making your own beer with nothing more than a 20-liter jug or bucket, two large garbage bags, a small siphon hose, one $10 beer kit, two kg. of sugar, and enough plastic bottles to store your production. That was seven years and probably 400 liters of home-brewed beer ago. Not only is homemade beer better than the mass-produced fizzy stuff put out by the major grog makers, it’s without the chemical preservatives, government tax, and best of all, it’s a fraction of the price.

At less than .50c a liter or about .16c for a 330 ml. bottle, it’s a bargain. I still don’t understand why there are so few floating microbreweries on the cruising grounds. (See sidebar for the world’s simplest recipe for home brew.)

Choose The Right Spouse

Choose a spouse who can sew, or learn to sew yourself, and buy a good, heavy-duty sewing machine. Over the years, the money saved by Liz making and repairing dodgers, spray skirts, lee cloths, shade providers, bumper covers, line bags, clothing, cushions (interior and cockpit), curtains, upholstery, sail covers easily exceeds five figures. Furthermore, there’s something satisfying and comforting in surrounding yourself with your wife’s handiwork.

Besides being the onboard barber, Liz also repairs sails and fabricates all manner of on board products with the ship’s sewing machine

Let’s Get Down To Details

Recycle zinc anodes. Don’t throw away old zincs — just melt them down and reuse them. Long-time cruiser and two-time circumnavigator Al Ligget has made a simple mold from steel and uses the fire from a beach barbeque to melt the old zincs to a molten state, and then pours the zinc into the mold — presto! You’ve just saved a bunch of money.

Certainly times are tough and it looks like they may get tougher. Those pretty boat gadgets so attractively displayed in the yacht chandleries that may’ve left the store in the boater’s shopping cart may now remain on the shelf. Boat stuff has to be needed and wanted before the sale is made and maybe that’s not a bad thing. Most of us have too much stuff aboard anyway.

Feel Free’s galley got a makeover, thanks to Liz, in Turkey last winter.

Lucky are the cruisers who’ve dropped the dock lines and are headed for distant shores. With a well-found and well-provisioned boat, the cruisers’ expenses are minimal. Lucky are those cruisers lying in a secure anchorage in a warm climate who can use wind, oars, bicycles, or feet for transport needs; solar panels or wind generators for electricity; rain for water; the ocean and shores, fellow crew and friends, books and music for entertainment. Times are tough and may get tougher. What better time to go sailing and get away from that big ‘ole bear.

Home Brew

    - A beer kit consists of 2 kg of liquid malt and yeast.
    - Add liquid malt to pot with 2 kg of sugar and 2 liters of water
    - Heat until all is dissolved
    - Pour into 20-liter jug or bucket and add 18 liters of water.
    - Add yeast
    - Place jug or bucket into large, double garbage bags and seal.
    - Store for 6 to 10 days. (Garbage bags will inflate during the period from the gas-producing fermentation process)
    - After 6 to10 days (when primary fermentation is complete), siphon into 20-liter bucket and add ¾ cup sugar (or dextrose) and stir
    - Siphon into bottles of preferred volume

    A couple weeks of waiting and you’ve got the equivalent of 60 bottles of beer, and more friends than you realized.

 

I still don’t understand why there are so few floating microbreweries on the cruising grounds. Homemade beer is better than the mass-produced fizzy stuff, and without the chemical preservatives and government tax.