Real Information about Cruising

When I first internalized the dream and started reading everything I could get my hands on, this is the information I was hunting for.  It took years to find and then it was usually in fragments that had to be pieced together to build a useful picture of what extended cruising under sail, with kids, was really like.

The internet has thousands of sailing blogs, forums and articles which contain reams of data.  This data isn't junk, on the whole, but it's fragmentory and nearly random at best.

As consumers of the information age, we intuitively know that there's a tremendous difference between data and information.  

We are buried in data, while what we really need is information, even if we don't recognize the difference consciously.  Data is just facts unhinged from their context.   Information is data applied to a specific situation in a way that makes it meaningful, even actionable.

The $10,000 Millionaire is probably the single best piece of literature I have found regarding the cruising lifestyle, its benefits and the costs.   It's nearly 80 years old so the hard numbers don't mean too much today, but the principles are the same.

The Costs

Our last boat was more modest, and our trips less adventurous, so the costs aren't clearly applicable to our current undertaking.   Still, it was clear that we could cruise comfortably, feed our 3 kids, educate them, motor when we wanted to and sail great distances on $3,000 per month.  That wasn't skimping, but definitely needed to be done with a critical eye on every expenditure.

Tweaking a few numbers and plugging in other budgets from credible sources, a couple can cruise comfortably on $14K-$16K per year.   Cruising on $10K per year is possible, but reports of these daring souls are pretty similar: "It's tough, but doable.  Being a good fisherman will help, and get used to praying that nothing major breaks."

If you're going to push the budget envelope, be prepared to get down, dirty and entrepreneurial when the need arises, as it certainly will.

Boat Selection

There's a world of various craft out there each beckoning the dreamer with promises of this or that feature.   In the end, it doesn't really matter.   There are only a few brands to avoid, which are noted below.   The vast majority of sailboats on or are capable of taking you and your loved ones on a multi-year getaway.   It comes down to a trade-off between how much you pay, how pretty you want to look on the water and how much sweat equity you are willing to offer.

However, don't be fooled into thinking a new boat will be maintenance free.   Boats require constant upkeep from Day 1.  If you budget 10% of the boat's cost in annual maintenance you'll be able to keep it in pretty good shape.  Sure, you can do less and skate, but that value will come out of your pocket when it comes time to sell.   May as well enjoy the a well maintained boat yourself.

We have met many crusiers out in the real world in boats that cost less than $30,000.   Sometimes a lot less.   If you're creative and willing to add value, you can get started with coastal trips for less than $15,000 and then decide what features or tradeoffs you can live with and without.

A word of caution

There is one important lesson seasoned cruisers try to pass on.  They are rarely heard.   The lesson is this:

Do not buy a boat based on what you think you can change.   Buy a boat that works now, as is, where is. 

Then, move aboard and live life.   The boat will demand nearly full time attention, and innumerable projects you simply could never foresee will press in on you from all sides.  

By the time you actually catch up with fixing essential things, like plumbing, stopping deck leaks, correcting rigging snafu's created by previous owners and patching the water maker back together, the bulleted "to-do" list you made back in the cubicle will appear as it has always actually been:  an inside joke on an armchair quarterback.  

I look now at the 'priority' boat projects list I made back in the office and just laugh at the sheer silliness of what I thought mattered.   Hardly a single project I pre-planned, or pre-costed, or pre-ordered for ever got done, nor, in fact needed to be done.    Expensive parts I hand carried vast distances in my luggage, sat untouched for years under the settee until they were finally sold off at fraction of their original cost.

Planning boat projects in-absentia is no different than handing out parenting advice when you are still living the single life, free and easy.   The advice, and the projects, say far more about yourself than they do about what actually needs attention.   

Boat Brands to Avoid

100% Opinion, judge for yourself

These are the "good deal" boats you'll find and oogle over at first.   Resist them.

  • Macgregor
  • Older Hunters, pre-1995 or so
  • Newer Hunters if you intend to do more than coastal sailing
  • O'Day
  • Dufour
  • Lagoons after 2003
  • Fountain Pajot's after 2008, specifically the Mahe, Orana and 
  • Hughes

If your timetable requires a sale within a year or two of listing, don't buy a custom boat of any kind, no matter how good the price.  I have seen outstanding custom boats sit on the market for 4+ years.

If cost is not a primary factor, here's the cream of the crop:

  • Alliage, France
  • Hallsberg-Rasey, Sweden
  • Hinckley, Maine
  • Hylas, Taiwan
  • Morris, Maine
  • Ovni, France
  • Swan, Finland
  • Tayana, Taiwan

 If cost is a factor and you want something that's of acceptable quality that will hold resale value, consider:

  • Shannon
  • Morgan
  • Hans Christian
  • Valiant
  • Older Island Packets
  • Ta Shing
  • Van De Sant

Yes, all these are sailboats.  If you've tried sailing but still prefer power, it is possible to do the Great Circle and other outstanding near cruises with a reliable trawler from:

  • Albin
  • Grand Banks

Unlimited Trawlers

  • Nordhavn
  • Various Custom builds