7 ways to finance your sailing adventure

After an exciting beginning, long term cruising can become a fight for financial survival.

During some time spent cruising I observed some specific behaviors and strategies that people adopt to fuel the sailing dream.

I decided to classify this economical behaviors drawing 7 cruising types. Any attempt to classify individuals in typologies always carry the risk of oversimplification and generalization. In real life cruisers often adopt a cross-pollination approach, suitable case by case.

I originally found 5 categories that I think are classic ones, but then I felt the need to add 2 more, because times are changing, and, believe it or not, we are evolving.

Here are 7 types of cruisers divided into different economical behavior:

1. Harbor rats

A group of very dedicated and skilled cruisers, with budget limitations that enhances creative thinking. I saw some of them floating the hull above the waterline using truck tyre tubes and performing other crazy low cost, low-tech solutions. Their boats are put together with a collection of mad max type dumpster dived items. They soon get skilled enough to perform sketchy boat work for clueless and/or broken sailors that pay in boat parts, favors like car rides, boat sitting or food and shelter. They avoid sailing to countries with expensive cruising fees. If posssible they get to the point of deceiving officials by forging clearance papers themselves if that helps them save some bucks. 

2. Comfy retired or semi retired folks 

Easy spotted by their complex and heavy as hell stern arches and bimini structures that costed not only money but human lives during the fabrication. They usually live off their savings and or investments with different degrees of luxury depending on the case, but generally speaking on the lower end which translates in a very good ability to keep track of expenses. They try to save money nitpicking on contractors’ work and equipment, on food vendors and taxis and they may never leave the comfort of the harbor without a spare alternator but they don’t buy an available one because it’s more expensive than “back home”. They say they will pick up one next time they fly back, which is entirely dependent on the house or financial market returns. Due to all the crap on deck and above, their boats sail poorly and with great effort until they settle, usually in a part of the world which is cheap. Internet, chinese restaurants and booze are the expenses they struggle to keep in check.

3. World charter businessmen/women

They buy a big boat thinking that it will pay itself doing off-the-beaten-track charters and in general having paying guests. They settle in a country with loose regulations and tropical features but with good enough infrastructure for the guests to be able to reach the boat and for them to enjoy their vices with a lower price tag. As there are not many places like this around they compete with other boats over customers. This drives the price down and so the returns. Costs keep raising as they have to keep the boat in good shape because otherwise guests are going to leave bad reviews on the internet. Being in places where locals paddle dugout canoes and can only sell you fish and coconuts, where shipping is either unknown or crazy slow and expensive, and if you need a mechanic you need yo fly one in does not help with boat upkeep. Logistic hassles, booking fever and, sometimes terrible guests totally undermine the healthy lifestyle they were longing for, while their boats fall apart.

4. Technomads

These are the pioneers of the internet revolution, people with a real job they could do anywhere they can be connected, even on a boat. I’ve met editors, skype english teachers, cruising consultants (I know this should not be a “real job”) coders and other tech people, that enjoy few hours of work per day on a computer in exchange of money. Their focus is to keep the infrastructure going, making sure the machines stay out of salt water or anchoring closer to the cell tower even if there the swell is good enough for surfing. Marinas and cruising destinations are chosen and rated by the internet signal quality and other close by amenities like internet cafes and libraries. They sail to nicer places only during weekends or holidays. Usually before any long passage there is a deadline panic that obstuct the passage planning routine. Finally, after the second day on passage they dream about quitting their job and find a different source of income.

5. Part-time cruisers

They are experts in packing/ unpacking the boat for long term storage, and they are a tough cookie for any yard manager. Haul out fees and collaterals are the main expense on their books, together with airfare and unnecessary compulsive shopping items, boat parts and souvenirs that fill the extra check-in bags each way. They are usually able to ratch up quite a sum during their work period that they then spend almost instantly in the first weeks of cruising. By the end of the sailing period they look a lot like the Harbor Rat type, sometimes having to borrow money to get back to work.

6. Girls and dudes with patreon accounts

These new group started to emerge when people decided that Youtube was the perfect place to quench their sailing thirst. This stalking platform is the new stage for the soap operas of the sea, with the most succesful one that even provide income for the creators. The basic idea here is that a group of “angels” (or patrons) pay upfront for a product that involve a lot of work and investment and that once released, anybody else can watch for free on youtube. So far I haven’t met many of those in the real world, just a couple, and not the superstars. Because the videos were not paying off they were also resorting to other forms of hustle to keep the finance in check. The internet makes it a bigger phenomenon than it is in real life and yet, because homo sapiens is mainly here to mimic other homo sapiens, the number of people who attempt this way is increasing. They say commercial fishermen destroy the oceans, but I think people buying and eating fish are the real culprits. Same with the vlogging: blaming the hardworking bluecollars of the camera for our inevitable loss of intelligence and taste is a form of hypocrisy. The odds for financial solvency using this approach seem pretty slim, as at the moment it pays off only to the few who can gather enough views and convince donors to pay for their videos. This challenge sometimes requires to the ones a cost in hours of work and focus on their public image that hinders a little bit the idea of traveling for fun, and to take themselves not too seriously.

7. Grifters and visionaries

It takes guts to be in this group. We are looking at a very small number of individuals that are willing to sail no matter what. To conquer donors and enablers they need a higher purpose or challenge and to look as much as possible as clueless trainwrecks doomed to fail. Stubborness and willingness to go down to the lowest possible points of human dignity seem to help as well. This is only for the very motivated ones, like Rimas and very few others. The good thing is that you don’t have to put any money in it.

Do cruisers out there recognize other type of economical behavior? If so, please let me know in the comments.

Sea legs and watch system

“One thing about the sea. Men will get tired, metal will get tired, anything will get tired before the sea gets tired”

Sitting at anchor enjoying the nice breeze and the shade provided by Kate (and her mom’s) newly designed boom tent is a good payback for all the sweat and effort, all the tense moment when we couldn’t see an end to our work and it seemed that we could never leave. Gazing at the nearby beach, observing any kind of wildlife, from sea birds to dolphins to bros riding jet skis and rude power boaters (there are few kind individuals in the category) put all this preparation labor on perspective. Now it’s time to enjoy.

Blog_Anchor
Sunset at anchor in Sullivan’s Island, SC

Nonetheless to fully enjoy our new life afloat we had to go trough countless details and preparation. A couple of passages in the open ocean and very soon we found where our preparation lacked and how bad our sea legs were. Cooking meals, resting and even personal hygiene can become difficult tasks out there. Exhaustion by sun exposure, waves shaking and wind can bring to episodes of delirious speech with a low deep tone of voice. Auditory hallucinations are not rare either and happen when your brain mistakes a particular sound for a baby’s cry or for somebody calling your name.

It took a long time to get our sea legs and cruising routines back on track. Sea legs are what keep you standing (or sitting) on top of a vessel accelerating and decelerating under the action of wind and waves. I suspect sea legs are a combination of motor control (governed by the cerebellum in the brain) and muscle tone of the core, so it takes training and exercise to establish a harmonic posture in relation with a shaky floor.

The very first offshore legs put us in survival mode, with the rolling and tossing of the boat depriving us of our natural strength, appetite and comfort. Even without being fully seasick, we were carrying a sort of  malaise. We hung in there resting as much as we could and holding on as of we were waiting for the ride to come to a stop.

 

“One thing about the sea. Men will get tired, metal will get tired,
anything will get tired before the sea gets tired”
An engineer’s observation about the collapse of Texas Tower 4 in 1961

 

Gradually we built up some resistance and developed routines. On board Tranquility we use a 4 hours watch system that starts at 20:00 (8 pm, First Watch) and cover the rest of the 24 hours so the boat is never unattended.The person on watch is in charge of navigation duties, making sure the boat stays on course, keeping a proper lookout for hazards and weather change and updating the Ship’s Log. The other crew member lays in the bunk, trying to rest but ready to be summoned in case of “all hands on deck” situation, or “condition one” as we like to call it. We strictly stick to the schedule but we are also flexible in case conditions arise or if it’s time to make landfall.

Beside navigation duties we have daily chores that are split between the two of us and include cooking three meals a day and washing dishes, redding up (Pittsburghese for cleaning), ensuring that the cockpit snack bag is always full, washing and drying rags, towels and clothes,  waste management (composting toilet redd up, trash and recycle locker) and Personal care and Beta care.

The watch schedule and the work routines help to keep us busy and comfortable. When it is properly planned a passage at sea will be mainly smooth, with occasional rougher bits, so it’s important to be ready to face the unpleasant weather in good condition and spirit. If you let the boat get dirty and messy it will affect your well being. If you don’t eat, drink or rest enough you will be tired soon.

As they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and so we are picking up with the old habits and safety protocols, by trial and errors. Three years ago, we sailed the opposite route in much worse conditions, during the winter and in a barely fixed boat. Now we remember that trip as if it was not a big deal. Why we became such wimps? It’s probable that memory erases the bad parts and retain the good ones.

We are still learning a lot, and we are lucky that Tranquility behaves so well. She is a tough girl, we have been the weak ones so far. She protected and transported us during the first thousand miles of sailing while experiencing winds in the range of 4 to 40knots, the latter number only briefly during thunderstorm gusts.We have an ample range of sail area available to adapt to different wind and sea conditions and the modifications to the deck and sail controls seem all very successful. The introduction of a third reef in the mainsail, the new boom vang, the sheeting blocks for the staysail, the bowsprit for the cruising gennaker all contributes to a finer sail tuning and ultimately boat handling.

Now we are taking a prolonged stop in the friendly Fairhaven, in the South Coast of Massachussets. This is the place where Joshua Slocum rebuilt his 36ft. gaff rigged sloop Spray, before setting sail for the first ever recorder singlehanded circumnavigation of earth 121 years ago. Incidentally this is where we purchased Tranquility, fixed her up and set sail in November 2013.

We don’t have such an ambitious circumnavigation plan, but we feel the power of the maritime lore of this place. Fairhaven is the fairy tale New England village in front of the rougher city of New Bedford, the “city that lit the world”, the whaling capital of the world portrayed in Melville’s Moby Dick and the city where Tranquility was on stands in a boatyard while we feverishly prepared her for sailing. We have so much connection to this area, friends that keep helping us, favorite places and memories. We are going to keep sailing, visiting other wonders of New England, but this is probably going to be our home base for the next few months. Until winter will force our next move.