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.

Visiting Utopia

Franz Matsch - Triumph of Achilles
Franz Matsch – Triumph of Achilles

Recently Kate and I had a meeting about our finances and cruising budget. The atmosphere in the room was tense, almost as we were on the board of a financial firm who is deciding about their future in a shifting market. The tone of voice was high and the opinions divergent.  When you don’t have a fixed income or personal wealth and you dream about a life afloat it’s no joke. We not only have to figure out the way to make it through the everyday expenses, we have also to plan the future with variable and not predictable income.

Since we are stuck in the mud with bills to pay and things to figure out we feel that the original idea is becoming almost an impossible quest. Even when you have determination, the path is hard and steep, the courage itself doesn’t guarantee your success. Will we be able to resume our trip? What does it take to get financially untangled and self sustained? Will we be able to defeat the Forces of Evil? Of course we will.

We are still in a very priviledge position, we have the luck of being educated, with an ever growing network of good people around us and we are constantly on a learning curve, exposed to interesting situation and people. The only fact that we are contemplating the idea of spending some time cruising puts us among the very few fortunate people on this planet. It may sound silly that this is our biggest challenge, while other people face more dramatic and difficult situations. But still this is our Dragon, our Big Bad Wolf, the challenge we decided to face.

I love adventurers, people that risk their life to achieve impossible dreams. When I follow the sailors of the Volvo Ocean Race I am fully excited by the extreme conditions they face. When I read Moitessier’s and other singlehanded sailors’ recounts I feel the majesty and intensity of their experience. Their toughness is an inspiration. It’s a big boost of tension toward the everyday hassles of life, the fuel to propel us over the obstacles that sit in front of our goals. The danger and harshness of their adventures transcend their particular case becoming an ideal situation people can identify with.

That’s the reason why epic is important in our life. When  intellectual and critical thinking, rational intelligence and aesthetic are not enough, the primeval power of epic is what it takes to shake our soul and squeeze energy out of ourselves. We look at heroes from the bottom to the top, sometimes to distract us from the boring miseries of our existence, sometimes as a way to quench our thirst of energy to keep fighting our demons and enemies. Aim high to hit the target.

These utopias act as a beacon that leads to an unhabited island, where gods and demigods live, where the impossible becomes the norm. The Nobel Prize Wislawa Szymborska told us about this perfect place in one of her most celebrated poems. The island she depicts is ofted visited by humans, but none of them can stay. They all have to go back to the depths, where life happens.

 UTOPIA by Wislawa Szymborska

Island where all becomes clear.

Solid ground beneath your feet.

The only roads are those that offer access.

Bushes bend beneath the weight of proofs.

The Tree of Valid Supposition grows here
with branches disentangled since time immemorial.

The Tree of Understanding, dazzlingly straight and simple,
sprouts by the spring called Now I Get It.

The thicker the woods, the vaster the vista:
the Valley of Obviously.

If any doubts arise, the wind dispels them instantly.

Echoes stir unsummoned
and eagerly explain all the secrets of the worlds.

On the right a cave where Meaning lies.

On the left the Lake of Deep Conviction.
Truth breaks from the bottom and bobs to the surface.

Unshakable Confidence towers over the valley.
Its peak offers an excellent view of the Essence of Things.

For all its charms, the island is uninhabited,
and the faint footprints scattered on its beaches
turn without exception to the sea.

As if all you can do here is leave
and plunge, never to return, into the depths.

Into unfathomable life.