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.

What to do with old teak?

Teak is a fascinating hardwood. It has  a charming golden brown color and the abundance of natural oils in its grain makes it weather-resistant and unaffected by dry rot. For these and other reasons teak has always been the number one lumber for the marine industry. One big problem with teak is its atrociously high cost, as you probably know if you deal with boats or with outdoor furniture. So the answer to the question what to do with old teak could be to avoid it entirely!

When we bought Tranquility she came with the original teak features on deck: forward and lazarette hatches, companionway and seahood, toe rails. Not a full teak decking, but a classic nautical touch. If not protected against UV action with constant application of a finish, teak ages and loses part of its oils, turning grey and forming deep grooves and cracks, and after 50 years in the elements all we could see on deck were grey wrinkles on the surface of the hardwood. We were ok with some ugliness and cosmetic imperfection, we had definetely bigger problems to deal with at that time.

Teak Seahood rotted away
Teak Seahood rotted away

But the teak onboard didn’t have only cosmetic problem. Unfortunately hatch doors are built with teak in combination with plywood. The plywood used as a supportive panel for the teak strips has rotted away, and with this supportive action compromised the hardwood also started to rot and break. Trying to waterproof such a damaged door was impossible without taking everything apart and rebuilding it. When we did the first part of our refit in New Bedford we didn’t have time to repair and restore the teak doors and many other nuisances all over the boat. We had other priorities to make the boat sail before winter. This way we spent the trip learning about every single leak and taking mental notes of a future job list. All the doors leaked badly and that didn’t make for a very comfortable winter cruise. Both the forward and lazarette hatch leaked and their plywood was basically gone, and the water coming from the seahood and companionway was an enigma we couldn’t solve while we were still living on board.

Once we got in sunny Georgia we resumed our list of repairs and improvements and so came the time for woodwork. While we could protect the companionway with a tarp, we couldn’t do the same for the hatch doors so I started dealing with the lazarette and forward hatch. At first I tried to save as much as possible of the original teak, but after discovering all the damage it was clear that if I wanted a new hatch I would have to build it from scratch.

A tarp protects the companionway on Tranquility
A tarp protects the companionway on Tranquility

Being always on the cheap side of a budget I first considered other options to build a less classic door. But then a little voice started to suggest how I may wanted to keep a little accent of nice teak on deck. I followed this voice and looked around for teak. I was lucky enough to find the access to a scrapwood pile of teak. All the pieces came from different projects and those were the ones left behind and discarded. I put much labor in cutting, planing and sanding the scraps down to useful size but eventually I cobbled up enough wood to build a whole hatch. Taking the old rotten hatch as model, I first assembled four pieces of teak lumber to form a rectangular frame and joined them with screws and thickened epoxy (West System resin and 406 filler) at the extremity.

Building the frame with teak lumber
Building the frame with teak lumber

Joint detail
Joint detail

Once the frame was finished I cut a piece from a 3/4 inch plywood sheet, fit it and screwed it in place. Every gap was filled with thickened epoxy and the lower side of the hatch coated with clear epoxy resin.  Even if the plywood won’t last forever and it will eventually rot the epoxy will protect the wood from moisture and prolong its life.

The hatch ready for teak strips
The hatch ready for teak strips

The following step was to put in place the teak strips. In order to do that I decided to use #8 screws to set the distance between the strips.

How to set teak strips in place at the same distance
How to set teak strips in place at the same distance

When the dryfit was satisfactory and after correcting the math a couple of times due to my metric system bias (I have to be honest, imperial sucks!), I used several batches of thickened epoxy spreaded evenly on the plywood to set the teak strips in place. The scrap pieces formed a rough uneven surface, so when the epoxy was set I used a belt sander to shape the wood uniformly and a router to round the corners. The result was well above my expectations.

All ready before wooden bungs and caulking
All ready before wooden bungs and caulking

The finishing part took a good deal of work too, especially filling all the gaps with black caulk. Once everything was completed I applied three coats of Semco teak sealer, to protect the wood. The result pleased me so much that I understood I was going to do the same with the second hatch door, and  problably with the rest of the teak on the boat.

The hatch after caulking and three coats of teak sealer
The hatch after caulking and three coats of teak sealer

These two project made me fall in love with teak and woodworking in general and even after assessing many alternative ways to fix my equipment onboard I decided I would do the same for the companionway and the toe rails. The companionway (seahood+ sliding hatch) is made out of a solid thick lumber, massive enough that I can still reuse the frames without fear. The toe rail didn’t survived that well as it is more exposed to impacts, chafe and other mechanical stresses. I would have to replace them completely as many part are broken or missing. For this specific project I found a deal on Ebay 0f 4×4 inches teak posts that will do the job. Again the cheaper price means that I will have to transform rough lumber myself into the desired shape and I started to think I am being a little masochist lately.

slidhat

Right now I am rebuilding the sliding hatch. I started removing the rotted plywood from underneath and with great surprise the teak strips came out without breaking. Considered that they are still 3/8″ thick and in overall good shape I sanded them down to reuse it. With a bit of work and time spent in cleaning up the old teak I now have perfectly fitting strips and I can avoid cutting and planing them. Not the same luck with the seahood hatch. It was in worse shape and broke as I started taking the thing apart. To replace the old teak I will be cutting the strips out of a big plank that a friend of mine bought on a big sale so I am having it for a very competitive price. If I account for the money I spent in buying wood since we got Tranquility I may be reaching the 1000$ very soon.

Restoring teak with a grinder
Restoring teak with a grinder

Using teak on your sailboat deck may not be the cheapest or most practical way to fix your boat but for me it is very enjoyable and motivating, more than using fiberglass and epoxy again. I did enough fiberglass work this past summer and too much of something becomes quickly boring. Now it’s woodwork time again as I try to comfort myself imagining how good a little bit of teak will look on deck when I will be finished.

This is the end

This is the end of the yard period. At least it is what we hope as the deadline has moved forward, we are getting closer but we never reach it. I am overly cautious on the date of the splash, a day that would say the word end to the dry period to move into the wet and cold one. The moment when we will see if we float or sink.

Experience tells me there are always bad surprises on the go but I also see signs that tell me it is happening.

First reason we have no alternatives. Everything is set for leaving, winter is coming and South is our course. We are cutting all the lines that hold us fast to the New England area. There is no plan B.

Second reason Kate came back to disciplinate my chaotic work. Working for one month by myself was hard indeed and the return of the best worker I have ever had it’s a great improvement. I did a great amount of work by myself but the presence of a co-owner, co-designer and co-worker it’s adding a whole 100% to the project, and it’s also giving me a huge relief from stress.

Third one, there is no money left so we have to do with what we have, and this also mean finishing and closing projects. Ther will be a time for improvements and enhancements. The wish list is not closed, we have tons of ideas and parts we want to improve and this will keep us busy for the next part of the project.

I am probably writing this post as a motivation exercise, a way to whip up my tired self and conclude this first chapter of the boat project. Everything obviosusly got delayed, expenses grew out of control and mistakes bloomed over time. We could have done better, cheaper and faster. Well maybe next time, if there will a next time. For now, it is what it is.