Everyone is interested in the cost of cruising; we’re always asked how we afford it. It does appear from many articles and surveys we have read that the average cruising budget has gone up considerably from twenty years ago – richer people are going cruising. However it does not appear that the cost of cruising has gone up necessarily, just by choice. People are willing/able to spend more, but you don’t have to. There are still people cruising in older refitted boats and doing it on small budgets. For these types, cruising can still be substantially less expensive than life ashore. To us this is not just the necessity of this lifestyle, it is part of the appeal. Consume less, experience more; spend less, be more connected to the people and nations you are visiting.
Getting a blue water-capable boat ready to go is the other part of the cost of cruising. Your boat budget will probably be uncomfortably close to the limit of what you can afford – no matter what that number is. If you go by Beth Leonard’s categories from the Voyager’s Handbook, we’re much closer to the “Simplicity” model than most voyagers our age who tend toward “Moderation” or “High Life”. Time will tell whether this is successful for us or not, but it was our only choice if we want to go before we leave our 60s. Coming from a backpacking background the boat seems luxurious to us!
So what did it cost us to get a blue water-capable boat together? We made the choice to buy an older classic steel boat that needed work and refit her. We bought her for $25K – less than many cars – and had two good years of local sailing before beginning an extensive renovation. Although this is much less expensive than buying a new boat, we do not expect it to be less expensive than buying an older boat that is in better condition and has been cruising. However renovating rather than buying newer has given us three years to gradually pay for her without having to finance anything. To date the upgrade has been an additional $50K – counting our labor for free – for a total of $75K, including, I admit, some unnecessary expenditures from the three bugaboos of inexpensive renovation:
And since Jon has professional boat building skills and I have some amateur canvas and sewing skills, we knew we could do the work. Our last advantage for doing this all relatively inexpensively is that Jon is a gifted Craigslist and marine-mart deal-finder. Living near a good marine market (Seattle) we have been able to get most of our parts and upgrades (mostly good used condition) at a fraction of new cost.
For people who need to continue working at paying jobs and put kids through college while getting the boat ready, and who have the skills, the extensive refit has advantages. It does require that you be able to recognize a boat that has the capability of being a good choice for this sort of sailing, and that you have the luck to find her inexpensively enough. Volumes are written on this, so get one of the books by the experts if you’re interested. If you really want inexpensive, though, it may be difficult if you look for boats by make. The “big names” in cruising boats carry a premium price tag because people recognize them. Shop by sea-going characteristics instead and you might turn up boats like Ohlson or Cascade Yachts instead of the better known Tayana or Westsail or Pacific Seacraft.
We looked at many older boats and what we thought made this the deal for us was the ruggedness of the boat, that she had extensive blue water experience, and the fairly decent (albeit older) equipment list. And her classic lines which were important to us for the implied seaworthiness as well as the classic beauty. Granted, her equipment was older, but we knew we weren’t going to buy a lot of new electronics – our budget just wouldn’t allow this. We figured the older autopilot, Radar, water-maker, fridge might work – and if they didn’t, we could live without them. And we have.
However the work list has been far more extensive than we originally planned – and yet many things we thought had to be done are not going to be done. Apparently this is a common experience for renovations in every budget category.