Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Evolution of a Cruiser

Seeing as we're nearing the end of the Five.Year.Plan., I've been thinking a lot about the origination of this dream we've had to cruise, and the changes in the boat(s) and us and The Plan. Both we and The Plan have evolved over these last five years, and for those of you who might be just starting out on this venture, or simply wondering whether it could be possible, here's my thoughts on the stages we've gone through.

  1. Curiosity: Most people who have actually accomplished the dream of cruising have difficulty pinpointing that one moment when the first thought crept into their consciousness. It might have been a picture, a chance meeting with a sailor, an ad in a magazine, a really bad job, a brush with mortality. For me it was the really bad job, a job I wanted out of in the worst way, which left me thinking about retiring early, only to be followed by the thought that we didn't have enough money to retire early, at least near the water which was the only place we would ever want to retire. Curiosity meets the internet and voilá, pictures of houseboats appeared with space enough to put both bikes on the aft porch. This was quickly followed by ocean-going trawler pictures after #2 daughter moved to Cape Cod. This was even more rapidly followed by the realization that is costs a LOT of money to move trawlers at $4.25 a gallon. Google dug into its cookie jar and fortuitously found an ad for St. Louis Sailing Center which it obligingly put in the sidebar. Hmmmmmm curiosity. It seems we had a sailing lake an hour's drive from the city with sailing lessons on it. Curiosity led us through two sailing classes, and we were hooked.
  2. Baby Steps: So after curiosity comes the realization that we just might in fact be interested in this, so where do we go next? Buy a boat? More classes? Charters? The next few months were spent looking for a suitable boat to practice on. We lucked out with Nomad, our first boat, a very well maintained Compac 27. We had a grand total of 4 days of sailing under our belts the day we signed the papers, so baby steps were the order of the day. Lots and lots (and lots) of learning, even more mistakes, but ever so slowly we became more steady on our sea legs.
  3. When the "rope" becomes a "sheet": All of a sudden you go sailing one day and it occurs to you that you just asked your sailing partner to trim the sheet. You've come a long way from "Hey grab that rope there and pull it a bit". 
  4. The Spreadsheet Stage: Somewhere in the  middle of this time, Curiosity changed to The Plan. Spreadsheets started filling the My Documents folders on both our computers. Spreadsheets to compare possible bluewater boats, spreadsheets to track the cost of cruising, spreadsheets to track our sailing time, spreadsheets to track everything that needs to be sold prior to leaving...anyone who has gone through this stage is smiling right now. 
  5. The Yachtworld Stage: Once we realized that we were definitely going to do this if there was any possible way, we began to seriously search for the perfect bluewater boat. Had Nomad been a Compac 35 instead of a 27, we would most likely have kept her and at least started our cruising life on her, but we knew we needed a boat that had standing headroom for Tim. We had a list of 26 characteristics in our bluewater boat shpreadsheet that included stuff like a U-shaped galley, a high bridgedeck to the companionway, good handholds, smaller cockpit, etc. Every evening was spent searching Yachtworld.com and sailboatlistings.com. Boats were added to the spreadsheets, rated against the 26 characteristics and given a score, and some were later removed.
  6. The Testing Stage: We decided we needed to take a couple bluewater trips to test some boats so we could better choose. We set up three trips. The first was to Pensacola Beach, FL to take an ASA 114 Catamaran course on a Lavezzi 40. We liked cats and we needed to see if we still liked them after the course. The second trip was on a Pearson 35 on a circumnavigation of Long Island. The third trip was with John Kretschmer on his Kaufman 47 from Ft. Lauderdale to the Bahamas, down to the Berry Islands, and back. This approach of sampling possible boats was probably the smartest thing we did. We realized that a) we liked cats but we can't afford a bluewater capable one, b) a 35-foot is too small for us to live on full time c) we will NEVER allow our boat to be in the terrible state of disrepair that the Pearson was in d) a 47-foot boat is probably a little large for us e) we absolutely love the Bahamas and f) we need to get going - SOON. We absolutely loved the bluewater passages - especially the night watches - and these three trips over the course of just a few months gave us a good base of comparison and really solidified our desire to go.
  7. The Boat Show Stage:  We started attending every boat show we could afford to go to across several of these other stages. We went to the Annapolis show a couple of years but quickly realized that we can't afford anything offered there at all. We took Amtrak to Chicago for the show in late January a couple of years, and it was at this show in 2011 that we found Kintala, for sale through one of the brokers who had a booth at the show. We continue to go to boat shows even though we've already found The Boat, because we get all kinds of good ideas for dressing up Kintala when we go there.
  8. The B.O.A.T. stage (otherwise known as the Drain Stage): Even before the day we signed the papers, the bank account started its precipitous decline. Surveys, rigging inspections, trips back to Chicago, cleaning supplies, insurance, electrical inspections...then the transport company and the real dive in the account began. UPS beat a path to our door as parts, parts, parts, and more parts (and did I say parts?) began to arrive. Each installation opened up another can of worms and the account bled faster. I'm not trying to scare anyone thinking about doing this, but you seriously need at least 30% of the money you paid for your boat for the refit, and quite possibly 50% on some boats. the 30% will only apply if you do ALL of the work yourself. 50% is conservative if you intend to farm it out.
  9. The "Stuff" Stage: About this time I began to get a little panicky as I looked around the house and realized all the stuff I was going to have to deal with prior to leaving. We've been together 41 years and it never ceases to amaze me how much stuff 2 people can accumulate in 41 years. Fortunately for me, daughter #2 needed to share our house for a year while they paid some bills and transitioned from life in Cape Cod to life in St. Louis. I Ebay'd, Craigslisted, ReUseIt-ed, and dumpstered a good portion of our stuff. The rest that we weren't sure if the kids would  need we put into storage, a storage that they would share with us when they arrived. Ten months later they moved out and I have defiantly refused to put anything into those empty cupboards left by their departure. I'm now dealing with the small pile of things in the garage that came back to the house after we emptied the storage center, selling the remaining few pieces of furniture and trying to throw away as much else as I can. The garage is still a major project to deal with, but fortunately for me it's mostly Tim's job sorting tools.
  10. The Sign: The day you put the For Sale sign in the front yard is a pretty major commitment to the cruising life. I know of a future cruiser who put his house up for sale thinking that it would take months to sell and he would have a lot of time to deal with #9 above. His house sold in 2 weeks and he was left scrambling. Unfortunately that did not happen with us. We've had our house on the market for a while and even though the lookers are increasing, we have yet to have an offer. The thing about The Sign is that it's the first stage of cutting loose from the anchor of land life. It begins this mental distancing of a sort, and a few months ago I realized that the boat was now home and the condo was someplace we went for a few days a week in the city.
  11. Waiting and Watching:  We've dumped pretty much all the stuff we can until we sell the house, and we can't cruise till we do sell the house, so now we're just continuing to pick away at the projects while we wait. Being a cruiser is a mindset, not an action. It's a mindset of choosing to live life without the bonds of other people's dreams for you. It's a laid-back, roll-with-the-punches lifestyle that realizes life can be good in many colors and flavors. So while you're not technically a cruiser if you're not cruising, I know a lot of NBPs (non boating persons) who could be easily classed in the cruiser community. So for the time being, I'm enjoying the boat projects, the cruising kitty is building every day, and one day soon the house is going to sell and the clock will start ticking down in earnest. 
Some might say I'm still a wannabe, but in my mind I've already left.


Mike Boyd said...

Hi Deb,

Been lurking a short while, but thought I'd leave a comment to say hi and "I smiled"...guess I know what stage my wife and I are in. Actually, I think we are in 4, 5, and 6 simultaneously. A very accurate write-up on the stages we've been thru thus far.

Best wishes with your retirement.

Allan S said...

Sorry I had to delete the comment....it was incomrprehensible for some reason, here it is again; Great post. The wife and I are in the 8th stage. I'll be 55 in three years and will be qualified with three small pensions, and two more pensions when I am 65 and 67 respectively. We have the boat bought and paid for, she needs work and we are minimizing our lives. As soon as the kid is done university in two years we move onboard. Each day seems to drag, then I panic and feel there is not enough time to do all I want!!

Latitude 43 said...

Well, that pretty much sums it up. We added step 12, Living aboard, not cruising yet.

Sorting through the tools was the hardest thing for me. You want to bring everything onto the boat, but obviously you can't. Good thing I still have the van (tool shop).

SailFarLiveFree said...

Excellent post, Deb. We're somewhere in steps 4-5, with a little step 7 mixed in. Our step 6 is ongoing as we've done several small cruises already ranging from 2 weeks to 3 months, with more in the works. Why is it that steps 8 through 11 seem so difficult and daunting!?

Deb said...

Welcome Mike. It's true that these stages are overlapping for sure. I took a look at your website and I love the name!

Deb said...

Allan it looks like you're right on track. I understand about the panic completely but the fact is that none of us gets out of this alive so we have to make the best of each day. I did a post on that a while back - don't know if you ever read it.

Deb said...


Anybody can do 1-7, but once you pass 7 and venture into 8, this is what separates the dreamers from the doers. Don't get me wrong - there is absolutely nothing wrong with dreaming about cruising and not actually going. Not everyone has the support that you and I have with our plans. For some, the dream is all they'll ever have and that's OK.

Deb said...


You're absolutely right about Stage 12. I can't really claim to be there since we're only living aboard half the week. Soon tho, very soon. Did I mention that I'm paying finders' fees to anyone that sends me a home buyer that ends up buying our condo????

Unknown said...

Laughing myself silly at this post. We are well into the spreadsheet stage, which actually for us came after the yachtworld.com stage. Also for us the boat show came first. I thought we were obsessive and odd but obviously we're not very different from anybody else thinking of doing this. We're also landlocked with a nearby 22000 acre lake at 250 feet deep (really feeling for you on the water level problems but fortunately we won't have THAT particular challenge) and felt like we wanted to get to know our boat REALLY well before we ever took her to open water. Of course we would have the largest boat on the lake by far which makes us feel even odder. Sharing a lot of the same feelings you've expressed about being away from your family, giving up comfort and the home we've made (which we really love). Did you ever consider that at the point that you finally get your boat as good as she can be you might just want to stay there? It has occurred to me for sure.

Deb said...

Hi Judy,

We have absolutely NO interest in staying on this lake. It's way too small for this boat and it doesn't allow liveaboards. We knew all along that this was just a sailing simulator if you will, a lake with training wheels, and have every intention of casting off the docklines as soon as the house sells. What lake are you in?

Unknown said...

Lake Roosevelt, AZ. We have a small second house up there and live full time in Tucson as wage slaves. It's a beautiful lake and very very deep. It also has wicked line squalls in the summertime and 110 degree heat. We're thinking we'll not do a lot of sailing from June to September. We bought a powerboat about 7 years ago and although we pride ourselves on not being typical idiot powerboaters ( we do sit back and watch amateur hour when it's time to recover boats in the evening and wonder why these people are still alive) we are sailors from the start and will be again someday. We are contemplating the sanity of buying a 39 foot sailboat and hauling her down and dropping her into a 45 foot slip. (yes, 39 + 5 feet of bowsprit) Very few sailboats on our lake but since we know the bottom topography, weather and shoreline like the back of our hands we thought it was a good place to learn how to function as a crew and get all the bugs out. We just feel so darn silly bringing a cruising sailboat to the lake. Not to mention the ridiculous cost of moving a boat not once, but TWICE, to and from an inland lake with no travelift. I guess the only thing preventing us from moving it to the saltwater is the things you mention in your blog. Children who live here, fear of the unknown, the comforts of a great house that we built ourselves, friends we've made here, fear, inertia, did I mention fear? I'm pretty sure we'd get bored eventually and load it up on a big expensive flatbed and take her to the Texas coast. Going through all of the same angst and stages that you describe. It is very comforting to know we're not the only ones.

Deb said...

Too bad you're not closer to Havasu. There's a huge sailing community there. we used to live in Kingman.