Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Who ordered this?

Kintala is hundreds of miles north of the hurricane zone. On Sunday morning it looks like Joaquin is going to deliver a direct, category 2, hit anyway. We had decided to wait out the weather anchored here in Severn Creek but a look at this morning's GRIB files had us making differnet decisions. First a check with our insurance guru to make sure we were all on the same coverage page. Then we talked to the folks at Severn Creek Marina who, a) told us that they survived Isabel with no boats damaged, and b) let us know that piers were available on a first come, first serve basis. After a bit of a debate we moved onto a dock.

The rest of the day was spent stripping all the sails and tying the boat with every heavy line we could find on board. It was good timing as the main went below just as the first rain shower arrived. Flaking and storing soggy sails is as unpleasant a task as it sounds. The dink was hoisted aboard, deflated, packaged and stowed in the cockpit. Gas cans where carried ashore and stored off the boat. The heavy rain and lighting arrived on the walk back. There are thunderstorms all around us tonight, none of it Joaquin's fault, but a preview of things to come.

Tomorrow the rest of the canvas will come down, the boom will get lashed to the deck, and the solar array will get stored below. It is likely to be a wet and dreary day. Thru-hulls will get closed, the batteries will get a full charge, and the boat will get unplugged. A hundred other little tasks will be done to make our old Tartan both as small and as tough a target as possible.

Friday morning Deb and I will join another crew from the marina and run inland like scared little bunnies, riding out the storm in a hotel somewhere far inland. There are those who chose to ride out such weather on their boat. I am not one of them. Once the prep is done and the storm arrives there is little one can do to change the outcome. The boat will survive, or it will not. If it doesn't being on board accomplishes nothing but putting one's self at risk. Everything we own is on Kintala. Everything we cherish from the boat will be riding in the car. Because a boat is only a boat.

The plan at the moment is to return Monday to see what we see, but that will depend on how much damage is done. Cat II is serious stuff, roads get closed, National Guard Units get put in the streets, access gets limited. It may take a while to learn what the future holds for our cruising life, but it seems unlikely Kintala will come through unscathed. Right now we are floating nearly 5 feet below the deck on the piers. By Sunday morning the marina expects those piers to be under water. I am not exactly sure how one secures a boat for that kind of thing, but we will do our best.

This is our first storm prep, and the first time we have had a few days warning about weather that might deliver a serious hurt. Up until now such events have blown up right on top of us with, at best, a few hours warning. But the worst was just about 60 knots worth of wind. Right now they are talking winds of 110 mph.

All this is a bit of a downer. This thing is going to miss Florida, the place our insurance company says we are not allowed to be. Then again we are not in Annapolis, anchored in Back Creek jammed cheek to jowl with people looking forward to the Boat Show. We have friends up there.  The good news is that they are 100 miles north of where we are and so might take a glancing blow, not a full on assault. We are hoping for the best...

...for them and for us.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Dolphin inspection

Bye Bye Fishing Bay
It is best, if one is going to start a sailing day by visiting a  water / pump-out / dump trash / get gas dock, that it be a short day of sailing. Marina fuel docks are reminiscent of passenger waiting lounges at airports, nothing seems to happen in a hurry. Kintala eased onto the dock behind a very nice looking Moody 46 already at the pump-out. We touched bases with India, Dock Manager extraordinaire who became a new friend last Spring.  It was nearly 0900 when Kintala, now full / empty / empty /full, eased away from the dock and moved back into the middle of Fishing Bay.

A single reef in the main and the staysail took over from the Beast, making enough HP to log nearly 4 knots on the GPS. Not fast, but fast enough for working the “U” shaped channel leading back to the Chesapeake. As the day wore on the staysail was stowed, the jib deployed, and the reef shaken out of the main to work the basically beam reach winds hovering in the 10 to 15 knots range. Waves barely topped a foot. Thin, feeble little things that slapped gently along the hull. Hard to believe this was the same body of water that Kintala had romped through just a few days ago, spray flying, lines tangling, deck monkey thrashing about, sails jammed and poles hanging.

Turning up into Mobjack Bay meant turning far off the wind. The main dropped easily onto the boom and working on the barely rocking deck was like working at a dock. The jib carried Kintala across Mobjack and deep into the Severn River. It was barely a half mile to the anchorage when the last sail was rolled away and the Beast went back to work. Along the way a pod of dolphins dropped by to play tag in the bow wake and see how we were doing. It was the first we have seen close up in several months. Such encounters are pretty high on the list of “best things about cruising” and it was an added treat to top a nearly perfect day.

video


Severn River is a new place for us, talked up by many as a must see. Kintala is set secure in front of the Severn River Marina; where friends have spent the summer working on their Catamaran. There had been some vague plans of seeing them tonight but, truth to tell, easy day as it was, launching the Dink just seemed like too much work. Even a great day of sailing is still a pretty busy day, and the four nights spent in Fishing Bay waiting for wind and sea to settle down were not much of a rest. All in all it took about 7 + 30 to cover the 34 miles from the last place to this. At the end of the day Kintala's deck was well ordered and tidy. Nothing was jammed or hung half way up the forestay. Which was good. I would hate to have the dolphins drop by and catch us in a state of disarray like the day we went into Fishing Bay.

It would have been down right embarrassing.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Hermit diaries

This is our third morning in Fishing Bay. The wind is finally starting to ease, the boat dancing and rolling just that little bit less. Though not calm by any standard, any improving of the conditions is welcome as it has been a long couple of days. We managed to eat some, sleep poorly, read a bit, and keep the batteries charged using little Honda generator. The wind ripped a seam out of the dodger, but that is the only damage we have suffered. Hopefully in the next day or two we can make a stop at the marina nearby, pump out, take on some water, leave some trash, and be on our way.

Fishing Bay, empty.

Kintala is the only boat anchored, which is a bit of a puzzle. There were a lot of boats around when we sailed here the other day. Certainly most of them found a place to wait out the weather just as we have. Where did they all go? So we have been camped out here all by our lonesome. It is a part of the cruising life that doesn't get mentioned as often as it should, particularly among those who are “coastal cruisers." After all, we don't cross oceans, striking out across the most remote places on the planet for weeks at a time, no other humans around for hundreds of miles. No. We go out for a day or two, maybe three at most. And that not very often. Most of the places we go will have a few to a whole gang of boats. There will be pot lucks and gatherings, boat visits and sundowners; all the things people normally associate with cruising.

But there will be many days like these past few as well. We have been face to face with none but ourselves since pulling up the hook in Annapolis. With the wind and rain we have barely been out of the boat since we dropped the hook here three days ago. And it isn't a very big boat. Fortunately Deb doesn't seem to mind my face.

One of the reasons to go cruising is to get away from the crowd once in a while, which is probably a little bit of a misleading thing to say. Apart from shopping, a “crowd” to us is now any group numbering more than five or six, six being about the most that will fit in Kintala's tiny cockpit for sundowners. We don't see crowds very often so, when we do, it is some kind of occasion all of its own. (Like the St. Patties Day Parade at Green Turtle or a Boat show.)

I like living in such a way that crowds are a “special occasion”.

Though a little less rolling at anchor would still be nice.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Back Creek Solomons to Fishing Bay 9-24-2015


A day unraveled...

I slept 10 hours last night.

Back Creek, Solomons sunrise. Red in the morning...

Yesterday the hook came off the bottom of Back Creek in the Solomons at 0700. Sailing the day before (Back Creek Annapolis to Back Creek Solomons – lots of Back Creeks in these parts) had Kintala covering 48 miles in 9 + 15. Routing suggested it would be a 50 nm sail to Fishing Bay that would take nearly 12 hours, making an early go necessary to get in by nightfall.  Kintala's crew is still making the transition from “hanging around the Bay visiting friends” mode to “making tracks south” mode. This our first multiple days sailing strung together since last spring. We had been planning to make one more jump today, then stop for a bit to visit.

 But after yesterday Kintala will be taking the day off.

Winds for the last two days have been in the 20 knot +/- range, making for fun, if somewhat busy, sailing. The first day out, we had started with just the staysail. It was enough power to have us going nearly 5 knots but not really enough to keep Kintala happy banging through the waves. Tucking the little sail away and flying the jib was the ticket. The GPS track logged a max speed of 7.7 and our old Tartan romped happily south. Yesterday looked to be more of the same.

Waves were noticeably fuller as the bow cleared into the bay. Not taller or steeper, just more robust somehow, suggesting extra heft and power. We didn't bother with the little sail, just spun out the jib and set off. For much of the day we were in and out of the ditch, with the waves rolling the boat side to side. Day long winds built the waves fuller and taller, the roll becoming more pronounced. Those heading south were enjoying a fast but busy sail. Those heading north, presumably toward the boat show, looked to be taking a serious pounding. For the most part the sailboats were keeping pace with, and often passing, the trawlers. I can't imagine what the ride was like up on a fly bridge and assume they had stabilizers running at full song.

About a third of the way into the day, the winds moved more toward the bow and we needed the main – with two reefs – to help hold the point. It wasn't a particularly balanced sail set, one we haven't used before. The auto pilot struggled, though still working much of the time, and we pressed on. A kink in the bay moved the winds aft again and the main was dropped back onto the boom. The winds faded some more, the speed bled away, the waves kept rolling the boat and the jib started to slap itself silly. Time for the pole, which started the unraveling of the day.

Normally we set the pole without using a topping lift, which often had me struggling to keep it under control until both ends were secured. It had been a real struggle the first day out, so trying something different seemed like a good idea. And it was. Attaching the spinnaker halyard to the far end of the jib pole made life much easier, even on a rolling deck. The sail quit flogging, another knot was added to the speed, and all was well with the world.

Then the winds came back.

With the headsail poled out and the winds in the mid 20s +, Kintala flat launched herself into high a 7s romp with a max speed recorded of 8.2 on the GPS. Boat speed was showing 9+ with big, broad shouldered waves shoving the stern around at will. In the back of the mind lies the thought that the edge of the cliff is getting kind of close, but you just have to go along for the ride.

One thing about going fast is that ground is covered in a hurry. Instead of doing 50 miles in 12 hours, we had done nearly 60 in about 10.  The destination inlet hove into view with plenty of daylight left, but it required enough of a turn to put the wind on the other side of the stern. A flying, downwind jibe would be required, something that simply can't happen with a pole. Since we needed to slow down anyway, the decision was made to roll in the big sail and roll out the little sail on the other side. We have rolled up the big sail with the pole deployed before and it has always just swung forward to lie against the furled sail, waiting patiently to be taken down whenever we got around to it. But we have never rolled it in while using a topping lift.

Which, in the wind, got wound up at the top of the sail, jamming everything to a stop and making it impossible to drop the pole to the deck. All of the necessary un-jamming and dropping would have to be done out on the fore deck, the one place I didn't want to be at that moment. Fortunately, the jam happened late in the rolling up process. We let the small part of the jib still hanging just hang. The pole wasn't going anywhere with the topping lift tangled as it was. The little sail went out on the other side of the boat without a problem, we were still under way, under control.

And all was well with the world.

Ah, but then we needed to jibe once again to keep from running into the shore; impossible with the fore deck in the mess it was in. We tried, but the little sail's lazy sheet got twisted up somehow. The sail was mostly furled when it jammed to a stop, so I locked the line on a cleat and let it be. Pretty much every sail on board was now out of commission.

The Beast came to the rescue but, with all the sails in and the hull sideways to the waves Kintala was rolling and yawing madly while Deb tried to pick her way through the channel markers. I kept offering unneeded advice while tangled in cockpit mess of lines; jib sheets, main sheet, traveler, furling... Out on deck, reefing lines lay scattered about, sheets flogged, and a wayward halyard snapped back and forth. Kintala looked like the scene of a multi-colored spaghetti factory explosion.

Eventually, Fishing Bay lay under the keel. The hook went down.  We set it hard and laid out 80 feet of new-to-us BBB chain. It actually fits on our gypsy, runs off cleanly, and comes up even better. (Thank you Kokopelli!) Winds are forecast to be in the 30s before the weekend is out.

Kintala is taking the day off, so we will be in Fishing Bay until the wind blows itself out.  Then we will make tracks south once again.  Maybe invent some new kind of way to unravel a day.

A stunning ketch rig anchored next to us in Back Creek, Solomons

A fellow traveler in the rolling waves just outside Fishing Bay

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Back to Back 9-23-2015

Back Creek, Annapolis to Back Creek, Solomons


Fair Winds and Following Seas

When cruisers say goodbye to one another they nearly almost always say, "Fair Winds and Following Seas." There's a reason they do that, and today was the reason.

Back Creek Annapolis

We set out from Back Creek at about 0730, passing our new friends Carl and Ardys as they brought their Saga 43 in to the dock for service. A quick hello as we passed and then we motored just out of the channel before cranking out the staysail. The apparent wind was cranking up to the low 20s, substantially higher than the 5-10 predicted, and we were hard on the wind until we could make the turn to the south, so we decided on the staysail rather than the jib. Even with just the small staysail up and 3-4 foot waves, we were skimming along at 5 knots. Once we cleared the point and turned south, the apparent wind dropped to 15-20 so the staysail was stowed, the genoa cranked out, and the whisker pole set. It was magic. 45.8 miles, 9 hours 13 minutes, top speed 7.7 knots, average speed 5 knots, perfect temperature, and the new autopilot performed flawlessly. It was the sail cruiser dreams are made of, and the "Fair Winds and Following Seas" greeting is the best wish I can pass along to the rest of you making your way south. We hope you get to share the magic.


Back Creek in the Solomons

Monday, September 21, 2015

The SSB Workaround

After my recent post on cruising budgets, a reader requested more information on our SSB workaround. We had originally bought a used SSB from a good friend, but discovered shortly thereafter that it would require more installation headaches than we were willing to tackle. We ended up selling it. Not long after that, we had the good fortune of meeting Julie from S/V Coup d'Amour. Julie runs the Dinner Key Cruiser's net frequently and also happens to be the go-to guru on portable SSB weather receiving. She runs a class once in awhile when there's enough interest, and we were able to take the class. Taking a class on this is a good thing, because it does take some inside knowledge to make it work and also lots of practice. I've heard that full-function SSBs also have that kind of learning curve so committing to that was no problem for me.

First, let's talk equipment. Here's what you need to receive weather faxes on a portable SSB:
  1. Portable SSB radio receiver
  2. iPad or Android tablet
  3. Black Cat Systems HF Weatherfax app for your system
  4. Good set of ear buds
  5. Antenna
Julie recommended the Kaito 1103 radio as being the easiest to work with. We purchased a slightly different one, the TecSun PL-660 because it was on sale and had slightly better ratings. Once you purchase your radio, you need to purchase and install the software. At the time of this writing it was $4.99 for either the iOS or Android systems.

Set up an antenna next. We followed Julie's example by making our own.  You simply use a long section of wire and put the appropriate end on it to fit your radio's external antenna jack. On the other end of the wire we installed a quick-disconnect fitting. We then cut a very short piece of the same wire and installed the other half of the quick-disconnect fitting to one end of it. The other end we exposed the wires and clamped them to the side stay on Kintala. When we use the radio we simply hook the wire to the side stay quick-disconnect, run it into the boat through the hatch and hook it up. You could permanently wire an antennae if you choose, but the low-budget approach has worked flawlessly for us. We did buy a portable SSB antenna on Amazon for $9.99 but it was not up to the task so we don't use it. Don't waste your money on one of those.

Once you have the radio hooked up to an antenna, plug your ear buds into the headphone jack on your radio. Once you are receiving the weather fax signal, you only need to position the ear bud over the mic on your iPad or tablet and it will transcribe the signal to a weather fax. The different reports run for several hours and holding the ear bud to the mic would become quickly tiresome so we rigged a very MacGyver holder for it out of some 5/8" water hose which you can see in the picture above. I have read that you can get a rig designed for cameras that will hook up to the charging port and allow the use of a USB input, but I haven't tried it. Get comfortable with receiving the reports then you can change your setup to what works for you.

Once the rig is completely set up then you can begin to receive your fax. The signals are only sent on a specific schedule, and come from several locations so you would choose the one closest to you, pick one of the frequencies and see if you get a clear signal on it. If not, then move to the next frequency and try again. There are usually 3-4 frequencies available at each location. This would be a good time to go on over to the schedule and download the pdf to study. The schedule does come included in the HF WeatherFax software to use offline. In our case here in Annapolis we would use the Boston location. The possible frequencies would be 4235, 6340.5, 9110, and 12750 although the only ones offered at all broadcast times are the 6340.5 and the 9110. Keep in mind that the times listed in the TIME column are UTC (or ZULU) times. If you have trouble calculating that, you can download an easy-to-use app for it, available in either Android or iOS. Pick your reports based on the time of day that you are available to download them. The most recent data on this schedule would start at 0755 UTC, but that is currently 3:55 am where I am and I'll still be sleeping. Instead, I can do some of the reports beginning with the preliminary surface analysis at 1453 UTC which is 10:53 am where I am, and then some of them at 1905 UTC (3:05pm) beginning with the 24-hour surface forecast. If you've rigged a mic holder then you just let them run one after the other. The software has a function that saves the image as it completes then moves on to the next one so you don't have to interfere.


Several notes: reception will be bad anywhere close to shore due to cell phone towers, radio towers, airport broadcasts etc. The images will come out with lots of noise like this one:


The farther you are offshore and away from interference, the better it will work. Since you will normally use cell internet for weather reports near shore, this arrangement works well. In the Bahamas there is so little interference that your faxes will come out very clean like these two that were done in Bimini:



It takes a while to learn what the signal tone should sound like. Julie liked to describe it as galloping horses and that's a pretty accurate description. Here's a couple videos that I did this morning. The signal was strong enough that I was able to record it with just the extended radio antenna without even attaching the long wire antenna. The first video is of the tuning process. In the app there's a tuning button which takes you to the tuning screen. You adjust the SSB fine tune knob on the radio until the spikes line up on one or both of the vertical red lines. The second video is of one of the reports transmitting so you can see how slow it is. I don't have the ear buds hooked up since I wanted you to hear the signal, but you can see that you would want the ear buds hooked up rather than listening to this for a couple of hours. In addition, the ear buds keep it from picking up surrounding noise in the boat as well.

Adjusting the tuning knob so that the signal spikes climb up the red vertical lines.
video


Receiving a weather fax.
video

After Julie's class and a dozen or so tries I'm now able to get consistently good reports. Like anything worth learning, stick with it and practice and you'll get the hang of it.

In addition to the printed forecasts, you can also receive NOAA's voice forecasts. Here are the schedules:

Chesapeake(NMN)
HF Voice Broadcast Schedule
4426, 6501, 8764 kHz (USB) 0330Z1  0515Z2 0930Z1



6501, 8764, 13089 kHz (USB)

1115Z2 1530Z1 2130Z1 2315Z2
8764, 13089, 17314 kHz (USB)


1715Z2

1 Offshore Forecasts, hurricane information
2 Highseas Forecast, hurricane information

Broadcast of hurricane and other weather broadcasts from this station may on occasion be preempted, as the frequencies are shared with other USCG stations.

   
New Orleans(NMG)
HF Voice Broadcast Schedule
4316, 8502, 12788 kHz (USB) 0330Z1  0515Z2 0930Z1 1115Z2 1530Z1 1715Z2 2130Z1 2315Z2
1 Offshore Forecasts, hurricane information
2 Highseas Forecast, hurricane information

Broadcast of hurricane and other weather broadcasts from this station may on occasion be preempted, as the transmitters are shared with the radiofax broadcast.

   
Pt. Reyes(NMC)
HF Voice Broadcast Schedule
4426, 8764, 13089 kHz (USB) 0430Z 1030Z

8764, 13089, 17314 kHz (USB)

1630Z 2230Z

Broadcast of hurricane and other weather broadcasts from this station may on occasion be preempted, as the frequencies are shared with other USCG stations, and the transmitters are shared with the radiofax broadcast.

   
Kodiak(NOJ)
HF Voice Broadcast Schedule
6501 kHz (USB) 0203Z
1645Z
 
 
Honolulu(NMO)
HF Voice Broadcast Schedule
6501, 8764 kHz (USB)
0600Z 1200Z
8764, 13089 kHz (USB) 0005Z

1800Z 

   
Guam(NRV)
HF Voice Broadcast Schedule
6501 kHz (USB)
0930Z 1530Z
13089 kHz (USB) 0330Z

2130Z 
HF voice broadcasts may be terminated if longer than the available broadcast period. This will most likely occur during the hurricane season when supplementary advisories are broadcast in addition to the routine forecasts.

Carrier frequencies shown.  HF voice broadcasts use a synthesized voice "Iron Mike".
ITU channel numbers as follows:
4426(#424), 6501(#601), 8764(#816), 13089(#1205), 17314(#1625)

Note that stations share common frequencies.

You can also receive Chris Parker's broadcasts on the portable. Here is his current schedule directly from his website:

Schedule:
Nets conducted 6 days/week, Monday through Saturday.


Our TecSun PL-660 also functions incredibly well on AM and FM bands. We have received regular radio weather forecasts even 10-12 miles offshore. We also enjoy listening to radio broadcasts from other countries. There are many websites dedicated to shortwave broadcast schedules. One example would be Ham Universe but there are thousands more available for a quick Google search. We enjoy listening to BBC programs as well as music from other countries.

Using the portable SSB, you can still receive cruiser nets. You can't transmit and participate, but the news and gathering information is available to you. One of the best resources for cruiser net frequencies is Dockside Radio.

Clearly, a full-functioning SSB has advantages in being able to conduct two-way communications with weather and emergency personnel and cruiser's nets. As an alternative in those instances, we use our DeLorme InReach for two-way texting when we're out of range of cell. But at two grand purchase price plus another grand for installation equipment plus the unknown other wiring and parts replacements that would most certainly be unearthed in the installation process on a 33-year old boat, the portable is a great alternative for us.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Anatomy of a Cruising Budget

 

Bob over at Boat Bits is a critical thinker. He's not afraid to confront issues directly and dissect them until he understands them. He's also not afraid of ruffling anyone's feathers, nor is he afraid of discovering some tenet he held is, in fact, incorrect. Refreshing. His blog was one of the earliest in my blog reader, one where I knew I could find someone willing to call B.S. when it was needed, and it's needed quite a bit in the marine industry. He recently challenged me in an email exchange regarding the costs of cruising and, soon after, he did a post, A Small Thought About Budgets and Boats. Go ahead over and read it. I'll wait, as it's important to this discussion.

Bob's concern about reported cruising budgets is that they are horribly under reported because, well, no one wants to look like either the idiot who wasn't smart enough to figure the costs prior to starting, or the cruiser with an uncontrollable spending problem. In addition, you have the fact that income and spending are both highly personal issues and few are willing to divulge that information since our society has deeply instilled in us the false doctrine that you are what your net worth is. In mulling this all over the last few days I kept remembering a short Bible verse that kind of sums it up: "Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won't you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?" (Luke 14:28)  

Well, maybe not.

Before you can understand the realities of the cruising budget, you first have to understand reasons why people want to go cruising in the first place. It's important enough that the whole first chapter of the book we wrote deals with it. After a few years of doing this, I've found that there are about three styles of cruiser budgets. You have the bare bones Lin and Larry Pardey budget with no fridge, little electrical, very few electronics, no eating out. Some of these folks are able to cruise for $500-800 in third world countries by eating a lot of beans and rice, doing very little boat maintenance, trading work for parts when boat maintenance is needed, and never ever spending time on a dock. Next up is the group of cruisers that is mostly comprised of retirees living on pensions, investments, and Social Security. They eat well, mostly on the boat, with some treat excursions out a couple times of month. They do most of their own boat maintenance, read more than going out for entertainment, and socializing is usually potluck dinners with other cruisers. They try to anchor or to use mooring balls for the most part but may end up on a dock at least several times a month, mostly to reprovision.  The last group is the varying degrees of independently wealthy who live mostly in marinas, eat out nearly every day, frequent concerts, movies, galleries, and shopping, and hire someone to do most, if not all, of the boat maintenance. Of course, there are the folks who don't fit these neat categories, like a few younger cruisers we know who were able to sell a successful business which they worked hard to create, or who telecommute successfully from the boat. We fall in the middle group, along with most of the other people that we know and have met along the way. There's no question that the vast majority of cruisers on the east coast fall into this group. It's also the majority of the links in our cost of cruising side bar.

A couple of points need to be made as background for the following discussion.
  1. You will never have enough money set aside to go cruising.
  2. The boat will never be ready to go cruising.
  3. Money fills a void. You will spend pretty much everything you have to go cruising.
  4. Cruisers fall victim to Cost Creep, that insidious parade of "small purchases" that increase ever so slowly...
Our departure date to go full-time cruising was pushed up early due to our job losses. We could have gotten new jobs and spent two more years working to fill the cruising kitty but, in the end, we would have spent half that money dealing with storing the boat somewhere and moving expenses, since there were no jobs in aviation in the town where we lived. No question that more money would have made the last two years much easier, but the sheer hassle factor of finding new jobs and moving made us decide to go then and figure the rest out along the way. We had a savings account which we hoped would span the gap from our departure to our eligibility to claim Social Security and, once eligible, we would have enough funds to cruise on that monthly income.

Flash forward two years, and we can now see that the savings account will not span the gap and that we'll have to work somewhere for probably most of a year come Spring. Things happen. Boats break. A lot. Family members need help requiring multiple flights at short notice. The housing market takes a tumble and yields much less profit than hoped. And, yes <gasp>, some of the long list of stuff that everyone said you had to have was in fact B.S. And here is where I think the posted cruiser budgets fall short, because most of those reported budgets are normal, daily expense reports that don't include the initial refit or a periodic refit 5-10 years of cruising later. So if we look at cruising budgets in two parts we have a better feel for the actual cost of cruising.

Initial Outlay / Refit

One of the biggest gripes we have with the marine industry as a whole, and the cruising portion of it specifically, is that it's full of predators. One of our blog readers recently made this comment:

"The trouble is, they are doing business on the back of people's dreams and 
those dreams usually blind the newbie or part-time boat owner to what is 
right in front of their eyes
."

You peruse the boat porn on yachtworld.com and make a list of all of the boats that interest you. The ads are great, the equipment list long. Unfortunately, while most (but not all) of the claimed equipment will be on board, much of it will be non-functioning. In our case it was the autopilot, the sump pump system, most of the lights, the VHF, the illegal propane bottles, the badly expired life raft to the point of ridiculousness, the head, the missing V-berth mattress, the missing salon cushions, the V-drive, the transmission, the ammeter, the heat pump, and repairs to the actual hull and deck. When you're looking at those ads you can't bring yourself to look at them critically. You see what you want to see. You see what they want you to see.

Even if you manage to find the perfect boat, you will also spend money on things just because you want them for functionality, comfort, or safety.  In our case that included new faucets, a salon table conversion, a workshop conversion, the pilot berth conversion, the addition of a gas detector, smoke alarms, CO detector, AIS, several new storage cabinets, spice rack, and the endless list of things like shower curtain, new sheets and blankets, new pillows, some galley items like our Magic Bullet, and tools. Ah yes, tools.

Tools deserve their own whole paragraph because if you fit into that do-most-of-the-work-yourself group like we do, tools will become a major part of your expenditure. We brought nearly half of all of Tim's tools from his aircraft maintenance stash and have still had to buy more along the way. The biggest part of tool expenditures is replacing electric tools like sanders and drills because the marine environment is so harsh for them. Harbor Freight is your friend because whether you buy expensive tools or cheap ones, you will still replace them about the same frequency. Save your money for beer. Tools fall into the Cost Creep category. None of them are very expensive. Our drill was $27. Less than a cost of two burgers, fries, and beers. But one of a long, long list of small expenditures. Your list will be different. Every cruiser's list is different because each of us have different comfort levels and desires and tolerances. Only you can know what's on your list.

The conventional wisdom is that you will spend 30% of the purchase price of your boat to get it ready to go cruising. Our reality was much higher, nearing 100%. If you have any doubt, think a larger amount.

Daily Expenses

Normal daily expenses on the boat include:

Food
Eating out
Alcohol
Water
Ice
Miscellaneous supplies (paper goods, cleaners, rags, towels, flashlights, batteries,water filters,etc)
Pumpout
Propane
Gasoline
Diesel
Laundry
Communication
Health care
Medical expenses 
Clothing and shoes
Tools and equipment 
Bottom cleaning or supplies to do it yourself (scrapers, etc)
Entertainment (books, Kindles, movies, computers, museum tickets, concert tickets)
Transportation (bus fares, cab fares, metrolinks)
Travel (airline tickets, rental cars, hotels)

Make yourself a spreadsheet and play with the numbers. You're going to find that while living on a boat is definitely cheaper than living on land, a lot of the numbers are the same. Food will likely be more expensive, you will likely drink more alcohol due to socializing, water is very expensive in the Bahamas. Gasoline for the dinghy and diesel for the boat are both going to be more expensive than on land. Marinas charge a premium because you can't just drive somewhere else to save a couple pennies. Depending on how much land travel you do, that category can have a huge impact on your budget. Remember that communication (phones, internet) is often one of the largest items on the list. Once you get some numbers you think you can live with, talk to some cruisers and show them your list and see what they think. Remember that everyone lives at different comfort levels, but their input can be invaluable in determining if you're dreaming a pipe dream.

If you're already cruising, how does your current budget compare to what you thought it would be?  We definitely spent substantially more than I had planned and hoped. One of Bob's critical thoughts was that few cruisers are willing to admit that they made mistakes on their spending. As I look back on the years since we bought our first boat in 2007, there aren't many of those "WTF was I thinking, I spent HOW MUCH for that, and Boy-Howdy-I'll-never-make-that-stupid-mistake-again" moments Bob refers to, except for the initial purchase of Kintala. We clearly spent way too much money for the boat initially. We clearly spent way too much money on the surveys and inspections we hired out that were jokes. And we clearly had to spend way too much money to replace equipment that was on the list in the ad that wasn't actually there or wasn't functioning. Stupid, yes. We were the dreamers, they were the predators, and we were blind to what was right in front of our eyes.

Since leaving, though, our higher than expected expenses can be tied to two major issues:  too much time spent on a dock, and Cost Creep.

Every time you land on a dock you will spend at least $100 a day. Dock fees (average $2 per foot per night=$84 for us), electric fees if you don't have solar ($5-10 avg), and the fact that restaurants and bars and grocery stores are close, all add up to at least that $100 per day.

Cost Creep are those myriad of expenses that cause money to slip through your fingers. They are all the expenses you don't quantify when planning that add up incredibly fast. It was stuff we just didn't think about when we planned. Examples?
  • Water filters: we use two types and replace them every 6 months at $100 each time.
  • Water purifier: we use the Camco brand in our water tanks every time we fill them $5 a bottle, 12 per year. It's stabilized and works better than bleach.
  • Ice: averages $2.50-$3.50 per bag and when it's really hot we go through one every couple days. Could we do without it? Yes, but this is a comfort choice.
  • Laundry: averages $1.75-$2.50 to wash and $1.50-$2.00 to dry. We wash by hand a lot, but when we're near a laundry we generally use it.
  • Water: in the States it's usually free, but in the Bahamas it swings wildly from $.20-$1.00 per gallon.
  • Batteries: we go through a lot of AA and AAA batteries. We use rechargable when we can, but due to electrical draw on the inverter we do use a lot of disposable ones. I lucked out recently and got a box of 72 of them for $14 on a Groupon special but we frequently pay that for a dozen of them.
  • Internet access to Skype with grand kids: There is virtually no free internet in the Bahamas. You can get data cards for $30 for 2gb, or you can go to a restaurant and order a meal and get very slow internet, or you can go to a coffee shop and get a $5 coffee and use the internet, but open wifi is virtually nonexistent. Even the restaurants and coffee shops change the password every single day. Have grand kids? Figure minimum $10 to Skype with them.
  • Oil: We change the oil every 100 hours. Not a huge expense, but just another one at average $20 per jug.
  • Engine diapers: they're required in a lot of places and we change them frequently. $.85 each.
  • A spare impeller kit for our water pump is $85.
  • A new toilet brush $3.95. Toothbrushes - about the same. Boat cleaning brush? Set you back $50
  • Some new towels to replace the ones with threadbare holes $8.25
  • Boat cleaning stuff: Prism Polish (we use a lot of it for stainless and fiberglass and ports), Simple Green, bleach, rags, etc. Just the Prism is $29.95 per can.
  • Oh and then there's ice cream...nuff said.
So regarding the WTF expenses. We did make a few errors in purchasing over the four years of owning this boat and all of them, yes every single one, was based on buying what everyone in the industry and fellow experienced cruisers said we had to have.
  • Stereo system: Turns out we like our iPads better with a Bluetooth speaker. We were able to sell the stereo we bought and recoup all but $20
  • Spinnaker: Not knowing the difference in spinnakers due to lack of experience, we bought a symmetrical spinnaker that we found used at a good price. Turns out it was a good price because no one uses them any more. Turns out we will never deploy a spinnaker with a short-handed crew. Yes, I realize that some people do. Just not us. $375 lost and the spinnaker gifted to a friend of ours to make bags with.
  • SSB: We bought a used SSB for the boat and after carrying it around for a year, we sold it for what we paid for it. Turns out that installing it in Kintala would have been a nightmare of epic proportions and we were done with nightmares. We spent $99 and  bought a portable receiver instead.
  • Cordless power tools: We already had cordless drills that we brought which died within a few short months. They require a lot of power to recharge, they're expensive to buy, and the replacement batteries cost more than the whole new set. $135 for a lower-end cordless, or $27 for our corded drill. No brainer there. We threw away the cordless ones when they died and bought a new extension cord that will reach all over the boat from the inverter.
We made countless smaller purchases of materials to complete projects that ended up not fitting, or not being quite the right material, or not being quite what we thought we wanted. Took us two tries to find a nav seat we were happy with. Another example of this is some screws that we ordered to replace some missing ones in the bimini frame mounting jaws. Sailrite doesn't offer them as spares and told us we could "find them at any hardware store." Not so much. We ordered them twice from different manufacturers and still don't have the right size screw. We have those screws sitting in the spares bin and maybe they'll fit something somewhere down the road. Yet another example would be some cup holders that didn't fit in the teak rack I had hoped they would fit in. Yes, I measured the hole. Yes, the holder labels said they would fit. No, they didn't fit. No, they couldn't be returned. Only $7.95 each, but this is the type of thing that adds up.
    
So my WTF??? moments in regards to expenses are, for the most part, not major ones. It's the list of $22 and $31 and $14.95 and $8.75 and $3.57 expenses that pop up on my credit card bill. Cost Creep. Figure out how to nip it in the bud and you'll get your cruising cost numbers down to something bordering wishful thinking. And, since I'm sure you're wondering, our wishful thinking goal for monthly cruising expenditures would be $1750. The reality is much worse. Since leaving to go full-time cruising, we have averaged $3544. It doesn't include the initial refit. It does include everything else: our summer refit, the money we spent helping the kids last summer and health insurance (which is not in our monthly cruising expense reports only due to the fact that it comes out of a different account and is hard to include in our reports). One of the things that pushed our numbers that high was an unexpected medical issue for me in December and January of the past year that cost us nearly $10,000. Things happen.

Our hope is that now that most major projects are done on Kintala, our expenses will go down. We also hope that, since we're more experienced, we will stay off docks more and utilize free anchorages. If our expenses don't go down? Then we'll be working a bit longer. It's a price we're willing to pay for having had the opportunity to leave early. I wouldn't trade the last two years of cruising for anything.

As you read through the data so graciously provided by other cruisers in our cost of cruising links, and as you scour the internet for some I missed, here's a few concise tips to keep in mind.
  • Try to come up with a sustainable budget that matches your resources.
  • Expect the unexpected and find workarounds.
  • Develop your creativity. Some of the best budget savers are those that were created as a result of budgetary pressures.
  • Be kind to yourself and to your significant other. If you make a mistake, even a whopper, dust yourself off and start over.
And finally, remember that what works for us or for other people may not work for you. Take your time to decide what you need and what your comfort levels are. Don't rush out and buy things on the advice of even seasoned cruisers. Listen, evaluate, do without, then see if you really need it. I promise you the marine goods hawkers will still be there to pluck your money from your wallet a few months from now. You might just find out you don't really need or want whatever it was in the first place and the money you save might just equal another Skype visit with your little ones. And at least for this cruiser, that's an non-negotiable cruising budget item.