Magic Number

money_sailing1-300x291How much does it cost to go sailing? This is a question we asked for years and years. We never seemed to get a straight answer. You would think Cruising World or Boater’s World magazines, that I subscribed to for years pre-internet, would shed some light on what is perhaps the single most pondered question as people look at this lifestyle. But, for whatever reason, this topic is not discussed much by cruising sailors. For the most part, cruisers would say if you are spending more than $50,000 per year, you are not sailing. Meaning, you are paying mooring fees and not taking advantage of the free ocean or anchoring in a remote cove. Some people say it can be done on $20,000 per year. Some will claim to do it on almost nothing at all. All sailors say the money doesn’t matter, just do it – you’ll be glad you did.  Well I’m not the sort of person who can fly by the seat of my pants and hope the money never runs out. I would like our cruising life to be comfortable but not necessarily swanky. I kept looking. I figured there had to be a magic number somewhere.

With the aid of the internet and now abundance of information at our finger tips, the magic number has come to light. There are ranges as one would expect. Factors such as the size and age of the boat, how much time is spend at a dock verses an anchorage, or something as simple as how much and how well a person likes to eat all come into play. I read a blog once about two people sailing. One of the entries made mention of the fact they had to eat cabbage stew that night because they didn’t catch a fish that day. This is not what I envision in our adventure. In our youth, cruising on a tiny budget would have seemed like a lot of fun and adventuress. As we have grown older, we have become accustomed to some comfort in life, such as eating and maybe a cheap bottle of wine here and there. Many years ago as we concocted this crazy idea of sailing, our dream boat was smaller and our budget was tiny. Each year we aged we grew a little wiser regarding our needs and so did our budget.

When it comes to low budget sailing, I don’t think anyone has documented this better than Moxie Marlinspike. Moxie made a documentary of his low budget sailing adventure on Pestilence entitled Hold Fast. His hour long story is done in an extremely high quality film that is NPR / PBS quality. In a comment below the film, a person wrote the format reminded them of This American Life and an Ira Glass narration. I agree. Here is a link to the film. When you have an hour to kill and you want a darn good story about some young people setting out on an adventure, give this a look. By the way, you need to give the movie a few minutes to get past the opening editing, and then the story really unfolds.

We followed blogs of people cruising and would often send emails enquiring about the costs. I came to the conclusion that most people sailing didn’t want to know how much it cost. I was like that with our previous boat, Water-Melon. I think if we had taken into consideration the money shelled out for maintenance, the marina dockage fees, electricity, annual taxes, fuel cost and general repairs we definitely would have sold the boat. I use to look at Water-Melon as a sanctuary to get away from the rat race corporate world and joked it was cheaper than therapy. As I look back, I’m not so sure if it was cheaper but it sure as heck was a lot more fun. Eventually, we had a few people write back to us and share their annual expenses. One of the folks who wrote back was a lawyer from New Orleans. I think he planned to write a book about their adventures. When he sent us their expenses, it was in a protected pdf format and the first page was legal mice type stuff basically prohibiting us from ever showing it to anyone without his explicit written permission. Can you believe that? We gave it to our finance guru who had been asking for firm numbers for several years. “Mark, how can I budget for something when you don’t tell me how much it is?” was the question I had to answer every six months. I gave him the pdf file I received from the lawyer sailor. When he opened the file he was pleased we finally gave him a number but feared for his life inside his company that he couldn’t keep the document. He just used the top line number and shredded the file so not to be sued by the lawyer sailor.

In my continued effort to track down a realistic budget, I came upon a cruising couple Bill and Judy Rouse. They own a 53’ Amel (the same as Cream Puff) called BeBe and are now in their seventh year of cruising. On their blog, they posted every expense they incurred. Judy will write in her budget book what they have spent every time they return to the boat. The header on their Cost blog page reads, Money — that topic no one likes to talk about. Someone needs to tell the truth. My kind of people. Bill and Judy are from Houston, Texas. Cindy is from Houston. We clicked. When I first found their site, I was thrilled to finally give our financial guru solid numbers. I think at that time they were in their 4th year of sailing. This is the budget we have based our budget upon. So, now we know how much it costs. This gets better though. I have found Bill and Judy to be ever so friendly. Bill took time to answer an abundance of stupid questions from me prior to us buying Cream Puff. When we purchased Cream Puff last year, I think Bill was as happy as I was.

This Christmas, we went to Houston to meet Bill and Judy while they were home for the holidays. Although this was the first time we met face to face, I feel as though I have known them for a long time as I became an avid reader of their blog. Bill has sent me files, manuals and procedures of things he has repaired on BeBe that will probably one day break on Cream Puff. He has seven years on us. I wish I could download the knowledge in his head. But, one day we’ll be there too and I hope to pay it forward as Bill and Judy have done.

The link to the magic number:


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