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Jimmy Cornell: What It Costs to Cruise

This article was published on Cruising World’s website (April 10, 2013)

Try and set a realistic figure for the cost of voyaging before you leave home. Though that estimate isn’t easy to come by—you never know what might break and how much it’ll cost to put it right, nor can you anticipate emergencies—having a well-prepared boat will help keep repair and maintenance expenses down.

Financial matters were an important part of the surveys I conducted for my latest book, World Voyage Planner. The participants from 57 boats were asked to state whether their expenses came in as expected, were lower, or were higher; if they were higher, I asked the cruisers to name the main cause. More than half—31 sailors—reported that their costs totaled about what they’d expected, while the rest were evenly split between those who said that their costs were lower than they’d anticipated and those who said that they were higher.

When actual costs exceeded expectations, the root was repair and maintenance. In a few cases, marina fees in some parts of the world were the reason. “Docking fees have soared in the past few years, and services have become more expensive,” said Barry Esrig, the owner of a Baltic 51, LADY E. “Croatia often charges for anchoring, while Turkey now requires an agent to clear in and out.” Jim Patek of LET’S GO!, an Ovni 435, offered a similar sentiment. “On my latest voyage, I observed right away that the day of the shoestring cruiser is gone,” he said. “In some of the places where we used to anchor, one must now use docking or mooring facilities.”

Cap’n Fatty Goodlander found that on his second circumnavigation aboard his boat, WILD CARD, a Hughes 38, costs were occasionally higher than expected due to several factors. “Clearing-in and -out costs are now skyrocketing,” he said.

Several skippers who found that the costs of cruising were what they’d expected pointed out that by leaving with a well-prepared boat—with engine, sails, and all essential equipment checked and serviced—the day-to-day running cost little. “Before setting out, I’d spent about $85,000 on new equipment and getting the boat in top condition with many spares on board, so that the running expenses wouldn’t be high,” said Paul Donnerup of NEW DAWN, a Hallberg-Rassy.

Bill McLaren of VAGRANT OF CLYDE, a Bowman 40, shared a pleasant financial discovery. “Although my wife, Jane, and I never kept careful accounts,” he said, “cruising was a lot cheaper than living at home is now! The biggest difference comes in the use of marinas, eating out, land travel, and how much boat work you do yourself.”

Stu Conway of the Concordia STAMPEDE also found costs as expected. “Before leaving, I spent a reasonable amount replacing and upgrading components,” he said. “I still had to do lots of work, but nothing major. Fuel, food, and entertainment came in a little higher than I’d anticipated, but we took advantage of more activities and tours than we’d imagined that we would. Our circumnavigation was a dream realized.”

I also asked the participants to make a general comment on their cruising budget. “Cruising budget?” said Mike Beilan of INFINI, a Westsail. “It takes what ya got!”

Dave Lynn of NINE OF CUPS, a Liberty 458, was one of a group of sailors who gave precise figures for budgets. “My wife, Marcie, and I found that on average, we can live comfortably on $30,000 per year, including all expenses, such as inland travel, occasional trips to the United States, maintenance, and repairs,” he said.

This was close to the amount that John Gratton and Linda Hill of NAKIA, a Hans Christian, had budgeted. “Our goal is $25,000 per year,” John said. “We haven’t met that yet, but it’s a nice goal. Long-distance sailing is more expensive than coastal cruising. During our three years in Mexico, we averaged about $27,000. During our two and a half years in the Pacific, it was more like $30,000.”

Bill Rouse kept an accurate record of all expenses during a five-year-long world voyage aboard an Amel Super Maramu, BEBE. He estimates an average annual budget of $50,000, and he’s skeptical “of people who say they do it for $500 per month because they either don’t know how to add or their boats aren’t seaworthy,” he said.

Mike Dorsett of WHITE PRINCESS, a Renegade 43, would certainly disagree. “Our budget is $1,000 per month, which covers living expenses, fuel, and yacht maintenance,” he said. “To manage this, we don’t use marinas, and we do all our own maintenance.”

In my own case, I found on my last round the world voyage that my allowance had been generally right. My annual expenditure was approximately $40,000, which included all living and boat expenses and regular flights home. Over a period of eight years, I left the boat unattended on a dozen occasions in various marinas or boatyards. I found that this way of cruising in stages not only suited my lifestyle but also is a very pleasant way to sail around the world in a relaxed and unhurried fashion.

Cruising in stages has become a common occurrence, and several of the sailors I interviewed are doing it. “Logistic travel costs for family crew changes, and the need for my wife to return frequently to the United Kingdom affects our budget enormously,” said Dave Ungless of SÄNNA, a Bavaria Ocean 50.

My own general advice on budgets and cruising is to allow more than planned, and make sure that you have access to funds in a serious emergency. I also urge you to think carefully before making a clean break with shore life. If you’re forced to change plans, whether for health or financial reasons, it’s good to have somewhere to return to, especially during a period of economic uncertainty.

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