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02 December 2013

10 Steps To Becoming A Full-Time Cruiser



The clock is ticking down and we're just weeks away from becoming "official" full-time cruisers. I was chatting with someone recently about what's involved in making the transition from land to boat and thought it was a good prompt to jot down our 10 steps to becoming full-time cruisers. It is always good to document your moments of insanity.

1.  Get yourself some passion (and brainwash your partner).

For us, the passion started with Scott when he helped a friend move a boat in the Mediterranean years ago. He fell in love with this whole sailing thing on that trip. After that he began his brainwashing campaign to convince me that this sailing thing is even better than sliced bread. Often the sailing dream starts with one partner and then the other person embraces the madness later. The important thing is to make sure it is something you both want to do and be clear why each of you wants to do it. For Scott it is the sailing and the traveling. For me, it is more the traveling and the chance to do something completely bonkers.

2.  Learn how to sail (and keep learning). 

This seems like a no brainer, but everyone has different ideas about what level of sailing experience and knowledge you need to get out there and start cruising. Scott has much more experience than I do. He has probably sailed close to 9,000 nautical miles (both cruising and racing) in New Zealand and Europe, has taken the Yachtmaster Offshore Theory course and has his VHF certificate. And he has been thinking and reading about sailing for years. But Scott would be the first one to say that there is so much to learn and he is far from an expert and much more in the beginner camp. And that's what is great about sailing, there is always something new to learn. You won't get bored and your brain won't shrivel up from lack of stimulus. 

Next to Scott, I know nothing about sailing. Next to experienced cruisers, I know even less. Early on, before we first started chartering boats, I took a four day practical sailing class which gave me basic knowledge about sailing and enough confidence to be the crew to Skipper Scott. But I still have lots and lots to learn and I'm currently putting together a list of specific skills that I want to develop and practice this summer when we're out cruising. Any suggestions on what I should have on my list would be warmly welcomed.

3.  Buy a boat (it doesn't have to be your forever boat).

For us the next big step was to buy our very own boat. We bought a small, older boat in New Zealand which we used to sail around the Hauraki Gulf last summer whenever we could get away. We know she won't be our forever boat, but she has been a great boat to cut our teeth on. She was relatively inexpensive (a lot of people might spend more on a car) so we didn't think we could go too far wrong buying her. However, when we buy our next boat, we'll be spending a lot more money (well a lot of money for us), so we've been doing a lot of research on boat buying and different types of boats. Frankly it is overwhelming and we do worry we'll get it wrong. So maybe our next boat won't be a forever boat either, but just a bigger boat. Lots and lot more research and thinking to be done.

4.  Figure out what your high-level plan is (don't worry, it isn't set in concrete).

You need some sort of plan, but for us, I think it should be a high-level kind of plan. Because things change. And they change again. If your plan is too detailed and fixed then you might get hung up on the detail and not be able to go with the flow when things change and new opportunities present themselves.

At the very least you need to figure out when and where you're going to start cruising. For us, we're starting off cruising full-time in New Zealand because that's where we live and where our boat it. We'll spend 3 to 3-1/2 months sailing here on kind of an extended shake-down cruise to figure out what works for us and learn lots and lots of stuff about boats, sailing and ourselves. After that, our plan is to head back to the States, buy a bigger boat and then start cruising again. The current plan is to buy a boat on the East Coast and then head down to the Caribbean, but maybe we'll start on the West Coast or in the Great Lakes instead. All we know is that we'll start cruising again in North America, everything else is still up in the air.

It also helps to have a "get out" card. We've been talking about trying this out for a couple of years and seeing how it goes. I think you need to do something crazy like this for at least a couple of years so that you can experience all of the highs and lows and make an informed decision about whether you want to carry on. I imagine the first year of cruising is one of the most challenging ones, so I think calling it a day after just one year probably isn't sensible. And even if you just do it for two years, what an incredible two years of adventure that would be.

5.  Share your plan with the whānau (family), your friends and colleagues (and then quietly freak out).

I recently read a post on Wright Away Sails Away which talked about how they just "spilled the beans" about their cruising plans with their work colleagues. It is such a turning point when you tell people about your crazy plans. It makes it real and in some ways there is no going back. We started telling folks earlier this year and it was a strange feeling. Our family is really supportive and not really too surprised about it. But I guess when you take a job in New Zealand and move there, having never actually been to New Zealand before, then you might get a reputation for doing strange things. But my mom worries - about the tsunamis, the boat capsizing, pirates, hurricanes etc. I don't think it helped when she saw All Is Lost and Captain Phillips in the space of week. Heck, I worry about those things too! But she hasn't tried to talk us out of it and it has been fun sharing our plans and preparation with her. She always has some good advice and/or thought provoking questions.

When it comes to friends, some of them think it is fantastic and wish they could convince their partner to do something like this (these are generally the people Scott races with). Some people think we're weird, but they probably thought that before. I can't think of any negative reaction that we've gotten from anyone. Or at least they haven't said so to our face. So, telling people went well for us. It just made it really, really real. And it is okay to freak out quietly from time to time once you realize what you're about to do. Because only a truly crazy person wouldn't occasionally think they were crazy.

6.  Figure out the money side of things (because this is the one thing everyone asks you about).

Unfortunately, cruising costs money so you do need to get your financial house in order. While we were definitely impacted by the global financial crisis aka "GFC" (like so many people), we're more fortunate than others and have some savings which we can use to fund our cruising. If you had asked me a couple of years ago, I might have really hesitated about chucking in the job in corporate la-la land with its regular pay checks due to our current post-GFC financial position, but I've recently realized that we're middle aged and we're only getting to get older. So, why not do it now while we can. Because, it could all go to hell again anyways with another GFC or worse.

We don't know how much cruising will cost us, but we've certainly read everything we can find about how much it costs others. It is so much fun to be nosey that way! We've been tracking how much we spend at a very detailed level for the past several months to get a handle on where our money goes and where we can cut back. We'll keep doing that, try to live a frugal cruising lifestyle and see how it goes.

On a related note, I like this post on This Rat Sailed which talks about money being "freedom chips". He talks about how many of us trade money away for a new car, nice clothes etc. all to keep up with the Joneses. But if you turn things around and think of money as "freedom chips" then you are much clearer about why you are earning money and what you are spending it on - in this case "freedom" from the rat race and all of its materialism. (Interestingly, they don't give any personal details on their blog as their family doesn't know about their plans yet. Not sure if they have done Step 5 yet?)

7.  Get rid of everything (well almost everything).

You can only fit so much on a 26' boat, so I've been on a mission to get rid of everything in New Zealand. I really don't have too much here to begin with (most of our stuff is still in Scotland which is a really long story), but it has still taken me a while to go through it and pare down to the essentials. The things I have found the hardest are getting rid of my books and clothes. I love books, but I have millions. They're heavy and they take up room so they have to go. I've also found it hard to get rid of the last of my work clothes. I think somewhere in the back of my head I've been thinking, "What if this doesn't work out and I have to go back to work?" What a depressing thought. But the clothes are gone now and I won't be going back to work anytime soon unless it is the type of place where you can wear shorts, t-shirts and jandals.

8.  Prepare and prepare some more (and then realize you can never fully prepare).

Oh my goodness, there is so much to think through when it comes to getting ready to live on a boat from provisioning (how much food storage do we really need), storage (where is everything really going to fit), water (how much water do we need for drinking and cooking and how bad will we start to smell without a shower), medical kits (what do we need to stock up when we leave New Zealand), how would you anchor under sail if your engine died (and how do you fix an engine)...and the list goes on and on and on. Too much to think about, let's move on.

9.  Figure out how you're going to work and play together as a cruising couple.

Scott and I have been married for coming up to 22 years, but we've never really worked together professionally or lived together 24/7. So moving onto a 26' sailboat and cruising together full-time may take some adjustments. Personally, I think we'll do fine as the basis of our relationship is humor and fun and we get along really well. But, even if you've been with your partner for ages and you like him/her, you still really need to figure out how you're going to work and play together as a cruising couple. And talk about it some more. Because, let's face it this is the biggest team-building course you'll ever do together. You can read some more on our thoughts on cruising couples here.

10.  Just do it!

This isn't a Nike advert. We used to live in Portland and some of the folks in that town had drunk way too much of the company Koolaid and had little swoosh tattoos on their ankles. I thought that was just plain crazy, but you have to admit their slogan "Just do it!" makes sense. So that's the final step in the plan - just get out there and do it. Things will go wrong, things will go right and there will be surprises and adventures along the way. But you do have a blog to update, so unless you get out there and do it, things will get pretty boring in blogland.

So what have you done (or are in the process of doing) to get ready for full-time cruising?
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8 comments:

  1. Aha...you've edited this post since I first read it I think (don't recall the name dropping ;-) ).

    I guess I need to update my blog...as my family and some friends do know about the plans (but my current job doesn't) and I am sharing more and more as time passes. As you know blogs are a bit of work to keep up to date and I have several of these steps going concurrently at the moment (bits of 3, 6, 7, and 8...things seem to constantly evolve and change as we go).

    I do like your steps...although we did tackle them in a bit of a different order (step 5 came before step 3...which we just got done...and others continue to evolve). Always fun to see how different folks tackle this adventure.

    Glad to hear you are getting out and enjoying your summer.

    -Mike
    http://ThisRatSailed.blogspot.com

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    1. I think I had always had the reference to your post in there, but can't be sure. I really liked your take on "freedom chips" - I think it is something other folks might really relate to as well. It would be interesting to hear what the reaction has been to you telling people your plans. Hopefully everyone has been very supportive. And you are right - things constantly change and evolve - half the fun of this sort of adventure! Well, most of the time any way :-) Cheers - Ellen

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  2. Hmm...the reply link didn't seem to work for me (darn Blogger) so I'll just reply as a new comment...

    The reference might have always been there...who knows...my memory isn't always the best...at least as far as I can remember. I do remember reading through a number of your "preparation" related posts including this one...probably right after you posted it.

    As for reactions, most have been supportive. A couple at work might border on a bit jealous (dreaming to escape the 9-5 working world...and one was actually the inspiration behind this post: http://thisratsailed.blogspot.com/2012/08/i-just-couldnt.html ). The "moms" are worried as moms tend to be. When I learned to fly I think my parents (at least mom) were a bit worried and would talk about it with their friends. Of course, they then found out several of their friends were pilots and I think that helped. They have now found out a number of their friends sail too...lol. There are the usual questions about possessions and money and the other logistics of not having a fixed address (some of which we are still working through). Much less of the "are you crazy" responses than we initially anticipated would be the case too (I think there was only one). I think we anticipated more negativity than actually occurred and that was good.

    -Mike
    http://ThisRatSailed.blogspot.com

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    1. So glad the reactions have been generally good. Love the comment about "moms" - they are the same everywhere! Mine worries too, but she is so supportive. Cheers - Ellen

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  3. AWESOME! We're getting ready to take off and are experiencing a little of this ourselves. I think this is the first time I've read of this part of the journey! We leave Oklahoma, USA in 36 days for Florida, where we'll spend three weeks working on our new-to-us boat and then trying out day sails, maybe to the Bahamas before experimenting a little more. My husband Patrick is the sailor, the rest of us (myself and four teenagers) have never been on a sailboat, but we're certainly up for the adventure! Thank you again for sharing your experiences!

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    1. Such an exciting time for you guys getting ready to start full-time cruising! Where will you be in Florida? We're currently in Indiantown during hurricane season and then will head to the Bahamas and beyond. We did our shakedown cruise in the Abacos - wonderful spot to test out a new-to-us boat. Can't wait to check out the rest of the Bahamas. Hopefully, our paths will cross out there on the water!

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  4. Hi, Love the blog.

    We have a family of 4, Mom Dad a 10 and 11 year old and have never cruised before although I do have some sailing experience.

    How much time does it typically take folks similar to us to plan and prepare for converting to full time cruising?

    Best regards,

    Bruce

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    1. Hi Bruce - sounds like you and your family have some exciting adventures ahead. You ask a great question, but unfortunately there's no simple answer. The time frames really vary depending on everyone's circumstances. It can be anywhere from a year to five years to a ten year plan. Lots of things to take into consideration - are you trying to sell property and downsize, do you have enough money to fund cruising or do you need to save up first, are you working full-time while prepping to cruise, do you have a boat already etc. I know that's not a very helpful answer, but it really isn't one size fits all. There's a site called The Monkey's Fist that has links to lots of blog posts on topics related to making the transition aboard. When we were getting ready to start cruising, I found reading other people's stories to be really helpful. Their situations were different, but having some real life examples helped us figure out what would work for us. If you want to check it out, here's the link - http://themonkeysfist.blogspot.com/2013/01/moving-aboard-transitions.html

      If you're on Facebook, there are also a number of sailing and cruising related groups which might be helpful. In particular, your wife/partner might want to check out the Facebook group, Women Who Sail. Great resource for women.

      All the best with the transition and keep us posted on how things go and if you have any other questions.

      Cheers - Ellen

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