24 February 2017

Flashback Friday | 10 Steps To Becoming A Full-Time Cruiser

Today is Michael d’Agostino’s Flashback Friday. The idea is to republish an old post of yours that maybe didn't get enough attention, or that you're really proud of, or you think is still relevant etc. We started this blog three years ago and have lots more followers now then we did back then (thank you all!) so many folks may not have seen some of our earlier blog posts. 

I wrote this post when we we were about to move onto our first sailboat in New Zealand and embrace a lifestyle of full-time cruising. Overall, our experience living on our boat and cruising in New Zealand was successful and, although life got in the way with family and other matters and delayed our plans, we decided to continue to pursue the cruising lifestyle. 

It was interesting to look back at the steps we took to transition to this way of life. Overall, I think the approach we took worked for us and prepared us reasonably well for our insane adventure. But that doesn't mean they would work for others. This form of insanity certainly isn't one size fits all and everyone needs to find their own path.

{This post was originally published in December 2013. You can find it here.}


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.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about living and cruising on a sailboat? What's the craziest thing you've ever done?

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  1. I think buying a small easily sellable boat and making absolutely no upgrades to it is really important. I'm sure you learned so much from that first experience. A "not forever" boat gives you the chance to see if you even like boating and how the relationship will work while cruising.

  2. I think you've listed some really good advice, particularly number 8. You can't prepare for everything, but we definitely try. Being self-sufficient and handling whatever comes our way is a point of pride for us.

    Stephanie @ SV CAMBRIA

    1. One of the things I like about boating is having to be relatively being self-sufficient. It's challenging at times, but a nice feeling too.

  3. Ha, we're only a few years behind you! And our not-forever boat is a foot shorter than yours! We're at a step 3 ½ at the moment - sailing only during the summer just like everyone else in our country (because the sea is frozen the rest of the time) and trying to make it look like that's all we are doing. But we're secretly making plans, and have not told many people. Hence the no names or personal details policy.

    1. That must be tricky at times not to divulge any personal info on your blog and keep it a secret.

  4. I loved reading this! We're at #7 right now - we've sold a heap of our stuff already and are having a garage sale next weekend to hopefully get rid of the rest! It's amazing how liberating it's been to get rid of "stuff". Our house is being listed the week after and all of a sudden things are getting REALLY real. 6 times day I think we're crazy, 6 times a day I think what we're doing is awesome. We've had nothing but support and encouragement from everyone we've ever told about this, it's been really wonderful. We still have about a year of living at the dock in the PNW while we wrap up some work commitments, then we're off down the coast. I've enjoyed reading your blog from the NZ days to current, it's been truly inspirational. Safe travels!

    S/V Eione

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words Linda! Do you guys have a blog? If so, let me know so I can check it out.

  5. We are on number 8 but headed to number 10 pretty soon. Because we've spent a lot of time cruising in the summers around here for weeks at a time, we've pretty much got number 9 down but I'll let you know if that changes. Number 8's list has gotten shorter because we are running out of money to buy the things we thought we needed. We've discovered that we can still do what we need to do at haulout (the boat safety stuff), but the other things we thought we 'needed', are actually wants for now. So we will go. A little Nike therapy (as I say during work sessions with clients) goes a long way.

    1. You guys are going great guns! It's funny how looking at your checking account balance focuses the mind on what's really needed :-)

  6. You're super brave. I can move to foreign countries where I don't speak the language, but the sea freaks me out. (If God wanted people on the sea, he'd have given them fins and gills. lol) Have a great weekend!

    1. I'm either super brave or super stupid. I'm not sure which one yet :-)

  7. Sounds like great advice. I don't want to live on my boat. I like coming here and enjoying a week and then home to do other things. I do know folks that do live on their boats. The winters here are not all that fun.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

    1. You guys have a nice set-up in that you have your home, but can also spend time on your boat.

  8. Great post, Ellen. I had never sailed before we set out on our first cruising adventure (which didn't end well). I never took any courses, but just learned from Mark and by doing it, first in San Francisco Bay, then on the ICW and then out in the Caribbean. :-) I actually never saw our adventures, or yours, as crazy. Just different. Although, I realize others might think they are crazy. Then again, I think that the way most people live is crazy. :-)

  9. Fabulous post! There was once a time that my husband would have loved to cruise the world - and he would have had to do some major convincing (I am very prone to motion sickness).

    Now, however, we have another dream. We'd love to travel three months at a time - setting down some shallow roots in a foreign location (mostly England, France and Italy) and experience the country as a native. Many of your excellent tips here would apply to that dream as well.

    1. I love your idea of spending a few months at a time in one place and really experiencing it. Sounds fun!

  10. Love this post! I am excited for your future adventures. I would find it hard to get rid of books, too. :)

  11. Sailing sounds like a great adventure! I've always wanted to travel to Europe and New Zealand, but I have to wait until my best friend and her husband have enough time off, because they are my traveling buddies and I'm too scared to travel by myself.

    I like your points #4 and #5 because those could apply in any "insane" situation. I've gotten a few strange looks when I tell people I'm thinking about quitting my job to pursue writing full-time.

    1. You'll have such a great time traveling in Europe and NZ, especially if you go with good friends. Good for you for having the courage to think about writing full-time :-)

  12. Really love how you laid out the process for putting a dream/adventure into action. I found myself agreeing with each step from what I've learned from my own experiences of taking a leap. Mary Lou
    Visiting on a FlashBack Friday tour. :)

  13. You know...I really love that I discovered 'Flashback Friday' here...but I find it curious that it refers to a now 'extinct' blog.
    How come you don't just host it now?

    PS. Love that you took the leap...I am vicariously living a personal dream of mine through this blog :)

    - Lisa


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