Cruising: You can do it your way
Posted on 24 February 2009
Written by Tom Neale
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Power or sail, coastal or offshore, for a month or a year — tailor the dream to fit your lifestyle
Many people dream of going cruising, but few do. Part of the reason has been the way it’s been defined.
The idea has been that it must be on a small, uncomfortable sailboat; that you have to go around the world (or never admit that you didn’t); that you have to drink warm beer and thrive on beans and rice; and that you and your mate have to be happy with bathing about once a week — from a tea cup.
Some have done it like that. Many others start out thinking they’d like it until experiencing the pleasure of standing downwind from their mate after the fifth or sixth day. You don’t have to do it like that.
Today, people cruise in many types of boats — tough little sailboats, ’round-the-world trawlers, express cruisers, gin palaces and light, peppy, comfortable coastal trawlers and sailboats. It’s easier and much more comfortable, but it still presents its problems.
My wife, Mel, and I moved aboard in 1979. Since then, we’ve seen many people begin cruising but soon stop, their dreams — and often relationships — crushed. We’ve also seen many people who only dreamed, until it was too late in their lives. I’m going to tell you how to deal with some of the problems of going cruising, with the hope that if you have the dream, you’ll make it happen.
Cruising your way
The first step is to forget the idea that you have to go far or cross oceans. The East Coast and off-lying islands are among the world’s premier cruising grounds. You can have fun for a lifetime without going far from home, without crossing oceans, without exerting that amount of effort and taking those risks, and without having to spend the money to buy a boat and equip it for that type of duty. Cruising gives you many options, and one of the best is that you can do what suits you.
Cruising doesn’t have to be forever. Many people take a sabbatical to do it. Many accumulate vacation time. Many figure out other ways to go for awhile, leaving a foot on the shore if they want or need to come back sooner than expected. Some plan to do it after retiring for a few years, looking for their retirement home as they go.
Doing it your way can make moot that old question: How much does it cost to go cruising? The answer is simple: It costs what you spend. The old myth that you can hang out on the hook for almost free isn’t valid. Like anything else, it’s going to cost. Some costs will be surprises, like serious equipment breakdowns. Others are controllable, like the type of boat, fuel bills, marina stops and eating out. You can choose.
Discover your own way
The next step is absolutely critical, and it’s very difficult. Try to decide the type of cruising you want to do before you buy your boat and equip it. Most start dreaming about cruising to faraway places like Tahiti; few actually do it. The majority of people that we know cruise along the East Coast, Bahamas and Caribbean, or perhaps along the Great Loop or in the Pacific Northwest. They find they have so much fun that they have no need to go farther. This type of cruising is usually safer, easier, requires less of a time commitment, and involves less disconnect with the good aspects of “home” that you like.
But how do you know until you do it? Read the advice of others who have a lot of experience — not necessarily people who have done it for a year or two and want to be “experts.” Go to programs at boat shows where these issues are discussed — again, by truly experienced people. (My book, “All in the Same Boat,” published by McGraw Hill, provides helpful information, www.tomneale.com.) Ride with friends who are cruising. Sometimes people are happy to have another couple along for a week or so to help out. Try to experience, for example, a week away from land, far out in the ocean, and a week in the Intracoastal Waterway. Charter in different areas. Even though this can be expensive, it can pay off in helping to prevent expensive mistakes later.
A boat that fits your cruising
A major and expensive mistake is to buy the wrong type of boat. If you buy a tough sailboat with a 7-foot draft and 70 foot-mast designed for fulfilling the Tahiti dream, you’re probably going to be unhappy if you hang out along the East Coast and the Bahamas. The boat will draw too much water for easy cruising in much of the ICW and Bahamas, and the mast will be too tall to get under fixed bridges in the ICW.
Spaces and creature comforts in that boat may be less desirable than in coastal boats because of the design and construction requirements of boats built for crossing oceans. And you may find that the big bucks spent for the construction of a “’round the world” sailboat or trawler could have been spent on more creature comforts in a less-expensive coastal boat.
None of this is to suggest ocean crossing may not be great for you. We’ve known and admired many over the years who thrive on it. But you need to know before you make the leap what’s going to really turn you on.
And just as you don’t need to be limited by the old traditions of cruising, don’t be stuck with traditional concepts of “cruising boats.” We’ve seen many people having great times in express cruisers. They can be comfortable and provide many more destination options because of their speed.
When you’re deciding on the type of boat you want, make an honest appraisal of how much creature comfort you’re going to want. Cruising myths extol the virtues of the simple life. Camping may be fun for a week, but not for months. With today’s boats and technology, you don’t have to give up comforts like refrigeration, air conditioning, hot showers, television, telephone contact with family, comfortable and dry beds, and all the “good stuff” of living. This issue often is where partnerships begin to unravel. Cruising must work for all aboard.
There are some basic requirements that are absolutely essential, regardless of the type of boat you choose. It must be safe and safely equipped. It must ride well. It must be seaworthy. It must be well-built. It must suit your type of cruising — for example, you wouldn’t want to try an ocean crossing in a gin palace. Each of these subjects would require books to discuss thoroughly. A good surveyor can help with these issues when you buy. Also, the boat must have good access to all its components so you can make repairs easily. When you travel to remote areas, you may have to fix things yourself, no matter how much money you have, because there may be no one else around to do it for you.
And, if you already have a boat, you may not need to get another one to go cruising. The one you have may be fine for the job, especially if you make needed modifications. (My February Sea Savvy dealt with fixing up an older boat to go cruising.)