The Right Way to Cruise


(published March 2017)

We were in the final days of preparing to depart for our voyage south from California, where we purchased Kate, when we met a couple who were in the final leg of their latest trip. I don’t remember their names but do recall that they were in their retirement years. Particulars about their boat escape me except that it seemed small, even for a 36-footer. We only had a brief dockside conversation but three things the man said stood out for me. They had sailed well over 10,000 nautical miles that season alone. They had to strictly ration water because they had no watermaker. And they also had no refrigeration on board.
I remember walking away thinking to myself that they must have been some kinda crazy to think that was the “right way” to do it. As a newbie boat owner I was nervous about sailing to Mexico, so their recent month long voyage north wasn’t something I was ready to wrap my head around yet. Steve hadn’t finished installing the watermaker on Kate so I thought I had mastered the art of water conservation, however I couldn’t imagine allowing only 1/2 gallon of fresh water per person a day. I understood that many foods didn’t need refrigeration, but who would sail the world without cold beer?

It wasn’t long after we untied the lines on our own adventure that I realized how many different approaches there were to sailing and living on board. In Mexico we met people who never seemed to leave the dock, in Costa Rica we met people who motored more than sailed. In Panama we met couples who started a family on board and in French Polynesia we met newlyweds who were spending their honeymoon circumnavigating. We’ve had great chats with old salts who’ve been singlehanding for years and are happy with just the basics. We’ve had beers with people who have tricked-out their boats with all the latest technology and are always looking for the next piece of gear to buy. Everyone we met seemed to have different needs and expectations. Everyone had their own way of doing things.

This is one of the most frequently asked questions on sailing forums and websites. I think it is also one of the most difficult to answer. Like monthly living expenses on land, monthly cruising budgets vary greatly from boat to boat.

Several factors have to be considered when talking about monthly cruising budgets; the size and condition of your vessel, the number of crew on board, your chosen cruising grounds and, perhaps the biggest variable, your personal habits and preferences. We’ve met people who have been happily sailing on $500 a month for years and those who budget close to $4,000 a month to live on board. What is essential for comfortable living for one person is an indulgence for another.

If you are new to the full-time sailing game and are trying to figure out how to swing it financially take a look at your current lifestyle. It is true that you can trim down on some land expenses like car payments and cable TV bills but unless you are planning on a major shift in your personal preferences you can get an idea of what your cruising budget might look like just by analysing your current monthly budget.
Do you eat out often or do you enjoy cooking a meal at home? When you travel do you only stay at luxurious 4-star resorts or are you the backpacker type? Do you like to get outdoors and away from the crowd or do you prefer the hustle bustle of a busy city?

People who cruise on smaller budgets will often forego things like staying in marinas, meals ashore or bottomless beers at the sundowner bar but that doesn’t mean that life is boring. There is great satisfaction in gathering on a beach to cook over an open fire while watching the dying embers of another perfect day splash across the sky. It is often a matter of how simply are you willing to live and what mod-cons can you live without.

Yes you can sail on a budget, and a fairly modest one at that, but that doesn’t mean sailing is cheap. There are often overlooked costs to cruising; clearance fees for every country you visit, insurance for yourself and the vessel, slipping and storage during off seasons. Simple things like the cost of doing laundry ashore and paying for internet access can quickly add up. Routine boat maintenance is often expensive, as are the unexpected issues and accidents that arise. Not only is it important to budget for the expected monthly costs but make sure you have enough savings to deal with the unexpected when it arises.
Whatever your budget is I think one of the most rewarding things about cruising is that it often makes you realize how much easier things can be without the clutter of modern materialism. You learn to appreciate the simpler joys in life, to connect with the natural world and yourself, and there is no putting a price on that.

Ask this question 30 years ago and no doubt the overwhelming answer would be a heavy, full keeled monohull. Although not considered fast these classic cruisers are comfy in heavy seas and are often described as being “safe” and given the moniker of “Bluewater Boat.”

Survey an average anchorage today and you’re likely to find a mix of boats of every size and description. We’ve seen everything from a Contessa 26 to multi-million dollar carbon fiber catamarans, and everything in-between, being used as private cruising boats, crossing oceans and sailing the world.
In recent years we’ve seen a lot more catamarans out sailing. Prized for their spaciousness, catamarans are a favorite with families, the separate accommodations allowing Mom and Dad a little privacy. But with two of everything—two engines, two heads, two hulls when berthing—costs of running a cat can be considerably more expensive than a monohull.

I have also noticed more pocket cruisers out recently. These smaller, simpler vessels are usually crewed by younger sailors whose budgets don‘t allow for a larger boat with all the bells and whistles but whose dreams of sailing the world won’t allow them to stay in port.

Choosing a boat is a highly personal decision and one that is staunchly defended. Ask a table of sailors why they chose their boat and you better be prepared for discussion of the merits of steel vs. fiberglass, sloop vs. ketch, monohull vs. multihull.

All I know is that when you find your boat you’ll know. Kate was the only boat we felt at home on when we were looking at boats and still every time we dinghy across the anchorage I am excited to see her. My point is that there is a boat for every sailor and a sailor for every boat.

Ask me about my favorite anchorage and I will be hard-pressed to give you just one set of GPS coordinates. We’ve enjoyed mostly tropical sailing but know many others who seek high latitude adventures. There are prescribed sailing routes, times of the year when it is easier, perhaps safer, to sail in certain regions, and those are handy guides to follow, but don’t feel constrained by popular sailing destinations.

The best place to cruise is where you are comfortable. I think it is important to challenge yourself but that it is ok to have limits. Perhaps you’ll circumnavigate. Maybe you’ll never make it more than a few hundred miles from your home port. Some people crave the solitude of long ocean passages, others prefer to harbor hop in the company of buddy boats. The ocean is a big place, there is room enough for everyone.

Almost a decade of sailing on Kate has tempered my ideas of what is right and what is wrong out here. If I have learned anything it’s that there is no magic formula, no hard and fast set of rules, no recipe to follow. Everyone we’ve met has a different approach, a different boat, a different itinerary, a different story. There will always be someone to tell you you’re doing it wrong, just because you’re doing it differently but just imagine if the Polynesians listened to those people and never sailed to windward on their open boats!
The only advice I can give is that you shouldn’t wait until the boat is perfect, believe me the boat will never be perfect. It is always a little scary throwing off the dock lines but the rewards you’ll find while sailing are worth it. There is no “right” way to cruise, but you’re sailing in the right direction when you find the courage to go.

Heather Francis is from Nova Scotia, Canada and for over a decade has worked and lived on boats throughout the world. In 2008 she and Steve, her Aussie partner, bought Kate, a Newport 41’, and have been sailing ever since. They are planning to do a lap around the planet, albeit slowly. To follow their adventures log onto

Author: Heather Francis


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