Preparations For Cruising

The true meaning of cruising plans are “made in jello” came to live with us several years ago. We had quit our jobs in the Florida Keys, sold our car and were ready to get underway when we had one parent die and the other become injured and need to go into nursing care. That idea that cruisers need to be flexible and change their plans at a moments notice was clearer to us at that moment than at any other since we moved aboard 17 years ago. Instead of turning right outside of our channel, we turned left and started heading North. After getting things settled up North, we were then underway in the ICW heading South after putting our cruising plans on hold for a year and a half and working in the Baltimore/Annapolis area.
You can generally predict the first question people ask you when you tell them you are quitting your job. “Oh, where are you going?” To be able to predict their response when you tell them you are sailing your boat from the Chesapeake Bay to San Diego is not quite so simple. The responses have ranged from “That is so cool!” to simply looks of amazement and open mouths. Once the shock has passed, another barrage of questions begins.

How much money do you have to save to cruise per year?
The answer to that differs for each person. If you have a bottomless pit from which to pull dollars or pesos, you really don’t need to read this, but for most of us, cruising is a break from reality to which we eventually have to return. Unfortunately, we still have a boat payment, so that is a given each month before we even begin to consider other expenses. What we did do in the past few years was to take advantage of the lower interest rates and refinance our boat, making our boat payments $110 dollars less a month! Any payment like this is automatically deducted from our money market account so we are not trying to mail payments from small islands with questionable mail service. (We sent “certified” mail from the Dominican Republic a few years back and it never made it back to Baltimore.)

A trusted friend or relative might also handle payments that need to be made on a regular basis. If the payments and dates are fixed, a good solution might be to write out the checks for each month, put each in an envelope pre-addressed and stamped and date the bottom left hand corner as to when it will need to be mailed. This eliminates the guesswork and makes the process easier for the person assisting you.
Back to my original question, how much do you have to save? We take our monthly fixed expenses and add about $1,250 to that and get our budget. We have talked to many people who are living on $800 per month pensions and do okay as long as they don’t have any major breakdowns. We traditionally have had expensive problems so budget that into each month, then hope we don’t have to spend it. Some months cruising in remote places have seen us spend only $500. If there is no place to spend money, it gets to stay in your pocket. We don’t go out to dinner, but chose lunch on occasion instead. It is cheaper and we still get to treat ourselves. We are also much more comfortable being back on the boat at night. Due to our set monthly obligations, spending habits and past experience, I like to have $1750 in the bank per month for each month you anticipate cruising, with a $3 –4000 buffer to set up camp when you reach your destination. That should hopefully cover a used car and dockage until you can find work and get some money rolling back in. For those of you who are permanently retired, the buffer will be good for those unexpected surprises or airfare.

What do you do about health insurance?
We have made the decision to cruise without health insurance. Some people think that is crazy and foolhardy, but for our budget, $350 per month means the difference between going and not going. That is each person’s decision. What we do is try to anticipate what medications we may need for the duration of the cruise and stock up on them. Most doctors will get on board (no pun intended) with the program if you let them know you will be in remote places for a long period of time and need to have antibiotics, anti-malaria drugs, etc. on board. We keep a Merck’s medical manual, an emergency medical advice book as well as some homeopathic remedy books on board. If one of us comes down with something, we research the symptoms until we figure it out if a medical person is not available. We have also found that good medical care is indeed available outside the US at a fraction of the cost. We don’t encourage others to adopt our philosophy, since each must determine their own needs and expectations.

How do you know what to provision? What do you take with you?
This would be another, of many times we have gone cruising for a year or more. We have learned to only take what you use. Extra stuff just takes up space for things that you really need. I start by buying a ton of paper towels and toilet paper. Almost everything comes out of our big hanging locker and it becomes the paper product locker. We also purchase cases of already cooked canned meats from a company called Werling and Sons in Ohio. There are a number of other companies that folks use; we just have always used Werling. The delivery is prompt, the product is good and the cost is reasonable. I ordered 4 cases for our last cruise and had a lot left over so only got 3 this time. We rarely are unable to find food. We also take canned vegetables and fruit, enough to last about 6 weeks. If we get to a place we really like, we don’t want to have to leave for lack of provisions. We stock our small Adler Barbour freezer with as much frozen meat as we can. Take ground beef, etc. out of its original packaging and place in freezer bags to maximize space, which allows you to fit more in. Sea Trek also gets stocked with cereal, snacks, sodas, and whatever other items you really like and are afraid you won’t be able to find outside of the country. Always eliminate extra cardboard and packaging and try to store as much as you can in zipper storage bags or airtight containers. You may want to try inserting a bay leave into each baggie of food to deter bugs. (They tell me that bugs don’t like bay leaves, but who knows.)

Because we like particular hygiene products, I buy enough of those to last us for the duration - razors, deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste and those sorts of things. I also purchase enough vitamins, cotton swabs and balls, stomach remedies and the like to last the entire length of our trip. This action was spurned on by the cost of Pepto Bismol in the Bahamas!! I also don’t want to have to look for sensitive toothpaste in a 3rd world country. We keep a storage list of where everything, and I mean everything, is on the boat. If we forget where we put something, we simply look it up in the computer or on the hard copy that we print out. After you bury things deep in your bilge, you will be glad you took the time to take inventory.

What kind of gear and safety equipment do you have on board?
This is an area unto itself, but I’ll try to keep it short, starting from the bow. Check your ground tackle. We didn’t like the looks of our 1st 100 feet of chain a decided to replace it. It was a bit too rusty and we could not find anyone in a multi state area to re-galvanize. Also make sure your ground tackle is adequate. We use a 45-pound CQR with 200 feet of chain and 150 feet of rode as our primary, with a 35-pound CQR with 25 feet of chain and 150 feet of rode as our secondary. This has served us well except for the one time we got lazy in Georgetown South Carolina and didn’t back down on it like we usually do. We had a close encounter with a shrimp boat at 3:00 am and got the engine on and SeaTrek moving forward just in time! Sea Trek survived Hurricanes Georges in the Florida Keys, Floyd on the Wye River in Maryland and Irene in North Carolina on this tackle.
We added a life raft after our trip to the Bahamas. It is a 6 person raft. We figured if we got stranded, we might as well have some room to move about. It is serviced and repacked according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. We hope we never have to use it and that it was an invaluable insurance policy.

After 10 years and at least 2 biminis, we went with a hard top. It is built out of ¾ inch starboard with an aluminum frame built by a local welder. We then constructed side curtains led through tracks attached to 1 x 3 teak strips, which are screwed to the hardtop. There are side panels as well as a back panel. Two separate smaller panels cover the walkway areas to connect the sides to the windshield by snaps. The dodger also had been replaced at least twice and was replaced with a clear, heavy duty plastic windshield with a starboard hard top. Now we just have to remember not to stand up quickly! The hardtop is not as forgiving as the bimini.

In order to be able to communicate more effectively with people from long distances, Susan got her General Class ham license with the Morse code endorsement. We had a SSB, but now have a radio capable of both ham and single side band. Additionally, we need an email fix on a regular basis so we also purchased a Pactor IIe modem. It works like a charm and we can keep in touch with loved ones from afar. This is very beneficial for those of us with elderly parents. It also provides us with valuable weather information.

We have asked a lot of our little autopilot that gets connected to the wheel steering in the cockpit so decided on a heavy duty below decks hydraulic autopilot. After having the smaller one shipped back to the US last time and hand steering from Mayaguana to Luperon, we decided we needed to upgrade as the one we had wasn’t quite up to the task for heavy weather steering. Although costly, it is well worth the expense and is like having another crewmember on board without the messy bunk and stomach to feed. We made the decision to upgrade to a unit considerably larger than needed. We are sure this will pay off later.

Besides new equipment, much of the existing equipment received maintenance and repair. The watermaker got a thorough cleaning and check. The radar unit was not working properly and went back to the manufacturer for service. The wind generator came down. It was vibrating a bit and we know now small things lead to bigger problems later. We corrected the vibration, lubricated the bearings and gave the housing a fresh coat of paint. When that was not sufficient, it went back to the manufacturer, who did a much better job than we did and it is now working wonderfully. All onboard systems received a thorough check. Anything suspect was corrected or replaced. Every battery operated item on board got new batteries and we made sure an adequate supply was on hand. Pumps, alarms and safety equipment were priority issues. All outdated equipment in the life raft was replaced with the repack but there is still the boat equipment to consider; replacing expired flares, old life jackets and more.

On board electrical demands is a concern for all cruisers. A wind generator, solar panel and the engine alternator had served us well for many years. But our demands have grown. One of the decisions to add the hard top over the cockpit was to enable us to add additional solar panels. Four would have been preferred, but two were settled for. We also opted for a larger alternator on the engine. Cost was a big factor. At some point you have to stop spending and adding to, and go. The addition of 12-volt refrigeration, below decks autopilot, computer and more made the decision for us.

We have chosen to run our AC appliances from an inverter rather than add a generator. Aside from the noise factor, we don’t want another system to maintain. Our 110-volt needs are few. The 1500-watt inverter will power the TV, VCR, microwave and all of our power tools.
Our family car (the dinghy) had proven to be dependable but very wet in most conditions we encountered. We upgraded to a RIB with larger tubes and a flare at the bow. This proved to be a much drier ride. It only followed that our outboard was too small so it too was upgraded.

This is one piece of equipment that some cruisers don’t give serious consideration until well into their journey. It becomes the most used equipment on the boat and can make the difference between some very enjoyable times or sitting on the boat watching others have all the fun.

The electronics received a complete check and cleaning. Yes cleaning. All connections, plugs and battery terminals were cleaned and tested. We carry two GPS units since this is a very important navigational tool. We have also gone high tech and have a laptop, which allows us to use the latest chart and navigation software, receive weatherfax over the HF radio and be able to do email wherever we are on the planet. Consequently, we have a back up laptop also. Radios, antennas, ground planes and potential interferences on the boat were all checked and corrected as needed. It is so much easier to do it now, than when parts and assistance are not readily available. We also decided to update our VHF to the latest version with the remote mike for the cockpit.

We decided to take down the spars, repaint them and replaced any suspect rigging. This was a lengthy process and is deserving of its’ own space. As you can see, the preparation appears daunting, but don’t let that stop you and keep you at the dock. We want to cruise while we are fit enough to enjoy it and young enough to have the energy needed to make such a long journey. Also, don’t forget to prepare your family and friends for your departure. Sometimes, that is the hardest preparation of all.

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