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post #24 of Old 01-30-2014
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Re: $3000/mo cruising budget

Originally Posted by engineer_sailor View Post
One big issue I've noticed is separation of true living expenses and amortization of big costs. For example, suppose someone choose to spend 15k for a piece of equipment to upgrade the boat. Totally skews the yearly outlay. Was it necessary? Just for comfort? Was it unique to the boat or preparation (e.g. could one pay more up front for the boat and not have to put that money out as part of yearly costs).
An excellent point. Let me expand by pointing out that one's risk profile can have a major impact on costs. I just paid the 5 year maintenance bill on my life raft - $1,700. When we popped the raft at Vane Brothers it appeared to be immaculate. Why the cost? Because just about everything in the raft was out of date - emergency food, first aid kit, flares, etc. The hydrostatic release was replaced. Of course the inflation cylinder needed to be replaced too. Could I have gone 6, 7, 10, 15 years without doing this maintenance? Sure. Would the raft have been OK if I needed it. Most likely. But my personal risk profile said "pay the money." Since I solo sail I have an immersion suit as a backup. Do I need it? Knowing it is on board makes me feel a lot more comfortable.

Sometimes a major expenditure turns out to be a risk mitigator. I had a factory installed autopilot on board. Since I do long distance cruising and power is always a problem during the winter months (the solar panels just don't get that much sun) I installed a Monitor wind steering system - they are about $3,000 but I added a special mount so I could still use the swim platform - total cost about $6,000. Halfway between the Canary Islands and Sint Maarten the wheel steering failed taking the Monitor with it. I ended up using the electric autopilot for the rest of the trip. When leaving the British Virgin Islands six months later the electric autopilot failed. I made the trip to the Bahamas and then back to the United States on the vane.

In other threads about boat purchases I have noted that many people underestimate the cost of getting a boat ready for cruising. Frequently they will reserve a small amount after the original purchase price for "outfitting." The boat may seem complete or near complete. My experience is that most used boats are sold when many of the components are old - sails, dingy motor, running rigging, etc. The boat will sail but many of my friends discovered that they were not comfortable without upgrades - new sails, life raft maintenance, a new dingy etc.

How does one budget for the unexpected? Anchored in a place I have been safely for a couple of months at a time I was hit by a freak thunderstorm - winds to 50+ knots and I dragged. New rudder and rudder post $2,000. Not to mention the cost of the haul out. (I had to wait 7 hours for TowBoat US. They were unwinding the 7 boats that had dragged into each other on the other side of Fleming Key.) In a thunderstorm off the North Carolina coast I lost the sacrificial on my jib. Restitching costs and repairs about $500. Tow in the Canaries when I snagged a fishing net - about $200. By the way I didn't know I had snagged a fishing net. The engine overheated when I tried to motor into port. It turned out nothing was wrong with the engine, it was the 2" rope wrapped around the shaft.

I do have a reserve fund for the smaller eventualites. But the big ones just blow the budget. Case in point: I just had my Xantrex inverter fail. No water damage, no voltage spike, no apparent reason. It was a little over 2 years old. I called a Xantrex "out of warrantee" repair center. I was told that the unit could not be repaired. I was also told they fail all the time and the specific component that had failed. I called Xantrex and complained. They offered to sell me a new unit at a discount. The discount turned out to be more than I would have to pay for the unit at Defender Industries I ended up purchasing a new inverter/charger from Victron Energy It cost twice what a new Xantrex unit would have cost. However I expect it to last more than two years and Victron's customer service is excellent. Certainly this was not an item in my budget.

A final note. Sometimes a shift in cruising grounds can result in an unplanned expenditure. When I took Reboot to Europe I ended up purchasing a 220 Volt 50 cycle battery charger. (Actually its a "world charger" - 90 Volt to 250 Volt 50 to 60 cycles.) My solar panels were keeping the batteries charged but they were in sore need of a deep charge cycle. Since I was about to cross the Atlantic I chose to purchase a charger. It turned out to be serendipitous as when the Xantrex failed it was the only battery charger on board. Since it is winter in the US with ten hour days I did not have to be super careful about using the 12 volt systems on Reboot.

After four plus years of cruising I now reserve about 20% of my annual budget for the unexpected. Note: This does not include the unexpected costs of the beautiful women I meet along the way ... Most months it is the biggest chunk of my budget but as the alternative is to hit my retirement savings I am more comfortable doing this then hoping for the best.

Fair winds and following seas.

CAPT Roger J. Jones USN (ret.)
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