After making the decision to go cruising in retirement, the next step is the preparation stage. You needn't be a rocket scientist to conclude the following: the preparation time you need is inversely proportional to your sailing skills, experience, and financial assets. Back in the '70s, the government contracts of the aerospace industry seemed to take the time budgeted plus 10 percent unless there were incentives to finish them more quickly. Your incentive to get things done is that when you are finished with the preparation stage, you can go cruising!
In reality, the preparation for an extended period of cruising can take from one to five years of part-time work, or six to 18 months full-time effort. The cost of this preparation might range from $2,000 to $50,000 dollars in addition to the cost of the vessel. While I realize these are very broad ranges, more precise data depend on your own personal goals, motivation, and assets.
Sailing Experience Unless you've done a lot of weekend and vacation sailing, plan to do so at every opportune time in the future. (We sailed at least 1000 nautical miles a year the decade before cutting our tie, and we could have used more!) One of the best ways to gain good experience quickly is to crew on a racing sailboat for a full season. Be an active participant—not just a passive observer! Learning sail trim, rig tuning, and how far one can push a boat's sailing potential—all this will serve you well when you're in the cruising mode. More can be learned about sailing from one day of racing than by cruising for a month.
There is more to cruising, however, than just sailing. Gaining experience in docking, anchoring, and maneuvering under power should be done in a more relaxed environment than a race setting. An infinite variety of conditions and situations exists within the full scope of the cruising experience, and thus your learning experience in such topics will be never-ending. Start as soon as you can to shorten your preparation time.
Cruising Experience Take advantage of classes and workshops that teach the skills of sailing, meteorology, navigation, and engine/electrical maintenance. Even if you restrict your cruising to local waters, realizing a problem when it occurs and having some idea as to how it can be remedied is still important. Land-based experts are only of use to an offshore cruiser if he has the skills to make emergency repairs that enable the boat to reach those shoreside facilities. In either case, having basic mechanical knowledge will allow you to assess the relative competency of those whom you hire. Community colleges, boat shows, and marine hardware suppliers often have classes and seminars that are convenient sources for instruction.
Now is the time to start accumulating a library of data related to liveaboard cruising. These resources will help during the planning stage and become even more worthwhile after you have severed the land-based ties. A good clue of a cruiser's capability is his library since without a library, a sailor is like a cook without recipes! The same can be said for charts. No cruiser worth his salt depends totally on electronic charts—maybe sometime in the future, but not at this point. Reference books, manuals, and how-to articles are just some suggestions. You may go for months without referring to these resources, but the time will come when they will be worth their weight in gold.
Assets "A boat is a hole in the water into which one pours ones money" is an old adage that isn't totally wrong. Those of us who really enjoy retirement cruising spend this money willingly. But it is never too early to seek the assistance of a financial advisor to learn about financial instruments that require minimal or infrequent attention during your cruising absences. This is vitally important if you have elected an early retirement. Now is the time to learn when you will qualify for social security, pensions, or other benefits and how much they will be. Become knowledgeable in the deferred income accounts such as IRA and 401K programs now, while you are still working.
It is crucial that you build two budgets: one for your current pre-retirement lifestyle, and a good guess at what you cruising budget will be. We will discuss cruising budgets in a future part of this series. After the budgets, you will need to develop a net-worth statement, or a list of your present assets. This value will help you decide how much you can afford to spend on the boat and her equipment, and how much needs to be held in reserve to generate retirement income. Include any other anticipated retirement income to reach a preliminary estimate of spendable money. Does the amount of retirement income from all these sources match your cruising budget? If not, you may need some spending controls now to meet your future cruising goal. Deciding between having a dinner at a restaurant or getting an item for the boat became an easy choice for us after we made the commitment to go cruising.
Your present economic situation will define and determine the sequence of steps taken along that road to your retirement dream. Those who already have that floating home are well on their way since all available assets can be expended on replacing or upgrading items in preparation for departure. Anticipating major cost items on the vessel and establishling their priority from the standpoint of cost and installation complexity helps smooth bumps out of the current budget. It can take weeks just to receive some special boat items, even if you are fortunate enough to live in an urban area with numerous marine hardware suppliers. Marine product suppliers often give excellent cash or delivery incentives at boat shows for those who are ready to place an order, thus saving you both cash and delivery time. Plan ahead and be prepared.
If owning your cruising vessel is still at the top of your wish list and your ship won't come in until retirement, there are numerous items to acquire in the interim. Tools, personal clothing, safety gear, and galley hardware are just a few that are not boat-dependent. Now is also the time to make comparisons between the boats you might want and those that fit your budget. Studying the boats and equipment found on the market while you're waiting for the nest egg to grow can help develop your list of mandatory and desirable hardware for the future. When the future arrives, you'll be ready to spring into action.
Flexibility This is the mantra of those who enjoy the cruising lifestyle: Changes in wind and weather, delays in the arrival of mail, news from home (good, bad, or even no news at all) can all cause changes in a cruiser's plans. You will probably have setbacks on your path toward retirement, just as you will after you are out cruising. So learn how to be flexible now, and enjoy the journey as much as the dream. Your arrival will be that much better.