Interestingly, it’s easier for a couple of modest means to take off than for an affluent couple to do so. People of modest means have less to abandon. The idea of trying to retain business interests doesn’t occur to anyone who merely earns a salary or an hourly wage. Long-distance cruising and a business at home don’t mix. Presumably that’s why none of the people we know who have cruised for five or more years have businesses back home. A few have voyaged using royalties from writing, but most people take short jobs as they cruise.
Even physical handicaps need not be a bar to the cruising life. We’ve encountered couples where one partner had a missing limb or a limiting long-term illness. Jim Foley, for instance, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease just before he and Lyn were ready to set sail on their Valiant 40, Sanctuary. They ignored warnings from their doctor and made the decision to go anyway. By late 2000, Jim and Lyn had completed a ten-year east-about circumnavigation; they felt they would have wasted some of their best years together if they’d listened to the medical pundits. (Lyn, just this month, published an informative and fun book about that voyage called – Go Anyway.)
It takes time to get going. If you accept this fact from the start and make the lead-up to your cruise an interesting period of learning and anticipation, you’ll be better prepared when you depart. Gordon and Annabelle Yates were 45 years old when they decided to go cruising. They spent the next five years building a dinghy and learning to sail—as members of an inland sailing club. At the age of 50, they built their first cruising boat in Las Vegas, Nevada, when their fifth child left home. Then, within a month, Gordon made his decision. He quit his engineering job and had Amobel trucked down to the sea. They voyaged for more than eight years.
Larry took longer to reach his goal. He decided in high school that if he wanted to see the world, he needed a “budget” cruising boat. So he spent seven years in Canada learning to sail, buying used boats, fixing them up, sailing them, and selling them—all while working at a regular jobs including skippering and delivering yachts. When he couldn’t find his ideal boat, he built Seraffyn. It took more than 10 years to get going, but he did it. I was the lucky one. I met Larry when I had barely heard of cruising, and Seraffyn consisted of a bunch of lines on a loft floor and a few large oak timbers. For me, it took about an hour to fall for the dream and only three and a half years to get underway.
Even people who can just write a check for a new boat find it takes a year or more to get started. First you have to locate the right boat. Then there are the many modifications to make it a successful cruising home. Finally, and most important, you need sea time—getting to know how to sail the new boat, learning seamanship and navigation, figuring out how to live afloat.
Choose a modest, simple yacht—one you can afford and still have money in the bank. If you choose a yacht you can handle easily, you’ll get out sooner and find real cruising comfort, mental and physical. Seduced by advertising, cruising-club surveys, and articles written by those who could afford big boats, many people have come to think they must have at least a 45-foot yacht for adequate comfort. But what is real comfort? At sea in rough weather, “comfort” is only relative—even on the largest yacht. Once you go cruising, you’ll realize that “comfort” means a boat you can physically handle alone in the worst conditions, one you can maintain in perfect condition with less than a month of work each year, and one you can truly afford. It may sound wonderful to cruise on a 45-foot yacht with bathtub, hot and cold running water, an electric sewing machine, generator, water-maker, and two motorcycles. But if you settle for a 30-footer, you’ll leave sooner, you’ll cruise longer per dollar, and you’ll have the all-important feature of manageable, affordable boat maintenance. For example, when Larry was a charter captain on a 53-foot ketch, he worked full time, four days a week, maintaining that yacht! The owner spent the equivalent of $5,000 a month on her, not including Larry’s salary. Larry knew what he was doing when he chose a 24-foot cutter for us.
As we’ve said, many of the people we meet who keep cruising (without a private income) for three years or longer have been aboard boats under 35 feet. If you have a boat that’s too big and/or too complicated, it’s only a matter of time before cost and maintenance get ahead of you. At that point, you’ll be spending more of your time earning money and working on your boat to maintain your investment than you will cruising and discovering the world. Put comfort in its proper place and join those of us who have learned this secret: Go small, go simple, go now!
You can find more by Lin Pardey at their blog and website. Lin and Larry Pardey have published many books over the years that have inspired Ben and I to set sail. I just cracked the spine on her latest book, Bull Canyon, which I expect will be wonderful like others. We are also excited to meet with Lin and Larry to learn from their years of adventuring and discuss their involvement in One Simple Question.