There is this myth “floating” around that to own a sailboat, you have to be rich. Wrong! If you want your own “yacht”, that’s another story, but if you are interested in a sailboat for long or short term cruising, a length of 30–45 feet should suffice. For a sailing catamaran, you want to go 35ft and above to assure stability and sea worthiness. The cost of cruising the seas will highly depend on your desired level of comfort (space, luxury, gadgets, mooring), but owning a sound, comfortable sailboat and using it as your floating home to travel (parts of) the world or spend some time in one particular piece of paradise does not cost a fortune. The tons of sailboats anchored around me are proof of that. They have different sizes, colors and nationalities, but the owners have one thing in common: they are not rich.
Simpson Bay Lagoon in St. Martin/St. Maarten harbors many different sailboats
The bible for prospective sailboat owners is Yacht World, www.yachtworld.com, the collective website where most of the brokers have their “merchandise” for sale. An easy search engine lets you specify what you are looking for and an overview follows. Sailing catamarans are generally more expensive than monohulls, but some home-made ones, Wharram cats and Prouts can be found for under $50 000. In many cases “the smaller, the cheaper” (for purchase, parts and upkeep) and “the cheaper the boat, the bigger the project” (when comparing similar sizes) are rules of thumb. A lot of research is required and comparing different boats online or in person provides you with options. It is a good idea to take someone with a lot of knowledge about boats and boat systems with you while checking out your dream boat. Make sure the boat is inspected in and out of the water and surveyed by a professional, before the final purchase.
If you don’t mind spending a great deal of time fixing your future cruiser up, a “project sailboat” will be your best and cheapest bet. A sturdy and decked-out 35 foot catamaran costs around $150 000. A comparably sized and equipped monohull requires half of this amount. For someone who sold their house and belongings and decided to go cruising full time or who worked very hard for a few years, while saving for this future lifestyle, this is very feasible. At the moment, the market is better for buyers than for sellers. Don’t restrict your boat search to your own country or continent. You’d be surprised about how desperate some sellers are, wherever they decided to move on, stay or change their lifestyle. A good friend of mine just bought a 32 foot monohull in St. Maarten. It is ready to go cruising and she’ll be off following her dreams in a week. Her “investment”: $ 17 000.
In my opinion, there are two ways to go about buying a boat. You either try to get a great deal and live with the lack of comforts or fix the boat up, or you spend more money to acquire your new living quarters and hope/expect to get most of the value back when you resell.
Mark is fixing the windlass (needed/wanted to lift our anchor) in the pretty Tobago Cays (SVG).
Boat Parts and Repairs
This is the biggest cost for the sailboat owner. Once the vessel is in cruising shape, things WILL break. It is always good to have spare parts on board and be a handy man/woman when something fails. Life for a boat is harsh. The surroundings are salty and bumpy. Imagine your house being in an earthquake 25% of the time and you get the idea. Things shake, get corroded, and get over-used. Have you ever heard of these two quotes: “Cruising is fixing your boat in exotic places” and “B.O.A.T. = Break Out Another Thousand”? Very true. And, because boat parts have to be marine grade and in excellent condition for their uses in a salty environment, parts don’t cost tens of dollars, but hundreds of dollars. Your life might depend on these parts one day. The more familiar you are with your boat and the more will power you have to learn about her, the cheaper the repairs will be. Hiring experts all over the world might be hard in some cases and is more expensive in all of them.
Irie being hauled in a relatively expensive boat yard in Puerto Rico. Many yards can't haul catamarans.
Dockage and Haul-out
Whether you anchor for the night or dock at a marina is totally up to you. Anchoring is free in many parts of the world, securing your vessel to a dock is charged by the foot, with $1/ft considered cheap. Do the math. In more exclusive islands the rates go up to $4 a foot (or higher). Every boat owner who cares about the upkeep of his/her boat will haul her out every year or two. This way, she can get a new coat of paint and all the thru holes and underwater parts can be thoroughly inspected. These rates are also charged by the foot. We have seen and experienced prices between $300 and $1000 for haul-out, blocking and five days on the hard, for our 35 foot catamaran. Multihulls are –once again- more expensive than monohulls. Good bottom paint is VERY pricey ($150 - $300 a gallon).
Local produce on the market in Marigot, St. Martin
This is an area where money can be saved, depending on your living standard. If you compare grocery stores and prices, you are able to fill your fridge with necessities for not too much more money than in your home country. In many underdeveloped countries, provisions will be cheaper than you are used to. If you like more fancy and specific things and desire imported food items, prices go up. The best advice here is to eat what the locals eat, without giving up the healthy diet. On average, we spend less than $100 a week for two people on groceries. When we “stock-up”, we do that in cheaper countries. When tomatoes or apples are a dollar a piece, we go without! Eating and drinking out is bad for the wallet, in most cases. Mark and I spend about $50 a week on happy hours and meal items while in Grenada and St. Maarten (and with friends around); much less while sailing around other islands.
Irie - with three anchors out and four lines tied to the mangroves - after hurricane Ike in Luperon, the Dominican Republic.
This is a toughy. Cruisers, who didn’t invest too much in their sailboat, tend to go without. When your boat is all you have (it is your house and consists of most of your funds and belongings), it seems scary not to buy insurance. Even when buying a decent insurance policy, the deductable is fairly high and you might not be covered during hurricane season or in the hurricane belt. A reputable insurance policy providing coverage in most parts of the world, will easily set you back $3 000 a year. Imagine what else you could do with that money… But, then again, how much do all the combined insurances while living ashore cost?
If you consider all the pros and cons about living on a sailing catamaran, the cost should not be a negative. Especially if you have rented out your house or sold all the unnecessary belongings. If you research the kind of vessel you want, you’re willing to learn most of what there is to know about her and you plan the acquisition of spares, parts and groceries accordingly, you’ll be surprised about how little money the cruising lifestyle requires. Once you own a cruise worthy sailboat and nothing substantial breaks, a yearly budget of around $20 000 (including daily expenses, maintenance, haul-out and boat repairs) for two will get you sailing (and fixing) your boat in exotic places.