Liesbet's blog

The Cruising Life: Where’s the Money Coming from?

  • When I tell people I am living and sailing on a boat in the Caribbean, their eyebrows raise and questions arise. They are curious about a whole bunch of stuff, but the most important thing they want to know is whether my partner and I are rich. When the answer is “no” or “I wish”, the mystery remains: “How can you keep doing this?”

     

     The author and her partner Mark at work "in the office"


    Generally, there are two categories of cruisers in this small “community”: the ones that don’t need to work (anymore) to sustain themselves and the ones that do. The first category consists mostly of retired sailors, who sold all their belongings, including house and car, to spend their days on their boat. Retirees still owning a house are on a six months on, six months off schedule. They haul their sailboat during hurricane season and go home to stay connected with their families, see the grandchildren grow up, and enjoy the pleasant summers and the conveniences and luxury known in the western world. Other members of this group are younger (40-60 years) and made some lucrative investment decisions in the past, now living off the profits or dividends. A small group in this category is even younger, having saved up funds to sail for a year or two, before returning to their home country to work again.


    The second category of cruisers is a much smaller one and the one Mark and I belong to. Age doesn’t really matter, but most of our peers are between 30 and 50 years old. Once some money is “invested” in the sailboat and the equipment, they are on their own. They need to have or find a skill that will bring in a quantity of cash to survive and fix boat issues. Most of our male friends who work their way around are handy with tools and either help out other cruisers who gladly pay for their knowledge of electronics or their mechanical and electrical services, or find a job ashore. Female cruisers accept a position as a waitress or an administrator and/or make jewelry. Of course, this is a general assessment.

     

     The author as a bartender in St. Maarten


    Mark and I are just handy enough to take care of Irie which provides enough boat projects to keep our hands full. Manual labor is not our favorite. In the past, Mark has consulted other boat owners with computer problems. I have cleaned boats, assisted with home schooling, worked at a bar and exerted myself as a leaf cleaner during the fall. None of these gigs lasted very long, but we had food on the table and I like new experiences.  One time, Mark and I scraped fences for two weeks straight, removing the old paint. No wonder I hate scraping barnacles off Irie’s bottom!

     

     The Wirie, a long distance marine WiFi device, manufatured on SV Irie and in the USA


    All that lies in the past. Both of us found new professions. And we don’t even have to leave home anymore. I work as a freelance (travel) writer, putting my passion, experiences and inspiration to good use, and I act as a proofreader and translator English-Dutch. I also help out with the business Mark and I started about two years ago. After not finding high quality WiFi equipment on the market, we decided to build our own wireless internet solution for the boat. When friends saw what we had come up with, they wanted one as well and encouraged us to go public with it. The Wirie was born!

     

     Happy Hour with $1 beers


    Over time, we developed our product as the only marine grade long range WiFi system available (with a couple of high quality custom built parts) and set up a website. We now sell The Wirie off our boat and online, providing excellent customer service as well. It is a full time occupation and not an easy feat from a sailing catamaran in the Caribbean. Combining all the jobs, daily errands and boat projects is challenging and, unfortunately, the sailing adventure has been seriously subdued. But, at least we are working in a pleasant climate with a beautiful view, cheap happy hours ashore (here in St. Martin), and once in a while a weekend off in paradise.

     

     Mark at work on SV Irie with the coastline of pretty Barbuda in the background


    The best way to make your money last is to live on a tight budget and be very aware of where those hard-earned dollars go.  If you are a pro at that, your preferred, low-key, low-maintenance and relatively primitive life on a sailing catamaran can get prolonged considerably. But, that is a whole other topic that I will most definitely discuss in the near future.

15 Comments

  • artem_kay   15 February 2011

    Really good one, Liesbet. I bet the question of money was on the minds of everyone, who was reading your blog (at least I had several people asking me if I know where you get money to afford such lifestyle :D)

    From what I see around, the first picture becomes very typical ashore in warm places too.

  • Liesbet   15 February 2011

    Many people think that this lifestyle is only possible with a fortune, which is totally untrue (if you are not a princess and figure out how to live on the cheap). Of course it depends on the luxuries and comforts you are used to or need. It is actually quite amazing how little money you need to live on the water, once the initial investment for the boat (and the outfitting) is made and - depending on how much you like to renovate and get your hands dirty - this can be very cheap as well.

     

    On the other hand, you'll be surprised about how many people like to "cruise in style", trying to reproduce the comforts of shore life. Just to give you a small idea: our 35 foot catamaran is generally the smallest boat in the anchorage and more than not the shortest!

     

    In the next blog, I will talk more about our budget. Of course, you can't use me (who never had money and always got by and barely spends any money or treats herself, but always managed to travel) as the typical cruiser...

     

    The great and convenient thing for us is that we don't have to go and sit ashore anymore to use our computers and work. Especially not since the trade winds are back and electricity is present! That will be another blog topic one day! :-)

  • artem_kay   15 February 2011

    Looking forward, info on electricity will be greatly appriciated, especially if you have been dealing with wind and solar power. I might be wrong, but I have an impression that most of  cats (and yachts for that matter) do not use solar panels to the full extent, i.e. they are not big enough + do not produce much power in contrast with hi-end panels.

  • Liesbet   15 February 2011

    SV Irie, although on the smaller side, has both solar and wind, which is prominent on many full-time cruising boats. There are advantages to both and space is indeed a concern. Mark prefers solar to wind (last year anyway, when the trades never came) because of the low maintenance and pretty high output, but one needs a hard dodger to build a "solar panel field". :-) I love both and everything else nature provides. That is the most beautiful element of this life, our co-existance with nature.

  • RussellJ   15 February 2011

    Do you fish?

  • Liesbet   15 February 2011

    We do fish, but we'll have to change tactics, lures or whatever it takes because this year/season we haven't had much luck yet. On the contrary, we lost about all our lures by now, because of sharp toothed fish, some heavy creatures who snatched our 70 pound test line and once because the knot to the leader came loose. All we do seem to catch these days are baracudas and bonitos, which we all threw back.

     

    Last winter, we caught a few tunas and a dorado, before the temperature rose, the wind dropped and the seas turned green. Since then: nothing worthwhile.

     

    Tips are always welcome! :-)

  • artem_kay   16 February 2011

    Hopefully I will be able to give a few valueable advices in a couple of month, I am determined to fish for dorados this year in greece :)

  • Liesbet   16 February 2011

    Artem,

     

    Can't wait to hear your tips and secrets! Good luck with the catch. And, don't forget dorados live and swim in pairs (for life), so you have to catch both or the one left behind might die of sorrow... :-( Apparently, you have to throw your line back in the water as quickly as possible and the second one will give his/her life as well. Very sad. I have mixed feelings about catching dorado (they also loose their beautiful colors while they die), but they really taste good, especially when the fridge is empty.

  • artem_kay   16 February 2011

    Second one is always welcomed :) 

    It occured to me that we are talking about different fishes. In greece we have dorAdAs, which are silver:

  • Liesbet   16 February 2011

    Aha! Yep, very different fish. I was talking about doradOs, also called mahi mahi or dolphin fish. A bit bigger than yours... :-)

     

  • artem_kay   16 February 2011

    QUITE a bit! :)

  • ZenithOceanVoyages   22 February 2011

    Hi Liesbeth

    it was great to read your story! We fall into your same category - we live onboard our catamaran but can't afford to NOT work... so we run kitesurfing cruises. My partner (Ged the captain) has done this before, whereas I hadn't (I used to be a lawyer!) and it is a lot of work. Our office is onboard and looks a lot like yours... :-) Our friends don't believe us when we say that we are working hard... I guess the preconception is that only retired or very rich people live on boats in the Caribbean. We've made some great friends who are lucky enough to fall into the latter category, and it's funny to watch them drink their cocktails while we're working hard on the baot. It's good to see we're not the only ones! Cheers, Susy (currently at Jolly Harbour marina, Antigua - starting another kitesurfing trip tomorrow!)

  • Liesbet   23 February 2011

    Hey Susy,

     

    I'm glad you enjoyed the story and that we are not alone as well! :-) I used to be a tad annoyed when other cruisers were sightseeing and having cocktails or when I saw them just lounge around their boat reading a book, while we were always working and stressed. Now, I don't care so much anymore. This group is either much older than us and did their fair amount of work before or these cruisers are also relatively young and will have to return to work in their respective home countries at some pojnt in the near future. Now I think (just like others keep telling us) "It's much better to work in the Caribbean - if for nothing else, just for the climate - than in some cold European or North American country" But, then I think "But... we would make much more money in one of those countries. And all the conveniences...", followed by "No, this is better. More freedom and less to worry about. We're on our own time schedule, at least. Oh, and I'd rather have Sunday off in a place where I can jump overboard for a swim or shower instead of in an overgrown garden or in front of a TV"

     

    Wlecome to the club! And, if you're ever in St. Martin (not a bad place to work), give us a call on VHF 14 or join the Wednesday Cruiser's Gathering at Barnacles at 5pm! :-)

     

    Enjoy Jolly Harbour, but stay away from the unfriendly custom's gal!

     

    Liesbet

    www.itsirie.com

  • grooper   09 March 2011

    Hello Liesbet -

     

    My beau and I will be heading south this fall (Mexico at first) with our newly purchased catamaran (2003 Gemini 105Mc) and are looking for any tips on cruising with dogs. We have two standard poodles who've spent some time (weeklong trips up to the San Juan Islands in WA) on a monohull, but we decided to switch to a cat primarily for their comfort and ease of mobility. Any surprises with cruising with your pup? How much kibble did you bring with your initial provisioning? Any problem locating dogfood once you got low on supplies? How easy is boarding from the water for your pup (from the transom steps, I would guess)? Do you have a ramp/floating device to assist? 

    Any tips or ideas will be greatly appreciated!

    Cheers,

    Dana

  • Liesbet   11 March 2011

    Hello Dana,

     

    Good idea switching from a mono to a catamaran! I'm sure the pups are way happier now.

     

    Most experiences we have about cruising with our dogs are positive. It just feels great to see the dogs happy while swimming and playing on beaches and their presence initiates many conversations with -mostly- other cruisers or tourists (who miss their dog they left at home). Mexicans and other nationals seem to be pretty scared about dogs, which does not encourage contact, but at the same time defers unwanted visitors on the boat, which is a good thing. What will be shocking (if you haven't travelled those areas before) are the big amount of (unhealthy looking) strays and the way locals treat dogs. They don't have a big connection to them and just ignore them most of the time. Locals who have dogs, have them for different reasons than us. They have dogs for protection and that's it.

     

    I am not familiar with sailing and cruising with your dog in areas where you will go, but I did write an article about "Cruising the Eastern Caribbean with Your Dog" which appeared in the November and December 2011 issues of the Caribbean Compass (www.caribbeancompass.com). Mark and I have travelled overland with our dogs all the way to Panama from California and had no trouble whatshowever, mainly because the spoken language is Spanish and we had an English health certificate which we kept using for a whole year! We just collected stamps (in and out by the agriculture department) on the form, saying that this was the normal procedure and this way letting them acknowledge the dogs were OK in their country, and paying a small fee per dog once in a while (never more than $10 a dog).

     

    We stocked the boat up with good dog food from the States and tried to replace it with healthy dog food, we found to be only available at animal hospitals or vets, once we ran out. While in St. Martin a couple of years ago, we found out about a very good, human grade organic dog food that is stored dry and needs water to be added. It is healthy and takes up less space, but it is expensive. We mixed it with dry food to conserve it longer. We had it shipped to St. Martin, which is duty free and inexpensive to ship to by boat.  See http://www.thehonestkitchen.com/

     

    From our cat it was very easy to get the dog(s) in and out of the dinghy. We'd pull the dinghy sideways along the steps, held on to it with both hands, one on the stern and one in the middle, creating a big loop under our right arm through which the dogs boarded the dinghy. In rough conditions, we put their life jackets on, which has a handle for "easy" lifting and pulling. On your boat it might be a bit harder, because of the rudder posts in the water that might create holes in the dinghy... Definitely get/have a ridged bottom!

     

    We did not need a ramp to assist the boarding (and our dogs were not young anymore), but we did have a floating doggy ladder to let them swim off the boat once in a while. We got rid of it, because it was a hassle to set up and store and we (and they) enjoyed taking them to shore for a swim better.

     

    I hope this helps! If you have more questions, let me know and feel free to check out my personal blog on www.itsirie.com

     

    Enjoy the sailing adventure!!!

     

    Liesbet