Commentary: Volkscruisers Talks Maryland Sailboats

A quick combination commentary / Sailboat Sunday…

Bob over at Volkscruiser (I promise, I do have variety in the works), points out some of the advantages of living in the times. 

What struck me is the selling price of this particular Columbia 36. In 2002 I paid $8500 for my first sailboat, a Cal 28. $8000 still feels like a lot of money, relatively speaking, but I tend to agree that the benchmark prices have steadily dropped over time. Partly due to inflation, partly with these vintages of sailboats aging further.

I believe this is the Columbia in question. Nothing too fancy, but more than needful.

For those in the market, it is a good time.

An Annapolis marina waits for spring.

Coming up….

I’ve got a few things in the hopper. A post on risk assessment, sailboat head options, galley considerations, the story of purchasing our Tartan 37 in 2007, and more. I’ll try to continue our structure of a Sailboat Sunday analysis and Commentary as I can.

Thank you to all who have commented. Great to see others with experience on those particular models adding to the collective knowledge base out there. It was also a good reminder to clarify the intent behind the Sailboat Sunday posts. While I’m not looking to buy at this time, someone may be, and these analyses are a good exercise in “What if?” assessments. And who doesn’t like talking about boats?

I’ve missed my mark for the past two weeks now! Bad Travis. Unfortunately we’ve been occupied with getting a move set-up on top of a full spring. Hopefully my intentions can met real life head on, and I’ll be diligent in posting once again!

Photo credit: m01229

Serenity or the Millennium Falcon: Choosing My First Sailboat

What did Malcolm Reynolds of the hit TV series Firefly and Han Solo have in common? Well, I’d venture to say they both loved their ships. And that is a very important part of owning your floating home; if you don’t love her, she’ll be worth less than that dollar menu hamburger.  After all, love keeps her afloat…or in the air.

That said, there are several factors which influence the decision of which sailboat to buy. The most important thing to remember is this: there is no perfect boat. I repeat, there is no perfect boat. Every boat is a compromise between these factors. The key is to know where you’ll compromise, how much you’ll let those factors change, and your will power to let that be OK.

  • Money: Let’s get this out of the way. A sailboat will cost you money. The question is, how much up front, and how much to keep her? We’ll continue to delve into the holistic finances of sailboat living over the lifetime of this site, but looking from 10,000 feet, you need to think through:
  • How much will my purchase cost be, including any taxes, registration fees, and broker/dealer commission? You need to know the immediate cost if you agree to buy.
  • What are the average operating costs going to be? It’s usually best to think of these in terms of per-foot costs. Slips are typically priced on a per-foot basis, as are hauling out fees to get her on land for repairs, some insurance products, and others. This is also the place to think through the totality of your live aboard experience. If you don’t know where you’ll keep a boat, you’ll have a harder time making a rational decision, especially on size.
  • What are the estimate costs to complete necessary and desired improvements? There’s going to be something, it should be prioritized, and you’ll most likely be 50% off. But these are real costs too.

This post was previously setup as a high-level synopsis of all of our sailboat purchases, but I’m re-purposing it into a detailed look at my 2002 decision to buy my first live aboard, a Cal 28 flat-top named SeaWitch.

My new bride and I while I was moving off.

My new bride and I while I was moving off.

A Bored College Student

Well, maybe not bored, but unsatisfied. March of 2002 I took off with my girlfriend for spring break in London. A topic of conversation was my plans after graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy. Like my classmates, I would soon graduate and gain a commission as a naval officer, specifically a submarine officer. My next duty station would be Charleston, SC, to attend nuclear power training. Many of my friends were looking into various living situations: apartment complexes, buying a starter home, the decision of living alone versus roommates. Decisions every college grad will face. In my head, these seemed like perfectly fine things, but I really wanted to do something different.

A project mentor planted the seed in my head about living aboard a sailboat. His girlfriend and he were doing the same thing. He had many good things to say about it. Thus, after returning from England, I got to work doing my research. A guy in my unit grew up on the Chesapeake Bay and had a small 19 footer. I could take a look and maybe even spend a weekend aboard just to trial run things. I began checking out sailing books from the library, and spent hours searching through the limited online offerings from fledgling websites of cruising. My roommate was on the sailing team and had some thoughts as well, and my previous summers sailing for professional training helped frame some of my thoughts.

Fundamentally, I worried about the following things:

1) How big or small of a sailboat did I really need?

2)  How much boat could I afford (both initially and on-going)?

3) What hurdles existed between sitting in my dorm room and being a “successful” live aboard?

The Challenges

At the time, several significant challenges existed which have largely been mitigated over time. Things such as:

  • How do you find sailboats for sale? The local classified ads in newspapers and the beginnings of some online brokerage sites were all that I had available. In the end, it was foot work and driving which led me to the Maryland Marina in Essex, MD, where I did my first surveys and eventually bought Seawitch.
  • How to purchase a sailboat? Thankfully my person bank had several options for boat loans, and my personal savings helped to supplement.
  •  How do I figure out all of the unknowns? I made a few “blind” purchases of recommended cruising books, hoping to gain the knowledge necessary to answer my unknown questions, and relied heavily on the experiences of others gained through conversations and the internet’s early forums. Much of it was valuable, much of it was suspect. I had to sort out a lot of chaff.

Finding My New Home

In April of 2002 I arrived at the Maryland Marina on a reasonably warm Saturday. In hand were color printouts of several boats they had for sale via their business webpage, a small toolkit with tape measure and flashlight, and a notebook. Sadly, digital cameras were not really as available, and I may have brought my super awesome Canon ELPH with drop-in film.

I asked the manager if I could spend a few hours looking over the sailboats in question. No worries, he said, and tossed me keys to each of them. The entire afternoon was spent crawling over each of three offerings, probing the recesses of bilges and under lockers. I learned a bunch that day, including:

  • Finding a sailboat under 30 feet with headroom for a tall guy was practically impossible.
  • Finding a sailboat in my price range over 30 feet was also unlikely.
  • The smell of musk in a locker would be ingrained in my mind forevermore.
  • While it would eventually feel much smaller, a 28 foot sailboat on stands looks huge.

After noting as many of the features as I could during my personal survey, I returned the keys and asked for contact information for two vessels. The Cal 28 had risen to the top of my short list.

A Cal 28 on the hard; similar to the one I found in Maryland

A Cal 28 on the hard; similar to the one I found in Maryland

cal 28 (4)

The Cal 28 sailing (note the dodger over the companionway; something I always wanted but never got around to)


After two phone calls and another afternoon going over the boat with the owner, I made the decision to buy SeaWitch for the sum of $8500 (2002 dollars).

Resources for those interested:
Stirling Law’s Cal 28 webpage; still the most comprehensive of any on this model

The Next Step of My Future

Back to the factors listed above, I financed my first liveaboard, so thought of things in terms of both monthly and total costs. SeaWitch was sold to me for $8500. Taxes and registration came out to around $400. I was responsible for the launch fee, since I would liveaboard on land for several months due to my work schedule. $400 for launch and getting the mast back up. The seller paid the seller broker fee, and I was not represented by a buyer’s broker, so no fee there. Total initial outlay: $9300. My note was for slightly more, with a monthly payment of $230.

At 28 feet, my per-foot costs remained pretty reasonable. My slip in Charleston, SC, was around $10/ft plus metered electricity. This averaged $30-40 per month. Cable TV was included (although I’m a proponent of doing without that burden), and for internet I needed a telephone line for dial-up, adding another $30/mo. Total cost to have a slip, parking spot for my car, electricity, water, phone and cable: $350/mo. This is $4200/yr

My plan was to haul out every other year to do maintenance on the bottom and tackle any odd jobs. Asking around the marina, I reasoned the total cost for haul out, storage on land for a week, and launch, would be around $500. There was a yard I could do my own work at (becoming rarer these days), which would have saved me some money. Including bottom paint, total bi-annual cost: ~$1000.
If you amortize that, I needed to save about $40/month for that cost.

Lastly, upgrades. All the normal items came with the boat: sails, engine, safety gear to pass a USCG inspection, and some interior accouterments. But to make her a liveaboard, I needed a number of “home” items, including dishes and kitchen ware, bedding, painting the interior, some rugs, and several small pictures and knickknacks to call it a home. I was also moving to the South, and I quickly realized living without A/C there was trouble. Then it turned to winter, and I needed to buy a couple of heaters. These small costs can add up quickly; like several hundred dollars in the first couple of months. I also had a running list of marine upgrades to better the boat itself: changing out from a portapotti to a marine head, adding better sail controls, and the worst offender: maintaining, and then replacing, the Atomic 4 inboard engine.

By the end of the first year aboard, I had spent an average of $300/mo on these kind of “extras” that ballooned out of control. Again, I hope to cover some of my “lessons learned” in future posts to discuss items I purchased, why they did or did not work, and the actual value of them.

One of the Best Decisions of My Life

Ultimately, the decision to move aboard was probably one of the best in my life. Some of the reasons were tangible, but most were related to those influential experiences a young man or woman can have.

  • I learned very quickly what a spending plan was and why I needed to keep to it. Owning your own home has costs and they must be managed.
  • I learned to become more self-sufficient and a generalist. You can’t call the landlord and complain about a broken water pipe; you need to fix that quickly or else you’ll sink! Living aboard provided many opportunities to learn new skills, practice new abilities, and make decisions that had significant consequences.
  • I learned to ask for help. While I tried to do as much as possible on my own, I also had a community of sailors surrounding me who were readily available for help and advice. I learned more that first year from them than anyone could possibly gain through reading magazines, books, or articles online.
  • I learned about myself. During a handful of significant experiences, such as grounding the boat, a fire aboard, several near-sinkings, and facing the choice of sending my delivery crew home and continuing on solo, I had more opportunities to grow and learn about who I was than every before. These seminal experiences ultimately helped shape who I am today, and continue to be a source of positive influence on my life.

In a future post I’ll detail the same process that led to shifting resources away from the Cal 28 and towards a new future with our Tartan 37, Persephone, over on the island of Guam.

Note: Due to the poor timing of technology, most of my pictures of SeaWitch were either on film or my first digital camera, which were destroyed during several events later in life. I hope to recover some photos from friends or otherwise and add to this post later if possible. The glory of having a camera on every phone these days; one forgets how convenient that really is.

Photo credit: From the Stirling Law Cal 28 website, SailTexas advertisement, and my own collection

Sailboat Saturday: Columbia 29

While I’ve been delayed in writing this, the post on Craigslist continued to be available. Perusing the internets for a fun sailboat to highlight I found this ad for a Columbia 29.  The basic specifications:

$1500 o.b.o.
1964 Columbia Sailboat Model C-29
1997 15 hp Honda Outboard – runs great
Presently on the hard
Includes five jack stands

Columbia 29 sailing

Columbia 29 on the hard

Columbia 29 interior

Columbia 29 settee

What makes this a good potential liveaboard?

Well, a few things stand out to me. First, at 29 feet, this is slightly larger than the Cal 28 I lived aboard, making me just a little bit size jealous. It’s a good length for single-handing, and the layout down below appears to be usable in the same capacity.

Also, the hull form is something you won’t find being used much in newer vessels. A decently long keep with a protected rudder. See the layout drawings found at one of the Columbia 29’s owner websites here.

Some of the data on this model:

Length Overall 28′ 6″
Length Waterline 22′ 6″
Beam 8′ 0″
Draft 4′ 0″
Displacement early 7400, late and MkII 8400 lbs.
Ballast (lead) early 3120, late and MkII 4100/4120 lbs.
Fuel Capacity (with inboard) 12 gal.
Fresh Water Capacity 35 gal.
Sail Area 382 sq. ft.
Head Room 6′ 0″
Power – Concealed outboard well (standard), Inboard 8 HP Palmer (optional)

Note that last point, a big seller for me: an outboard well. In this case the specific boat had an outboard mounted on an external bracket. Not bad, but not great either. In my estimation the outboard well is one of the most unappreciated features in these 1960-1970’s era sailboats. Check out James Baldwin’s excellent builds over at Atom Voyages for examples of this feature being added in after market.

Factors to consider:

Certainly lots of things to wonder about with this specific boat, such as:

1) Price: given the low selling price ($1500 at the time I’m posting this) my spidy-sense is kicking in. Part of the price is due to a desire to sell quickly, but this also likely means there’s equipment missing or in need of replacement. Much like the Watkins 27 we looked at early, I’d look into what basic equipment is already provided and the state/health of these things. If I had a fictional budget of $8000-$10,000, there’s probably a lot that could be done. Such as:

– Buy a good gallon of epoxy and fillers to tackle any fiberglass projects that would crop up. It’s easy to learn to use, and given the vessel’s age there’s likely a number of holes and areas which could benefit from some structural loving.

– Electronics: I’d like to think I’d be cautious, but given the age and potential budget, there’s probably a lot that could be done to add some modern conveniences where they are absent. A good depth sounder, compass, and maybe a small chart plotter wouldn’t break the budget and could be found used on eBay or with further Craigslist searching.

– Propulsion: given the low price, I might consider changing out the engine. The 15hp would likely fetch something when sold, but a newer model high efficiency/high thrust long shaft would be a nice-to-have feature and probably better mileage. Brand new with controls and such it may run into the $3000 range, but is worth the money.

– Liveability: Much like the Watkins we covered, some self-sustaining gear to provide a better liveaboard situation, such as solar or wind power, possibly an additional deep cycle battery or two for house loads, and maybe a DC-powered freezer/fridge unit.

Of course, the trouble with low-price fixer-uppers is being honest about the need-want decisions. A diligent owner could really stretch their dollar and get a lot of boat for their money. At the same time, it’d be easy to sink a bunch of cheddar into low-priority fixes or conveniences which don’t improve the value or utility of the vessel.

In closing, there are a few other Columbia 29 resources I found. Given this one is on the hard, in a perfect setting to give it a good survey and dig into any problem areas, there’s a lot of potential for this particular vessel and this model in general. Sta y tuned for the next installment.

Sailboat Data basic coverage

Write-up at Bluewater Boats

Freecycling: Should I Even Consider A Project Boat?

Boat Graveyard

Bob over at BoatBits has a short note this week that struck a chord with me.

Every boat I’ve owned was used. My most recent one, a Balboa 23, was “free.” The thought process for me was rather simple.

1) The Balboa, while free, would have some initial expense. This came in the form of sweat equity to get it out of the water, a small ramp fee to do so, and the cost of discarding the hull of my Aquarius 23.

2) Sweat equity and lost sailing time from removing every piece of kit from the Aquarius 23 to later be installed on the Balboa 23 (same model boat, just slightly upgraded interior.)

3) The typical friction inherent to any project, where lots of decisions need to be made, time sucks, learning curves, etc.

The reward was practical: for little initial expense, I was getting a significant boost in interior renovation. The Balboa, while lacking many items, had a great interior that was much farther along than my Aquarius. I knew I’d sink a lot more time and money into the Aquarius interior before it would be up to my desired standard. I figured I could short cut a little bit of the process.

That said, it wasn’t easy to get everything in order to go sailing that season. I only made it out once in 2012, and it was over Veteran’s Day. In Maryland, the daytime might have been comfortable, but the nights are quite chilly. So much for opportunity.

Every once in a while on Craigslist there will be a “diamond in the rough”. That potentially great deal, which like a siren calls to a mariner. “Of course you can have this 40 foot world-girdler for the low price of $1000,” while the reality is there’s a significant outlay to be made to get her in good condition.

Then again, a patient person, with the right plan, and a large degree of self-restraint, could pick up such a boat with the intent of doing things slowly over time.

Frankly, that was the plan for our Tartan 37. A sailboat we could keep as long as possible, and just keep doing small upgrades over time while maintaining the basics. I can say from experience it’s a tough position to be in. If you are considering a project sailboat (a significant project sailboat; they all need something), then please heed Bob’s words.

(Photo Credit: Clicksy)

Consumerism and Sailing: An Almost Impossible Match

Buy Krap

Today’s thought comes from viewing a great video over at Doryman (and here), who links over from Annie Leonard’s site. The discussion is on consumerism, and it got my creative juices going. Not that I have an “audience”, but I suppose I have a platform.  If you find yourself with twenty minutes, grab a snack, a coffee, a whatever, and watch.

I was initially turned onto these types of short documentaries by the 35 minute film There’s No Tomorrow.  Since we don’t have cable, I don’t get to watch a ton of Discovery or Learning Channel, and these Youtube-style versions are filling the gap.

When I think on what consumerism is, I’m reminded of lessons learned from living aboard.  The plain fact is, there’s only a finite amount of room aboard any sailboat. It will be filled, in some way.  Maybe it’s chock full of foodstuffs, chock full of friends, chock full of junk, but it will be full of something. As a liveaboard, this is your environment, so you must learn to make wise choices on what comes in, what stays, and what goes.  Since your environment is small, and ever close, you quickly learn this lesson.

– You purchased the boat and it came with a typical assortment of 1970’s era life jackets.  Do you replace them out of concerns for safety, or because they smell musty, or because they look awful?

– You graduated college with your old 13″ tube-style TV.  Do you give up cubic feet on the boat to keep the TV or pitch it and get a flat screen?

– You want to refresh the look in the main cabin, but do you throw away the old cushions and replace, or recover what you’ve got.

It’s easy to think that these questions revolve solely around money. If I can afford to replace the life jackets with newer, safer models, I should. The TV probably uses more power than I can spare, and the cushions are full of evil chemicals; replace them all.

As a sailing consumer, we need to think about the other aspects of those decisions.  What is the impact of getting this _____ onto the boat, and what is the impact of taking _____ off the boat.


The Decision Two-Step

For things coming on:

  • Does this item serve a necessary purpose?
  • Will this item serve multiple purposes?
  • Where will this item live? Is there a space aboard for it?
  • What is this item replacing?
  • What additional work will having this item bring on me?
  • Will I get a substantial relative value from having this product aboard?

For things going off the boat:

  • Where is this item going to?
  • Can this item be reused aboard my boat?
  • Can this item be used aboard someone else boat?
  • Can it be recycled? (And where will I do that?)

Here’s an example from my Tartan 37.  The head was vintage 1980, with a substantial amount of plumbing missing.  I was overseas and getting parts would be problematic.  I wanted a bulletproof system, and went with a camper potty.  For the inbound toilet:

  • I had to “go” somewhere, so it was very necessary
  • It had its own water tank, holding tank, and seat, so I didn’t need to buy multiple pieces to create a system
  • It would be in the head, exactly where the old toilet bowl was and was measured to fit
  • It replaced the non-functioning marine head
  • I would have to purchase holding tank treatment and a spray bottle of cleaning solution, and later chose to keep some air freshener in the space. These were consumable goods that needed a life cycle decision of their own
  • Compared to ordering, shipping, installing, and maintaining a marine head system, this would allow me to do less work and have a lower potential for system failures, therefore provided substantial value

For the outbound toilet

  • The toilet had a number of copper fittings which could be recycled: off to the metal scrap yard
  • Sadly no, and what plumbing was left was of no value to me
  • In this case, no, because the head wasn’t rebuildable
  • Yes: at least the fixtures were and went to the local scrap yard

Most of your purchases should get this level of questioning before coming aboard. Protect your space, because many folks out there want to take it from you.

(Photo credit: Miz_ginevra)

This Fire Is Out of Control: That Time My Sailboat Caught Fire…


Sailboat Fire


A sad sight…

 First, a story of stupidity

In 2004 my sailboat was in Charleston, SC while my job had moved to Kings Bay, GA. I was planning to live aboard SeaWitch, my 1970 Cal 28, in the quiet city marina in Fernandina Beach, FL. Unfortunately, I continued to run into problems delivering my home. Between finding the time, a good weather window, and my cranky inboard Atomic 4 engine, everything seemed to be against me. After doing maintenance one day, I decided I’d give the old engine a paint job to complement all of the mechanical work I’d performed.

I figured it wouldn’t take too long, as many parts were already off and being reassembled. They could be spray painted with high-temp before assembly. I could quickly tape off the block and touch up the spots I wanted to. This baby would be a beautiful fire engine red. Women would be attracted to its raw marine power, and likely drape themselves over it while professional photographers made SeaWitch’s engine compartment the next cover page for Hot Rod magazine.

I probably dumped about four cans of spray paint into this job. I had my engine blower running as well as several fans. Since SeaWitch used petrol gasoline for fuel, the blower was an easy mitigation against fume built up. That’s right: a sailboat is a giant Tupperware container, keeping water out and gases inside. Like, paint fume gases…

Later that afternoon, as I was preparing dinner, I decided to light a candle for dinner to help mask the lingering scent of the paint. Hatches were open and the fans were doing good, but it was still evident. I dropped the match, and a half second later heard the loud “POOF”, watched the cabinetry fly open, and saw through every opening in the sailboat’s cast interior the flash of light caused by the flames. I had just set my boat on fire.

General Quarters, Action Stations!

The first thought that went through my head was “I’m highly embarrassed I just set my boat on fire. I hope no one notices my stupidity.” Hey, what can I say?

That thought quickly changed to assessing the situation. I could see orange light in the bilge areas around the engine. This was from some loose paper towels used in the project. I grabbed the nearest fire extinguisher (in the settee) and got to work. Pin pulled, canister aimed, and a couple of short bursts at each flame. Once the visible flames were out, I rapidly opened all lockers that hadn’t blown open and did a search for any remaining flames. Once done, I was in consequence management mode.

The first problem was not smoke but fire extinguisher agent. The typical extinguishing agent aboard a boat is powder driven by compressed gas. It’s possible to have small sized CO2 or liquid extinguishers, but powder is pretty common. It works on a number of fire types, can be maintained relatively easily, and packages well compared to its firefighting capability [i.e. bang for the buck.]

This powder was everywhere. It’s fine and spreads rapidly when touched. Thankfully I had my particulate mask nearby and was able to throw it on while finishing my search for flames. Once the search was complete, I began the process of airing out the cabin. First I ran the bilge blower for about ten minutes to completely evacuate gases or anything heavy out of the bilge area. Then I ran a box fan from the forward hatch to drive smoke and powder out of the main cabin. At sea, I would have used both the 12VDC cabin fans and opening the forward hatch to catch the wind.

As the atmosphere got better, I began the detailed search and battle damage assessment. Was anything still warm, indicating flames behind it? Any smoldering bits in dark corners? On the submarine we had a thermal detector to assist us in this effort, but on SeaWitch I had to rely on my eyes watching for wisps of smoke or changes in color in the darkness.

I ventilated the cabin for a good hour. My smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detectors were reset and indicated everything was tolerable. It took several days of part-time cleaning to vacuum up the known powder, and months later I still found spots where it collected. A vacuum with HE filtration helped immensely.

What went well

1) Knowing where the extinguishers were, and how to operate one.

2) Keeping a level head and fighting one thing at a time (one fire at a time, then ventilating).

3) Conducting a thorough deep search and staying aboard for several hours after to ensure things were safe.

What didn’t go well

1) Should have ran the bilge blower the entire time I was working. On shore power, there was little reason not to. The cabin fans were unable to lift enough gases from the bilge.

2) Bravado: while I still don’t think firetrucks were necessary, it was poor of me to think “This is my problem.” It could have easily changed into everyone’s problem. Thankfully the fire was extinguished quickly. If it took more than a minute though, getting help would have been the next major thing to do.

Attainable Adventures has a great article covering fire safety aboard sailboats. Well worth the read as it treats the details with ease.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user Peter Robinett)

Decisions Decisions: Factors in Sailboat Upgrades and Improvements

 I’ve long been a fan of Bob’s writing, having enjoyed almost 7 years of daily (practically) posts from the Caribbean. He switched off of “BoatBits” for a while now, but started up a blog known as “Volkscruiser”, the implied meaning being a cruiser for the masses.

 I didn’t know it at the time, but I was joining the Volk when I purchased SeaWitch in 2002. An aged Cal28, she was one of the thousands of reasonably priced fiberglass production boats of the 70’s available in the U.S. These “classic plastics” are an ideal choice for the young, or beginning, liveaboard. If one sticks with a firm understanding of ROI.

Return on Investment

As a financial phrase, ROI means the ratio of profit to the amount invested. In life, ROI is a flexible term with a subjective meaning. Investment could mean time, money, attention, or effort. But harder to measure is “return”.

 In 2004, while on patrol with my first submarine, USS Rhode Island, I made the choice of bringing out the latest Defender catalog. Based in New England, Defender is a well-known source of all things marine. I spent several evenings flipping through the pages with a notebook next to me, jotting down ideas for upgrades to SeaWitch’s systems. Sometimes the pictures would remind of a part I knew needed replacing. Sometimes it was an improved product that promised additional utility or efficiency. Sometimes it was a whole new concept that I “knew” I needed to incorporate, i.e. solar charging for my batteries.

 I don’t regret spending the time day dreaming, but such behavior can become destructive with an older boat.


 When doing an initial survey or taking stock of what you’ve got, there are a few important things to keep in mind.

 1) No boat will ever be perfect: Even if you had unlimited resources, there’s always “something” else that could be improved. And use will always cause systems to fail, given enough time. The state of a sailboat is constantly changing. In that way, it’s really a living thing.

 2) You must understand the minimum effective state for your vessel: Call it whatever you want, but there’s a minimal amount of equipment or capability that a sailboat must have to sail properly and safely, and to carry you (and others) from point A to B. Any future purchase should be married to one of these things.

 3) Define what success looks like ahead of time: Measuring return is tough unless you know what it is you’re looking for. If I spent $1000 on a solar charging system, but always stayed at marinas, what was my return? I charge on shore power at every opportunity, maybe my engine charges, and I have a large capacity battery bank. Those solar panels aren’t doing anything other than making me look like a “real cruiser”. Vanity may be an appropriate measure, but just understand what it is ahead of time. Do you want to look like a cruising boat, or be a boat that cruises?

 Your Money or Your Life

 Most upgrades will not provide a financial benefit to the resale value of your sailboat. That’s just facts. It’s not much different than doing home makeover and improvements; most won’t pay for themselves, but some are more valuable than others. You should try to ensure that any effort made at improving your sailboat adds real value, in the form of convenience, safety, performance, or comfort, and if it does those things, then it will likely add to the “real” value of the vessel as well. If those $1000 solar panels leave my batteries topped off at all times, no need for shore power, and I spend a significant amount of time away from other sources, then I won’t mind if the resale value of my boat doesn’t go up by the total cost of installation. But, all things equal, a sailboat with good working systems will outsell one without, especially if marketed correctly.

As Bob mentions, a good filter to test purchases is the traditional advice: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

What systems do you look at first when deciding to upgrade or replace gear? Are traditional areas of concern still valid?

7 Reasons Living Aboard in 2013 Rocks More Than A Decade Ago

Photo Credit: b316728 on Flickr

Loran-C circa 1970: Photo Credit: b316728

In the summer of 2002 I purchased, moved aboard, and sailed my new home, SeaWitch, to Charleston SC. A Cal 28 flat topper was certainly an interesting choice of living for a young naval officer, but it opened up some of the best years of my life. But that’s not to say it was all easy; far from it. The learning curve was sharp! I’ve thought about this often in the last few years, and what the differences might be in living aboard today vice then. Ten years doesn’t seem like a lot, but our society has made huge advances in some areas in that time. Let me preface this list with some context. This comparison is made against my live aboard lifestyle. I think it applies to other lifestyles as well, but maybe in different ways. It’s all perspective.

– Relatively small sailboat living (say under 35 feet in length)

– A working professional career (i.e. still going to work regularly)

– Desire to stay in contact with folks easily

– Staying on the U.S. East Coast conducting local cruising In not particular order….

1) Cell Phones Are More Advanced!

In 2003 I left Charleston for a short training program in Connecticut I knew I was moving farther south to Amelia Island at the end, so I was looking for a new cellular provider to support me down there. And provide service in CT. And a phone to possibly be a modem for my laptop while aboard. And be small. And do awesome things. I spent an unseemly amount of money for a Cingular candy bar style phone, that with a super-expensive cord (sold separately) could possibly tie my laptop to internet for an outrageous rate. And it didn’t work. Fast forward to 2013. How common are smart phones? Heck, they are computers. Bottom line. I can do more on my Motorola Droid2 Global than I could on my entire computing suite in 2003. And for about the same monthly price. The networks have changed since cellular became popular in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, which means better choices in providers and wider coverage. And there are several independent marketers trying to level the playing field, such as Ting. Better choices here would have meant better connectivity in more locations.

2) Tablet Computers

Sometime after moving down to Amelia Island, I left my laptop under a leaking hatch when it rained. Sure enough, my very enjoyable Sony Vaio laptop was a goner .. I found an auction for a View Sonic tablet, the V100. I think it cost me close to $500. Ran Windows XP. Had a huge 40gB hard drive and wifi. And needed a magic stylus to write on the screen (that also cost $50 to replace). It wasn’t bad, just…old. Again, fast forward to January 2012 when I decided to consolidate my electronic empire into one(ish) device: a Motorola Xoom tablet. No more portable DVD player, netbook., or Kindle. It was the closest to “the one thing” that I’ve gotten. I can’t describe all the ways a nice tablet like this (and the great apps running these days) would have benefited me living aboard. Entertainment station. Small-form computing with a bluetooth keyboard. Chart plotting. Inventory. Managing my finances on Mint. Photos on projects or memories. Everything stored, synced, and backed up in Evernote. Shelf space saved by having books on there. Sigh… And all for less than I paid for that V100, and no pen required.

3) The Internet Has Grown

One advantage folks have in 2013 over my old self is the vastness of the internet and its exponential growth. The availability of knowledge and information is substantial In 2003, I was spending several hundred dollars a year on books, both for reference material (how to do certain skills or activities) and motivation (what were other people doing.) Fast forward to 2013 and there’s plenty of both, online, and mostly free. That’s not to say we shouldn’t pay folks for their time and experiences. But, no one needs to go to Barnes & Noble and shell out significant sums just to learn whether this lifestyle is of interest. Instead, the avid reader can find numerous blogs of those already out there doing it. Many sailors keep well-maintained websites detailing improvement projects and repairs; YouTube videos exist for practically anything, and the variety of formats means there’s information available in some media for everyone. Are you interested in a particular design, or constrained to look for a new-to-you vessel in one geographic location? Great! Head onto Craigslist or eBay and set alerts for what you’re looking for. Read the numerous reviews many designs have received. Classifieds? If you want to, there are several online platforms selling boats, so paper is practically a thing of the past. Or shout out on Facebook and see who you know that knows a guy who knows a guy. The barrier to entry has never been lower.

4) Social Connect-ability

While not a game changer, social tools like Facebook and Twitter have changed the way we connect with others, and that is certainly applicable to the sailing sphere. If you’re a coastal sailor, it’s not unheard of to do check-ins with family via Twitter on your phone. Keep up with that couple you met on the docks in North Carolina via Facebook. Reach out to like-minded individuals on a topic or location via various forums and Facebook pages. Heck, one could even keep up a sailing resume via LinkedIn for potential clients. The danger of these tools is the enticing seat of the armchair sailor. It’s also never been easier for the critic to come home from work, sit at his or her desk, troll the forums for someone seeking inspiration or practical advice, and proceed to kill dreams. Sometimes knowingly, sometimes innocently. I’ve frankly avoided forums lately due to my hiatus from cruising. I don’t want to become that guy. Just keep in mind that there’s a place for everyone in this community. Some folks have earned their stripes; some are still earning them. And some will never earn them and sit on the side and spout ignorance.

5) Depreciated Boat Value

I purchased my first big boat, a 1970 Cal28 flat-top, in 2002 for the whooping price of $8500. Sailboats up to the lower 30’s were going for as low as $10-15K. What’s funny is these same boats haven’t really changed value too much. If anything, some prices have gone down due to the depressed economy. Bob, over at Boat Bits, described a reader’s story that if you find a good used boat it’s likely to be snapped up quickly, so come with cash in hand. That said, in my opinion the market has only gotten better for someone interested with getting in. A five digit budget of $10K to $30K will yield an amazing amount of quality used vessel. Even under $10K there’s lots of availability. And since inflation has theoretically reduced the value of my 2002 money, the deals are even better today.

6) Lifestyle Design Is In

I’d like to say that cruising sailors defined this term before the likes of Tim Ferriss got a hold of it. But, the increasingly visible segment of society who are shaping their careers and lives with flexibility, mobility, and freedom make this idea something important to incoming live aboard sailors. The perfect example of lifestyle design was my neighbor in Charleston, SC. He was an A/C repairman. He had the capacity to do much more (education, credentials, grit) but willingly chose to be content with his limited (by most social standards) role in society. He would find an employer, who provided tools, truck, and jobs, and work for a period of one year. In his spare time during the evening he free-lanced doing A/C repair on our marina’s boats. After that one-year period, he’d quit, sell off anything too bulky to carry around, and took his liveaboard sailboat, a well-maintained O’Day 25, down south to the Caribbean for one to two years. Then he’d come back to a new location in the U.S. and repeat. He’d even move around during the year if it suited him. While the fantasy of simply writing about your adventures in a blog and earning a six-figure income is highly unlikely, there’s plenty of opportunity for folks to take advantage of the changing face of business to combine sailboat living with a career, or leverage existing technology to make traditional cruising careers more efficient and effective.

7) Digitized Media

Not that it was debilitating, but in 2002 the collection of stuff aboard SeaWitch was pretty substantial. I had a hearty set of VHS tapes, a growing DVD selection in both cases and CD sleeves, the music family of your typical college student, and an appetite for reading. Space was a big problem. In 2013, I’m on a mission to downsize our media footprint, which is helpful in our home but makes me feel confident we could shift to the boat easily without a lose of lifestyle. Many of my books are purchased via Kindle, and I have plans for a digitizer in the near future to keep all of my favorites near at hand. Most all of our music is in mp3 format and on our computers and phones. Even our DVD collection is largely backed up on an external hard drive in mobile format. With little effort, my laptop and two hard drives could find their home easily aboard (and I tend to keep accessories aboard so I need not think of them.) and we’d be 90-95% established. With a handheld scanner and small-form printer, we have a tiny office ready to go! So much different than my set of four file boxes aboard a 28′ sailboat…

Convenience In Line With Simplification

Not that one needs all of these things to live aboard. Hardly. But, for those who enjoy some of the conveniences and comforts of modern living, the shift to a water-based lifestyle is much easier these days. Consider your options and feel fortunate we’re living in a Golden Era of life!