Jun 21, 2009

7 FAQs about Living On A Sailboat

1. How much would you have saved if you used solar panels instead of running a generator every day?

Our boat did not come with a propane stove. Buying a propane stove and everything that it would take to install one (special locker, special hoses, solenoid,) is at least $1,000. Then installing solar would cost at least $1,000. And if we were going to depend completely on solar, we would need a larger battery bank, maybe $200. So a total of $2,200 and that’s a super conservative estimate.

Our generator on the other hand cost $800, and our toaster oven about $80, for a total of $880. To this day, we have not spent $1,000 dollars on gas for the generator. It can run for 8 hours on a single gallon of gas and we use it 2-3 hours a day.

Total cost for solar: $2,200
Total Cost for Generator: $1,880

In the long run, solar and propane really are cheaper. But we low budget, short-term cruisers. Most of our actual cruising is only a few months at a time. The rest of our time is spent at a dock working and saving money. While we are at the dock we just plug the boat in to shore power.

If we were going to go cruising non-stop for 5 years straight, It would make sense to install propane and solar. On my next boat I hope to use that setup.

Using a generator works really well for us. It’s really quiet. At night we turn it on to cook dinner, then leave it on if we decide to watch a movie.

I can’t recommend the Honda EU 2000i highly enough. We’ve had ours since 2005. It’s spent most of it’s life outside. We’ve used it A LOT and I am pretty bad at routine maintenance. It starts up every time, almost always on the first pull. I would buy one again without hesitation. It is definitely worth the price.

*Update Summer 2016:

11 years old and the generator still works GREAT. We spent a month sailing and depended on the generator a lot.

It still runs great, and cosmetically has held up really well. There are some grooves in the plastic around the pull start rope. But really those are my fault for not starting it from the proper angle.

The eco-throttle is also broken. Considering this generator has spent so much of it’s life getting wet, and being in the generally humid boating environment, I forgive the switch for failing. Fortunately the switch died with the eco-throttle “on” so the generator runs on it’s lowest setting power.

The only problem with this is that when you go to use something the draws a lot of power, the generator goes from 0 to 60 and will stall if it hasn’t had enough time to warm up. When this happened in the past I just turned off the eco-throttle so the generator would rev up. Now that the switch it broken, I have to turn on something that will rev up the generator slightly, then turn on whatever is drawing high power. And immediately turn off whatever else I had on to rev the generator up, otherwise it will flip the generators circuit breaker. This is rarely a problem.

2. How did you learn to sail?

I purchased a book from Barnes & Noble that explained the basics. It was actually called “Sailing: The Basics.”

Then I got a small sailboat from my uncle, went down to the lake, and figured it out by trial and error. A month later I bought a 31 foot sailboat and (with some help) sailed it home, 200 miles, from Northern Lake Michigan. I was 19.

Many sailors will try to make you believe that sailing and cruising is harder than it really is. Do not let them scare you. Sailing is easy. Just use your head. Always make sure you have enough room to float, and check the weather before leaving port.

3. Was it difficult finding jobs while cruising?

When we needed to work, we would stop and get normal jobs. This was part of the adventure. When we are cruising we pass through a lot of places very quickly. Very often all we see is the grocery store and laundromat. Honestly the traveling part of cruising kinda sucks.

When you stop to get a job, you make friends you would have otherwise never met. You see parts of the city, and get to enjoy things other cruisers don't. I loved living and working in Charleston. I didn't want to leave.

When cruising we have cleaned boat bottoms for extra cash. I've also done boat deliveries. It’s not steady income.
4. Are there costs involved with going through the locks?

Yes. Most locks charge a fee. The Panama Canal has a fee. The Erie Canal normally has a fee, but for a few years (including when we went though) it was free.
5. What type of paperwork is required to go cruising?

You need a passport. The boat doesn’t technically need anything. Normally boats are registered to the state, but if you are traveling, which state would you register to? You can document the boat federally with the coast guard, but there is no requirement to do so.
6. Were you able to keep frozen meats?

Every boat has a different refrigeration situation. Theoretically, we could freeze meat by turning our entire fridge into a freezer. That means frozen vegetables, frozen deli meat, frozen cheese, etc. So for the most part we only had fresh meat.

We would like to have a freezer for our next boat, but keep in mind, having a freezer means higher demand for electricity. That means a larger battery bank and running the generator longer to charge it. Or if we have solar panels we might have to add an extra  panel, just to account for the freezer. Well worth it if we have the budget.
7. How can you afford to go sailing at such a young age?

Starting really young gave us a major advantage. We both still lived with our parents, so we could save most of our income. Neither of us had any debt.

Once we moved onto the boat, we didn’t have the typical land-based expenses. No cable, wifi, gas, or electric bill. We've always got jobs near the marinas where we lived and we road bikes to get to them, so that means we have no car payments, fuel, maintenance, or insurance to worry about.

Riding your bike to work is a great way to get exercise, and to de-stress from a hard day at work. Riding your bike in the rain is a great way to get in touch with your inner child! No adult in their right mind would go riding in the rain, or splash through puddles, but I’ve had a good excuse and a blast doing it. If you ever want to have some fun, ride your bike in the rain.

A lot of people told us, “Go Now” So we went. We didn’t worry about having the best boat, or the newest gadget. We figured out what we needed to get to the boat South. Then we looked at what we needed to get to the Bahamas. I thought about what sailors needed to go sailing 50 or 60 years ago. Figure out the bare minimums you need to go sailing now... and then go. It's that simple.

Jun 10, 2009

The Reality of Sailing

Some people say to us “when you are going to coming back to reality?” My cruising friend, Gary, sent me the following passage in response to the question:

Those who see sailing as an escape from reality have got their
understanding of both sailing and reality completely backwards.

Sailing is not an escape, but a return to and a confrontation of a reality
from which modern civilization is itself an escape.

For centuries, humans suffered from the reality of an earth that was too dark or too hot or too cold for his comfort, and to escape this we invented complex systems of lighting, heating and air conditioning. Sailing returns us to the realities of dark and heat and cold.

Modern civilization has found radio, TV, movies, nightclubs and a huge variety of mechanized entertainment to titillate our senses and help us escape from the apparent boredom of the earth and the sun and wind and stars.

Sailing returns to these ancient realities.

-Robert Prisig