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Lessons from a Circumnavigation Part III: Cost of Cruising

By webmaster last modified Jan 23, 2015 07:57 PM

Published: 2002-08-18 18:20:00

COST OF CRUISING

by Michael Frankel

Yachting is expensive. Yachting around the world even more so.

I did not conduct a formal Millennium Odyssey survey of boat expenses for equipment repairs and replacements. However, I did keep my ears open and I took lots of notes. Over the rally's daily radio chat hour, I frequently heard of blown spinnakers, autopilots that failed and needed replacement, refrigeration failures that needed an expert at the next port, and much more. In port, dockside conversations added to this anecdotal data base with stories of whole generators being air freighted from Europe, motors overhauled, fiberglass repair due to groundings, standing rigging replacement, and an endless procession of expensive specialists to fix this 'n that.

No one was shy when asked about the cost of maintenance. Some actually sounded proud of the expensive repairs. Owners may have been proud of their aggressive sailing or their ability to foot the bills. I estimated that over our entire fleet - thirty-six boats ranging from 39- to 73-footers and from brand new to aging twenty-years-olds - the average equipment maintenance and replacement expenses for the circumnavigation ran to $15,000!

I passed this figure by my accountant friends, Ann and Ralf on HARMONIE, and they sort of agreed with my estimate. Ralf leaned toward a higher number, but thought the $15,000 was a good minimum average.

If you add in the average $18,000 rally entry fee and around $7,000 in worldwide boat insurance, the total comes to $40,000! This estimate does not include consumable items such as food and fuel, communications costs, weather services, hired crews, or travel expenses on shore. It also excludes the two biggest expenses: boat preparations for the rally, the depreciation due to wear and tear of the boat during the rally.

Duke on DISTANT DRUM estimated that getting his twenty-year-old boat ready for the circumnavigation cost around $140,000. HORNBLOWER, another aging boat, had about $40,000 in new equipment purchases for the trip. In HORNBLOWER's case, all installations were carried out by Bob and I with sweat wages not reflected in the true dollar cost of boat preparation. A new 57-foot Swan purchased for the Millennium Odyssey, reportedly cost upward of $2 million, and was put up for sale at the end of the rally for a mere $1.35 million. This was an unusual example of depreciation, but many boats face major refurbishment expenses after the voyage: painting, varnishing, fiberglass repairs, new rigging, engine and generator overhauls, new sails, canvas work, and much more. A year-and-a-half of hard sailing under tropical sun and salt water can do a lot of damage.

Some boats used hired crews with monthly salaries ranging from a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of thousand dollars per person. Other boats used volunteer crews, and still others had their crews share in boat expenses. My own expenses for the rally reflect the latter category. I shared in the food and fuel (and occasional docking) expenses. My total room and board and other expenses for the circumnavigation came to approximately $19,900 (about $1,200 per month), broken out as follows:

Rally entry fee $1,600

Food and fuel (my share) 2,100

Inmarsat-C e-mail transmissions 3,200

Mail forwarding 900

Planes, trains, and car rentals 5,700

Walking around money 6,400

The planes, trains category includes a flight from the Caribbean to Rome for the last flame ceremony but not the flight to Israel for the first flame ceremony, occurring several months before the American start of the Millennium Odyssey. The walking around money included extensive land touring in Australia and South Africa.

I thought my expenses were reasonable. It was much cheaper than living on land for sixteen months, and a lot more fun.

The irrepressible Italian, Fabio, on TARATOO said in a closing ceremony, "The Millennium Odyssey proved that rich people can sail around the world." Coincidentally, my monthly crewmember expenses were about the same as my monthly Social Security pension, proving that the not-so-rich can also sail around the world.

TARATOO CREW RULES

The following rules were excerpted from a longer list of TARATOO crew rules given to me by Fabio, the skipper of TARATOO. Although some of the rules sound harsh, especially for a fun-filled recreational cruise, there was no arguing with Fabio's success as a racing skipper. He won most of the legs of the Millennium Odyssey and the overall Millennium Race Cup. With help from Lou of RISQUE, acting as start captain and tactician, TARATOO also won a First and Third in the stiff competition of the annual Antigua Race Week 2000. Several other boat crews were aboard TARATOO, and I am told that Fabio, Lou, and Ghego (a regular on TARATOO), were real standouts in the races.

I found the rules amusing as well as instructive. I tried to imagine myself on TARATOO not able to drink coffee on watch not a pretty picture. However, I did appreciate the concentration and dedication it takes to win. I'm sure that by America's Cup or Whitbread race standards, these rules must seem fairly relaxed.

No smoking below deck

Keep politics out of the conversation

Meals are served according to a prearranged menu cycle and should be adhered to by all.

No throwing of food.

The cook can ration certain foods, beverages, water, and other articles only on orders from the skipper.

Specific jobs on board described in the Job Description are the responsibility of that particular crewmember. Any ideas for improvement are welcome and should be channeled to the responsible crewmember.

No personal gear should be left lying around the deck or the cockpits except when drying out.

Dodger dwelling is restricted to off-watch crewmembers only.

At night the off-watch crew should be called 15 minutes before their watch start and hot drinks should be prepared by one of the on-watch crew, in time for them to be consumed below decks before the watch change.

No fresh watch crewmember may come on deck with a cup in his hands.

Day watches are called 40 minutes before their watch and meals should be ready 30 minutes before the watch starts.

The off-watch crew can be called on deck only on orders of the skipper.

The crew should station themselves on the weather rail whenever the conditions demand.

Only the watch crew should remain in or around the aft cockpit.

Conversation with helmsman is restricted to essential items only to ensure that concentration is maintained.

Only when off-watch can a crewmember: take a shower -- take photographs -- read magazines and books -- listen to music on personal recorders

Drying of towels should be done below in the engine room unless the situation permits this on deck.

Drying of clothing and boots should always be carried out in the engine room.

Each crewman must carry in his pocket: whistle, knife, and at night, torch and strobe light.

General strategy and tactics are based on factual information and experience on the part of skipper and watch leaders. The skipper has the final say and must approve any change to the chosen tactics. The skipper has the final authority at all times and must be consulted and informed accordingly.

When resting, the skipper should be called by the watchleader: When a change in weather conditions calls for a sail change or reef -- For gybing -- In case of emergency -- If a competitor is approaching

This last rule, calling the skipper when a competitor is approaching, typifies the intense competitive atmosphere on a racing boat.

ADMINISTRATIVE ARRANGEMENTS

Several years ago I saw a television report on autistic young adults. There was a young man, living with his parents, who would get up each morning and hand copy an alphabetical list of business addresses from the telephone Yellow Pages in his town. For the rest of the day he would bicycle to each address, check it off the list, and proceed to the next address. The next morning he repeated the process copying addresses from where he left off the previous day and start his cycling again.

This story stuck with me over the years. Every time I got involved in list making I began to wonder.

Okay, so I'm a little obsessed, but with my Millennium Odyssey lists I thought I had good reasons. The lists covered my administrative needs and arrangements for a year-and-a-half liveaboard experience on a 46-footer sailing around the world. My forepeak crew quarters were spacious but limited. Somehow I had to anticipate my need for personal belongings - personal papers, office supplies, books, clothing, toys, toiletries - for the duration of the trip.

For over a year, I helped my friends, Judy and Bob, get rid of countless items on their boat improvement list, boat maintenance list, and boat provisioning list. The time came to concentrate on my personal belongings list. I spent considerable time trying to account for every contingency in my day-to-day life aboard, whether whiling away time in mid-ocean or playing tourist on some exotic island. As I approached the departure date, it was surprising to see how many of the original must items entered six months earlier were dropped in favor of a more simplistic and compact life.

I carried this list around for several months, reviewing it from time to time to see what I had forgotten or what I could without. It became a sort of game where I tried to picture my daily life aboard and the things I would naturally reach out for. Slowly the list hardened and I began to see where my true interests lay. For example, the clothes list stayed fairly minimal while the reference materials, office supplies, and miscellaneous items grew. Clearly I was more concerned about filling time with constructive projects - reading and writing - than worrying about what to wear.

The whole process reminded me of packing a backpack to hike up a mountain. You try to balance the need for stuff with the daunting prospect of hauling the pack up the mountain.

In addition to these highly-massaged list, there were several accompanying arrangements that had to be made to ease the administrative hassle of living aboard far from home. I spent considerable time organizing my affairs to conduct my administrative life by remote control. This effort seemed to go hand-in-hand with list making. Many of these arrangements, started years before the trip, have already served me well during regular marina liveaboard life. Other arrangements were strictly oriented to the trip and being out of the country for such a long time.

Most of my bills were paid by a debit/charge card or direct deductions from a checking account. A few remaining bills were paid by the check-is-in-the-mail routine.

I subscribed to a computer banking service to monitor activity on my checking account and to pay bills. However, I doubted that I would be able to connect to long-distance land lines to use the service on a regular basis. However, I had also registered to access my account through the web on Internet, which I hoped would be available from time to time along the trip at Internet cafés.

I arranged to get the expiration dates of all my charge cards to cover the duration of the trip. I also checked to be sure the cards and pin numbers were accessible in foreign countries. On the choice of credit cards, I had found that all three major cards were valuable in individual instances. On the trip to Israel for the opening ceremonies of the Millennium Odyssey, I learned that my American Express card would not cover car rental insurance, but a MasterCard would. There is no way to anticipate these irrational situations, so all three major cards are advisable. Multiple cards are also advisable. It is so easy to lose one or to have problems with the magnetic strip.

On that same Israel trip I discovered the convenience of Hotmail. This is a free world-wide-web-based e-mail service available on any computer connected to the Internet (www.hotmail.com). I used this service at Internet cafés and major hotel chains with business service centers. Also available on Hotmail is a POP mail feature that allows users to access mail received on any other mail service - in my case, a Compuserve account.

My income tax calculations are fairly straight forward. Assuming that there would be no major overhaul in the tax laws while I was away, I packed tax forms for future filings as well as extension requests. I hoped tax information would follow me as I retrieve mail at various points along the circumnavigation. (A needless worry. The tax man always finds you.)

I have used a mail forwarding service for many years, even when living aboard at a marina for extended periods of time. I found it more convenient than changing addresses every so often. I had no problems retrieving mail along the way. Usually within four to seven days after requesting a mail drop. DHL, or some other express courier service, brought it directly to the marina where I was staying or to an office in town. (Courier services will not drop packages at post office boxes, so it is important to have street addresses.)

No trip is possible without cash - lots of it. There are cash machines all over the world, and many places accept debit/credit cards. So, in addition to a small cache of on-board dollars, I placed money in money market accounts accessible by these cards. That way unused funds could continue to earn interest.

I prepared a detailed list of people and organizations in my life that I might need to contact routinely or in an emergency. The list includes names, addresses, telephone numbers, fax numbers, e-mail addresses, as well as all my account numbers, membership numbers, and expiration dates.

Expecting to make many wet trips to shore by dinghy, I laminated the names and addresses of my closest friends (in small type) on a small double-sided card. The card was carried easily in a shirt pocket when headed for the post office to mail postcards.

If all this attention to list making and beforehand arrangements sounds like obsessive behavior, it is. However, the effort left me with a feeling of being well-organized and in remote control of my life. Boat living, especially as a crewmember on someone else's boat for a long journey, focuses attention on being prepared for fun and hassles.

There is an old travelers adage about leaving half the contents of a suitcase at home and doubling the money before setting forth. At sea, some of those items left behind can make a big difference in the enjoyment of a trip. And no amount of money in the middle of an ocean can replace boredom.