What’s the real price of long-term cruising? Accountants Christine Muir and Keith Hunt reveal their meticulously kept 12-year balance sheet, and how to afford the lifestyle
We, Keith and Christine, have just finished our 12-year voyage on a 45ft sailing boat, Poco Andante, visiting 47 countries and covering some 30,000 miles.
During this epic journey, we have kept detailed records of all expenditure, from purchasing the vessel and getting her ready for crossing oceans, to maintaining her and finally, selling her.
We’ve often been quizzed by prospective cruisers about the costs of such a venture.
We have honestly examined the financial aspects of embarking on a real-life adventure – using real data.
We have cruised with, and met, hundreds of fellow cruisers on our voyage and feel that we are Mr and Mrs Average Cruiser, although some spend far more than us, and some far less.
Hopefully we have given a true and fair picture of the average costs involved.
In order to understand these figures, we must firstly explain the type of cruising we did, the vessel we chose, where we went and our philosophy towards boat maintenance and improvement.
When we were searching for our boat, we decided that a heavy-displacement centre-cockpit cutter-rigged sloop around 45ft in length would suit our needs, and our planned departure was for late summer 2003.
We viewed many vessels and were often advised that steel was the way to go, but were pleased in our final choice of GRP fibreglass.
Our budget for the boat was modest (about the cost of a second ‘holiday’ home), so we limited our choice to older designs.
Our final choice was a well-maintained Bruce Roberts-designed GRP Mauritius 45 built in South Africa in 1981.
Not a spring chicken, but with two Atlantic crossings under her belt and fitted out for bluewater cruising, she suited our needs comfortably.
An added bonus was that, although based in the Mediterranean, she was arriving in Southampton, UK, our home port in May 2002.
We sailed her for one season and then hauled out for a mini refit before we left the UK the following year.
This refit included a new engine – we replaced the old 56hp Ford Transit engine with a new 75hp FSD425 unit from Lancing Marine, and they have also provided excellent after-sales service over the last 13 years – an excellent investment.
We also replaced the rigging, sailing instruments, laundered the sails and had a storm trysail made, plus a myriad of other jobs.
All in all, we were pleased with our choice.
Poco Andante was sea-kindly, comfortable and handled excellently in all conditions.
With that, we were ready for our big adventure.
The liveaboard lifestyle
When we left to go cruising, we weren’t sure what type of lifestyle we were in for.
We hadn’t even decided where we were going; the initial plan was a period in the Mediterranean, then we would reassess.
We weren’t sure if we were going to be away for three months or three years – 12 years was outside our thinking!
Most of our plans were for a short period; we rented out our house and put all our furniture in storage, expecting to return in the not-too-distant future.
Within four months of leaving, we were enjoying ourselves and the cruising community so much that we decided to turn right at Gibraltar instead of left.
As in all walks of life, people live on very different budgets.
Our budget included the occasional marina stay when there was not a suitable anchorage (our preference); regular entertaining of fellow cruisers; occasionally eating in restaurants (approximately once or twice a week); side trips; hire cars.
We slept on board for most of our 12 years cruising and only flew back to the UK twice.
Our 12-year, 30,000-mile voyage took us from the UK to Gibraltar, across the Atlantic, north to Maine, USA, south to Florida then across to Cuba and back along the Caribbean chain to Trinidad, Venezuela, Columbia, Panama, across the Pacific to Fiji, down to New Zealand, back to T onga, then to Australia, north along the Queensland coast to Darwin, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, where we sold Poco Andante.
The Middle East became a no-go zone and still was in 2015, and the prospect of another three ocean crossings (Indian and the long passage across the South and North Atlantic) did not appeal.
The adage that cruising is ‘boat maintenance in exotic locations’ is exactly right.
Our philosophy was to try to keep the boat ‘up together’ rather than replacing.
When not on passage, we had a general routine of boat jobs in the morning, and the afternoon for leisure, visiting, swimming, diving, snorkelling and socialising.
We did most of our own maintenance and only used outside labour a few times, where specialist equipment was needed such as refrigeration and sailing making.
Fellow cruisers were always on hand to offer advice and if necessary, assistance.
The camaraderie and willingness to help is a cruising mainstay – and work hard/play hard is a fair description.
Lift-outs are major projects that need to be planned meticulously – and usually involve large outflows of cash.
We hauled out only five times in 12 years.
Between those times, we would scrub the bottom and clean the props about every six months.
At each haul-out, we used three coats of hard antifouling at the highest copper content we could get locally.
Major failure or breakdowns are a fact of life and we were lucky that we only suffered four major incidents that needed substantial repair.
A fouled prop sheared our drive plate; we blew out both out main and genoa during our Pacific crossing; the exhaust manifold blew; and a failed engine mount resulted in a catastrophic loss of oil that caused our engine to seize.
Our other philosophy was to have a backup for every system on board.
Over time, we also fitted items that made our life easier like an electric winch in the cockpit, improving the entertainment system, installing a washing machine, and so forth.
On a yacht, there are always upgrades available – after all, there is a multi-bullion-dollar industry that benefits from all these new gizmos.
The magic comes in deciding which ones you really need – and which ones work.