What is the real price of the long-term cruise? Accountants Christine Muir and Keith Hunt reveal their meticulously maintained 12-year budget and how to afford the lifestyle
When two accountants intend to go on a cruise, you can bet that your budget will have a budget and an accountant's eye on the effort.
We, Keith and Christine, have just finished our 12-year journey on a 45-foot sailboat, Poco Andante, visiting 47 countries and covering some 30,000 miles.
During this epic journey, we kept a detailed record of all expenses, from the purchase of the ship and its preparation for crossing the oceans, to its maintenance and finally to its sale.
We have often been questioned by potential cruisers about the costs of this venture.
We honestly examined the financial aspects of boarding in a real life adventure, using real data.
Keith and Christine in colder climates at the beginning of their journey
We have sailed and met hundreds of cruise companions on our journey and we feel we are Mr. and Mrs. Mrs. Cruiser, although some spend much more than us and others spend much less.
We hope to have provided a true and correct picture of the average expected costs.
To understand these figures, we must first explain the type of cruise that we did, the ship we chose, where we went and our philosophy towards the maintenance and improvement of the boat.
When we were looking for our boat, we decided that a heavy-displacement central cockpit cutting platform sloop about 45 feet long met our needs and our scheduled departure was for the end of summer 2003.
We saw many ships and were often told that steel was the way to go, but we were satisfied with our final choice of fiberglass fiberglass.
Passing the Statue of Liberty was a great highlight
Our boat budget was modest (about the cost of a second "vacation rental"), so we limited our choice to older projects.
Our final choice was a well-designed Mauritius 45 GRP, designed by Bruce Roberts, built in South Africa in 1981.
Australian Christine Muir and Wales native Keith Hunt made the decision to purchase a Bluewater cruiser in July 2002 and set sail
Not a spring hen, but with two Atlantic crossings under your belt and prepared for cruising in blue waters, it suited our needs comfortably.
A further advantage was that, although based in the Mediterranean, our home port was arriving in Southampton in the UK in May 2002.
We sailed there for one season and then pulled out for a mini refit before leaving the UK the following year.
This refit included a new engine – we replaced the old 56 HP Ford Transit engine with a new Lancing Marine 75 HP FSD425 unit and over the past 13 years they have also provided excellent after-sales service – an excellent investment.
We also replaced the rigging, the navigational instruments, washed the sails and had a storm mainsail built, as well as a host of other jobs.
All in all, we were happy with our choice.
Little Andante was kind, comfortable and excellently managed in all conditions.
That said, we were ready for our big adventure.
When we left to go on a cruise, we weren't sure what kind of lifestyle we were looking for.
We hadn't even decided where we were going; the initial plan was a period in the Mediterranean, so we would have reevaluated.
Little Andante docked off Boston on the American route
We weren't sure if we would be gone for three months or three years – 12 years were out of our mind!
Most of our plans were for a short time; we rented our house and put all our furniture in storage, expecting to return in the not too distant future.
Four months after departure, we were having so much fun and the cruise community that we decided to turn right in Gibraltar instead of left.
As in all walks of life, people live on very different budgets.
Our budget included the occasional stay of the marina when there was no suitable anchorage (our preference); regular entertainment of the other cruisers; eat occasionally in restaurants (about once or twice a week); side travel; car rent.
The biggest failures had to be addressed while crossing the Pacific
We have slept on board for most of our 12 years of cruising and have only returned to the UK twice.
Our 12,000-year 12-year journey took us from the UK to Gibraltar, across the Atlantic, north to Maine, to the United States, south to Florida, then across to Cuba and back along the chain of Caribbean to Trinidad, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, from the Pacific to Fiji, to New Zealand, to T onga, then to Australia, north along the Queensland coast to Darwin, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, where we sold Little Andante.
The Middle East became a prohibited area and still was in 2015, and the prospect of three more ocean crossings (Indian and the long passage through the South and North Atlantic) has not attracted.
The adage that cruising is "boat maintenance in exotic locations" is exactly right.
Our philosophy was to try to keep the boat "together" rather than replace it.
The boat was only towed five times in 12 years
When we were not passing through, we had a general routine of boat work in the morning and afternoon for leisure, visiting, swimming, diving, snorkeling and socializing.
We have done most of our maintenance and used external labor few times, where specialized equipment such as refrigeration and sailboat manufacturing was needed.
The other cruisers were always available to offer advice and, if necessary, assistance.
Camaraderie and willingness to help are a mainstay of the cruise – and working hard / playing hard is a good description.
Boat maintenance was often performed in the morning
Withdrawals are big projects that need to be meticulously planned and usually involve large outflows of money.
We have only pulled out five times in 12 years.
Between those times, we cleaned the bottom and cleaned the props every six months or so.
At each exit, we used three coats of hard antifouling with the highest copper content that we could obtain locally.
Serious breakdowns or breakdowns are a fact of life and we were fortunate to have suffered only four major accidents that needed substantial repairs.
A dirty prop smeared our transmission plate; we detonated both main and genoa during our crossing of the pacific; the exhaust manifold has burst; and a failure in the engine mount resulted in a catastrophic oil leak that caused the engine to seize.
Some repairs were more unexpected
Our other philosophy was to have a backup for each system on board.
Over time, we have also mounted objects that have simplified our life like an electric winch in the passenger compartment, improving the entertainment system, installing a washing machine and so on.
On a yacht, there are always updates available – after all, there is a multi-ingot industry that benefits from all these new gizmos.
The magic comes in deciding which ones are really needed and which ones work.
The actual cost of the cruise for 12 years was £ 302,549 (excluding the cost of Poco Andante).
Like two intrepid accountants, we kept meticulous records on our journey.
Living on board and staying still has cut costs
These are the actual costs that have been reconciled with our bank account, invoice by invoice.
The costs are divided into 11 different categories.
1 Living expenses – 40%
Groceries, supplies, restaurants and day trips – everything you usually spend in your normal life.
2 Boat equipment – 13%
Associated with high value equipment, such as engine, sails, instruments, works on canvas, outboard, inflatable boat, accessories etc.
3 Marinas and moorings – 12%
Port taxes and mooring costs
4 boat repairs – 12%
This covers a myriad of items and spare parts that are used to repair paint and keep complicated equipment and machinery in safe and workable conditions.
5 Boat insurance – 5%
We decided to take out full insurance and had to complain three times – and we were reimbursed for small losses and repairs.
These refunds are reflected in the costs of the replaced items; only our extra costs are reflected in these figures.
6 doctor – 5%
Medicines, dentist, doctor's visits, surgery etc.
7 Other – 4%
This has three main elements; legal and licensing, training and loss for sale of Poco Andante.
8 Brokerage commission – 3%
Commission for the sale of Poco Andanta – at 3% of our total, this was the only major expense (deducted from the proceeds of the sale).
9 Fuel – 2%
The cost of diesel (main article) and petrol for outboards and generators.
10 communications – 2%
Mainly the cost of cell phones and calls.
11 Computing – 2%
Hardware and software, cost of on-board computers.
Boat repair and maintenance
Repairs in more remote locations were sometimes difficult
It has often been mentioned that, as a general rule, 10% of the ship's value should be allowed each year to cover maintenance costs, but it is never clear how this value progresses over time.
Our experience, and that of a number of cruisers, is that when you buy your ship, there is a large output while adapting the boat to your specifications.
We made some major expenses which included replacing the engine, re-rigging and installing new tools.
This added an additional 24% to our purchase cost.
During our sailing period, the equipment and repairs of the boat were on average 7% of our purchase price.
Costs peaked during large transports in 2005, 2007 and 2011, with an average of around 8%.
In 2013, after 10 years, items were starting to wear out and tool failures occurred.
For example, our trusty Avon RIB has been replaced; the canvas had to be replaced; an important rebuild of the engine – and other minor elements had to be replaced.
Marinas, moorings and fuel
Living still was not possible everywhere, but we found cheap fuel in Venezuela
The cost of marinas and moorings can be a major expense and depends on the cruising terrain.
On the west coast of Spain and Portugal, there are few safe anchorages and it wasn't until we got to the Caribbean that we found living still feasible – and cheap.
We chose to spend some time in New Zealand (2008) and some of time in Australia (2009-2013) and we kept the yacht in the marinas.
This allowed us to work in our professions and we were able to recharge our cruise kitty.
Fuel was only 2% of our total costs.
We used 12,235 liters of diesel and the engine ran for around 4,200 hours, with an average fuel consumption of 2.93 liters per hour from our 75 hp engine.
The average cost was £ 0.51 / l, with Elcho Island (off the north coast of Australia) the most expensive at £ 1.63 / l, and Venezuela 0.01 £ / l the most expensive cheap.
IT and communications
The costs for mobile phones were higher than expected
These days, phones and computing go hand in hand, with more and more dependence on devices.
When we started, we received the advice of "experts" who recommended us to use cell phones as the main form of communication (apart from VHF and HF).
We also put a cell phone antenna on top of our mask – which never worked!
With that in mind, we used roaming and kept our UK account.
This was a big mistake: our first half-yearly account was £ 2,000.
We now buy local prepaid SIM cards for each country we visit, which is much cheaper and of course Skype.
Overall, we found that most laptops and phones lasted two years because of the harsh environment.
Living and medical expenses
Provisioning consumed a lot of the budget. Credit: James Mitchell / WCC
The living expenses were 40% of the total expenses.
The cost reflects the cost of living in the different countries we have visited – and our lifestyle.
We have not spent extravagantly, but we found ourselves very well at these levels.
In 2009 there was a sharp increase reflecting our time in Australia, where the cost of living was high and, while we were working, our standard of living increased.
Altogether, we spent around £ 10,000 per year on groceries, food and general living expenses.
We have decided to self-assure ourselves of our health.
During the first part of our trip, our spending was low.
However, I needed medical attention in Australia, which is why we stayed so long.
Australia has a mutual assistance agreement with the UK, so I have benefited from their excellent health service.
In recent years we have been to Southeast Asia where healthcare costs are low.
We underwent a minor surgery in Malaysia and completed our supply of medicines.
As we age, costs increase in trend.
There were also some costs not included above which are very specific to us – but we will mention them.
We took some "vacations" from the boat which included land travel through New Zealand and Australia, Southeast Asia and a couple of visits to the UK – this added an additional £ 45,000 to our outings.
Also, as mentioned earlier, we had archived the contents of our home – a bad mistake as it cost us a total of £ 15,000 in 12 years.
The most common question we are asked is how we have allowed ourselves to navigate for 12 years.
Reaching it in idyllic tropical anchors like Wallilabou in St Vincent was worth it
We talked to other cruisers to find out about the different methods of financing the cruise lifestyle.
This is probably the most common form of financing.
The average cruiser is around 45-65 years old and many receive pensions from their previous working life and choose the cruise as a lifestyle change.
If you've been successful in your previous life and sold the company, or inherited or won the lottery, this money can be invested and you can live on the proceeds.
If the income does not cover the costs, the capital will be exhausted.
We know a number of long-term cruisers who use this method of financing, but have suffered from the 2008 global financial crisis.
Some cruisers live on rental income from the family home.
This, once again, is a common strategy.
Our experience is that maintenance, bad tenants and operating expenses can reduce this income.
Cruisers who sold the family home and bought two or more smaller properties found this strategy better.
With improvements in communication, writing magazine or book articles and, if you have a second language, translations can contribute to a modest lifestyle.
We see this as bonus revenue until a reputation is established.
Rental / paying crew
Renting your boat or hiring the crew for part of the year can easily finance this lifestyle, but it becomes a business in its own right and requires assorted licenses and permits in different parts of the world.
In some countries, it is possible to obtain work visas so that you can mix the cruise with work.
If you can work in your profession, you can get a higher income than, for example, in the bar or retail.
Other cruisers have specific skills that are sought after by other cruisers or shipyards along the way.
Like most cruisers, our funding comes from a mixture of sources:
32% of pension
4% rental income from our family home. This income more or less covered our expenses in the United Kingdom in our absence, e.g. taxes, deposit, childcare, etc.
5% of investments
59% occupancy – this paid off for our long stays in Australia and New Zealand
Rent your home – Andy Gibb
Andy Gibb, author of Happy at Work? (Paragon, £ 9.99) and his wife Nicky have rented their home three times, allowing them to undertake three separate long-term trips, including two Atlantic crossings.
When my wife Nicky and I started thinking about making a circuit on the Atlantic, we briefly considered selling our house to pay for this sail, but this would have left us terribly exposed.
Instead, a local real estate agent was able to rent out our home and even manage our property.
Not only did we have rental income, our tenants paid their bills and the agent solved all the problems that arose.
When we reached the Mediterranean six years later, we told the agents that we were returning home and when we landed in Heathrow, our home was empty and ready for us, immaculate and unspoiled after professional cleaning.
Rent: things to consider
Use a reputable agent with a good reputation.
They will visit your home and provide an estimate of the rent you can expect, take references and do credit checks on potential tenants.
Decide whether to rent a furnished or unfurnished house.
If you decide to rent unfurnished, consider where you will keep your personal belongings.
Storage companies are an option, but consider using your loft or a canopy or ask a relative if they have some free space.
Inform your insurance company that you are renting your home, they will provide a quote for a rental property but they will also receive quotes from a specialist rental insurer.
The agent should take care of the utilities and community expenses.
Check what early return rights you have if you need to go home early due to unexpected events.
If you are navigating abroad, you may be a non-resident landlord and the rent can be paid initially free of tax, even if you later have to present a self-assessment.
With little money – Holly Turner
Four years ago, Holly Turner and boyfriend Simon bought a Colvic Countess 37 for £ 31,500 before quitting their job and sailing off with their dog. Along the way, they created a family and are now able to keep going on a modest budget.
Our monthly cruise budget is £ 600 for a family of two adults, a child and a dog.
Food and supplies make up the bulk of our budget, which includes pet food and diapers, followed by fuel for inboard and outboard engines, cooking gas and linens, which is only convenient now that we are in the United States.
Even water and minor repairs get out of this budget.
Simon and I rent our properties in the UK and live on profit.
Keep costs down
When it comes to supply and ground travel, we walk everywhere and if it is too far to walk, we look at local buses to keep costs down.
Eating in restaurants is a luxury and meals are scheduled before going shopping so that nothing is wasted.
We do not use marinas or mooring buoys unless there is no choice.
We undertake all our maintenance and repair work, including engine maintenance and repair work, antifouling, winch maintenance, water intakes and sails.
Check fuel prices and plan fuel stops along the way; the cost of fuel can vary enormously from one place to another.
On the east coast of the United States, we have found that the cost can be up to a dollar a gallon cheaper from one city to another and we have 100 gallons (380 liters).
Look around – not everything about the boat comes from a chandelier.
Motor oil can be cheaper from car garages and pay attention to second-hand chandeliers and boat noises.
Be self-sufficient; collect rainwater, use renewable energy, wash laundry by hand.
A sewing machine is an excellent piece of kit to have for upholstery and sail repairs.
What we are missing
Having money to spend on land-based activities, especially culture and food.
We have visited many wonderful places and cities, but most of the time we cannot afford to visit the tourist attractions where you have to pay.
The crew option – Suzanne Van Der Veeken
Suzanne Van Der Veeken is a serial hitchhiker and author of Ocean Nomad (Amazon, £ 24). Crossing the Atlantic several times on other yachts made the ocean sail without complications or cost of ownership.
The complications of buying, preparing and managing a yacht are the obstacles that ultimately prevent many from embarking on a great sailing adventure.
However, the power of the Internet has made hitchhiking and cruising more affordable than ever.
Online forums and crew pairing websites make it easier to find a berth on someone else's yacht.
Of course, safety is a big concern, which is why it is even more important to spend some time on board before leaving and ideally sailing with the owner.
The nature of your role on board is something that is important to establish.
Are you there as an amateur crew to learn from an experienced owner skipper?
As a competent and capable guardian who won't need much tutoring?
Or like someone with a responsible position on board who will take care of the other crew?
Those who are not honest about their experience can have a stimulating offshore experience.
I accept the expectations
Many yachts also operate at shared costs, so it is important to establish exactly what the terms will be from the beginning.
If the yacht is making a profit, it should be commercially equipped.
The rules for this vary from flag state to flag state.
Basically, boat hitchhiking is a brilliant inexpensive way to build your experience and see if buying a boat would be right for you and, if so, what type of boat.
There are many different online resources and a community of cruisers who make many trips in this way, and it is growing year by year.
For me, it was a means of doing much more than sailing; I met people from all over the world and made great friends in the process.