Little Compass
      RoseCaribbean Compass   April 2012

The Wind Is Free (For Everything Else, There’s a Budget)
by Frank Virgintino

The wind may be free, but nothing else is. How can a cruiser on a fixed income keep costs down when prices rise, fees and charges multiply, and even that free wind wears out our equipment? Staying afloat financially is a tricky business, but there are solutions.

Some cruisers cope by finally dropping anchor in one place and letting it go at that. The boat is essentially rent-free and the equipment deteriorates slowly enough not to be too obvious. The problem with this solution is that you are no longer cruising and while you have not swallowed your anchor, your anchor has swallowed you.
Others make up a set of guidelines and parameters that include such strictures as no entering marinas and no eating in restaurants. If invited out they beg off, citing headaches and backaches or long-distance phone calls with their family. At potluck dinners, they contemplate bringing an empty covered dish. The problem with this solution is that it is just not fun anymore. Your mate may not be convinced that it is “still better than living ashore”.

What options does one really have to continue cruising while maintaining reasonable economic resources? After a lifetime in business, either creating more income or cutting unnecessary costs, and most times both, I can tell you this: the solutions lie in how you define cruising and what you consider to be acceptable for your lifestyle. Your boat has a budget and your lifestyle has a budget, too.
First you must clearly define your needs, desires and expectations. Do not become confused by saying one thing and then doing another. From long personal experience, you know your lifestyle and the way you like to live.

If you like going out to a bar and socializing every Friday and Saturday and you traditionally spend a hundred dollars per week to do so, it is unrealistic to not put this down as a cost. If you like to go into a marina every so often for a few days to take advantage of the facilities, you must account for this also. You must be as realistic as possible. These are unavoidable components of your Lifestyle Budget.
They must be added to your Boat Maintenance Budget. You have to rate the costs of running your boat and the cost of cruising your boat. Getting angry every time something breaks is not supportive of good cruising and does not give your mate and crew confidence in you as “Master and Commander”.
Be precise. Mark down all maintenance costs as you know them. Make an allowance for repair and replacement of equipment. Past records will be helpful in reminding you what may be needed.

I always get a kick out of those that tell me “I had an unexpected repair.” Almost all repairs are unexpected if you take your boat and its equipment for granted. If you have a water heater and it is 14 years old, you can logically conclude that at some point in the not too far future it will break and need to be replaced. Or, from a lifestyle point of view, you will learn to take showers without hot water.
Both your Lifestyle Budget and your Boat Maintenance Budget must be made out with great thought and care or they will be meaningless.
Once you have completed this work and have both budgets detailed and reviewed by your significant other for accuracy so that all parties agree, then you can proceed to go to the next step.
There is no next step if you have more resources than you have costs, provided of course that your resources are likely to continue, and that the expenses you have anticipated are within a reasonable range.
If you find that your income is short of your Boat Maintenance and Lifestyle budgets, then the truth will have set you free. You will no longer need to get angry every time something breaks. You will no longer have to slink off every time a group invites you to dinner. You will know the truth and you will create an Action Plan to cope with it. 
Your Action Plan will either increase your income or decrease your costs, or both. Your budget, on paper, and carefully thought through, clarifies what is at stake and will eliminate the fear that might keep you from coping with the problem.
Most cruisers are highly talented people and few are lazy. Cruising is not a lazy person’s pastime; it takes effort to cruise. You either need to find a way to market your talent as you go along, or you need to leave the boat from time to time and go somewhere (often back home) where you can gain from employment until your cruising kitty is shipshape. Sounds simple, but many cruisers do not do this. In fact, most people do nothing until it is too late and then they do something drastic, like give up cruising because they can “no longer afford it.”

Another way to balance the budget is to reduce costs. There are only two ways to reduce costs. The first is to change your lifestyle. If you eat out frequently, you will have to eat out less frequently or not at all. If you do not go out, but are accustomed to a bottle of rum or a six-pack or two every night on the boat, perhaps you will have to cut down the quantity that you consume or find a substitute that costs less or is free.

The second way to reduce costs is to change the way you use your boat. There are many angles to this. Some of the obvious ones are to cover your sails at anchor to make sure they last longer, and to take them off the boat from time to time to wash them down with fresh water.

A not-so-obvious way would be to slow down your cruising to eliminate rush. Being in a rush costs money. Beating into the wind causes more wear on a boat than running off. Sometimes a big savings can be found just by putting more effort into routing to make the forces of nature work for you rather than against you.
As to where you stop along the way, you may be able to choose a destination that is more budget friendly, regardless of where the Joneses are sailing to. For example, in certain locations water is 15 cents per gallon and in other places it is free. Everything adds up, and either everything makes a difference or nothing does! 
The point is that you must make an analysis. Your analysis must be clear and concise and well thought out. It cannot be based on the arguments of other cruisers as to what you should do. Input is valuable and if someone has a great idea it pays to listen. However, it is your lifestyle, your boat and your budget. They must all work together to serve one objective and that is to make the pleasure you take in cruising, and the budget that enables you to do it, both show a positive balance.

Frank Virgintino is the author of Free Cruising Guides (

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