That this thread could generate that many pages and 2767 replies (and still counting) is a testament to the amount of interest there is in the concept of low-budget cruising in these tough economic times. What many of the contributors to the thread have pointed out is that despite what the glossy sailing magazines would have you believe, there are lots of people out there cruising and even voyaging all over the world on simple, low-cost boats they have either built themselves or refit after buying cheap in a market that is saturated with neglected used boats.
Having made the transition over the years from sea kayaks to cruising size boats myself, both by the refit route and the home building route, I understand the appeal from the point of view of someone who would never consider boats of this type if I had to buy new at today's prices.
One of the biggest considerations that keeps resurfacing again and again in this ongoing discussion is the size boat you need to go long-term cruising. Again, if you believe the popular yachting press, anything under about 40 feet is unsuitable. But among those who are actually making the break from land and seeing the world on their boats, smaller boats are not nearly as uncommon as the magazines would have you believe. Boats in the 25-30 foot range are cheaper to buy, cheaper to refit and equip, cheaper to haul-out and maintain, and cheaper to dock if find the need to do so. Plenty of designs in this size range are seaworthy enough to go anywhere you might care to go. You might have to give up some of the comforts, but what is better - being slightly more uncomfortable while out there living the dream - or working year after year to get the bigger boat paid for and equip it with every modern convenience while never getting away from the dock?
Whether you want to try and live as cheaply as some on this thread advocate is another matter, but it can be done even today with the right boat and the right attitude, and some knowledge of which places to spend your time in and which to avoid. After buying and outfitting the boat itself, the biggest expenses for cruisers on any size boats are almost always associated with shoreside conveniences and services. You certainly won't be cruising on $500 per month if you plan to tie up to the docks of a marina every night, or if you want to eat most of your meals out in restaurants. Cruisers wanting to travel in that style will need a monthly budget in the thousands of dollars, rather than the hundreds. But if you don't mind doing your own cooking, and you're happier anchoring out in a secluded cove and rowing the dinghy ashore to ferry supplies to the boat, you can avoid most of the expenses that make the cost cruising so prohibitive in most peoples perspective.
The key to low-budget cruising and the gist of the thousands of posts on this thread can be summed up in a few points:
- Choose the smallest boat that will accommodate you and your crew and safely take you to the destinations you plan to explore. Researching the proven voyages of others who have gone before you or are out there cruising now will point you to the best designs to choose from.
- Keep the systems on the boat as simple as possible and make sure you have the tools and skills to do all of the maintenance and most if not all repairs yourself. Carry spare parts you anticipate needing rather than having to pay expensive shipping and import duties to get them later.
- Carry a hard dinghy with oars rather than an inflatable with an outboard, as it is cheaper to buy, build or replace, less likely to get stolen and can be equipped with a simple sail rig if desired.
- Plan on anchoring out 99 percent of the time, wherever you go. Good ground tackle is essential for this and should be your top priority in equipment purchases.
- Shallow-draft boats open up many more anchoring possibilities than deep draft boats, making it much easier to avoid marina fees in popular cruising areas where there are few good, deepwater harbors. Shallow draft also lets you explore remote regions that see few if any other cruisers. Such places are often much less expensive to spend time in, as the locals are not used to making profits off of wealthy yachtsmen in their big boats.
- Plan on cooking and eating aboard 99 percent of the time, and if you do eat out, go where the locals go rather to that to expensive tourist traps.
- Acquire useful skills that you can use along the way anywhere you go. Welding, sailmaking, diesel repair and similar skills can allow you to cruise indefinitely without having to wait until you have enough money in the bank to live off the interest. Go now while you still have your health and enthusiasm for adventure.
If you've got hours to kill, you can read the full thread on the forum and will probably find it both entertaining and informative.