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[Costs] [Mail Service] [Life Aboard] [Foreign Systems]
From money to daily routines - there was a lot to learn when living away from our home marinas for extended periods. Print our notes and read at your leisure.

Cruising Costs 

 We left believing we would spend about $US25,000 per year, and have found we spend closer to $35,000 - the extra is mostly due to eating out, liquor, and tours.  Look at our Cost page for details.

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Mail Services 

We have been quite satisfied with St Brendan's Isle as our mail service for 9 years.  They have made 2 or 3 mistakes, and they relocated which forced hundreds of their customers to send change of address letters to all of their correspondents.  We recommend that any cruiser keep an up-to-date list of all correspondents, particularly once-a-year friends and companies (insurance, stock holdings, safe deposit boxes, etc.).  Ask friends for their experience.  An outfit with experience will know what service to use for each location (eg., US Mail to New Zealand, couriers to the islands).  For a typical American Express bill when we order mail once per month, the average delay to respond to a bill is something like:

Day

Event

1
5
30
30
47
50
60
60
Amex sends bill
Mail service receives bill
Amex sends 1st overdue notice
Mail service mail package
We receive package (sooner if by courier)
Review and send payment
Amex sends 2nd overdue notice
Payment reaches Amex

Life Aboard

  • Watch System - Couples use all types of watch systems while sailing off-shore - ours has evolved to this:
    • One of us is always on watch when traveling.
    • 3 to 4 hour watches at night beginning after dinner until dawn.
    • Ad-hoc watches during the day depending on mood and projects.  For more info on Watches and Passage-making click here.
  • Living with or without Electricity - We have chosen to use 12V refrigeration and to equip the boat with many electronics.  The prospective cruiser should always have a contingency plan for when there is no (or minimal) electrical power on board. (See our example) Consider:
    • Alternative charging sources: engine, generator, portable generator, solar panels, wind generator, water drag generator.
    • Large Ice-box - A large supply of frozen food is vulnerable if you lose the ability to charge the batteries.
    • Consider doing without refrigeration - For long off-shore passages, we have turned our ice-box into dry storage since we can normally only carry enough fresh food for about 1 week.
    • Modularity - Instruments should be modular so that unnecessary ones (e.g. depth gauge mid-ocean) can be disconnected.
    • Minimize use - If unable to charge batteries turn on GPS once/watch to verify position; minimize use of lights, use radar only when really necessary, etc.
    • Mechanical steering - keeping up power for an autopilot demands a good sized charger, so a wind-vane is great if power is in short supply.
    • Power-hungry electronics (e.g. laptops, chart plotters) make you run engine more often to keep up with consumption.
  • Float Plan - When making extended (>5 day) off-shore passages it is prudent to let someone know when you leave and when you are expected to arrive - we tell those relatives who are listed as emergency contacts on our 406 EPIRB.  Email has simplified this - we send email messages a day or so before we leave and allow extra time for unusual delays (2-3 days for each 100 miles) and send an email or make a phone call when we arrive.
  • Typical Liveaboard Week - Hanging out in a distant anchorage with different facilities and priorities has changed how we spend our week. Typically our week includes:
    • Walking - lots of it since we have no land vehicle (car or bikes).
    • Laundry - an all-day operation of carrying in/out of town or hand-wringing in the cockpit and skimping on water.
    • Carrying jerry-cans - usually 1 or 2 5-gallon jerry cans of water are needed daily, more on laundry day. We also usually buy diesel fuel from gas stations rather than marinas to get fresher fuel - and must bring it by jerry can.
    • Mail - ask about it, trace it, and pick it up - a time-consumer.
    • Monitoring weather - daily operation the week before we leave anywhere.
    • Grocery shopping - limited ice-box space means frequent trips.
    • Maintenance - never-ending process of trying to stay ahead of leaks, varnish, stainless, and engine needs.
    • Sightseeing - we always take time to wander through the towns and countryside of our destinations.
    • Sundowners - a cold drink and snack as the sun sets is a highlight of the cruising lifestyle - this is also a good time to socialize with the other cruisers in an anchorage.
  • Neatness Counts - Everything on board should have a home where it can be safely stowed so that it will remain in place in a Force 8 storm.  Easier said than done, but every time we neglect to put items away, we invariably find them on the cabin sole.  One set of dividers appeared behind a drawer 5 years after we lost it in a knockdown in the Virgin Islands. Make it a habit to put items away at all times - then there is less chance to forget when sailing away from that idyllic anchorage.  For more info on Storage, click here.
  • Use Checklists - We have, and use a checklist every time (almost) that we set sail and arrive.  It should contain neatness items such as above plus the less common items: install speedo, tie down dinghy, fill water tanks, etc.
  • Percent of time at sea - We prepared to sail for 3 years under the assumption we would be at sea most of the time.  Unless you are really in a hurry, most people spend less than 30% of their time at sea and often less than 10%, so consider your comfort and convenience while at anchor and in marinas.  This suggests comfortable berths, space to sit and stow spare-time projects, etc.
  • Battery Charging - This is a routine we have all had to observe while cruising - refrigeration takes 60-100 amp-hours of electricity per day and all other demands are usually 40-60 amp-hours.  Thus a typical cruiser must replenish 100-150 amp-hours of battery power per day.  Our typical regime goes something like:
    • Run engine 1-2 hours per day for 60+ amp-hours
    • Solar panels add 25-40 amp-hours on sunny day
    • Wind generator adds 25 amp-hours at 10-12 knots breeze
    • Note: when sailing down-wind, apparent wind drops and wind generator may not be very effective in modest trade winds.
    • Note: any object covering part of a solar panel defeats it completely: sails, lines, dodger, or whatever.
  • Affairs Ashore - We lost $10,000-15,000 worth of valuable belongings because we forgot how long it takes mail to reach us - we now try account for mail delay times (1-3 months) in our affairs (see an example) and to have relatives on shore assigned as back-ups. Some hints:
    • Pay bills by automatic debit or credit card; pay credit card by automatic debit
    • Pay bills before you receive notification if possible
    • Have several people with authority to handle critical items (safe deposit box payments, storage locker payments, etc.)
    • Request bills be sent prior to due-date.
    • Read fine print of any agreements
    • Get regular (non-800) numbers for businesses with which you deal - 800 numbers are becoming easier to reach from outside of the US, but it still may be difficult or impossible
  • Radar - Assume that the radars on ships around you are OFF!  Logic suggests they would be on at all times since electricity would be a minor issue, but apparently maintenance costs drive ship operators to keep them off much of the time.
  • VHF Radio - In foreign waters many ships will not answer a call on the VHF radio, either because they are not monitoring it or they do not understand your call - if they do respond, we consider it to be a pleasant surprise.
  • Keep Flares at Ready - Due to a couple of close encounters we now keep several flares and a flare gun readily available to the person on watch.
  • Weapons - A controversial subject - they are a nuisance in many foreign ports (BVIs, Aruba, French Polynesia, NZ, Australia) and a non-issue in others.  If it becomes too much of nuisance it can always be discarded, but rarely can they be re-acquired outside of the US.
  • Course Adjustments - We have occasionally left course adjustments until we got too close to other vessels - we now usually assume the other vessel is unmanned and has no intention of changing course, and act accordingly.  We try to contact them and ask how we can stay out of their way, we track them on radar when possible to set a course to avoid them.  We try to change course early enough to avoid them, and so they can see what we are doing if they are on watch.
  • Wait for weather - We will say more in our Weather page, but our main lesson learned is that we should wait for the weather to be the way we want it before leaving on a trip. 
  • Locating Lost Anchor - One of our anchors detached from the chain and we had to find it:  we solved this by having one person on the bow guide the other one underwater with a guide line. (See the Details)
  • Keep In Touch - When ever possible, we try to remain in radio contact with other cruisers on radio nets or a check-in station such as Herb, Russell (NZ) radio, or the Pacific Maritime Net.  It provides a safety line if we have a problem (boat damage, unavoidable delays, etc.) and a feeling of comfort.  It has also provided us with the opportunity to help others by bringing parts or messages to them. By sending weather reports to others coming your way you may help them avoid discomfort or damage.
  • Keep Batteries Charged - The little ones for hand-held VHF radios, GPS units, and flashlights.  For equipment that use rechargeable batteries have a routine for keeping them charged:  twice we have been in a situation where we needed to use our hand-held VHF and the battery was on its last legs due to self-discharge.
  • Marine Suppliers - We have used the big US catalogs since we left the US; our view:
    • West Marine - First class operation, always delivers quickly, sometimes forgets to note 'Yacht In Transit' so we have had to pay Customs fees; our first choice.
    • Defender Industries - We were very happy with them in the US but they have let us down a few times recently while in Australia and NZ - don't know if it is a trend but they didn't seem to care if they filled our order or not - 2d choice.
  • Learn to use Equipment - There are a number of items aboard which may get used only in an emergency or other stressful situation - it pays to dig them out and learn how to use them in a benign environment. Examples?
    • Drogue - At a dock drag it all out, fasten all the pieces together (are they all there?); route the lines to the proper strong points, experiment with how you would deploy, adjust, and retrieve it.
    • Sea Anchor - Same.
    • Collision Mat - Same
    • Man Over Board Pole - Same
    • Life Sling - Same
  • Scuba Equipment - Scuba tanks must be examined yearly to show that they are safe to fill - most first world dive operations will insist on this, and can do the inspection.  Regulators, hoses, and BCDs have rubber and neoprene parts that deteriorate; we have ours examined every 1-2 years, and had them rebuilt at 8 years.
 Read on or return to Top of Page.

Foreign Systems

  • TV systems - Do the letters 'NTSC' mean anything? For most people they don't because that is the normal US TV standard and we don't need to discuss it.  If you want a multi-system TV, wait until you get to a country that uses PAL, you can get them cheaper than in the US.  In the US, contact B&H Photo in NYC through their ads in Popular Photography magazine.  The standards out there include:
    • NTSC - The US and nearby countries (Canada, Venezuela, Colombia) plus Japan, Myanmar, and the Caribbean.
    • PAL B/G is the standard for all English-speaking countries (UK, NZ, Australia) and SE Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand) plus east Africa.  
    • SECAM is the standard for the French (France, French Polynesia) plus Iraq and Iran and France's ex-colonies in Africa. 
    • PAL M/N is used in Brazil and Argentina but nowhere else in the world.
  • Power systems - 110 volts AC  at 60 Hz are standard in the US, Caribbean and northern South America. Elsewhere in the world 220 to 240 volts AC at 50 Hz are standard.  The plugs vary from country to country, so wait until you get to a country to buy theirs, and keep them until you stop cruising.  The 60-50Hz difference is not normally a problem, motors will run slower and hotter, so watch any heavy use of power tools.  The one exception is the older resonant-core 110 VAC/60Hz battery chargers; they will not operate on 50 Hz - get a newer solid-state unit such as Pro-Mariner makes. Consider a combined charger/inverter such as made by Heart Interface. Our measures to cope include:
    • Install a 220-110 transformer and use that in all foreign marinas. Ours is a 2000 watt unit, adequate for normal appliances (drills, TVs, PCs) and the water heater or hair dryer. For larger appliances when we were in a marina (e.g. and air-conditioner for a long stay in Singapore) we bought local 220 units and plug them directly  into 220 outlet.
    • Install a 750-1500 watt 110 VAC inverter for use at anchor (small appliances, charging video batteries, lighting Xmas tree lights at anchor, etc.). 
    • Install a 100 watt 220 VAC inverter for small items - we found we have bought a few things along the way that are not dual-voltage.
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