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steps to becoming a cruiser

I’ve met several awesome folks on my travels who dream of sailing around on their own boat one day. I can be somewhat of a dream crusher when discussing these plans, as starry eyed dreamers don’t realize what some channels put out there on YouTube isn’t telling the entire story. I’d like to give some realistic advice to following this dream, if it is what you want for your future.

Step 1: Buy a Small Boat
This may seem counterintuitive, however if you plan on being a boat owner one day I recommend to start off with something simple. Get familiar with how marinas function, the types of crowds at marinas, if you have the energy to maintain a boat, and if you have any desire to actually leave the slip. It could be a 10′ dinghy, a Cal 20′, a Columbia 26′. Anything small and simple to get your feet wet, literally and figuratively. I would not recomend a first time boat owner and non sailor to purchase a 30′-45′ boat. I’m not saying it can’t work, but it will be much more of a struggle to understand the bigger picture. If you end up not liking it, you’ll waste a lot of money for nothing.

It’s okay to not know everything. Everyone starts somewhere, and nobody was born knowing everything. It will feel like you’re learning a new language, because you are. Chandlery? What’s that. Cabin sole? Say what now? Brightwork? What needs to be made brighter?

Step 2: Do Necessary Repairs 
Whatever boat you’ve got, just make it work! Running rigging all tattered and frayed? Get new lines. Standing rigging no good? Replace it. Need a small fiberglass repair done? Go ahead and scope out some of the ever so helpful DIY channels and give it a go. My favorite aspect of small boats is they’re a breeze to maintain and fairly inexpensive to repair. $5,000 should get a neglected boat back out onto the water and safe for sailing.

The most important factor in this is that you are becoming familiar with the vessel. Should something go wrong, you’ll know where to look or how to troubleshoot. You should absolutely get familiar with materials, processes, etc. Otherwise, someone may suggest a costly repair when it is not necessary. Be wise to this and you will be a more knowledgeable boat owner. I’ve seen many people blindly agree to unecessary repairs simply because someone said it needed to be done. I guess if you have deep pockets, what does it matter? If three people who don’t know eachother all suggest the same repair / method / product, then maybe they’re right. Otherwise, don’t be afraid to seek out second, third, and fourth opinions.

Step 3: Go Sailing!
Yes, get away from that dock! By now you’ve probably made friends with your dock neighbors and can buddy boat around the bay, lake, or whatever waterway you fancy. If the repairs to your boat are keeping you at the dock or out of the water, go sailing with anyone and everyone who invites you. I’ve learned so much just from seeing how different boats are set up. Everyone has their own creative solutions to problems, some you may be able to implement on your own, others maybe not but at least give you food for thought on how to problem solve.

The more you get out on the water, the more you become exposed to different situations. No two days are the same, the more you learn the better Captain you will become! There is always something to learn, and learning first hand is a better way to learn than by reading about it. You will make mistakes, everyone does. You learn from them and become smarter and hopefully can laugh about it later!

Step 4: Start Thinking of Your Next Boat
By now you’ve hopefully spent at least 6 months to a year with your dinghy / boat and have been on many other people’s boats in the process. This will give you the best idea for what you may want in your future forever boat. You will be more confident in what kind of maintenance you can handle and what features you want. Know that if you talk to weekly racers at the yacht club, they will probably prefer a racing boat. Something lightweight, not meant to have a lot of supplies on board. If you don’t plan on racing across the ocean, do you really need a racing boat then? Many cruisers prefer heavier boats that can withstand a storm. No matter what you do, you will get stuck in a storm and for me personally, I’d rather be comfortable. Take everyone elses opinions with a grain of salt. You hopefully know what is best for your situation, so go with that!

Also know that there is no perfect boat. There are things about my boat that I can’t stand, but the benefits outweigh the downsides. For instance, Coconut’s cockpit is ridiculously small. However, this is a godsend in rough seas. It’s not like I entertain aboard often anyways, so in the end it doesn’t really matter. Write a list of wants and stalk Yacht World for all your boat porn needs. I like this site because it includes a lot of interior photos, you get to see different setups and can get a better idea of what boats look like on the insides. For instance, I really love center cockpits because the layouts down below are incredibly spacious. The tradeoff is that the cockpit is tiny.

Important Details to Understand
Newer boats doesn’t equal less maintenance! I met the owner of a 2014 Beneteau Oceanis whose prop looked as bad as Coconut’s previous 40 year old prop! The builder installed it incorrectly and the salt water corroded giant chunks out of the blades. This shouldn’t happen and is a fairly expensive repair. If I’d paid six figures for a boat, I would expect it to not have problems like this, but it is unfortunately common.

I am completely biased and prefer 70’s era boats because the hulls are so thick. It can survive a reef hit much better than the thinner newer fancier boats can by a long shot. The woodwork on my boat is so well constructed I feel safe. This to me is very important.

Multiple cruisers have done a cost breakdown, it seems to be $750 is the lowest end for one person actively cruising and anchoring out with absolutely *no frills*. I’ve only met one gentleman who claimed he was cruising for $500/month. He was emaciated, only had 15 watts of solar power, and didn’t have enough water to last him and his 2 crewmembers for more than a couple of days. We all have our limits to what we can deal with, but putting yourself and your crew in danger for the sake of sailing is not worth it to me.

Here’s where I crush your dreams. Know all those YouTube channels with these young couples who just seem to be frolicking around fancy islands on nice boats who are always clean wearing pristine clothing and conveniently never have a break in their videos because they’ve not had to stop and work? Those are most likely trust fund babies. They make big deals about $3 repairs and $2 beers, yet fail to mention the new $3k navigation system and $15k engine they’re installing.

There are several channels I can’t watch anymore because they’re not being honest about the money they’ve put into their lifestyle. It makes me feel inadequate, when in fact they are the ones who aren’t being truthful. I don’t like sugar coating things, and what a shock many must face when they realize they were following someones footsteps who started higher up on the mountaintop rather than at the bottom where everyone else started. Ignore these people on social media and YouTube all together, they’re on a different playing field and don’t understand the struggles most of us face in terms of reaching our own personal goals.