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Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Diane and I are now back aboard Envoy in Lefkas Marina, Greece.

This is the third and final parts of our article published in Pacific Passagemaker magazine.

Once Diane and I decided to buy a passagemaker and live the on-board cruising life there were numerous issues we considered mostly falling into these categories:

How long you are going to be away each year
The vast majority of cruisers (power and sail) don’t literally spend the whole year away on their boat. Most have families and assets in their home country, and generally leave their boat during the few mid-winter months of their cruising region to return home. An exception to this would be some European cruisers for whom the weather is much kinder in a location like the Med than in their own country. Diane and I spent most of one winter aboard Envoy in Turkey, and haven’t chosen to repeat the experience as there seems little point in sitting out a winter on our boat in a marina when we can be enjoying a New Zealand summer with our family and friends.

How many years you will cruise for
The short answer is as long as you are enjoying the experience, and health, funds and other circumstances permit. We have so far lived aboard most of five years and plan to continue for another three or four. We rarely meet cruisers who’ve lived aboard for more than ten years, although they certainly are around.

Dependent family
Most of the cruising community are in the age group mid 50s to mid 70s, and no longer have school-age children. It’s rare to meet cruisers living aboard with children. Elderly parents generally accept that you are living your lives to the full, appreciate your regular phone calls and enjoy seeing you during return visits home.

Family and Friends
Of course you miss your family and close friends, but some will visit you and share in your cruising experience. Otherwise being able to see your family and friends for at least one period during the year keeps these relationships intact. Loneliness has not been an issue for us and we have made new friendships with other cruisers during our travels.

Most cruisers we meet are semi or completely retired. Many do some form of consulting work or manage their investments remotely, or are able to find some casual work if they choose to. A fewer number of younger cruisers take time out from the work force to go cruising, planning to return to work later.

Your home
Some cruisers elect to sell their house to provide funds for cruising while many others rent them out to provide a regular income. Another option is to simply leave it vacant.

Compatibility and confidence
Many people will say that you won’t get on well together as a couple spending all that time together in the close confines of a boat. Only you will know if this is correct or not, and we probably all know people where this lifestyle would be doomed to failure. Allied to this issue is one partner having a lack of confidence in the other partner’s ability to manage the live aboard process. If you are passionate you are half way there, and the confidence will come with sharing experiences together.

A reasonable but not perfect standard of general health and fitness is required for the live-aboard life - another argument for starting the cruising life sooner than later … life’s time clock is ticking. Nonetheless we have met several cruising couples who’ve needed to return home regularly for various forms of medical treatment. Travel medical insurance is highly desirable as medical treatment can be extremely expensive overseas.

Overseas regulations concerning the transportation and quarantine of pets are much less strict than in New Zealand, and some cruisers take their pets along. Similarly there are fewer pet restrictions on beaches and in restaurants and cafes. Diane and I have always had a dog or cat at home and loved them dearly, but decided not to keep a pet aboard a boat. Under these circumstances you may need to find somebody to take over or care for your pet so it doesn’t stand in the way of your cruising adventure.

Comfort aboard
When yachtsmen come aboard Envoy they are amazed at the living space available compared to sailing vessels of the same length, and often say she’s like a small ship, or a floating apartment. At 14 metres Envoy is at the lower end of the passagemaker size range, but still has features such as headroom throughout, a queen-size walk-around double bed, full size refrigerator and freezer, four ring gas stove with a near full-size oven, microwave, washing machine and dryer, water maker, two ensuite heads and showers, reverse cycle air conditioning, excellent sound and DVD systems and a generator to provide power whenever needed. Furthermore she has both hydraulic and paravane stabilisers to dramatically reduce roll both under way and while anchored. Comfort is not an issue as we don’t get wet, cold or wind-blown, and Envoy’s motion is rarely lively enough to spill a cup of coffee.

Capital costs
The size, age and condition of your passagemaker determines its initial capital cost with the price range probably starting around NZ$400,000 (240,000 Euros). You could certainly buy a well-equipped Nordhavn 46, in good condition built during the 1990s for about NZ$530,000 (318,000 Euros). Bigger isn’t always better, and remember that the larger vessel you buy the greater will be the cost of insurance, casual and winter marina berthage and repairs and maintenance.

Living costs
Actual living costs such as food, beverages, household supplies and personal spending are about the same cruising as when at home. Maintenance is dearer due to the higher cost of parts and greater distances traveled, and what also bumps up costs is annual travel to and from our boat, additional fuel for the longer distances cruised, and sightseeing ashore – particularly rental cars and accommodation (occasional travel inland away from the boat is well worth the experience in the many interesting new areas). Casual marina prices are also high in the Med, e.g. for our 14 metre Nordhavn 46 typically about NZ$130 (78 Euros) per night plus power and water, sometimes higher. You pay considerably less (or sometimes even nothing) in town harbours, particularly in Greek waters, but the best option is to anchor wherever possible, which is mostly free. Winter berthage rates are considerably less than casual and we’re paying NZ$21 (12.40 Euros) per night including all services and 23% VAT. Some costs are fixed and are for the whole year, such as insurance, winter marina, travel, most regulatory costs and some maintenance, while most other costs including living costs and fuel are variable depending on the time spent aboard and the distance traveled. During 2012 we spent 200 days aboard, and cruised 1,736 miles for 336 engine hours. Excluding living costs maintenance was the largest cost at NZ$26,200 (15,700 Euros). This was about what we expected at 5.4% of Envoy’s estimated value, and on average has been consistent over four years cruising. Second largest was fuel at NZ$9,700 (5,800 Euros) including 3,440 litres of diesel, petrol for the RHIBs, engine oil and cooking gas. Third was marina and regulatory costs at NZ$7,500 (4,500 Euros), while fourth was boat and travel insurance at NZ$6,100 (3,660 Euros). Communication costs including internet and phone is also significant and although this could be reduced by using only Wi-Fi, we prefer to stay connected all the time using pre-pay USBs for internet access. Diane and I look at this not as “cost” but as our “investment in fun”.

Monday, March 17, 2014


The 2nd of three parts of our article recently published in Pacific Passagemaker magazine.

Sources of cruising and technical information
Those interested in the live-aboard cruising lifestyle can find valuable information from:
- Voyaging Under Power, the Bible of passage making by Captain Robert P Beebe, 4th edition updated by Denis Umstot
- PassageMaker magazine (US)
- Seven Seas Cruising Association
- Cruising blogs
- Web sites of various passagemaker builders, often with links to cruising blogs
- Brand owners’ websites
- Cruising guides to various areas
- OEM instruction Manuals and manufacturers of the equipment
- Technical books (e.g. Nigel Calder‘s Boatowners’ Mechanical and Electrical Manual)
- Other cruisers
- Local marine engineering companies and/or agents for equipment
- Internet and You Tube searches
- Previous owners of your boat

Buying your passagemaker
Although the boat market has come out of the bottom of the trough it’s still a buyer’s market, and now is a good time to purchase and enjoy your new or pre-owned passagemaker.
A passagemaker is a modest-sized motor vessel that can safely, comfortably and economically cross oceans to take its owners and their families anywhere in the world.
Typically it will be heavy-displacement, single-engined, diesel powered, around 12 to 23 metres in length, with sufficient in-built fuel tank capacity to cruise at least 2,500 miles, easily handled by two people, able to proceed in open seas in most weather conditions, and equipped for long periods of living aboard.
To simplify your selection process a good first step is to decide the specific brand and size of boat you want to buy. An excellent resource is the US magazine, PassageMaker, having a wealth of useful information about passage making as well as listing many vessels for sale and providing an excellent guide to market values.
Passagemakers are technically complex making a comparison of different vessels for sale with varying equipment levels challenging. We used a spreadsheet to list vessels plus their equipment and inventories so that we were able to objectively compare what was included with each vessel, and judge their relative value.
Consider the location of vessels for sale and your intended cruising area. We wanted to use our passagemaker in the Med so primarily looked at vessels located in Europe.
Allied to the location issue is the complex one of port of registry. If you importing a vessel to your home country you may be required to pay some form of tax or duty. If you are locating a vessel elsewhere you will often be able to avoid this indefinitely. For example our New Zealand-registered vessel can remain in EU waters up to 18 months at a time without paying tax (VAT). Before the expiry of the 18 month period it’s only necessary to leave EU waters for a few days, and the 18 month clock is re-set. This is a complex issue and if buying offshore we suggest involving an experienced marine solicitor to ensure the vessel is unencumbered, and that correct documentary procedures are followed to minimise your liabilities.

You can cruise to stunning places like this bay in Croatia

Do all live-aboard cruisers cross oceans?
Absolutely not; there are literally thousands of people living aboard all manner of boats, and some do cross oceans, but a much large number enjoy what I’ll describe as adventurous coastal cruising.
Our live-aboard experience is five years cruising 11,000 miles in the Med but we’re rarely more than 40 miles from the nearest land. Many cruisers enjoy fantastic cruising locations like the Med, the Bahamas, North and South America, and South-East Asia without needing to venture across the major oceans, and while it’s a great feeling to have a boat that is ocean-capable, the majority of cruisers elect to ship even these vessels aboard purpose-built freighters rather than traverse the large distances on their own hulls. From a cost perspective the two options are generally considered to be similar. Many of the cruisers who do cross oceans take extra crew along to assist during that part of their voyage. We greatly admire the exploits of folks like Jim and Suzy Sink, who in 1990 were the first to circumnavigate the world aboard a production motor yacht, Salvation 11 – a Nordhavn 46, covering over 50,000 nm during five years, but we don’t plan to do that ourselves.

Read the 3rd and final part of this article next week.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Read the first of three parts of our article recently published in Pacific Passagemaker magazine. 

Is the live-aboard cruising life for everyone?
No the cruising life isn’t for everyone. I can’t think of anything worse than riding a horse, and similarly some folks can’t think of anything worse than going on a boat, never mind living aboard. Not all weekend and holiday cruisers will enjoy living aboard for extended periods. But for those who have the cruising passion there is generally nothing to stop you living aboard, and if you can’t literally do it now, at least plan for it now and have a clear timetable - in the words of famed cruiser and circumnavigator Scott Flanders (Nordhavn 46, Egret), “tick…tick…tick… the clock is ticking, get the picture … do it now!”
When I turned 50 I expected to have about 20 good summers left, meaning that all being well and barring major illnesses or accidents I expected to be able to enjoy the things I enjoyed then until I was about 70 years old - after that age things could be different. Now I’m 63 and I believe I’ve probably got 12 good summers left – yes I’ve stretched it out a little. But one thing’s for sure – you don’t meet many cruisers in their 80s (although there are some). How many summers do you have left?

If you want to live-aboard and can't do it now at least plan now

The major fears
Scott Flanders wrote an excellent article, “Yes you can too,” outlining potential cruisers’ most common concerns and some solutions. I have expanded those thoughts a little below based on our modest five years living aboard experience.
Experience levels – everyone starts somewhere. Take small steps first and learn from your mistakes. I add that there are excellent courses available to gain both practical and theoretical skills. Unlike my home country, New Zealand, most countries want to see some evidence of proficiency so it’s a good idea to gain some certifications like Coastguard’s Boatmaster or Royal Yachting Association’s International Certificate For Operator Of Pleasure Craft.
Mechanical ability – it isn’t the big things that fail, and you will learn to deal with handling the smaller problems. I add that most countries do have competent mechanical assistance available, but in some instances you may just have to bite the bullet and meet the right expert in a convenient location. For example we had to meet a Dutch engineer who flew to Greece to rectify a hydraulic stabiliser fault that had baffled the locals for days, and he fixed it in an hour. Having a comprehensive supply of tools, spare parts, equipment manuals and chandlery aboard will assist greatly.
Handling rough seas – becomes easier with some practice. You won’t always be comfortable but always safe. I add that although rough seas feature high on most people’s list of concerns one study reported that for the open oceans in general, 80% of the time wave heights are less than 3.7m, 90% of the time they are less than 6m, and to encounter waves above 12m is extremely rare. This partially explains how so many cruisers travel thousands of ocean miles over many years and don’t ever encounter dangerous rough seas. Another part of the explanation is watching the weather. My brother and his partner sailed their 12 metre yacht from Australia to Turkey (before piracy was a major threat) and never encountered seas over two metres. Navigation – is not difficult with today’s electronic equipment. I add that sextants are long gone, and this is an area where courses will greatly assist.
Seasickness – many cruisers start off getting seasick but wean themselves out of it. Drugs are available to assist.
Weather and tides – there are ample information sources for coastal cruising while many offshore cruisers use professional forecasting. I add that having internet access available hugely improves the availability of forecasts.
Manoeuvring and docking – practice makes perfect and don’t worry about minor scratches (”battle-scars”) on your gelcoat.

I will also add another concern – piracy. Off the north-east coast of Africa piracy has now escalated to the point where it is extremely dangerous to cruise these waters and insurance is not available. Even cruising in convoys is now discouraged. Circumnavigators who want to include the Med in their route now mostly ship their boats across the Indian Ocean from Thailand or the Maldives to Turkey while some cruisers, like Scott and Mary Flanders elect to go via South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. Piracy is not a currently a major issue in other waters, although sometimes occurs. The website provides regular updates on the status of international piracy.
Next posting - part 2 of 3