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Monday, April 27, 2015

LONG TERM CRUISING – what do you do all day?

Envoy is currently in Lefkas marina while we are home in New Zealand.

Having spent most of the past six years cruising the eastern Med aboard our Nordhavn 46 passagemaker, Envoy, “what do you do all day?” is the question commonly posed by family and friends.

We don't feel the need to be constantly "doing things", sometimes it's nice just to feed visiting ducks

Before going to the Med we spent over 25 years cruising the north-east coast of New Zealand’s North Island, mostly between Whitianga and Whangaroa, when many of our days were filled with fishing and diving. Even when setting off for a few weeks we’d only take meat for the first night out, knowing the rest of the time ample delicious bounty from the sea would feed us.
The Med seems to have plenty of fish. Now this seems a controversial statement, but virtually every coastal town or village we’ve visited has its own commercial fishing fleet and a fish market displaying species ranging from sardines to swordfish.

Most of the larger villages have a fish market

But we’ve observed very little leisure fishing in the Med and most fishing boats use long lines or nets, so we’ve mostly given up fishing except for trolling to put the occasional tuna on our table.

We don't spend much time fishing, but our late friend Brian caught this small tuna, trolling a lure

We do plenty of snorkeling in the Med’s largely pristine clear waters, but in most areas you can only scuba dive in an organised group; this is to protect the many easily-accessible historic relics.
Get the picture? We have plenty of time on our hands compared with our NZ boating – how do we fill it?
So here’s another controversial statement. While the North Island’s north-east coast has some stunning coastal and offshore island natural scenery (as does much of the Med), in our opinion there are very few coastal towns or villages offering much of interest to see. Yes we enjoy visiting Whitianga, Coromandel, Oneroa, Tryphena, Warkworth, Whangarei and Russell, but even some of this pick of the crop are losing part of their olde worlde charm to over-development. On the contrary the northern Med coastline and offshore islands have countless delightful towns and villages, dripping with atmosphere and loaded with quirky shops, rustic tavernas and historical features to explore.

When you anchor off a Med village there's always heaps to see ashore (off Cefalu, Sicily)

Tavernas don't come more rustic than Alibaba's in Turkey

The dynamics of living on a boat overseas are quite different to going away for a few days or for the summer holidays in your own country. For a start you have to navigate yourself safely through unfamiliar waters without the support structures we take for granted in NZ such as Coastguard, VHF-radio trip reports and weather Nowcasting. Then you need to do time-consuming routine things like replenishing stores, laundry and the maintenance that back home you’d leave until your return to the marina.
So what does a typical Med cruising day look like?
It always starts with checking the anchor, bilges, fresh water tank levels and engine room. This takes from 30 minutes to about an hour, depending on what needs attention; for example topping fluids, adjusting vee-belts or running our diesel polishing system to fill our day tank. After checking the latest weather forecasts online, next on the agenda is nearly always a swim. What we do next depends on whether we’re going to remain at anchor or cruise somewhere.
At anchor we run the generator for about 90 minutes to charge our batteries, run our refrigeration and heat our hot water tank. Sometimes we extend the generator’s running time to do some laundry and operate the water maker. After breakfast we usually spend several hours using our RHIB to explore the nearby coastline and interesting areas ashore.
Buying supplies is very different overseas – you can’t drive your car to a familiar supermarket and load up! With our granny shopping cart in tow we first have to find a shop then locate the items we need among the unfamiliar and foreign-language printed goods. To complicate matters large supermarkets are rare so we generally have to visit several shops to buy all we need. In countries like Turkey, Greece and Italy the shopping process is regarded as one of life’s pleasures rather than a chore, and involves tasting different delights such as olives, cheeses and salamis while bantering with shop assistants and other customers.

In most Med countries food shopping is a pleasure rather than a chore

Very often the owner-operated shops will then offer a complimentary glass of wine in appreciation of your custom, and more discussion follows. Finally we have to hump our purchases to the RHIB and take them out to Envoy. To reduce the need for mammoth shopping expeditions we nearly always buy small quantities of heavy stuff like vegetables, milk, beer, coke and wine when going ashore.

Humping supplies back to Envoy using the RHIB - note all the small commercial fishing boats

Back on board we allow one or two hours daily for the ever-present maintenance, then 1800 hours will generally find us in the cockpit, cold beer or wine in hand reflecting on the day’s activities and making some plans for the next few days before we fire up the barbecue for dinner.
If moving on we up-anchor after our swim and get under way before we have breakfast – one of the advantages of a stabilised displacement hull is that you can do most everything underway except in particularly rough waters. We find the next exotic location, and do it all over again!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

BUYING NEW VERSUS PRE-OWNED and ARE SURVEYS WORTHWHILE?

Envoy is currently in Lefkas marina, Greece and we are home in New Zealand.
This is an article we wrote that was recently published in NZ’s Pacific Powerboat magazine.
It must be great to experience the sheer pleasure of buying a brand-new boat without the slightest blemish detracting from its pristine appearance. We wouldn’t know for sure as all five boats Diane and I have owned over more than 30 years have been pre-owned, but over the years we’ve been surprised to meet a sizeable number of new boat buyers who’ve been disappointed to some degree. So what are the real pros and cons of buying new or pre-owned?
What follows mainly applies to larger vessels as we’ve not heard the same level of discontent with trailer boats, although we were recently told of a situation where somebody bought a complete new alloy fishing boat and had problems on his first three times out.

Purchasing a new vessel 
Many buyers prefer the appeal of a new vessel for some of the following reasons, all of which are valid to some extent.
- With many brands they are able to customise a vessel to suit their boating requirements and tastes by specifying layout, engineering options, equipment types and brands, decor and furnishings. However in some cases the option to make more than minor changes is limited and usually adds considerable expense.
- They may be able to visit the builder’s factory to see their vessel take shape during the build stage, form relationships, and gain a better understanding of the vessel’s construction and systems.
- They experience the joy of taking delivery of a brand new vessel, never used by anyone else, and if this spins your wheels it’s hard to put a price on.
- They have a complete knowledge of the vessel’s history from day one.
- They receive a warranty and more ongoing support from the manufacturer and agent than could normally be expected with a pre-owned option. However support levels vary considerably and the prudent buyer should carefully research this aspect.
- They should benefit from lower maintenance costs for the first few years, certainly during the warranty period, although there’s no question some new buyers are disappointed with what they consider to be undue numbers of problems occurring. It seems that many new boat brands need to cruise for a few months to resolve initial teething issues, and even if successfully resolved at no cost they are frustrating, inconvenient and reduce the boat’s availability for use.
- They are able to spread payments over the vessel’s construction time, though financing options are also available for pre-owned boats.

Purchasing a pre-owned vessel 
Other buyers prefer to purchase a pre-owned vessel for some of these reasons, again all valid to some extent.
- They can generally take immediate delivery; there is usually a wait for new vessels ranging from several to many months.
- They pay a significantly lower investment cost and then have spare cash available if required to make the boat more suited to their needs and replace outmoded equipment.
- They suffer less depreciation cost because like cars, a new boat generally takes its biggest depreciation hit early on from new.
- They believe a pre-owned vessel is tried, tested and reliable, and while this is true to some extent, when vessels age they become prone to more maintenance, especially with ancillary equipment. Some of her electronics may also be outdated.
- A used boat is likely to have more equipment included at little or no extra cost – many are purchased complete with spare parts, tools, chandlery, bedding, cutlery, crockery, galley utensils etc. For example we only had to add two fire extinguishers and stores to our Nordhavn 46 before commencing cruising.

Envoy was 16 years old when we purchased her, and so well-equipped we only added cruising stores and two additional fire extinguishers, saving us thousands of dollars

Enter the professional surveyor 
Whether your preference is for new or pre-owned most of the risks can be significantly reduced by contracting a professional surveyor, who acts for and is paid by the buyer. This is particularly so for pre-owned vessels, but should also be considered for new vessels as these are not immune from poor practice and resulting problems.
Surveyors not only have considerable technical expertise, but follow a logical documented process for an objective examination of the vessel, whereas the enthusiastic buyer may be prone to overlook or downplay some negative issues. An initial survey is also helpful when arranging insurance and provides a benchmark for later surveys.
The survey will include a sea trial and an out of water inspection, and in most cases the surveyor will discover some defects and then discuss their level of importance with the buyer, who must then negotiate with the seller to remedy them. A survey for a pre-owned 14 metre vessel typically costs between NZ$1,800 to $3,000 depending on its value, plus lift-out fees, so is a relatively small percentage of the investment cost.
The buyer of a pre-owned vessel should also examine her service records and discuss her service history directly with the relevant engineering contractors so that a full inspection can be arranged if there is any doubt about her mechanical condition.
Exercising great caution during the purchase process for your either new or pre-owned vessel should maximize your cruising enjoyment.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

DEALING WITH FOREIGN CRUISING REGULATIONS (part two)

Envoy is currently in Lefkas marina, Greece while we are still home in New Zealand.
Our last posting set the scene on Med cruising regulations and discussed those affecting the vessel - now we discuss those impacting the skipper and crew.

When cruising there are many idyllic scenes like this but to sleep well you need to understand the pertinent regulations

Nearly all countries place limits on the time you are allowed to stay in their waters, and this surprises the cruising community considering the large sums spent on provisions, repairs and maintenance, marinas and internal travel etc. As hefty fines are imposed on overstaying cruisers it’s important to be aware of these time limitations.

Turkey is a great destination but allows visits of only 90 days

Since 2012 Turkey allows visitors to stay for only 90 days in any 180 day period but this limitation can be overcome by taking a berthage contract with a recognised marina and arranging through the marina for a residency permit.
Several other Med countries including France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain are signatories to the Schengen Treaty which allows non-EU passport holders from most countries including Australia to spend up to 90 days out of a 6 month period in the signatory countries. This is rather limiting as it means you can only spend 90 days cumulatively in these signatory countries not 90 days in each one. Fortunately for Kiwis the rules are slightly different and we are allowed to spend up to 90 days in each signatory country. The good news for Aussies and others is that the time limitation is currently being reviewed with the objective of changing it to what Kiwis currently enjoy; 90 days in each signatory country – and this will make cruise planning much simpler.
In the meantime there are some ways around this; one is that if you have a UK or other EU passport the Schengen limitation doesn’t apply.
Another is to spend the allowable 90 days in signatory countries, then 90 days in non-signatory countries (like Albania, Croatia, Montenegro or Turkey) and then return to signatory countries.
Another is to cruise in countries which are nominally Schengen Treaty signatories but don’t seem to enforce it among cruisers, however there is a risk that some over-zealous official could provide problems.
Another option is to try to use an exemption for cruising vessel skippers and crews, which is generally available provided that you arrive and depart aboard the vessel (not for example by air). In this case you don’t get your passports stamped on entry and exit and you can cruise for up to six months in the selected country (we have used this system in Greece and Italy). However there are complications to this; you probably need to do this through an agent who understands this “loophole”, you must only sleep aboard the vessel (not ashore) and may not undertake any inland travel away from immediate harbour areas except after obtaining a special permit from the harbourmaster. The latter condition is frequently ignored but a problem could result if you were involved in some form of incident away from the harbour area without permission.
In some countries (for example Greece, Italy) when you enter a harbour or marina you are supposed to see the Port Police, submit your ship’s documents and have your Transit Log stamped at a cost ranging from nothing to Euro 50 (NZ$72), depending on the port. If you are only anchoring you are still supposed to periodically report to the Port Police, and to advise them of any crew changes. In our experience this only applies to new crew arriving, not leaving.
Using agents 
Some countries, for example Turkey and Croatia, require cruisers to employ an agent to handle clearing-in and out and this generally costs about 100 to 150 Euros (NZ$145 to 217 for each). We often use agents regardless as they handle the process quickly without the lengthy delays and hassles that are usually otherwise encountered, they often know how to circumvent overly onerous regulations and they have good contacts that can assist in solving any problems encountered along the way.
Documentation summary 
When clearing-in, clearing-out, entering a marina or harbour and when being boarded by authorities you will need to show various of the following documents (originals not photo copies):
- Passports; always
- Registration Certificate; always
- Proof of Insurance; nearly always
- Cruising Log relevant to that country; always unless clearing-in when this log is purchased at that time
- Crew List; nearly always
- Skipper’s Certificate of Competency; often, although it doesn’t appear to matter what level of qualification is held
- Proof of payment of harbour dues; sometimes required for departure
- Radio Station License; rarely
- Radio Operators License; rarely
- Proof of VAT status; we have never been asked for this
- Ships Log; we have never had to show this
We have always provided authorities with English language documents and have never been required to provide translated copies. It’s also a good idea to have an official looking ink stamp made up showing your vessel name and registration details to stamp onto official documents and in some cases this is mandatory.

When cruising in the Med different countries are sometimes tantalisingly close together and it’s a big temptation to cruise for example from the Turkish mainland to a nearby Greek island for a few days and then back to Turkey without worrying about any documentation.

The Greek island of Kastellorizon is only a few hundred metres from the Turkish south coast, but theoretically you need to clear-in to Greece to visit there


Although many vessels do this, it’s not legally possible to do so and in the above case it’s necessary to clear-out of Turkey, clear-in to Greece, then later clear-out of Greece and finally clear-in back to Turkey – all of which is both expensive and time consuming. Local authorities rarely pay much attention to visiting sailing yachts (they all look much the same don’t they!) whereas visiting motor vessels do seem to attract their interest, so more care is needed.
If you want to enjoy your cruising to the full, sleep well at night and avoid potentially expensive problems with authorities it’s a good idea to be fully conversant with applicable regulations.

Friday, April 03, 2015

DEALING WITH FOREIGN CRUISING REGULATIONS (part one)

Envoy is currently located in Lefkas marina, Greece, while we are back in New Zealand (NZ).
NZ must be one of the last bastions of virtually regulation-free recreational boating, where registration of vessels is not required and the only qualification required for skippers is to be over 15 years old to operate a vessel capable of over ten knots (it’s a very different situation for those operating vessels commercially, but that’s another story.)
Whether this regulation-free environment is a good thing or not prefers on your point of view – my own is that I see no safety advantage in compulsory registration (only revenue gathering) but some form of skipper qualification should be required.
One thing is for sure though - cruising in most overseas destinations involves dealing with a myriad of officials and regulations, and generally requires some form of competence qualification. My own experience mostly relates to the Mediterranean so I’ll provide an overview of the situation there. Bear in mind that the waters of the Med lap the shores of about 22 countries, each having slightly different regulations and interpretations, so it’s vital to obtain specific updated information relating to the countries you intend to cruise (a great source for this is www.noonsite.com).
Regulatory requirements fall into two categories; those involving the vessel and those involving the skipper and crew, and they vary according to the vessel’s country of registration and the nationality of the skipper and crew.
Depending on the country and the port you are in you will be dealing with all kinds of officials – Port Authorities, Coastguard, Police, Port Police, Customs, Immigration and Health Officials. They only want to deal with the skipper, so if any crew are present in a discussion ask them to leave you to handle the situation. Officials in that part of the world are more formal than we encounter and it’s a good idea to show respect by being clean and tidy, being patient when procedures seem to take a long time and speaking slowly and clearly as English is not their first language. Answer their questions and provide requested documents but don’t volunteer other information or documents as that may complicate the situation. Officials in Egypt and some other North African countries expect some form of gift (baksheesh) to facilitate proceedings, but we have not found this elsewhere.

THE VESSEL
All vessels are required to have a certificate of registration. If you buy a used boat in the Med it will probably be registered in an EU country and be VAT-paid. In this case your vessel can remain indefinitely in EU waters. If your vessel is not VAT-paid you may elect to register her in a non-EU country, for example NZ. In this case there is no initial requirement to pay VAT, but your vessel can only remain in EU waters for up to 18 months before VAT will have to be paid at rates which vary by country but are in the order of 18-20 per cent of your vessel’s value. Once VAT is paid in one EU country it is paid for all. Fortunately this 18 month period can often be extended at the discretion of local Customs who can hold a vessel under bond for reasons such as she is left unattended and unused, the owner leaves the EU or she is in a boatyard for repair. In any case the 18 month time clock can be re-set by clearing-out of the EU, cruising to a non-EU country (such as Gibraltar, Albania, Montenegro or Turkey), clearing-in there for a few days and then returning to the EU.
In NZ pleasure vessels are registered in Part B of the NZ Register of Ships administered by the Maritime Safety Authority. When I last renewed Envoy’s registration in late 2011 the cost was $436 but it’s now a whopping $736 while a new registration is $920. These are unbelievable costs for the work involved and for issuing one piece of paper, so it may be worthwhile to investigate registration in an alternate country where costs are cheaper, but remember you have to fly that country’s flag.
All vessels must be insured including third party and public liability cover, and you will need to show proof of this when clearing-in to a different country, when entering a marina and in many cases when entering a harbour.
Most countries issue your vessel with some form of cruising permit, for example we paid about NZ$548 for a three month permit (known as a Vignette) in Croatia during 2013. This sounds expensive but in reality is only $6 per day to cruise in a fantastic area. Some countries apply a “cruising tax” on visiting cruisers so this situation needs to be checked for each country. Italy abandoned their tax in 2013 while Greece has a tax, but in practice it’s not currently being enforced.
Read about regulations affecting skipper and crew in my next posting in a week.