This is an edited version of an article we wrote for Pacific Powerboat magazine.
We return to Auckland from Greece last October after leaving Envoy, our beloved Nordhavn 46, for the last time. We owned her for 12 years, spending more time aboard than at home during that period and cruising over 26,000 miles along the spectacular coastlines of Italy, Greece, Albania, Montenegro and Turkey plus many dozens of their offshore islands, providing fun and adventure for ourselves, family and close friends. From May Envoy will continue cruising under the Australian flag of her new Brisbane-based owners.
We immediately start searching for a new boat and provide a brief to several brokers. We’re looking for a planing monohull power vessel with single or twin diesels and shaft drive(s); around 14 metres long; preferably constructed in GRP later than 1990; with an enclosed full-height fly bridge; with comfortable accommodation for two couples; in excellent mechanical and reasonable cosmetic condition throughout. It must have sufficient water and fuel capacity to provide a generous cruising range; a sturdy RHIB with outboard; excellent ground tackle; generous cockpit space; two seawater flushing heads; shore power operation of refrigeration, hot water and battery charging; lpg gas cooking; satellite TV and be fully equipped for cruising.
We consider dozens of boats and inspect around 20, none of which seem to meet our needs.
More on this after we ponder on our time in the Med.
THE LIVE-ABOARD CRUISING LIFE
Owning four boats ranging up to 12 metres in Auckland since the 1980s we’d cruised extensively during weekends and holidays and dreamed of enjoying great destinations until we tired of them rather than needing to meet work timetables.
We bought Envoy in 2006 and by the time we reached normal retirement age of 65 we'd already enjoyed six years of the live-aboard cruising life. This isn’t for everyone as there are many competent, dedicated weekend cruisers who wouldn't want to spend more time at sea than ashore, but for those who have the live-aboard passion there’s generally nothing to stop you joining the many thousands of cruisers living aboard all manner of boats in various parts of the world.
We chose to cruise the Med. With an area of 2.5 million square kilometres it’s surrounded by three continents - Europe, Asia and Africa and 22 countries with highly diverse cultures, languages, cuisines and standards of living; their histories representing the cradle of western civilisation. It has thousands of islands with nine having areas over 1,000 square kilometres; the largest, Sicily, is home to over five million. Contrary to perception the Med can get mighty rough, but there’s plenty of good shelter and you’re rarely over 50 miles from the nearest land.
Many people have told us they’d love to live aboard and the reasons they didn’t are generally among the following:
Experience levels – everyone starts somewhere, so take small steps first and learn from your mistakes. Coastguard and the Royal Yachting Association run excellent courses to gain practical and theoretical skills.
Mechanical ability – it usually isn’t the big things that fail and you will soon learn to deal with handling the smaller problems assisted by a comprehensive range of tools, spare parts, equipment manuals and chandlery. There’s competent technical assistance available in most parts of the cruising world.
Handling rough seas – this becomes easier with practice and many cruisers travel thousands of miles over many years rarely if ever encountering dangerous seas.
Navigation – sextants are long gone so it’s not difficult with today’s GPS-based electronic equipment and this is an area where courses will greatly assist.
Seasickness – many cruisers start off getting seasick but wean themselves out of it and medications can assist.
Weather and tides – the internet provides mostly reliable forecasts and good planning will enable you to find shelter or a marina to sit out the worst weather.
Manoeuvring and docking – practice makes perfect and a bow thruster will greatly assist docking.
If you decide to embark on the cruising life there are numerous issues to consider mostly falling into these categories:
How long will you be away each year – we and the vast majority of power or sail cruisers see little point in sitting out the winter in a marina (after doing it once) and most spend several months away then return home to see their families and friends and enjoy the southern hemisphere summer.
How many years will you cruise for – the short answer is as long as you are enjoying it and health, finances and other circumstances permit. About five years would be typical.
Dependent family – most of the cruising community are in the age group mid-50s to mid-70s without school-age children and cruisers living aboard with children are rare. When we started cruising we each had an elderly parent who accepted our absences, appreciated our regular phone calls and enjoyed our home visits.
Family and Friends – of course you miss your family and close friends, but some may be able to visit you and share your cruising experience. Being home to see them for a few months during the year keeps these relationships intact.
Work – most cruisers we have met are semi or completely retired. A fewer number of younger cruisers take time out from the work force intending to rejoin it later.
Your home – some cruisers elect to sell their home to provide funds for cruising while most others rent it out, get house sitters or leave it vacant.
Compatibility and confidence – some people may speculate you won’t get on well together as a couple spending so much time in the 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.
Health – a reasonable but not perfect standard of general health and fitness is required for the live-aboard life reinforcing the case for starting the cruising life sooner than later. Health insurance is preferable.
Pets – overseas regulations concerning transportation and quarantine of pets are less strict than in Australasia and there are generally fewer restrictions concerning pets on beaches and in restaurants so some cruisers take their pets along. We decided to cruise pet-free for additional flexibility.
Comfort aboard – this will of course vary by vessel. When yachtsmen came aboard Envoy they were amazed at the living space available compared to sailing vessels of the same length and we didn’t get wet, cold or wind-blown.
Capital and living costs – the size, age and condition of your vessel determines its capital cost. Remember that bigger isn’t always better as larger vessels have dearer maintenance, marina and insurance costs. We found that living costs such as food, beverages, household supplies and personal spending were about the same while cruising as when at home. Maintaining a boat overseas was dearer due to the higher cost of parts and greater distances travelled. There was also the cost of travel to and from our boat and additional fuel costs for the longer distances cruised. Excluding living costs maintenance was our largest cost, averaging about six per cent of Envoy’s estimated value each year.
Buying your live aboard cruising vessel
Relatively few cruisers take their boats from New Zealand or Australia and the European new and pre-owned boat market favours buyers with ample choice available. Most types of boat are suited to cruising the Med and we even met one couple in Greece living aboard a six metre outboard-powered trailer boat on which they’d cruised from Germany. However the majority of live-aboards are found on sailing yachts or catamarans, mostly up to about 14 metres.
Do your research by reading, visiting cruisers' blogs and talking with live-aboard cruisers.
Consider the location of vessels for sale relative to your intended cruising area.
Bearing in mind the boating adage that everything that can go wrong will eventually go wrong, she needs to be engineered for maximum reliability with redundancy of systems and a well-planned inventory of chandlery, tools, key spare parts and documentation covering equipment carried aboard. Make sure you have reliable ground tackle and a rugged RHIB (this is also the life raft for most cruisers).
Exercise caution in your financial dealings as some buyers have lost funds sent overseas to fraudulent sellers.
Be sure to get a qualified surveyor to check your vessel prior to purchase as many insurers require a recent survey and he/she may identify costly and time consuming problems.
Understand local regulations
Allied to the issue of the location of the boat you purchase is the complex one of port of registry, particularly if local overseas taxes haven't been paid.
A New Zealand or Australian registered boat can remain in EU waters up to 18 months at a time without paying VAT. You can place your boat in Customs bond during your winter layover and this period is not included in the 18 months. Before the 18 month period expires it's only necessary to leave EU waters for a few days to re-set the 18 month clock. It’s a good idea to get specialist advice for your circumstances so that correct documentary procedures are followed to minimise liabilities.
Familiarise yourself with other relevant regulations such as the Schengen Treaty which currently limits visits by New Zealand passport holders to three months in each treaty member country and Australians to three months total in all member countries (most but not all EU countries are members).
Many countries require cruisers to use agents for clearing-in and out. Even where not required it’s a good idea to use agents as they save time, have useful contacts and may be able to offer advice on extending your stay and minimising your obligations. They are also extremely useful if you encounter any major problem with authorities, such as when our EPIRB activated accidentally and we needed special permission from Coastguard to continue on to a port where our safety equipment could be surveyed.
OUR NEW VESSEL IN AUCKLAND
On Westhaven’s hard stand a broker shows us over a boat which like so many others looked reasonable on paper but quickly proves unsuitable. Disappointed, we wander down to Oram’s sales berth and stumble across a very well presented Salthouse 52 equipped with twin Caterpillar 3208s.
She’s called Awesome and that’s our impression too as she’s by far the best presented vessel we’d seen.
Launched in 1993, she’s been owned by a boating professional for offshore game fishing including several trips to the Three Kings. He’s also overseen extensive recent improvements including a rebuild of the engines and gearboxes just 900 engine hours ago, new house and start battery banks, new exterior repaint, new teak cockpit decking, new Furuno electronics and new carpet throughout.
However there’s quite a few variances from our wish list.
Firstly she’s 16 metres, but we’re impressed with her three sleeping cabin layout and generous space accentuated by her 1.96 metre headroom and we soon find that getting a suitable marina isn’t as difficult as we’d expected.
We find that Awesome is an alloy boat, so research this to satisfy ourselves while our surveyor makes additional checks including ultrasonic testing of the hull to find she’s very sound throughout with an “above ground” earthing system to minimise electrolysis.
We don’t like the imported RHIB with an inflatable floor, but plan to use it for now and replace it with a locally built rigid hulled design during winter.
Cooking is electric, but the vessel is equipped with a generator. Nevertheless we invest in a portable lpg gas stove for the galley, so we can at least have our morning cuppa’ without needing to start the generator.
The only major downside was she wasn’t fully equipped for cruising having not been used very much in the previous 18 months, so after purchasing her in early December we set about updating safety equipment, buying new bedding, galley supplies, barbecue, tools, spare parts, fishing gear and a proverbial 101 other items.
On the plus side Awesome has some additional equipment including long range fuel tanks providing 2,900 litres capacity which is sufficient for over 500 miles cruising, a fuel polishing system, an engine oil changing system, a recently fitted water maker, a bow thruster, underwater lighting and throttles and autopilot controls in the cockpit in addition to those at the lower and upper helm positions.
Although we don’t mind Awesome’s name we decide to change her name to Rapport – the same as our last boat in Auckland.
So the purchase is finalised and we enjoy a couple of weeks cruising the inner Gulf – Waiheke, Rotoroa, Motutapu and Mahurangi.
We call Coastguard with our trip reports, a service not provided in the Med and it’s great to know that if we have any problems they’ll assist with no strings attached, unlike in the Med where you need to get your vessel cleared by a surveyor after being assisted by Coastguard.
Although we find the fishing slow we manage to feed ourselves and enjoy smoking some fish ashore over a few late afternoon beers. The sandy beach is pristine, litter-free and without the numerous deck chairs and loud music found on many sandy beaches in the Med.
We’re not annoyed by boats moving too fast through anchored boats as found in the Med, except for some jet ski operators at Mahurangi.
Our RHIB had been stored deflated in the lazarette at the time of purchase and when we inflate it we have to repair one leaking seam. Later we encounter more leaking seams and soon totally lose confidence in using this RHIB so return to Hobsonville marina to buy a new one.
Back in the marina I ask one of the contractors to check out our windlass as it’s making a banging noise. It seems the stripper plate is hitting the underside of the gypsy. When they pull the windlass apart they find the circular plate containing the keyway is also damaged, so the windlass is removed to their workshop for inspection. We find it makes more sense to purchase a new windlass rather than invest in the repair of an old unit and delivery is going to take about three weeks, so our initial cruising was short lived.
During our short cruise we’d discovered a few other minor niggling issues – probably as a result of little use in the last eighteen months and these are largely resolved during the wait for our new windlass after contractors return to work in mid-January.
At time of writing this article we’re about to set off again, hopefully with teething issues resolved.
Our last boat Envoy attracted a lot of admirers on the dock or at anchor and we’re now finding the same with Rapport. Of course we still have a few other additions and alterations to transform our boat from Awesome – the full-on game fishing boat to Rapport – the comfortable cruiser, but that’s part of the fun of boating.