July 28, 2011

Real Cruising

The anchorage off of Nao Nao motu on the south end of Raitea might be the prettiest we’ve ever been in: crystal clear water with nice snorkelling, a barrier reef, a tiny palm-lined atoll and soaring peaks as the back drop. Miles from the busy part of the island it feels isolated and peaceful; the perfect place to get a few chores done.

And I’m almost positive that the couple of charter boats we shared the anchorage with were bewildered by the non-kicked back life of ‘real’ cruisers. We were there with Don Q and another Canadian family on a boat called Rhythm and while the charter boats swam, and read, and played, and relaxed we did all the normal stuff normal people do: laundry, cleaning, school, and fixing broken stuff.
cat country in Raiatea
I was recently asked how much broken stuff is normal, what part of a cruising budget should be applied to maintenance and replacement, and what strategies future cruisers can employ to avoid having to fix stuff when they want to be playing. I was also asked if the numbers of repairs we’ve had are typical.

As far as what’s normal—it tends to depend on the complexity of the boat, its age and the number of miles that are on it. The bones of our boat are over 20-years-old and in the past two years we’ve travelled nearly 10,000 miles. So we’re pretty normal for our age. I also (unlike many people we know) blog about everything that breaks. But budget-wise the ballpark seems to be double-triple your normal maintenance budget to make up for added wear and higher costs and expect 1-2 major systems to need replacing, or overhauling each year.
when the boat ain't being worked on life is sublime
In the past three months I don’t think we’ve met more than one or two boats that haven’t had at least one major replacement or repair. In this year’s fleet four boats had rudders fall off, several had outboards that died or dinghies that deflated. Others had sail drives and transmissions that went, sails that needed replacing, rigging that failed or generators that gave up. There were also main engine failures, lost propellers, auto pilots that quit, radios went on the blink and windlasses that died. And this doesn’t even include all the smaller problems including all those personal electronics that begin with an “i”.

As far as a strategy to avoid having something major break somewhere expensive and inconvenient—part of it is luck. We know people who try to cope with this by starting out with everything new—if you are only cruising for a year or two chances are most stuff will be fine (although we’ve seen enough people trying for warranty repairs in distant places to know this isn’t remotely foolproof). The problem with this strategy is if you cruise longer than two years you’ll reach a point where a whole bunch of stuff will go at once and it will never happen when you want it too.
working on boats in exotic places might be inconvenient-but baby, that's Bora Bora we're heading toward
The other strategy that most long term cruisers seem to employ is to simply accept stuff is going to break and then do the replacements when the need arises. The two strategies are actually pretty identical—the only difference is in the attitude. There will be those cruisers who don’t mind so much paying a premium to replace stuff in Tahiti—and simply consider it part of the deal. And there will be those who will go kicking and screaming to the bank…

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