How should you plan a sabbatical cruise with your other half, your kids, or for retirement? Elaine Bunting hears three crews’ advice
If Kate or Russell Hall wanted to know where their eight-year-old and six-year-old boys had got to, all they would have to do was look along the pontoon for their shoes. Two little pairs of sandals cast aside showed where the two boys had leapt aboard another yacht to play with kids they’d never met until a few days before.
I met the Halls on the ‘family pontoon’ of the 2019 ARC transatlantic rally, where the organisers gather the boats with children on board. Here crews were quickly making friends, and kids hopping on and off each others’ boats while the adults worked through long jobs lists in preparation for their imminent ocean crossing.
Across the marina from the Halls, Ann Graydon and Richard Gauthier had befriended their cruising doppelgängers, another Canadian couple also sailing an Outremer catamaran, and were trading tips and advice with fellow cruisers.
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These kinds of friendships and bonds slip into place easily when you are away cruising. But just how do you get here? The financial planning, the boat and equipment choice, the homeschooling: where do you start? We asked three crews at different stage of life how they made it happen.
Kaj Maass and Malin Andersson
Bavaria 38 Ocean Cross Ocean
Outside the fantasy world of YouTube channels, it’s actually quite rare to see under-30s off cruising. Why? Because ‘living the dream’ involves such long-term planning and stringent savings that the plan often dissolves before it can be brought to fruition. But it can be done, as proved by Swedish sailors Kaj Maass (28) and Malin Andersson (29).
“We’ve been sailing since we were kids with our families,” says Kaj. “Not racing sailors, but typical Swedish holiday sailors. Kaj, an engineer, and Malin, a pre-school teacher, met eight years ago when Kaj had a 20ft keelboat. They spent their last summer before university cruising and camping.
After university, they began saving hard and three years ago bought a Bavaria 38 Ocean. While still working, they moved on board. Cross Ocean cost them €80,000. They chose the Bavaria 38 because they were looking for a boat with a centre cockpit. “We feel safer and we wanted an aft cabin and a good, sea-safe galley,” explains Kaj.
Extras and upgrades for long-distance cruising cost them another €30-40,000. They fitted a new engine, replaced the standing rigging, bought a Hydrovane and satellite communications. They dropped the rudder and the keel and reinforced the area around it. Of the total budget, around €10,000 was spent on safety equipment.
“We decided not to fit a watermaker or generator. I know how hard work it is to maintain that,” says Kaj. “We wanted to concentrate on the things that matter in the real world.”
Skimping and saving
The couple stopped working last June and have taken an absence of leave from their jobs for one year –“but we have budgeted for being away for three years if we want to,” says Malin.
They don’t deny that skimping on all but the basics while working was hard. “Our contemporaries were spending a lot of money on weekend trips and we were putting it all in the boat. We didn’t go to any fancy nightclubs or restaurants. We decided to spend our money on living experiences and not buying things and I think it gives you more satisfaction,” says Kaj.
“We asked people what do we need per month and we saved enough for €2,000 per month for three years. Our budget has been stretched getting down here, with the cost of marinas. It has been around €2,500 per month.”
Their advice to other younger sailors planning to go before settling into a career and raising a family is: “Don’t dream too big. Set up a realistic plan. We saved around 80% of our income for two years. Our goal was to save €4,000 a month,” says Kaj.
Anyone thinking of doing the same should have realistic expectations of the ‘liberated’ life of the long-term cruiser. Kaj puts it perfectly when he says that cruising is “small problem solving all the time.”
“Living on board is like a job,” Malin agrees. “You need to plan more of your day: for example, doing the laundry. But we love living on board and we enjoy being close to nature – you can explore a lot of places.”
“The most important thing we have learned is the need to slow down. It’s work all the time – planning navigating, maintenance,” says Kaj. “But you can decide what you want to do. We share the responsibility and talk about our fears, and if we need help or we need a break for a while. We are quite organised and we are working together.”
Russell, Kate, Hugo and Felix Hall
Hallberg-Rassy 46 Kathryn del Fuego
The traditional, solid bluewater cruiser has rather fallen out of fashion in rally fleets. Yet these can represent a fantastic buy for couples or families with bluewater ambitions. Older models from builders such as Hallberg-Rassy, Malö, Contest, Oyster and others have many virtues: steady, medium displacement cruisers with seakindly attributes, most with centre cockpit layouts, large aft cabins and a secure place for young children in the centre of the boat.
Happily, many of these types were well built, and have generally been very well cared for and regularly refitted. Some may have done many miles, perhaps even a circumnavigation, yet be capable of so much more. They also tend to hold their value, a big consideration if you have a time-limited plan.
Refitting a second-hand yacht for new adventures has some other advantages: in the process you get to know your boat from stem to stern, and understand how the systems work. They also come ready equipped with an inventory of 101 assorted items you are going to need. These persuasive factors mean a good-quality secondhand yacht may, for some, even be preferable to buying new.
A sensible choice
This was what Russell and Kate Hall decided to do. The Halls had reached a point in their careers when they felt they could take two years off, and their two boys, Hugo (8) and Felix (6), were old enough to enjoy and remember the voyage. Russell sold his veterinary practice and Kate is taking a break from her job as a civil engineer and design director of the UK’s HS2 high-speed train programme.
They wanted a seaworthy centre cockpit boat with three cabins, straight spreaders for downwind sailing (swept back spreaders can be restrictive dead downwind and are more prone to chafing the mainsail), “and we also wanted a draught no greater than 2m,” adds Russell.
“Within our budget we were looking at an Oyster 47 a Hallberg-Rassy 46 and a Contest 48. Then it was a case of finding it, and that took quite a long time.”
Eventually they found a 20-year-old, lightly used Hallberg-Rassy 46, which they renamed Kathryn del Fuego. They feel it’s a sensible financial choice. “It will depreciate but it will still have a value when we come to sell – it’s not a sunk cost. And we are letting our house so we have a small income,” says Kate.
Russell spent six months refitting the boat, having a watermaker and a generator installed, changing all the electronics and fitting a bimini and solar panels. He left work six months before the family was due to sail from the UK, but still they were finishing off jobs as they left last summer.
Their plan is to spend time in the Caribbean then sail into the Pacific and continue as far as Thailand before shipping back home – “ but we are flexible,” they add.
They readily admit that sailing with children is not easy. “It’s really like sailing single-handed. There are jobs that require both of us and you have to rely on the children to keep themselves safe at times,” says Kate.
“Somebody said to us that living with kids on a boat for a year is like living on land with them for four years,” she laughs. “It can be quite draining but it’s also part of the reason why we are doing this, so it’s the yin and yang.”
Home schooling was a very daunting prospect, Kate admits. “I was quite scared about it. But they are at an age where they can keep up with English and maths. We try to have projects that are relevant to the places we are visiting. So my advice would be: be easier on yourself.
“We started with five hours’ schooling a day and now we do two or two-and-a-half. Chill and relax; it all works out. In fact, I suppose we school all day. It doesn’t have to be with the workbook; there are always things to learn.”
Asked what advice they would give, Russell says: “It doesn’t need to be perfect, just good enough. We were very strict about our leave date. You could have a perfect boat and still things will break. But you do need to know your boat, or a small repair can take a long time.
“We have also learnt how good the yachting community is. Everyone really looks after each other. We may have left friends and family behind but you quickly make new friends while cruising. The kids also have to make friends in each port; they get good at doing that.”
Ann Graydon and Richard Gauthier
Outremer 51 2 Canoës
At the end of their careers and work commitments are Canadians Ann Graydon and Richard Gauthier. Ann and Richard bought their brand new Outremer 51 in 2017, and since then have been living on board and cruising in the Med. They were about to cross the Atlantic, and were discussing a wishlist for the next 10-15 years: San Blas; Chile; Baja; South Pacific…
Ann (54), a retired theatre nurse, and Richard (61), a former actuary, have been planning their ‘freedom cruise’ for over two decades. In 1992, aged 34, Richard started a spreadsheet in which he set out how much he would need to buy a new boat and set off in comfort at 55. He reasoned that “usually people either have the time or the money, but seldom have both.”
Calculating that “$100 would be $300 at 55 and the big ticket items such as children’s education would be done,” he began investing. “I knew that the earlier I started the less the saving requirement would be to do what I wanted. So I put away 7-10% of my income on a weekly basis and adjusted my standard of living to fit that.”
Perhaps more could do the same, but people get often drawn on to what psychologists call ‘the hedonic treadmill’. As Richard observes: “The problem is that if you climb yourself into a standard of living, it [traps you] into continuing to work.”
By resisting this, making shrewd investments and latterly downsizing from a house to a two-bedroom apartment in Toronto to keep a foothold in the market, they reached their retirement goal. For a time, Richard continued to work part-time, but eventually quit. “You have to be near an airport, read your emails every few days, have a phone signal. It polluted the first two years, so I just cut it. I have zero regrets.”
In equipping their boat, they have been pragmatic, adding only gear that will help them be self-sufficient with some basic home comforts. “We don’t have a generator. A generator would weigh 300kg or more and sailing performance is important to us. Then there are the spares and maintenance to consider. We think that not having one is a big plus. We try to live with a low carbon footprint.
“When we are at anchor, if it’s sunny we can feed the boat with our solar panels. When we are on the go, we use our Watt And Sea hydrogenerators, and if we are sailing above 8 knots we will run out of food before we run out of energy. The Watt And Sea makes enough power for us to run the watermaker without starting the engine.” They recommend having two autopilot systems. 2 Canoës has a quadrant linear drive and a tiller pilot.
Some things they have learned on the way: the small air conditioning unit installed for their aft cabin is “just good enough. We can run it on batteries for 24 hours but actually what we do is cool the cabin down before bedtime and then turn it off. Once asleep you don’t need it.”
They have a hydronic heating system throughout the boat with fans in each cabin. The circuit goes through the water tanks so they can have both heat and hot water.
Richard says the most important thing (besides having the money to buy a boat and leave) is “to make sure your spouse is on board with the plans” and says it’s important to build complementary abilities. “We switch around jobs and share tasks like maintenance and engine maintenance. You both need to have a complete set of skills.”
What to take with you
- A standalone induction hob: “We have a gas hob installed and this gives us both – it’s useful in harbour and we can save on gas but it is energy hungry.”
- A 3 kg washing machine: “Great for doing a load of T-shirts, but not underway when moving. We’re not fans of public laundries, so it’s a thing we really appreciate.”
- Sunscreens on windows to help keep down the heat.
- Electric winches: “Given our plan to make sure we can sail as long as possible.”
- A domestic heating blanket: “If it’s cold we can just put that on before bed.”
- Repeater instruments in the cabin: “Set up to show wind direction, speed and history and visible from the bunk.”
- Wifi network and 4G modem: “We can do everything from streaming to updating our charts.”
- In-line filter for tank water: “No need to bring plastic bottles on board.”
- Boat hull logo: “We got a great logo from DesignCrowd. You choose your designer, work with them and they send you a PS file for the vinyl.”
What to leave behind
- Sound system: “A bit of a waste. In practice we listen on an iPhone using headphones and it is too noisy when sailing to hear music of quality anyway.”
- TV: “We don’t want a TV. We both use our iPads instead.”
First published in the January 2020 edition of Yachting World.