What’s in Your Wallet?

They went first to the boat store. “Show us the yachts for po’ folks!” he shouted jovially to the clerk as they entered.

“They’re all for po’ folks!” the clerk said. “You’ll be po’ when you finish buying one!”

“A View of the Woods,” Flannery O’Connor

There’s no getting around it: This is going to be an expensive month. We’re at Puerto del Rey Marina on Puerto Rico’s east coast. It’s the largest marina in the Caribbean with slips for some 1,000 boats. That means it has a range of supplies and services we may be hard pressed to find once we head farther down the islands. So we are digging in for a month to tackle some major projects, including a complete engine overhaul. Open wallet, extract credit card, ouch.

Seriously, how much does it cost to live on a boat? I was brought up to believe it’s impolite to ask people about their personal finances, and most of our friends, being polite people themselves, have refrained from inquiring about our expenditures. Instead, given all the time and money they’ve watched us pour into Corroboree, they probably just think to themselves, That boat is costing Eric and Arliss a small fortune. They’re nuts!

Well, yes, we are. You’ll get no argument from us on that. But we are also constantly figuring and refiguring our expenses: How much does it cost? Do we really need it? Can we get it secondhand or make it ourselves? Now that we’ve been underway for a few months, it’s time to see how this plays out.

To date, our biggest expense has been equipment/repairs, and sometimes it seems we’ve had more than our share. Until we talk with other sailors—Good grief, there isn’t a cruising boat afloat that isn’t a constant work-in-progress. As the husband of a Dutch couple stoically intoned after thirteen years of living aboard, “Everything breaks.” Especially when your boat is 30 years old, still carrying much of her original equipment, and has never been ocean tested before.

Consequently, since leaving St. Augustine we have broken/repaired/modified/replaced: the jib sail, halyard and headstay ($1,100), the mainsail halyard, reef line, lazyjacks and gooseneck ($800), and the bow/anchor platform ($700). We’ve upgraded our anchoring gear with a new bigger anchor and chain ($800). We’re also ditching our cumbersome old spinnaker pole for a new lightweight one ($1,100) and have acquired a nifty little outboard motor ($850) for our dinghy. The engine overhaul—which requires the engine to be removed from the boat and taken to a shop in San Juan—will be a whopper: $2,000 for parts and $4,000 for labor, for a grand total of $6,000. So, $11,350 in just five months. Again, ouch!

On the other hand, how much are our lives worth? All these changes will make Corroboree stronger, safer and easier to handle. The engine overhaul, in particular, will take a big load off our minds. We didn’t discover how much oil the engine was burning until we had to start motorsailing in the Bahamas, and we’ve been coaxing it along ever since. This is our chance to ensure it’s in tip-top condition before we head farther south.

Mostly because of these repairs, our second biggest expense to date has been marina dockage fees. Marinas charge based on your boat length at anywhere from $1-$3 per foot per day with discounts for weekly and monthly stays. Our month doing repairs at Dinner Key Marina in Miami cost $1,300. Here at Puerto del Rey it will be $1,100 (including Puerto Rico’s 11% sales tax!) for 35-foot Corroboree. Once our repairs are complete, we can anchor out for free. But marinas also have some lovely perks for cruising sailors, like real bathrooms with hot showers, a laundry, an air-conditioned lounge, free wi-fi and excellent security. So we won’t give them up entirely.

Other boat expenses include annual insurance ($2,000) and registration ($100), diesel fuel and a seemingly endless supply of marine fittings. Since you don’t want to be stranded in some isolated place for lack of a $10 shackle, Corroboree carries enough backup parts to qualify as a floating hardware store. Some countries require cruising permits ($300 for the Bahamas, $100 for the Dominican Republic) and to go exploring on shore we have the occasional car rental. A mail forwarding service ($22/month) and our DeLorme satellite phone ($26/month) keep us in touch with family and friends. Finally, we have the routine living expenses of health care (Medicare), phone/computer, food and entertainment.

But while living on a boat is not necessarily cheap, here are some expenses we no longer have at all: No house upkeep, no property taxes and homeowner’s insurance, no security system. No yard and swimming pool maintenance, no pest control. No Comcast, which was generally terrible anyway. No car repairs, gasoline and insurance. Thanks to solar power, we’re off the grid and pay no electric bills.

Soon—very soon, we hope—we should be out of shakedown mode. Everything that can possibly break will have broken, and we’ll be on to carefree cruising. Because what the wife of the Dutch couple replied to her husband’s “Everything breaks” comment was “Yes, but oh! the life!” We’re looking forward to that life.

Until it all breaks again.