Q&A: How To Voyage Safely On A Small Budget?

Question: I’ve been dreaming about my Europe to Caribbean trans-Atlantic trade wind voyage for years, but now I’ve decided to do it in the next 5 years time. I know I won’t have the money to buy an expensive boat so I’m trying to figure out what is the minimum budget to do it without being a fool.

A Vertue 25 at Svalbard

Answer: Though we have recently been talking about expensive gear, such as carbon fiber masts, we don’t want to give anyone the impression that you have to have a lot of money to go cruising safely. Here are some ideas of how to get out there without having a huge budget:

  1. The Boat: There are big, very expensive, and unseaworthy boats and there are small, relatively inexpensive, but very seaworthy boats (e.g. the Contessa 32, the Nicholson 35, the Vertue 25, the Dana 24, etc.). For more on this, see Twenty Affordable Sailboats To Take You Anywhere by Gregg Nestor.
  2. The Gear: A disaster at sea is often due to a lot of small things that add up, so paying attention to detail, making sure that your boat’s gear is strong enough and properly maintained, and knowing how to fix things “when” (note I didn’t say “if”!) they break, will go a very long way to making your journey a safe one. Doing your own work also saves money, meaning you can have a significantly smaller cruising budget than if you rely on boatyards to do the work for you; plus, when you do the work yourself, you can trust it, which isn’t always true of work done by the “professionals”.
  3. The Crew: The most seaworthy boat, if handled incorrectly, can get into trouble. We always encourage anyone interested in going to sea to do so with other experienced sailors and on other boats before doing so on their own boat. It sounds like you have been getting experience on a variety of boats, which will stand you in good stead when you buy, outfit and sail your own boat.
  4. The Budget: You can get a small, relatively inexpensive but still seaworthy boat, do as much of the work yourself as possible, and safely sail within a small budget, especially if you keep the boat simple; i.e. minimal electronics, no refrigeration, no hot running water, etc. Another way to save money is to buy second hand gear through eBay, yacht club bulletins, and nautical flea markets. People are so caught up with having the latest and greatest that you can get some incredible deals on good quality, if dated, equipment.
  5. Further tips: Once you have your own boat, we encourage you to really get to know the boat before you go offshore. Then go on an offshore shakedown cruise in some heavy weather, returning to shore to fix whatever is broken, before you head out on your crossing. Also make sure you have a heavy weather strategy in place.

One last thing: Whatever budget number you come up with for maintenance of the boat, you should double it!

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Meet the Author

John

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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