US$30,000 Starter Cruiser—How It’s Working Out

Two years ago, we asked the question: Is it possible to get started in cruising, with a safe and seaworthy boat, for under C$40,000 (US$30,000)?

  • In Part 1, we looked at how to analyze our own situation.
    • What do we really intend to do with the boat?
    • How do we separate our actual needs and must-have features from our whims, and what can we leave out?
    • What can we afford to commit upfront to buy and fix up the boat, and what can we afford to burn each year to keep her afloat?
  • In Part 2, we put some real money on the table, and traded in the wish list for a C&C 35 Mk.II named Maverick V.

Then we sailed her across Lake Erie, down the Welland Canal, and across Lake Ontario to her new home base in Kingston.

Since then, Maverick V and her crew have been out on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River most weekends, plus one or two evenings a week, during the last couple of sailing seasons.

We’ve now had:

  • The latter half of 2020 to get used to sailing her,
  • the winter of 2020-21 to do some refitting,
  • and the summer of 2021 to see how our upgrades worked out and to finish up some less-urgent tasks.

With pretty much all the parts and materials now purchased, and just a handful of tasks left on the essentials list—plus a handful of surprises that were on nobody’s list—it’s time to check up on the project:

  • Are we within budget?
  • What did we upgrade?
  • What broke?
  • Do the kids enjoy it?
  • Was the whole effort worthwhile?

The Rig

Boom Rehab

As it turns out, “Sail collapses in a great disorderly heap and then you tackle it like a football player” is not a great way to do mainsail reefing and furling. And the boom, after 45 years of abuse and modification, was, while structurally intact, showing its age cosmetically.

So:

  • Off comes all the old hardware,
  • Strip the paint from the spar,
  • Check all over it for damage,
  • Weld up the no-longer-needed screw holes,
  • Repaint it.
  • Install a cost-reduced version of the AAC Reefing Made Easy system using a pair of Andersen 18ST winches and Lewmar DC clutches.
  • Install a set of lazyjacks scaled to fit the 277 sq.ft. mainsail and rigged so that they can be fully collapsed under the original sail cover once the sail ties are on.

Rigid Vang

It also turns out that dead-headed at the top of the mast topping lifts with 1:1 purchase are worse than useless when the loaded boom is heavier than your crew can lift, so in the interests of safety, we bought and installed a Garhauer sprung rigid vang.

New Main Halyard Winch

After Katy’s first few attempts to get the mainsail up by herself were stymied, we decided to splurge on another Andersen self-tailing winch for the main halyard. Hoisting and dousing sail is now an easy one-person job for either of us.

The Engine

We seem to have chosen well (or been lucky) on this front. The engine, and most of its supporting systems, seems to be in fine shape. So far, all we’ve had to do is change the oil & filter, winterize the raw water side of the cooling system, and tighten a drive belt.

Fun You Can Have With Diesel Fuel

The fuel system was a bit more fun. The surveyor noted that the diesel fill hose wasn’t double-clamped; he didn’t know that it had no hose barbs and was just slipped over a smooth copper tube fitting. Yeah, that was a fun day of cleaning out the bilge with an oil extraction pump…at least now we know that the new hose is done right.

The Wiring

Well, this was a fun thing to find in the bilge:

My best guess is that it chafed against its mate many years ago, and got wrapped in tape as a quick get-home fix, and was then forgotten about.

With that found, and with corrosion spotted on several badly-crimped terminals, the decision was obvious: Rip out and replace all the high-current primary wiring.

The original 12V breakers are getting to be in rough shape, too. We’ve put together a new main panel, and are migrating old circuits to the new panel one at a time as we check and refurbish (or replace) each one.

The nav lights also turned out to be shot. And also shorted…from chafe…inside the bow pulpit tubing. So the whole pulpit is coming off, and we’ll replace the whole wiring run with new marine-grade cable while we’re at it.

While some DC wiring remains to be cleaned up and refreshed, the essentials are now functional, and the spending is mostly done—what’s left is just labour time.

Netting

With little kids on board, lifeline netting was also deemed to be a good use of $300 and 16 hours.

The Electronics

Electronic gadgets are a sure way to blow past a refit budget. That said, we really did want a modern, legal VHF-DSC Class D radio with a remote mic to replace the awkwardly placed SC-101 unit.

The Canadian Coast Guard, and the Canadian Power & Sail Squadrons, strongly recommend that a GPS-linked VHF-DSC set is the fastest and best way to get a distress call out, should one ever be needed, or to answer a distress call if you receive one.

We went with a Standard Horizon GX2400 with a RAM4X remote. This unit has a good integrated GPS and also receives AIS, which it can dump onto the NMEA2000 bus if we ever add one, and can be fully controlled from its wireless mic.

Other than that, we’re sticking with iPads for electronic navigation, and have felt no particular compulsion to upgrade the original knotmeter. A new depthsounder might be in the cards, though, and we will (someday) wire up the half-installed wind instrument the boat came with.

The Structure

Rudder

I was very nervous, when we drilled the rudder blade to check for water, whether we’d find rusty sludge dripping out. But we found…nothing. The core is dry.

Keel

Maverick V did develop a very slight “keel smile” in the forward ten inches of the root joint during her first season with us. This is not hugely surprising. Scraping out the crud, cleaning up the bond line, and repairing it with West System G-Flex seems to have done the trick, and the issue did not recur.

A fresh coat of Interlux VC17 rounded out the hull work.

Cosmetics

Her decks could use repainting, and some of the brightwork needs sanding and varnishing. In her current state, nobody’s going to mistake her for a fancy modern boat. But she’s safe, seaworthy, fun, and serves her “starter cruiser” role very nicely.

The Budget

Spent to Date

We promised we’d give you readers the real numbers for this exercise: no guesswork, no hemming and hawing. So here are the sums. All figures are in Canadian dollars.

  • Purchase boat: Target $20,000. Actual $17,500.
  • Taxes & fees: Budget $3,000. Actual $2,445.
  • Purchasing overhead: Target $2,000. Actual $1,949.
  • Essential safety gear: Target $2,000. Actual $2,216.
  • Initial refit parts & labour: Target $5,000. Actual $5,104.
  • Refit & delivery overhead: Target $2,000. Actual $1,681.
  • Refit unknowns in 1st & 2nd year: Target $6,000. Actual $6,844.

All told, we’ve put C$37,738 into:

  • The purchase,
  • all the taxes and fees associated with it,
  • the initial repair and refit,
  • the overhead (travel, survey charges, haul & launch, etc.) associated with choosing the boat and getting her to our home port,
  • and the remaining refit items we decided on after living with the boat for a year.

That’s right in line with our budget of C$40,000 (US$30,000)

Boat Worth Today

None of the overhead and taxes, and only about half of the refit expenses, would be recouped in the value of the boat.

Indeed, the boat—if we can eyeball it based on current market data—would probably be worth about $24,000 – $26,000 CAD in her post-refit condition. This is as expected. One does not start fixing up an older boat in the hopes of making money on the deal!

With the marina, haul-out crane, and winter storage yard taking a combined $4900/year and the insurer claiming a $600 premium, our CAD$7,000 (US$5200) a year total cost of ownership (TCO) budget leaves about CAD$1500 for the boat itself.

With the repair and refit expenses (if not the labour) nearly complete, the spending should drop considerably for the next few years, so we have a good chance of keeping the entire endeavour within budget over the originally projected five years¹.

¹[See this article for how Matt budgeted TCO (taking into account sale value of the boat) the number that really matters.]

Is Everyone Happy?

Yes! Sailing is, as we all know, a ton of fun. The boat has helped us to reconnect with friends, and with nature. She gives us a chance to slow down, to put the smartphones away, and to enjoy the peace and simplicity of life on the water for a while.

Now that the kids are a bit older (7 and 3), we’ll be able to go farther afield this year. Exploration awaits!

Further Reading

Comments

Leave a comment if you have questions for Matt.

Also, have you managed to put together a viable starter cruiser for under, let’s say, US$50,000? If so, tell us about it including what you had to fix, and what’s left to do.

Like what you just read? Get lots more:

Learn About Membership

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  2. Is It a Need or a Want?
  3. Buying a Boat—A Different Way To Think About Price
  4. Buying a Cruising Boat—Five Tips for The Half-Assed Option
  5. Are Refits Worth It?
  6. Buying a Boat—Never Say Never
  7. Five Ways That Bad Boats Happen
  8. The Two Biggest Lies Yacht Brokers Tell
  9. Learn From The Designers
  10. You May Need a Bigger Boat Than You Think
  11. Sail Area: Overlap, Multihulls, And Racing Rules
  12. 8 Tips For a Great Cruising Boat Interior Arrangement
  13. Of Cockpits, Wheelhouses And Engine Rooms
  14. Cockpits—Part 1, Safe and Seamanlike
  15. Cockpits—Part 2, Visibility and Ergonomics
  16. Offshore Sailboat Winches, Selection and Positioning
  17. Choosing a Cruising Boat—Shelter
  18. Choosing A Cruising Boat—Shade and Ventilation
  19. Pitfalls to Avoid When Buying a New Voyaging Boat
  20. Cyclical Loading: Why Offshore Sailing Is So Hard On A Boat
  21. Cycle Loading—8 Tips for Boat and Gear Purchases
  22. Characteristics of Boat Building Materials
  23. Impact Resistance—How Hull Materials Respond to Impacts
  24. Impact Resistance—Two Collision Scenarios
  25. Hull Materials, Which Is Best?
  26. The Five Things We Need to Check When Buying a Boat
  27. Six Warnings About Buying Fibreglass Boats
  28. Buying a Fibreglass Boat—Hiring a Surveyor and Managing the Survey
  29. What We Need to Know About Moisture Meters and Wet Fibreglass Laminate
  30. Offshore Sailboat Keel Types
  31. US$30,000 Starter Cruiser—Part 1, How We Shopped For Our First Cruising Sailboat
  32. US$30,000 Starter Cruiser—Part 2, The Boat We Bought
  33. US$30,000 Starter Cruiser—How It’s Working Out
  34. Q&A, What’s the Maximum Sailboat Size For a Couple?
  35. At What Age should You Stop Sailing And Buy a Motorboat?
  36. A Motorsailer For Offshore Voyaging?

Matt, Engineering Correspondent, is a Professional Engineer and true renaissance man, with a wide range of expertise including photography and all things boat design. He has a unique ability to make complex subjects easy to understand and he keeps an eye on the rest of us to make sure that we don’t make any technical mistakes. Working as M. B. Marsh Marine Design, Matt designs innovative powerboats of all shapes and sizes.

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Pedro Fernando

Hi Matt

Can only thank you for keeping up these articles.

I missed the first 2, believe or not, but ive catch up right now.
Great, great stuff!

Reed Erskine

I’ve always said that a sail boat is the best money losing investment I’ve ever made. The intangible benefits of all the education, pleasure, mental and physical health derived from owning and sailing a boat are definitely worth the material “losses” from depreciation, wear and tear, and obsolescence that are among the burdens of sailboat ownership.

Dick Stevenson

Hi Reed,
Well put and so true.
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Dan Perrott

It looks like you have ended up with a nice boat Matt. Nicely done with setting a realistic budget and staying there.

Our total came to a little bit more at £50000. But this has taken us from Europe to Brazil and onto the Caribbean.
We started with a very well kept Wauquiez Prétorien. That was completely usable for coastal marina hopping with nothing required.
This was for us a significant upgrade from the Jaguar 27(UK Catalina 27) I had a part share in.

As well as a selection of smaller jobs we:
Added an arch and 400W of solar
Doubled the size of the house battery bank. And renewed the main wiring
Upsized the alternator.
New life raft
Inner forestay added and storm jib.
Added a new anchor and 60m of chain (we didn’t think the 10kg (20lb) Bruce would cut it).
Brought a Dinghy.
Updated some of the tired running rigging.

What we didn’t do was change the old autohelm instruments and autopilot and we still don’t feel the need to.

5 years in and we are now planning to pull the mast for a better check than we achieve off the end of a halyard and replace the standing rigging. We are also due a new Genoa, although ongoing repairs to the 2 that came with the boat has kept them functional.

Finding the right boat to start made a huge difference to how much we needed to do. We could almost have just turned the fridge off and left.

James Evans

Great to see a genuinely attainable cruising boat. Great work Matt.

Richard Moore

I’m looking to get started with a small boat capable of crossing oceans, I have a $15,000 budget and $65 a week to spend on upkeep and upgrades.

I can make do with an extremely simple boat, no frills whatsoever as I simply wish to experience sailing without distractions.

Is this possible?

Just has to be seaworthy and easily single handed, I would appreciate guidance on how to go about picking out a suitable boat here in the UK

John Harries

Hi Richard,

I think the combination of ocean ready and those numbers is probably a stretch. Colin and I have looked at this and concluded that about US$100,000 is the number, all in, as soon as we add ocean capable to the mix. The problem is that even if we buy a very inexpensive boat the costs of making her truly ocean capable, since at that price point she will be old, add up quickly. And it’s important to understand that although Matt has kept the costs much lower than that, he has not dug into the stuff required to make his boat ocean capable.

We have a lot more information on all of that here, including some recommended boats to look at: https://www.morganscloud.com/category/refits/

So, my suggestion would be to drop the ocean capable requirement, at least for now and just focus on coastal cruising, in which case you might be able to hit your budget, although the boat will probably be quite small, and require quite a lot of work to get ready for any sort of cruising.

The key thing working for you here is that you are willing to keep the boat super simple, which will certainly help you meet you goal. You may also find, particularly with a smaller boat, that you can source a lot of the required gear second hand.

If you can up your budget a bit, one of these might be a good choice: https://www.yachtworld.com/boats-for-sale/make-sigma/model-33/

If you want a boat in your budget, one of these Scampis might be a good option, :https://www.yachtfocus.com/en/used-boats-for-sale/easy-sail/193267/albin-scampi-30.html

I loved the Scampi when she came out all those years ago however I have no idea how well they were built or what problems they may have 50 years on.

Dick Stevenson

Hi John,
Your recent response to Richard’s question, underlines, for me, one of the really valuable aspects of AAC’s contribution to cruising journalism: a realistic appraisal of the ingredients that makes for a safe platform to go to sea. The closest writing in my early years was the book “Desirable and Undesirable Characteristics of the Offshore Yachts”, probably still worth reading.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

John Harries

Hi Dick,

Thanks for the kind words, and I agree, “Desirable and Undesirable Characteristics of the Offshore Yachts” is a classic and will always be worth a read.

Ben Wallace

Matt – Great articles and I appreciate your description of Maverick V’s capabilities, it perfectly describes “the mission” for our first cruising boat – my wife and I are experienced Lightning racers but have limited cruising experience.  I have two questions:  First, can you point me to resources for determining TCO, we’re currently looking at boats in the $50-100k range with a TCO budget of ~$20k/yr but not sure if I’m calculating that correctly.  Second, we’ve been searching for the past 9 months (made offers on two boats – Ericson 38-200 and Morgan 382) and would like input on boat designs/models that fit the budget and intended use.  We expect to keep the boat on the coast of Maine and are hoping to find something with a nice mix of comfort (underway and at anchor) and performance, even though we don’t intend to race.

John Harries

Hi Ben,

In addition to Matt’s great comment, you can also find our maintenance calculator here: https://www.morganscloud.com/2014/07/28/estimating-the-cost-of-maintaining-a-voyaging-sailboat/

Dick Stevenson

Hi Matt and John,
I get variations of the: how much will it cost?, will it work out financially?, how much do you spend?, question quite frequently.
My answer is that it is quite likely that if you handled successfully your land-based financial life, that you will likely do so in your boat-based life. That if you used good judgment in your land-based life that you will continue to do so on the water. Put another way: it is more a matter of character than it is the amount of money at your disposal.
So, I suspect someone with good judgment will collect data on TCO such as has been suggested and weave that in with all the other variables to come up with something that works.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

Mark Wilson

Hi Richard

So it seems from the comments below that you aren’t going to make it with a 30 footer. But if you are serious about extremely simple and no frills how about going down 4 or 5 more feet and look for something like a Contessa 26 or a Folkboat ? Definitely ocean capable in the right condition.

Of course it helps if you are not too large or old. I went to the Azores and back to UK in a Folkboat in my early twenties and had a fantastic time. I would have gone further if the Stuart Turner petrol engine had worked slightly more often and if I hadn’t met my future wife in Horta. She was almost as tall as me and strongly suggested an upgrade.

Not all the boats for sale in this price range are listed on Yachtworld. Many are on the sell your own sites like apolloduck.co.uk. There’s a somewhat battered grp Folksong on ebay at the moment with the current bid at £10.50.

If you are patient something will come along which someone has already done most of the work on. New engine and rigging for preference.

Best

Mark

John Harries

Hi Mark,

Great idea. I once met a single hander sailing a Folkboat and having a wonderful time…in Greenland. As long as you are tough, and probably relatively young, amazing voyages can be made in very small boats. Some can even substitute super-tough for young, like Willy Ker who regularly cruised the Arctic in his Contessa 32 well into his 80s.

Star Tracker

that’s an awesome story! Do you have any pictures or writing from the trip? Sounds wonderful. +1 to the yachtworld issue. I would go so far as to say that likely none of the suitable boats will be on there. However I did save listings I liked and waited for them to expire without a sale. Then reached out to the broker, with excellent results. Other good sources are Marinas and yards, find out what lawyer they use for selling off ones with unpaid bills especially and reach out to them too. I scored a Columbia 43 for someone this way, offshore veteran complete with a Cape Horn watermaker and all sorts of goodies for about 2400 pounds(4100$). Do this early, and then in the 6 weeks before moorage will be due for the year make your rounds again. Go to yards and marinas, explain what you’re looking for and have some business cards with your name and number on them. It’s amazing how many calls you’ll get over time this way. Often you can find true gems, where the owners health took a turn and a nicely fitted out boat that needs neglect reversed and a good bath will go for pennies compared to the same boat cleaned up on yachtworld. Often the first place they stop is their marina office and they mention they are wanting to sell her on, at which point the cards you have spread around come in handy.

Star Tracker

I was actually just starting my refit with similar goals, I haven’t documented much yet, and with a serious injury putting me off work(and walking) for the season not much will be happening. However I think I am still on target for 50k CAD ready to go offshore, with adequate spares on board, though that would require a captain experienced enough to do it, which I am not. That number will be without some of the nice-to-haves like a watermaker(unless somebody here has a energy recovery one that has failed, I have some ideas I want to try out, don’t mind the state of the unit and none of the feed pumps will be reused, all I care about is the ER unit being rebuildable for these tests, if they prove successful it may be a way to economically build reliable efficient watermakers for less. I am not counting moorage costs, because it is also normally my home for about 1/3 the cost per month of a studio apartment. Though a lot depends on material price changes between now and when I can get back at it. This is for a 33′ steel cutter, well fitted out for offshore use but tired. Somewhat like the Adventure 40, they were a small builder that specialized in the same niche you are going for with the A40, and this one’s interior was a custom layout that mirrors many of your choices. I am giving serious consideration to replacing the nav station with a shower based on your discussions here. I could post the original line drawings and design brief from the manufacturer if you’d like? The original factory layout was entirely different, and I doubt I’d have bought her with such. They no longer build these, and haven’t for decades as they found by going to a 36′ they could charge far more for relatively low increase in labour.
The big 3 for variables on cost are sails, electronics(do I go open source or name brand?) and whatever hull repairs are needed once we strip the paint above the waterline(below was blasted to bare metal and coated to original specs again). As a bonus, the brother in law of the previous owner owns the company that built her, so I am lucky to be able to ask questions and get specifications for paint systems etc.
I’ve been lucky with many bits so far, for example, I found a drop in replacement for my well cared for but aging Yanmar 3GM30F, a 3 cylinder 3JH including mounts and transmission with <200 hours for about 2500$ CAD delivered.