cruising prep

7 Budget Lessons

7 Budget Lessons

How much does it cost to go cruising? How about asking what questions you need to ask to figure out what YOU will need to go cruising? Here are 7 lessons we learned about budgeting that make us confident we’re on the right track for the next cruise!

Bring the joy

I recently read the book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”*, and while I’m glad I borrowed it from the library instead of buying it, one concept in particular has stuck in my head – the tossing-out criteria that your possessions should bring you joy.

This is especially apt when we’re going through our 19-years-of-life-in-the-same-house stuff, preparing to move onto our small sailboat. It’s apt for the kids as they prep for college, though they’d look at me sideways if I used that criteria when talking to them about their belongings. They already think my love of personal development is a tad over the top.

My bookshelf can stand some weeding. The books on there have all, at some point in time or other, brought me joy (that, or they were a good deal, or a gift); for some of them, that joy is past. It’s time for someone else to have those. For some reason this idea isn’t daunting. I love my books. I love being surrounded by books. Yet the idea of shedding 95% of the titles that are on the shelves feels right. I can have the ones that matter most with me, and I can have room on the shelves for ones that appear along the journey.

My clothing is an entire different story. I think wholesale donation or a “buy nothing” group or consignment is in order. Do I dare just do that in one afternoon? I might be wearing the same outfits 10 days in a row. Would anyone notice other than me? The dilemma on that one is that I’m in full penny-pinching mode, trying hard NOT to spend money on non-boat things. This concept does not play nicely with my loathing of shopping consignment or thrift; I detest the hunt for a decent outfit in the mismatched displays. I am not a confident clothes shopper, and sifting through racks of things is just not something I enjoy.

Still, I’d love to put on clothing every day that brings me joy, from my undergarments to a coat. Imagine what that would do to my outlook on the world, to start the day from a place of joy. And when we’re cruising? Why not enhance it any way I can?

This concept hits me over and over again in the kitchen as I cook, one eye to the food prep and one eye to the tools I use. I’m noticing my choices, that I gravitate to the same pots and pans and bowls over and over and over again. They tend to the solid, the brightly-colored. Using them brings a smile to my face. Are they the practical choices? Of course not, not from a traditional “good boat material” standpoint. They’re ceramic, not stainless steel. Cast iron. Wood. The French press is a glass one. Most pieces have a story with them, a story of how or why they came to be in my possession. As I write this I realize that all of them require some degree of care, much like the cruising lifestyle requires some degree of care. Is this part of what brings me joy, that they need to be cared for?

My grandmother's cast iron skillet, cooking arepas

My grandmother's cast iron skillet, cooking arepas

I’m looking forward to carefully choosing the items that will come with us on board. The book has given me a way to sift through what we have, a question to ask to help frame the right answer. Cruising is a lifestyle that’s intended, at least the way we do it, to bring joy. Everything on board should be able to do that as well.

See you out there.

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Photo of the month: May

Boat projects tend to run in cycles, longer ones that anyone wants to think about.

The main May project was getting Calypso back in the water, which was accomplished in style on May 15. Perfect timing since we'd paid for half the month in the yard. Now she's in her slip at FBYC, waiting for hard work and some sailing days.


We seem to be on a cycle of one weekend at the boat, one weekend at home. Since the beginning of April, there have been speech contests and political events, the Annapolis spring show, and work travel conflicting with our need to get to work on Calypso

There are house projects too. Jeremy's built scaffolding to fix some rotten siding pieces before we hire a painter to paint the house.


True to form, there is more than one photo in this post titled "Photo of the month". 

It's hard to limit it to just one!


All I've got for you today is a picture.

I've been wrestling with a long piece for the website today, a piece I think and hope will help a whole lot of people, and my brain is mush.

But this picture reminds me that it's all for a reason. That there's deep beauty in this world. That sunsets are worth savoring.

Take a breath and savor. I am.


Long Hair or Short Hair?

Someone said to me today, "Oh! Your hair is so long."

It is, sort of.

Compared to where it was years ago, it's not all that long. 

Years ago, my hair was long.

Years ago, my hair was long.

What does the length of my hair have to do with going cruising, anyway? Make it whatever length you want, right?

And do guys EVER worry about this stuff?

There are pros and cons to whatever length you choose, of course. Aren't there pros and cons to any single decision you make in your life, like ever?

Here's what I like about long hair.

This was yesterday, right?

This was yesterday, right?

  1. I can pull it back into a pony tail, or braid it. Instant "out of face" decision.
  2. If I go for a few days without a shower, and I pull it back in a ponytail or braid it, nobody is really the wiser unless they look too closely at it.
  3. It's easy to not really care about a hair cut - chop inches off or not. No need to find a decent hairdresser wherever I am.
  4. It's easy to make it look fancy. Sometimes "making it look fancy" means I have showered, washed my hair, and brushed it. 
  5. I still like to chew on my hair when I'm nervous. Sorry for the TMI.
  6. Wearing my hair down is an instant way to spice up date night, or sundowner night, or turn any evening into a special occasion. Given budgetary constraints, this is a cheap way to make an impression.
  7. There's no conversation about what to do with it at workout time. Ponytail it is!
  8. Earrings twinkle like surprises when they're in long hair.
  9. A baseball cap is an easy hat to wear - it serves as ponytail holder and sun visor all in one. I like multitasking things on a boat.
  10. My hair LOVES humidity - so long hair looks wavy and full and fun.
  11. Jeremy likes me with long hair. 

And here's what I like about short hair:

Short hair!

Short hair!

  1. It is so easy to take care of.
  2. Save money on shampoo, and no need for conditioner.
  3. It dries in about 3 minutes flat.
  4. I can wear dangly earrings, or plain ones, or little tiny ones. They don't get lost in my hair.
  5. The amount of hair I shed is comparatively less.
  6. Come on - sassy and cute. Do I really need to say more?
  7. No need for a ponytail or scrunchy. Just wash and go!
  8. Easy water use.
  9. I think it makes me look younger. We can debate whether this is a good thing or not at another time.

The thing with long hair is that it's, well, long. There's more of it to shed, more of it to wash, more of it to feel scrungy and gross. It's easier from a few practical angles on a boat (mostly the "tie it back and forget it" angle, and also much less of a need for regular haircuts to keep it looking good).

I love my hair short. Jeremy likes it better long. I think, for practical purposes on the boat, unless I can get him to learn how to cut my hair well, I will need to go with long hair.

Wanna chime in?  

Looking Back to Look Ahead

There are times when it's fun to read old blogs, to see what the me-of-then was thinking. This one struck a chord with me - recognize any themes? This is a post from our SVCalypso blog, from the 2009-2010 cruise we took with the kids. The more things change, the more they stay the same, right?

Shiny winch.

Shiny winch.

August 26, 2009

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days, and the concept gelled this morning as I shed some tears over my friend Lee's blog (last cruising entry for a while).  Her final lines are “We recommend to everyone that they take time now to fulfill that dream or vision.  There is no other time, only the present.”  Lee and her husband, Chris, took off a year ago and went to the Exumas and back, up to Martha’s Vineyard and back to Deltaville.  Reading their blog is a lesson in being PRESENT – a lesson I know I would do well to heed.

Kids, 3rd and 5th grades, first day of school.

Kids, 3rd and 5th grades, first day of school.

And that’s where I am struggling right now.  I have the hardest time being present to all that is happening.  Part of is the feeling that I have feet in a couple of different worlds, part of it is wanting time to hurry up and go by.  Part of it is, quite probably, a mourning for the stability and comfort of the routine we have shed already – with more to come in the next week, even, as I put in my final day at work on Monday.  And with that mourning is a frustration with myself – I am choosing this (we are choosing this) – why be sad about the choice?

Our transition began in the summer, really, when we moved out of our newly-renovated, much beloved house so the renters could come in with their boxes and different chaos.  We are now living in a one-bedroom apartment, all four of us, which I joke (semi-seriously) about being bigger than the boat. (It is, square footage-wise.)  The kids had to pack up their toys and books, and all they could bring with them (other than clothes) had to fit in a small plastic box*.  They are being remarkably resilient and accepting, except that Julian cannot kick a cold and Maddie is now grinding her teeth at night.  Hard, hard, hard to share with them (convince them? help them understand?) WHY it is so imperative that we do this cruising thing NOW.

School started for the kids yesterday.  They are in new classrooms, with new teachers and new friends.  But they know (as do their teachers and classmates) that they will only be there for 5 weeks.  Strange situation.  Possibly for them the hardest part (or the hardest part they can verbalize) is not riding the school bus.

I am frantically finishing up things at work (I have been the Admissions Director at a local private school for the past 5 years, and my job culminates on Monday with the orientation of the new kids the day before school starts), feeling like a bit of a ghost.  My colleagues are wonderful and supportive, but they (obviously) are caught up in the excitement of a new year while I am not involved at all with those details.

Jeremy’s replacement starts on Monday, for close to a month of overlap.  He is working hard as ever at work, trying to leave procedures and lists in place for his team – and then coming home to work on boat projects or research boat parts.

And through it all I am wondering how the reentry will be.  Lee’s blog has reminded me of my one real regret from last time – that I was too busy looking at what was coming next to appreciate where we were. (In reading the old journal from that trip, I can read 4 separate, distinct times when I wrote, “Now the cruising can really begin.”  What cruising did I miss while waiting for it to “start?”)

Stop, Nica.  Concentrate on the NOW.  Even as chaotic as it seems, it is what is going on.  If I look too far in the future I may well miss the present.

Pizza on the boat grill.

Pizza on the boat grill.

So bring it back to the present.  Yesterday was the first day of school for the kids, and they looked great (and all too tall) as I scrambled them into the car for the drive to school.  Today we made pizza on the grill for dinner – not all that exciting (for us) except that we did it on the boat grill and it WORKED!!! (We had been worried that it would burn before cooking properly)  Kids are in bed now, reading, and Jeremy and I are playing dueling computers working on different boat projects.  (This blog must count as a boat project, yes?)

There you go.  Rantings and philosophical wanderings and perhaps some self-centered whining from me.  Ah well.  At least I ate well tonight.

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Projects Other Than Boat Projects

Today, the project was getting rid of the cork boards.

Yes, that was today's' boat project.

Because in all the focus on boat projects, there are boat projects that have nothing, actually, to do with the physical boat.

Really. As weird as that may sound, there are many many projects that need to be done before we can head off cruising - and so many of those are NOT on board.

How many boat parts can you see?

How many boat parts can you see?

There's the garage (and the attic - but the garage looks at us every day when we get home from work. It feels more immediate.) Sifting, organizing, purging, and cleaning. We've lived in this house for over 18 years. That's a lot of Halloweens. A lot of camping trips. A lot of excitedly-started-and-just-as-hastily-abandoned projects. We have endless boat parts in that garage, some worth keeping, some worth selling, and some worth, well, a dumpster trip.

There's enough wood to build a dinghy, I think. And no, we can't take it all with us.

Some of the wood we have. SOME.

Some of the wood we have. SOME.

And of course we've kept every moving box we've come across.

There's the books and clothes and old electronic equipment we have in closets and bookshelves, all of which need inspection and decisions. Do we take? Give away? Pitch?

We have a house that needs some work, since the plan is to sell it before we take off. Houses generally always need work, of course, but there are some projects that tend to be put off until later. "Later" has arrived.

See the new wood?

See the new wood?

Other projects include parenting projects like helping the kids make college decisions. Get driver's licenses. Apply for jobs.

In the midst of all these projects is day-to-day life, which is pretty amazingly full as it is. Can these projects feel overwhelming? Yes. It's not like every single day I wake up raring to go, psyched to knock off 6 projects before breakfast. (actually, those days are rare. And not much happens before coffee in any case!)

But each project has a place, and a reason. Each project has steps I can take, and each step means it's that much closer to being done. Sometimes getting rid of one thing is taking one step, small as it is.

Projects, started and abandoned.

Projects, started and abandoned.

And there are no longer any cork boards in that garage. Onward!

Boat Project Organization

Winter views

Winter views

It's still winter here in Central Virginia, though the blooming forsythia and the industrious robins helping themselves to bugs or worms or seeds in the backyard are working to convince us otherwise. The calendar and the lengthening days tell us that spring is on its way, and so is sailing season.

Or maybe it's closer to reality to say that "boat work season" is on its way. I'm not sure exactly how much sailing we will get in this summer and fall. Here's hoping we can sneak in a few gorgeous afternoons on the Bay!

Why no sailing? Simple. We have boat projects galore. We've got a few things that have to be done before we can set sail, and the discussion of how to organize said projects is ongoing. There is no right way to organize projects, but I will say that organizing them is really important. Pick a way that works for you and get moving!

One way is by "Things to buy". This is pretty concrete, though the list is deceptively simple. (And lest you think this is all there is, let me assure you it gets added to all the time.) There's no column for the associated projects. The solar panels, for example, involve hiring someone to do stainless work and stanchions and solid lifelines. The windlass doesn't mention the wiring, or the below-decks work, or the battery upgrades.

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Another way to organize projects is to think of the things that MUST be done before we leave. There's a bit of this inherent in the "CRITICALITY" column in the "things to buy" spreadsheet, although I'd argue that adding the windlass is way more important than the fish finder*, and personally I'm lobbying hard for the refrigerator to be a pretty high priority (okay, we COULD just use the ARB we have right now as the fridge if we don't have it installed before shoving off . . .). This list is limited to items that are required for safety and comfort: finishing the bed down below, and dealing with reefing gear for the mainsail. Seacocks, especially while the boat is out of the water, are also critical.

We need to get a bunk for us sorted.

We need to get a bunk for us sorted.

This list, though? It keeps being affected by project creep. While we are working on a new bunk for ourselves, we might as well deal with the chart table. And the galley. And the batteries. And cushions. And lighting. And the table will likely need to be modified. And oh, let's finish the hull "ceiling" please, so our home is pretty and cozy.

Project creep. Gotta learn to be diligent in avoiding it, or embrace it. If you've got ideas as to the former, please let me know!

Then there's the "brain dump" version of project lists. Can you tell who makes which list?

Two guesses as to whether this is my list or Jeremy's.

Two guesses as to whether this is my list or Jeremy's.


Sometimes it feels like project lists are a bit like loading a cannon. Put it all in there and light a fuse and hope for the best.

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A Day in the Life . . . Guest Cruising on Totem


Snapshot of one day on board Totem, a Stevens 47, sailing in the Guna Yala province of Panama (which you may know of as the San Blas Islands) On board for the week are the usual crew of 5 – Jamie and Behan Gifford and kids Niall (18), Mairen (15), and Siobhan (13) plus Mochi the hamster – and visiting cruisers the Waters family – Jeremy and Nica Waters with Julian (18) and Bee (16)

6:30 am. It’s Wednesday, I think. The smell of coffee wakes me, though when I check the clock I decide I don’t need to wake up quite yet and I roll over for another 30 minutes of snoozing.

coffee and sunscreen with a view

coffee and sunscreen with a view

7 am. Coffee in the cockpit is my absolute favorite way to start the day. I see frigate birds whirl overhead, listen to the wind generator spin power, and marvel at the way the clouds move in the sky.

8 am. Behan is making bannock, kind of oatcake muffin scone things that you cook on the stovetop. I’d like to learn the recipe. Mairen tackles the dish mountain from last night while Bee and Siobhan tidy up the main cabin, putting away the extra bedding needed for Bee. 9 people on a boat suited for 5 is a stretch, but so far there have been no complaints. (Read more about living aboard)



            Julian and Niall are still asleep. They’ll likely be there for a while.

            The loose plan for today is to move to another anchorage where we think we can get on a beach and where there are likely to be fewer boats. With this wind, it may well be too rolly for an overnight stay, so it’ll be a lunch stop.

            Here, though, there is decent internet available, and there’s some email and a blog post to take care of. Once that’s done, we’ll get underway. The college application work Niall needed to get out yesterday is done, with the receipt confirmed by the school. Fingers crossed it pays off!

            Jamie changes spark plugs on the dinghy engine, which is not working as smoothly as he’d like.

9:30 am. Hatches closed, anchor is up. It’s a short trek, so we’re charging, running the watermaker, and heating water for showers.

10:30. Anchor down at Gun Cay, a reef just ahead of us and another island where Gilligan might have been shipwrecked off to port. Utopia is 50 yards away. It’s been a 5 mile passage, and it’s Totem’s 555th time anchoring. We’ll celebrate with a swim. The snorkel expedition is a 2-dinghy, 9 people, one. We’re calling it successful, with soft corals, a moray eel, a nurse shark, lobster and crab sightings, and enough fish to keep our interest for a while.


12:30. Corn chowder on the stove, laundry being hung from lifelines. Niall regales us with some highlights from Totem’s almost-complete circumnavigation.

2 pm. I start my workout on the foredeck while the boys go to shore to ask permission to fly the drone. After a sound rebuff, they return to up anchor while I work hard to keep my balance and finish my sweat session.

My gym.

My gym.

3:10 pm. We’re anchored off of Isla Maquina, a Guna village island we’ve been invited by Islaflora, Venanzio’s brother, to visit and tour with him. Venanzio is the master mola maker we bought some wares from the other day. All of us are going in for the tour, though Jamie and Andrew are making noises about wanting to work on Utopia’s watermaker. It just needs to last until Shelter Bay, where the new one is waiting.

4:30 pm. We’re anchored at Gaygar for the night. “Pool is closed,” says Jamie, indicating the silty water, sloped and jungle-y waterfront. Prime crocodile territory. Andrew thinks he saw one on his fish finder, and though we look across the water for logs moving against the wind, we don’t see anything. I’m not sure we’re pleased or not. In any case, there is no swimming tonight!


5:00 pm. The shower parade has begun, as has the conversation about what to have for dinner. Burgers it will be! Behan whips up dough for rolls and we slice onions for the grill, mixing burger meat with seasonings and a few things to stretch the 2 pounds of meat. Leftovers are heated up for nibbles with sundowners in the cockpit – lobster paella and cheese dip. Perfect! Use up leftovers and celebrate another lovely sunset. Wins all around.

5:30 pm. Forward head is clogged again. It takes a little cajoling, a little turning off of water pressure and priming the pump, and it’s clear. Whew.

7:30 pm. Buns are baked, burgers are grilled, and everyone is happily eating. Kids are in fierce competition over bananagrams, so we adults leave them below and eat in the cockpit, discussing the plans for tomorrow and checking weather. The second box of peppermint JoJos is broken into for dessert.

Kids and bananagrams

Kids and bananagrams

9:00. Cruisers midnight. Behan and I leave Jamie and Jeremy pulling out the ipad and the starwalk app to look at the stars, and I fall asleep to the sound of laughter from the main cabin as well as the cockpit.

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How Big a Boat do You Need?


The title of this blog really could be “why don’t you buy a bigger boat?” We’ve been sailing Calypso, our 28’ Bristol Channel Cutter, since we bought her in 1992 (okay, fine, we spent a few months actually getting her ready to go in the water . . .). She’s carried us, when it was just Jeremy and me and our beagle, Toby, from Texas to Florida, down the Eastern Caribbean all the way to Trinidad and west to Bonaire. Back up the East coast of the US to Virginia. She’s carried us, as a family of 4, from Virginia to the Bahamas and Dominican Republic and back again. And we’re getting her ready to take us, just the two of us, no kids or dog, on the next adventure, though where that adventure will be remains up in the air.


Yes, she’s cozy. The current set up down below has the head under our bunk. This was fine when we were in our 20s, but now, ahem, the bladder doesn’t last all night. There’s no way to take a shower down below. I don’t mind jumping over the side for the bulk of my bathing, but these days I’d like to make sure I can get clean even if it’s not the best weather outside or we’re on passage for longer than 4 days. Jeremy, who’s 6’2” tall, can stand up only under the hatches.


So why not buy a bigger boat? One that has, say, a dedicated space for a head and shower down below, with an actual door that closes? One that has, say, standing head room all through for my vertically-endowed husband? Why not spend the money, save the effort of an interior refit, and get something more comfortable?

                                   Under construction. Looking aft from the forward bulkhead.

                                   Under construction. Looking aft from the forward bulkhead.

Believe me, we’ve discussed this one to pieces. We’ve chased boats on Yachtworld, flirted with the idea of weekend trips to see some, and even exchanged emails with a builder. I send Jeremy links to interesting looking boats when they flit like fairies across my screen.


There aren’t a lot of boats that fit our criteria. Boats that look gorgeous (and unique) in our eyes as we dinghy away from them in an anchorage. Boats that sail well. Boats that can carry sufficient supplies for the passagemaking we plan to do. Boats that are simple, robust. Boats that offer substantially more of most of these items than we’ve already got with Calypso, which means we’re looking likely at boats in the 40’ range. Boats that won’t require a mortgage.


Here’s what it comes down to, for us. Comfort is in more than space. Comfort is in knowing the boat. I know where to store things, how to access them. Jeremy installed the engine, installed the watermaker, ran the wiring. I can hoist the main by hand, no need for a winch until that last bit of tightening. We’ve got our anchoring hand signals down, know the routine about how to tack, and can put a full coat of topsides paint on in an hour.


Comfort is in knowing the issues we face. Any boat that would fit our budget, the budget we’ve settled on that will enable us to sail for a long time, will have to be one that’s older. One that requires a lot of work, likely. We know the work Calypso needs. Any new-to-us-boat would come with challenges known and unknown – we might spend a lot of time and money on a different boat and realize that she doesn’t work for other reasons. 

                                               28'. 4 people. 4 jerry jugs. 2 kayaks. 

                                               28'. 4 people. 4 jerry jugs. 2 kayaks. 

We’ve had enough experience with cruising on Calypso to feel reasonably sure of our projected budget, though of course healthcare and health insurance is the hugest unknown factor out there. We are also practical enough to know that at some point, we’ll be no longer able to live on the boat. We want to have a cushion for that eventuality.


This isn’t to say we won’t get out cruising and decide we need a larger boat. We’re keeping that possibility in mind. But maybe, with the changes we’re making to the interior of the boat, we’ll find that cruising in her is as possible now as it’s been since 1992.


When we first bought Calypso, we were (and remain) heavily influenced by Lin and Larry Pardey, whose philosophy is “Go small, go simple, and go now.” Other boats on our short list included boats like the Beneteau 30. A Jeanneau 32. A NorSea 27. Even an F-27 trimaran. They were boats we could afford, not only to buy but to maintain and cruise on. The choice we made has stood the test of time.


I know that a lot of people reading this are thinking we’re nuts. I’m not sure, if I were making the decision as a boatless person right now, I’d choose something quite as cozy as Calypso. But there is deep value in changing the question from “how big a boat should I buy” to “how small a boat can I make work for me?”


Your boat may have a separate head and shower. But when we share an anchorage, we’ll still see the same sunset.


See you out there.

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