Category Archives: Miscellany

Frugal Boater: The Cost of Living on a Boat

People are often curious about what it costs to live on a boat. We’d love to give them the clear answer they seek, but asking what it costs to live on a boat is no different than asking what it costs to live in a house. Really! It varies that much because we’re all different. So first, let’s have a look at the major expenses of living.

What we spend on groceries, entertainment, clothes and general shopping probably varies more by person than any other factor. On the water you’ll still have the same likes and dislikes you had on land. You’ll eat the same foods and have the same desires. Remember, you’ll still be you, just on a boat.

One important consideration is owing money. Debt payments, whether for your boat/home, or anything else, make up a large portion of the budget for many people. We got off the hamster wheel of debt. For us, that was a big factor in lowering our bills and making this lifestyle possible. That means not getting everything we want, and often waiting for what we do get. It’s satisfying though, to know that everything we have is “paid for”.

Health care expenses probably won’t change much whether you sleep over land or water. Many find a boat to be a more active, healthy lifestyle. When traveling, you may have to use out of network providers, so factor that in. In many of the countries boaters tend to cruise to, health care charges are so small that most boaters simply pay out of pocket. Often the total cost is comparable to their co-pay in the US.

Do you own a car? If so, registration,  insurance, fuel, maintenance and parking become part of your budget. When we were actually cruising, we used bikes, buses and Uber. Now that we’re stationary for a while, we decided to buy an inexpensive, used car. A car can add mobility and convenience if you stay in one area a while, but as always, convenience costs. 

Since I mentioned maintenance, how much of your own maintenance and repairs do you do? More importantly, how much do you spend paying someone else to fix things for you? Learning to be your own mechanic, plumber, electrician, carpenter, etc. can save you lots of money while also making you more independent. After all, when traveling by boat, the repairman may be very far away.

None of the above will change significantly simply because your new home floats, but what about boat specific expenses?

If you choose to keep your boat at a dock, marina fees can add up fast. In some areas they may equal or surpass your old mortgage or rent payment. Docks charge by the foot, so size does matter. Most long term docks also charge separately for electricity.

You’ll find that size matters a lot with boat expenses, from marina fees, to bottom cleaning to oil changes. As boat length increases, maintenance seems to go up exponentially. Bigger boats have bigger everything from rigging and anchors to engines and props. In addition, every comfort and convenience item on your boat requires maintenance and occasional repair or replacement. This really isn’t different than a house, but it’s something to think about when choosing your boat.

If you and your boat are more self sufficient you can eliminate or minimize dock expenses by anchoring. This relies on your own skills, judgement and equipment to keep you safely in place. It also means a dinghy ride to get to shore. At a dock a dinghy is an accessory, at anchor it becomes your second most important piece of equipment,right behind your anchor system. In some places you may still need to pay for use of a dinghy dock, but it will be far less than docking the mother ship. In many places you can find spots to access land with your dinghy at no, or very minimal, cost.

Communication might be a little different from your house. Obviously there will be no land lines unless you’re at a dock. Most people have mobile phones these days, and they generally work as long as you can see land. Of course in some remote areas they don’t work on land or water. Your phone needs to be able to “see” a mobile phone tower. While anchored in the Everglades we found that hoisting our phone up the mast allowed us to send and receive text messages.

For Internet access some boaters use free wifi at coffee shops, bars and restaurants. Some boats have wifi boosters to pick up those signals from the mothership. We have unlimited data plans on our mobile phones that work well for us in the US. So factor in your communication expenses, whatever they may be. Some people don’t mind minimal, or even no, communications at times. Others have to be connected all the time. Be honest with yourself about your needs and wants.

In addition to “normal” communications we have a couple more.  We use a $5 per month sim card from AlarmSim for our alarm. This allows our alarm system to notify us of intrusion by people or water. We also use an old phone with an anchor alarm app. A Freedom Pop sim with no monthly charge lets it notify us if the boat moves farther from the anchor point than it should..

In our modern world a land based address is sometimes a necessity. Mail forwarding services can fill that need for a small fee. St Brendan’s Isle gives us a permanent mail “home” and they will forwar mail whenever and wherever we request. For additional fees they can even scan your mail and email it to you. Having a Florida “address” allowed us to become official Florida residents. No more state income tax!.

You’ll need some fuel, but again, how much depends on you and your boat. Is your boat power or sail? How big and how fast? If sail, are you sailing purist, or do you start the engine when the wind dies? Do you plan to have a motor for your dinghy or row row row your boat? Do you run an engine to supply your electricity? These are just a few of the variables, and some might change depending on your current situation, location or time of year.

Since we paused our cruising to get jobs we find our expenses have crept up. I think that’s natural due to a car, work clothes, more laundry, etc, but of course the net dollars are still positive so it’s all good.

So, what does it cost? If you read this far you’ve probably figured out that there is no simple answer. What works for us, may not work for you, or vice versa. We know boaters who live for well under $1000 per month. We also know boaters who spend $4000 or more per month. For really large yachts that wouldn’t even pay the marina bill.

Whether on land or water, you can live the lifestyle of Henry David Thoreau or Robin Leach. Only you, and your wallet, can decide where in that spectrum you fall.

Becoming a Lock Expert

We started our trip from Racine, Wisconsin to Mobile, Alabama with some trepidation about going through locks. After a lot of reading, we still had some lock anxiety. All that melted away after a few, and now we think we have a pretty good idea what we’re doing.

After going through more than 20 locks as high as 57 feet, we think we have it down. I hope this helps ease your anxiety.

Step One: Call the Lock Master. Never assume he knows your intentions. It’s best to call as far ahead as possible. If he’s busy with barge traffic, he’ll let you know and you can slow down or stop for lunch. Sometimes he’ll say “come on ahead, I’ll have it ready for you”. Either way you save time and fuel. Important: All crew on deck must wear personal flotation devices (PFD’s). Ialso recommend a Cubs hat.

Step Two: You will also know by now if there’s a required side to tie on. Usually they let us tie on either side, so we took our preferred starboard tie. Have plenty of fenders out and just loop your midship line over the bollard. Do not tie to the bollard, just put your line around it and back to the boat. This is a floating bollard which floats down, or up in its channel as you move. Keep an eye on it and be ready to release your line in case it jams. Ours never had a problem. We only had two fixed bollards during the trip. In that case you have to adjust your line as the boat goes down or up. Floating bollards are easier, but even the fixed type aren’t really a challenge, they just take more attention during the process.

Step Three: The lock master will close the doors behind you, and signal when the water level is about to begin changing. This is all done with valves and all you do is tend your boat. Here you see Kristi using a boat hook to keep our boat straight. I’m doing the same at the stern. This is necessary because our sailboat tapers at both ends. Boats with straighter sides tend to lay along the wall better.

Step Four: After the giant whirlpool stops… Just kidding! It’s really not very dramatic, the water level just slowly goes up or down and you float with it. Depending on several factors this takes around 10 – 20 minutes in most cases. When the doors open in front of you wait for the lock master’s signal that it’s safe to move. If you’re sharing the lock it’s simply first in, first out unless you’ve made other arrangements. There typically is some turbulence on the downstream side,but it’s not terrible. Just power through it and go on to the next lock.

Here’s a look around just after we dropped 31 feet.

I always half expect King Kong to be on the other side of these doors.

And finally, a boater who obviously did it wrong. Just follow the simple rules above and you can avoid this.

Bonus Step Five: Your fenders will get very dirty in the locks. Barkeeper’s Friend will clean them very efficiently.




While staying at Aqua Yacht Harbor we decided to take a short trip to Shiloh National Military Park.

If you go, we highly recommend the CD audio tour. It lets you see the various battle fields in chronological order while explaining the what’s and why’s.

Although the orchard is no longer an orchard and other vegetation has changed you get a clear idea of what went on.

Particularly interesting to us was the naval bombardment from the river, which we had just come down in Pearl Lee.

History comes alive in places like this. Although the cannons don’t thunder, and men don’t scream, the ancient echoes still seem to linger. Seeing places that you’ve only read about gives a much greater sense of what transpired here than any book or movie ever could.

The Shiloh National Cemetery is here as well. It’s good to go to places like this and reflect on our history and what so many of us owe to so few. This is hallowed ground and hopefully will be treated as such for generations to come.

Land Transportation

When on land we walk, or ride the bus. Occasionally, when we’re feeling rich, we take Uber. The real workhorses though, are our Mongoose bicycles. They fold up for easy transport and with aluminum frames only weigh about 23 pounds.

Here’s a quick video of one being folded for a dinghy ride back to the boat.

Meet Sailor Jerry

While in West Palm Beach we were adopted by a new crew mate. Sailor Jerry has been rapidly adjusting to boat us and boat life after spending his first several months in a shelter.

Jerry runs around the boat like he owns the place, killing the occasional bug. He’s only fallen off the boat once (or maybe he jumped), and didn’t seem to like it much.

Lately he seems to have decided to never walk or run when he can jump.  We’ve been calling him Kramer because he makes very dramatic, physical, comedic entrances.

At least he’s a good lookout… When he wants to be. After all, he’s a cat.

Now that you’ve met, don’t be surprised when he shows up in our adventures from time to time.

Moving Aboard Pearl Lee

At Pugh Marine
At Pugh Marine

It’s been a very busy year getting moved and readying Pearl Lee for our journey. I’ll try to get caught up in the coming weeks. We had a massive yard sale where we liquidated nearly everything to move from a four bedroom house to a 43′ boat. I resigned from a great job at a fantastic company, Rockford Toolcraft. We moved onto Pearl Lee, our Endeavour 43 sailboat in early July. Since then getting her ready for our journey became our full time job. We still managed to have some fun here and there and met some really nice people. Below is a partial list of what we accomplished in just over a year since buying her. All of the work with the exception of sail making, and welding was done by us. More details on some of those projects will be coming.

  • New Sails
  • Neww Mack Pack sail covers
  • New engine mounts and alignment
  • New stern tube (the prop shaft runs through this)
  • New stern tube hose and clamps
  • New prop shaft
  • New cutless bearing (supports prop shaft)
  • Prop straightened and polished
  • New prop shaft packing (keeps water out)
  • All seacocks overhauled (valves for underwater openings)
  • New bow thruster prop (helps when docking this beast)
  • Bow thruster painted
  • New zincs for prop, spurs and thruster (electrolysis protection
  • New VHF radio with AIS (shows commercial traffic in relation to us)
  • New remote VHF station at helm
  • New chart plotter/GPS @helm (we have several backups)
  • New DSI depth sounder @helm (shows bottom detail, we also have a standard depth sounder)
  • New stereo (can’t cruise without music)
  • Interior lights converted to LED (less power and heat)
  • Navigation lights converted to LED
  • Helm compass overhauled
  • New portlight seals as needed
  • Re-bed portlights as needed
  • Re-bed hatches
  • New hatch seals
  • New primary bilge pump (we also have a large backup)
  • New relocated bilge pump float switch
  • New solar panels, 2×280 watts (supplies all our electricity)
  • New solar charge controller (charges batteries from solar)
  • New primary anchor (Rocna Vulcan 55kg for those who care)
  • New primary anchor chain (275′ of 5/16″ G4)
  • New windlass (anchor winch) solenoid
  • New windlass switch
  • Overhauled windlass
  • New galley faucet
  • New water filter/purifier (make sure our water is clean at the faucets)
  • New water intake filter (keeps sediment out of our tank)
  • Engine oil filter relocated (for easier, cleaner oil changes)
  • Bottom painted (retards marine growth)
  • Topsides painted (the part of the hull above the water)
  • Brightwork varnished (wood outside the boat)
  • Water tank removed, repaired, replaced
  • Heads (toilets) and holding tanks removed
  • New C-heads (composting toilets)
  • New custom mattress in master stateroom
  • New Propane tank and system
  • New Propane stove
  • New flux gate compass (electronic compass for our instruments)
  • Hydraulic steering bled and adjusted
  • Stern ladder customized and installed
  • Cabinet latches repaired/replaced as needed
  • New generator voltage regulator


Oh The Places You’ll Go – Dr. Seuss

Our friend Wm Jones sent us this customized version of Dr. Seuss’ “Oh the Places You’ll Go”. We really like it and hopefully you will to.


Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
(Original) by Dr. Seuss

Today is your day.
You’re off to great places!

You’re off and away!

Flower Pot Island
Flower Pot Island

You have brains in your head.
You have feets in your shoes.
You can steer yourselves
any direction you choose.
You are on your own. And you know what you know.
And you are the you who’ll decide where YOU go.

P1000928You’ll look up and down maps. Look ’em over with care.
About some you will say, “We don’t choose to go there.”
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.

Close enough
Close enough

And you may not find any
you’ll want to go down.
In that case, of course,
you’ll head straight out of town.

It’s opener there
in the wide open air.

Sturgeon Bay
Sturgeon Bay

Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.

And then things start to happen,
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just ride along.
You’ll start happening too.


You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the far sailors
who sail to far sites.

Little Current
Little Current

You won’t lag behind, because at 43 feet
you’ll have great hull speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.
Wherever you sail, you’ll be best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’t.
Because, sometimes, you won’t.

20150627_180025I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
that Bang-ups
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.

You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You’ll be left in a Lurch.

Washington Island
Washington Island

You’ll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.
And the chances are, then,
that you’ll be in a Slump.

And when you’re in a Slump,
you’re not in for much fun.
(Un-slumping yourself
is done usualy with rum.)


You will come to a place where the reefs are not marked.
Some buoys are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.
A place you could scrape both bowsprit and keel!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?


And IF you go in, should you turn left or right…
or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find,
for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.

You can get so confused that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles cross weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

Airplane in Killarney
Airplane in Killarney

…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or the waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their wind to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

ReefingWaiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for the wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

Cold BeveragesNO!
That’s not for you!
You’ll drop anchor and make fish for stew.
Have a beer or some rum
But what ever you do
Remember your partner came there just for you!

Somehow you two will escape
all that waiting and staying
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.


With banner flip-flapping,
once more you’ll ride high!
Ready for anything that you might face.
Ready because you’ve got Sailor Jerry induced grace!

P1000629Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!
There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.
And the magical things you can do just for fun
will make you the winning-est winner of all.
Fame! You’ll be as famous as famous can be,
with the whole wide world watching you win on TV.

Except when they don’t
Because, sometimes they won’t.

Mothers Day 2016I’m afraid that some times
you’ll play lonely games too.
Games you can’t win
’cause you’ll play against you.

All Alone!
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you’ll be quite a lot.

P1020161And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance
you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.

11935584_10203822136548686_2209078282214086941_nBut on you will go
though the weather be foul.
On you will go
though wind loudly howl.
On you will go
though the Hakken-Kraks prowl.
Onward up many
a frightening creek,
though your arms may get sore
and your Pearl Lee may leak.

20150701_163430On and on you will sail,
And I know you’ll sail far
and face your problems
whatever they are.

You’ll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that life is
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

Town dock at Little Current
Town dock at Little Current

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)


be your name Keg or Tom or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
You’re off the Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your sail boat is waiting.
So…get on your way!