Margaret and I have spent a lot of time dreaming about and genuinely discussing where we would like to cruise to first. We do not quite agree, but we are coming to understand each other’s perspectives a little more. I can even foresee a time in the future when we both advocate on behalf of the other’s current preferred plan. I wanted to detail some of our discussions about the topic, present some of the major factors that should be considered for anyone making the decision, and outline (using a video game metaphor) my theory of cruising skills and achievements that explains my perspective on the choice of an itinerary.
This is sure to be a rather involved set of posts that will range widely, but I think there will be a lot of good information on my thoughts and perspective on the topic…and a whole bunch of other somewhat unrelated topics. I will start by covering the factors that have little dependence on our particular thoughts about where we should go cruising, but will, ultimately, affect the decision in some way:
- location of purchase and refit
- condition of boat and refit plans
- season of departure
Place of Purchase and Refit
Like many other people dreaming or planning of cruising, Margaret and I spend a lot of time looking at boats. Tours of boats on YouTube by the likes of yacht brokers and current cruisers are incredibly useful. So too are reviews by current owners, delivery skippers, and others on forums and blogs. While I will surely talk more about the boat selection process in other posts, the important thing here is that one place we – especially me (question…has Margaret ever gone to it on her own? answer…yes, as I just found out while she read over the post) – always end up is Yachtworld. There we can browse current listings, getting a sense of price, availability, selection, condition, etc., including location.
What immediately stands out in these searches is that Florida is a great place to buy a boat. While the majority of certain European made boats that we like, such as Hallberg-Rassys, are for sale in Europe, most boats are well represented in the Florida market. In fact, often there will be 2 or more listings in the state for roughly the same make and length. Because of all this supply, prices also seem to be, on the whole, cheaper than in many other places on the East Coast. The boats in Florida, as opposed to elsewhere in the east and, especially, on the Great Lakes, are also more likely to have useful and expensive cruising gear that we probably will not have to replace, such as a windvane. This cruising gear rarely affects the overall price of the boat, making these yachts even better buys.
Our adventures on Yachtworld occasionally turn up a gem of a boat elsewhere on the East Coast, particularly in cruising strongholds such as the Chesapeake and Oriental, North Carolina. In turn, we find fewer bluewater boats in the Great Lakes. Those that we do locate there that are offshore capable tend to be both in decent overall shape because of the lack of saltwater and stripped down in terms of gear because they have not been used for long distance cruising. Of course, there are always exceptions on the lakes, as there are everywhere. The West Coast also has a robust market of capable cruisers much like Florida. But out there the boats are spread over San Diego, the South Bay and OC, San Fran, and the Puget Sound.
The other thing we talk about is buying a fully outfitted boat in the Caribbean, on the west coast of Mexico, or some other cruising locale. These boats come available rather frequently as cruisers give up on the dream for a variety of reasons, have to attend to long-term emergencies back home, or simply decide to purchase a different boat. These vessels can often be great deals, especially when the cruisers have put the boat on the market immediately after they ended their cruising. In this case, the boat will most likely be well cared for and outfitted, with the latest gear and sound rigging. Often, it seems these boats are priced at or below that of a more poorly tended and equipped American listing. However, the boats that are truly in exceptional shape at a nice price tend to sell very quickly and one has to be ready to fly off at a moment’s notice to survey the boat and put an offer. The prospective buyer should also be ready to head out cruising soon lest they pay storage for a boat while the systems degrade in the tropical climate. These boats appeal to us because it would mean we could, if all went according to plan, get cruising faster at a lower price point. However, it is also clear that failing to close on a boat or two that we travelled to see could wipe away any potential savings of time and money. We also would have far less choice in the exact boat we ended up with, perhaps settling for a design or layout that we think is less desirable.
Though the place of purchase does not dictate where the refit is going to occur, it should be a key factor in the decision. Undoubtedly, the internet has made buying marine equipment from anywhere in the States easy and various professionals such as riggers, sailmakers, and marine mechanics are available in most places near water. But there is no question that locales like Oriental, San Diego, and Fort Lauderdale are more conducive to refitting a boat than, say, Peoria. Not only can you have your choice of professionals in these places, but you are also surrounded by other folks who are experts in their own right, having done everything you are doing on their own boats before. Borrowing a much-needed tool or getting some quick advice can be as easy as asking the guy working next to you in the yard rather than waiting three days for a West Marine order to come in or a rigger to make it down from Chicago. Moreover, while refitting in a cruising mecca we will also have the ability to make friends in the community, learn other skills from experienced cruisers, and get assistance picking the right gear, planning passages, provisioning, etc. An added benefit of heavily travelled cruising areas is the availability of used ship chandleries where we can pick up equipment on the cheap.
Another consideration when choosing where to refit should be the cost of relocating a recently purchased boat. If we were to bring a boat to Peoria from, say, Florida, we would have two options. The first would be to put it on a flatbed and send it over land. Factoring in loading and unloading and wide load requirements through most states, we would be looking somewhere in the neighborhood of five grand for a roughly 40′ yacht. The other possibility is to sail it (more likely motor) up the coast and Hudson, through the Erie Canal, across the Great Lakes, and down the Chicago River to the Illinois. While that would be a great adventure, it would also be costly, time consuming, and potentially really aggravating if we ran into some problems along the way.
But before we completely set aside the idea of moving a newly purchased boat, there are some benefits to consider. For one, we could continue to work while we refit, allowing us to offset the costs and increase the cruising kitty. We could also live in our own house while we complete the work. That could potentially cut down on our housing costs and would definitely make everything a little easier. Refitting in Peoria would also allow us to take our time on the refit, which could be either a blessing or a curse.
So what is our thinking on where to purchase and refit the boat? We lean heavily towards doing both in Florida. The state, especially the area around Miami-Fort Lauderdale, is a true paradise for refitting, if there is such a thing when you are dealing with the countless aggravations that accompany a refit. My folks also live on the west coast of Florida, offering (we hope) a base for us to occasionally shop for a boat before we make the move down there. Plus, the weather is pretty awesome. Another possibility that we discuss is buying a boat – if we could find a good deal – on Lake Michigan and bringing it down to Peoria. We have not looked into storage here yet, but there are a bunch of yards with indoor facilities, enabling us to work year round. While access to skilled workers would be a little more challenging, there are some marine specialists here, though they mainly cater to the Great Loop traffic on the Illinois rather than sailors. Still another thing that we have not completely dismissed is getting a boat that is ready to go in whatever location we find it. While this is appealing to us for some obvious reasons, it would all be very dependent on the circumstances.
To bring it all back to the original discussion – where we will cruise first – the location of our purchase and refit will definitely have an impact. If we find a nearly perfect boat in La Paz (like we saw a few months back), we would obviously be making very different plans than if we found one in Charlotte Amalie. Florida – or Oriental, Newport, San Diego, etc. – would open up a different set of options. Refitting in Peoria, we will be heading across the lakes before we need to make the next decision, but we would still have a decision to make in NYC.
Next time I will discuss (in a shorter post, I promise) how we go about doing our refit might impact where we cruise to first.