Mid-Life Cruising Sabbatical

Chapter 7

What's It Cost and More


OK, so what does it cost to cruise the Caribbean for an extended period?

Basically, whatever you want it to cost. We met people who said they spent $ 6,000 per year and we met people who said they spent $ 45,000 per year. We were about in the middle at $ 20,000 to $ 25,000 per year. A lot depends on your lifestyle. Do you eat out in restaurants? How much boat repair can you do yourself and how much do you hire out? Do you want to rent a car and explore every island? Are you going to take inland trips? Are you going to spend lots of time in marinas or are you going to anchor?

In general, things can cost about what they do here in the States. By that I mean if you watch what you buy and where you buy it you can control your costs. There are good places to provision and bad places to provision. Fuel is expensive in some places and not so in others. Liquor varies widely in price.

I have reconstructed what I think we spent in one year. Here it is:

Item

Nov

Dec

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Total

Groceries

0

585

173

177

215

243

568

120

1124

228

182

46

3661

Supplies

0

417

180

0

0

15

160

0

241

232

44

57

1346

Repairs

3000

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

50

1015

295

1187

5547

Parts

500

711

0

0

0

0

300

0

265

0

32

77

1891

Dockage

425

425

227

586

480

70

617

0

333

322

430

370

4285

Meals

0

0

0

35

120

70

46

100

281

113

172

0

937

Liquor

0

160

48

0

153

33

210

0

216

0

0

0

820

Fuel

0

0

30

100

26

150

200

100

108

0

0

0

714

Insurance

0

0

1300

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1300

Laundry

0

0

0

10

10

0

0

0

20

0

18

0

58

Car Rental

0

0

0

100

30

10

0

72

74

0

0

45

331

Totals

4342

3361

478

1008

1034

597

2101

392

2712

1910

1173

1782

20,890

Now for the comments:

This list actually starts while we were on the boat in Florida getting ready to go. We did not actually leave until early Feb. In Nov and Dec we were still in the marina where we had kept the boat for a year. Our actual cruising did not start until Jan and we did not cross to the Bahamas until early Feb.

Groceries

About what we now spend in Cleveland. As you can see from the spending pattern we would stock up and then go several months without spending much. What we did spend in those months would be for fresh food. Good places to provision are Miami, the Virgins, St. Martin, and Venezuela. Other places are bad either because of price or selection or both. Some places are good for one thing and bad for another. For example, food is very expensive in the French islands but wine is not. Out of the way places in the Bahamas can give you a heart attack. How about $ 7.00 for a box of corn flakes? Or $ 2.00 for a roll of paper towels?

As we go island-by-island we will tell you the what to buy and what not to.

Supplies

These are non edible non-boat things. Stuff like paper towels and soap.

Repairs

Things we paid to have done to the boat.

The $ 3,000 in Nov was for a haul out, bottom job and a bunch of other stuff at a yard in Miami.

The $ 1,015 in Aug was for canvas and sail work in the Virgins as well as some woodworking we had done.

The $ 1,187 in Oct was largely (over $ 700) for windlass repair.

Boat Parts

Most of these were bought in the States before we left or on visits back. Many were never used and were sold with the boat. I'll put a list of what we actually took in a future article.

Dockage

As you can see, we like the marina life. It certainly makes it very convenient to just get off the boat and walk down the dock. Dockage in the islands is about what you would pay in Florida. Maybe $ .25 to $ .75 per foot. The big difference is that water and electricity are extra. Electricity can be very expensive if you have air conditioning and use it.

In many places I consider docking as opposed to anchoring a must. Nassau is one. Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas is another. Trinidad is a third. I say this because the anchorgaes are so crowded, or the holding so poor or both.

Just so you will not think we spent all our time in marinas I remember that from St. Martin to Grenada we only spent two days in one marina in St. Lucia. This covered a period of about 5 months.

Meals

This is meals eaten in restaurants.

Liquor

Gee did we really drink that much? Guess so, but then we usually have wine with dinner and I found a way to carry about 100 bottles in "Down Time".

Fuel

Yes you do burn a lot of fuel. Remember, this trip is to windward with a lot of motorsailing. This is something that varies widely in price. In a sailboat you will not have enough tankage to control completely when you buy fuel, but you can to some degree. Diesel will cost you anywhere from over $3.00 a gallon (Martinique) to $ .25 a gallon in Venezuela.

Boat Insurance

I did include this just so you can see what it cost. This was for a $ 95,000 declared value policy with $ 300,000 liability. It covered us anywhere in the world. In the 3 years we actually had two different policies. Both policies also covered the dingy and its motor.

Laundry

Obviously this is a mistake. We either went to laundromats or had the island laundry ladies do it. I think maybe $ 30 to $ 40 per month would be realistic. We did not use a bucket and a plumbers friend.

Car Rental

This covers both car rental and public transportation. Many times the car rental was shared with another cruiser.

So the total came to about $ 21,000. Given that I forgot some things (like laundry) I think somewhere between here and $ 25,000 would be realistic.

There were other expenses that I did not include because they would vary so widely from one couple to the next. These were:

Boat Payment

Maybe your boat is all paid for.

Health Insurance

Depends on coverage and age and you probably can't get any anyway.

Trips Home

We used frequent flyer miles we had.

Storage

We stored all our furniture and household goods in Miami at a commercial facility.

Again, I think the main thing in cost control is planning when you do what. Provision in the right places, have the boat hauled in the right places, etc.

OK, stick with us. We are almost ready to go -- just a few more details.

Assuming you are making this a mid-life cruising sabbatical, some day you'll have to come back. So how do you put your life on hold. The following advice comes for our own experiences as well as others we met.

Your House

We didn't have one, but most people seem to rent them or have friends or relatives live there. No so good to leave them empty for months or years.

Your Household Goods

We stored our in a commercial storage facility. Be prepared for the fact that you will not be able to get insurance on them for a reasonable price.

Mail

We had friends and relatives handle this. Know that this is a big job. Even though we canceled all our subscriptions and tried to minimize the amount, it was still a lot of mail. We went through 3 different people with each finally saying that it was too much.

There are commercial services that will do this.

We had our mail filtered (i.e. the junk thrown away) and held. When we got somewhere that we were going to be for a while, we called home and had all the accumulated stuff sent in a box.

Taxes

The IRS does not care that you are sailing. They still want their return on time. If you have any kind of complicated return at all, you will almost certainly have to come back to the US to take care of it.

Finances

You will probably need to let someone write checks on your account to pay bills that come in. You will not be able to get your mail regularly enough to do this yourself.  (Now, in 2003, you can get and pay most of your bills online.)

How do you pay for things along the way? Of course, checks are out -- nobody will take them. You could use credit cards, but I would advise against this. Remember that someone else is paying your bills and will have no idea what is a valid charge and what is not. It may be months and several islands later that you find out about an incorrect charge. Then what are you going to do? Also, many places are not going to accept credit cards (the island market, the guy who comes to your boat to sell you fish).

So cash is the solution. We bought enough traveler's checks to last us 3 or 4 months and then spent the traveler's checks. We got the traveler's check by going to an American Express office and using our card to guarantee a personal check. Other people we knew got cash advances on their credit cards at local banks. Then, there were virtually no ATM machines in the Caribbean. Now I am told that there are ATMs everywhere that will accept your US bank card and spit out local cash.

Boat Insurance

Maybe a little tough to get after all the recent hurricanes. Most US policies will not cover you south of the Bahamas. Our first policy was underwritten by Lloyds and our second was through SSCA. Both cost about $ 1300 per year for $ 95,000 declared value, $ 300,000 liability, 3% deductible, and dingy coverage. The Lloyds restricted us to within 200 miles of land but the SSCA did not. The SSCA policy had an interesting provision to encourage one to get out of the way of hurricanes -- There was an additional deductible if you were in a high risk area in hurricane season.

You will probably have to have a survey done and provide sailing resumes and a list of navigation and safety equipment.

Health Insurance

Sorry to have to tell you US citizens this, but you probably can't get any. Most policies have a little clause that invalidates them if you spend more than a total of 90 days in a year out of the US. Better check and better ask the question and get the answer in writing.

The good news is that basic health care is very inexpensive where you are going. Jim got an ear infection in the Bahamas and two trips to the clinic and two sets of prescriptions was less than $ 50. Diane lost a large gold filling in Venezuela and a porcelain replacement was $ 100 (about half the US cost). The dentist was trained at the University of Michigan.

We joined DAN (Diver's Alert Network) which for a total of $ 80 a year would provide air ambulance service back to the States for any type of accident.

Legal Stuff

Don't forget about wills and powers of attorney and all that.

Don't despair -- soon you will be ready to go!

Jim & Diane

Send comments to: jkbarrentine@earthlink.net


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This page last changed on: Monday, June 02, 2003