Five years of voyaging expenses

To the editor: Four years ago, we shared with Ocean Navigator readers a detailed financial account of our first year as liveaboard voyagers. Throughout our travels, we’ve been surprised and pleased that our article has continued to be a resource for those planning and living a cruising lifestyle. Now, after five full years living aboard Kotchka – our 1969 Hinckley 38 – here’s an updated summary of our cruising costs.

The Sept./Oct. 2001 issue of Ocean Navigator reported our Year 1 expenses of $18,900 (Tracking expenses after one year aboard Issue 116). A quick look at the bottom line for subsequent years is shown in the table below.

What happened? We continued to curb our expenses, putting into practice what we learned our first year out. We rarely tied to a dock, sailed as much as possible, and took advantage of sales and specials for our provisioning needs. Our dockage, entertainment, provisioning and even fuel expenses went down. Communications were relatively flat. That left Kotchka – maintenance, repair and equipment – as well as insurance and the mysterious “other.”

First, since Kotchka is an older boat, repairing and maintaining became a major expense. Some of this was anticipated and planned. Varnishing, bottom painting, and sail and canvas repairs were regular projects. Over the course of five years, we bought a new dinghy, a headsail, replaced lifelines, bought new cockpit cushions, and re-covered our interior upholstery. In Year 4, we repainted Kotchka’s decks (Voyagers tackle deck refinishing while still living aboard Issue 144, March/April 2005).

Now, for the unanticipated “gotchas”.

Not a big expense, but somewhat unexpected, was the need for new anchor chain – twice – once in Year 2 and again in Year 4. When you lay to your own anchor nearly 365 days a year, it wears out – the result of the corrosive Intracoastal Waterway and extremely salty Bahamian waters.

When hauled out for regular bottom painting in Year 2, we discovered Kotchka had extensive moisture problems in the hull (Barrier-coat problems require extended fix Issue 132, Sept./Oct. 2003). Removing the existing bottom paint, drying out, adding a barrier coat and repainting cost about $3,000.

The biggest surprise came in Year 3 when Kotchka needed a new engine (Six repowering mistakes to avoid Issue 139, July/Aug. 2004). The engine rebuild, installation and follow-up repairs cost $10,400.

Other unexpected repairs over the period included a new starter motor, heat exchanger, injector rebuild and leaky seacock replacement. While none of these was particularly pricey, they were not planned and certainly were not convenient.

Second, rising insurance costs – or just the age of the crew? – caught up to us. Over the five years, our boat insurance went up 26 percent. Our medical insurance, despite raising our already high deductible, went up 120 percent. Ouch.
Third, the mysterious “other” category. Initially, this was basically a catchall for things like laundry, haircuts and customs fees. As our time afloat lengthened, we started taking road trips as a convenient means for visiting friends and family. So expenditures on rental cars, gas and meals on the road began to add up. Also related to a lengthening time afloat was replacement of worn items, such as clothing, bedding and fishing/dive gear. No real surprises, but perhaps an indication that a new spending category should be added to our expense tracking program.

The bottom line is, after five years, Kotchka’s crew has done well in keeping down our discretionary costs. But, as the boat and the crew age, we certainly expect the costs of insurance, maintenance and repairs to continue to rise. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that no big surprises crop up.

-Marci and J Kolb have been cruising for five years aboard their 1969 Hinckley 38, Kotchka. They are moving ashore temporarily in Florida.

By Ocean Navigator