My wife, Clarice, and I talked about living aboard a boat for years before we made the plunge. Here are some of the considerations we worked through.
For us, live-aboard cruising was more of a fantasy than even a dream. It wasn’t until we were walking the docks in Anacortes, Wash., as an outing to enjoy a sunny day that a realistic plan started to form in our minds. We looked at two used 40-foot brokerage recreational trawlers that sat side by side on the dock, and some pieces fell into place that eventually were to be very important to us.
One of the boats was less than 5 years old, in excellent condition with newer electronics and was ready for coastal cruising in style. This was the type of cruising for which it had been designed and built by a local company known for the quality of their work. The other boat was at least a decade older but was clearly built for offshore travel. What struck us was that the price of the two boats was within $10,000 of each other. In other words, a buyer could get an older ocean-capable boat or a newer, really nice coastal cruiser for about the same price.
We went home and started reading, and learned that the Nordhavn 40 (the older boat) had indeed proven itself as ocean capable. This was a huge “Aha!” moment for us, as we realized that we could potentially afford a world-capable cruising boat if we were just willing to look at the used market. We would have to deal with the extra costs of any deferred maintenance and things like older electronics, but we would benefit from a hull and running gear more consistent with commercial boat equipment and with plenty of nautical miles still left in them.
Next, we took time to have some serious heart-to-heart talks with each other about our dreams and goals since “older adulthood” was coming toward us like an out-of-control freight train. The importance of these frank discussions cannot be over-emphasized, as we have heard a now-familiar story of one partner wanting to cruise and the other just going along but not fully into the plan. The end result is that after a couple of months of being closely cooped up in a boat that seems to shrink over time (and especially with longer passages), the life partners end up separating at the next port.
The Gregorys upgraded the navigation PC and moved to NMEA 2000 networking while also updating the pilothouse with a new teak dash.
A solid Lugger main engine has many thousands of expected hours left. The engine room was updated with reflective floors and LED lighting.
Cruising on a budget
In our case, we recognized that we had enjoyed having a home with land to raise our children, and then went on down my “bucket list” to build a house while our grandchildren lived near enough to visit often — but those goals had now been met, and we were okay to move on. We were also concerned that if we didn’t move to full-time cruising while our health was good that we might not have the chance in the future. Finally, we had a talk with our retirement advisor, who assured us that we had enough money put away to meet expected expenses for the future if we chose to live somewhat frugally. The only remaining question was where to get the capital to buy a boat that fit our dreams and plans. We considered our situation carefully and decided that we would go all-in and sell our home and rental properties, as well as anything that wouldn’t fit on the boat, and use the money we gained to purchase outright the best boat we could afford.
Our boat research and hunt began in earnest and ended up taking about a year. Our first decision was to focus on trawlers, rather than sailing vessels, as we had learned over years of owning sailboats that, in reality, we didn’t sail much. And, Clarice’s research found a number of sources that reported the overall costs of ownership were similar when fuel and engine maintenance was weighed against the cost of maintaining offshore quality sails and rigging.
We had also owned one trailered trawler and enjoyed that we could travel in comfort in the cooler and wetter northern waters. We eventually recognized that our research kept pointing us back to the Nordhavn brand known for its oceangoing heritage. We ended up focusing on the original model of Nordhavn, the “46,” of which there had been 82 boats built between its introduction in 1988 and retirement in 1999. In the end, we purchased Salish Aire (Hull No. 50), built in 1996 and 20 years old at the time of our purchase. We paid about $400,000, including shipping from Florida to the West Coast.
We moved aboard immediately on its arrival in Washington, continuing to work at our jobs while we learned the systems and evaluated what work needed to be done to bring it fully back to offshore-capable operating condition.
An industrial-grade radar was installed by a previous owner, as was the paravane stabilizer system.
Salish Aire came with a high-quality solar installation, but the panels were dated; so, the Gregorys swapped them out for newer technology.
Advantages to a used vessel
One huge advantage of buying a pre-owned boat (we are the fourth owners) was that we inherited some very valuable features that had been added to Salish Aire over the years. An example is the paravanes (manual stabilization system) that had been added at significant cost as a redundancy to the hydraulic stabilization system already on the boat, and which proved its value when we damaged the hydraulic system 50 miles off the coast of California. The electronics on the boat were dated, but since they had been purchased as top-quality industrial grade when they were new, we have found that parts and technical advice are readily available. As a result, we have been able to upgrade over the years rather than having to face a bill of thousands of dollars right from the start.
The boat had been faithfully maintained by its previous owners, but at 20 years old there were a number of projects that needed to be done — such as replacing all of the fuel hoses that had visual cracking in the outer coverings. To keep the boat at its “industrial quality” level, we purchased a USCG-approved fuel hose that required hydraulic fittings. The cost of buying materials only (using field-installable fittings) and doing the work myself came to about $2,500. So, we have saved considerably over what it would have cost us to do an initial commissioning of a new boat, but have also had to face some significant age-related costs. The best news is that we are able to budget the upgrades over time since the boat was ready to travel on its arrival to our home port.
So far, we have put 15,000 nm under the hull of Salish Aire since we became its owners. It has carried us safely from Valdez, Alaska, to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and back. We do all of our own maintenance work both because we enjoy working with our hands but also to make sure we are knowledgeable about all of the various systems should we have a problem at sea. We anchor out when it suits us, and we moor in less-expensive marinas when access to shore adventures calls us. If restaurants in the area are inexpensive, we eat out; or, we cook at home when we are tired of commercial-style foods. If the sea offers up a meal, we enjoy it, or we have plenty of stores on board when fresh is not available. In general, Salish Aire has truly become our home, and we look forward to more years aboard her as long as we are able.
After almost six years of living aboard and traveling on Salish Aire, we continue to be pleased with our choice. Had we chosen a newer and slightly larger Nordhavn that we considered, then we would have been forced to delay our retirement for another year to make up the difference in cost. Our message to the reader is that buying a used but solidly built boat may be a choice that will allow you to move from dreaming of cruising to the reality of anchoring in exotic ports sooner. All it requires is a willingness to accept a few scuffmarks and less-than-the-latest electronics, and being prepared to upgrade your boat as you go.
Norman and Clarice Gregory, both retired RNs, live aboard their 1996 Nordhavn 46, Salish Aire.