Sunday 16 September 2018

Making the cruising dollar go further

Save money while cruising

When we first threw off the lines to go cruising we quickly found that if we wanted to make this work we needed to cut back how much we spent. We had a reality check seeing our bank balance free fall and needed to reduce our cost of living. Clearly living at the dock and being time poor had taught us bad spending habits and now we had cast off, we had to get our mind around the fact this is day to day life not a holiday. We hadn't realized how entrenched living at the dock had become in our every day decisions.
Now after a rethink we cut our monthly bills to a third of what we would have once spent.  I know there are those out there who don't or don't have to worry, but for the rest of us here are a few tips we found can make a difference.

If you are going to be a thrifty cruiser you will spend a lot of time at anchor. Nights spent along side in a marina is not the way to save money.  So to achieve a better nights sleep will mean good ground tackle. First rule of anchoring is that you can't have too much ground tackle.    At a minimum try and go one anchor size up from what is recommended for your boat and don't skimp on chain, have all chain if you can and make a good snubber setup. If an all chain rode isn't possible have 10-30 meters of chain then the rest nylon rode.   Try and have a back up anchor ready to deploy.

Matilda at anchor

Boat setup
Mean time between failures is a basic measure of a system's reliability. While setting up your systems try and pursue two simple principles; minimize moving parts and limit power consumption. Engineers recognize the relationship between the number of moving parts in a system and its mean time to failure.

While you are setting up your boat be careful you don't become a slave to a piece of equipment on the boat. We found a freezer was a pain in the neck and we became slave's feeding it power. We would charge the batteries just to run them down again keeping it going, we never kept up or broke even. Away from the dock for a couple of days on windless and or overcast days would see us having to pull up the anchor and go for a drive to charge the batteries at about the time we should have been enjoying sundowners. The other down side was that we could never leave the boat for any length of time unless we were tied to the dock and connected to shore power. Sight seeing wasn't easy being worried about the batteries or the freezer.  We have found we can easily get by with out a freezer through simple food management and the use of a vacuum bag sealer.

It appears our boat had been set up to be sailed from one marina to the next. While it did have a lot of cruising gear the systems weren't really up to the task of being away from the dock for extended periods. Early on it became glaringly obvious we didn't have enough battery charging grunt. For a start the twin alternators never performed as we would have liked and also wore through the drive belts in no time. The solar panels were out dated, newer technologies had increased the output of solar panels and we found we could get almost double the power output from the same footprint.  We upgraded the alternator. This meant reduced engine run time if battery charging is necessary. One windy day the old wind generator's UV damaged blades blew apart in a wind gust so we upgraded the wind generator as well.  Now it's a rare occasion to have to start the motor to keep the batteries fully charged any more. We can start the day with an amperage deficit after running the lights etc during the evening but after normal power usage either at anchor or sailing its rare not to end the day with fully charged batteries. Keeping the power consumption of electrical systems low reduces the complexity of running the whole boat from the battery bank. By eliminating the systems we considered optional or by installing optional systems that were built to conserve power, we have been able to focus on installing a good quality primary system. Here is a link to what Bruce has written about cruisers-power-basics

A small note about the old freezer, when we removed it we found the insulation wasn't thick enough and the list of design faults was extensive. After doing research on marine fridge and freezer setups it appears there wasn't much right with the whole thing starting with a lack of insulation thickness then moving on to the holding plate location and the lid seal design. Not sure why it was such a lemon because this was a custom made unit the previous owner had made up by an Australian manufacturer.  It just reinforces the sad fact that as a buyer we need to do as much home work as possible so as to be able to quote in writing the agreed minimum operating specifications during the purchase.

Boat Repairs
An important thing we will tell you is that you must learn to repair your boat yourself. Yes it can be hard, and if you haven't done it before you will need to do research. Magazines are a great place start looking for articles as others may have just finished the job your about to start and the internet has a lot of technical information and a great way to source parts. If you're willing to give it a go and are willing to ask questions, make the odd mistake and try again, you can do it and save thousands of dollars in the process.  If you're still a little worried start by doing little things for example like re-bedding deck fittings when needed. This can save you a lot if compared to the outlay of having to pay someone else an hourly rate to do the work for you. 
An engine service and check over is worth the effort

A good tool kit will pay for its self in a short period of time

Learn how to service your own motor, yep it can be a dirty job but it's not hard to change the oil, filters and adjust the belts while giving the motor a good look over. An engine service and parts manual is worth the initial out lay as these give clear instructions how things work and I have found are usually easy to follow.  If the thought of servicing your own motor makes you nervous have a professional do every forth service, just to check you haven't missed any thing.

There are also significant savings to be made by being able to repair your own sails and covers. A heavy duty sewing machine will see that you have the ability to sew your own covers. Making your own dodgers may be out of most people's league but you never know after practice making covers for the myriad of things that need protection on a boat you may be able to. Protecting your investment from the UV damage with covers can save you a bundle in a very short time.

Consider shopping for some of your boating bits and pieces in hardware stores or in camping or caravan stores. While you're possibly not going to be buying the rigging from these stores, they certainly are a lot cheaper for lots of items like hoses, water filters, shower nozzles and even stainless steel tie wire.

Shake down
Before you kick off the lines and embark on the cruising lifestyle, you should try and do several short shakedown cruises.  This is a must if the longest you leave the dock is for the weekend.  You may find some of the onboard systems are not fit for the purpose of being at sea or at anchor for extended periods. The weekend boat in most cases has a lot of "she will be right mate" components.  As an example if the fridge insulation isn't thick enough and the counter top sweats (condensates) keeping the beer cold. From that we have seen you will have a moisture problem that can cause the cabinetry to swell and buckle. Your batteries will run down keeping the fridge running due to the loss of cold through the lack of insulation. There are a number of flow on problems with this that will only be fixed if the insulation in the fridge is replaced with the correct type of the appropriate thickness. 

We did a shake down cruise, went north for a couple of months, then once we were relying on various systems to function properly on a daily basis we quickly sorted out what was going to work.  The end result of our shake down was that we came back with a work list for either replacements or repairs. The good thing was that we were still working and were able to undertake the repairs and modifications while we still had a reasonable income.
Saves having to run the motor at anchor. These replaced our old bank same physical size but double the output

A worth while addition high out put alternator

The other side of not doing a shake down is that we've seen more than one couple who purchased the boat then sat at the dock or only used it weekends while all upgrades and repairs are made Then when they finally were set to go left with little or no experience. We found during the last couple of months before departure we didn't go out much and we really were out of practice when we did finally get going. Here is an article Bruce wrote for Cruising Helmsman Magazine dealing with spares and repairs under way

This is one of the big ticket items, how could it be if you have a sail boat you ask. Easy, old habits die hard and when the wind didn't blow exactly the way we wanted so we could get from point A to B we would start the motor. This wasn't a problem when we were going out for the weekend or on vacations when we needed to be at point B or rendezvous with others at a set time.  We really went back to basics with this and made sure we sailed more, yes we tacked a lot more and made sure we went with the tide, we also waited longer before furling the sails when the breeze slowed down. So all in all we cut the fuel consumption to bits and at a rough estimate it's an eighth of what it was.  So once we had the consumption under control we looked at reducing the cost. Previously with the marina lifestyle we would think nothing of filling up at a marine fuel dock. Now if we haul the fuel our selves we can easily save up to or over a couple of hundred dollars for a fuel fill.  We also get some exercise into the bargain. To start with we went out and brought two twenty liter fuel cans from the local car auto accessories store and along with a fold down trolley we were all set. Our first fill paid for the cans and trolley and kept a big chunk of money in our pocket.  The added benefit of having the fuel cans is that we can top up after a run to keep the tanks full. This stops condensation in the fuel tank which is a great environment for the fuel algae to flourish. Keep fuel treatment in your stored fuel and topped up in your tanks, its amazing how quick the fuel bug can grow and destroy a load of fuel.
A fuel filter (polisher) used to decant our jerry cans of fuel into the boat tanks.

Fuel polisher transferring fuel
Hauling our own fuel has saved us a lot of money, fuel docks are convenient, however its a convenience we pay a lot for.

Minimize fuel usage by calculating your boat hull's speed and efficiency at different RPM's. The trick to conserve this expensive resource is to find the optimal cruising speed or motor revolutions. We found the difference in time to travel over 15 miles and save 2.75 liters of fuel (approx $4.00) was just ten minutes.
If we travel at 1800 RPM's we travel at about 5.6 knots, we burn about 3.2 liters per hour. 
If we travel at 2000 RPM's we travel at about 6 knots, we burn about 4.5 liters per hour.
If we are traveling 15 miles it takes about 2.6 hours for 8.5 liters at 1800 and if we run at 2000 it takes 2.5 hours and we burn 11.25 liters.  This is some thing we experimented with and found a sweet spot where the speed and the fuel economy was still good and it turns out it was only two hundred RPM different from our old cruising speed.
Clean the bottom of the boat and propeller regularly, we found wiping lanolin grease on the prop keeps if clean for longer.
Not surprisingly we found keeping the boat bottom clean is without doubt a major cost saver. It doesn't take much fouling on the hull to make us loose half a knot. That is half a knot either under sail or motor. To keep the speed up if under motor with a dirty bottom will require more throttle unfortunately the flow on effect is increased fuel consumption.
We sail as much as we can, we found the out lay for the MPS has paid for its self several times

Yes a cruising spinnaker will sail at up to 55 deg apparent

Towing your dinghy behind you causes a lot of drag, way too much drag if you want to sail efficiently.  If you want to test this theory, try and drag your tender in while you're sailing along next time. The increased drag will result in higher fuel costs, slower sailing and on top of this you need to factor in the wear and tear on your tender.  You need a dinghy that's easy to handle and can handle your resupply regime.  Having a tender that's easy to row can be beneficial so you don't need to run the motor to get to shore and back. With the high price of fuel, it was costing us in the order of $18.50 at the marina fuel dock to fill the small tender fuel tank. Our inflatable is not easy to row and since it is on its last legs we are now in the process of obtaining a good used row able dingy.

While I don't think the cost of LP gas is going to break the bank it can certainly be inconvenient when the bottles are empty and you need to find somewhere to refill your cylinders. With the introduction of these cylinder exchange programs it's become harder to find a re-filler. Our biggest problem is that we have squat cylinders that fit our gas locker, an exchange cylinder of the same weight won't fit so we need to refill our cylinders. One shore supply run ended up costing a small fortune because we had to get to the other side of town for a cylinder fill, I won't go into the logistics of the trip but I think it was some thing that will be remembered into the near future.  To save time at the re-fill station high light the cylinder certification date on your bottle. It saves time and stress dealing with the operator when you can instantly point to the date and not have them come up with some way out date after reading the cylinder manufacture date and refuse to fill the cylinder.

To reduce gas usage we have purchased a vacuum container slow cooker, with the use of the vacuum cooker we reduce the stove top time. For example, stove top time cooking a stew is reduced from 2-3 hours to 20 minutes which is quite the saving. The meal is dished up piping hot with all the flavor of a stove cooked meal. The only thing necessary is a bit of forward planning to make sure you have an idea of what's to prepare for dinner that evening. The other benefit is if you do get into the anchorage later than planned, your meal is ready to go once the anchor is down, you don't then have to cook a meal because it's all ready to serve. The slow cooker also does great cakes and deserts but may require the accessory pots.
A vacuum container slow cooker, this one by THERMOS

A great cooking time gas saver is a pressure cooker. It's quite amazing what can be cooked in a pressure cooker. It's not all stews and curries, we know of people who cook scones, bread and a quick pizza in their cooker. The list of things you can cook in the pressure cooker is substantial and a good start to what's possible is in the cook book included with most cookers.  You can go one step further and do your own canning (preserving) on board in the pressure cooker. We do our own chutneys and pickles now we have finished off our large stock of store bought items. 

To cut back on the number of times you boil the jug to make a cupper get hold of a vacuum flask and store the left over heated water for the next cupper. Cruising friends make their days supply of coffee in the morning and store it in a couple of smaller vacuum flasks ready to go. Or you could measure the amount of water to be heated, this way there is no waste and the stove is on for a shorter time. Another saver is to get hold of an electric kettle for marina stays and use this to stop the use of gas.

We didn't do very well with the first couple of food supply shopping expeditions; we spent way too much money and once we were out there cruising we quickly found we had to rethink our supplies.  We questioned why we had bought some of the things we did.  For a start we clearly didn't give enough thought to the fresh produce we purchased. We just brought heaps of it and it was becoming ripe and ready to be cooked or eaten at the same time and as we couldn't eat it all at the same time we had wastage. We are lead to believe this is something that's happening in homes all over the country, daily about 25 percent of food purchased is thrown out.  To over come this wastage we planned a menu for the coming weeks and then use food management to eat the items with the shortest shelf life first.

We buy in larger sizes when possible

So what else has worked for us, buying in bulk is the easiest way to get most volume for your dollar. We now buy dry foods like rice, flour and bread mix in as large a bag as we can carry and store.  A 10 kg bag of bread mix is a lot more economical per kilogram than 600 gram bags.
 Bread fresh from the oven

After cruising for a couple of years we found it was a lot better purchase bread making flour and add the other ingredients rather than use pre mixes. Perhaps it is the temperature here in Asian but we found the premix bread packs were going off.  Self-raising flour would also lose its raising properties quickly, we found it was much better to buy plain flour and then add baking powder. This also made storage easier we only needed to store one all-purpose flour not two. We have also used the high protein bread making flour for cooking cakes when we have run out of the all-purpose flour. Our simple recipe for making a tasty loaf of bread is here

If you have the space purchase slabs of food cans when on special, we have a local clearance supermarket and they sell by the case, so for example  if canned tomatoes are on special we get as many as we can store.

Boat made goodies from scratch, doesn't take a lot more work than mixing up a packet
Now days we don't purchase commercially made cake, pancake or biscuit mixes and haven't found it any more demanding putting together a cake, biscuits or slices than if we opened a box and mixed one up. With most of these pre made cake mixes you still have to add an egg or three and a pat of melted or softened butter. We think by the time you get to mix it all up you could have measured the rest of the ingredients and made a cake from scratch with out the added preservatives and inflated price tag.

Yogurt powder, mix up and make a fresh 1Kg tub over night.

Possibly the best tool to help you save money by reducing waste is the purchase of a vacuum bag sealer. This machine is great for processing meat for keeping it a month in the refrigerator, no freezing necessary. We also buy large blocks of cheese and butter then cut them into smaller blocks that can be eaten in a week. We then seal the larger pieces in separate bags to keep them fresh to the original use by date. Purchase bacon, cold meats and sausages in large quantities then seal what you would normally use in one sitting in bags, again a great saver in cost due to being able to purchase in bulk and also having less waste. For that matter we can't remember when we last threw out moldy cheese or bad meat. When using a vacuum sealer make your bag size larger than needed then once you have used the contents wash and dry them out then they are ready to reuse. Another tip is buying your replacement rolls of vacuum bag material online and save on the purchase.
Cryovac machine is a great way to store food

Powered milk is cheaper than UHT long life milk and is easier to store and bring back to the boat, and the taste? We think it's better than UHT but you're the only one who can judge this. However we know it must be made up correctly, a teaspoon of powder in a hot cup of tea or coffee won't dissolve correctly and most likely will curdle. If you want to use powered milk mix it with cool water first.  As an example of weight saving during resupply day, a one kilo bag of powdered milk will make just over seven litres of milk. This is the equivalent of hauling seven kilograms of UHT. For a small out lay we purchased a yogurt maker and now enjoy regular fresh tubs of yogurt onboard.  What a cost saving and its way easier to transport during resupply and it doesn't need refrigeration until made. 
Powered milk left, this bag will make over 7 litres of milk, 1 litre of UHT on the right

Go back to the cook books and its amazing some of the things you can make on board simply with just a couple of common items, for example a can of condensed milk can be the base ingredient for making a great salad/coleslaw dressing or a tart for desert with just the addition of a couple of items.
To help reduce wastage treat your fresh food as it comes on board. We buy whole vegetables like cabbages and cauliflower as we have found half's go off quickly. We wash root vegetables (not potatoes or onions) in a mild bleach water solution. These are then dried and placed in plastic bags in the fridge.   Capsicums and oranges are also washed in the bleach solution. The capsicums are placed in bags once dried and refrigerated, and the oranges are stored in mesh bags.  Another tip is buy capsicums green as they last for a month in the fridge once treated and not cut.

Buy fresh produce, go to the market as early as you can.

Most fruit that has a skin that isn't eaten can benefit from bleach or vinegar and water solution wash. This kills the spores on the skin that usually cause mould to grow and destroy the fruit.  The bleach and water solution is two table spoons in four liters of water, this should be enough for most items.
Potatoes and onions should be stored apart in a dark, dry, well ventilated cupboard away from light, and pumpkins can be stored in the same way but must be refrigerated once cut. Bay leaves in the flour, rice and dry goods bags appear to keep weevils at bay.

If you cannot drink the water out of the tap on your vessel you have a problem, there should be no need to purchase bottles of water other than a large unit for emergency use only.  The best thing to do is to clean your water tanks out and then refill with fresh filtered water. You may even need to run new hoses, the small out lay now will save a bundle later on. How do you clean your tanks? If you have inspection hatches you could open them and inspect the condition of the tank. We have found a heavy bleach solution works very well to clean out the tanks and lines.  Then once we are happy the tank is clean, we fill with filtered water.

We made up a filter for filling the water tanks using a activated charcoal filter. While the cartridge isn't cheap we get a year of use from it. We have also fitted an activated charcoal filter to the outlet in the galley and head sink again we get a year from the cartridge.  The cost saving not having to buy bottles of water certainly adds up. And then there is also the problem of disposing of the empty bottles.
Activated charcoal filter, to clean the water taken on board

A water carbonator as an example a Soda Stream can help cut back costs by making carbonated water on board. Then add flavor cordials to reproduce commercially available soft drink flavors to a standard that only a connoisseur may notice.  After the initial purchase the savings start on the first supply run, firstly there is saving on the purchase of the bottled drink. We also found not having to haul back heavy bottles of liquid at one kilogram per liter a great saving on the number of runs to the shore and back and the savings on the captains back loading and unloading.  

Make your own beer on board. We make a brew at anchor with out any problems. We have gone from the seaway at the Gold Coast to Sydney with a fermentation container strapped to the rail when we had a brew on the go and a weather window opened up and it was time to go. So far finding a local brew shop to buy supplies hasn't been very hard to do.
Brewing on board isnt hard and it saves a lot of money
A water carbonation unit, removes the back breaking work of carting pre made drinks and is a lot cheaper per litre. The little bottle of concentrate here will make 12 litres, equivalent to 12 Kg if your hauling pre made drinks back to the boat. 

This is some thing that is going to get scarier and scarier as time goes by. Our insurance bill came and we found it had doubled from the previous year. We clearly had not budgeted for this rise and what a shock, while there are a lot of theory's floating around why insurance companies are insisting on dramatic rises. It clearly must be remembered that these people are in business to make money for the share holders, and if there are people out there who drive up on reefs or go to sea unprepared and are then rescued with the insurance company paying the bills or cost of tows, it cuts into their profits considerably.

So the best thing you can do is ring your insurance company and have a talk with them. If you are living aboard let them know, try for a live aboard discount because clearly your vessel is maintained and checked on a regular basis. If you don't get any joy then get a survey, a valuation then go to a broker and see what can be done to get a better deal. 

The next option is to self insure and get 3rd party insurance this dramatically reduces your out goings but it wont work unless you own your vessel out right.  We do know of some who don't even have 3rd party insurance and don't go to marinas, however we are not sure what they do when its time to pull the vessel out of the water for a new coat of anti foul. It's usual for the slip way to not pull the vessel from the water until a valid insurance certificate is sighted. 

Cut your own hair
Don't spend money on haircuts cut it yourselves to save money.  We've started to cut mine. It really isn't that difficult.  If you need a starting place Google "cutting your own hair" then pick the method that seems right for you. A set of hair clippers will cost less than the equivalent amount a basic hair cut at a hair salon would cost.

Phones & internet
Lots of scope to save money here however it may mean you get a phone with fewer bells and whistles and purchase it out right. We go with a prepaid phone plan with a carrier that uses a national carrier's network. There is a lot of options here like additional data of a week end and unlimited calls and text.  It didn't take much to go from over a hundred dollars a month to just over forty without any noticeable change in life style.   We use our phone as a hotspot for internet coverage, this has more than halved our communication costs. It really boils down to your phone and mobile data usage, shop around.  We have found that some networks are better for coverage. Check the carrier's coverage maps before committing, there is nothing more frustrating than having a cheap plan that doesn't have a connection very often.

General consumables 
Cleaning products can be expensive but it is possible to reduce the cost and be environmentally friendly. The use of natural cleaners such as vinegar and bi-carb soda are two of several environmentally friendly products that we have found work as well as commercially available cleaners. Shop around, a eucalyptus based concentrated clothes washing powder available at hardware stores is available in bulk and at a quarter of the price of the cheapest available at the supermarket. Buy concentrated dish washing liquid, not the type you add water to when you get home, these are nothing but a gimmick. Purchase toilet paper, tooth paste, shampoo and soap in bulk when on special.
When on special stock up if you have the room

Batteries for portable appliances are a high cost item and buying in bulk while on special is the best way of getting the best price.  We try and buy our battery powered appliances by the battery type, by reducing the variety of batteries can help maximize the savings when buying in bulk due to buying more of one type. Another way to save is to see if rechargeable batteries will work in the unit, some appliances will flag a low battery alert if rechargeable batteries are used due the fully charged battery being .3 of a volt less than the non rechargeable in the equivalent size.

It appears to be getting harder to make the cruising dollar go as far as we all want, but we can stretch it with the simple management of resources. Recycle and reuse makes a lot of sense, if you can, visit the local boat market for bits and pieces.  There can be good value to be had but it may take some time to source items. So look around keeping a small shopping list with sizes etc in your pocket in case you think you have found what you are looking for.   The only real boundary to being self sufficient on a small income is your imagination.

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