Cost Conscious Cruiser
Lin & Larry Pardey
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Reviewed by Daniel B. MacNaughton
Over the years I’ve come to feel that really, there is just nothing quite so gratifying as encountering someone who agrees with me about almost everything. So I’m a big fan of Lin and Larry Pardey!
In The Cost Conscious Cruiser the Pardeys have described in textbook fashion the philosophy that guides their liveaboard lifestyle, as well as the practical considerations that make it possible. They bring to their subject matter a level of experience and credibility that is unsurpassed in the sailing world, plus a maturity that enables them to present a balanced point of view with a “different strokes for different folks” attitude.
On page after page of this book I find what I consider to be the soundest advice about boats and cruising that I’ve ever seen in one place, in great quantity. If everyone who was just starting out in boats took all the advice that the book aims specifically at them, their chances of making decisions they will later applaud would be hugely increased.
This is primarily because of the authors’ consistent theme of simplicity, realistic expectations, and smaller boats.
I hope any newcomers to cruising under sail will accept a couple of fundamental premises. One is that the path to successful boat ownership and cruising is by no means obvious at its outset, and is in fact obscured by assumptions perfectly realistic in shoreside life. The other is that, while there is no reason to religiously follow any one source of advice, the advice of more experienced people is quite invaluable. I think one finds that the best advice begins to have a certain ring to it, over time.
Most everyone who wants to move aboard a boat and do some long-term cruising sees it as a process of paring away the unnecessary possessions and habits of life, but few realize how far that process may be continued, and how pleasurable the result can be. Many a cruising dream has foundered on the rocks of inaccurate assumptions, and often these have to do with the size of boat that is needed for the purpose, and the complexity of the systems it contains. A cruising boat is a not a house. It is a vehicle, but one completely unlike any other. Ashore we would consider a person utterly impoverished if they were forced to live in a house with the cubic volume of most cruising sailboats, and rightly so. Most successful cruising boats have a lack of systems, appliances, and conveniences that we would also find unacceptable in our shoreside lives. Those of us who have lived aboard do often come to question the scale and expense of typical western lifestyles, but that is not my point. Life aboard a small cruising vessel is rendered almost completely unlike the life we live ashore by the degree to which the natural world dominates its every aspect. Life aboard is life under a wide and dramatically turbulent sky, and on a vast and ever-changing plane of water. If one does not (as sometimes happens) actually get stuck in some nether region of one’s boat, claustrophobia is not a factor. One lives on a boat, not in it, and few things are as pleasurable as the cabin of a small boat, after a day out in the weather. Likewise, the oceanic environment is hostile to everything mechanical and electrical to a degree unimaginable to those who live in houses. Compared to the usual shoreside appliances, “marine” equivalents are often many times the initial cost, a fraction of the size, have a fraction of the lifespan, and rely upon energy that is extremely difficult and expensive to produce. Repairing them in out-of-the- way places is often impractical. Often the decision to opt for more of a minimalist lifestyle is simply forced upon cruising yachtsmen, one mechanical breakdown at a time. But the message is not that you have to suffer for the sake of the liveaboard lifestyle. The good news is that many of the things we often view as necessities are no such thing, and while there may be some sacrifices to be made, there are corresponding rewards on every hand. This book does a great job of sorting this out, and might well save its reader thousands of dollars, immense frustration, and years of preparation for moving aboard.
The Cost Conscious Cruiser is partly about such general but important points, but it is also contains specific and quite fascinating suggestions. For instance, one whole chapter describes the design and construction of an improved bucket. While this bucket might be the least vital piece of information in the book it is illustrative of one of it’s basic points. In a world of possessions reduced down to those items which may be carried aboard a sailboat under 35’ in length, the one or two buckets invariably included loom larger in importance than most any buckets on shore. They are used on a daily basis for multiple purposes, or else they wouldn’t be there (or there’d be only one). If the bucket works better it will directly improve the quality of life to a degree inconceivable to a non-cruiser. I guarantee that if you tell a group of cruising sailors that you’ve found a better bucket you will instantly have their undivided attention. And there are at least a hundred other objects that, aboard a cruising sailboat, make the same miraculous transformation from mundane to fascinating. The perspective that allows pleasure in simple but elegant things is both a prerequisite for successful living aboard, and one of it’s rewards.
The Cost Conscious Cruiser is not a romantic book. In the sections relating to financial matters the advice is conservative, though the low cost of the liveaboard lifestyle may still be news to some.
Those looking for cruising accounts should read the Pardeys’ other great books, which are highly recommended. This book is more like a textbook. The information is densely packed and the anecdotes are brief. A range of topics are discussed, including the economics of boatbuilding, tips for new- and used-boat buyers, cost-effective outfitting, cost-control, both financial and emotional, when cruising, and a great section of practical ideas such as the aforementioned bucket. I found the chapters relating to outfitting and cruising considerations to be lighter and more “fun” reading than the ones dealing with purely financial matters, and I picked up several practical ideas that easily were worth the cost of the book.
There were some minor things I’d quibble with. My experience with wood and epoxy boat structures does not support the book’s assertion that epoxy is not waterproof, nor do I believe that even tropical sunlight is hot enough to weaken properly constructed wood/epoxy structures—although I doubt I’d paint any boat a dark color in the tropics. The boatbuilding and repair with which I am familiar has always utilized the best epoxies. The Pardeys may very well have seen some boats that were built poorly, or just built with inferior epoxy, which is literally the last place to economize in a wood/epoxy boat!
I also believe that the maintenance characteristics of steel boats need not be as problematic as they describe, with the utilization of epoxy as the base of the coating system, but if older paint systems are relied upon steel is widely known, as they point out, to be a very high maintenance material, and refinishing an older steel hull, on the inside at least (where rust is most likely to be a problem), is a big, big job.
I do, however, strongly agree with their opinions about the many virtues of traditional wooden construction, a method which is more fully compatible with the elements in which it dwells, than any other.
In their discussion of new boat construction the authors do a great job of explaining the folly of compromising quality, longevity, performance, or resale value for the sake of an inexpensive hull (the hull of a boat being but a fraction of its cost), and a healthy conservatism does suggest sticking to a tried and true construction method such as traditional wood (the Pardeys’ choice) or heavily built fiberglass. Furthermore, used boats are typically purchased for about the cost of the materials to build the same boat new—a mark against the whole idea of new construction. However, I do think it is worth mentioning here that the recent development of computer-driven cutting equipment gives rise to an as-yet-under-utilized and potentially radical savings in both time and money in the construction of steel and plywood boats, and in the creation of some portions of nearly all boats. If a designer was to engineer as many parts of the boat as possible for plywood or steel construction, there is the potential for much larger savings in time and money than were previously possible in new construction, spread through most of the boat and not just its hull. This is not to argue against the point made in the book, but to mention a new avenue that deserves study, preferably with the benefit of the book’s excellent advice.
In my short list of criticisms, the last and least important is my concern about the fate of the word “The” in the book’s title, as it made its way from the title page to the dust jacket. I fear it has gone missing, and the effect is unfortunate, to my ear at least.
Readers should be aware that the book assumes the reader’s goal is a very high degree of independence, and more or less global mobility. Worthy goals, indeed, and the assumption is of course correct for many people who are attracted to the liveaboard lifestyle. However, I think it is worth noting in this context that if, say, one was restricting one’s cruising range to the East Coast of North America or another such large but not remote cruising ground, then the economic risks, the standard of equipment, and the initial and outfitting costs of the vessel are a bit less challenging, while the range of operation and the potential diversity of the experience remain high. In many cases a shoal draft vessel that would be entirely unsuitable for transoceanic voyaging might be appropriate, sometimes reducing costs while at the same time it expands the available cruising grounds and affords access to less-frequented areas with some of the character that many range farther afield to locate. But to do what the Pardeys do, I recommend doing as they do.
I would put this book among the very best of the How-To books about sailing, along with Jad Adkins’ primer, The Craft of Sail, L. Francis Herreshoff’s The Compleat Cruiser, and Eric Hiscock’s Cruising Under Sail. I think that anyone interested in the subject of cruising will find it to be worth many, many times the price. $29.95
Reviewed by Daniel B. MacNaughton
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