It’s been a year! Can ya believe it? On 17 October 2015, S/V Delancey and crew cast off from our Jersey City slip and began our journey to the Caribbean. Eight months, five countries, twenty-four islands, and five cellphone plans later, here we are in the US Virgin Islands. We arrived here in early June, found a slip in a protected marina, got jobs with a good architecture firm, and rebuilt the cruising kitty while we waited out hurricane season.
Now, four months later and thankfully untouched by weather events, we’re planning our departure. We’re getting everything shipshape: hauling the boat for new bottom paint, filling her up with provisions, for our trip down the Windwards and Leewards toward Grenada. This anniversary, and these new expenses, prompted me to review our spending over the past year.
[For those of you with no curiosity about the expense of cruising, I’ll keep this from going total inside-baseball by interspersing it with recent pics of us exploring and playing around in St. Thomas.]
Of all the questions folks, including us, have when preparing for a long-term cruise, “what’s it gonna cost?” is the most-asked. Looking back on our spending of the past year, I can confidently say that it costs whatever you have available. You could lead a simple life with a simple boat and spend less than $25,000 in a year. You could also drink and dine out, take side-trips to explore, and maintain a big, old, boat with lots of ageing systems and spend $100,000. One year out, we’ve spent something in the middle of that range.
All through the year we’ve recorded our every expense, which I enter into a spreadsheet at the end of each month. The spreadsheet is broken down into categories. Here’s how the costs shook out relative to each other:
BOAT – 39% Perhaps unsurprisingly, the biggest single expense has been the boat itself, equaling the next three biggest expenses combined. This line covers anything related to the boat, including not only parts and gear, but the cost of professional repairs when necessary (and they’ve been necessary), permits, insurance, and our weather forecasting service. Surprises along the way included having the anchor windlass rebuilt ($1,900), replacing a failed alternator regulator ($1,000), and having to remove and repair the transmission twice ($1,500 in the Dominican Republic, $1,000 in Puerto Rico).
SLIPS AND MOORINGS – 16% When we first cast off, we figured that we’d spend most evenings at anchor, saving marina slips for the occasional indulgence when we wanted to take real showers and enjoy wifi. Most of the time, that’s exactly how it worked. There were two notable exceptions that drove this cost up to second place. First, much of the Intracoastal Waterway is just a narrow canal with nowhere to “pull over” to anchor. On these occasions, marinas are the only option when it’s time to tuck in for the evening. The second reason is tied to the item above. Having integral boat systems professionally repaired required us to stay in marinas during the work. This added their hotel-room-like daily rates to the cost of the repairs.
BARS AND RESTAURANTS – 13% Coming in at number three is the first real discretionary cost, the first one that we could have totally eliminated, but didn’t. Before we left, one piece of money advice that really struck me was, “Don’t think you’re going to become a different person just because you’re on this trip. If you liked going out for cocktails and dinner before you left, you’re not gonna want to eat rice and beans washed down with water every night while cruising.” Turns out we like to go out. We like nightlife. We like restaurants. We really like beach bars. Drilling down a bit, I notice that costs in this category went down significantly while in the Bahamas (especially the Out Islands, where there are relatively few options for gross indulgence) and up whenever we had visitors (good times). This line has also climbed a bit while we’ve been here, stationary and employed, in St. Thomas. Our wallets and waistlines could probably due with a little privation going forward. Right after I finish this sundowner.
FOOD AND GROCERIES – 10% Okay. Sure. 10% of our cash has gone to food and groceries (i.e.: non-food stuff we buy in grocery stores. You’re nuts if you think I’m going to break down individual receipts.). Seems about right. As makes sense, groceries on tiny islands cost about 175% of what they cost on the mainland. Our cost would probably be a touch higher (but still make for an overall savings) if we didn’t eat out so much.
PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL – 8% This is mostly life-maintenance stuff like laundry, clothing, haircuts, and drugstore sundries (band-aids, shampoo), but it also includes our professional registrations and the cost of renting our tiny storage space in NJ.
CELLPHONE AND INTERNET - %6 We’ve had five different cellphone plans since we first cast off: Verizon (US), BaTelCo (Bahamas), Lime (Turks and Caicos), Orange (Dominican Republic), T-Mobile (Puerto Rico), and Sprint (USVIs). In all cases, the carrying costs haven’t been bad. The spikes came when we were switching from one to another. We have also been known to pay usury rates when we really needed wifi. We love our current Sprint plan. It’s a no-contract unlimited data plan with a fairly low monthly fee considering that we regularly hook the phone up to the television to stream shows.
When we leave here and head for the eastern Caribbean and its many tiny countries, we’re gonna have to set up some voice-over-internet apps so we can keep in touch with the folks. There’s no way I’m collecting ten more phone plans.
NON-BOAT TRANSPORTATION - %6 Tied with cellphones and internet access has been the cost of getting around when we’re not on the boat. For most of the trip, this has been negligible. In Turks and Caicos we rented a car for a day. In the Dominican Republic, we took a bus trip to Santo Domingo. Since we’ve been in St. Thomas, this cost has naturally gone up. We spend $6/day, about $130/month, on our daily bus commute. I’ll happily pay that for not having to buy a car while here. This line also includes the cost of the plane tickets we just bought to fly us (and cat Lucy) for a visit home in November.
FUEL – 3% I was surprised by this. Granted, we haven’t needed to fuel up since July, but for much of this trip I feel like we’ve been burning diesel like we were trying to get rid of it. Looking deeper, we only ever had one month where we paid more than $400 on fuel (Mayaguana, Bahamas to Turks & Caicos to Dominican Republic; a LOT of motoring). At cruising speed, S/V Delancey burns a skosh under a gallon per hour. Maintain your engine, folks.
MEDICAL – 2% I’m quite happy to report that medical costs have been minor. The 2% represents some eye doctor (and vet) visits in prep for our trip home, as well as some expensive follow-up when I chopped of my fingertip last December.
ENTERTAINMENT – 2% Since we set up a separate category for restaurants and booze, the amount we’ve spent on not-ingesting-things type entertainment is quite small. It covers some side trips we took exploring the Dominican Republic, maps, an underwater camera, and books, books, books.
WATER, TRASH AND PUMPOUT – 0% I was also surprised by this. We actually did spend money on these, but in the overall scheme of things, they weren’t statistically significant. I will never complain when I have to pay $3 for somebody to take my bag of trash.
So that’s it! Barring too many unforeseen circumstances, we’ve made enough money at our jobs to keep us going for the next leg of the trip. And that leg is starting soon; in early November, we’re flying home to vote, visit friends, and spend time with our families. We’ll return to St. Thomas just after Thanksgiving, bend on the sails, load up on final provisions, and cast off for year two of this little odyssey. Thanks to you all for your expressions of support this first year. Wish us luck with the second. We’ll keep you posted.