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How to Cruise without Budget-Bruising

If you chug into a marina needing urgent repairs or are simply looking for a good price on a tourist attraction, ask after the local expert. Most marinas have a long-term resident who can point you to the best mechanics and cheapest markets.

A wise captain once explained sailing to me in this way: “Take your house and car and squish them together. Then hit the road and continuously expose your vehicle to saltwater, high winds and rain.” It didn’t take long to learn that sailing is expensive. But it doesn’t have to be impossible. Here are five budget-friendly tricks I’ve learned. 

Seek out local knowledge

If you chug into a marina needing urgent repairs or are simply looking for a good price on a tourist attraction, ask after the local expert. Most marinas have a long-term resident who can point you to the best mechanics and cheapest markets. In addition, many harbor communities have a morning VHF net, through which you can access local expertise on taxi fares, favorite restaurants and directions to the nearest chandlery. 

Become a barterer

Learn which countries sell the cheapest goods, then learn how to barter. Cigarettes, for instance, cost $2 a pack in most Caribbean nations and $5 a carton in Panama’s Zona Libre, but are solid gold in the French isles. Cruise into Tahiti and it’s easy to exchange cigarettes for laundry service or fishing tackle. I met one captain who had purchased a cache of rum and whisky in Gibraltar for $4 a bottle, which he later bartered for repairs. Other cruisers carry tradable items such as spare parts, duplicate charts, extra line and even skillsets. You’d be amazed what you can trade for some wizardry with diesel engines, electronics or computers. 

Hunt and gather

Sailors have long relied on the ocean for provisions, but Poseidon can be fickle. Boost your chances of fishing success by chatting with local fisherfolk about which techniques and homemade lures work best. If you cruise in the tropics, take an extra bag when you go ashore to help you gather the plentiful fruit. 

Do it Yourself

Apart from the initial purchase of a boat, the biggest cruising expense is repairs, and even a perfectly serviced boat can experience breakages. The more you can fix yourself, the easier your life will be. Take a beginner electronics and engine maintenance course. Stock up on necessary tools and spare parts so you don’t have to get them flown in later. Lastly, keep in mind that crazy breakages are more likely to happen in crazy weather. Always check the forecast, and try not to push your schedule if it means sailing into rough seas.

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