Eight years down: how we fund the cruising life

1- departure

How can we afford the cruising life? Everybody wants to know, but few ask. Cutting to the chase: we’re not independently wealthy. How we’ve supported ourselves has changed over time. Today marks the first day in our ninth year of cruising (holy cow!): retracing those years in terms of our finances tells the tale.

On August 21, 2008, we untied the lines from our slip behind the pub in Eagle Harbor and set off to go cruising with a pocketful of savings from about a decade of anticipation, and six years of more intent planning. We never expected to be out this long. When we left Bainbridge Island for Mexico in 2008, we expected to be gone for at least two years…five, at the outside.

2009: exploring in the Mogote, La Paz, Mexico

It was our assumption that as the kids approached high school age, they’d year for a more “normal” life. And then, we weren’t sure we’d be able to afford cruising. We were living off savings built up in anticipation of this interlude in our lives, and that money could only last so long.

2010: always a friendly lap in Fiji
2010: always a friendly lap in Fiji

At around the two year mark, we found ourselves scraping the bottom of the financial barrel. This was sooner than expected, but our hopes to fund additional years of sailing by selling our house were foiled by the real estate crash. Instead, we lost money monthly as the mortgage exceeded rental income: there was no option but going back to work. Sitting in Tahiti, we mapped out the possibilities: where could we sail to, by the end of the season, and find a job?

Pacific map

The stars aligned around Sydney, so we worked our way steadily towards the western side of the Pacific over the course of 2010 and cashed that first Aussie paycheck when our bank account had dwindled to $100. For the next year and a half, our little family embraced the experience of trying on another country for size…and we pinched pennies to save amid a high cost of living.

Australia day
2011: Australia Day in Sydney Harbor, on MV Furthur

Australia indelibly imprinted on us, but six months of attending school in Brisbane cured our kids of any urge to attend “normal” school. With enough in the kitty to sustain us for a while again, they cheered the prospect of returning to homeschooling when we had a family meeting in mid-2012 to discuss plans to move on.

2012 – school uniforms in Brissie
2012: school uniforms in Brissie

Departing Australia opened a new chapter in our cruising lives. For all the aspects of living in Oz that we enjoyed, it also showed us that we no longer fit in. Jamie and I determined to find a new ways to support our family and continue cruising, so we wouldn’t have to repeat the cycle of working in a developed country…for a while, at least. Trying to pass for normal with people who couldn’t understand our real drives and motivations was draining, and pressures on the kids not what any of us wanted.

2013: temple style, Bali
2013: temple style, Bali

And so while sailing west through Indonesia during the first six months of 2013 we worked on ways to build a few streams of trickle income to sustain us. Returning to sailmaking after many years, Jamie discovered how much he has to offer as a cruising sailmaker, helping people get the right sail. I found new energy around sharing our life through writing, and building a bit of income from freelancing, this blog, and co-authoring Voyaging with Kids. At the same time, shifts in rent/mortgage allowed us to actually earn some income from our house, a welcome cushion when bigger boat projects piled up as we prepared Totem for the Indian Ocean.

ditch kit
2014: reviewing and repacking the ditch kit

Last year, we spent our cruisiversary in East Africa, anchored off Cosmoledo—a  remote atoll in the southern Seychelles. Hunkered down to take shelter from rough conditions en route to Comoros, we had the company of friends for shared hikes, snorkeling, meals and laughs. Headed toward South Africa, our thin earnings weren’t going to be enough for extras: for the first time, we dug into retirement savings to avoid missing out on the rich experience of inland Africa.

2015: weathering a blow with friends on Shakespeare

Now, with our eighth year behind us, financial dynamics are shifting yet again. Our house returns to the status of net expense instead of net income (curse you, adjustable mortgage!). But we’re building new sources of income doing something we truly enjoy: cruise coaching service, where we share what we know to help others through the steps to go cruising. What’s also different now is we’re a little more accustomed to the instability in ways our 2008 selves could never have imagined. We live on a thin margin. To make that work, in most years, our expenditures are well below the US poverty line for a family of five. Sure, it’s stressful! But we balance that with the opportunity, and it’s not a difficult choice. Our priorities are different.

2016: sunset on the Mystic river
2016: sunset on the Mystic river

Nobody is more surprised than I am that we are cracking into our ninth year of cruising: still out adventuring, exploring as a family, no plans beyond “Cuba sounds good” for this winter. Happy cruisiversary to us! Raising a glass to celebrate on the Mystic river tonight as the sun sinks behind Noank, grateful to chalk up another year of living adventurously.

44 Responses

  1. This sounds up or feelings on there financial aspect of things (and the two teens on board more than agree) “To make that work, in most years, our expenditures are well below the US poverty line for a family of five. Sure, it’s stressful! But we balance that with the opportunity, and it’s not a difficult choice. Our priorities are different.”

    For those of us who love the freedom traveling and exploring that this life brings, the value if this lifestyle is immeasurable.

    We are able to live on very little, so we’re hoping to have built up some monthly income via writing and YouTube by the time it ‘planned’ savings run out. It takes less that 1/⁴ th of a very frugal land life budget to make it out here for us… So we’re thinking and hoping that it will be doable for as long we’re comfortable doing it.

    1. And that’s exactly it, Byn– we just live on such a tiny fraction of what we used to, that we don’t need the earnings we relied on in past years. Here’s to finding ways to make it work!

    2. We’ve only recently found your blog and have truly enjoyed your writings. We also filled an evening with wine and your YouTube videos with the SV Delos crew! Thank you for sharing and many more years of safe travels to you. What’s the saying…Fair winds and following seas?

  2. Happy Eight Anniversary Totem! What an adventure so far. Looking forward to following you the next time round the globe. As an Aussie, though, I have always wondered why your time in Oz was a low spot on your journey around the globe and why you skipped through the Queensland coast and the Great Barrier Reef so quickly, as if it was something to get over with rather than enjoyed. Whatever the reason, please give us another chance on your next time though. Anchoring on the GBR, 50nm off the coast in glassed out conditions is smimply something not to be missed. The snorkelling, the nature, the tranquility. Just a thought.

    1. Skipping up the Q’ld coast was totally a function of the weather. We’d have loved to stay longer, but cyclone season approached, and we wanted to get north to the relatively safe latitudes. And honestly, as far as it being a low spot– that was a combination of 1) my work was Not Fun, and 2) we found local folks to generally be… not all that friendly. Aussies we meet “out there” are awesome, but in Oz, everyone was too busy with their everyday life to have time for a new friend. Not unlike what we find being back in the USA, so not a ding against Australians necessarily… I think it’s fair to say that we’d changed. I’d love to linger longer the next time around, and see more of the GBR if it’s not bleached and dead by then.

  3. Congratulations, that is an accomplishment with three kids in tow! I hope we can manage for a quarter the time you have 🙂

  4. Happy Cruisiversary! Thanks for sharing this, it is very helpful for those of us the early stages of pursuing this lifestyle.

    We recently watched your interview with Delos (which was AWESOME), and Niall said he would like to stay in one place for a while when he gets older. How do you think the kids moving out of the ‘house’ will change your finances (I realize this might not happen for a while)? Do you think a smaller boat would be in order?

    Always love reading your stuff, and can’t wait to see Cuba through your eyes!

    1. Hey Chris, possibly a smaller boat – but we sure do love Totem, and know her well, and appreciate her performance. I think as long as we have an eye on crossing oceans we’ll not want to make a change (although some insulation and a heater are in order for higher lat sailing I’d love to do someday). Bonus: easier for the kids to visit!

  5. Congratulations on following your dreams! My husband and I are in the process of selling our home to get ready to live aboard! As I’ve been doing research on living aboard I came across your blog and have been enjoying following your journey. It is so inspiring and much braver than what we are planning to do; just hug the east coast! I am looking forward to living a much more simple life, I’m so tired of ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’!!!
    Thank you for sharing your family’s journey with us!
    Wishing you the best in your continued journey!

    1. Nothing wrong with hugging the east coast, cruising takes all shapes and sizes! Maybe you’ll do that and find you want to leg out longer distances…maybe not…either way, it’s a win. Here’s to not keeping up with the Jonses!

  6. Houses are anchors! Dump it overboard as if it were an old CQR! I was just in Seattle two weeks ago and it has gone crazy– Peak Housing can’t be far behind when everybody wants one. Of course I’ve been wrong about real estate before— but never wrong about going sailing.

    ps: Average house prices in Vancouver BC just dropped 20% in only one month!

    1. LOL Richard! Real estate really does seem to be on a blitz there right now. But if there’s strong economic growth, who knows. Anyway, we lost the chance to sell this year because we flat-out weren’t ready. Would love to have sold it to our old tenants! We’ll probably try again in a year, but this time, we’ll prepare in advance… we didn’t have the financial cushion to list it this summer.

  7. It’s so encouraging that you’ve found income streams to keep this going. We’ll be leaving with a small pension, and I’m having a hard time believing that it will be enough. I tend to hang on to things that I see as resources like our house. I wonder if you think holding on to yours has been worth it considering the ups and downs you’ve experienced? Our son will be renting for awhile, and that should work well for awhile. I look at the future and think to myself that this could be an income stream, if we could get from here to there and keep it. You can pm me if you don’t want to answer here. Love it that you guys have been at this for so many years!

    1. I’ve got very mixed feelings about our house. I don’t think real estate is the practically guaranteed investment it was for past generations. We DO have a sweet house in a fantastic location. But I still wonder if forces outside our control will mean it all disappears someday. The hassle of renting is exactly that. When we do make some money, there’s still big expenses- new major appliances about annually, repainting last year, etc.- that really add up. Having your son is huge, you know/trust him. My peace of mind in this comes 100% from the fact that a friend of ours acts as de facto property manager. Which reminds me, I need to go order a case of wine for her!

  8. Thanks for sharing this. Our family leaves next year and plans to dedicate our entire vlog to this exact subject.

    We are upgrading our sail inventory with Jamie right now and this is something many can think about when prearing for cuising. You can buy from a big international company, or you can “vote with your dollar” and place money where it aligns with our own personal philosophy. It’s not just about where you earning money, but also where you spend it.

    1. THANK YOU for voting with your dollar. I believe that too! Grateful for your support! And now I need to check out your vlog while we have bandwidth, thanks for the reminder!

  9. Happy Cruisiversary, Totem Crew! I have enjoyed following you for years, Behan, and love your adventures. Though I’m not cruising (yet) on my own boat, I have a dream to do so someday. I sort of follow along in the background on WWS and read/watch all sorts of sailing blogs/vlogs…top among them of course, Sailing with Totem. I SO want to sell my house and contents and just buy a boat and set sail. However, I know a lifestyle change like that takes planning. I will do what I did before I left on my Great American Roadtrip in the spring and get the ducks in their rows! Oh, by the way, the bannock was wonderful on my trip. Thanks for sharing your recipe with me. I’ve been home a little over a month now. Love to all aboard Totem. Yes, fair winds and following seas ~~~

  10. “To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea… “cruising” it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in.” Sterling Hayden


  11. Congratulations on your milestone. Miss the Totem gang, but it sounds like you are all doing well. Love the idea of cruise coaching. If anyone can help, it is you. PS: We are moored by Del Viento. Michael mentioned he had co-authored a book with you, but you had never met. Pretty cool!

  12. Great story yet again.. I’m off to the Carribean season 2017/2018 and who knows and I do hope our wakes may cross.. that would be a cherry to THAT cake !!

  13. I’m a long time reader/admirer of Totem congratulations on the Cruisiversary. We’re due to cast off in 2018 and I can’t wait. My husband is an engineer and I’m a management consultant, both potentially useful professions that we could tap into for extra funds along the way. Or at least that’s what I’d been thinking. However, here we are a full two years away from cruising and all of the research and vicarious living I’ve been doing through blogs like yours has brought me to a professional standstill. Day by day the corporate double-speak and self interest overwhelms me like it never did before. I work with all the integrity I can muster and yet….and yet I feel disconnected and ‘other’. All of this is before we’ve even started our family’s adventures!! I cannot fathom how you went back to consulting during your stop in Australia and it’s no wonder you hated it. But I’ll admit I am scared of what this means for our future and whether or how we can reconnect with this society again.
    What an incredible family you are to let us all benefit from your experience in this way – although we’ll forge our own paths you have certainly cleared enough of the undergrowth for some light to shine in. Fair winds!

    1. Bondi, thank you for chiming in. I remember being in that place, listening to nonsensical business jargon that everyone uses and thinking “how much longer can I take it?” As for picking up work you don’t like – it’s all about the goal, and it’s amazing what you can put up with when you know what’s ahead. Glad we could whack away some of the undergrowth. 🙂

  14. Thanks, Totem! In our fifth year aboard, now dock rats in Portland,OR while we help out with aging parent issues, it’s nice to be reminded that a cruising break isn’t the end. Here’s to casting off again in a few years. Perhaps we’ll meet up someday in Cuba!

  15. Thanks Behan! I’ve recently left the world of non-sensical business jargon in an attempt to create a new life that is more in line with my values. I LOVED seeing this post! Thank you for sharing! — Dawn

  16. You’re hitting all cylinders right now Behan! All major ideas, questions, and concerns that we’ve (wife and I) been going through have been touched upon. Having cruised for around a couple of years myself, I know what to expect. However, she’s just being a good mother hen crossing t’s and dotting i’s. The money will only go so far, and there’s no one way to save and skimp. Creativity rules all! Glad you guys are finding a way and chugging along. Cheers!

    1. It helps so much when you know what you’re getting into! And then, patience while the i’s are dotted… and always creativity! Thanks Todd.

      1. Btw, I LOVE that picture of the girls chilling on laps in Fiji. To me this is what cruising with kids does for you: open doors that would not have otherwise been an option. I sure as heck know they wouldn’t let me sit on their laps! 🙂 Kids are the ultimate icebreaker… for better or worse sometimes!

  17. Thank you, Behan for helping to fuel the dreams of many would-be cruisers. We are prepping the boat and the kitty, and are less than two years from our planned departure date. For now, our ambition is to cruise the eastern seaboard and the Caribbean for a period we can finance without working. But, if we end up venturing further, we too will have to find work and alternative income sources.
    In many countries, immigration requirements are an obstacle to finding employment. How were you able to work and send the children to school in Australia? Did you have to apply for permits or visas in advance, or on arrival? What was the procedure and was it complicated? I have read of cruisers doing the same in New Zealand and you might have met a few of these and know something of their experience.
    Happy cruisiversary and the best of luck to you in your travels.

    1. In Australia, I was lucky to be seeking work in a field that’s not too hard to get a work visa. However, it still required a company to sponsor! That takes time and planning, so it’s not a good idea to just show up and look – better to start beforehand. It’s not that complicated a process, though. We were unable to put the kids in public school in Sydney without paying exorbitant fees, so we didn’t; we kept on boatschooling. We later moved to Brisbane (I changed jobs) in part because we wanted the kids to have an Aussie school experience, and in that state, it’s possible to enroll them when you have a work visa without the crazy costs. Quick synoopsis, but hope that helps!

    1. It’s interesting, but I disagree that “plenty of people” are living off donations. It does work really well for a few – and those I know who are successful work hard to earn that support.

  18. Congrats to you and your family Behan! For us it’s 8 yrs. away before we leave with our family!!! Enjoy your next year(s) to come! 🙂 Oh, I bought your book, reading it now… Very good!!! I’d recommend it to anyone considering cruising! 🙂


Comments are closed.