Fast track to cruising

Pandemic closes down the world. The world decides to go cruising!

OK, not exactly, but there’s been a very unexpected impact of coronavirus: we are seeing a surge in people making plans to go cruising. Back in March, Jamie and I feared our coaching work would evaporate overnight. We thought the boat market would tank. What’s happening? Pretty much exactly the opposite so far. In the last three months, the onboarding rate for new coaching clients has more doubled. For insight into the reasons, here are a range of themes coming through along the decisions to go.

Stalled career

Pandemic restrictions have slowed down, or even halted, many businesses. For a number of people we’re working with, the low-work stretch ahead is a great opportunity to check out of ‘normal life’ for a while. One family we work with operates outdoor education programs: they’ve shut down for the time being. Another family runs a tourism-based business in an area where tourism ground to a halt. It’s different for everyone: but if you could choose between a break for adventurous living, or slogging through a downturn, doesn’t the former sound better?


Other gonna-go cruisers may not see their jobs stalling: they may see them disappearing entirely. The loan they want to buy “the boat” is suddenly a priority – in order to secure it, while they can still demonstrate income to qualify! For cruisers planning a sabbatical trip, reselling the boat after a couple of years, this can make a lot of sense…but hinges on some critical timing and the unknown ETA of a pink slip.

This week: keeping socially distant from dolphins #thestruggleisreal

Life is too short

Still others have found their priorities shifted by the pandemic, and decided to make that big change in their lives. It could be precipitated by suddenly working from home, and finding that those family members are pretty fun to spend more time with. It might be awfully nice to be home read a book to the littlest ones, instead of still commuting or off on a business trip. Or it could be the loss of a loved one, forcing examination of how time is being spent. These, too, are the profiles of people who intended to go eventually and are now making concrete plans.

Guts…and logistics

The rationale for many is simple: in the face of uncertainty, floating around on a boat isn’t such a bad option. Of course, that’s easier if you’re basically moving your home from a house on land to a boat on the water within the same country. What about when your boat and your starting point are separated by miles or a border or a continent?

In March, we counseled clients to play wait-and-see while looking for their dream boat. Unless jumping immediately was clearly the right choice, why not wait for prices to come down as the market slows? Except… the market did not slow. Brokers are telling us they’ve been busier than ever, and we’re seeing the same dynamic among coaching clients as well.

Life as usual: studying SAT vocabulary

Normally, we’d get hives over anyone closing on a boat sight unseen – it’s best avoided. But it’s possible to work through trusted proxies: a good buyer’s broker, who represents the buyer’s interest. A local cruiser who can act as an independent third party and “be the eyes” on behalf of a remote buyer… unmotivated by the deal closing, and happy to lend a hand for beer money. One client is shopping from mainland North America for a boat on a Caribbean island who benefits from both the broker and a local cruiser assist. Another landlocked buyer had savvy local stand-in to assure that their survey went as well as possible. Both sales are moving forward and it’s unlikely that buyers will set foot on board before closing papers are signed.

Perhaps there will be distressed sales later this year when plans and funds have reached their endpoint, or when the short term buyers find the reality of a snap decision doesn’t match their vision. But for now, from where we sit, there’s a pending cohort eager to make the leap.

Totem’s 20/20 hindsight

We departed at the outset of a recession in 2008. During the first couple of years out, we heard repeatedly from home: it wasn’t a lot of fun to be in a struggling work environment and dim job market. It would have been easy enough to delay our plan (the downturn affected us: no house sale to fuel the kitty), but as the slowdown dragged out, we had one more reason to be grateful for maximizing family time through a rewarding life instead of being back on the wheel.

There’s an unattributed quote (feel free to educate me): nobody looks back on life and wishes they’d spent more time at the office. If covid has opened a window on the cruising opportunity and tipped more into the community, there’s a sliver of light to appreciate.

Upcoming events

We’re sharing experiences and engaging in conversations – please join in!

Wednesday, June 17, 5pm Eastern: Cocktails with Cruising World.

Kicking off the magazine’s weekly summer series this week! Grab your beverage of choice, pull up a screen, and hang out while we talk with Cruising World editors Herb McCormick and Mark Pillsbury.


Saturday, June 20, 8pm Eastern: TOTEM TALKS: Dream Destinations. 

A lighter turn in our livestream series: dream cruising destinations! Join for a dose of escapism as we share a range of favorites, including places you can only access as a cruiser. 


Friday, June 26, 8pm Eastern: virtual book club discussion of Sea Wife

Behan just finished this gripping tale, one which hit all too well on key themes for going cruising. Sea Wife tells the story of a family’s cruising sabbatical, and it nails many of the challenging dynamics of setting sail. No spoilers here, but it’s a page turner – nautically inclined or not. Bonus: author Amity Gaige will join!


23 Responses

  1. Fantastic article. I like that you address and name the big motivating factors. You guys are awesome!

  2. Respect & admiration to you guys…you are making it work!
    Highly recommend anyone who is thinking about making that big decision…they were some of the best days we spent as a family – treasure time together.

    Stay well and safe Team Totem!

  3. This kind of echoes our thinking when we decided, over the course of a dinner, to take the kids for a year way back in 2008. The tanking of the economy was a plus in many ways. The coronavirus now has caused us to push back our planned departure for a year, more wrapped around a complicated set of circumstances involving access to the boat, needing to be in the house with the kids, and timing of health insurance questions. Still, time is the one thing we can’t get more of.

    Thanks for another great post!

    1. You are right on about how it prompts hard thinking about options! And yours are the best for the long haul… eyes on the prize!

  4. Thank you for your insight. As a land locked Midwesterner we have thought about making the leap during the past 3 months of lockdown but our fear of being able to afford to do it sits on the back of our minds. Not sure if my job would let me continue to work remotely after this is all over and my husband (union millwright/boatwright) hasn’t worked yet this year. His busy times are spring and fall unless there’s an emergency. The pandemic cancelled all spring work.

    Question, what do you do in regards to health insurance and medical? Wondering because what if someone gets sicker than a Tylenol will take care of.

    1. Hi Theresa! We’ve typically done what most cruisers do: have travel insurance, with a high deductible (to keep the premium affordable). We expect to never make a claim, it’s just peace of mind for what-if illness or emergency. However, most travel policies don’t cover pandemic illness; fine print is important to read. Meanwhile, paying out of pocket for our medical and health care needs has never been a burden, because costs outside of the US are human instead of…whatever you’d call our broken “system”! I have a few blog posts about this: check out posts tagged ‘healthcare’ or this link, to find them.

  5. With all the extra time I have now due to the pandemic, I have become a voracious reader most days. Just added Sea Wife to my Kindle and can’t wait to dive into it later this afternoon. This will add to my my already heightened excitement and anticipation for my first sail this season, scheduled for Saturday. Cheers!

  6. Thanks Behan,
    Your reaction to the the surge in people looking to buy a boat NOW mirrors mine. Amazement! Waiting for some future when they have enough wealth and savings to buy the perfect $1,000,000 boat and sail off into a risk free future no longer seems like a sure thing. Are we ready for the New Normal?

    I’m reminded of the portion of the oft-repeated Sterling Hayden quotation that is usually forgotten:

    “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.”
    ― Sterling Hayden, Wanderer

  7. Hi Behan, once again a great article! I would just add that a good surveyor is also a must when buying a boat far away. We do a lot of “remote” deals as we are based in Tahiti, and the surveyor is always very helpful. The cruising friend can be very helpful but most people find it difficult to find the right balance between saying that the boat is fantastic or is crap because they do it out of friendship and are not used to surveying boats. They add value because they can give a good “first impression” report but the surveyor will bring a very systematic approach. Otherwise 100% agree on what you wrote

    1. Thanks for your comment, David. I may not have been clear: the cruising friend is definitely not a substitute for a professionally survey! But it’s a very affordable “sniff test” to make sure a remote boat actually resembles the listing reasonably well enough to warrant the next step: hiring a surveyor (which includes a range of potential other expenses). The cruisers are generally more keen to demonstrate their knowledge as they are not friends of the buyers, and we’ve found this works really well for everyone.

  8. Hi Behan: My daughter just sent me a list of hand sanitizers made in Mexico that the FDA is warning are dangerous as they contain methanol (wood alcohol) which is toxic. You may want to review that list because of your location. Cindy

  9. Another bunch of crazy questions. What kind and where do you get boat insurance? I’m guessing it’s not like calling your local insurance agent? Do the policies have rules in regards to hurricanes?

    1. Hi Theresa! There are underwriters specifically for international voyaging, but your local agent (existing relationship) is a good place to start in case they are able to access those policies. There are often rules regarding hurricanes; you may not have any coverage for named storms, and you may be required to submit a hurricane plan to get approved by insurance. The insurance market is particularly difficult right now!

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