My rent payment is 1€ for 90 days in Martinique…

How much do you pay for rent? or mortgage?

Between my mortgage, property insurance and utilities I was paying over $60,000 a year in Austin.
Yesterday, I made a quick post on facebook when I realized that my “rent” payment here in Martinique is just 1€ for 90 days.  Martinique is 15,000 *times* cheaper than Austin for my family.  For the same home in SF or LA?  Insane.

This post turned out to resonate with a lot of friends with a bunch of fun questions. So I thought I would answer the questions and expand a bit here as a blurred FAQ / blog post.

What does it cost to park a boat?
When you live full-time on your boat there are few possible places you could be at any given night:

At sea – you are passage making – between islands, off of a coast or crossing an ocean. You do not anchor at sea – instead you take watches (looking at single handers) and keep on going. Occasionally you will arrive *too early* at your destination and it is too dark to see the reefs or rocks, or the bridge doesn’t open yet – then you “heave-to” and wait. Cost: $0

On Anchor – this is what Ad Astra has done for more than 99.5% of her days. You find a nice spot sheltered from the waves, perhaps close to a town, or off a beautiful natural location, and you drop your anchor. There are whole books dedicated to discussing how to anchor in a variety of conditions. But basically you drop it ideally on sand, slowly back away from your anchor while facing the wind, pay out between 7 and 10:1 chain, do a reverse test, then swim and dive to inspect. Cost: $0 – $25 a day. Most places in the Caribbean do not charge for anchoring. But each country has a variety of charges for paperwork such as a “Cruising Permit”, Immigration, Customs, National Park Fee, mandatory Fishing license. All of these fees vary by country and there is a whole website that is dedicated to keeping track of these regulations and fees before you arrive. www.noonsite.com On the higher end, St Barts charges 24€ per day in the low season to anchor. Martinique has the lowest fee I have experienced yet – that 1 Euro for 90 days. Simply leave for a day or two and come back, pay another Euro and start another 90-day clock!

On a Mooring Ball – mooring balls have several advantages over anchoring. In locations with fragile coral reefs it saves the reefs from the thoughtless destruction of assholes dragging their anchors through the ecosystem. When the wind shifts, you do not need to worry and re-set like you do when you anchor – this allows you to leave the boat for days, weeks and even months with confidence. (Some people do it for years – grr.) In popular places it allows more boats to pack in, and it often creates a revenue stream for the locals. The cost for a mooring ball varies considerably, and sometimes people drop concrete or engine blocks and create their own under dubious legality, but generally about $10-30 per day. For example in the Tobago Cays in the Grenadines the marine park rangers require you to use a mooring ball as your fee for visiting the park. It is such a gorgeous place and we only stay for 2-3 days at a time, it feels good to pay the ~$25 fee and this is one of the few places I am happy to use a ball.

In a Marina – the classic arrangement for most people who have a home and life on land. They need quick access to the boat to make best use of their weekends and evenings. Marinas have significant advantages: easy access to load/unload gear, easy to take on crew, plentiful water and electrical power, usually decent wifi, a local bar, restaurant and social scene. Some marinas are amazing destinations unto themselves with 6-12 different restaurants, shopping, swimming pools, and entertainment options that are a resort. Naturally, all of this costs money. In the SF Bay area I had a smaller boat in Emeryville and I paid a very reasonable ~$250 per month. Next week, I will actually be in a marina for the first time in 9 months in St. Lucia and the cost will be about $60 per day – which is a good price for a L450. (Getting some work done on our dinghy.) All marinas have daily, weekly, monthly and yearly prices. The all charge by length and most charge extra for catamarans as they take up more space (width). Marinas in the capital cities of the world are naturally very expensive and often have long wait-lists. Costs: $10 to $500 per day. But more typically $30-100 per day.

Pro-tip: if you go to St Barts, you might as well tie-up to the town wall across from the supermarket. It is only 30€ to tie-up on the town wall (see below) with easy access to water. Then you step-off and are immediately in the glitz and feel like a member of Davos.

Q: “Where are you porting or traveling to during hurricane season?Jonathan Flesher
The best case for a marina lifestyle when cruising the Caribbean I have seen so far is to ride out the hurricane season of August, September and October in Grenada such as Secret Harbor for ~ $1000 a month or St George’s at ~ $3000 a month. These places are cool during the season as the social calendar gets really full with volleyball, open mic nights, poker, chess, and dominos, hikes, and kids events all steps away from your boat. We were able to participate in most of these activities while anchored in Prickly Bay, Secret Harbor or St. Georges but it would have been easier and more social to be tied up. On the other hand, I hate mosquitoes and I have not found a marina yet that is not full of those hateful demons.

But for Hurricane season you have several options:
Stay loose – simply keep on cruising and make a bee-line south if weather looks bad – that is what we did and were staged in the Grenadines when I99 (later Matthew) showed up. Con: you could be lazy and forget to check the weather. But people at that time of the year watch the weather constantly, and hurricanes are increasingly less predictable on their paths
Pull out and store “on the hard” – lift your boat out of the water and put it on stands and tie down to the ground with ratchet straps. Traditional time to get work down.
Go south – Grenada, Tobago or Trinidad
Go west – ABCs, Panama, Guatemala
Go east – cross the Atlantic and go to Europe in May
Only north is off limits as Hurricanes travel all the way up the east coast

Q: “Where did you initially buy the boat, first hand, or second hand?” – Joshua Galloway

Like homes, apartments and couch-surfing – there are many different approaches.

First, you do not even need to own a boat:
I recently met an Australian guy who owns a catamaran who hosts young women who are travelling the world as backpackers and explorers. I do not know if any romance happened aboard – and it is none of my business – but I can verify that when I saw them there were 3-4 happy young ladies planning the next step in their adventure to Columbia – I waved goodbye as they set sail for Aruba. There are also hand-written advertisements at major ports where people of all ages offer to trade their skills & time to be crew for weeks to months at a time. So, if you have skills, cheerful and flexible you can just boat-surf your way around the world.

What about Ad Astra?
We bought Ad Astra at the Miami Boat Show, as a new order from the Lagoon Factory in France. We took delivery of Ad Astra in July 2012. Her price new was in the mid $600s, we we have since spent close to $200k over 4 years on additional systems and gear. Or about $800k. Now, I also wrapped Ad Astra in an LLC and put her into charter for four years. I paid cash for Ad Astra, and between the charter income and the tax advantages my true price for Ad Astra was – XXXXXX (redacted – think not much at all – then think lower still).

Do you need an $800k boat?
No. And you do not need a new boat. If I had to do it again, I would still choose the Lagoon 450. In my opinion it is the largest/most comfortable *production* (in volume) catamaran in the world. I would even choose the L450 over the L52, L560 or L620 simply because there is an order of magnitude (and closer to two counting the 440s) of experience building the 450s over the semi-custom larger Lagoons. This means the build quality is higher, and less first owner “bugs” to work out of the system.

But, with four years of experience with the L450 I would definitely buy a used L450, as I have the confidence now to buy used and be able to evaluate the boat myself – but always use a survey on a boat purchase. Looking on YachtWorld there are 58 used L450s for sale in the world, with ex-charter versions going for about $350k. Here is one with some solar and a water maker already installed asking $340k, basically the same as mine with less solar and less a few other bits: http://www.yachtworld.com/boats/2011/Lagoon-450-3045388/Guadeloupe-%28FR%29#.WM0yuxIrJE4

Do I need to spend $350k on a boat?
No, not at all. But most of my friends are from the tech world living in SF, LA, Seattle, or Austin. $350k for a home that you can travel the world would be a huge bargain for most of my friends. In fact in Austin, I was paying $20,000 a year just on property tax. Which works out to $55 per day! The same cost as a marina!

You can have a small boat or a large boat, a boat with minimal systems or you can have a boat with lots of conveniences and toys.  From my casual gut feeling, the average full-time cruising boat is between $30 and 100k.  (With impressive exceptions on both sides!)   I did a quick search on YachtWorld.com and there are thousands of boats looking for new owners:

Price Range – Boats for sale
$40-75k – 4800
$75-100k – 2900
$100-150k – 3700

Of course, some of these boats would need work from minor to major, and some should be avoided. But out of those 10,000 boats I am sure at least 4000 would be great to own and live aboard for different people for different purposes.

Q: Arrrrr, there be Pirates Matey?
“Safety wise, do you always sleep, docked, at reputable ports? Have you ever had to sleep in your ship out at sea? Is there ever a possible threat to potential pirates? Do you carry weapons in case a hostile sea dweller tried to rob you?” – Gina Van Meurs

Besides covering all of the regulations at each country and port around the world, NoonSite is the central clearinghouse for all crimes against cruisers in the world, from petty theft to piracy and even beheading.

Overall, while a natural question, the answer is actually pretty boring. Crime against cruisers is very rare. Any way you want to look at the stats it is safer on Ad Astra than in any city that I would raise my family in. Even good neighborhoods in the states have crime rates higher than what you see when cruising.

We have not yet locked the boat at night. We sleep with the salon wide open. But with the number of people on board we would hear anyone coming on board. In fact someone is usually sleeping outside as the temperatures in the Caribbean are so beautiful. Now with the enclosed fly bridge and the cockpit we can sleep 2-4 people outside and sheltered from the rain.

Guns?
We do not carry guns. There are terribly long and boring threads on the various cruising forums where this question-horse is beaten to death for years. Guns are crazy complicated paper-work wise outside of the USA. Most countries require you to immediately declare your gun and bring it to the local police station and store it there until you leave. (So then.) Or they require you to lock it in a safe and have a police officer “bond” it with a seal. I do not want to rehash the likelihood of being able to distinguish between friend and foe and make an accurate shot under duress, but color me skeptical. But there are several items that could be improvised weapons such as a very impressive crescent wrench and a number of knives. And hey – thanks to Elite Martial Arts, Max and Kyle have junior black belts and I have a brown belt! We are just a leg triangle or armbar away from safety. 🙂 Most tragically, and even *if* you did use one in self-defense to prevent a local from stealing some cash out of your wallet the nightmare does not end. Most countries have a very dim view when you kill a local over a property crime. Think prison time. Some people keep sacrificial mobile phones and wallets in easy to find locations.

Finally – Pirates!
Yes there are pirates in the world. In fact, there are more pirates operating in the world now, than in the romantic age of sail. Thankfully, they are geographically well defined: Venezuela, Somalia, and parts of the Philippines. What is common between the three regions is that you have the combination of a failed state, poor & hungry fisherman and easy access to small arms from recent or nearby insurrections and civil wars.

The only island I felt materially unsafe so far was St. Vincent. But we had plenty of intel about it ahead of time, so I took a ferry there with some friends as a day trip. Indeed it the poverty was palpable and the grimness of society was everywhere. We will not go back.

Lock up your dinghy
The most common crime by far, by far is for people to steal your dinghy, outboard or gas tanks. You simply have to lock them up and/or lift them up. We do always. Frustrating for locals, it is other down-on-their-luck cruisers that are often responsible for a lot of the minor theft of dinghies, small outboards and gas tanks. (Fishermen don’t use small engines.) We have dinghy davits (small cranes) and lift our dinghy up and out of the water. This is the best as it is so quiet to cut the rope of a dinghy drifted off the back on a rope. You have to be very careful which town docks would you trust to leave your dinghy after dark or overnight. In general the French islands are the safest, Dutch second, ex-British and American have the most crime.

We have not yet had anything stolen or anything aggressive. And in fact have only had the most positive experiences from local people. Usually just giving me extra stuff to be cool.

Q: “Do the kids ever get stir crazy, tired of each other, or lonely for friends?”– Shannon Copeland Rizzo
So far Max and Kyle seem to really enjoy life on Ad Astra. Stir-crazy doesn’t happen as there is *always* too much to do:

Fun stuff like snorkeling, hiking, exploring new towns, SCUBA diving, kayaking, under-water hunting, kite-surfing, music, art, reading and of course – five laptops and wifi for online gaming such as World of Warcraft, CS:Go, Factorio and more.  By the time Saturday or Sunday roll around they are usually grateful for unstructured time.

They do not fight with each other much, and when people get grumpy we sort it out quickly. Not just kids can get grumpy.

Max is a remarkably self-contained kid. He can entertain himself, anywhere, any time just needs something to write with, or a pile of sand, or a book or an animal to make friends with. He loves playing games like the rest of the family, and he likes playing with other kids, but does not *need* them.

Kyle being older is very naturally strongly interested in kids his age. He does have his phone and we do have wifi, so on any given day he still chats with between 5 and 10 people from Austin. It has been great for us to make so many strong friends in Austin before sailing away. Also, we have had the opportunity to have some of his friends out to Ad Astra for a long vacation and I expect to see that happen again this summer.

Q: “How is internet access?” – Joshua Galloway
Key question. It used to be that cruisers asked where was the cheapest cold beer, now they ask for the wifi hook-up, and according to a recent survey business travellers want wifi more than casual sex, and teenagers are doing less drugs and more time on the phones. Staying connected to the greater network of humanity is now as vital as drinking water.

There are three basic solutions:
Mobile phones as a hotspot – either you have good global roaming or you buy sim cards local to each country you visit.
Restaurants, bars & cafes – most places have good wifi and some have excellent wifi – often a nice place to get a drink and spend the afternoon downloading “stuff”, catching up and playing games, or getting some work done
WIFI Boosters – we have a Bad Boy Xtreme and it both a hotspot and an antenna that can pick up WIFI *miles* away from the source (a buddy once enjoyed wifi 11 miles from the source). Down here in the islands there are these hobby businesses that put up a website and antennas and sell WIFI by the day, week or month and that is what we prefer to use. Currently we are spending $40 a month for all of our devices to be connected to the net. Other places do not have such an option, but perhaps you just had a great fancy meal ashore – and bam! That signal makes it to the boat… there are even apps with maps(!) to WIFI sources….

In practice, cruisers use all of the methods above to stay connected.

Q: “How is home schooling going? I think I would literally jump off the boat if I had to teach my three.” – Jonathan Flesher

Educational – we are pretty heads down on the Something game project we are doing as a family and we tend to put in 4-10 hours a day 4-7 days a week on it. Besides the software engineering, Something is very intensive in physics, chemistry, biology, and math – so we have STEM fully covered.

History, culture and social studies from the exploring and reading.

Chinese and French for foreign language, and writing projects.
Homeschooling gets easier and less intimidating after the first year. I could talk your ear off, but it is honestly just another natural part of life for us. Your long-term goal is to get them to be self-learners and all of the home-school kids I know are remarkable self-learners by middle school.

I also believe firmly that I would rather them have the skills to be professional software engineer, diesel mechanic, electrician and plumber than have a peanut butter spread of introductions and no marketable skills.

Q: “I wonder if there are electric outboard motors for the dinghy? Then I suppose you could charge it with solar.” – Mike Kindig

There are! The biggest brand is Torqueedo , for $8500 I could get the equivalent of 20 HP, but would also need to get some lithium batteries for the dinghy. (Which is the next big upgrade for Ad Astra).

Q: Are you never going home? – Alyssa KT
Home? Ad Astra is home. We gave away and sold everything we had back in Austin. Our current plan is open-minded, we are going to sail the world, aiming for Europe next, and keep exploring and looking. I have a fantasy farm / workshop / boutique green resort / marina I would love to build in some place warm.

Q: When can me and my family move in? We will pay for 70% of cost~~ Timothy Yoo
Q: Got an extra room to rent, ummm I’ll even take a bench under a tarp ( just in case it rains , ya know)– Lisa Marchefka Moran

My friends are always welcome to come and visit Ad Astra. In fact you would save me money by coming to visit. Our largest expense is flying back to visit friends and family. So come and sail with us and have an adventure – and save us money 😉

8 years of real-world cost data:
Very generously, a couple in their 70s full-time cruising the world have collected and shared the last 8 years of their cruising expenses from the Caribbean through the Mediterranean and now in the Black Sea.

It costs them $3300 a month on average, but rising as they could not find health insurance at a practical price so simply pay for medical costs as they happen. But note: their *total* expenses are below what most families pay for health insurance in USA.

Eight years of cost data and the discussion.
Their earlier post of 7 years of cost data has even more discussion.

There are whole forums dedicated to saving money, and cruisers are the original frugal lifestylists.  It is very impressive the creativity and ingenuity that can be applied to saving money.  And at the end of the day, you just cannot buy that much crap because even a large catamaran has a limit to storage.

Warm cheers,

-Ad Astra

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