Let’s talk about privilege. It’ll be fun!

Gratuitous boat photo, to prevent complete Wall of Text.

Gratuitous boat photo, to prevent complete Wall of Text.

We’re still thinking about how to discuss money on this blog. When we were in the early planning stages, we searched everywhere for budgeting advice more specific than, “It’ll cost whatever you have.” We found some helpful info herehere, and here, and we’d like to throw in our two cents about how we’ve made things work for us, but without disclosing all the fine details of our cash situation. Suffice to say, for now: we’ve pulled together enough to purchase our boat, outfit it, and sail for two years on a very middle-class income, with a little outside help from family.

That might lead you to think that anyone can do this. And we’d like to agree! Downsize, sell your stuff, pinch your pennies, live your dream! But I’m not entirely sure that’s true. Maybe I’ve spent too much time reading blogs by owners of 50-foot catamarans complaining about being overcharged cab fare by $2, but I’m feeling a little snarky about unacknowledged privilege this week, and I want to take a moment to mention ours.

I’m very attached to an article I read in the NY Times a couple of years about poverty. The article interviewed Harvard economist Sendhil Mulleinathan talking about three different types of scarcity: poverty of money (cut and dried, right?); poverty of time (most of us can relate to that); and poverty of bandwidth. That last one is something I’d never considered when internally ranting about people who never volunteered for the PTO, or being pissed when people show up 15 minutes late. But we ALL experience decreased bandwidth at one point or another. There is no other possible explanation for Dancing With the Stars, other than reaching the point where you just flop down on the couch and say, yes: this. Fine. Whatever is on this channel is what I will watch, because I Just Cannot Deal.

Having more money means you can outsource to gain time–babysitters, takeout dinners, housecleaners, personal chefs if you’re in that much-maligned one percent. Having time but less money means spending some of that extra time to save cash by organizing a babysitting co-op, cooking from scratch, growing your own food, and scrubbing the toilets yourself. (That’s how we roll, for those of you keeping score.) But both of those things impact your available energy for doing fun things or making smart long-range plans–bandwidth. And if you lack both money and time, forget about it–you’ll be lucky to leave the house.

So here’s how our bandwidth has been increased to fit in our audacious plans: we are healthy–no doctors’ appointments clogging up our schedule, fights with insurance companies, exhaustion from ailments or worries about illness; we were both born to educated parents–giving us a huge leg up in terms of wealth, health and stability when we were kids, and supporting us into adulthood as well; we were born in the United States of America–one of the wealthiest countries in the world, where we received excellent medical care, education, safe homes and good food throughout our lives; we are white–and haven’t had to deal with overt racism or the kind of microaggression that can wear down your day and your life; we are in a stable marriage–and able to take advantage of the institutional benefits therein. There’s more, but I think I’ll stop there.

While a few of the things in the above category have been influenced by our personal choices, most of them are luck–things we were born into, the code of our DNA, chance of place.

I was talking to a friend not long ago, and mentioned that we’d never be taking this trip if I hadn’t been able to be a stay-at-home mom. I hope I didn’t offend my friend; she’s an artist with an amazing career, who raised a great family, and I don’t want to malign anyone’s choice about whether to work or stay home; but FOR OUR FAMILY, it couldn’t have happened otherwise. If I were working, I would have been focused on my career and my family; there would have been no leftover energy for planning something like this. Restaurant work is not lucrative, for the most part; our money would have increased a bit, our time would have decreased a lot, and our bandwidth would have dropped to something less than zero.

So: it is possible to ditch everything and go sailing if you have a ton of money, and can pay for comfort and convenience, having the work done for you. It is possible to ditch everything and go sailing if you have the time to save every cent possible and do the work yourself. But it is probably not possible to ditch everything and go sailing without that precious bandwidth to plan and dream and act, and we are incredibly lucky to be able to make the cruising life work for us.

IWAK

If you haven’t visited the Interview With A Cruiser project yet, you should head over there immediately. I’ll wait.

Back? Ok, here’s our interview series: Interview With a Kid.

We're zeroing in on 100 days until we're living on the boat. Are you guys excited? 
T: Yes!! 
F: Kinda'.
What are you looking forward to the most? 
T: Fishing. 
F: Uhhhhh...just going new places.
What do you think will not be fun? 
T: When I'm seasick, something's broken and it's really wavy out.
F: That sometimes we won't be able to contact and talk to our friends for a long time...and big waves, and throwing up, and stinky farts.
What are you worried about? 
T: When I get sick. 
F: When things break, I think I'll be pretty worried.
What is your favorite thing about the boat? 
T: Probably how I get to explore new islands. 
F: That I get my own room, and that everyone seems pretty happy about the boat in this family.
What place are you most excited to see? 
T: I have no idea! 
F: Washington, DC, 'cuz I love presidents.
Resident puker.

Resident puker.

She has some concerns.

She has some concerns.

Good food and plenty of it.

That was the motto of the staff at Chanterelle, and it applies around here as well.

We get asked about food a lot when it comes to the boat. I think some people don’t realize that we do, in fact, have an oven, stove, running water and refrigeration. It’s possible that some people don’t realize we’ll be within dinghy range of restaurants and shops for most of our trip. For sure, most people who ask us about food know that I used to cook for a living.

It's a mess. I don't want to talk about it.

It’s a mess. I don’t want to talk about it.

The specifics of our kitchen set-up on the boat will have to wait for another day; we don’t have good photos, and things are wildly in process anyway. But food is important to us, so we are trying to form some ideas about long-term kitchen plans, in a few different ways:

Never enough.

Never enough.

Thinking about stocking up. We have a friend who, in preparation for cruising, spent over a week eating nothing but canned food. We can do better. Food is everywhere, and we plan to take advantage of what’s local. We have, however, spent some time thinking about some items to stock up on–heavy stuff that we don’t want to carry back from the store so often (flour, olive oil, tetra-pack chicken stock, canned tomatoes); long-term storage items that are cheap and easy to buy now (rice, dried beans, box-o-wine); things that are expensive or hard to find along the way (maple syrup, maple syrup, maple syrup).

Thinking about ways of cooking. We have an Origo (non-pressurized) alcohol stove, which we frankly love and will discuss later at length, I’m sure; but it’s true that using it heats up the boat and uses lots of fuel. We’re learning to use the pressure cooker, even though it still terrifies me a little bit, to cut down on cooking times–especially for the beans. We’re considering a grilling plan; the boat came with a charcoal grill that clamps to the stern rail, but will that be practical? And how about a solar oven? I can absolutely picture throwing something together in the late morning, going for a hike, and coming back to a solar-cooked dinner!

Thinking about what to bring from our kitchen. Will my favorite baking dish fit in the oven? Will it break after a month? Will the beautifully-seasoned cast iron skillet rust away to nothing? How about the steel wok? We have about a thousand Mason jars–can we use some of them for storage? Different people have different answers to these questions; we’ll have to see what works for us. Except the baking dish. Turns out, it fits, so it’s coming.

Sorting through recipes. So. Many. Cookbooks. Obviously, very few will make the cut. So, I’m waltzing through a book a day, trying to cull recipes that will make sense for our boat life. Emphasis: fish; desserts that don’t require a mixer; things that cook in one pot.

Meanwhile, the actual cooking around here is suffering. I’d rather not discuss what’s on the stove right now–it’s not something I’d serve to anyone who wasn’t family. Time to temper your expectations, everyone; the moment for homemade duck confit is coming to an end.

Duck confit, ready to go in the oven.

Duck confit, ready to go in the oven.

Annual buche de noel, this year featuring a battle of worms versus ants. Also will not be replicated on the boat.

Annual buche de noel, this year featuring a battle of worms versus ants; the black thing on top is a spider. Also will not be replicated on the boat.

Buying early versus last-minute

We’d been advised by more than one smart person to wait until the last possible moment to purchase our boat. Jim Trefethan, in his book The Cruising Life, particularly warns against buying a cruising boat too early; the costs of storage alone can knock significant time off your cruise.

We didn’t do that.

The boat in Texas, hoping we would buy her.

The boat in Texas, hoping we would buy her.

There are plusses and minuses on both sides of the argument. In delaying your purchase, you miss out on all the costs of storage, haul out (for those of us in cold climates), dock fees. If you arrive at your boat right before departure, you’re more likely to only upgrade the items you think to be vital, instead of tinkering around with switching out all the cabin lights to LED and feeling like you must have a new inclinometer before you even think about pushing off. You can spend your inherent savings to get a better, more cruise-ready boat.

The other way to go: buy your boat in advance, and take on the fixer-upper. Spend less money initially, and get the boat more how you want it. Spend the time to search out sales and comb through eBay. Do all the work yourself. Get familiar with sailing the boat before you depart.

It’s hard to estimate how much additional money our boat has cost because of our decision to purchase two and a half years in advance. Oconto storage, lift-in and haul-out, and jack stand rental cost us about $900 a year for two years; this winter, we’re paying about $1000. We paid one summer of slip rental at a fancy marina that first year for $1200. Insurance, diesel, pump-out fees–those costs are unambiguous. Would we have gone LiPo on the batteries if we were in a last-minute rush to go cruising? No way; but how much more did that cost, for doubling both our usable power capacity and the life of our new batteries? Hard to say.

Happy and comfortable, right?

Happy and comfortable, right?

There is NO DOUBT we are adding on things that are not required for cruising, as we sit out this last long winter making plans; a certain expensive fishing reel comes to mind. But there’s one thing that the last-minute purchasers miss that we think has been invaluable to us: our kids love the boat. We were all about the positive association game that first summer. The boat, in their mind, was synonymous with the marina pool, family movie nights and donuts. They know that won’t be so much the case going forward, but in their little reptilian brains, when you mention “the boat”, their pleasure-centers light up, even if they don’t know why. (Bribery and manipulation–the keys to all successful parenting!) Getting the boat early, and letting F and T become familiar with the space, has given them less fear of the many upcoming unknowns about this trip.

Truth be told, the same logic applies to the parents. Michu has explored every nook and cranny of the boat at this point, and more often than not replaced whatever wire or piece of hose he’s run across. He knows more about the electrical systems and engine that he’d really like. We both understand navigation better than we did two years ago, and are actually able to fall asleep while at anchor, instead of being terrified of dragging onto the rocks. It’s been confidence-boosting all around, and we’re all a little less terrified moving forward.

Passport time

Getting ready for passport photos at the post office. I guess this year, there’s expected to be a run on passports: people are concerned about Real I.D. laws, even though they don’t take effect until 2018; passports issued when they were first required for entering Canada or Mexico from the US are expiring; and more countries are requiring that passports not expire for at least six months from your expected departure before letting you in. The perfect storm. We applied early; one more duck in the row.