The Boatist

Sailboat Ownership, Translation Work and Tales of Minor Adventure

Retire early, be passionate, don't worry, die poor

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Surviving on Vegetables and Fish

Lately, it's been nothing but hassles and work.

The other day, taking a break in the backyard soaking up some sunshine, I began thinking about how my life is slipping into a boring routine, and who's to blame? Me, of course. Having a sailboat, living in a semi-exotic place and being a freelance translator is no guarantee for an exciting life, I tell you. You have to work for it.

Although I don't have any revolutionary plans to make life more exciting (actually I do, but I'm not going to tell), a really small idea popped into my head.

The Big Small Plan - instead of packing a pile of cans, jars, bags and whatnot, why not try surviving on fresh vegetables and the fish I catch on my next cruise, even if it means going hungry. Going hungry is better than being bored numb. Besides, I need to lose a few pounds.

I began by experimenting with sprouts to decide whether sprouting on a boat is feasible. I tried lentils and the results were pretty good. It consumes a fair amount of water, but that shouldn't be a problem considering the size of my water tanks. Besides, I'm not planning to eat sprouts for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Growing lentil sprouts
My first lentil sprout crop
I also know a thing or two about vegetables because I used to be, among many other professions, a farmer - both in Canada and Portugal, and not a hobby farmer either - a real big-tractor, big-truck, big-machinery bad-ass, straw chewing farmer.

So anyway, here's my provisioning list:

Butternut pumpkins - they last for ages and are delicious even when simply boiled, better than bland potatoes (as far as I know, I introduced butternut pumpkins to Portugal 30 years ago).
Carrots - will last quite some time if kept cool and dry, not in a plastic bag.
Onions - hard onions without any soft spots will easily stay fresh for a month.
Dry chickpeas, lentils, beans, etc. - will last forever and you can soak them for a few days or sprout them.
Nuts - a variety of shelled nuts (the last thing you want is nut shells all over the boat).
Cabbage - the dense head variety will last for a couple of weeks; the outer leaves will gradually get yellow but you can peel them back and eat the inner compact leaves.
Green tomatoes - will last quite a few days until you go ashore to a market.
Green bananas - no brainer.
Green apples - no brainer.
Peppers - green without a speck of bruises, but will only last a couple of weeks.

I haven't researched about edible seaweed yet, but I'm not too optimistic, not to mention enthusiastic.

I'll need more lures for fish and squid to use both while sailing/motoring or when anchored. A good way for catching octopus is drop a clay pot to the bottom when anchored. Octopuses use it as a hiding place and, when you pull it up, instead of fleeing they hunker down even more because they feel safe inside the pot.

At anchorages with a rocky shore, I can also go "pole poking" for octopus. You secure a dead fish to the end of a pole with a bit of netting and you poke the stinky fish into rocky holes, preferably at low tide (sardines are best because they stink, but you can also use a small crab or even white rag tied like a bow-tie). When you feel the octopus grab, you gently pull up until you're able to net it much like you would net a fish, and then you bite it hard and repeatedly between the eyes. If you're a wuss, you can knife it. They take forever to die good and proper. For the record, I've gone octopus pole poking many a time, and usually you end up catching a lot of small crabs too.

If all that fails, I can go shelling in the mud flats of Alvor and Culatra and pray I don't get toxin poisoning.

See, it doesn't take all that much to get a grown man excited. Most women will never understand, they just roll their eyes and look at you pitifully. As one guy once asked me, "you sailed across the Atlantic? Wouldn't it be easier to fly?"

I spent today on the boat and started practicing. Since I was too busy working to go fishing, I ate vegetables.

cooking on a boat
The recipe, bottom to top: olive oil, onion slices, carrots, leek, tomato, lots of red pepper. No salt, no herbs...nothing more.
Frying with olive oil
I have to admit that I cheated a bit halfway through the meal. I dug up some 8-month-old packaged toast from the last trip. Eight months and it's still edible: it's gotta be bad for you.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

How to Buy a Sailboat - Do the Math

Cheap Sailboat

Surprising Facts

Scenario 1
A friend of mine bought a 39-foot sailboat in the year 2000. It was an overbuilt go-anywhere cruiser in good shape. By the time he got it ready for the Atlantic crossing in 2002, it was dependable but also quite rudimentary and naked: no roller furling, no self-tailing winches, no fridge, no radar, no dodger...well, not much of anything. The price tag, however, had reached €100,000.

During the 13 years since the Atlantic crossing, he has spent €66,000 euros on boat operating costs and a few upgrades, although the boat is still naked and now even a bit scuffed.

Let's do the math:
   Initial cost                          €100,000
   Operating costs/upgrades     €66,000 
   Total                                   €166,000
   Minus resale value             - €50,000 
   Total cost                           €116,000

So, he wasted spent €116,000 in 13 years, which is equivalent to €9,000 per year, not including his labor. Ouch! I didn't know he was so rich, you'd never guess it by the car he drives, the clothes he wears or the restaurants he eats think of it, he rarely goes to restaurants. What a cheapo!

Scenario 2
I have another friend with a 26-foot production boat he bough second-hand also 13 years ago for €35,000. It was like new and well equipped, and he spends about €2,000 per year. He hardly does any real work on it and it looks impeccable.

Let's do the math:
    Initial cost                          €35,000
   Operating costs/upgrades    €26,000 
   Total                                    €61,000
   Minus resale value            - €20,000 
   Total cost                            €41,000  

This owner spent €41,000 in 13 years, which is equivalent to €3,150 per year.

That's a staggering difference between the two scenarios. Additionally, we could also say that owner 2 spent nearly a third less money and enjoyed himself twice as much. Therefore 3 x 2 = 6 times better investment.

Also remember that these two owners keep their boats at the same marina and use them for nearly identical purposes: a 1-month of coastal cruising in the Algarve in summer and day sailing in between. In reality, owner 1 did very little day sailing because he was too busy doing boat work and also because of the hassle of spontaneously taking out a bigger boat for an afternoon sail.

Admittedly, owner 1 crossed the Atlantic, whereas owner 2 would never dare do so in his smaller production boat.

Please, keep in mind that these are facts, based on people I know very well, and not mere theory. I'm aware that every boat is unique and every owner is also unique, which can greatly alter the equation. But I know a lot of boat owners, and I could make many other comparisons with similar results.

Also note that these observations apply to local sailing and occasional coastal cruising, not to bluewater cruising or living aboard full-time. That's a completely different gig.

With this in mind, I have come to a few conclusions about boat ownership based on real life experiences - mine and of people I know well.

Never build a sailboat unless it's small or you don't like sailing anyway.
The resale value of your work of art will be a tiny fraction of what you spent - if you actually finish it. I've seen enough boat-building tragedies to make me want to cry and one, in particular, that would make the very devil cringe.

Never borrow money to buy a sailboat
Owning a sailboat is a horrible financial investment unless, of course, you make €100,000 per year and borrow €20,000 to buy a cute little boat. Other than such a situation, borrowing money to pay for a boat is sheer lunacy. 

New vs. Used Boats
  New Boats
  • New is good for anyone swimming in money, or low on cash but slightly delusional - the seller doesn't care either way. 
  • New is peace of mind. You can wear white pants aboard, go sailing or sip drinks in the cockpit looking sophisticated instead of sweating like a grease-monkey boat slave.
  • If you buy a smallish new production boat, say 30 feet, it will depreciate about 4,000 euros per year over a 10-year period. If you buy a new 50-foot production sailboat, it will depreciate at least 12,000 euros per year during the same 10-year period, not to mention the exorbitant cost of maintaining it. After 10 years, boat depreciation begins to diminish if the boat is kept in reasonable condition.
    Used Boats
  • Used sailboats can be classified roughly into 4 categories: 1) all systems operational; requiring some upgrades; in need of many upgrades; derelicts
  • Keep in mind that a 10-year-old sailboat may be like new or a mess (especially if it's been in the charter business). We're talking about the average sailboat rather than exceptions; consequently a 40-year-old classic sailboat may have been rebuilt to a superior quality compared to a new boat.
All systems operational (5 - 15 years old). In the first 10 years sailboats depreciate at about 5% per year. A 10-year-old boat will give you the biggest bang for your buck. And you don't need to be a genius to do your own survey. If it "looks good" and the engine doesn't cough up black or blue smoke or overheat, you're in business. I believe that surveys are more important for older or larger boats. Nevertheless, if you know next to nothing about sailboats, hire a surveyor.

Requiring some upgrades (15 to 30 years). You can get real boat bargains in this age bracket, especially toward the 30-year limit. Within this time frame sailboats will most likely require upgrades, especially new sails, dodger and sail cover canvas, electronics, etc. Some have been partially or fully upgraded, some have all the original equipment. You have to do your math. Make a list of what it needs, calculate the extra cost and labor and then compare the final price to a similar boat in better condition.

It may have a questionable engine, a scuffed interior, a suspicious rudder, beer-belly sails, toothy anchor chain attached to an ancient plow anchor, the dreaded mushy deck core, a toilet that squirts back at you. It may also be in pristine condition, for a price of course. These boats may be cheap but not dirt cheap. Do the math.

In need of many upgrades (30 years and over). If you buy a sailboat that's falling apart, remember this: an old sailboat hull is not worth very much. For example, if you buy an old hull but you need to repair/upgrade most of the basic equipment and start tearing out and rebuilding some/all of the interior, the final cost will be higher than buying a similar-size boat that's ten years old. 

"But I'll have a new engine, new sails, new winches, ...." you may argue, "It'll be like a new boat!" To which I reply, "a 10-year-old boat is almost new and you can start sailing the next day instead of spending all your free time researching and working for the next 4 years, with the added risk of not doing it properly, of ending up with an old-amateur-rebuild-looking boat. 

Derelict boats have many uses: if made of wood, it's great for firewood; if made of steel, you can sink it and create a fish haven; if made of fiberglass, you can paint it and place it in your backyard and make a playhouse for the kids or an interesting place to hang out and write blogs. The possibilities are endless.

What sailboat would I buy now, if I din't already have one?
Because I'm living in Europe, and because of the damn EC boat import rules, I'd have to buy an EC approved European boat. Simply put, I'd go for a 30-foot €40,000 production boat. Low maintenance, easy to handle as I get older, lots of life left in it, enough room for me and the occasional crew member/members, decent turn of speed and, most important, low operating costs.

I also did the math for another interesting scenario:
Let's imagine I traded my boat, Jakatar, for the aforementioned 30-foot €40,000 sailboat. What!!! Are you crazy? You wanna give your boat away?

Let's do the math:

The cost of keeping Jakatar for the next 15 years will be about €4,500 x 15 = €67,500.

The cost of keeping the said 30-foot boat for the next 15 years would be about €2,500 x 15 = €37,500.

That's a difference of roughly €30,000 euros. If you look at it from another perspective, this means that, in reality, by saving €30,000 I would be receiving the equivalent of €70,000 for my boat. It also means that I could retire 2 years earlier, have more fun, less work and, perhaps most importantly, have a boat I can handle single-handed when I get older. Scary thought, I tell you.

  • Not applicable to small boats, say, about 20 feet and under. These smaller boats usually have an outboard engine and very little equipment or interior furniture. 
  • There are many exceptions that will prove me wrong. But that's like saying "my grandfather was a heavy smoker and lived to be 94, so smoking isn't bad for your health."
  • Not applicable to people who get a lot of satisfaction from restoring an older boat. Someone once told me he got way more pleasure from fixing than sailing. Can't argue with that, it's a perfectly legitimate pastime and probably far more prevalent than we think. I too enjoy many maintenance tasks on Jakatar, but up to a limit, after which it becomes a burden and no fun at all.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Anchoring in Alcoutim

anchoring in Alcoutim

It's been 4 years since I was anchored in Alcoutim. We just visited by car, and all I can tell you is that my body slumped as I watched an "early-retired couple" dock at the town's free pontoon looking like a million bucks.

boat dock in Alcoutim

Why? Because "watching it" is a damn poor substitute for "doing it". It's unhealthy, I tell you.

mooring in Alcoutim
No schedule, no utility bills, no hassles - 99% of people would die of boredom, I hope you're in the 1% category.
restaurants in Alcoutim
No it's not a retirement home. It's a restaurant and we ate here because that's where I ate when I was here by boat, and I had grilled cuttle fish again. Four fish dishes, wine etc. for 35 euros. The place ain't hopping this time of year (although there were some English-speaking blokes beside us) but it's got charm and an outdoor patio for summer time.
The first night we stayed at a farm bed & breakfast near Vila Real de Santo António located at the mouth of the Guadiana River. 
bed & breakfast near Monte Gordo
They had donkey rides, but apparently the donkeys had been let out as part of a live nativity scene and were returned looking like starving skeletons. 
Rooms in Villa Real de Santo António
We were told that a lawyer sold this old majestic hotel, which belonged to somebody else, and skipped town with the money. Now it's for sale again, by the real owners.
night life in Vila Real de Santo António
Getting older, getting crazier.
We spent the second night farther inland at Reguengos de Monsaraz near an old fort way up on a hill.
Rooms in the middle of an orange grove. The oranges were in season and delicious.
bread and breakfast in Monsaraz

Typical street within the castle walls.
It was a fun trip. By the time I got home I had mostly forgotten about that boat docking in Alcoutim.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Talking to Other Sailors

The Dutch Sailor, a blog follower, visited me on the boat on a sunny afternoon during a short holiday in Peniche. Luckily, I was ahead in my work and so we sat down for a long interesting conversation. 

Funny thing, he told me he wants to upgrade from his current 29-foot boat to a 40 footer. I want to do the opposite. It's the old "the dream is always better on the other side of the pontoon" syndrome.

As I talked to this former motorcycle racer turned sailor, freelance engineer...I was reminded that the fun in talking to other sailors is that there's never a shortage of like-minded interests: from anodes to anchors, from transmissions to solar panels.

When two sailors are in the same boat the potential topics of conversation are proportional to their list of things to fix or upgrade. In other words, it's endless. And if sailors live longer than non-sailors, it's because they want more time to finish their list of never-ending tasks. Owning a sailboat is also like having a high-maintenance wife; when you sell it (the boat, not the wife) you lose about as much money as when you get a divorce. [Ana doesn't read my blog, thank God, and I'm confident my female readers will understand that I'm joking...sort of.]

fishing fleet in Portugal
Took this early morning shot shot next to the marina.
In the midst of the conversation, I received a message with a large job for the weekend, for Tuesday to be exact. Absolutely out of the question because I had already planned a road trip to the Algarve, including a stop at one of my favorite anchorages twenty miles up the Guadiana River. More about that in the next post.