#38 – Part-timing

Undoing a month s ocean crossing via 8 hours on a jetWhen we set out to cross the sea, no longer are we automatically committed to a one way ride. From almost anywhere in the world we can get back to our starting place (or anywhere else our fancy takes us) for the cost of an airplane ticket. While air travel is not an inconsiderable expense, it’s an option more cruisers are routinely planning for in their budgets …although there is nothing more surreal than undoing a month’s ocean crossing via eight hours on a jet.

Many cruisers start part-timing when commitments to career and family tie them to a home base. It’s either squeeze in cruising in drips and drabs or not go at all. “Part timing was our way of cruising for our first twenty-three years,” say Bev of Cloverleaf. “We had five children, so cruising was limited to school vacations, sometimes with slight extensions on our part, when we preceded the kids and stayed on after they went home. This all required good help at home and in Dave’s business, as well as good communication capabilities.” Knowing they could be reached in an emergency allowed Bev to “extend the leash,” and when time ran out, they left the boat wherever they were and then resumed their cruise at the next opportunity.

These days – thanks to email, sat phones, and in some places Internet and Skype via WiFi or cellular broadband – onboard communications has advanced sufficiently to let would-be cruisers lengthen that leash even further, particularly from work. After all, in an era when so many people are working from home, why shouldn’t home be a boat?

Do the math, though, in terms of how much you must use the boat to justify the expense,” advises Bev. “We figured we had to use the boat three months minimum or it was cheaper to charter. With chartering, you don’t waste time prepping to go or putting the boat away, both of which are a lot a of work, and, although there are restrictions on where you can sail and maybe not so homey a boat, you do get to jump around to different cruising grounds.”

You simply haul out your boat at the end of the seasonOf course, many people come to part-timing at the other end of their cruising career. Suzanne and John of Zeelander found that after their circumnavigation, they were ready for ‘home comforts’ but unwilling to totally give up the cruising lifestyle. “So, we turned ourselves into ‘snowbirds’, cruising the Caribbean seven months, then enjoying all the modern conveniences, culture and family visits of shore life during the five months of hurricane season. It works out beautifully. Just when the constant boat chores, stuff breaking yet again and small spaces threaten to close in on us, in mid-May we fly home using frequent flyer miles earned by buying all that expensive boat stuff and eating local dinners out. In mid-October, when the air starts getting nippy and modern USA life starts to feel too frantic, we’re more than ready to fly back to warm climes and a simpler lifestyle.

Some cruisers make part-timing part of their long-term cruising plan. “One reason I love cruising,” says Kathy of Hale Kai, “is the flexibility and variety it gives my life, and for me that includes taking time off the boat each year.” Kathy uses her time off for inland travel – such as hiking the Inca Trail and back-packing South America, or visiting places she’s not likely to sail herself – like the canals of France, trips often made in the company of cruising friends! She also takes time off be with family when they need her. “People worry that cruising away will make them unavailable to their families, but I’ve found it to be the opposite. As a cruiser, I am actually more able to drop what I’m doing and respond to a protracted call home than most people would be.”

Like many cruisers, Don and I started part-timing when we took a season off to be on hand for our grandson’s birth, something we’d promised Don’s daughter before we left. She and I did have a heart-to-heart before we headed across the Pacific about when a “convenient window of opportunity” might be! I can’t tell you how many cruisers in the Pacific we’ve encountered who’ve had to fly back to the US for weddings and births smack in the middle of the short cruising season. How inconsiderate! It may be unrealistic to expect landlubbers ever to accommodate us, but it certainly won’t happen if we don’t educate them.

Of course, many cruisers part time, because they must work to replenish the cruising kitty. Jane of Lionheart, for example, and her husband, after two seasons out from New Zealand, have slipped the boat in Mooloolaba and taken full-time jobs they hope will fund their round-the-world ambitions. Robin of Whisper and her husband – fortunate to have skills that eased them through visa obstacles – worked three years in New Zealand, for both the income and the experience of working overseas.

When you come “home” to work or visit regularly, as we chose to do with our growing grandson, there are a variety of complications that you encounter. Not only must you find a secure and affordable place to leave the boat for an extended time, but on the home end, it’s hard to avoid acquiring a place to live, a car, phones, etc. and the recurring payments that come with them. This virtually doubles your living expenses. If you don’t have your own shore base and stay with family and friends, you’re limited to what stuff you can schlep around in a suitcase and sleeping in strange beds.

Part-timing also adds complications to your strategic planning. “Now that we have a house,” says Mary of I Wanda, “we plan our cruises based on when we DON’T want to be at it.” For cruisers with homes in America’s south, that means cruising elsewhere during hurricane season, while for those from the north, it usually means getting out of winter’s cold. Full-time cruisers have to plan around seasons, too, of course, just without as much of the storage, insurance and travel costs and without, as Kathy of Sangaris notes, “the significant time and effort each commissioning and decommissioning cycle takes.”

Part-timing can also leave you feeling “less connected to the cruising community,” as Debbie of Illusions notes, when full-time friends move on without you. SSCA (Seven Seas Cruising Association) dubs members who live ashore part-time “Rear Commodores”, which is surely meant to be respectful to retiring cruisers, but somehow rubs the wrong way. As Mary of Camryka, whose husband is approaching 80, says of part-timing at their new house in Bocas del Toro, “The transition is difficult, maybe because it makes us know the years are adding up far too fast.” Staying within a cruising ground they know and love, Mary and Carl alternate between the house and boat in shorter stints.

Practically speaking, the best cruising destinations for part-timers are ones that afford realistic travel home – Maine, the Bahamas or the Caribbean for East Coast sailors and the Pacific Northwest and Mexico for West Coast sailors. Although some do it, the South Pacific is not a great choice because of the distances involved, the paucity of storage options, customs limitations, and the fact that off-seasons in New Zealand or the Marshalls offer attractive cruising in their own right. On the other hand, after several seasons each, both Mary of I Wanda and Katherine of Sangaris would recommend the Med as made-to-order for part-timing. “You simply haul out your boat at the end of the season, return to the US, and in doing so avoid the annoying alternative of spending a significant part of the year wintering at dock on a sailboat in the cold.”

Contributing Admirals: ; Beverly Feiges, Cloverleaf, Kathy Parsons, Hale Kai; Debbie Leisure, Illusions; Sheri Schneider, Procyon; Mary Heckrotte, Camryka; Mary Verlaque, I Wanda; Jane Kilburn, Lionheart; Robin Owen, Whisper; Katherine Briggs, Sangaris.

This article was published in the September 2009 issue of Latitudes and Attitudes.

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