Thursday, February 26, 2015

and in "the best of times the worst of times" department...

This is just neat...
A Garmin GPS chartplotter and fishfinder for $299.

While being told I'm a Luddite all the time I can still see the value of good quality cheap electronic aids to navigation because they make the whole VoksCruising gig easier, safer, and more affordable. Sure you can pay a lot more for a much bigger/hipper unit but an electronics package like this is pretty much all you really need.

Gone are the days you needed to pay thousands of dollars for basic electronics and that's a goodly thing.

Now, offhand I'm not a huge fan of Garmin chartplotters because Garmin charts tend to be pricier than others and a cheap chartplotter starts getting very expensive when you buy the sort of needful chart library. So, before you go out and jump on a charplotter/fishfiner combo do a little homework on the chart coverage you need and what it costs...

Which is why I tend to prefer this GPS chart plotter/fishfinder because once you factor in the cost of charts it's a lot more economical in the long run.

Either way it's a good time to be fitting out a VolksCruiser...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A favorite boat...

Just what do you actually need?

From where I sit, the Jeanneau Tonic pretty much has all of the bases covered...

Admittedly the forward berth pictured doesn't really exist and, I'm sure, that it's only in the drawings because some clueless guy in a suit decided they couldn't sell a boat with just one dedicated double berth.

Still, it's a boat that a guy six foot five has plenty of room to be comfortable in, a well thought out galley, and, for a boat under 24 feet long, a head of more than ample size...  A very livable design.

What's not to like?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

a tale of two anchors and a bit of critical thinking...

One problem with buying into the out-of-control-consumerism gig is that the first thing to go is anything that passes for critical thinking. Or, in other words, you quit thinking...

For instance, here are two anchors...

The Bruce (or clone thereof)

And what seems to be the current nextgen flavor of the month...

They're actually both good anchors.

From where I sit the main difference between the two designs is really about cost and a whole lot of hype. As far as price goes, the current street price for a Lewmar Claw (the Bruce clone) is about $130 for a 44# anchor while the current hip nextgen is around $520 for a 45# anchor.

Where anchors are concerned there has always been a lot of hype of both the positive and negative type which roughly translates to the "Our anchor is better but if you use the other guy's anchor you will die because..." approach. Which is then backed up by anchor tests that bear no resemblance to how anchors actually work in the real world and done in such a way to show their anchor is better. Of course, if that doesn't work then plain old lying about the competiors anchor with made up horror stories is not unheard of (something you might want to keep in mind when you hear word-of-mouth about failure rates and suchlike).

No real science involved but a whole lot of very impressive con-artistry.

The yachting press with no inclination to actually do research or test such things like anchors tend to rely on what the anchor companies give them and regurgitate whole press releases as fact. There are exceptions to this but they are far and few between. The lesson here is if the folks who review gear are less than critical you're going to have to do it on your own.

Anyway, the real test of the pudding is using stuff in the real world and, being an interested observer (spelled not a big fan of boats dragging down on me), I do pay a lot of attention to how people anchor and what sort of ground tackle they're using when they do it. As such adhoc research goes my findings are that the nextgen folks don't seem to drag any less or more than those with older design anchors providing they anchor sensibly.

The sad part of that last sentence is there seems no shortage of folks anchoring senselessly...

So, as far as I'm concerned, the real difference between the $130 anchor and the $520 anchor is just $390 and not so much about performance at all. If you really want to improve your anchoring spend an afternoon working on your technique and sorting out some bad habits you may have acquired.

The Swallows pretty much said all that needed to be said about anchoring back in 1951...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Tomorrow is not nearly as good as today...

Two things came across my desk today and they both had an unusual amount of resonance...One was today's blog post by my favorite Druid on progress and, the other, was an email from Mariah of Comet Camper fame on why a 5/10/15 year plan may not be the smart way to go.

This morning,s input was the near perfect catalyst. I've been needing to organize some thoughts that have been circling around in my head for quite a while now and the result amounts to this:

Do it now.

Right now, (spelled t-o-d-a-y) because today is as good as it will ever be to get to doing on your plans to sail away.

Don't believe me?

Part of it is that, in the right here and now, good boats have never been cheaper. Seriously there is a plethora of excellent cruising boats at pennies on the dollar and while this situation may last for a while, they won't really be getting any cheaper. Now is the time to buy while there's a good selection.

Needful stuff for boats is cheap. Sure a lot of stuff made for boats is silly expensive but today a lot of stuff that you actually need has come way down in price... For instance, I'm adding another solar panel to our boat. A 100 watt panel is a third of the cost I paid seven years ago for a fifty-watt panel which means pretty much anybody can afford a big enough solar array to keep the needful systems running and the beer cold. Better yet, with inexpensive LED lighting you don't even have to have all that big of an array...

Not all that long ago GPS was expensive, chart plotters were too expensive to even consider for a VolksCruiserish budget but today good quality small chart plotters with fishfinders can be found for two or three hundred bucks. Of course, if you go the computer/tablet route you can do it for even less.

The reality is that today you can pick up a well found cruising boat and the gear needful to make it even better for a lot less than I could imagine even a few years ago. So, since it's such a good time to get with the program why wait?

Oh yeah, you have a 5/10/15 year plan so you're waiting for that perfect cruising boat to become something other than vaporware and for the economy to turn around or win the Powerball lottery (your chances of winning the lottery may actually be better than the economy getting better). Sure, that might work out...

But, wouldn't you rather be sailing?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

on VolksCruiserish budgets.....

Since I began writing Boat Bits and VolksCruiser I've gotten a lot of mail on the question of whether it's possible to build or buy a boat and cruise cheaply...

The problem is the answer is complicated and has a lot more to do with the person asking the question than it actually does about the cost of sailboats and cruising.

So, the question everyone should be asking is can I make the changes to my lifestyle and the way I live to do the gig?

For instance, I've recently been reading a really good book (Eat Bacon, Don't Jog) about diet which makes a lot of good points and, I'm pretty sure, if I adopted much of what it says I'd be better off. The snag is, to adopt it I'd need to give up some things and make some serious changes in how and what I eat. I'll be honest in saying I just don't think it's going to happen. That said, it does not mean I can't take advantage of a lot of the stuff in the book it's just that I won't get all of the benefits... Hey. what can I say but I love to bake bread and cakes.

For a lot of people reading VolksCruiser who are unwilling or unable to adopt the sort of gung ho commitment needful for living and thriving on a VolksCruiserish budget, I'm sure there are still a lot of ideas that might help you make whatever budget you're doing go that little bit further.

Of course, for those folks who want to sail away on $500/750/1000 a month the answer is of course you can providing you can make some changes and get your head into the game. Luckily for us is that most of those changes are actually pretty minor and, in most cases, simply amounts to losing the excess baggage you're not really using anyway.

Still, not everyone is willing to make those changes and give up whatever falls into the bread and cake category for you... Trust me, I understand.

So, anyone care to share your bread/cake issues?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

a quick thought about a not-so-good-cat...

The first thing that came across my desk, so to speak, today was someone selling an elderly Oceanic 30 cat for $45K.

It got me thinking...

The fact is the Oceanic was never much of a boat and thirty years ago you could pick one up for pennies on the dollar say $10-15K because no one wanted one,

Two things happened since then that makes a boat of this ilk sell for a way too large chunk of money.

One is the "hipness" factor of cats in general in that the hype is so abundant (or should I say deep) that a large percentage of folks believe that even a pretty awful cat is better than an exceptional monohull therefore worth more.

Secondly, that since a large proportion of cat owners don't really sail that much (motoring being more their thing) that such downsides like the piss-poor windward performance of a design is no longer a factor in what people what people are looking for and a glorified pontoon boat with a mast is now selling for a premium because it's a cat.

Just thinking out loud...

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


If you stop and think about it, people have been sailing and cruising for a very long time and, as a result, have pretty much sorted out all of the problems you may run into. Better yet, a lot of folks who have successfully done the cruising gig have written some pretty good books about their experiences so it's easy to get a handle on what works or doesn't...

Reading is a good thing!

Personally, I find older books have a lot more to give because they're more about actually sailing and cruising and less about buying stuff so provide a better foundation to the whole need/want thing.

I mention this because I have a serious urge to either build a new boat or find a new boat to rehab//fix up and rethinking my whole need/want parameters. The process being somewhat hampered because the whole new boat thing comes married to an overbearing pressure to buy or change stuff that don't, in fact, need to be bought or changed.

Relentless pressure...

So bad, in fact, that even I (Luddite that I am), find myself drooling too often over the latest glimpse of the silly expensive vaporware wonderment sort that gives Panbo (or reasonable facsimile) a virtual woody.

Face it, It's really easy to get sucked into the whole consumerism habit because everyone tells you you need this or that and spending money is the answer to all questions...

Just throw money at it.

No skill involved.

No uncomfortable learning curves necessary.

So, when I find myself thinking that a new 3D forward scanning sonar system that costs more than the purchase price of "So It Goes" is a needful thing, the only drug that will work is to read a book about people getting by quite happily doing it old school like Herb Payson's "Blown Away".

Works finest kind.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

about self-steering and how to save $4000 or more in one fell swoop...

The important/funny thing about windvane self-steering gears is folks either get it or they don't... Sort of a love/hate thing. Which, as things go, happens to be a good thing where outfitting a cruising boat on a frugal budget is concerned.

First off, the cost of most manufactured self-steering gears are silly expensive with a lot of gears floating in the $5-6K zone which is simply not going to work on a VolksCruiser budget. Lucky for us, since you can always find a just-as-good manufactured gear for less than $1k, the price of new gears really is not all that problematic. For instance, the old dependable Aires can often be found for about $600 (I've seen some sad neglected fixeruppers for $300) or so and it will steer a course just as well as one of the $5-6K windvanes. That said, I find the Aires a tad heavy/clunky for the sort of boat that a lot of VolksCruiserish folks are going to be sailing but over the years there were quite a few lighter vanes that pop up on the used market regularly (Hasler and Navik spring to mind) so with a little time you'll be able to find the right gear for your boat,

Then again, you can build one yourself for around $300 (no rocket science in sight and there is a great page with all you need to know to build any number of windvane types over at Fay Marine. You should also check out Eric's (from SV Sarana) masterly work on windvane and trim tab design which is really a must have for anyone building their own vane (best $5 I ever spent).

Oh, by the way... I happen to have a surplus to requirements, complete, late model stainless Navik windvane I just refurbished if anyone's interested...

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Nomadics 101...

Lately, researching nomadic cultures, I've discovered that most of the material available on the web regarding subjects of a nomadic nature are all about travel. While travels or movement is certainly a part of the nomadic experience, travel for the sake of travel is not really what it's all about... that's called being a tourist.

There's always an underlying reason. Seriously, no true nomad ever wanders aimlessly...There's always a purpose.

For most nomadic cultures the underlying reason is almost always economic in one form or another and it's certainly something that folks on boats should take to heart. For instance, some places are cheaper than others and, as such, are good places to provision, Other places are good places to get a temporary job and build up the cruising kitty and so on.

Another reason for movement of the nomadic sort is political... In fact, cruising Europe and environs of late (for American cruisers) has become quite problematic due to the Schengen treaty which makes long stays in most of Europe something of an exercise in creative travel to keep the functionaries happy. Of course, the other side of the coin is sometimes it just makes sense to get out of Dodge when the local Powers-That-Be become unsympathetic or downright antagonistic towards folks on boats.

Then there's the whole where the wind blows thing... Cruising is by its very nature a seasonal pursuit of following the good weather and winds. Face it, you'll never see a nomadic culture going towards worse weather in the winter because it just does not make a lot of sense and, making sense, is really what it's all about.

Monday, February 2, 2015

the questions you need to ask yourself...

Do you want to do the VolksCruiser thing and cruise or not?

Offhand I tend to go with the idea that folks reading a blog called VolksCruiser tend to be cruising oriented and that folks interested in living aboard are off somewhere reading VolksLiveaboard or something similar... Or at least they should be because the whole nomadic sailboat on a budget gig is a whole lot different than the liveaboard gig. Which is not to say I'm knocking the liveaboard folks it's simply that what's good for a nomadic sailor on a budget may not be so good for a liveaboard and vice versa.

The same can be said for cruising tourism... It's a totally different beast and, by it's very nature, a temporary state of affairs. True, a lot of folks going the cruising tourism route can come pretty close to the nomadic lifestyle that it is nearly impossible to tell the difference but there is a difference and that involves commitment and burned bridges.

Cruising as a retirement option is sorta/kinda all over the place these days. Spread out in a mix between fully committed cheapseats cruising (thanks to so many retirement investments and pensions doing a big nose dive so a few CEOs can get bigger bonuses), liveaboard sailors, and the tourist/sabbatical cruisers.

From where I sit there are some more subsets of those three but you get the idea.

Anyway, the question you really have to ask yourself is just where on the map you happen to be category-wise because it really does make a difference. That said, I hope cruisers of all ilks can come away from VolksCruiser every once in awhile with something that strikes a chord or points them in the direction of something they find useful.

Next up Nomadics 101...

Sunday, February 1, 2015

on what a VolksCruiser should actually cost...

Someone recently asked me what a VolksCruiser should cost and I had to actually think about it for a while before an answer came to me...

The whole premise of a VolksCruiser is that it's affordable to a section of people totally ignored by the Powers That Be. Of course, that leaves us with the somewhat slippery question of what is actually affordable. What's affordable to a guy making fifteen dollars an hour is very different to what's affordable to someone making $80K a year.

Then there's the problem of sustainability which is often forgotten in the mix because folks these days seldom take a long term view albeit it's the more crucial part of the equation.

An oft heard phrase for what it costs to cruise, that's always bothered me, comes to mind... "As much as you have". The reason it bothers me is it's just bad economics and, if building, rehabbing, or cruising a boat is using up "as much as you have", you're doing something seriously wrong.

Living frugally is actually pretty easy to do as is cruising on a small budget but, as anyone on a constrained budget knows, there's not a lot of margin for accidents, surprises, and getting stuff wrong. Since everyone has accidents, surprises, and gets stuff wrong it's important to keep it in the budget.

Back to the person who makes $15 an hour who, even working full time, is only going to have something like $20K a year in spendable income. Most of which will be used for just getting by without a lot to put towards a boat. Add that up and, just maybe, you have a working budget of $3-5K for that VolksCruiser.

Luckily, there are a lot of nice boats for sale in that niche but the more important question is whether or not one can afford and sustain a boat long term... more about that later. Next we'll tackle the really, really BIG question...