Maintenance in Paradise, January, 2010
Everybody knows the old definition of cruising: "sailing from exotic port to exotic port, repairing your boat." But we were a little surprised when, in the midst of budgeting for 2010, we discovered how much it costs to keep Akka in good repair: Over the last two years, we spent more than $15,000 on boat maintenance! The amazing thing is that in that period we really didn't have any major repairs - no motor rebuild, no lost dinghies, no expensive encounters with rocks or reefs.

The $15,000 figure is actually low. It does not include improvements and upgrades, such as replacing the canvas dodger with a new hard dodger, nor any sails or rigging. Plus, we do most repairs ourselves - for example, we never pay for oil changes and other routine engine maintenance, and we install and replace all electronics and electrical components ourselves. And when we do need help, as we did when the bolts holding the flywheel cowling to the motor broke, the cost of labor here in the Southwest Caribbean is comparatively cheap - a top mechanic might charge $200 a day. On the other hand, parts are a bit more expensive than in the States - we figure we average about 20% more, including shipping.

A review of our list of repairs for the last two years doesn't yield any obvious lessons. Our biggest single expense was hauling the boat and repainting the bottom with antifouling paint (about $2000 total, including paint), a job we need to do on average every two years or so in the tropics. Next were the Schaeffer heavy-duty jib cars, which blew out more or less simultaneously; the replacement cars didn't fit correctly and had to be machined before we could use them ($1300 total, for four cars). Both of these expenses were related to the size of the boat, but none of the rest were.

Surprisingly, electronics repairs (about $1200) lost out to electrical ones ($1500). During the two-year period, we had to repair and then replace both our starter motor and the main 130-amp alternator, at a total cost of around $700 each. This might seem like a rare experience, but a review of our records shows an average time-to-failure of less than two years, for both starters and alternators, both of which we use heavily (especially the alternator, which runs at full capacity for 1-2 hours a day and gets really hot). The alternator repair bill also highlights a factor of cruising that we don't usually think much about: Two different repairs only lasted a couple of months, and while they were both under warranty, those warranties were of no value to us, considering that we had long since left the countries where we got them.

We read an article by Jimmy Cornell not too long ago, saying that he had sailed around the world for $20,000 (not including flights home to England). Mr. Cornell must not sail in a 20-year old boat, or else he simply is letting it go to ruins, and he must eat really cheaply. If we add our $7500/year average repair bill to our annual grocery and household expenses of about $6000, and then tack on the entrance/exit fees for the countries Mr. Cornell visited on his around-the-world cruise, we would far exceed his budget. We're guessing that inasmuch as Jimmy Cornell owns the round-the-world rally in which he participated, he must get a lot of stuff free - that's the only way we can think of that he could survive on $20,000.