Is a Sailboat Expensive?

The age-old question. I see this a lot in forums and on videos we create. People think that owning or living on a sailboat is so expensive that they would never be able to afford it. The quick answer is that it can be as expensive as you can afford, but this is too simplistic of an answer.

When we bought our first sailboat back in 2009 a year after the economy crashed. The selling prices of all boats had dropped to the point where buying a boat had become much less expensive than it was just a few years earlier. I guess that boat owners, at least some of the boat owners, had to make choices of whether to sell their boat or lose their home and if you do not live aboard your boat, that choice is obvious. Because we owned our own business we had to make some difficult choices. When your monthly income is well into the five-figure range, and suddenly the number of clients ringing your phone drops off because people just didn’t have money to spend for your services, it’s time to make changes, and so we did.

It was clear that we would probably have to work into our 70’s before we could reasonably expect to retire, as most people today will have to do. Being that we were both in our 50’s at the time, that was not something we looked forward to. We thought there must be a better way. At least, there must be a different way that we could handle our lives so that we could retire at a reasonable age and still survive long enough to enjoy retirement. We started researching alternate ways of living and alternate ways of earning money. After exploring the possibility of living and traveling in an R/V, we came to the conclusion that our preferred alternative was buying a sailboat and living aboard it.

So, now to search for our next boat. Our initial plans were to just live aboard and coastal sail the California coast. We wouldn’t need a heavy, strong boat for that kind of sailing, so we looked for something that would fit our budget and our needs. After a lengthy search and a lot of research, we were looking on Ebay (of all places) and First Mate found a nice little ketch-rigged sailboat that, although it was only 31 feet long, was a center-cockpit. It was a “walkover” design, it was in good condition, and was diesel powered. She was a Harstad 31 designed by William Crealock. We really enjoyed sailing this boat! We took her to Catalina Island several times and she was a nice sailing boat. She had a very comfortable vberth with a really thick foam mattress that made sleeping aboard really nice. There were a few downsides to her, though. The head had a hybrid of a portapotty that could be pumped out with a hand pump in the vberth. Not too bad, but not a real marine toilet. The bilge was difficult to get to and always seemed to have water in it. There was decent access to the diesel and I could climb down into the engine room through one of the cockpit lockers. There is more information HERE if you want to see her.

Around this time we were finding out just how much we really loved sailing. After many discussions, we came to the conclusion that we wanted more of living aboard than just coastal sailing. It was around this time that I discovered Delos, Cruising Lea Lea, and other videos on Youtube, which prompted me to look for other sailing channels. It didn’t take much to convince me that I wanted to sail around the world. First Mate was also an easy sell, so we started talking about what plans we would have to put into place to move us in that direction. And that brings us to our third boat – a Columbia 36.

In looking for a “new” boat that could handle sailing across oceans, we had a short list of prerequisites that we would need to be satisfied. We wanted a boat big enough to hold all the stores we would need to take and it would have to be stable and strong enough to handle long passages. In our naivety, we decided that the Columbia 36 could handle that. To our defense we did read where several sailors had taken their Columbia 36 sailboats around the world, and she had a new Yanmar diesel installed that had only 52 hours on it. The price was right, too. We paid $15,000 for her and she came with a receipt for the diesel that showed the owner had paid $14,800 for the diesel. We basically bought a new diesel and the boat came with it. We sailed our Columbia 36 to Catalina Island many times over the course of the 4 1/2 years we owned her. She was a good boat and a great coastal sailer! We installed many options, including a new toilet, holding tank with macerator, solar and a wind generator, refrigeration, autopilot, radar, a dodger, windlass and many other things to make her more fun to sail. But alas, she was not going to be the best for crossing oceans. First Mate learned that first-hand when sailing back from Catalina Island one day. She was at the helm and we almost rounded up. She was really scared and asked me how that happened and what could prevent it. I explained it all to her and she came to the conclusion that we needed a heavier, full-keel boat. I agreed and off we were to look for our fourth sailboat.

About that time we had a fellow sailor that knew we were looking for a boat tell us about a friend of his that was selling her sailboat. It was almost everything that we had been praying for. She was a 41 foot, center cockpit, full-keel and heavy. She also had a 13′ 8″ beam so there was plenty of space below for everything we wanted to do. Someone had converted part of the settee and a hanging locker forward into a pilot berth. We wouldn’t need that so we decided to make that one huge storage area. We had two really large drawers installed with nice cabinet doors that took up half, then the other half was going to be used for a utility room. We had the room to install a washing machine and additional room for whatever else we needed to store there.

Since we bought her back in January of 2015, we’ve done the following to her:

  • Repowered with new Beta 60 from Beta Marine
  • New windlass, 150-foot new chain, 45 pound CQR anchor
  • Electronics to include VHF/AIS, Radar, GPS, Depth (sonar), handheld with GPS and emergency, WiFi integration for all instruments
  • New cabinets, counters and drawers in the galley
  • New teak and holley floor for the galley
  • New washing machine
  • Built our over/under bunks in vberth
  • 3000-watt power inverter with remote switch
  • Arch with Radar and solar panels, dinghy davits
  • Dodger
  • 12 foot inflatable with Honda outboard, kayak
  • Watermaker
  • Large Magnum grill
  • New Force 10 stove
  • New cold-plate refrigeration
  • LED lights throughout
  • Additional storage cabinets, new countertops
  • Arc welder
  • Honda generator
  • Two 100 watt solar panels with MPPT controller
  • Washing machine
  • Sailrite sewing machine
  • Still

Although we bought the boat for a great price ($13,000) she needed a LOT of elbow grease and a LOT of money spent rebuilding her. To date we’ve spent, including the price for the boat, a bit over $75,000 to get her to where she is now. The good is that we’ve done things the way we wanted and we’ve used all new parts and pieces. This boat will take us anywhere and will last us the rest of our lives.

So, you can spend as much as you want or as much as you have, but there is always a way,to make things come together, if you put your mind to it.

About Captain Tom

Over 10 years sailing and over 3500 miles under our keel. Was an engineer (EE) for over 30 years, then after moving into management, decided that the corporate world was no longer for me. Ran my wife's law office for 15 years and recently retired. Now we live aboard and sail the California coast, soon to leave for the Sea of Cortez.