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Sailing for a year or Graduating Early?
Old 04-28-2010, 12:30 PM   #1
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Sailing for a year or Graduating Early?

I'm 26 and am just finishing up my first year of grad school. I've got two years and a summer left. I've managed to make it debt free this far and save about $50k by finagling various scholarships and combinations of part-time/full-time work and simultaneous part-time/full-time school. I also managed to take a year off from both work and school when I was 22 to live in a tent and hike around the Rocky Mountains just spending a tiny amount of my savings on food and minimal supplies. After I graduate I intend to work a part-time job in addition to the full-time work, remain childless and extremely frugal, and retire early to a rural plot of land in northern New England somewhere before I'm 40 and enjoy the off-grid/high-tech/homesteader/tinkerer/artisan/rogue-scholar retirement.

I'm at a decision point right now though because, while I got a 100% free ride for my first year of grad school, I'm no longer going to have my scholarship for reasons out of my control. So I got an offer from the financial aid office for next fall that includes minimal grants, and mostly loans. Which, if I took them up on it, would have me graduating with about $70-85k of student loan debt. Sickening, right? Especially considering the type of work I want to do has starting salaries between $40-$50k and tend to top off around $70-$90k.

So what I plan to do is transfer to a state school that has in-state tuition rates of less than $10k/year (as opposed to $40k/year at my current private school) which means I could afford to graduate debt-free without much effort. The state school's not quite as highly rated, but it's pretty close. I'm convinced the quality of the education and job prospects upon graduation will be just about equal. The thing is, you need to be a resident for 12 months in order to get the in-state tuition rate, otherwise the price doubles. I've only been a resident for 2 months, which means I can sit out a year, which will delay graduation by a year, in order to save $10k, or just eat the $10k in order to graduate earlier.

I'm fortunate to have part-time programming work right now that allows flexible work hours and the ability to telecommute 100%. I could work over a cell connection just checking in every few days. So taking a year off to just work remotely, part-time and save $10k on tuition costs sounds like the perfect excuse to me to take some time to do something I've been longing to do since I was a teenager: live on a sailboat.

I have a great paid-internship lined up for the summer that I'm looking forward to. But as soon as that ends in August I'd like to sail away (out of Boston) and spend a couple months in New England getting my bearings and waiting out hurricane season and then head down to Florida/the Caribbean for the winter. Basically I just want to anchor out in remote beaches, nap through the afternoons and catch up on some reading. Then back up to New England next summer to sell the boat and get ready to head to school in Sept. of 2011. I have an older friend who's an experienced sailor and an early-retiree who has offered to join me for the first few weeks. And other friends who might join me the majority of the rest of the time, not that I mind occasional long-stretches of solitude.

Here are my concerns: I've slept aboard sailboats a total of 2 nights in my life and loved it, but will that translate to enjoying nearly a year of it without a break? While I've sailed a fair amount, I've never owned a boat, and I've never done any passage-making, is it impossible to get a decent boat without getting scammed and not sink it through my incompetence within a week? Will I be able to cover my living costs aboard through part-time work if I'm careful and do things on the cheap (keep in my mind I won't need a permanent mooring or slip and that you're talking to a guy who lived in a tent for a year )? Would it make more sense to just keep my head down, get done with school, work for a decade, and then do this when I've got more money to buy a nicer boat and more time to prepare by being a weekend-sailor for a year first? Any sailors out there wish they'd just dived into cruising earlier rather than waiting until retirement?
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Old 04-28-2010, 01:03 PM   #2
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I hate writing this, but I feel obligated.

Don't do it.

And that comes from somebody who believes that health and youth is priceless, and that there are many things that one should do while young: backpacking through Europe, spending a season camping, surfing, skiing. Lots of things. But cruising on a sailboat is something that can be (and is better) done when older and richer.

Cruising is much more risky than most folks imagine. I am not talking about life-or-death here (although that is a possibility) but the run-of-the-mill disasters. For example, it would almost be a miracle if you could make it from Boston to the Bahamas without running aground at least once. Figure $800 minimum unless you have unlimited towing insurance. Likewise, a year on a sailboat without having to spend a thousand or so in repairs is pretty unlikely, and there is almost no upper limit on what repairs could cost.

Sailing down the eastern seaboard is a problem. There are precious few places to anchor, and transient slip rentals (scarce and getting more so) can be outrageous. In 2006, mooring balls (not a slip mind you) in Annapolis and Providence were $50/night. Often you have no choice. You can't anchor in the ICW, and you really aren't imagining sailing offshore around Cape Hatteras are you?

Finally, I can't imagine cruising alone. Not the loneliness part, but even the tiniest overnight crossing would be miserable. I pretty much think that single-handers who put their boats on autopilot and go to sleep are crazy even if they are doing it in the South Pacific, but you are talking about the Eastern seaboard. Yikes!

Even simple things like docking become a handful when alone. Some folks are good enough sailors to manage it, but not me.

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Oh, one more thing...
The last time I was in the market for a boat (2006), any cruising boat being marketed as "just bring your toothbrush", was $200K and up. Less than that and you are looking at 6 months to a year of serious work, all the while paying slip rental.

Oops. Rereading your post makes me think now that you might already have the boat.
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Old 04-28-2010, 01:14 PM   #3
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I know enough about sailing to know it's like flying. The new guys tend to overestimate their abilities. There is a saying, "there are bold pilots, and there are old pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots." I think the saying translates over to sailors nicely.

Get some more experience and/or training before you take that on. Or even better, combine the trip with the training by taking a suitable experienced sailor with you.

I've had enough close calls diving or sailing to know that I have to respect my limits. Those are both things I want to get more experience at while I'm still young enough, but until then I stick to what I know I can do without being suicidal. Water is an unforgiving bitch and drowning sucks.

But whatever you do, for God's sake go have some fun. Be at least a little irresponsible because you won't ever be this young again.
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Old 04-28-2010, 01:42 PM   #4
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2 comments: Will not being physically resident in your state for a year make you ineligible for in state tuition? That may be partially remedied by doing all the hoop-jumping you can to meet the residency requirements.

Also, have you considered volunteering to crew on someone else's vessel in exchange for room and board?
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Old 04-28-2010, 01:53 PM   #5
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Sailing aside....

Perhaps with the OP really wants is to just take a year off. Why wait until you are an old Phart to do this. perhaps you could fly down to the Caribbean and live in a shack or share rental with some other younguns. Have some adventure before you fall into the dayjob thing.

Alternatively, I had a friend out of high school who landed a job as crew on a rich mans sailing yacht. They would sail it to wherever the rich guy wanted and them take them around for a couple of weeks. Most of the time he just hung out with the crew. It didn't pay much but the benefits were great.
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Old 04-28-2010, 02:46 PM   #6
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Hiring on as a "hand" isn't a bad idea.

If the OP enjoys boating he should see if there are any good recreational boating books describing his area. If the pickings are slim consider writing a book based on his experience. Don't overlook boater services such as boat yards and repair facilities. The year "off" could generate a little income as a writer. A couple years ago a couple claimed to be doing that in the Columbia River Basin but they didn't know bow from stern.

If you don't already own a sailboat I wouldn't recommend it in your situation. If you are determined to go that route I would look for a trailer-able boat that is a single handed sailor. You want sails, lines and auxiliary engine in very good condition. You will be trusting that vessel to keep you safe, find your own surveyor to make sure that the boat is sound (there are lots of fittings that, if they leak, could cause you great grief). It is said by some that "a boat is a hole in the water that you pour money into."

If you are not a very experienced sailor do not attempt cruising, not just the oceans but also the Great Lakes.
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Old 04-28-2010, 02:59 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by glippy View Post
... Basically I just want to anchor out in remote beaches, nap through the afternoons and catch up on some reading.
....
This is what jumps out at me, and something I'm still struggling with: where to find an undisturbed idyllic place to nap and read, and how many hours a day to spend there? I have to get away from the distractions of home to do that, currently I nap at home and get out to a park or rooftop backyard to read. All solutions I've tried so far are imperfect.
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Old 04-28-2010, 05:35 PM   #8
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I didn't do it, but in retrospect I am a big believer in taking some time off to explore between the end of formal education and the beginning of that first career. There will be no better time in your life for this exploration later, just recommended same to my niece. That being said, I have also been a sailor for 35 years and owned my own boats for 21. Best of luck whatever you do. See below...
Quote:
Originally Posted by glippy View Post
Here are my concerns: I've slept aboard sailboats a total of 2 nights in my life and loved it, but will that translate to enjoying nearly a year of it without a break? That's a huge leap of faith, but only you can answer. We can't project whether or not you'll like it based on 2 days. Even if you like it, there will be many sleepless nights too, they won't all be idyllic.
While I've sailed a fair amount, I've never owned a boat, and I've never done any passage-making, is it impossible to get a decent boat without getting scammed and not sink it through my incompetence within a week? It's not impossible, but the odds are you will get scammed unless a surveyor and a very experienced sailor/buyer are involved. If you're buying on your own, the odds are against you. OTOH, unless you buy a complete POS, most boats are overbuilt (so you won't get hurt) and you're not going to sink it unless you do something really dumb.
Will I be able to cover my living costs aboard through part-time work if I'm careful and do things on the cheap (keep in my mind I won't need a permanent mooring or slip and that you're talking to a guy who lived in a tent for a year )? You can probably cover your living expenses, but unless you can do all the work yourself, maintaining a boat is way more expensive than most non-owners would ever know.
Would it make more sense to just keep my head down, get done with school, work for a decade, and then do this when I've got more money to buy a nicer boat and more time to prepare by being a weekend-sailor for a year first? Makes more sense to keep your head down, you know that or you wouldn't ask. I'd still go for a sabbatical if I were you, but living on a boat and long distance cruising is fraught with obstacles and expenses.
Any sailors out there wish they'd just dived into cruising earlier rather than waiting until retirement? If I knew then what I know now about boats maybe. If I knew then what I knew then, it probably would have been the mistake of a lifetime. There are other ways to explore instead of liveaboard cruising down the Atlantic coast.
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Old 04-29-2010, 08:55 AM   #9
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My recommendation is to take a year off and go sailing, but do it on OPBs (Other Peoples' Boats).
Your cash outlay would be minimal (mostly personal sailing gear, you might already have some) and if you decided you want to quit after two months, no problems with it.
This would also allow you to sample different boats. A good starting point for such lifestyle would be browsing crew finder sites. There is plenty of people looking for crew (and there is plenty of crew looking for boats)
Also I don't know how flexible your telecommuting arrangement is, but be prepared than even on US Atlantic coast the cell coverage can be spotty. If you need reasonably reliable voice access consider satellite phone (Iridium or Globalstar).

While nothing replaces the experience of doing it yourself, you might want to start reading websites/boards devoted to liveaboard & sailboat cruising.

Go small, go now

PS: Your tenting/hiking experience is a definite plus in adjusting to liveaboard conditions
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Old 04-30-2010, 09:16 AM   #10
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From personal experience, I would recommend trying to get a job on a tallship. The pay isn't good, but includes room and board, travel with stopovers in ports, good, interesting people to work with, and this summer, they are mostly going to be travelling through the Great Lakes (and if you make it to Chicago in August, I'll buy you a round or two). I did it after college, and have never regretted it. Living expenses covered by the boat, and the salary mostly went to drinking with crewmates and picking up women in port. It also tends to have highly educated people, good networking, and possible leverage into non-profit work if it interests you (I don't know what you're studying - my mech eng degree helped me walk on a ship easily to begin with, but not at all required).
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Old 04-30-2010, 09:38 AM   #11
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I think it's a great time to sail!

BUT

Don't buy a boat! Crew on someone else's boat - or several. That's the way to do it when young and no career yet. There is no need to spend $$$ on boat or mooring fees. If you were already quite experienced and knew boats well - that would be a slightly different situation as you could probably find something of good value and get your money back when you sold it and not have any huge mishaps in the meantime.

And BTW you really need to get a feel for how prone you are to seasickness before committing to any passage-making. You won't necessarily know this from just coastal cruising unless you've been in some tougher weather conditions.

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Old 04-30-2010, 10:56 AM   #12
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I'd agree with taking the time off, if only to give yourself time to think about what you really want to be when you grow up.

I don't know anything about boats, but when I was 20 yo I took off for 6 monthes and did one lap of America in a van camper. It was the opportunity of a lifetime and really grounded me in what I wanted to do with my life and also taught me a good deal of self reliance and money management skills. The most valuable parts of my education never occured in a classroom.
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Old 04-30-2010, 04:25 PM   #13
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As travellover wrote taking time off to think and learn about the world will pay dividends in the future. Once you have that degree the pressure will be on to find a job, once you have done that your opportunities for a sabbatical are few. Once you are married, and particularly if you have children, your money will be spent on other things.

After DH retired we rented a camper-van and explored NZ and AU. It was just like we were kids again.

Other options would be a stint in the Peace Corp, working for an NGO. You didn't share your major, it would be nice if you could leverage what you are studying.
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Old 05-03-2010, 06:07 PM   #14
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Quote:
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Here are my concerns: I've slept aboard sailboats a total of 2 nights in my life and loved it, but will that translate to enjoying nearly a year of it without a break?
2 nights (alongside?) is not enough to provide you with any real sense of whether you will like extended cruising. You will have a much better idea if you take a two-week offshore sailing course ... which will also provide you with many of the skills you currently lack (passage-making, etc.).

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Will I be able to cover my living costs aboard through part-time work if I'm careful and do things on the cheap (keep in my mind I won't need a permanent mooring or slip and that you're talking to a guy who lived in a tent for a year )?
Probably. You should definitely seek out Annie Hill, Voyaging on a Small Income, 2nd ed. If you can find them at the library, see also The Cost Conscious Cruiser, by Larry Pardy, and The Cruising Life: A Commonsense Guide to the Would-be Voyager, by Jim Trefethan.

Quote:
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Would it make more sense to just keep my head down, get done with school, work for a decade, and then do this when I've got more money to buy a nicer boat and more time to prepare by being a weekend-sailor for a year first?
There are valid arguments going both ways.

P.S. You might want to post your questions at Cruisers & Sailing Forums.
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Thanks for the responses
Old 05-22-2010, 12:19 PM   #15
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Thanks for the responses

Thanks for the responses. I think I've struck a nice compromise. I joined a sailing club in town that will let me borrow boats for overnight trips after I've passed a few qualifications in the next couple of months. And I setup my school schedule next fall so that I only have classes Tuesday through Thursday, so I'll have 4-day weekends all semester long. So I should be able to go on some long weekend trips this summer and early fall. And I could do it all again next spring/summer/fall if I'm so inclined.

I've been sailing with some retired guys who hang out at the club all day. There are several experienced cruisers who have done some ocean crossings, one global circumnavigation and one circumnavigation of South America.

Hopefully this will scratch that itch for adventure and relaxation while also allowing me to finish up grad school without any delay.
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Old 05-22-2010, 03:08 PM   #16
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A wise decision.
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