Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sailing on a Budget: How to Have Fun, Save Money, and Fly Like the Wind!

Sailing is not just for the rich!

If you think sailing is a rich man's (or woman's) game, think again!
For less than $200 you can buy a used Sunfish. Got a budget of around $2,500? You can do what I did and buy an O'Day Daysailer -- AND trailer -- in excellent condition. Once I had my boat, it was a five-minute drive down to the lake and I was off with the wind.
And the best part? All the time I spent sailing was ABSOLUTELY FREE! That's right! Unlike the greedy oil companies, Mother Nature lets us use the wind's energy for free. What a deal! So, while my power boat friends were taking out bank loans to pay for gasoline and marina slips, my biggest expense was an annual registration sticker ($35 in New Hampshire).
When you consider that the average 150 HP power boat owner will spend about $54 PER HOUR just on gas to drive around in circles, it's easy to see that small sailboats are an incredible bargain. . .and a lot more fun!

Think small. . . and safe.

When I was a kid I used to hang out at the marinas in East Norwalk, CT. I was amazed that even on the nicest summer weekends, most of the sailboats never left their slips. They were such beautiful boats -- beautiful but neglected. Not that they were in bad condition -- most looked perfect from a maintenance standpoint. However, the owners rarely seemed to have time to actually sail them. What a shame!
The advantage of thinking small when it comes to sailing is that you will spend less time and money on maintenance. You won't need a large crew to go out on the water. And you'll be less concerned about repairs because there is less to go wrong. Of course, you also won't have a boat loan to pay or an expensive boat slip to worry about every month.
How small is small?
Many beginning sailors get their start in what I call "wet boats" like the Sunfish or Laser. They're an excellent way to get out on the water and learn the basics of sailing. I call them wet boats because you can always count on getting pretty wet when you sail one. They tend to capsize more often and you, the skipper, are more exposed to the water. For some people, that's the fun of it. I say more power to them!
As for me, I wanted a small sailboat that was still large enough to bring a few friends along. I also wanted a small cuddy where I could store a cooler and some other gear. And while I was prepared to do some unscheduled swimming if the need arose, I basically did not want to end up soaking wet on every trip. Being able to sail alone was also an important consideration. With a small budget to work with and a few preferences to guide me, I found that boats we call "daysailers" fit the bill perfectly.
There are many boats that are called daysailers. Most are in the 16' to 22' range. They have a small cuddy and sometimes even a small cabin. Most are trailerable, designed to be easy to sail, are rather quick and perky on the water, and have enough sail control and ballast (usually a centerboard) to keep things right-side up.
After a two month search, I ended up buying an O'Day Daysailor with a trailer in excellent condition for $1,800. (That's my boat, "Hejira," in the photo at the very top of the page.) I spent about another $100 on miscellaneous gear like extra lines, a compass, binoculars, and a first aid kit. A year later I spent another $110 for a tiller extension and a few other items so it would be easier to sail single-handedly.
After trailering Hejira from my house down to the lake for a while, I decided to rent a spot in an open field near a boat ramp for $100 per month. Although the rent was admittedly an unnecessary luxury, I could leave the mast up and quickly transform myself from landlubber to Pirate of Lake Winnipesaukee.
If your goal is to get on a lake or ocean bay and feel connected to the wind and water, nothing beats a small sailboat.