Monday, October 05, 2015

How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat: A Review

When Scott and I set out cruising, we made one glaring, huge, and pretty colossal mistake: we bought the wrong boat. Don't get me wrong, our first boat, Rasmus, will forever have our hearts and souls tied up in her - and she was in every single way a fantastic boat (strong, sturdy, beautiful, and a steady and patient 'teacher'). But - in hindsight - she was not the "right" boat which was why, not even two years after cruising with her, we found ourselves in the market for another boat.

When Deb Akey of the blog The Retirement Project, shot me an email to see if I was interested in reading and reviewing her book, "How Not to Buy a Cruising Boat", I jumped at the chance. Not only was I very interested in the subject matter considering our first 'mistake' (no regrets!), but knowing that we still do not have what we would consider our "forever" boat, I thought that perhaps I could learn a thing or two. (Universe, we would *love* a three cabin Hallberg Rassy 46, just in case you are wondering!) 

I started reading and after two chapters I felt compelled to write Deb this email:
Hey Deb! I am plowing through your book - just wanted to let you know that I am THOROUGHLY enjoying it!!!! I will probably have a review up in the next week...I'll give you a heads up, but - wow - so impressed!! I love it! You and TJ are great writers (odds of BOTH of you being equally entertaining?!?!) and there's so much good knowledge in there - can't wait to share my review. Thanks again for the great read. xo
If that doesn't tell you how I honestly feel about this book, I don't know what will.

I would absolutely put "How Not to Buy a Cruising Boat" on the 'short list' of essential reading for any aspiring cruiser. And, believe me, I have read a LOT of great books about cruising. This book has earned a place at the top of the ranks. Why?
  • It's a quick and easy read, yet full of fantastic tips. They truly cover all the bases with enough info to make you 'dangerous' but not too much information that it becomes a tome. For example, they ask the question: Are you really going to "sail around the world" or are you content to island hop around the Caribbean? Making a sound and realistic decision on this can save you many thousands of dollars on the boat (and gear) you "need".
  • It's written from a "his and her" perspective. One thing that amazed me the most was the fact that both Deb and TJ write this book, and both authors are equally knowledgeable and entertaining. They alternate perspectives and chapters and it makes for an interesting read. I wasn't expecting that and was pleasantly surprised by this unusual style.
  • They walk you through it all. Deb and TJ began from zero. No sailing background, no family boating ties...they did it all from scratch. From searching for boats on to your first survey, they'll walk you through the entire process of buying a boat and yet it doesn't feeeeeel like they are walking you through the entire process of buying a boat. They're just friends telling you a story. How did they do that?
  • It's based on experience. Next time Scott complains about our boat, I'm going to make him read this book. Holy hell. It's really quite amazing that Deb and TJ have not a) thrown in the towel or b) gotten a divorce as they seemed to be living the "Marley and Me" of boating life. Learn from their mistakes.
  • They keep it light. This is not your average, dry, "how to" reference-style book. More than once I laughed out loud at their recounting of a mishap or experience. As a fellow cruisers, these two speak the truth and with a great sense of humor.
  • They are thorough. Deb and TJ are cruisers who went "all in" and by that I mean, they are really, really well researched. TJ also comes from a long line of mechanics and was an airplane technician in his former life so these two know what they ar talking about from a maintenance/mechanical perspective.
  • They Keep it Real. For better or worse, they really drive home what it means to be a cruiser in this book; the good, bad and ugly. Anyone thinking of jumping into the cruiser lifestyle will not only find this book to be a treasure trove of great information on boat buying, but a really good glimpse into what it takes to live the lifestyle. Deb and TJ ask tough questions that will have you taking a good, hard look at what you want to do and why.
  • They mention us. Okay, this is no reason to buy this book, but holy cow was it crazy fun to see "" listed in print as one of twenty blogs singled out as helpful to them in their preparation! Not gonna lie, I squealed, took a screen shot and sent it to my best girlfriends. Big honor. Hugely flattered.

I loved this book and I think it's a really important read for anyone in the market for a boat. Your vessel will HUGELY impact (and I mean "make" or "break") your cruising experience, so this is a purchase that should be taken very, very seriously from the design to the integrity, from the mast head to the keel. There may not be such thing as the "perfect" boat, but there is definitely such a thing as the "wrong" boat and this book will definitely help steer you clear of mistakes that many cruisers make to end up there.

Deb and TJ: Saving potential cruisers from headache and heartache one crappy boat at a time.


Unknown said...

I would LOVE to win a signed copy!
We are a family of 6, (between 6 and 12) and after a few sailing adventures in the caribbean, we are aiming to depart within the next 18 months.
And I would most definitely need all the tips possible.
And the fact that the book is a he/she version appeal me a lot too! =-)
Thanks for all the good work. We really love reading you up here, in the freezing country!

Deb and Phil Perfitt said...

Thanks for the great review. Based on this I will buy this book for the content even though we are living on our forever boat!!

Unknown said...

Very simple reason we would like to win a copy of the book - were shopping right now and don't want to repeat past mistakes. We have owned five (5) sailboats doing the typical smaller to larger, (but got too large) and went smaller, (but went to small) so now were looking for the "Right Boat" as were getting ready to retire and need to get it correct this time.

The book looks very interesting, and being a sailor nothing would be better then being able to get a free copy, and signed by the author is a major plus to our library.

Thanks for the review and the great blog.. being on Lake MI, and with a daughter living in the Chicago Burbs there is always the hope of bumping into you guys some day.

Thanks again

Russ & Kerry
s/v Long Story

Anonymous said...

I started following The Retirement Project a few weeks ago when you first posted the picture of your cameo in their book. We're still in the very early stages of our own cruising plan and when the time comes, I would love for us to be able to hit the right boat for our family of five on the first try... and with as little pain as possible.

I love what I've seen of their writing so far, and would love a signed copy. Of course, I'll buy a copy anyway if I need to, but if I got the signed copy, perhaps I could donate a purchased copy to someone else... maybe we could start a pay-it-forward library kind of thing.

Regardless, thanks for bringing the book and its authors to our attention... we'll be in the BVI for the last week of February for a cruising cat class (hopefully, will determine if a cat might be our preferred boat type)... maybe we'll see you around while we're there. Rendezvous for dinner and drinks in Cane Garden Bay?... that's where we honeymooned.


Michelle.Jeffries said...

This post could not have come at a better time. My boyfriend and I are starting at zero, just now getting rolling with thinking about looking at boats. The eventual goal is a starter boat for the two of us to live on part time while saving up and then making the jump to full time cruisers sometime in the next few years. Very excited that there are so many resources out there for us to get a better understanding what we are getting ourselves into!

Paula U said...

Would love to win a copy! Actually read the sample not long ago so it's still on my list of books to read. We are currently shopping for a sailboat and have seen soooo many, it's hard! But I feel like ours boat is out there and we will find her soon.

Magda said...

I had a boat, purchased with my ex. He is now my ex and I want my own. The needs are of course now different.....I'd like to know what the "guy" approach, perspective is. And...well, eventually I'd like more company on the boat but without having to keep buying boats.... Please pick me :)

Also - I love reading your blog, get excited when I see a new post is up. Whether my plea is important enough or not - please keep up the terrific work, including explaining and complaining about the gritty parts of cruising living :)

familjen Persson said...

We would really need some advise here. After having owned two completely different boats; one steel that needed a complete renovation and a Rasmus, we are really confused as what to get now. We will be living on the boat in a few years, moving from a big house. Should we go for a small-small, or a little bigger, polyester or aluminium, get one "ready to go" or get the equipment ourselves? So many things to take into consideration.
We are preparing the best we can by sailing with friends whenever we can, taking all kinds of different courses, but knowing how to think to get the right boat for us we have not managed to figure out.
Thanks for an inspiring blog!

Misti said...

Wonderful post. My husband and I have both heard the calling of the big beautiful ocean and with 0 experience sailing, we are going to buy a cruising boat to sail the world in. We long to live life and stop starring at cubicle walls all day. When my husband told me seeing the videos of people sailing made his heart smile I knew this was what we needed to do. We don't know much about sailing and boats but have been learning and absorbing everything we possibly can and this book would be a huge help and a treasure to boot. Thank you for sharing this!

David in MI said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David in MI said...

I already bought the wrong boat… twice. After an influential 6 month stint as a live aboard single person, I moved back to land (sold the boat) and got married to a wonderfully adventurous woman. We proceeded to create a perfect little girl at right about the same time I purchased a Hobie 16 for fun on Lake Michigan. Not a great boat for an infant – it was a bonehead move that didn’t help my marriage. We added two more kids and caught the family cruising vision. We purchased a nice specimen of a Columbia 8.7 as a practice boat. It’s been too much practice - transmission rod failure led to a high-speed incident into a concrete dock, 1-1/2 year olds don’t like being tethered in confused seas, and no amount of effort and rebuilding has solved the olfactory offence originating in the head. But it has not dissuaded us from planning the cruise because it’s so important for us to do this with our kids. The current boat is for sale and we’re starting the search for THE boat. I’d rather learn from other people’s mistakes this time! A signed copy would be icing on the cake. said...

Dear Brittany,
I haven't ever commented, but have been following your blog for about a year while my husband's and my cruising ambitions have slowly grown, thanks in part to your story! It was a book that got us started on the idea before we were even engaged. Jim Trefethen's The Cruising Life, picked up on a whim at a used book store, actually helped us realize that we were both the same type of crazy! This was shortly followed by a gift from my dad of sailing lessons that got my husband hooked. He slowly got me enamored with the sport and the timing for this book couldn't be better, since we are just now really committing to making this dream happen. Literally LAST NIGHT, we started making our list of "wants" and "don't wants" for our boat and strategizing to get aboard as many different sailboats as we can. We were also struggling with planning for the future because we definitely want kids and didn't want to have to choose one dream over the other. After reading lots from you and others, I think raising children aboard sounds even more incredible than cruising as a couple, if we should be so blessed.
It will be at least 2 years before we can really launch, but reading about your family's journey is helping to keep us motivated and reminds us to go with the flow. Anyway, as I'm sure you know, every little dollar counts when saving for a cruising kitty, so having this signed book would not only be a small but meaningful contribution to our monetary savings, but also a much larger boost to our inspirational "kitty" of reminders that we can really do this!

Nicole said...

Me and my husband have a shared dream of sailing with our two daughters. Neither of us have a genetic predisposition for sailing or any sailing experience either than one sailing class we took in Florida before tying the knot 5 years ago. We have always owned a boat and love the water. In fact, we moved, just over a year ago now, from the Chicagoland area to reduce our cost of living and be closer to the ocean and our dream of sailing. We originally thought a catamaran was the way to go due to the "comfort and space" we thought that it provided. We recently almost purchased a catamaran until we decided we needed to do a little more research. Do we want to island hop in the Carribean or sail around the world? Originally we thought sailing the Carribean would be we don't know. We are not sure what the best time to leave will be. Should we wait till our daughters are bit older (they are currently 2 and 4)? We are not self-made millionaires and will be doing this on a budget. There is sooo much to learn! We need all the help we can get!
We have been reading your blog and many other sailing family blogs for a loooong time now and living vicariously through your adventures. We hope to meet you and your family on the water some day and become part of the sailing community!
Thanks for all your posts, sharing and advice!

mudmaven said...

We are just two old retired folks trying to maximize our time left on this earth. We currently own an Allied Princess 36 ketch and are planning on sailing until we can no longer do so. I really think that this book might help us and would so love a copy! We have a bucket list that includes a return to the BVI within the few years left to us and any help in understanding what our "real" needs might be would be most helpful! ~chris (SV Belmira

The Nurturing Pirate said...

We would love to win this book, because we are in this process RIGHT NOW. In fact, we just backed out of a deal, once we discovered previously-undisclosed damage - during a survey which we flew across the continent for. (Lesson: Surveys are worth their weight in GOLD.) Aside from being hugely relieved that we didn't make a colossal error in buying this boat, I am *depressed* at still having to look/wish/dream about boats on different sites - and deal with brokers.

Rebecca said...

I *dont* need it bc I don't do paper any more. But I went right over to Amazon and bought the Kindle book. Will actually be a while before I use the info, but I will be glad to have it nonetheless. Also, looking forward to reading it as just an interesting and entertaining book. Glad you gave us the heads up.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I was born at 7000 ft, and have lived most of my life 1000 miles from the nearest ocean. It's a difficult place to nurse a cruising dream. I have 10 days experience sailing around the keys and I'm hooked. I just feel like I have too much stuff, too many commitments, and too much stress in my life. I'm yearning for something simpler, but also more challenging. I want to feel like I'm doing something worthwhile, like I'm experiencing the world, for better or worse. And I'm completely and utterly lost on next steps. All I can do is read, read, read, and save, save, save, and hope that at some point I'll have put together enough knowledge to go beyond drooling over yachtworld boat descriptions.

Love your blog by the way! I know it can't be easy to put together so much good content, but it is appreciated by newbs such as myself :-)

Unknown said...

The timing would be incredible, nay... creepy if we were to be the winners of your book. My name is Ben. My wife Tambi and 5 year old young'n Molly will be at the "sailboat shopping" stage within the next couple months.

Currently, between the 3 of us, we have the combined sailing skills of a doorknob, but we're letting ourselves be distracted by unimportant details such as that. Our path is decided and underway so we're gradually chipping away at the process that will ultimately lead to us bobbing about on a sailboat in the waters of the Caribbean. It's going to be rad.

At the moment, we're at a stage where we are preparing our house to be rented out while we are gone. Basically this entails loads of unexciting drudgery such as cleaning, trashing, selling, and purging. Our house becomes more and more empty by the day as we move towards having it rent-ready.

Once the house is squared away with a happily paying tenant, we'll enter the next stage - we like to call this one "living with mom-in-law". Yes indeed, it's not as luxurious as it sounds, but it is going to be a temporary stop for us on our journey towards sailboat ownership. You see, it's during this period of time when we will begin seriously shopping for the right boat. The time is fast approaching when we 3 will find ourselves perusing the used sailboat market in hopes of finding the right boat.

It's intimidating to think about it really - we're not just shopping for a boat... we're about to be buying a a little space in the world that is going to serve us as our floating house for the next year, or two, or more.

Funny to think about the reality of knowing that OUR BOAT is already out there somewhere. Maybe it's floating in some harbor. Maybe it's safely moored in a nice protected anchorage for the next week. Perhaps it's underway even right now as I type this message. Wherever it is... it's going to make it's way into our little world by some strange mixture of fate and destiny. You see, it could very likely be your little book that helps us to find our sailboat that's out there waiting on us.

One other quick point that I'll make here before I wrap this up...

If we were to receive this book, not only would it very likely play a critical role in helping us to find our perfect boat, but it will also be the first "sailing book" that we have ever owned. Yes indeed, all other sailing books that we acquire from that point forward will always have a secondary place in our hearts because the one that was with us through so many of our sailing "firsts" will have been "How Not To Buy A Cruising Boat."

Seems like the perfect book at the perfect time. Sometimes it's not so much that you need to be guided in the right direction, but that you need to be told what the heck NOT to do.

Yep - I think that sums it up.

~ Ben, Tambi & Molly

Deb said...


Thank You for your kind words. As always, your review is well thought out, and captures the essence and spirit of our book. Our sincere hope is that we will help other cruisers avoid the financial pitfalls and emotional heartache that we went through. We deeply appreciate your thoughtful observations.

Deb and T. J.
SV Kintala

Kelley - Sailing Chance said...

Our first boat was DEFINITELY not the right boat either, but it was our first and what the hell did we know? Now that we've been living aboard for a few years, we know what we like and don't like! This book sure would have come in handy during my research ;)

Madison said...

Hi! My name's Madison, and I am 21 years old, about to graduate from college. I'm seriously considering skipping over getting an apartment, and trying to establish my adult life in favor of going on a cruising adventure. I was inspired by Jessie and Katie of, but being a college student, I don't have the money to spend on a costly mistake like having the wrong boat. No one in my life sails, and having this book would help me feel like I had more of a handle on the intricacies of purchasing a boat.
And of course, it would also be a tangible thing that would make my dream feel more like an achievable goal, instead of something to while away my internet hours.

In that vein, thank you so much for this blog--living vicariously through sailors like you is what's keeping me sane in my last quarter of college!

Unknown said...

Oh please, pick me! So far our family of three has looked at a dozen boats...none of which "feel" quite right. But as a non-sailor, my feelings need fine tuning! Sailing around the world is my partner's dream. I'm not a sailor, but I'm an adventurer and the closer this gets to reality the more excited I'm starting to get! We've talked about leaving as soon as this spring when the third of three will be one year old, but it all hinges on finding the right boat and I'm desperate to feel more competent in the looking process. I know I want a solid Bluewater cruiser, with a safe cockpit and a comfortable cooking galley...oh and it needs to be affordable! But what does any of that really mean? Other than the affordability. I think I understand that, except i really don't because so much of affordability has to do with upkeep, ugh. Save me! While you can't impart years of knowledge directly into my non-sailing brain (Though it's what your blog attempts to do!) With a little work on my part it sounds like at least in this, our first step, there is a book's worth of knowledge to be had! Thanks for what you do!

kelli g said...

Hi, Brittany. Longtime reader, first-time commenter :) My husband, David, has dreams of cruising around the world, and years ago, as a means of encouraging me, he "suggested" that I subscribe to a bunch of the cruising blogs he read. Three years later, yours is the only one I still read. (Hopefully flattery is a good start.) Anyway, we are finally in a place where (I think) we can set sail in about a year, and we (I) have a lot to learn in that time. I've gotten progressively more excited about this potential adventure — partially due to reading your fun blog! — and I'd love to show David that I'm actually serious about this by giving him this signed book for our 1-year wedding anniversary later this month! Thanks for writing!

Windtraveler said...

I have chosen a winner!! BEN CLARDY - you WIN. I have a tender spot in my heart for you plea because a) I think you will REALLY benefit from this book b) you will also be living with your parents on the road to your dreams (haha!) Please send me an email at windtraveler09 (at) and I will send the copy your way. I wish I had TWENTY copies to give away, I want to hug you all!!! Thanks for playing, all - and enjoy the journey xoxo

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