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Author Peter Aston
Date 2000
Map Ref  
Summary Here are some ideas on our cruising lifestyle.


What does it take to spend your life living aboard? What kind of people do it? What are the implications - financial, health, family?
How much knowledge, ability or strength do you need? What are the rewards, is it worth the effort? These are the questions we try to answer in the article below.

We hope this page will encourage readers to differentiate between sailors who pound across oceans in record time and those who make safe and often enjoyable passages for the purpose of pursuing a life aboard ... abroad in exciting new ports.

Living aboard - are you ready for it?

Financial - do you have a retirement plan or still working?

Health - how much strength, endurance, is age a factor?

Family - how do you be a good parent/grandparent and go cruising too?


Living Aboard

No matter how big the boat of your choice it will be small and less comfortable compared to a house so why downsize permanently? The answers have a lot to do with whether you see yourself in the Springtime of life or the Autumn! It is a question of commitment and this is so for all the factors above. It IS possible to cruise on a tight budget, in poor health and despite a nagging conscience over missed baby-sitting duties; so it's really about your determination to be out there. 

The comments we can offer come from us as a retired couple in the process of realising a lifetime plan. We have been either cruising or working to gather resources or building illywhacker since 1975, so over that long period we have been able to accumulate enough experience and capital to survive. Our family is used to our lifestyle and we try to keep up our obligations as parents and grandparents. Our health is marginal so these 2 factors need to be managed for sustainable cruising. So far so good!


On our circumnavigation in the early 80's with 4+ of us on board we managed to live on AUD$12,000 each year. This income was supplemented by a total of about 2 months work in Singapore, most of which went on a radar and an Aries windvane for Dulcinea. By today's standards this seems extraordinary but the ratio of 1/3 for food, 1/3 for boat and 1/3 for doing things ashore, still holds true for us with perhaps a bit more nowadays on the "ashore" component.

We are "self-funded retirees" and since we injected our house sale funds into the capital we manage to live well enough. One of our major costs is the travel we do away from the boat including an annual trip home. Nevertheless we spend far too much time in Thrift shops and looking for bargains for my liking so another few $$'s a week would always be handy!

As far as the amount of capital invested one needs to live off is concerned, the Financial industry like to quote figures of around 15-18 times the annual expenditure and that will keep you going forever. That ratio has been working for us for 10 years but don't stop your plans if it seems high. We have had many opportunities to pick up extra funds through casual employment. If you have the skills to run a cruising yacht there will be many jobs you can do.


We know of an 85 year-old single-hander and of 70 year-olds sailing non-stop around the world or just cruising and enjoying it immensely. Determination is the key and ability to manage whatever it is that slows you down. Lyndall and I contracted Lyme disease, a tick-bite infection that results in cyclic periods of severe lassitude, arthritis and deterioration in areas where the spirochaetes accumulate in the body. Lyndall has a metal knee and has had an eye rebuild attributed to Lyme and spends hours researching the various health management regimes. She is a very positive person in her outlook, loves our lifestyle and is certainly not ready to give it up just yet! Boy, am I lucky to have such a wife, co-captain and health administrator!

These days, medical tests have improved to the extent where the mere beginnings of an illness may be detected. Do you really want to know? Information suggesting even a marginal test result puts you in the position to declare it as a pre-existing condition on your medical/travel insurance and surely provides more stress that you don't need. Our practice was to have a checkup on each visit home. We're not so sure now! An update to this philosophy is evolving, click here

  Toward the end of our circumnavigation in 1983 - we've never been healthier!


Lyndall and I have lived our lives acutely aware of the very short time we have on this amazing planet, a mere blink of an eye between 2 eternities. So restless were we that early in our married life we seriously considered travelling from Australia to London overland with our 4 young children. The first editions of the "Lonely Planet" guides gave us that inspiration. The pressures of a mortgage however and resistance from our parents modified the plan to one of seeking a job overseas where the children would be at less risk. 

As new parents we tend to do what we think best at the time but on reflection our approach to child rearing has been to encourage individualism, to expose each one to opportunities and to place a high value on understanding and appreciating the environment. In effect, this meant "dragging them along" with us, sharing our adventures with them and exposing them to the good and bad experiences that foreign travel can offer. Over the years we have found ourselves at variance with those who prefer the constancy of a single home, school etc. Taking our kids out of school for 3 years to see the world was not universally applauded but it more than proved to be the right thing and we are proud of our family who seem to have inherited our love of travel and themselves dream of new adventures.

As our grandchildren appear we're contented to be seen just as we are, secretly hoping that as they get older, sailing with Grandma and Grandpa will be a high priority dream for them too.

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Here is an article written with new cruisers in mind

The first passage away from the Home Country needs special preparation.

Australia and New Zealand are blessed with a long and varied coastline with many beautiful anchorages, so why consider leaving for somewhere maybe not as attractive? The majority of sailors have no doubt that we who coastal cruise under the Southern Cross have the best of it and harbour no desire to head offshore and risk unthinkable disasters. After many thousands of ocean miles and many different landfalls Lyndall and I thoroughly agree, we do hail from the greatest country in the world, without a doubt. So why is it that Illywhacker is reluctant to come home, forever turning her bow towards strange ports, her sails filling to unknown winds and the hull revelling to the currents of new oceans?

There is a reason, one that has little to do with logic, a human affliction that is commonly found in the offshore cruising community. It’s hard to explain and it’s irrational, a burning desire to see new places, to meet new people with different cultures, to live with them and to know them and to constantly reinforce our belief in the kindness and generosity of people the world over. It is a fact that arriving in a new country by yacht allows us to get straight into the business of daily living and by mixing with the real people working the port or meeting those just gazing wistfully over the water we find our lifestyle awakens a sense of adventure in them all. Without knowing why, perhaps we are living a life fundamental to the human spirit. Would you like to join us and become one of these ….. these….Illywhackers? Join us in the cockpit and we’ll take a look at some of the issues we’ve come up against.

You will see that we are seriously hooked. For us this is a full-time occupation, Illywhacker is our only home and is the result of many years dreaming and planning. Our first ocean crossing was squeezed into a few months off work but it was a taste of what was possible and soon lead to 3 years of cruising which formed the foundation of our plan – a new boat and a new lifestyle. So from our experience we can be reasonably sure that there are many sailors who are looking to taking a first passage offshore to "test the waters" as we did in 1977. But first, how far do you want to take this? Let’s start at far distant shores.

Taking the decision to cruise overseas long distance is a serious step. It usually takes all your time and money for instance and involves major personal decisions affecting your job and family. It represents a commitment to the cruising lifestyle – living aboard for an extended period without any soft options to stop if the going gets tough. Sure, sailing across the Tasman is a great way to explore new cruising grounds and it can be a tough passage but it is hardly going foreign in the sense of experiencing a different culture, eating new foods, making yourself understood in a new language and being far away from home. This is what we like about cruising overseas, it should be a challenge and a learning experience. Head north from Australia and New Zealand and you will soon experience some distinctly different cultural communities. The island countries of the Pacific with Melanesian, Micronesian and Polynesian peoples are our neighbours who happily live in superb cruising grounds. To the northwest, Indonesia heralds the start of Asia, offering unique cruising grounds and an environment very different from Pacific cultures. In the most part these countries are safe for cruisers to visit but all require thorough planning, research and risk assessment before you enter any foreign port. Essentially though, they offer cruising potential that is truly foreign for us "down under" and fall within the scope of 3 to 12 months journey of discovery away from home. These are the places you should try first. We believe that from Australia’s east coast, there is no better place for a first cruise than the Louisiades in PNG and the Solomon Islands.

Cruising another country can be a challenge of independence, of subsisting on your own resources and facing greater levels of difficulty when things break or help is needed. For instance, if you are alone and cannot speak the language it takes time, money and wide-ranging skills to carry out repairs when parts must be ordered from home. You can never have enough experience to guarantee a safe offshore cruise but if you don’t possess any at all yet DO have a strong desire to take the plunge then there are ways to begin.

The first is to develop confidence in your own boat and abilities in home waters and to learn from the experiences of cruisers who have gone that way before by reading and asking questions. You can minimise the risk of turning your dream of a lifetime into passage to hell with some careful preparation. The best way to make that important first landfall is to make the first country you choose to visit one that is nearby and to sail with others more experienced. Treat the first passage overseas as a learning experience that allows an assessment of your own capabilities to manage the unexpected (ie monitor your anxiety level) and weigh this against the enjoyment gained from the cruise.

So you will need some time, some money, a certain amount of confidence in your own boat and abilities and a lot of research and planning to ensure a successful cruise overseas. Once you make the jump, we believe the rewards will have you "hooked". BUT we do know people who arrived back from the first passage, sold the boat and bought a cottage in the country.

Planning the First Cruise Overseas

OK so you’ve arranged time off work, now let’s fit the cruise around that right? Wrong! There will be other factors outside of your control which may determine the route plan and timing. . The weather is an obvious limitation. Being out of the cyclone belt or the hottest countries in summer is always a good idea, the first time at least. There are also the restrictions imposed by a country’s Customs, Immigration and Quarantine laws which limit the time you, your boat or your pet if you have one aboard, may stay. Timing will be a combination of all these factors. One aspect of cruise planning that is often underestimated is the amount of time allocated to waiting for weather or for just enjoying a nice anchorage. At least 2 days in port for every 1 at sea is our minimum, plan for more if you can. Also, don’t expect to be sailing at top speed either. We find ourselves motoring frequently and sailing defensively to avoid breakage when we’re a long way from home. We plan on a 5 knot daily average and are often pleased when we achieve something higher.

Are you and your boat ready?

Next let’s take a look at your situation, are you ready to go? One of the prime causes of a "cottage in the country" syndrome is our ability to cope with accumulating perceived "breakdowns" be they equipment or personal. Given that our senses may not be operating at 100% under lumpy sea conditions, the number of these we can cope with will be less at sea. We believe older cruisers will agree in the importance of maintaining a degree of comfort that allows reasoned decision-making in dealing with breakdowns as they occur. This all leads to our assertion that the boat must be dry below with warm bunks and good meals. On top of this, do all preparatory work possible before departure, both on deck and below. On deck for instance, run all the lines you may need, double check rigging and prevent loss of halyards, free shackles, seal hatches and portholes, tie down the anchor and plug the chain hawse for starters. Below, it is a good idea to sequence the charts, enter your waypoints, set up the logbook and prepare pre-cooked food for the first day or 2 and easy packs for later meals, nibblies for night watches etc.

Your boat should meet reasonable safety standards too and carry an EPIRB, liferaft and MOB equipment as well as VHFand HF radios. Here in Alaska the Coast Guard require all crewmembers to wear an immersion suit since time overboard otherwise is measured in minutes - so it is reasonable to expect some countries to impose special requirements in the safety equipment area. Remember to carry courtesy flags for each country you expect to visit and learn how to fly them.

Another comfort factor, both in the tropics and in extreme cold climates is cockpit shelter from the elements. A dodger is the absolute minimum but a cruising sun awning will definitely make your tropical cruise more enjoyable. In colder climates all-round protection is essential if you wish to live aboard and cope permanently. Cruising Ireland one year we noticed most of the local boats had a hard doghouse supplemented with zip-around clears. We installed this arrangement on Illywhacker and wouldn’t be without it here in Alaska. One can argue it may not look so slick but comfort takes precedence nowadays!

The equipment list can be endless of course and trying to keep up with advances in marine gadgets can be expensive and not altogether necessary for the first voyage. If you can sail safely, navigate, communicate and receive weather information you will be well on the way.


Before you depart home shores, your boat must be registered as proof of ownership and nationality. This requires a builders’ certificate, a unique name and some expense. If you choose to cruise a number of countries, it won’t be long before you accumulate quite a bit of paperwork and some means of keeping this together is a good idea. Some of the odd papers we have in our "ships’ business" file are;

· Applications for cruising permits before you leave

· Crew lists in triplicate for arrival and departure

· A "to whom it may concern" note to the airline explaining why your crew is carrying a one-way ticket

· Notes to Immigration explaining why we need an extension

· Various Customs documents gathered when duty-free purchases were worthwhile

Cruising in company

For your first cruise overseas we would recommend travelling in loose company with others who have been there before. Cruising is a lot about sharing your experiences with others and enjoying a quiet anchorage with friends can be a rewarding part of it. At an overseas destination other more experienced yachts can be a wonderful source of assistance in terms of clearing in, getting about and finding essential supplies and in helping with repairs. In turn you will find satisfaction in gladly providing help when needed, knowing that one day it will be you who needs the favour. This is one of the most gratifying traits of the cruising community but should not prevent you from assuming full independence, particularly at sea. Cruising with other yachts in sight at sea can be fun but in reality, there may be little one can do for a friend in rough conditions. Taken to extremes, you might wish to join a cruising "rally" but we believe this works against your ability to get to the heart of a new destination if surrounded by your own countryfolk. During a passage keep in touch by radio with boats around you, you can have fun together misinterpreting the weather for instance! We enjoy our radio scheds both on SSB and on our Ham nets as it allows us to stay in contact with friends the world over.


Not all cruisers will agree with our techniques, in fact probably none will. But that’s the joy of being independent and able to develop one’s own hopefully sustainable lifestyle. Our ideas have certainly changed over the years and the pace of our cruising has slowed down but our love of living on the water has not. Make that first passage an easy one, plan it well and it will be a dream cruise.

A New Country... A New Home?

What's it like to arrive by yacht at a foreign port after an ocean crossing? How will you be received by the officials, by the fishermen and the people that earn their living from and around the port? What if you would like to stay a while, maybe even a year or two?

It is said that travel broadens the mind. In earlier days before air travel was commonplace and it took months to arrive, it was also customary to take time to conduct your business at your new destination. It then became necessary to adapt to local customs and living conditions. We rather like that idea and for us, sailing  to a foreign port is akin to starting kindergarten - "excuse me, I'm new here, can you tell me where the please?"

Which countries to visit?

Unfortunately, the concept of being a global citizen is becoming more difficult in today's world. Although communications have allowed us to learn more than ever before of our neighbours over all parts the globe, ancient feuds, mistrust and fundamentalism have created even more barriers. For us simple cruisers especially those travelling alone, with a family or retired, arriving at a new port invariably results in kindness and hospitality from the locals. We may awaken their dream of adventure that lives deep within all human souls and in sharing the evident pride in their own traditions and surroundings we are well rewarded. But there is always a layer of officialdom to be satisfied before settling into community life. Sometimes it's just not possible to enter a country, sometimes our stay is limited by our tourist visa (3 weeks in Russia, 3 months in Japan) and sometimes it's just too dangerous (a war, civil disturbance or serious corruption). 

The weather may also dictate when to visit. By considering typhoon/cyclone cycles and winter conditions, the 6-monthly windows of opportunity make cruising strategy an important consideration if one is to avoid "nasty" passages. What with so many of the traditional cruising countries now off limits the choices seem few. But there are some, our current choice of the Pacific rim has turned out to offer some magnificent and limitless cruising. Come aboard illywhacker for a while, use the forward cabin as a base to explore the surroundings ..... click on a location.

Japan - where we spent 2 years cruising the west coast and the Inland Sea

Alaska - what a contrast in culture, climate and environment

Melanesia - our 4 years working in PNG and our 1997 cruise gave us a great insight into Pacific Island life. We're still scanning our archives to complete this section


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