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Posted on Apr 9, 2014 | 2 comments

Introducing Horizon: Our Irwin 37

Horizon under sailLet me start by saying that I never expected our 100th post to include the introduction of our boat. When we first started almost three years ago, we didn’t really know where to begin. We Learned to Sail the Hard Way and then decided it would be better to just take some lessons. Dan got certified as a Dive Master then Instructor, and we also learned that it’s better to just pretend to be a Rescue Victim. The Search was on for a boat this year but some days it felt like we might never get to this point, especially when we received the call from our broker that the Cabot 36 had sold. With a little luck and a lot of prayer, we’ve made it to the next stage of our journey.

We spent nearly 8 hours in the boatyard this last Saturday looking at boat after boat, but none of them felt like home. That is until we looked at the last one on our list: the Irwin 37 center cockpit. To be completely honest, we had all but written off this boat during our search. Generally, they are known for being a mid-range quality production boat from the 70s and 80s and frankly didn’t have the best online reputation. When our broker mentioned that he had one he would like us to look at, Dan and I basically just did a bit of an eye-roll and shrug “might as well look at it”. Little did we know.

Let me stop here to say that we had a fantastic experience with the broker we used but by request have not listed his name, since he would like to go cruising eventually as well and would prefer not to be known as the “broker guy”. He was extremely professional, very easy to get a hold of, and has a true passion to help people get into boats that they are going to love. His listings are some of the most thorough that we have seen throughout the country. If you are looking for a boat or thinking of selling yours in South Florida,  just shoot us an email through the Contact Us page and we would be happy to recommend him.

As the broker described Tortuga (current name until we can close the deal), the one word he kept using was anomaly. This boat may be nearly 40 years old, but every major system on the boat had been completely redone in the last 3-4 years. New rigging, new masts (its ketch-rigged), new staysail (make that cutter-ketch), brand new full suite of sails, top-of-the-line electronics, new beefy windlass, dodger and bimini, and the list goes on. Over $100k of upgrades and renovations really sweetens the honeypot when our total budget for boat and outfit is only $50k.

What’s the ketch you ask? Okay that was bad. Well, the person who did all of these upgrades (the owner of a major sail maker company we found out later) decided after pouring in all of the money that he actually wanted a bigger boat. So he dumped it before the interior was completely spruced up. Some of the cabinets need to be rehung, the headliner needs old holes filled and painted, the wiring needs to be organized, and some of the plumbing needs help. Luckily, everything that needs to be done are fairly easy and cheap fixes but they currently make the interior somewhat less than desirable to most buyers, especially when compared to what you expect to find after seeing the immaculate exterior. Bad news for the seller, great news for us.

Some people might be wondering right now what happened to our Blue Water Boat criteria? Well, the fact of the matter is, we’ve come to realize like so many others that every boat is a compromise. After seeing what types of boats were available in our price-range we quickly came to the conclusion that the heavily built offshore cruisers just were not going to work for our family. With our short to mid-range plans being to cruise the Bahamas and Caribbean, we believe the Irwin will be a safe and functional home for the three of us. If in the future we decide to head offshore, we will meet that challenge head-on as we always do.

We hope you will continue to Follow the Horizon with us as we continue into the next exciting stage of our journey.

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Posted on Aug 7, 2013 | 0 comments

Look It Up

Don't know what kind of moth this is? We didn't either so we looked it up!

Don’t know what kind of moth this is? We didn’t either until we looked it up!

Dan and I like to be thoroughly well prepared for big changes and new possibilities in life. When we have a problem, we search Google and figure out how to fix it. When I was pregnant with Carter, I spent hours researching online exactly what to expect and prepare for multiple different outcomes to the point that my doctors were always surprised that I knew exactly what they were talking about and had almost no questions at any of my appointments. Dan visited countless websites and forums along with talking to other landlords before we were confident that we could make well informed decisions about buying rental properties. What can I say? We like to be educated.

Recently, we realized that we had been somewhat slacking in the cruising education division. Sure, we read a lot of other people’s blogs and had spent a lot of time reading cruisersforum and other boating sites when we were first making up our plans, but we hadn’t done a lot of in depth training because we were so focused on the financials of making sure we could get going. That mindset has been able to shift over the last few weeks… We have now reached the point where our rental reserves (six months of expenses per house) and the initial cruising kitty (10k to start, but it will be replenished each month from our various income sources while cruising… think of it as working cash) are established. Now we move into the boat savings stage. It is exhilarating to know that every dollar saved will be building towards a new home. That might not seem like a big deal, but for us it has been a major eye opener. Now we need to make sure that we are ready when the money is!

To start things out right we purchased the full pack of NauticEd* Captain’s courses and have both been working through them together. These courses cover a huge range of topics from diesel engine maintenance and proper sail trim to safety at sea and storm tactics. We have been very impressed with the quality of instruction and depth of information provided from these courses and both of us feel a lot more confident that we will be able to sail our boat safely when the time comes. They even have nice PDF graphs and quick reference guides to laminate and keep on your boat with you as well as practical exercises that we’ll be able to work on together once we get our real boat.

Another course that we are planning to take is the Mahina Expedition seminar that is given at Strictly Sail every year. This seminar is highly rated and addresses a lot of the logistical issues of living on a sailboat. Provisioning, safety, clearing in and out of countries, and having pets on-board are just a few of the topics covered in the all day seminar. The Blue Water Boats list that we’ve been referencing in many of our posts is also created by the Mahina team. These people have a lot of experience under their belts and we’re hoping to take some of that and put it to use on our own journey.

Two other big areas of focus for our studies will be first aid skills and Dan’s SCUBA instructor course. We feel that Dan getting his instructor certification could be a major benefit to us in the future and could potentially give us some additional income throughout the year. The first aid classes we are a little less sure about where to start. Dan is currently EFR/CPR certified as part of his rescue diver certification last year and plans to get his EFR instructor certification at the same time he finishes the PADI instructor certification, which would make it easy for me to get EFR certified as well (which we plan to do.) However as anyone who has taken EFR or the Red Cross first aid class will know, these classes are designed to stabilize a patient until an ambulance or other trained medical staff can reach the patient which usually only takes a short time in comparison to the days it could take if someone was seriously injured at sea. We are currently trying to find other options that would give us a more thorough training, but are having a hard time finding something reasonably priced that we could both be trained in. The most promising so far has been the Wilderness First Response program but that is about $800/person and requires a week of hands-on training so we aren’t sure if we want to jump into that without more … research.

Do you know of any other classes we should consider taking in the next year of preparation? We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment or shoot us an email from the Contact Us page.

*Use our coupon code followthehorizon at NauticEd to get $15 off any classes! (Full disclosure: we get a very small credit to our NauticEd account when you use this code)

We’ve also done some major updates to our To-Do List page! Click on over to check it out.

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Posted on Jul 22, 2013 | 0 comments

A New Car with a Side of Friendship

Small but mighty!

Small but mighty!

Over the last few months, several times Dan and I have brought up selling our GMC Jimmy and buying a vehicle with better gas mileage. Though we had only owned the Jimmy for a little over a year, we’ve had multiple repairs that we’ve had to make in addition to only getting around 15 mpg on average. We figured out that even though we only are planning to own our cars for one more year or so, there was still significant savings to be made so we starting searching for a reliable car with good gas mileage. We got a little help from the financial blogger Mr. Money Mustache who has a list that we used of the top rated small cars for reliability.

We quickly found that we really liked the look, efficiency, and pricing of the Scion xD and xA hatchbacks. These cars are stylish and fun while getting great gas mileage and having plenty of interior room for the three of us. (Note: they are still pretty small cars so anything more than 2 adults and 2 small kids is going to feel cramped.) We found an xD on craigslist only about 45 minutes from us and decided to check it out.

As Dan went on the test drive (we had Carter with us so I stayed behind) I started talking to the couple that currently owned the car, Kyle and Becky. The conversation sounded something like this:

“So, why are you selling your car?”

“Well, we’re pretty much selling all of our stuff because we are moving to Belize.”

“Really? Are you going there to do anything specific?”

(apprehensive pause) “We’re planning to be self-sustaining farmers and work at an orphanage there.”

How cool is that! Just in the course of a few minutes I got to hear about how this couple about our age are getting ready to head out on their own epic journey and follow their hearts off of the well worn path. Even though I could tell Becky was obviously nervous about telling us their plan (as I understand completely) I’m so glad she broke the ice. We were able to share some of our experiences in trying to plan for the unknown and made new friends. Most of all it was so encouraging to meet other people who share in common with us their belief that we are not prepared for our current life to continue on without change. Their journey will be very different from ours, but it comes from the same desire to live more extraordinary lives while we have the opportunity.

We were happy to be able to help fund their goal in some small way by buying their car (which we love by the way) and if you would be interested in buying their house in Lincoln, Illinois here is the listing. We wish the best of luck to Kyle and Becky and hope that they see their dreams come to fruition very soon. Maybe if we make our way over to Belize in the next few years we will meet up with them again.

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Posted on Apr 17, 2013 | 0 comments

Simplicity or Moderation?

 

Everything you need to know about cruising is in here!

Everything you need to know about cruising is in here!

So far in our month of finance posts, we’ve gone over our savings goals and reducing our current spending. But of course all of this is meaningless unless we have a plan for how much we will be spending while we cruise. People have asked this question on every blog and every forum available to cruisers of all levels and with something as individual as personal spending it is a fairly difficult question to answer. The most common response is “it costs whatever you have” or “that’s the same thing as asking how much it costs to live on land…its all up to you.”

While I appreciate the idea behind the answer, I also think that there is a way to generalize expenses for people. I can tell you that it is possible to live on $750/month or less for a couple in my town if you rent or own a one bedroom shack, eat peanut butter sandwiches every day and don’t own a car or have other insurance. You could spend $2000/month living in a small 3 bedroom home, eating good meals at home, driving one car rarely and being otherwise frugal. Or you spend $5000/month on a nice home in a good neighborhood, drive expensive cars that get terrible gas mileage as much as you want, and eat out for every single meal to normal restaurants. I can’t tell you how much it would cost your family, but I can give you the basis to help you figure it out on your own.

That’s exactly what Beth Leonard has done in this fantastic article entitled “How Much Will Cruising Cost You?” and also in her book The Voyager’s Handbook. She details the spending habits of three fictional cruising families: the Simplicity’s in a 33 ft cutter, the Moderation’s in a 40 ft catamaran, and the Highlife’s in a 54 ft ketch. In my opinion, this is the best document on cruising budgets that I have found in any of my research, and is what Dan and I based many of our calculations on when trying to figure out how much we would need monthly and yearly to live at the level we desired. We believe that we can budget somewhere between the Simplicity spending of 8,000/year and the Moderation level of 20,000/year leaving at somewhere in the $1000-$1500 per month range. This budget was also verified by a seminar called Three Cruising Budgets given by George Day of Blue Water Sailing magazine at Strictly Sail Chicago this year.

Obviously, we don’t know for certain yet how much we will spend once we start sailing, but it is important for us to have some sense of direction to work with while planning. No one else will have the same budget as us (and certainly not one man on a forum that told us we would need at least $50,000/year…he and his wife spent $1500/month on food alone!) but we think that using a generalized picture has given us pretty realistic expectations. We’re always open for comments or suggestions, so leave one for us below!

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Posted on Apr 4, 2013 | 2 comments

Fast Track to Retirement

Retirement AheadTo start off a month of posts about finances, Dan and I need to make sure that everyone knows our baseline. We come from average middle-class families who have good jobs and provided well for their children in the sense that most middle class parents do: clothes, food, housing, low budget car in high school, etc. Dan’s parents paid for his college education, mine did not, but we still left school with only around $4,000 in student debt and no real savings to speak of. We got jobs after college that made cumulatively $70,000 and bought our first house (a foreclosure in Dan’s parents’ neighborhood) on the $8,000 new home-buyer credit in 2009 for $110,000 (for those of you who don’t live in Central Illinois, money goes a long way in our house market compared to other areas). Then we proceeded to buy a couple of new and almost-new cars with car loans for somewhere in the vicinity of $40,000 total. In 2011, we both got raises and now make a total of around $95,000. (You may note a conspicuous lack of credit card debt. That’s because we’ve never had any. Thanks mom and dad for teaching us that credit cards are good for only one thing…free rewards!)

So, we when started our retirement planning in 2011, it looked something like this:

Income: $95,000/year or ~$5,500/mth after taxes, 401k, and health insurance deductions

House: $150,000 value, $50,000 equity, $1200/mth mortgage, property taxes, and house insurance

Cars: $40,000 value, $0 equity, $900/mth car loans and insurance

Other Debt: $5,000 student loan debt, $50/mth payment

Other Spending (food, clothing, entertainment, etc.): $2000/mth

Savings: Income ($5,500) - Spending ($4,150) = $1,350/mth Savings (though in reality it was usually closer to $1,000/mth that would make it into the savings account)

As you can see, $1,000 a month into a savings account was pretty nice savings compared to most people, but $12,000/year was going to take a long time to turn into enough money to live on the interest and buy a boat, especially because we were starting with around $5,000 in the bank and whatever assumed equity we had in our house. So we needed to save more money and find some better investments that we could use to live on. As you can see above, we were spending a whopping 40% of our after-tax income on our house and cars. In America, banks will tell you that is perfectly affordable and it was…if we wanted to “afford” a 9-5 job for the next 30 years.

Here is what we have done in the last year and a half to improve on our savings rate and investment income:

  1. Sell our over-priced luxury vehicles and buy two dependable used cars with cash. This saves us money on payments and insurance, since now we only carry liability insurance. Cost: $5,000. Savings: $800/mth
  2. Eliminate student debt. The payment wasn’t high, but we didn’t want to have that liability while cruising. Savings: $50/mth
  3. Sell our house and buy a smaller one which will become a rental or get sold when we leave. Savings: $800/mth and $25,000 in cash (after down-payment and repairs on new house)
  4. Purchase 2 rental homes using cash from house sale. Cost: $18,000. Net Income: $700/mth.
  5. Moved $6,000 from savings account into Vanguard 80/20 investment account. Anticipated income: ~$30/mth
  6. Adjusting spending habits (still in progress). Savings: $500/mth

Current Cash on Hand: ~$22,000                  New Rate of Savings:  $3,000-$3,500/mth

Saving money is always a work in progress, which we will go into a little more later this month. Our goal is to purchase 2 more rental houses by the end of this year to solidify approximately $1,000/mth in net profit after expenses and vacancies. Then, we are off to the races to save somewhere in the $50,000-$75,000 range with which to purchase our new floating home. It will be a challenge, but I think we’re up for it!

 

 

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