Funding a Refit

June 10, 2023 in Refit, YouTube videos - 1 Comment

When I started dreaming about crossing oceans, I scoured the Internet, read every book I could, and subscribed to tons of sailing YouTube channels — all to answer one question, “How much is this going to cost?”

And as it turns out, that was not the right question. I should have been asking it in three parts (and maybe even more): How much will the boat cost? How much will we spend on the refit? And, how much will it cost to cruise? I want to spend some time on that middle question.

How much one spends to refit a boat depends, first, on the state of the boat you start with; and, second, how much time and money you have. We bought a 2006 Catalina 42 MKII that was structurally sound and had what we thought (at the time) was a lot of the bells and whistles. By the time we started the refit, Felicità was fourteen years old. That meant that a lot of the original systems were starting to fail, which had implications on our refit budget.

The good news for anyone dreaming of the cruising life is that there are SO MANY ways to make it happen. We’ve met people in their 20s and 30s working while they go (some going home to work for a few months, while others worked along the way from the boat). We met others who were 100% retired. And then people like us who are a bit of a hybrid.

We did our refit the last two years of Tim’s career. He retired the same month we completed the refit. I, too, was working throughout the refit and have continued working as we’ve started our cruising life (albeit, not the 45-55 hours a week I used to work).

It’s all tradeoffs. If you are younger (and not independently wealthy), you may have to buy a smaller boat and/or a boat that needs more work. You’ll likely end up having to learn to do some of your own work (or maybe you already know how — bonus!). And, because you have to learn, and then do the work, your refit may take longer. Because, again, unless you are independently wealthy, you will likely be working your day job AND refitting the boat. And, you may just have to focus on your ‘needs’ list, and may not get to add your ‘wants’ to the boat. But, the beauty is that you have a long runway, actuarially, so you have decades to cruise before your body forces you back to land. And, you have time, so you can add your wants as you go. Go for it!

For us, because we are at the end/last quarter of our careers, it means we no longer have student debt. Tim’s kids are launched and deep into their adult lives. I never had kids, so am not facing the financial task of putting kids through college, like many of my peers in their 40s and 50s.

And then there are the financial choices we’ve made along the way. Our home base is an 800 square foot house in Northern Wisconsin (which means it’s cheap) and we put it on AirBnB when we are not home. We drive one, 10-year-old car, and carry no credit card debt from month-to-month.

Personally, over the last twenty years, as my income increased, I didn’t greatly increase my standard of living — I ate out more and took better vacations. Other than that, I paid the same amount in rent/mortgage and drove a Nissan Altima and a Ford Escape (i.e., nothing flashy) over those years. I think Tim would say the same about his lifestyle.

I share all of that to make the point that all those downstream decisions made the choices Tim and I made during the refit, possible. You can see more detail about the cost of our refit here.

Then, there is the way you go about executing a refit. We prioritized fast and complete. We had two years before Tim retired, and we knew we wanted to do the big spending BEFORE the cashflow spigot got turned way down. We knew it was going to be a lot easier to say yes to big ticket items while we both had a paycheck, then after Tim’s paycheck stopped.

We also wanted to do everything we could before we left, while also committing to a solid departure date (ensuring the refit could not go on forever…). The ocean is a highly corrosive environment, so there will always be boat work and breakdowns. But, we wanted to start our cruising life with as much done as possible to give us the best shot of spending our first few years cruising rather than getting slowed down by fixing significant breakdowns.

As you face a refit, we recommend that you determine your wants and needs. Then, put your dollars toward your needs first, then your wants. And, word to the wise, if you are going down the YouTube sailing channel rabbit hole…

Only you can decide what is a ‘want’ and what a ‘need’ is. It’s all personal and all based on your context.

I just watched a popular YouTuber, who I have a lot of respect for, give his two cents about wants vs. needs. He was adamant that “you do not need a water maker,” among other things. I don’t think anyone can tell you what is a ‘want’ vs. a ‘need’ on your boat. I think it’s best for people to talk from their own experience and to leave it at that. But, I digress.

For us, after seven months of full-time cruising, we would not want to cruise without a dependable water maker. Can you? Yes. Would we? No. Our comfort and quality of life was greatly impacted, personally, by having water whenever we wanted it. Because we had almost as much water as we wanted, we had super clean dishes (that don’t rust because we are rinsing in salt water), a couple showers a week (each), a fresh water rinse for gear like fishing and snorkeling equipment, the stand up paddle board, and our solar panels. We also liked not having the pursuit/need for water drive our cruising decisions. And, as an added bonus, we were able to give gallons away to our buddy boats cruising without water makers–putting some good ju-ju into the karma bank.

We’re happy to share information and answer any questions people with this dream have. Leave us a comment anytime.

Dream on,


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1 Comment

  • John R Buzan June 10, 2023 at 8:31 am

    Thanks, GnT! You guys are fun to sail with–from my recliner. Love you both, and can’t wait for your next episode to splash across my screen.

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