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Old 09-09-2014, 12:44 PM   #1
City: grand rapids
Join Date: Sep 2014
Posts: 15
Liveaboard advice for a novice

Hello everyone,

I'd like to get an opinion on a few things regarding live-aboard trawlers and my semi insane plan to sell everything I own and live on the water.

THE GOAL is to purchase a trawler in spring 2016. There will be 3 of us on board for an indefinite amount of time. Me, my wife (next year), and dog (11 pound Boston terrier). We both have family that live in the northern part of Michigan, we reside in Grand Rapids. We are SICK of the winter and both are 100% on board with the idea of selling the majority of what we own and living on a boat for a long period. We already live a minimalist lifestyle.

Additionally, I am convinced that if I do not do these things while I am young, I will regret it when I am older and less... agile. Fortunately my job allows me to work in a very tight space and produce a decent income.

Some information about me and my skill set:

-My boating experience is minimal (only driven a smaller powerboat on lake Michigan) I am very confident I would learn, and quickly.
-I've done extensive work on 4 cylinder VW diesel engines. All the way down to the head gaskets but not below that. Understand injection pumps on older diesels, etc (also have 2 brothers nearby that are ASE Certified mechanics)
-I am very handy with anything carpentry related, electrical, and plumbing (remodeled my house and various other projects)
-My job requires I have a laptop, and maybe one external monitor (does not use much power).
-My soon to be wife also works on a laptop
-Dog sleeps

THE PLAN is to moor the boat in the summer up in East/West bay Lake Michigan Living on it most of the summer if not all, and head down to the Gulf/Florida in September each year, then back up for spring in Michigan. Essentially the great loop every year for as long as we can. Both of our family members have lake front properties which I could moor the boat.

Next year (fingers crossed) I will be debt free with the exception of my mortgage. I was lucky enough to get a house at the bottom of the market and have about 70K equity in the house.

-I'll have roughly 80 - 90k cash once the house sells
-Debt free
-Income is roughly 60 - 80k a year depending on how much work I take on (they are flexible)
-I'd like to buy the boat and have at-least 10k left over for maintenance in the bank (too little? too much?)This would be a monthly deposit savings account.
-My yearly income would go into maintenance funds, food, DIESEL!, and whatever else (taxes, insurance, etc)

These are the things I'd like to see in the boat.

-Single diesel engine (efficient)
-One or two heads - I don't care as I would be installing a composting toilet and would use one as storage
-bow thrust (if possible)
-enough space for two people to live year round (36 foot boats seem to have enough, but I've never lived on one so I need your input)

I've found three different boats that interest me -

Albin 36 (cheapest but most problematic)
Monk 36 (do not know much about this boat)
Grand Banks 32 or 36 (most expensive but my favorite out of them all)
DeFever 41 (biggest, do not know much about them)

I've read that the Albin has serious leak issues with the teak windows and decking. I'd want to avoid things like this.

The Grand Banks are beautiful boats, however they are pricey and are out of my price range from what I've researched. Why is this?

The DeFever can be had in my price range, however It seems they are harder to find and I am unsure piloting a 41 foot boat would be a good idea for a newer boater.


-Is there an optimal sized trawler for this type of journey and living aboard year round?
-I know there is one bridge in chicago that you need to clear - my findings are that most trawlers have a removable mast - correct?
-Is it possible to head north on the same path taken south on the great loop to avoid going around and through Canada? I'd like to avoid going around if I can (I have not found any information about heading north up the Mississippi and I know this question may make me look like an idiot!)
-Has anyone done this or similar with my kind of budget?

I'd like to see what others think the optimal boat would be for this adventure. What would you buy if you were me (assuming you HAD to do exactly what I'm doing). Also, don't forget my ridiculous question about the loop - clockwise...

I realize asking someone what the best boat would be is like asking someone what type of oil they prefer... to a degree. It is a fact that in the automotive industry there are great builds of cars, and horrible builds. The prices sometimes reflect the build quality. Id assume the same for boats. These facts cannot be avoided. Giving me an idea of what boat might suit my needs best given the budget would be a way to avoid hurting anyone's feelings.

Any insight is greatly appreciated!! The research continues...

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Old 09-09-2014, 01:49 PM   #2
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Your budget will work but shop around and decide how much you want to fix yourself as opposed to how much you want to pay. Just like the house you bought at the bottom of the market and fixed. You probably have the skills to do the work but you might want to check around here and on the dock before doing anything. Boats are different. Alternators on gas boats are sparkless... car mechanics with no boating knowledge blow themselves up every year because boats are different.

A 36' boat would be fine. A 41' boat would be fine too. It takes a little while to get used to piloting a boat but then it's like a car, doesn't matter which one. People who drive motorhomes just have a regular license because it's bigger, but just like a car.

I haven't done the loop but there may be issues with currents against you in the rivers or low spots when the water is down on your return trip.

We less "agile" old guys find a way. So will you. Go for it!
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Old 09-09-2014, 02:00 PM   #3
City: grand rapids
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Thanks for the input! I've spent some time at the docks, but need to spend a lot more.
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Old 09-09-2014, 02:02 PM   #4
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Welcome aboard. "...semi insane..."? Why so? There's not much difference between "driving" a 36' and a 41'. Read the sticky "boat buying 101" for some insight. As to the great loop. Sorry, can't help you there. Not at ALL interested in that part of the country but it IS, I expect, the shortest route from snow to sun.
There are a sh!tload of boats that would suit your purposes out there. Try not to initially limit yourselves to too few models.
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Old 09-09-2014, 02:31 PM   #5
City: gulf coast
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buy the biggest boat you can afford, they shrink after a few months of ownership.

That is a long way to go each year and will be an expensive part of the total. Living aboard is not cheap. A small condo in FL may be a better deal economically with a boat kept somewhere or on a trailer for use in both places. You clearly have analyzed the issues but can you live in a 300Sq ft place?
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Old 09-09-2014, 03:00 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by freelancer View Post

These are the things I'd like to see in the boat.

-enough space for two people to live year round (36 foot boats seem to have enough, but I've never lived on one so I need your input)


-Is there an optimal sized trawler for this type of journey and living aboard year round?

Length isn't a perfect discriminant; design/layout can have more impact. No way we could live about our current 42, but a KK42 would be a whole different kettle of trawler, maybe 2x the usable volume we have.

That said, volume isn't a perfect discriminant either, since there are at least three more variables in sight: you, future wifey, and dog. Depends on how small you can each live, or how large you'd prefer. And too small gets old real fast. It's not so easy to knock out a wall and add another bedroom and bath or whatever.

BTW, the dog brings other issues, if you're anchoring (or even when you're not, sometimes). Tender for shore trips, outboard for faster shore trips, way to carry dinghy and outboard and gas and... plus launching and retrieving... Our First Mutt loved me; guess who did all the work?

Chesapeake Bay, USA
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Old 09-09-2014, 03:26 PM   #7
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Read the trawler blogs. Buy the Nigel Calder books because boat 110 systems are not house systems and doing boat electrical like a car mechanic or house electrician can get you killed or start a nice fire. We looked at over 40 boats to find one in our budget and restoreable. Many of the boats in the 50 to 100$K range are old boats with issues. They look good until you do the looksee. Hire a good surveyor. Best money we every spent. Our surveyor looked at several top picks and helped us by phone. We would go see the boat and discover the broker was not fully disclosing all the warts. We met one broker that we came away respecting for his integrity. Met several that were worse than used car sales people. Buy the biggest boat you can afford. Plan on 30% maintenance costs the first year. It is a buyers market. I personally would not buy a single engine or a smaller boat than 40 ft, but that is just me. I sailed 19 yrs single handed most of the time and lived aboard a 30 ft Island Packet. I like the marine trader and my wife loves it with it's large sundeck. Each to his or her own. Don't buy if either of you is not happy with the boat. I worked from the boat until June when I retired..
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Old 09-09-2014, 03:49 PM   #8
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I've been thinking along very similar lines lately, Freelancer! I'll be watching this thread closely.
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Old 09-09-2014, 04:26 PM   #9
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Welcome Freelancer,
If the Admiral (your wife) is happy then everyone is happy. Make sure she is comfortable . I personally insisted on a queen walk around bed and a really nice galley. We choose a 36 Kadey Krogen Manatee. We're currently in the Keys living aboard and loving it!

Dotty aboard Cool Beans
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Old 09-09-2014, 05:23 PM   #10
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Freelancer: Welcome! We did the same thing, sold virtually everything, went cruising and had no land side home for about 6 years. Wonderful experience, though admittedly we had a very cushy boat and a much bigger budget. We did it and timed it for exactly the reasons you describe.

Some fairly good advice so far, though I, of all people truly and strongly believe you should buy the smallest boat you can be comfortable in, NOT the biggest boat you can afford. Have you three ever spent any extended time, say a week, sleeping and living and cruising on a boat? In our opinion it is very hard to select a live aboard and extended cruiser without having done so... which is why people wish they could have gone larger, or even smaller in some cases. Much like buying an entire wardrobe without knowing your size or trying anything on. It's more than the living accommodations, it is the ergonomics of running, handling, anchoring, docking and fixing the thing. These things are very personal decisions that only you can decide with any certainty.

One thing we decided very early on was to lose the pooch; fortunately our kids were glad to take him over. And we had a very small, portable little guy. We are so glad we did. The dog ends up driving the agenda and the itinerary, even if you can train it to "go" on the boat, and way moreso if you can't. We see people basically ending up being unpaid captain and crew for the dog.

Lastly, in our opinion, also lose the whole "Admiral" designation; she has a first name, use it.

Agree that Michigan to Florida and back is a long, expensive commute. Do it once maybe and I bet you'll soon figure out a way not to.

"There's the Right Way, the Wrong Way, and what some guy says he's gotten away with"
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Old 09-09-2014, 05:29 PM   #11
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Good advice Caltexflanc.
David Hawkins
Deer Isle, Maine
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Old 09-09-2014, 05:51 PM   #12
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Sounds like a good plan to me. We have a Monk 36 and are very happy with it, we do not liveaboard but there are quite a few couples that have lived on theirs for years summers up north and winter in the south.
Steve W.
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Old 09-09-2014, 09:33 PM   #13
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Did exactly that for 15 years and loved every minute. Learned a lot! Expenses are directly proportional to size! With your budget, 36-38 feet would be optimal. Pooch is NO problem. I had a 85 lb airedale aboard our 42 foot ketch and wouldn't think of "losing him". My current pooch is about the same size as yours and is pad trained. You'll need a good dinghy anyway so shore runs at the end of the day are kinda nice and good exercise. There are several friends who do the river run No & So every year. Good luck Ben
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Old 09-10-2014, 09:54 AM   #14
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At out dock we have folks that keep a cottage , or their old homestead up north and simply drive down for the winter season , and then head out .

Some have an RV to travel in the summer season.

Marathon for the timid , Cape coral or the West coast marinas for the swimming , tennis and golf folks. The Bahamas for the bit more adventurous.

Seems to work fine as the cost of 1200 miles each way at $4.00 a gallon takes care of the drive and house tax extortion.

Add in marinas at $1.00 to $4.00 per ft per night (if preferred ) and it gets expensive for very little.

First N/S trip or two is fine , but it becomes a grind at 60-80 miles a day 2x a year.

Expenses are proportional to life style required , marinas are pri$y , anchoring out is basically free .

Marathon at $300 a month is a good compromise for the beginner.
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Old 09-10-2014, 10:23 AM   #15
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Pretty good advice so far.

I have lived aboard for 2 out of the last 15 years and have helped a friend who lives aboard maintain his old Taiwan Trawler. So here are some thoughts:

Big versus small is a compromise of initial cost, annual cost and living room. Only you can decide on what works. The single vs twin debate goes on and on and on. Either can work for you. But get a bow thruster with a single.

Make sure that the big expensive stuff on any boat that you consider is sound: the engines and the generator (if so equipped). Every thing else is more or less a maintenance item. But a new engine will break your budget for sure.

It is not really feasible to head up the rivers to the Great Lakes- too much current to buck. So you can go down in the fall but not up in the spring. But as others have noted, after doing it once you probably won't do it again. Florida in the winter and the mid Atlantic in the summer is probably where you will end up long term, with maybe a month or so in a marina (for A/C) in the hottest months of the summer.

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Old 09-10-2014, 03:40 PM   #16
City: grand rapids
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Thanks for all the great advice, it is very appreciated!

I'll be taking some tours on some boats before years end. In the spring I hope to take some out and get an idea for what is the right amount of space and the best layout.

As for the journey, I can see how that could get very tiring on a slow boat... I'd be doing the loop the first year - after that I guess we will see where we end up!

My dog is pad trained, so there shouldn't be too many issues with him.

I've got an old Honda CB125 that I've been restoring.. wish I could take it with me. Takes up about the space of a small mountain bike. Anyone taken a scooter on their boat?
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Old 09-10-2014, 03:57 PM   #17
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Welcome FL,

Good advice above. The Admiral moved onto our boat this past April. This is something you need to consider when dealing with the Admiral and for that fact yourself. But this will be the hardest on her. Once you make the move from the house to the boat you WILL have to DOWNSIZE a LOT! Examples, the pictures on the wall of the family. just a few pics can be moved on the boat. Another would be dishes and the number of place settings. How many do you need? We compromised and agreed on 8 place settings. I still think it is too many as when you are cruising and have other boaters over as guests they bring their own plates and eating utensils. Here recently I found she stashed 21 coffee cups! Yep she collects them. I told her we only needed 4.

So be prepared for that kind of stuff as it could be a challenge to a relationship.
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Old 09-10-2014, 04:59 PM   #18
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Doing the never ending Great Loop....I do not think so... I know GLers. Never met one that was not proud of their accomplishment, never met one that wanted a repeat.

As for boats, well there are more out there than you can imagine. Far more than brand, age, is condition and if the re fits addressed manufacturing fubars, and be assured they are there, have they been addressed. I like the Defevers, Krogens, some Mainships and anything Diesel Duck, Coot, there are a bunch of others. The one thing I would drive home, again, again and Not get a fixer upper...again, Do not get a fixer upper, unless you let a yard address to bring it up to standard. Not Bristol, not yacht standard but standard you can live with. Though you have abilities, just the cost of anything "Marine" will eat you alive.

Let some other fool(like me) take that hit. Even on a best case situation on a turnkey boat the minimum to hope for is a 20% expenditure upon purchase. You also have other things in your life to do than work on the boat, it will strain you, your marriage and you just may hate the not do it.

Next, for a live aboard, right now, immediately forget the composting toilet. Forget it now, take 2 aspirin, you will be better tomorrow. I had one, lived aboard, by myself...pouring piss bi daily is a real PIA, then the emptying...forget about it. 2 people, live aboard...u will regret assured. I had an air head as I recall. Those systems are great for weekenders...really good, beyond, no, no. I am not a pansy, queasy person. Worked in telco manholes, under houses...I am telling you, no compositor.

While original thought is good, after plowing many furrows of that ground I have learned to look around and think twice before again reinventing the wheel, reminding myself, again, that I have no monopoly on brains.
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Old 09-10-2014, 05:10 PM   #19
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Sorry to hijack the thread, but what is so bad about composting heads. I understand having to deal with liquids, but why is one ok for weekenders and not full time liveaboards.

The reality is that holding tanks need to be pumped out every 5-10 days. That is ok for people who have the money to stay at marinas and use their pump outs (if they work!). But if you don't stay at marinas and you anchor out, I will wager that 90% of it goes overboard.

So how does a responsible full time cruiser deal with sanitation if a composting head doesn't work?

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Old 09-10-2014, 05:34 PM   #20
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After every use you have to crank to mix the compost, as it fills the cranking gets more and more resistance. Even with lid closed ur nose is where ur ass just left.

Never had a smell, installed right, used peat moss, that ok except until time to empty. Needed room, elbow room to empty. That meant up stairs and outside, then back in. Not good to leave a trail.

The piss issue can be overcome, drill the tank, vent over the side, use a small pump if below waterline. Never did that, maybe should have. I had an airhead for 2 years as a single live aboard. Never liked it.
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