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Advice for 40s couple with health problems wanting to cruise

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Hello all,


My wife and I have had a few years (decade now) of bad luck. Besides my serious health problems (details below), we had bad luck with CHCH earthquakes back in 2011. That lead us to lose a new business and be forcedly moved around for years looking of a home.  When we finally manage to buy house but it turned out our street is full of boy racers, drugs and alcohol.  Another long sad story with this but I’ll spare you details.


Needless to say, we have had enough and been longing for something more. For the last three years we have been looking for somewhere to move but couldn't find the right place.  Then about a year ago we happen to get hooked on crusing vlogs and started to dreamed of the livestyle.  We’ve done a fair bit of research on requirements for certifications and other red tape.  I’m most worried about the CAT-1 requirements to leave the country and issues surrounding my health.


My health started to go down hill about 10 years ago where I lost much of my vision due to keratoconus. I’m legally blind in right eye and have 30-40% in my left. Add to this I have arthritis and auto-immune/inflammatory problems that are of constant problem. In September of last year I injured my shoulder that turned into frozen shoulder syndrome. After months of physiotherapy, countless medications, MRIs, ultrasounds and injections, the doctors gave up and just stuck me on morphine and other medications for pain since November. Thankfully, I’m only taking morphine two-three times a week now and my shoulder is getting better, albeit very slowly. 


Aside from my health, neither my wife or I have any experience in sailing. I know that is also a requirement for CAT-1 certifications.  My thoughts were to try and get some volunteer repair work to help learn yacht maintenance.   Sadly, not much of that down here in Invc.  We also tried the local yacht club but they were only able to offer training to children in dingies and had to turn us away.  At this point selling everything and trying to move up north seems like only option.  House prices not being kind in that regard either.


What advice can you offer us? Would you consider my health issues to be too serious for the cursing lifestyle?


My greatest fear is never trying due to fear. Then having my health/vision get worse and never getting the chance.  I would like to hope that being able to follow a dream might lead to improvements in health that medications haven't been able to realize.  However, I also need to be realistic about our limitations and not do something foolish.


Thanks for your time.  Sorry for the wall of text as well. :)

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Welcome Bluesail - you certainly have had a bad run . I hope the health issues come right soon. 

 Firstly it would be unrealistic to expect to buy a boat , get Cat 1 and head offshore relying on help until you can get enough experience to manage yourselves. Ideally you need to sail on someone elses boat ( and poss an offshore passage) to get an idea of what works and what to look for in your own boat. If your shoulder issue doesnt resolve entirely that would also represent a weak point that you would need to manage as best as you can ie get a boat that is set up to make things as easy as possible with things like electric winches for all the big loads.   

  Identifying a well set up boat will be crucial for you.

   Some people take to sailing v quickly and get to the stage where they feel comfortable taking the plunge to go offshore in a relatively short time- others take longer to reach that point or even decide maybe it isnt for them after all- is always better to get a handle  on where you are likely to be with that while you are sailing on someone elses boat!.

  Good luck on your journey :)

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There was a legally blind guy sailed a valiant 40 from san Francisco to Hawaii, may have carried on after that. Eric hiscock was damn near blind and he practically invented cruising.


I would start by running it past a cat 1 inspector. If the result is negative I'd buy offshore and leave from there.


Best bet would be to get someone experienced to come with you until you are comfortable going without.


Lots of people with various disabilities have sailed offshore. To me money is a much bigger problem.


One of my favorite stories is a guy in LA told he has cancer and only has months to live. Decides to spend those months sailing rather than in a hospital bed. He did eventually die of cancer, aboard his boat in Hong Kong 14 years later.

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The only one who can tell you if its worth the risk is you.

Sailing dinghies is a great way to learn, but can be cold and wet! Cruisers are often not actually very experienced. So unless you can get some passage experience, its unlikely that you could get cat 1 for your 1st passage without assistance. There are quite a few disabled sailors out there, never give up, and you can do it.... 

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In terms of the 'cruising lifestyle', there is a hell of a lot of NZ coast that you can cruise around, including in the winter months.

This is a variation of the 'live aboard' option, where you are essentially living on your boat, and cruising, but not doing the international bit. This avoids all the CAT 1 issues. It is also a fairly practical way of easing yourself into the sailing, the boat ownership and the living aboard elements.


For cruising around the Pacific Islands, its is well accepted that the leg from NZ to the Islands is buy far the toughest. So going international is a big step up from NZ. Once in the islands, things are more straight forward, but you need to then get out of the islands before the cyclone season (i.e. sail back to NZ, Oz, or off around the world).


The general path for most people to cruise the islands would be to crew up on someone elses boat, to build experience. At a rough guess, it would probably take 2 years from buying a boat to going off shore for most typical cruisers, just the time to prepare the boat, mechanics, systems etc. Obviously some people do it a lot quicker, buying a boat already fully prep'ed, or have done it before and already have half the gear and the experince all to hand.


It can be done.


Generally, the first step would be to crew on other people's boats for club racing or the like. That sounds like an issue in Inver's as you say. Dunedin or Chch would have better opportunities for that. Perhaps Wanaka? I believe they have trailer sailor racing. Other options could be to charter a boat (could be expensive), there are some modest options in the BoI.

Another option is to start small, get a trailer sailor. This would be good for learning to sail, boat handling etc, which would build confidence for bigger things. Inver's would be a great base for a trailer yacht in the summer, basically caravaning on water. TY's can be fairly modestly priced, the key items to look out for (other than a boat of suitable size and handling characteristics to suit you, and age / condition) is the state of the motor (outboard) and the trailer. Some can be towed by fairly mid sized cars, although this is all closely related to size etc. 

Cruising around some of the Southern Lakes and trailer yacht camping could be good for your soul as well.

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For what its worth i had a frozen shoulder a few years ago following an injury and it barely responded to physio etc but after 18 months or so it slowly came right by itself so lets hope your one follows suit...I'm a real fan of starting the trailer sailer way as fish mentions and certainly you won't get bored with what we have in nz waters. Further to that anytime the pair of you are in the bay of plenty or thereabouts i would be real happy to take you out for a sail for a day or two - pm me if you are keen. 

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Learning to sail is actually pretty easy. Must say I dont know anyone who does a course on all the other stuff.i still say finding the funding is the hard part.


First pay for a boat. Then spend a sh*t ton more getting it ready, possibly more for you coz of yr problems.

Then the hard bit- enough to live on and maintain the boat without going to work.

Solve that problem and the rest is easy.

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Thanks for all the good information and kind words. And to JimS for the offer to go out. Would love to try and take you up on that if we could somehow sort out making the weather and air travel play nice together.


I tried to make my first post short and had to leave out a few bits so as to not put everyone off.


Our initial idea was to buy a boat as a liveaboard, renting a slip in some marina so my wife could continue to work. She works from home now over the internet so thought that would be great idea. However, I soon found that every single marina I called had over a year waiting list. Many just flat out stopped taking liveaboards. I got the feeling from managers that I was a fool for even asking.


We had planned on getting experience and upgrading the boat for blue water sailing for somewhere between one to two years. But reading the regulations around CAT-1 left me worried. The vision requirement would be an issue, and possibly my other health problems. And if I understand it, CAT-1 also has 30day expiration that you must leave and as soon as you hit international waters, it expires as well. This would make our idea of having a home base and doing shorter passages much more complicate and expensive. And don’t get me wrong, I fully agree with many of the classes required and wouldn’t want to sail without learning that as well. Just the “red tape” that bogs CAT-1 down for us.


As for funds, yes it also needs to be sorted. Buying a new house up north is possible, but with mortgage and then no extra funds for a boat. Selling here and renting would work, but burn through our cash fast.


I also agree that is a major challenge. We have done some research for income while cruising, even the coastal only options. Our last idea was to outright purchase a very cheap house and do reno work ourselves. Then turn it into rental for some income. However, doing that we’d still need to build up enough cash for the boat after so might take four or five years.


Had this been 20 years ago might have convinced my wife to parade around in a bikini for youtube views. I think we will need a more creative approach. Would love any suggestions on income while cruising coastal or otherwise. Is liveaboard an option anywhere? I think we have to move if for nothing else than easier access to boats. It is just how and where that is the question.

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We have a very active and large percentage of liveaboards here in Whangarei. Just counted in the 30 boats around the berth I am on we have 22 that are liveaboards.


You couldn't get to much further away from where you are now thou. I would suggest ringing and talking to a cat-1 issuing agent, a meet up with them and talk about your options would be a good step in starting your plans.

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Well done for the bold plan to try a different lifestyle. And for taking a considered approach to the various hurdles - yes there will be challenges both the standard liveaboard cruising ones plus some extras relating to your health. But from the limited info you’ve shared so far plus your obviously pragmatic approach, I think it’s do-able.


Agree with the advice to start with a NZ cruising plan to build you skills and confidence and the if it all ‘feels right’ then consider graduating to offshore and everything that comes with that.



Hauraki Gulf and further up into Northland are the obvious choices due to cruising-friendly environment (especially for beginners) and easy access to services (marine and other).


We cruise this area a lot (unfortunately not as liveaboards) with a young child with health issues and we carry some equipment and special drugs onboard - but it’s also good to know we are a relatively short helicopter ride away from Auckland / Starship Hospital should we need it.


In terms of marinas, have your tried Marsden Cove? I know some liveaboards who recently moved there after being priced out of Gulf Harbour Marina - maybe worth giving them a call?


Finally, on choice of boat. Obviously available budget will be your biggest factor (purchase and running costs) but also think about style of boat. I’m not sure how familiar you are yet with different yacht drsigns but in short there is a world of difference between a coastal cruiser and an offshore capable boat. And so if you insist on bring a boat that is already Cat 1 (or easily within reach) you might find it’s not necessarily the easiest liveaboard for coastal cruising and frequent marina visits. As I said it’s dependent on your budget but if and when you feel like sharing some ballpark purchase figures you’ll no doubt get lots of good recommendations from this forum on design choices that might meet the brief.


And small might not be the kindest. Yes smaller boats (like trailer sailors) have lighter loads which might be a key factor with your shoulder problem - but a bigger, heavier boat will have a more gentle motion on the water that is easier to live with long term - and a bigger boat can handle more of a chop at anchor before you need to find a more sheltered spot etc.

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But reading the regulations around CAT-1 left me worried. The vision requirement would be an issue, and possibly my other health problems. And if I understand it, CAT-1 also has 30day expiration that you must leave and as soon as you hit international waters, it expires as well. This would make our idea of having a home base and doing shorter passages much more complicate and expensive .

In terms of cat1 - an offshore ocean voyage to anywhere from NZ is a major undertaking. NZ is far away from everything. If you plan to have a base somewhere and do 'shorter' passages then you can go from place to place in NZ. For this you don't need cat1 (although plenty of the passages around the NZ coast should be respected and need equipment, experience and planning).


If you are thinking of a home base in NZ and 'popping' off on a short passage to Tonga or Fiji - you may have to rethink. This kind of passage is a serious undertaking and most do it once at the start of the season (may-ish) then stay up in the islands for the rest of the season and come back in (Oct-ish). This means cat1 only lasting one exit is not a problem for most.

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Thanks guys, I have left messages with Marsden Cove and Whangarei Marina and waiting for calls back.  The liveaboard option seemed like it might make most sense since we could hopefully get some work while learning to sail and getting used to the boat life.  That said, when I tried to get confirmation on available slips for liveaboards I hit a major snag.


As for boats, my wife dreams of a cat due to the large amount of space and openness of deck house.  I'm 188cm tall so need something with a bit of headroom would be great.  And the movement sounds easier for non-sailors to adjust due to less rolling.  However, our budget would likely be 80-100k and that is just outside most of them.  Have to consider the fees for haul-out, marinas and maintenance going way up for multihulls as well.   On the other hand I've seen a fair amount of monohulls on trademe for that price range that are not only very nice but also blue water ready.  Length wise, 10-12m seems to be the sweet spot in my totally inexperienced view.   :D 


I really like the layout of this Davidson 42's companionway for someone with arthritis. 



Originally we thought working for six months in NZ then try and cruise the other six.  Then got a bit worried when reading about costs involved with getting cat-1.  With the haul-out, inspections, etc. needing to be done every year.  Then I see the costs for entry into the islands are getting more dear every day.  Even restrictions (like Vanuatu) are also getting worse for cruisers every day as well.  Wish I that we had tried this 10 years ago. :( 

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Just another thing to think about.... you have health concerns. If it gets worse and you can’t stay on a boat you have something that will cost you $3-10k per annum at least (maybe more) that could take a year or more to sell and you won’t get capital gains.


For boat number 1 there is sense in buying a coastal cruiser- say a d28 or Stewart 34. Loads of boats around in the $25-30k price point. Lot’s simpler for diy maintenance. Cheaper to park and insure and if you lose 50% of purchase price no biggie. If you get desperate $1 reserve and you will have had a cheap adventure.


Chartering for a week or two offshore makes more financial sense sometimes.

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Allow 5-15k/year for berth-maintenance depending on what you started out with and frugality.

from what I have gleaned.



Maybe even more depending where you plan to be. A 12m berth at westhaven is already nearly 10k a year on it's own. Add insurance on a 12m 100k boat and a haul out and you're pretty much at 15k without really buying anything.

And in my experience when you buy a boat despite them surveying ok and not 'needing' anything when you buy them, inevitably you'll want things to get it how you want it which will cost $$ in the first year or two.

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Nice read

When we sailed from Europe to NZ I’d love to have been given a $ for every time someone said I’d love to do what your doing but I’d be scared of the “what if’s”


As for living aboard you will learn much more about boat handling if you only occasionally go into marinas or the likes of Whangārei basin

Mobile internet isn’t as as cheap as wifi in town however if your at anchor your not paying marinas and depending on the work your wife does an unlimited data plan and one week a month tied up will be cheaper than living in a house in Invergiggle plus you will eat fresh fish every second day at least

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Lots of good advice guys, cheers. 


Thanks lateral about not rushing to buy or getting attached too early.   It can be hard to fight those urges when we have death threats or bottles/rocks/etc. thrown at our house here.  But I also don't want to end up bad situation because we were rushing out of here.


I do expect that even a "perfect" boat to have lots of things that need replacement.  Just like buying a house, we had a builder's inspection and he didn't find several problems.  Right now all our money is tied up in equity in this house.  Then being stuck geographically so far away also limits our almost all our options. 


We had another idea and wanted to see what you guys think.   First, sell our home here and put a small amount of things we really care about into storage.  Stick the funds of the house sale into savings.  Then travel north and try to find a boat we could rent as a live aboard for say three to six months?  This would only be to trial living on the boat see how we liked it.  Hopefully being on the water and up north we could find opportunities to sail as crew/etc on other boats and learn to sail during this process. 


If stuff hit the fan or for any reason or we didn't tolerate the lifestyle we wouldn't have to worry about trying to selling a boat.  We would still have "some" things left in storage and our car.  Otherwise if it worked out we could just fly back down here and sell off the rest.


It is still risky as my wife might have issues with job working from boat.  (she takes calls via voip and works over vpn and wireless not best for that)  However there are more options to work up north at same time if that happened.  I'm also not sure where we would even look to find a boat to rent like that.  I noticed many marinas had rules preventing such activities without written permission.


On another note, my wife and I were quite keen on this this Beale 33 (design/layout/etc) any comments about it? 


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