Charles Stock & Shoal Waters

It’s not all ‘Howards Way’

RYA News 1990

I realise that no self respecting sailor watches “Howard’s Way” any more than real farmers listen to the ‘Archers’. But most of us have glimpsed it in passing often enough to know that however close the characters come to bankruptcy there is never any shortage of money for expensive boats, designer oilskins and such modern yottie goodies. How different from the world of most weekend sailors. I would like to counterbalance the “Howard’s Way” impression by showing that “Yachting on a Small Income” is still possible. (A paperback with that title, purchased in 1944 for the princely sum of sixpence, still sits on my bookshelf.)

Despite a lifelong income that can only be described as modest, I have managed to own a craft suitable for weekend and holiday cruising since I was twenty. Annual running costs have crept up from around to £400 in 1986 to just over £700 in 1990. This season I will be lashing out on a 25,000 mile power Pack, a new suit of sails. The old ones would last a few more seasons but I am 64 this year so it is probable that a new suit will see out our sailing days and we will have really sound gear – a great comfort when Father Neptune gets stroppy.

The obvious first step to keeping costs down is to buy a smaller boat. My own boat, Shoal Waters, is sixteen and a half feet long. I purchased the bare hull from Fairey Marine in 1963, completed it myself and do all my own fitting out. I always use quality materials and fittings and this has paid off in 47,000 miles of trouble free cruising. She has no engine which saves a great deal of expense, including toll charges on many inland waterways. My club is more expensive than many in the area but has extensive facilities for hauling out and winter storage. A club also gives access to other sailors who can prove a useful source of barter for spare parts.

Drying moorings are cheaper that deep water ones, mine dries seven hours in twelve, and swinging or pile moorings cheaper than a marina. Her shallow flat bottomed hull means we can anchor in quiet creeks and shallow places inaccessible to keel boats. There are rarely any charges for such anchorages on the East Coast and the South Coast proved cheaper than we had been led to believe. Given the right weather conditions and the right piece of water, a centreboard or twin keel boat can be beached and will provide a perfectly comfortable berth at little or no cost. I also feel that anchoring in the open has much to be said for it although it’s something which is outside the experience of many modern sailors. We regard marinas as special treats. Our three month cruise to the Solent and Dunkirk last year cost just £84 in mooring charges instead of the budgeted £250.

Perhaps one of the greatest advantages of the small boat is that gear and fittings can be renewed regularly before they break. My 26-year old anchor chain looked fine but I renewed it last season at a cost of £58.33, just for peace of mind. Rigging is renewed every three years because I consider that it does more to ensure my safety than many modern gimmicks offered for sale on that ticket. I no longer use antifouling but simply go into fresh water several times each season, clean off the visible hull below the waterline as she dries and, if the rest needs attention, do it by swimming and reaching underneath. Lastly, I have never been tempted by such purchases as Decca, depth sounders, wind and speed indicators, self steering gear, the list is endless.

There is no denying that I can feel distinctly disadvantaged when on a long beat into a rising wind the latest cruiser racing design sweeps past. But my philosophy, propounded from a snug berth, is that you can’t have everything in life and, in the long run, that’s no bad thing.

A detailed breakdown of costs for the 1990 season’s cruising. Broadly they are:
Fees, subs and moorings £363.10
Capital goods £146.13
Maintenance £104.36
Sails and rigging £13.51
Heating and batteries £78.80
Total cost for 3147 miles cruising during the year comes to £705.90 or 25p a mile.