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How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat | Book Review & Confession

I have a confession to make - I haven't followed a single sailing blog since we lost Rebel Heart. Not a one.

You see all those sail blogs listed over to the right of the screen? I haven't clicked on any save the random link that occasionally led me there via Facebook. For years I avidly followed the fleet of boats that did the yearly Pacific Puddle Jump, dreaming of the day when I'd be one of those boats - with one of those blogs with vibrant French Polynesian pictures in my photo stream.

To use a Monopoly euphemism, when we were dealt our Chance card and sent squarely back to where we had come from, I could not find it in me to follow any of my fellow sailing friends as they finished their crossings and then spent the season in the South Pacific; the season we were supposed to be there too.

I wasn't envious. Trust me, I was overjoyed that everyone made a safe crossing and was having the time of their lives. No, it was the acrid tang of disappointment that curdled at the back of my throat when I glimpsed their lovely photos as they came through on Twitter and Facebook.

We're closing in on the two year mark since the rescue and I'm slowly peeking back into the sailing world. 

I'm still not reading blogs. Not yet.

I'm still not following every post on Women Who Sail. Not yet.

Sometimes, when the girls are asleep and all my tasks for the day are done, I pour a glass of wine, open up www.yachtworld.com and dream.

Enter Deb and TJ Akey's book, How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat.

I'm a sucker for reverse titles and I'd seen enough of Deb Akey's posts in Women Who Sail to know I should at least check her book out. Rebel Heart was Eric's second boat, and my first, so we aren't new to the experience of buying one, still, we plan on buying a catamaran and I thought I'd take a look at the advice the Akeys were giving.

Doing dishes on the dock. San Diego, 2009.

When we first moved aboard in 2007 I read every single liveaboard & cruising book I could get my hands on, especially if they were oriented toward women (there weren't that many back in the day.) The books I kept turning to were written by Lin & Larry Pardey. To quote myself from this post in June of 2007, "I like Lin and Larry because they're simple, straightforward and honest. They're incredible sailors, and good writers." If you haven't discovered them yet, you need to start reading them today! My favorites being Care and Feeding of Sailing Crew and the Cost-Conscious Cruiser.

Why am I touting books by the Pardeys in a book review for TJ & Deb Akey? Because, like the Pardey's, the Akeys are honest. Their advice to you is to be honest too. A huge theme that runs through the first part of the book is the necessity of being honest about why you are looking to go cruising, what type of cruiser you think you'll be, the amount of money you think/want to spend, and if your partner (if you aren't going solo) is really into this lifestyle the same way you are.  The need for honesty doesn't stop there. One can only be so far-sighted. When the Akey's began their search (and eventual purchase) of their cruising boat they thought there were going to be blue-water sailors. After trial and error however, they've learned they are much happier as coastal cruisers. Again, if you can really concretely figure out what about sailing makes you happy, you'll be better equipped when undertaking the purchase of your own vessel.

A few things that stand out about TJ & Deb's book. 

It includes a comprehensive list of books, blogs, and websites for your reading pleasure. I have followed a tremendous amount of sailing blogs over the years and it is obvious the Akeys have too. They break sailing blogs down into specific types of blogs (resource/instructional blogs, log-style blogs, and journal style). I was pleasantly surprised to note that they included our blog in their list of 20 recommendations and I was entirely tickled when they described us with two words: GRITTY HONESTY.  

That's a compliment I can take, thank you very much.

Do you want the unvarnished truth? Then read this book.

A few quotes to show you what I mean. "The amount of work just to maintain and move a cruising boat can be overwhelming to many." Don't dismay though, they tell you what to do to combat that. Or, they say (and I love this quote), "Anyone who has managed to toss the dock lines and gone cruising on an older sailboat should be regarded with a bit of awe. They have overcome obstacles most people cannot even imagine." Having done this myself, I just wanted to reach right through my Kindle and hug the authors tightly. They get it. But again, don't worry, this book is about telling you how you can do it too.

If you buy their book, what you'll get is some incredibly solid and valuable advice from two intelligent and technical people. In the book forward TJ writes, "This was the book we wish we had read before beginning our journey." Deb is a former pilot, motorcyclist, and computer guru. TJ is a former commercial pilot, airplane mechanic, and motorcyclist. As you can imagine, these are two highly-skilled, detail-oriented people and this is evident throughout How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat.

Sections not to miss:

1. What kind of cruiser are you (and why do you want to be one)?

2. How capable are you of doing work? (Be honest and don't be disheartened).

3. How willing is your significant other?

4. Blogs & websites, books, classes, charters (super comprehensive lists)

5. Surviving online boat shopping. Direct quote from book, "Boat shopping online is addicting. Ask any person currently looking for a boat or any person who has recently purchased one and you'll either get a flat denial, a horribly underestimated count of hours, or a sheepish grin." Haha. ALL THIS!

6. The Akey's own checklists of requirements in a boat they were looking for (helpful as a starting point if you don't yet have a list or to compare to yours.)

7. How to survive boat surveys, sea trials, and con men (no really.) As well as eight mistakes they made in buying their boat.

8. When to walk away. I put those words in bold because I cannot emphasize the importance of this chapter enough. Their wisdom and experience is really laid out bare in this one. Read it slowly and consider their words seriously. Favorite quotes from this chapter:

I know sailors like to give their hearts to a boat. Trust me, the boats do not love us back. A boat is a collection of fiberglass, wood and metal. Maybe, after we have been with one for while, it will share a bit of our soul. But it will not come with one of its own. The only rational way to approach buying a boat is with a mindset that, if a boat really is necessary (and if the plan is to go cruising, a boat is certainly necessary) any particular boat is one that should not be bought. That's right, look at any boat as one that should be walked away from, and then try to find reasons not do so.

Once a real deal is in the works, never be committed to seeing it through.

A specific instruction to any surveyor must be that every single item on the equipment list is actually on the boat and functioning properly in every single mode it has. Any that do not function perfectly should be stricken from the list and the price adjusted accordingly.

No boat is perfect, but don't let that be an excuse for buying one that should have been left alone.

Walk away, walk away, walk away. This phrase is repeated often in this chapter and I found this section to speak to me the most as someone who is just about to embark on buying their own [used] boat again. The Akeys words of warning are strong in this chapter. I repeat. Don't skip this one. Read it word for word.

Doing laundry by hand - on the list of things I will NOT do.

9. Maintenance, engines, rigging. My eyes glaze over when I read this stuff but this is no fault of the author's writing style, these are just three things I dont' do. Eric, on the other hand, said the entire section would be invaluable to someone looking to buy a boat for the first time.  One piece of advice offered in this section:

Any component that has oil that gets changed as a maintenance item -engines, generators, transmissions, v-drives -should have a sample of that oil sent in for analysis.

Did you know you could do that? Send oil samples somewhere for analysis? Well, I didn't either. See, another piece of sound advice. (Eric is nodding and saying yes, he knew that, but he admits, he could see how someone new to all of this would not. Thanks, Eric.)

You'll need some baby equipment too!

10. Boat equipment - a long and detailed list of all the types of goodies you can get for your sailboat. Again, more lists and a great of explanation to start you on your way. This might be the longest chapter because it covers so many different sub-sections: auto pilots/wind vanes, heat pumps/air conditioning, hot water heater, VHF/AIS/SSB/Sat Phone/EPIRB, Radar/Chart Plotter, Power Generation/Battery monitoring, Galley Equipment/Water Delivery, Lighting/Entertainment, Head types, Dodger/Bimini/Full enclosure, Safety Equipment, Dingy & related handling, Line handling equipment, Anchoring equipment, Sails/Furlers/Related Gear, and lastly, Outdoor water. WHEW. One of the coolest things about finishing this chapter was the realization that I knew everything the Akeys were talking about in each section. There is a lot involved in buying and maintaining a boat. Don't let all this info get you down. You'll eventually be able to wrap your head around it, I promise.


I could stop my review here and say this is a book I recommend, highly.

I can't stop though, because I still haven't mentioned the end.

I wasn't expecting the last three chapters of the book when I dove into them. They contain a gorgeous depiction of the lifestyle I miss and love so much.

People I miss. Fellow adventurers.After going through all the finer points of what you'll need to do to buy a boat (or NOT buy one), the Akeys then talk about who cruisers are, and they get it. Boy, do they get it.

If you are wondering if you are inherently fit for the world of leaving the shore and becoming a cruiser, read everything in the book from the chapter We Be Gypsies until the end.

If I could, I'd copy the entire aft section of the book and paste it herein for your reading pleasure, but I'll leave you to purchase it on your own and enjoy it in solitude. 

On the lifestyle transition (from Deb Akey): "Nerves can become frayed, patience thinned, and unless communication is frequent and filled with a boundless sense of humor, relationships can become strained."

On whether it is all worth it (from TJ Akey): "Do I wish the the path to this place had been far, far less difficult? Could we have done without the emotional and financial beating administered by an industry apparently set on being as hostile and uncooperative as possible? Of course. Do I wish Deb had never leaned over the railing of our condo and asked, 'What do you think about retiring onto a boat?' No. It has been an adventure of a lifetime in a life full of adventures. And now I can't imagine never having come this way at all."

On rejecting society, just a little bit! (from TJ Akey): "...but "going cruising" and "leaving" are synonymous terms. Doing the former requires that one do that latter. And that is not always an easy thing to do."

You also won't want to miss the chapters called Life is short...eat dessert first as well as the chapter called Understanding.

The night I finished reading the Akey's book I was practically in tears. In those last few chapters TJ and Deb had managed to put into words exactly how I feel about not only the cruising life, but life in general, which just goes to show you the common bond all cruisers have.

Living on the ocean means admitting life is fleeting and capricious instead of living on land and pretending life is permanent and predictable.

Their book reminded me that I hadn't dreamed it all up. That life on the water was as I remembered. I turned off my Kindle, picked up my laptop, and opened YachtWorld.


Deb & TJ have graciously offered to give away a copy of their book How NOT to Buy a Cruising Boat. To enter the givewaway, leave a comment on this blog post and tell us which section of their book you'd find the most helpful. The giveaway runs through Monday evening, PST.


All thoughts in this book review are my own. I purchased my own copy of the Akey's book. I truly don't recommend things that I'm not completely enamored with. Enjoy! 

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