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Home » TRAVEL AND LODGING in RI » RHODE ISLAND (all topics) » Yachting - Not Just for the Rich & Famous
Yachting - Not Just for the Rich & Famous

Part 1 - How to Get Started

By George Boase | October 05, 2011

In the first part of this occasional series, George Boase explains how to get onto the water without breaking the bank.

Since the days in Egypt when Cleo and Mark sailed their mega-barge down the mighty Nile in style, yachting has been mythically relegated to the realm of the super rich and powerful. Noah did little to dispel the myth even though he brought along a few pets and his entire family. We might even call him the first of the family cruisers.

The gilded age of yachting from roughly 1880 to 1920 solidified the hold the wealthy had on yachting. A yacht during that period was probably custom built for an owner and no expense was spared. Mahogany double planked hulls don’t come cheap then, or now. Cabin heights were excessive, after all you needed the extra room for all those noses up in the air.

Look at any yachting magazine. Chances are the yacht on the cover will have a seven-figure price tag. Marinas are often located in the heart of the money zones of the world. That’s not the yachting world I live in, nor do any of my friends.

Enter Henry Ford and the concept of building cars for the common man. Autos, much like yachts, had been strictly a commodity for the wealthy before 1925. Taking note of Mr. Ford’s accomplishments was a boat builder in Algonac, Michigan, just up the road from Dearborn, Michigan, named Christopher Smith.

Everyone in boating knows his boats by the name Chris Craft. It does sound better than Smith Craft. It bears mention that Henry Ford was also a proud Chris Craft owner. Taking a clue from Mr. Ford, the first production boat was born and like the auto, yachting was now in the domain of the common man. World War II solidified the idea of building production boats with Hacker, Elgin and several others cranking out boats by the hundreds.

I got my first boat for free. It was a 1927 Belle Isle Bearcat that was rotting away in a boat shed on Harson’s Island in Michigan. Two years of sweat, lumber and varnish later I was out on Lake St. Clair (a fresh-water lake that lies between the Province of Ontario and the State of Michigan) in a boat that really commanded attention. My next boat was a 1936 Chris Craft I bought for $800. The first sailboat was a 1977 25 O’Day I bought at auction for $2,990. I have yet to spend any real money on a boat.

There is an old saying, “The wind is free, catching it costs a fortune.” That is true to a certain extent, but it is not out of reach to the average working stiff. It may be one of the cheapest vacations anyone will ever take. A common question you will hear often is, “How much does it cost to cruise?” My answer is ... almost nothing. It really depends on what you expect while cruising and the amenities you need.

When I first started sailing in New England, I spent a small fortune for transient dock fees in various locations. Many boat owners use their boats as weekend homes or what I call a boataminium. They are usually under the impression it will cost a fortune to go anywhere other than the dock they already paid for.

We love adventure and going to new places. We also have a very modest budget to do that with. One of the advantages of my job as a writer for a cruising club is that I’ve been to every marina in New England. Some are pricey, and believe it or not, some are cheap! There are bargains in boating.

The cheapest of all is anchoring and taking either a launch or dinghy to shore facilities. Next comes mooring balls, and last is a dock. There are places you can dock for free. George’s Island in Boston has free overnight dockage. The town of Wickford has a municipal dock that’s free to use while visiting. Don’t be afraid to ask if a marina has a short-term courtesy dock. Many of them do.

Yacht clubs can be a real bargain. The Register of American Yacht Clubs has a listing of all the yacht clubs with reciprocity. If you belong to one, you dock at all. Most are free to dock or at least offer an incredibly small fee for use of facilities. There is at least one club you can join with $50 annual fees.

Chain marinas are becoming a big item these days. If you have your seasonal dockage at one of them, you’re most likely welcome at another in the chain for either free or at a modest rate. Some offer other discounts such as fuel or tow insurance. Many marinas honor discounts served up by boating insurance companies. It’s not unlike having a AAA membership.

We all enjoy watching the mega-yachts pass by, but the real heart of boating is in the average working man. I think I have more fun than Forbes, and I know I spend a whole lot less.

This series is first of all about enjoying yachting. Second, it’s about breaking through the idea that you have to be wealthy to enjoy it. I’m certainly not wealthy, and I’ve been a boater all my life. There’s no reason you can’t get out there and live the dream too. Money, or lack of it, is an excuse. I’ve been offered boats for $100 and moorings for $300 for the year. If you have never sailed before, there are clubs that will teach you for free. Got any more excuses?

Fair Winds!

Coming next in the series, the best places to anchor are still free.

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