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The Cruising Life by Jim Trefethen

Updated on August 15, 2014

What I Liked About This Book

First off, it's a fun read because Jim has some strong opinions about sailing, boats, cruising and probably your choice of neck tie but I found that amusing about him. It's also a good book to start with because it's not overly technical. If you have never sailed a boat before and the first book you pick up is Nigel Caulder's Cruising Handbook, you might be scared off the whole idea of cruising after the first chapter, it is so jam-packed with data (still a great book though by the way). But Jim's book is a nice, gentle introduction to boats and cruising, a toe dipped into the water of that world.

You will enjoy this book if you remember that this is about Jim's experiences with his family. This is what they have done and seen and that is the best thing you can get out of this book. It's like sitting down for coffee with a cruiser who wants to share his stories. Perfect, just what I wanted from this book.

So You Want To Be A Cruiser?

More people around the world are buying sailboats and becoming cruisers than you might think. The romantic appeal of setting sail for distant shores and deserted, tropical islands is more alluring than ever but is it really possible? Well, I did it so I'd have to say absolutely it is possible. I quit my job, bought a boat and started sailing to wherever I wanted to go.

I had no previous sailing experience but I fell in love with the dream. I'm sure that most people thought I was suffering from some horrendous case of midlife crisis but I did it anyway and I've never been happier.

And what was the first book I ever read about becoming a cruiser? Jim Trefethen's The Cruising Life: A Commonsense Guide for the Would-Be Voyager.

What I Didn't Like

<b>Wooden Boats</b>Some reviewers noted that the author of the book The Cruising Life: A Commonsense Guide For A Would-Be Voyager, Jim Trefethen, glorified wooden boats. Why this bothered them so much I can't imagine. Wooden boats ARE beautiful. My own boat is fiberglass but I would love to have a wooden one if it wasn't for the expense and the incredible amount of work that they are. And to be fair to Jim, he does write an entire section on what boats are considered appropriate for cruising where he lists some plastic i.e. fiberglass boats.

Bonus points to the author for mentioning my own boat, a sturdy Pearson Triton. She's only 28 feet long but she's the best boat in the world!

<b>Electrical Wiring</b> It's hard to defend Jim here because a number of reviewers noted some technical issues with his wiring diagrams and a fire on a boat is pretty much the last thing in the world that you would ever want. He admits that he's no electrician though so I don't think you throw out the baby with the bathwater so to speak. There are still things to learn from this book and I'll list some books below that are better for boat electrics anyway.

Cruising Handbook

If, like me, you dream of one day stepping aboard your own sailboat and sailing off to new adventures then Jim Trefethen's The Cruising Life: A Commonsense Guide for the Would-Be Voyager is a good book to get you started. It's not overly technical and is more of an "About the cruising life-style" kind of book that will tell you what to expect and what living aboard a sailboat is like.

The author, Jim, shares the stories and experiences that he and his family have had since setting sail themselves in 1993. He has some strong opinions and he isn't timid about sharing them so, even if you do not agree with everything he writes, you will still enjoy what he has to say.

Cruising Advice

From years of experience living aboard his sailboat with his family and cruising the world's oceans, Jim has accumulated practical knowledge that will be valuable to any beginning cruiser. However, do not make the mistake of taking everything Jim says as gospel because he is sometimes very wrong. For example, there are several mistakes on his wiring diagrams in the boat electrical section.

So why would I recommend that you read a book with incorrect information in it? Because, as I said before, this is less of a How To manual and more of an About guide that tells you general information about what cruising is like and what you will need. Just like you wouldn't use Jim's book instead of proper charts to plan a route, but you could get useful information about some destinations from The Cruising Life.

My Pearson Triton

What Sailboat To Get

One of the best sections in Jim Trefethen's The Cruising Life: A Commonsense Guide for the Would-Be Voyager is the advice he gives on what sailboats are suitable for cruising. The old rule is, the best sailboat is the one you can buy and afford but you also want something that is seaworthy and suitable to the types of sailing that you will be doing. Jim even has the good sense to mention my own boat, a Pearson Triton, in his book, along with many other, fine vessels.

Book Contents

Jim's book is pretty comprehensive and covers a wide array of topics without getting too technical in any of them. Here's a brief overview of what he covers in The Cruising Life (not in any particular order).

Cooking on a sailboat. This is a much more important issue than most inexperienced cruisers give it credit for and should be considered carefully. Bad eating pretty much means a bad time on a boat, especially if you are tired, cold and wet, a condition that happens more often than cruisers would like!! Jim even shares some of his own recipes in his book. Some other good recipes and bits of advice for cooking on a boat can be found here.

How to buy a sailboat. Jim goes into a number of possible strategies for acquiring a boat but the one that I have seen work very well is to trawl the marinas looking for a boat that is going cheap or even free! They might need some work but all cruising boats need constant work anyway so get used to it.

Other Books. Jim is even kind enough to reference some other great books as resources for would-be cruisers.

Making money while cruising. Most cruisers need to find work as they go in order to fund their cruising lifestyle and Jim gives some recommendations for how to find work and what skills are in demand.


This book is definitely worth reading if you are considering moving aboard a sailboat to go cruising or even if you are just thinking about becoming a live-aboard. It is full of experience based advice from Jim, a man who has been living that lifestyle along with his family for many years.

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    • GetitScene profile image

      Dale Anderson 4 years ago from The High Seas

      It's a good book, even though Jim makes some real errors with his information. Whatever you do, follow that dream of sailing around the world, you won't regret it. Moving onto a boat was the best decision of my life.

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 4 years ago from Peru, South America

      This sounds like both an interesting and entertaining book! I have dreamed of sailing around the world with my hubby and this book sounds like just the thing to fuel my dreams. Thank you...I'll look into it right away. : )

    • GetitScene profile image

      Dale Anderson 4 years ago from The High Seas

      You can often pick up work by visiting marinas and local 'hang outs' where sailors gather. You tell then you are cruising and many people will go out f their way to help you find some work e.g. cleaning boats, handyman work, etc. But the real trick is to live CHEAP. How cheap? Last month I used $4 in propane for cooking and heating. All month. Not too shabby! It makes me wonder why everyone doesn't live on a boat!

    • aethelthryth profile image

      aethelthryth 4 years ago from American Southwest

      Your articles on your experiences are a good advertisement for cruising. I have wondered how one can afford to cruise, and would be interested in your take on how to make money while cruising. Obviously HubPages is one strategy!