When you hand over the mooring and take a long journey, you want to believe that all the fuss of the «civilized world» is behind you. But even on board the yacht you will find bills, tax refunds and other administrative routine. How can you ease paperwork on a cruise? Tells Jessica Lloyd-Mostin.
Those of us who have decided to go beyond everyday life and spend months, years or even the rest of our days at sea, face many difficulties. But it doesn't have to be storms, pirates or reefs. One of the biggest problems is the paperwork that haunt us wherever we go: bank accounts, housekeeping, bills, taxes, loans and business.
Suddenly it's hard to do things we're used to: get our mail or answer phone calls. Time zone differences, language barriers and communication problems are imposed.
Problems were waiting for us the first time we landed after leaving the UK. In Spain, a faulty ATM ate my husband's card. It was Sunday, the banks were closed. Luckily, we have accounts in different British banks. By the way, we noticed a curious difference in their work: my bank demanded to be informed by phone or email about entering any country and the length of stay, while James' bank was happy to mark that his client was around the world, so that our financial activity in other countries was not considered suspicious.
Many things are worth thinking about in advance. For example, our acquaintances Laurie Felker Jones and her husband unsubscribe from most of the optional e-mail and postal mailings before going on a multi-year cruise in the Caribbean Sea. We did the same, but the main problem was how to continue receiving important correspondence. We were lucky to have a trusted family member to whom we forwarded all our emails. But not everyone will have a person who will take on this responsibility. Our friend Max Shaw and his wife Lisa have contacted a special company that delivers mail to the travelers. This company receives letters for them, scans them and then either forwards them by e-mail or saves or destroys them depending on the instructions received.
Most marinas will gladly provide you with a temporary address, provided that the documents clearly state the name of your boat. In popular cruising areas, skippers of boats going to other places often advertise on the VHF radio network that they are ready to carry mail with them. The same applies to all your guests: no one will step on board if he does not bring in his suitcase the next spare part you need!
Some yachtsmen make a living on the cruise while continuing to manage the rest of the business remotely. It takes trust and good communication to make this happen. Amber Lim and her husband have been out at sea for six months each time returning to Vancouver, where Amber has a dog walking business. At one point, the couple decided to live permanently on a boat and set out to explore Central America and the South Pacific. Amber had to completely change the business management scheme:
«The company's bills were paid automatically. The manager was authorized to sign checks, insurance and other important documents. She would download monthly bank statements to Dropbox, from where they would be automatically downloaded to my computer as soon as I connected to Wi-Fi. She would also upload scanned correspondence of all kinds to the Dropbox when she wasn't sure what to do. An online banking application was installed in my phone, so I could easily check its activity if necessary. My accountant was given the legal right to sign on tax returns».
James and I have a small printer/scanner on board that can work through an inverter. But Amber didn't have one.
«We downloaded the Signeasy app to our iPad, which allowed us to sign documents and then send them back. All our personal and business documents were stored on Dropbox so we could access them from an Internet cafe or any of our Wi-Fi»devices.
When the Limes family sold their boat in early 2015 and returned home, the business worked perfectly.
We also finance our life on the boat by doing business, only in our case this is property. We have a property in London and we keep it, contact the tenants and pay the mortgage without the help of an agent. The London property rental market is healthy, but the headache of property management when you sit in a boat in the middle of the ocean is still present. For example, we had to postpone our departure to Costa Rica from Panama because one of our tenants decided to move out suddenly; while in Mexico we ordered a new washing machine and had it delivered on time; and when we arrived in New Zealand we were swamped with angry letters about a running water pipeline.
A working relationship.
At the heart of our success in remote property management is communication: we ask our tenants to report everything in detail and in advance so that the problem does not escalate into a critical one. We are also fortunate to have a good relationship with a plumber, electrician and gasman who live in our area and know that we are travelling.
Amber Lim also attributes much of his business success to a good relationship.
«Despite the planning and modern technology we had at our disposal, our most valuable resource was good relations with our contractors. The bankers, consultants, accountants and brokers who worked with us knew where we were and what we were doing, and they took it very seriously».
A good relationship means even more when things are going badly. Terry White from New Zealand and his wife Sabina, a Dutchwoman, found that the wallet with all the cards had disappeared while buying food in Mexico. Their banks knew their situation and were able to produce new cards and deliver them to the other side of the world in just a few days. It's free!
Our own experience with credit card losses illustrates the different approach to clients at different banks. When a card was stolen from James and a number of fraudulent transactions were made on it, he was immediately given the money back in his account and a new card was made. However, it was sent to a «secure» address in England, so our relative had to send it to us in New Zealand. My bank had a longer procedure for processing a fraud claim. It required us to make a few phone calls, which was neither easy nor cheap in French Polynesia. In addition, we had to answer a number of idiotic questions like: «Maybe you just went to Texas and forgot about it, madam?» At the same time, the procedure for replacing the map was simpler: the new map was already waiting for me when we arrived in Fiji.
Max and Liz say that sometimes an ordinary call home turns into a pretty exciting event:
«The funniest moment was when we tried to call home to Canada on a tax-related matter from a Mexican town in the Gulf of California, from a single point with cellular coverage. To find the signal, we were advised to "follow the donkey" up the mountainside. That's what we did. We found a place to catch it easily: a hundred phone card wrappers lying on the ground».
After spending several years at sea, we learned a few lessons on how to reduce the headache of paperwork. We filed our latest tax return online while sitting in a bar in Panama enjoying cocktails and free Wi-Fi. We keep copies of vital documents electronically in two languages. We always alert family, tenants and friends that we will be out of touch during long crossings.
Jessica and James Lloyd-Mostin left the UK in 2011 and on Crossbow 42 Adamastor sailed to the Caribbean Islands, Panama and the Pacific. On the way, their daughter Rocket was born in Mexico.