Only 10 days, plus or minus until we return to Winterlude for our winter cruising season! This time of year is always exciting. My husband, David, has a “rule” about when lake season starts and ends. When he retired he decided he didn’t want to live anywhere he couldn’t wear his shorts year round. That rule certainly works for me! 🙂 Friday here in the midwest is forecast to be 32 degrees in the morning. YIKES! That’s getting a bit marginal for shorts!
In the meantime, we’re busy getting the lake cottage closed up and everything switched between summer at the lake and winter on the boat. Here are a few tips we’ve learned over the years!
1. Check all the systems well in advance of leaving! This morning we awoke to temperatures right at 40 degrees. Normally we just switch on the gas fireplace for a bit to take the chill out, but this morning David decided to turn on the heat just to make sure everything is OK. When we leave, we leave the thermostat set on about 55 — just enough to keep a bit of heat so the pipes don’t freeze in the sub-zero temps, but not enough to run up the electric bill too much while we’re gone. This morning we discovered that the heat pump appears to be on vacation – the propane back up worked fine, but it would be nice to have the heat pump back at work! David called the repairman, but it will be two days before they can get there since it’s not an emergency. Good thing we didn’t leave that until the last day or we’d have been stuck here longer than planned! We also know commuter cruisers that turn off the heat, but that requires draining all the pipes, draining the hot water heater — lots more work. It might be worth it if we didn’t every come back over the winter, but we’ve been known to pop in once in a while over the holidays.
2. Taxes. We choose to prepay anticipated taxes so that we can have our CPA file an exemption annually and then we can do our actual taxes when we return in June. This will vary considerably depending on your situation, so talk to your accountant or spend some time researching options online. I can state unequivically I always feel sorry for those cruisers making a mad dash for civilization about April 15th – some of the best cruising weather all winter – to deal with taxes. It’s a subject I hate, so I’d just as soon automate it until we return from cruising!
3. Bills. Set up all your bills to be payable automatically either from your checking account or charged to your VISA or other charge card. We always doublecheck to make sure they’re being paid before leaving, even though there’s no reason they wouldn’t other than me being paranoid. We’re lucky in that all our bills with the exception of the water bill can be paid automatically. The water bill is simply prepaid for the six months we’re gone. Note I said automatically – we don’t do internet banking while cruising unless absolutely necessary – I don’t want the potential for fraud. The only thing I do at a foreign internet cafe is check the VISA – it’s set up with an small automatic payment monthly so we don’t ever miss a payment. But we normally pay it off every month, so if I get the chance, I may go ahead and pay it, but if not, it’s worth the interest to be anchored in paradise and not have to leave to pay a bill or work on taxes! We actually call each of our doctor or dentist offices to make sure there are no outstanding bills – the medical profession is incredibly slow about bills with waiting to see what insurance will pay etc. One year we returned for the summer to find a $15 medical bill had been turned over to creditors — what? Really? Luckily we were able to get it straightened out and removed from our credit record.
4. Satellite TV, Phone, Trash, Newspaper … with a quick call to your providers, most things can be put on “vacation”. We put our Direct TV on vacation as well as the phones – especially if we’ll be out of the country, we don’t need the huge Verizon bill monthly! We also are very careful to convert the Verizon service if we’ll be spending time in Mexico and check every year with Verizon to see if there are other countries that we can include in our monthly plan. Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES do we use the Verizon phone service if it’s not included in the plan – $1.50 a minute is too steep for us when you can get a local cell phone in most every country you visit. For the most part, they’ll have prepaid cards that if you buy them on a certain day, you’ll get quadruple or triplicate minutes making calling the US somewhere 10 to 25 cents a minute.
5. Medications. This is a brand new category for us, and we’re in the process of trying to figure it out. Now that David is taking Lipitor and Plavix, insurance will allow us to get a 90 day supply. Unfortunately (or fortunately) we’re hoping to be in the Exumas for 3 months or possibly longer living on the hook. We’re going to try and get a supply for at least 120 days by discussing the situation with the cardiologist and making phone calls to our insurance company explaining the problem. Don’t let getting caught short without enough meds cause you to return prematurely to civilization.
6. Contacts, Vitamins, Calcium. If you have special items be sure to get a more than adequate supply before leaving. I always order more than I think I’ll need. So for example, I wear daily disposable contacts. I get enough for 9 months instead of 6 months and sometimes a 12 month supply. This year we’ll be able to buy vitamins, my calcium supplements etc in Florida, but if we were flying to Guatemala or Panama, I’d take a six month supply with me for sure.
7. Renewals. Make sure all insurance is up to date (i.e. not going to expire over the six months or however long you’re gone), SSB & VHF radio licenses if you have them (I have a general level amateur radio license that I don’t want to accidentally forget to renew), boat documentation, EPIRB registrations, Towboat US, DAN emergency evacuation insurance, etc. Take some time and write down everything that you have that will expire while you’re away and make arrangements ahead of time. One year we returned from six months in the San Blas Islands of Panama to discover that our health insurance had lapsed in February and now it was May! YIKES! Luckily it was David’s former employer’s fault and we were reinstated with no problem, but talk about a scary couple of days while they sorted it out!
8. Computers and the Safety Deposit Box. I always back up my computer onto an external hard drive. Photos are backed up onto the external hard drive and individual USB flash drives so they’re in two places. I had an external hard drive fail and cost me all my first year cruising photos except those that I had posted online, I’m still missing those photos. The external hard drive gets put in the safety deposit box at the bank for the winter.
9. Jewelry and Valuables. We don’t take jewelry cruising. We even bought silver bands from an Incan craftsman close to Machu Picchu Peru one year so even our wedding rings don’t go cruising. We don’t have much jewelry anyway, but all valuables go to the safety deposit box for the winter.
10. Mail. Because it’s almost impossible to get mail outside the US, we don’t count on a mail-forwarding service. Since we live in the middle of nowhere where everyone knows everybody, we go to the local post office and either arrange to have the mail held and have a friend pick it up once a month.
11. Finalize winterizing your summer place – we put down fertilizer, get the docks out of the water, the bubbler in the water, the electric freeze free cord around the skylights, winterize and pack the boats away in offsite storage, shut off the fireplace pilot light, doublecheck the dehumidifier in the crawl space, set out mouse/rat poison, etc.
12. Go over everything with a caretaker. We have a friend stop by the house regularly just to make sure everything’s OK, plug in the water bubbler to keep the lake ice from eating our boat lifts if it’s cold, etc. In years when we’re leaving the country, we arrange for storage for the car as well. This year we’ll just drive to the boat in Florida and then figure it out.
13. Take insurance photos or video. Annually we take photos of everything in the house and those also go in the safety deposit box just in case of fire, we’d have a visual record of what was there.
Take off & ENJOY your commuter cruise! We sure will! Anyone have comments on other things for commuter cruisers to think about? THX! Jan