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Managaing by remote control

Jan 1, 2003

Crew preparations to go voyaging often focus, quite rightly, on navigation and medical issues, but what about money, taxes, and credit cards? Those things require a bit of prior planning, too. I am crewing on a 46-footer for a year-and-a-half-long sailing adventure around the world. I had to be prepared to manage life's annoying administrative details by international telephone and overseas mail.

The circumnavigation is a year 2000 celebration with Jimmy Cornell's World Cruising Ltd. Millennium Odyssey. The rally is made up of several routes and many rendezvous points around the globe. My journey on Hornblower II will take me on a circuitous route from Ft. Lauderdale through the Panama Canal; along the Torres Straits between Australia and Indonesia; and around the classic clipper-ship route of the Cape of Good Hope to St. Helena, Brazil, and the Caribbean. In addition to this highly massaged list, there are several accompanying arrangements that had to be made to ease the administrative hassle of living far from home for such a long time. I spent considerable time organizing my affairs to conduct my administrative life by remote control. This effort seemed to go hand-in-hand with list making. Many of the following arrangements, started years before the trip, have already served me well during coastal cruising and regular marina liveaboard life. Other arrangements are strictly oriented to the circumnavigation and being out of the country for such a long time.

Land storage

I stored all my important papers in a bank safe-deposit box after making copies of such items as birth certificate, voter registration certificate, will, etc. These copies will be stored on board in a notebook with plastic envelopes to protect the papers. One of the most important papers, in this collection is a signed note from the boat owner that I am authorized to live on the boat, sail the boat, and have any necessary repairs made in his absence.

I made arrangements at the bank to have the safe-deposit box fee automatically deducted from my checking account.

While my car is in storage, it will remain legally registered to avoid the hassle of reapplying for registration when I return. This necessitated keeping the insurance policy active. However, I reduced my insurance premiums by claiming an inactive status for the duration of the trip.

I stored my own boat at a secure boatyard. They have been authorized to charge my credit card for automatic monthly storage payment.

Banking and finances

Most of my bills are paid by a debit/charge card or through direct deductions from a checking account. A few remaining bills are paid by the check-is-in-the-mail process. This may cause some headaches when I pay American Express from far off Mauritius, but that will be a small price to pay for the benefit of another credit card. I did make a copy of the bill-paying address and stolen-card information sheet so that I can send in payments in advance of receiving a bill. This will save time with slow overseas mail.

I subscribe to a computer banking service by telephone modem to monitor activity on my checking account and to pay bills. However, I doubt that I will be able to connect to a long-distance land line to use the service on a regular basis. Therefore, I have also registered with the bank's web page to access my account through the Internet, which will be available from time to time along the trip at Internet cafés and hotel business offices.

I arranged to get the expiration dates of all my charge cards to cover the duration of the trip. On the choice of credit cards, I have found that all three major cards are valuable in individual instances. On a trip to Israel for the opening ceremonies of the Millennium Odyssey, I learned that the American Express card would not cover car rental insurance but a MasterCard would. There is no way to anticipate these unique situations, so having all three major cards is advisable.

If a credit card expiration date falls outside of the scheduled trip, then it is advisable to get multiple cards with staggered expiration dates. This will keep one card active while another is being renewed. It is also important to notify authorized creditors of new expiration dates even if the card number remains the same.

My income tax calculations are fairly straightforward. Assuming that there will be no major overhaul in the tax laws while I'm away, I have packed tax forms for future filings as well as extension requests. Hopefully, tax information will follow me as I retrieve mail at various points along the circumnavigation.

No trip is possible without cashlots of it. There are cash machines all over the world, and many businesses accept debit/credit cards. So, in addition to on-board cash, I will place money in checking and money market accounts accessible by these cards. That way unused funds can continue to earn interest between ports of call. I also maintain an overdraft credit line should I need more cash than is currently available in the account.

Mail and phone communications

Before leaving the country I checked out my AT&T telephone credit card to be sure it worked for international calls. It is not uncommon to have restrictions on cards that aren't noticeable within the United States but create hassles abroad. I also requested the latest list of USA Direct phone numbers for easy access to English-speaking operators in foreign countries. To hedge my bets, I also subscribed to an MCI credit card and ordered their Worldcom international directory.

On a recent trip abroad, I discovered the convenience of Hotmail. This is a World Wide Web-based e-mail service available on any computer connected to the Internet (www.hotmail.com). Similar e-mail service is provided through www.yahoo.com and others. These services are available at Internet cafés, major hotel chains with business service centers, and public libraries. The web connection avoids having to borrow a telephone jack and connect directly with a local CompuServe, AOL, or any other personal Internet service provider.

I have used a mail-forwarding service for years, even when living aboard at a marina for extensive periods of time. I find it more convenient than changing addresses every so often. It also eliminates annoying junk mail and catalogs. I expect to receive my mail at regular intervals through marina offices. To be sure of correct marina addresses, I will wait until I arrive and then order my mail by telephone or e-mail and have it forwarded by a one- or two-day express service.

I will make sure to retrieve only flat mail and no packages. This will avoid nasty surprises with customs officials over packaged goods. Also, all mail will be marked "vessel in transit" to alert marinas in case I have not yet arrived or have already left.

I prepared a detailed list of people and organizations in my life that I may need to contact routinely or in an emergency. The list includes names, addresses, telephone numbers, fax numbers, and e-mail numbers, as well as all my account numbers and membership numbers.

Expecting to make many wet trips to shore by dinghy, I laminated the names and addresses of my closest friends on a small double-sided card. The card can be carried easily in a shirt pocket when headed for the post office to mail postcards.

Medical arrangements

I took refresher courses from the Red Cross for first aid and CPR. An optometrist made out an extra prescription for my lenses in case I lost my glasses. I updated all my vaccinations and the International Certificate of Vaccination, most notably for tetanus, hepatitis A & B, typhoid, and yellow fever.

I recorded the names, addresses, telephone numbers, and e-mail addresses of my doctor and dentist in the event that I needed an emergency consultation or any of my records.

If all this attention to list-making and administrative arrangements sounds like obsessive behavior, it is. Lists are definitely part of a sailing adventure. The effort has left me with a feeling of being well organized and in remote-control of my life. I have also avoided burdening friends and family with administrative details. Boat living, especially for a long journey, focuses attention on being prepared for fun and hassles.

There is an old traveler's adage about leaving half the contents of a suitcase at home and doubling the money before setting forth. At sea, however, some of the items left behind can make a big difference in the enjoyment of a trip. And no amount of money can replace boredom while at sea.

As I put my own boat on the hard, stored my car in a locker, terminated my telephone service, and packed my duffel, I ended the first part of my circumnavigation adventuremaking lists, checking them (more than) twice, and feeling in control of my sea-going, vagabond life. The next step was to find out how well my preparations worked.