RV life in a 26 foot trailer compared with the Cruising life in a 32 foot sailboat

May 22, 2012 in Blogs, Crusing

RV life in a 26 foot trailer compared with the Cruising life in a 32 foot sailboat

Aubrey and Judy Millard have been full time liveaboards on Veleda IV, their 1978 Ontario 32 sloop, from July of 1998 to September of 2009, having done two Atlantic crossings, a year in northern Europe, five years in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and five years in the Caribbean, covering a distance of over 45,235 nautical miles (at 5 miles per hour). Their boat is now on the hard at the Toronto Hydroplane and Sailing Club where it is undergoing a major overhaul preparatory to their next departure in June or July  out the St. Lawrence to Quebec, Newfoundland and the Maritimes before heading down the east coast to the Chesapeake and then down to Central America.

The Trailer

In October 2009 we bought a new 26 foot Aerolite travel trailer and a 2006 GMC Yukon XL to tow it. We wanted something we could comfortably live and travel in for prolonged periods of time as we do not own a house, having sold our Toronto Beaches home in 1998. This will be our home base whenever we are back in Toronto or Canada, and our method of exploring North America. We left Toronto with our trailer in November, 2009, doing a circuit of the southeast and midwest USA through Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan putting 17,250 km (10,350 miles) on the trailer and 30,200 km (18,120 miles) on the car (at 100 km or 60 miles per hour), arriving back in Toronto by the end of March 2010.

We paid as much for the three year old Yukon and the new trailer as we did for our Ontario 32 when bought in 1996. Thus initial cost for RV mobility is comparable to that of a yacht of similar length.  A 26 foot trailer has more liveable space than the Ontario 32, as the rectangular design gives far more usable area both for living and storage space.

In our trailer, the bedroom area up forward has a queen size bed with walk around space on three sides, hanging closets with mirrors on both sides, stereo speakers, 12 volt lights, and a clothes chute leading into a forward storage area. The galley has a bit more room than our Ontario 32, but comes with a microwave and ventilation light and fan, as well as a deep double sink and a three burner propane stove with oven. On a trailer the stove does not have to be gimballed. Opposite the galley is a large stand up refrigerator/freezer with three times the capacity of that on Veleda. The “heads” has a toilet, sink, large double closets, and a small bathtub and shower.

Log #55t Aerolite  Aft side view with door copy Log #55t Aerolite Looking forward copy OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA








Hot water and refrigerator operate with shore power electricity or propane. There is a propane furnace for heating; the air-conditioning uses 110 volt shore power when the trailer is plugged in. The trailer comes fully equipped with all the appliances built in, plus an awning on one side and a slide out on the other giving another two feet of trailer width in the living area. It has external fittings for a gas barbecue and outdoor shower, as well as providing external speakers, lights, TV and radio antennae.  It has twin 30 pound propane tanks and a double 12 volt deep cycle battery bank, both tanks and batteries with suitable covers.

Storage is far better in a trailer. Ours has four hanging closets, five drawers, eight overhead compartments, storage areas beneath both settees and below the galley and heads sinks. There are four external storage compartments, plus a large area we call the “garage” at the back. It covers the entire back of the trailer giving a storage area two feet deep, eight feet wide and six feet high, with shelves and peg board fittings. For tankage, it has hot and cold water tanks, as well as grey water and black water holding tanks. These holding tanks can be emptied by gravity feed at dump stations in all RV parks, and can be hooked up to sewer connections in some parks with full hook-ups.

Other hook-ups include retractable 30 amp electrical cable built in, connections for municipal water, phone and cable TV. The trailer electrical harness when connected to the tow vehicle operates not only brake and signal lights and nine red and amber caution lights, but has trailer braking activated by the vehicle braking system so the trailer brakes can be adjusted to be the same as the vehicle brakes, or stronger or weaker than the vehicle’s. In addition there is a  disconnect braking system whereby the trailer brakes will come on if ever the hitch disconnects when under way.

Note: Our original 26 foot Aerolite trailer served us well for two arduous years taking it from Toronto down to Florida over to southern Texas, across to California, up to Utah and back across to Toronto. The second season we went from Toronto out west, up to the Yukon and Northwest Territory to Inuvik, back over to Alaska and back to the Yukon.  The Aerolite was too light for the rigours of the 700 km Dempster Highway, and after an accident on a ferry ramp which bent the frame, we exchanged it for a Jayco 28 foot of the same vintage, thanks to Aviva our insurance company.

We are quite happy with our Jayco as it is bigger and more spacious inside. Although heavier, our GMC Yukon can still tow it well, although we put air suspension shocks on the rear of the car to level out the towing arrangement. For larger trailers one would need a heavier and more powerful vehicle.

Ultralight trailers are lighter to tow, and have good living conditions, but are not strongly enough constructed to withstand gravel roads or bumpy conditions.







Other Types of RVs

There are several classes of RVs, and varying lengths and luxuries in each. Class A is the square looking bus, a motor home that can be from 25 to over 45 feet in length with a wide series of slide out compartments and luxuries. Often they can be seen towing a small car behind them as their local transportation. Class B are the VW type camper vans, or Road Treks, smaller and easier to handle, ideal for short travel vacations. The disadvantage is that when camped, you have to move the whole vehicle to go into town or to tour the area. Class Cs were what we were originally contemplating, and towing a small VW Rabbit behind. We actually bought a Rabbit in anticipation of purchasing a Class C motor home. These vehicles have a large living area secured on a truck chassis, with an overhang above the cab for a sleeping area. They are quite spacious, but did not have the large bedroom area with sufficient space on both sides of the bed. Some have slide outs and all seem to have good storage, refrigerators, galleys, and dining areas. The factor deciding us against the Class C was the cost of the towing apparatus for a small car ($5,000) and having the costs and insurance premiums for two motorized vehicles (the Class C and the towed VW). We then shifted our plans to the travel trailer, and were pleased with the space they provided. Such trailers can be of a wide variety from the pop up camper trailers to small compact one axle trailers 15 to 20 feet, or the larger twin or triple axel travel trailers as the one we purchased, which can come in varying lengths from 20 to over 45 feet, with a variety of slide outs and other “bells and whistles”. I was initially concerned about towing and manouevering anything larger than the 26 foot trailer we purchased, especially having to back up such a rig. I didn’t want to have to get a truck to haul it, but was wisely advised to get as long a wheel base and as big a V8 engine as possible, and thus our Yukon. Most SUVs were too small in both categories. We are happy with the size and power of the Yukon, glad we bought it.  It was quite a difference going from the VW Rabbit to the Yukon, size and gas consumption being the main factors.

Another unit we did not want to consider, as we plan on living in our unit for prolonged periods of time, is the removable cab that fits on the back of pick-up trucks. They can be quite comfortable, but limited in their size because of how they are carried. Removing the cab is too difficult for local travel and thus the whole rig has to be taken when going into town for some groceries, etc. These are more economical, easier handling, and good for extensive travelling for short periods of time. We have since been aware of another class of RV, the fifth wheeler. This is the towed unit that overlaps the rear of large pick-up trucks. These, like travel trailers, come in a wide variety of lengths and luxuriousness with varying combinations of slide outs. The main advantage of these is the ease of towing and backing up. They can easily be detached allowing the truck tow vehicle to be used for local transportation. We have met several “full timers” living in these rigs. If starting over again, I might be interested in considering this level of RV.

RV Lifestyle

In sailing we are called “liveaboards”; in RVs we are called “full timers”, as many RV’ers only use their RVs for a few weeks or months a year as many “snowbirds’ do (though they don’t race RVs). Judy and I are looking at using the trailer for half the year and the boat for the other half, depending upon our plans each year. There are choices in the size and use of RVs as there are boats  in the cruising world. Some people leave their RV in the same park year in and year out, and live in it for the winter season, then come back to Canada for the good spring, summer, and fall weather (the “snowbirds”). Others will take their RV for an annual holiday but go to just one or two parks, staying in each for a prolonged period of time. There are few like Judy and me who travel continuously as we did last winter, putting over 17,000 km on the trailer and over 30,000 km on the Yukon in five months. We didn’t stay in one place for more than a week the whole time.

Costs for staying in an RV park are about the same as for a marina, except the price is a fixed cost for the site, not varying by how big the rig is. We would pay from $15.00 a night at state parks with water and electricity to $35.00 or $40.00 a night at some private parks (or state parks in prime area such as the Florida Keys,) but usually the more expensive stops have full hook-ups, plus other amenities such as swimming pools, hot tubs, recreation centres, cable TV, and WiFi. In many of the southern states, they cater to senior citizens and snowbirds, offering good rates from $450.00 to $800.00 a month, or better half yearly or yearly rates. We met many people who came to the same park every year, and they knew many of the others doing the same thing or being there at the same time. Still others would volunteer as camp hosts or park assistants, and would get free camping for whatever months they had available in exchange for up to 20 hours a week of volunteer time. We preferred the state or national parks for their space and picturesque settings. We don’t need all the “bells and whistles” of the private or fancy parks.

RVing can be more expensive than cruising, as the RV has to be in an organized campsite every night, not like a sailboat that can drop anchor free of charge in anchorages and bays around the world. When staying in RV parks without any hook-ups it is referred to as “dry camping”. Most rest areas along the highways do not permit overnight parking. We found a few truck stops at which we could stay free overnight with no facilities. Several times when travelling we stayed at Wal-Mart parking lots, as that company has a policy of allowing RV’s to stay overnight when in transit; however in Florida there are many municipal ordinances forbidding overnight parking even in Wal-Marts.

When not camping in an organized campsite, we feel a bit more exposed and insecure, and lock our doors. At anchor we do not have that concern about being boarded in most parts of the world. We avoid anchoring by ourselves in some areas noted for thefts. However, when we are away from the trailer, we do not worry about adverse weather. We are more concerned when our boat is at anchor and we are ashore if the weather deteriorates or changes direction. Inclement weather does not bother us in the trailer; no leaking hatches, no groaning of the anchor chain, no bouncing or swinging with the wind and the waves. We anchor 95% of the time when we are aboard, whether for overnight stops when in transit or for prolonged periods for weeks or months as we have done in Grenada while waiting out the hurricane season. Thus living in a sailboat is more economical.

The cost of fuel is the big expense when travelling. Our gas mileage is reduced by up to 50% when towing the trailer, to about 10 to 12 miles per gallon. This is another reason why many stay put in one place or leave their RV in the same campsite year after year. Fuel costs in a sailboat are far more economical as the wind is free.

Maintenance is less in an RV, but most of the major systems have to be dealt with in an RV centre, as opposed to sailing where the crew can do most of the repair and maintenance work.

Exercise is less in an RV as we are not getting in and out of the boat, or hauling on lines. RV life is easier, like living in a house. Shopping is easier, as we can drive over town to whatever stores or services we need. In a boat at anchor or even in a marina, to go into town involves: a dinghy trip if at anchor, then a taxi, rental car, bicycle, or local bus transportation, and usually a lot of walking.  Carrying supplies back to the boat is another often onerous evolution. With our car, we just pull up to the trailer and unload.

Of the two, I prefer the cruising life. It is more dynamic, more fulfilling, more exotic, more challenging, more independent, more economical, and more distinct than any shore bound lifestyle.