The Boating Life: Is it right for you?

Tahina at anchor in Hiva Oa, French MarquesasWhat’s it like to buy a boat, sell your house, sell your cars, move onto the boat, and sail into unknown waters? What’s it like to leave your friends and family behind and sail to foreign countries? What’s it like to leave behind the familiarity of a full time job and working every day? Is it better than the normal everyday life? Do you miss it? How do you afford it?

These are questions some people ask us about our new lives sailing around the world. Many people are curious about what it takes to do this and how we manage the change in our life. And, perhaps through the many posts on this blog we’ve answered many of these questions. But, let’s have a look at these questions directly, and maybe help you decide whether you might want to do something like us

The first thing to understand is that boating (or cruising) is not for everyone. First, you need to be able to live on a boat and be at least somewhat comfortable with long distance travel over the seas. Believe it or not there are quite a few boaters who get seasick, or don’t enjoy the long passages. But, that doesn’t preclude them from being able to go cruising. However, you need to enjoy some aspects of being on a boat – either the feel of sailing across a sea, the satisfaction of navigating to unfamiliar places, the feel of a breeze across your face, the experience of living outside and seeing sunsets and sunrises, the opportunity to dive into waters filled with sea life, watching the most stars in a night sky you’ve ever seen, fishing, etc.. Or, perhaps you enjoy the social aspects – meeting like-minded people who can make instant friends and sharing lives, drinks, food and travel together. Or, perhaps photography, geology, history, or seeing other cultures, or any other aspects of travel is your thing. If you don’t enjoy some of these things, then the boating life may not be for you.

In my case, I love nearly every aspect of boating.  My favorite is making passage and experiencing the sea, weather, and outdoors.  But, I also love managing a fast sail across the water, I love navigating our way to a new anchorage, and even the planning of the route and reading the weather.  I even have a love-hate relationship with boat maintenance.  Karen enjoys the outdoors, and even loves a good smooth sail.  She doesn’t enjoy a rough sea passage like I do, but fortunately she can handle it without getting sea sick.  But, for her the boating is a means to an end.   She enjoys the anticipation of a new destination and meeting new people, seeing new sights.  She doesn’t enjoy the responsibilities of moving the boat, anchoring, or even driving the dinghy.  But, she respects the boating aspect makes the fun parts possible.

Even people who have planned for years to sail around the world, spent years preparing for their trip, actually sell their houses, and finally depart – are sometimes surprised to find some months later that the boating life doesn’t suit some part of their character. We have heard of people whose life partner makes it for a few months or a year or more, and then suddenly decides the boating life doesn’t fit them. They miss the daily regularity of work, the sounds of a city, always having a phone to call their friends or family, the regularity of the seasons, etc. Fortunately, I don’t know how hard it is to have to deal with the situation when that happens. We have met a few boats where one spouse is on his or her own because the other spouse couldn’t continue.  One thing you can do to avoid problems, is to first go out on week long sails.  Charter a boat in the Caribbean, or on a South Pacific island group.  Make the location as ideal as possible.  It will increase the chances your partner will enjoy it.  Karen and I took our kids and sailed the Caribbean for a year (read about that experience here) – that’s when we decided going on a circumnavigation would be right for us.

In some cases, couples who have been married for years suddenly discover new incompatibilities when thrust together on a small boat. When one of them is no longer leaving every day for their job, they are around each other for much more time every day, and are much more dependent on one another, these new responsibilities test their relationship in new unexpected ways. Not everyone is comfortable with these changes. But, only a few boating couples have this happen. In fact, most boating couples actually find themselves much closer, and their relationships thrive on the new closeness they discover. The dependence they have on each other brings them closer together than they ever expected. A much deeper love bonds them in ways the normal life never gave them an opportunity to experience.

Leaving behind the regularity of a normal job routine is actually troublesome for a very small percentage of those who make it so far as to travel across an ocean. They soon discover there is a new daily routine found in the boating life. The routine is less regular, but also has work elements. Keeping a boat fit and clean is actually a big job. And, even the fun aspects of travel and adventure require a lot of preparation and maintenance. But, you have a lot more control over how you set and maintain your routine. There’s no boss – unless your spouse assumes that role. Although, most boating couples find a partnership works more effectively.

In my case, the hardest part of the transition was the preparations leading to our departure. Trying to prepare your home to be sold, selling most of your belongings, keeping only a small percentage in a safe place, saying goodbye to your family and friends, and simultaneously preparing to move on to the boat and prepare for your new life on the boat. All of these things and more were harder than I expected (despite years of preparing myself mentally for the experience). Fortunately, my desire to experience this life was much stronger than the challenge of the preparation phase. I’ve asked many other boaters and it seems to be a common feeling that the preparation for departure period was harder than anything else. However, its funny how soon those memories escape your mind once you arrive at your first tropical island and are sipping a rum drink on a white sand beach with clear blue and turquoise waters lapping at your feet.

Most boaters love the experiences of this life. Most revel in all the opportunities this life brings: adventures in new countries, immersing yourself in new cultures, all kinds of outdoor activities (sailing, hiking, camping, diving, snorkeling, swimming, kite boarding, biking, fishing), seeing new kinds of life (above and below the sea), learning new skills all the time, getting to spend more quality time with your spouse, opening new doors to your life, the list goes on and on.

In some future post, I’ll address some of the aspects of the financial cost of this new life. It might surprise you – it’s not what you might expect.

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6 Responses to The Boating Life: Is it right for you?

  1. Tom Boles says:

    Very interesting and enlightening. A lot of these things even come out on a weekend sail. My wife and I have seen marriages end because one partner had a differing idea of what staying on a boat for a time period meant.

    You are living my dream, and I look forward to each post.

  2. Phil Ramsay says:

    Thank you for such a heartfelt and revealing post. I have been following this adventure closely and realise that for most of us landlubbers we can only do vicariously what you and Karen are doing in reality. Traveling the world is such an enriching experience and to do it on your own pace and not on the schedule of your boss or the airlines as most of us have to deal with certainly makes me jealous.

  3. Thanks for the great account Frank!
    I never doubted that, but after reading the above I became even stronger in my feeling that boating life is indeed for us. Since I am not (yet) much of a sailor, it is not anytime soon when we set off to circumnavigate, but the day is coming, I know it 🙂

    • Frank Taylor says:

      Hi Gyula: Glad to welcome another convert to our way of life! Feel free to contact me if you want other tips on how to make it!

  4. gerard says:

    It is so true! You have a perfect trip with the best partner you can ever have. You guys are such a great example and demonstrated that preparations for years and the understanding of what your are leaving behind will be the fruit of new experiences and forever memories but at a cost which will be quickly forgotten. Thank you so much for your blogs. I always enjoy reading them and learn. Some blogs I use on my small sailboat in my small lake….
    Enjoy the land , but enjoy the wind as most as you can.

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