This seems like a good time to introduce the reason that people feel compelled to “sail off into the sunset”. When people are asked why they want to travel the world, leave the land life and escape to the sea, one of the most common answers we hear is “the freedom”. This leads me to ask the question … what exactly is freedom? I’m not sure we ever really thought about it or at what cost it would come? When you choose the wandering, liveaboard life, what are you gaining and what are you giving up?
Living aboard a boat full time is indeed a unique lifestyle. After all, Earth is more than 70% water, so there’s plenty of room to explore. This life definitely allows for more freedom than perhaps living in a house or a condo in the city and doing the 9-5 routine. For one thing, if you don’t like the neighborhood, it’s pretty easy to move. Unless you work in a brick and mortar shop while cruising, there’s no 9-5. There’s no charge for wind (yet) and, if you’re at sea, you can fish without a license.
We’re always entranced with folks who sit on their decks reading and whiling away the day as we do our chores. Though we enjoy the videos that demonstrate the “life” and how simple and easy it is, it’s been our experience that it’s not always that easy and not always simple. The life is not all sundowners, tropic sun and beach combing.
There are many constraints to living on a sailboat - or any boat for that matter. First of all, you’re constantly tied to nature … weather, seasons and tides, for instance. When you need to get to there from here on land, you jump in your car and at 70mph, you can cover quite a distance at pretty much any time of the year you’d like. In a boat, you’ll travel much more slowly … we usually figure an average of 100-125 miles/day while at sea; obviously it would be more on a larger boat or a motor vessel. If you have adverse winds, big seas or the wrong tides, you might have to wait … and wait … and wait for a weather window to leave and the going might be even slower … and, for sure, never 70 mph.
You need to be out of the hurricane or cyclone zone by a certain time of the year or risk insurance issues. This means you need to move the boat to a safe spot, even if you don’t feel like moving. Speaking of insurance, it’s much more expensive than house and auto insurance combined, even for basic coverage.
What do you give up? Closeness with your family, perhaps. Maybe they’ll come to visit and maybe they won’t. You’ll visit, but depending on where you are, it won’t be all that often. Most likely you won’t be there for the grandkids’ dance recitals or every birthday party or event or those spur of the moment get-togethers.
You’ll give up that secure feeling you have when it’s howling outside your house and you’re all snuggled up next to the fireplace, sipping brandy. Instead, you’ll be checking your anchor and the snubber, making sure you don’t drag and watching out for other boats in case they’re dragging. Instead of snuggling in, you might be up all night on anchor watch.
You’ll give up space, especially on a sailboat. The galley stove will probably be much smaller than you’re used to, as will the fridge (if you have one). You’ll need to conserve power and water and fuel. There’s no room for all those extra clothes and accessories, not to mention that on a boat, the chance of them getting mildewed or moldy increases substantially. My sister constantly complains of “boat smell” (a combination of diesel and bilge) right after we arrive and insists that all of our clothes go through a laundry cycle … or two.
Depending on your budget, it’s not quite as easy nor as cheap to hire marine specialists to make repairs or do maintenance as it would be on land, so it’ll be up to you to learn how to do it, and sometimes, it’s a full time job. Boats need to be maintained regularly, not just when you feel like it. They need to be hauled and their bottoms painted. We think of Nine of Cups as a pretty demanding mistress. She requires lots of TLC and $$$ and complains loudly and at the most inopportune times when she’s feeling neglected.
Speaking of neglect, I find we many times neglect ourselves. Though we do try to have fairly regular dental and physical check-ups, they’re rarely with the same physician or even in the same country. We don’t have any relationships with our medical professionals. My skin has grown rough and blotchy over the years due to sun exposure and living in the elements a good portion of the time despite being fairly religious about applying sunscreen. We’re truly old salts and look the part.
Do I paint a dismal picture? I hope not because what we’ve gained by sailing more than outweighs all the negatives I could conjure up. Our experiences at sea, the exposure to different cultures, the sights we’ve seen and the closeness with nature are priceless. Add to that the feeling of self-reliance and confidence in each other we’ve gained over the years and it’s been a winning combination for us.
So, what is freedom? For us, it’s the feeling that we can do anything and go anywhere if we put our minds to it … up the coast or around the world. It’s what we feel when the sails are full, the sea is calm and blue, the sky is clear, the wind is warm on our faces ... and we’re heading towards a new port or away from a port we’ve just visited. It’s the chance to see and experience things we’d have never seen or even known existed otherwise. It’s the ability to change our minds and our plans on a whim. It’s being sympatico with nature and the sea and truly enjoying the connection.
Our only regret … wish we had sailed off into the sunset sooner.