Lately, folks who wish to follow in our wake have asked advice about boats, cost, homes, and this lifestyle. Many of the questions are the same, but some are unique to each cruising couple. Some of our fellow cruisers may have answers similar to mine, some of them – and EW – may disagree with one or two of my statements. Please comment, disagree, agree, and start a discussion. What do you think, and/or what questions do you have?
In no particular order, here are answers to the most asked questions:
Will you talk my wife/husband/significant other into this? Not for a million dollars. This truly only works well if both parties are eager to embrace this lifestyle. I’ve met cruising spouses who have very reluctantly agreed to join in their loved one’s dream. In every case, I’ve met, either the dream or the marriage are cut short.
The exception to that rule – Some less enthusiastic sailing spouses have willingly agreed to a cruise for a limited length of time, or in a limited manner. Though we all admire and love to meet those who have circumnavigated, even they will say that there are no rules to this. If you like to sail, and are interested in travel, there are ways to make it work. Some spouses meet the boat in the Bahamas, Caribbean, or wherever after the captain and a crew have delivered it. Carolyn Goodlander, veteran circumnavigator, excellent sailor, and super fun cruising buddy told me that “There is no shame in yacht transport.” I met a woman in Trinidad in October who told me they were leaving for the Med on November. I was nonplussed, until she said they’d gotten a great deal on a yacht transport, and could sleep on their yacht for the ten day passage. We’ve met a lot of couples who cruise the Caribbean in the winter, haul the yacht in Grenada or Trinidad, and fly home for the summer. I won’t talk your spouse into trying this lifestyle, but you may consider adjusting your dream to meet their comfort level. If that doesn’t work, buy a land yacht or vacation home.
Should we sell our home? We did. Frankly, we couldn’t afford both home and boat, so we sold the home and lived aboard the boat for eight years, year-round, in Maine. Now that we’re down here, we think we would have been too stressed if we’d kept a home in Maine. We have friends who had to fly back to New Jersey this fall because their home sustained major damage in Hurricane Sandy. That just isn’t fair. They had to haul their boat during prime cruising season to stay home, in the winter, supervising repairs. We met a couple from South Africa who had circled the world BK (Before Kids), returned home to have and raise four kids to college age, and left them attending local colleges and living together in the family home. Now there’s an idea. Obviously, if you are going to sail half the time, you need a home for the other half. La Luna is our year-round home. NOTE: For some reason, all of my “La Luna Living Aboard” photos from Maine were taken in the winter. It wasn’t like this year-round. Really.
How about all your stuff? That’s easy. Get rid of it. It frees you like nothing else. (Having said that, note the size of our boat and discussion about stuff, below.) Seriously, since we lived aboard for eight years, we required a storage locker for our seasonal stuff – boots, coats, and shovels in summer; and dodger, dinghy, and grill in winter. It was larger than we needed for those things because we hadn’t yet gotten rid of some precious items. Before we left we shipped the art to Favorite, participated in two yard sales, and gave stuff away. We also are blessed with dear friends with a very large dry basement, who have allowed me to store precious items and photos until we return. Other than that – it’s all gone or on board. If we ever get a land home again it will be tiny. In fact, I follow the Tiny House Blog, just to keep me centered. NOTE: Except for the art shipped to Favorite, this smallish pile is all we kept on land. Get rid of your stuff. Most things in the pile are photos and mementos that will probably be scanned and thrown. Get rid of more stuff.
How big a boat do we need? A lovely woman who reads this blog actually triggered this post. Her husband has assured her that they can go cruising on a 32-foot boat. They certainly can. I wouldn’t, but they can. When we purchased La Luna, we fully intended to live aboard for five years. She’s 47 feet and I needed every bit of it for living aboard, working full-time, and having as “normal” a life as possible. Somewhere during year one or two, I told EW that if he wanted to sell her before we left, I could go cruising on a 38 to 40-foot boat. I could, too. I don’t have to because EW had already bonded with La Luna, and wanted to keep her. I’m in love with her too and am delighted we kept her. In my humble opinion, the boat needs to be big enough to have the following:
- A comfortable cockpit that will seat six comfortably for a party on the hook. (We’ve had 14 on board at times. EW and I find that comfortable. Some of the catamaran sailors seemed tense.)
- Refrigerator and real freezer – even if the freezer is small.
- Really good stove and oven.
- Excellent galley storage actually in or near the galley.
- Two separate sleeping cabins so the guests aren’t in the main saloon.
- Storage. You don’t need as much as we have. The more storage you have the more stuff you will acquire. We seem to have forgotten the “When a new thing comes aboard, an old thing goes off rule.” You will want some comforts from your shore life: Christmas decorations, art, photos, and Maine maple syrup are a few that come to mind for me. Having said that, we have friends on a 52 Tayana (you know who you are) and the captain emphatically stated that they don’t have a sewing machine on board because they don’t have room to store it. Oh yes, they do. I could find room for that machine in five minutes.
- Room below for your lifestyle. EW and I can both be below at the same time, each enjoying our own favorite pastime in the main saloon. He plays guitar on the settee and I write at the dining table or read in my corner. However, I do wish our chart table was more comfortable and had more air circulation. I’d prefer to write there.
- Oh, and of course most important, the boat has to be well built and blue ocean worthy. In a group of cruisers, there are many different opinions about which boats we would each take to sea. EW and I agree (probably because he taught me), that we are comfortable in La Luna because she is a very well built, mono-hull, with a strong hull and decks, and full keel. This works for us. Each cruiser and potential cruiser must do their own research and decide what works for them. Remember, you need to trust your boat. I do trust La Luna. ( There are many, many, many factors to consider when choosing a cruising sailboat. This is not to be considered a definitive list. The best recent book on the subject is Beth Leonard's Voyager’s Handbook, the Essential Guide to Blue Water Cruising. Purchase that book and read it. Use post-it notes and a highlighter like we did. Read other, more technical blogs. Face it, Harts at Sea is a lifestyle blog, not a boat blog, and I know my limits. In fact, here’s a link to a blog by friends of ours – more about them below. They listed their catalog of the instructional CDs they have found helpful. http://www.zerotocruising.com/research/)
Catamaran Disclaimer: We have nothing against catamarans, in fact, many of our dear friends sail them. I have great envy of their room, gathering space, and especially the freezers. EW would not cross an ocean in a catamaran. He readily admits that his prejudice was formed many years ago, and that cats have changed greatly. He, however, has not changed so much in that regard, and because of that, I have not. On the other hand, we both agree that if we were going to just cruise the Caribbean and Bahamas, we would switch to a catamaran – as long as I can take my stove with me. They have great space, certainly don’t roll as much, and most have little or no teak to varnish. Who knows? Instead of a tiny home, we may retire from our retirement on a cat.
How much experience do we need? We have met a few sailors who had zero to no experience before setting off on their cruising adventure. Most have come to no harm, nor have they caused others to be harmed. Mike and Rebecca – those friends with the CD collection -- named their boat and their website Zero to Cruising http://www.zerotocruising.com/, because they went from zero or “total sailing newbies” to cruising when they set off on their dream. Mike and Rebecca are remarkably focused people, each has exceptional drive, courage, focus and a desire to learn. They have continued to take advanced courses while thoroughly enjoying life in the Caribbean. We’ve also met folks who weren’t ready when they left and had bad to horrible experiences. I’d suggest going when you’re ready to nearly ready. EW had crossed an ocean and delivered boats from the Bahamas and Florida to Maine. He’d been working in the industry for over 30 years and he can fix nearly anything. I had been sailing since I met EW, and had done overnights on both of our boats and with others. I guess that’s why I don’t have Mike and Rebecca’s list of CDs – EW was my primary source. (You can’t have him as I got him first and am holding on to a good thing.) Before we left, we both took courses in navigation, first aid, and understanding weather. (Full disclaimer, I slept through the weather course.) EW had his Captain’s license – which is not needed but does allow us to get a discount on insurance. More experience is better. Research what you don’t know. Read a lot – including the books about difficult passages – and get at least some ocean sailing experience before setting off. Both of us can drive and anchor the boat, handle a night watch and make decisions about sail trim, navigate, drive and beach the dinghy, use both radios, know when the engine sounds right, cook a meal, and doctor the other. This is a team effort, and the more ready all team members are, the better the effort. We have met women and couples who have taken actual sailing “courses” at sea and none of them regretted it.
Here’s the thing … this lifestyle is a lot easier, safer, and more accessible than it was 20 years ago. Cell phones, satellite phones, SSB radios, and the Internet allow us to keep in contact nearly all the time. We can receive up-to-date weather information while we are at sea, and we can have an AIS VHF radio which lets us know what big ships are out there and whether we are on a collision course with us. Frankly, all of that can make it too easy for some folks to set sail with perhaps a skosh less experience than they really need. More is better.
Here’s the other thing … If this is something you have wanted to do, and really want to go for it – then do it. It’s an amazing, wonderful, enriching lifestyle. I look happy, don’t I?