Can you handle living on the sea full time? Read this to find out…

Since the end of March 2014 my family and I have been living and sailing full time on our 56’ Oyster sailboat. Aside from my husband, Simon, and daughter, Sienna (now aged 6), we’ve had loads of guests join us, from time to time, on our incredible journey.

Thus far we’ve circumnavigated the Mediterranean visiting Gibraltar, North Africa, Malta, Italy, Greece, Turkey, France, the Balearic Islands, Spain and the Canary Islands before taking 18 days to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

Once in the Caribbean, we stayed in St Lucia dipping down into the St Vincent and Grenadine Islands and then heading north along the eastern to western Caribbean and finally popping back into the Atlantic to visit Puerto Rico, Turks and Caicos, Florida and now we’re in North Carolina taking a break and having a new antifoul put on Britican. (Antifoul is a coating that goes on the bottom of the boat to stop marine growth – seaweed, barnacles, etc. Growth on the hull can massively slow the boat down).

Living on the sea full tim

We’ve also had the privileged to race in two Oyster regattas coming in first place at the last one!

Over the course of the last couple years we’ve had some serious lows like being laid up for a month longer than expected. We’ve had some serious highs like meeting friends that are so amazing that they’ve become family. Simon, Sienna and I have enjoyed nature at it’s best – hiking through rainforests, swimming with whales, watching volcanoes erupt, eating fruit right from the trees, and having the sea dance for us every day.

We’ve also experienced nature in bad times. In fact, the most scared I’ve ever been is when sailing our boat through gusts of 50 mph winds, massive 30’ waves, lightening and thunder in the pitch black off the coast of Morocco.

For the most part, I loved moving from one place to the next always finding new sights or meeting new people. Every once in a while I’d get a bit down; usually when stuck in a marina for longer than expected (Read: Don’t fall prey to the horrible condition of marina creep!).

Any regrets?!

Looking back, and although we took various courses and had our own smaller sailboat to practice with, nothing could have prepared us for buying a larger boat and taking on the world.

In the beginning money flew out of our bank account and the results were mediocre at best. I learned never to use a marine service provider unless I could come up with a handful of previous happy customers. Over 75% of the work we had done had to be done again.

Eventually, however, we did meet some exceptional engineers, technicians and marine service companies that became our life line. It took a while to find the good providers but when we did we were ever so grateful.

Interestingly, I also discovered that a boat is not like a house from a servicing and repairs perspective

With a house, you can do your best to keep the lawn and house looking good. Perhaps a lick of paint now and again in addition to routine lawn and garden maintenance. From time to time the boiler or heating system might break but after a professional comes out, it will be good to go for a while.

Sure…the fridge or the washing machine might give up the ghost, but a replacement is *only* $800. And repairs are a walk in the park. Something breaks, you get in the car, drive to the store, easily find what you need and return home to have it fixed the same day.

When living on a boat (used or new), servicing and repairs are a way of life

It’s not something that happens every now and again. Every single day there’s a list of things that need fixing – with the highest priority on top.

Usually the problem is intermittent and no amount of testing various scenarios provides a quick diagnosis as to what the actual problem really is. For two years we’ve had an issue with our AIS, a positioning signal that tells us what boats are in the area and lets other boats know where we are. Sometimes it works for weeks and other times it comes and goes every five minutes. We’ve had over 10 experts look at it and it’s never changed. A few times it’s gone down for a week or so and then miraculously it comes back to life.

The cost of the experts adds up to many refrigerators and we often have nothing to show for it

And when something ‘easy’ breaks it’s not a matter of going to the store, finding a replacement and then fixing it. Usually, it’s a matter of rummaging through your spare parts box and praying that if you don’t have the exact part you need, you have something similar that might work. Failing that, it’s a dingy ride to shore, miles of walking around asking for help, usually in a foreign language, and after a couple days the best-case scenario is to order a part from USA or the UK that might arrive in a week.

The part usually takes a month to arrive and in some cases you have to bribe the local post office to release it to you. (As a side note, if you need a part and you’re not in a 1st world country, your best bet is to pay for a friend to fly with it out to you. In the end, that is usually the least expensive option).

I’m sounding overly dramatic right now

In two years we’ve only ever had to wait a couple extra weeks waiting for a part. We have, however, had work schedules increase from one month to two (and even longer). It’s no one’s fault either – if you combine sun, salt water and stuff that shouldn’t be in sun or salt water you’re asking for problems! Heck, even fresh water can do a dozy on a boat if it’s not where it’s supposed to be.

And interestingly it’s not the extended stay’s that really upset me

When we thought our stay in Antigua (Caribbean Island) was going to be three weeks and turned into six weeks I really couldn’t complain about my surroundings. The island is beautiful, the food is amazing and everyone was super helpful.

Rather, my issue is with the cost of the extended stays

A repair that’s going to cost $2,000 can quickly turn to $5,000 due to more parts needed, an increase in labor, marina fees (when you would have otherwise been at anchor), having to pay for high priced food and so forth.

So that’s with servicing and repairs.

The other things that can catch a full time sailor out are the weather and inexperience

Once you’re on the sea for a year or so you’ll finally come to the conclusion that the generalized weather report has no reflection on what is actually happening in your local area.

More times than not we’ve headed out thinking we’d have 20 knots of wind heading from the east and it’s been 40 knots coming from the west. (Err…not exactly that situation every time, but more times than not the weather we experienced was not what was forecasted).

What we’ve realized is that weather reports, GRIBS and forecasts are a very loose guide. They’ll generally give you an idea as to what might be happening, give or take a very wide berth.

I’ve met so many newbie sailors that say, ‘don’t worry, if we think there’s any chance of a storm, we won’t sail.’ Well…that won’t work. No matter what, you will get caught in a storm or squall. And on the flip side, no matter what, you’ll find yourself in situations where there’s no wind. Recently we had several days of absolutely no wind.

And this leads me to inexperience

Heck, even the most experienced sailors in the world get into trouble often. It’s easy to get the tides wrong especially if you’re distracted or sleep deprived after a long journey. It’s easy to think you’ll be able to outrun a storm. It’s easy to think Google will have the answer to your latest catastrophe! It’s easy to think you’ll actually have access to Google (hehehehe).

The catch 22 is that you have to get out there to become experienced. The key, however, is that you have to realize no matter how much experience you have, you’re still vulnerable. The sailor that thinks they know everything is probably just as dangerous as the sailor that’s new to the game.

So…getting back to my question, ‘any regrets?’

Looking back, I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t sell up and sail away. I wouldn’t know how to fix refrigeration systems, pumps, diesel engines or know how to set our sails in the multitude of various configurations. I wouldn’t know what it’s like to be scared out of my pants.

I also wouldn’t know what it’s like to have the majority of my nights filled with family memories, beautiful sunsets, amazing fresh local food, peace and freedom.

Is it bad that we’ve paid a lot of money out? Is it bad that we’ve been forced to become electricians, plumbers, carpenters, engineers, (not to mention homeschoolers)?!

Not at all. Its amazing.

The crappy stuff has helped us to learn, grow and live life. It wasn’t necessarily fun to live through but the part of the whole experience that isn’t that great is far smaller than the part that’s truly amazing.

I suppose that in my old rat race life I lived in the middle of a continuum

Usually I was right between the extremely fulfilled area and the extremely unfulfilled area. Being in the middle meant that I was neither. I was numb, bland, and on automatic pilot. I wasn’t really living.

One thing is for sure, after sailing around the world for the last two years I’m definitely not on the middle anymore. Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, the continuum is gone. I can’t use that to explain my life – that model won’t work.

Now…I’m either fulfilled or not and since selling up and sailing I’ve been fulfilled. Perhaps a day will come when that changes but since leaving land I wake up every morning feeling excited and very much alive.

Now, I have all sorts of experiences

Some could be called bad or good but the label ‘bad’ and ‘good’ has lost it’s weight…it’s lost its significance. Instead I feel fulfilled. I’m certainly living life. There’s no doubt about it.

So what about you…can you handle living on the sea full time?