Living on a boat in Charleston South Carolina – USA

Before I get to the part about how we’re living on a boat in Charleston South Carolina, USA, let me first give you a bit of background on how we got there…

My shoulders are tight. There’s a knot in my neck so my side-to-side head motion is painful. When surveying the rest of my body I notice that my breathing is high in my lungs and shallow. I feel as if my whole upper body is scrunched up and fizzing with a tightness that can’t be released.

The last time I felt so stressed, my family and I were moving from land to sea boarding Britican for the start of our around the world sailing adventure.

Living on a boat in Charleston South Carolina

Britican coming out in Wilmington, North Carolina

Now, over 2 ½ years after leaving land, we’re moving Britican from Wilmington, North Carolina, where she’s been on the hard being serviced, to Charleston, South Carolina, where we’ll be based until…who knows?!

Let me back up a bit more….After sailing the Mediterranean for two years, crossing the Atlantic Ocean and sailing in the Caribbean for a season (December to June) we made our way north to North Carolina, USA to escape the tropical hurricane season.

[Note: If you’re interested in our journey from the US Virgin Islands up to North Carolina I document and videoed the trip in seven parts. To read and/or watch part one, start at: Part 1 of 7: Sailing from USVI to North Carolina: Puerto Rico]

Back to our reasoning for heading to North Carolina…

While my husband, Simon, and I discussed plans to find a hurricane hole along the east coast of America an idea popped into our heads. We thought it would be an excellent opportunity to put our six year old daughter into school. Up until the present time we’ve homeschooled our daughter, Sienna, and unfortunately it hasn’t gone as well as we would have hoped.

Due to many reasons, homeschooling has become a time of anxiety, distress, screaming fits and, at times, family blowouts. Perhaps half of our lessons went well but the other half were painful. I’m sure there are many contributing factors that have hindered our success…perhaps the lack of routine, long passage sailing, our child’s temperament and our lack of training didn’t help?!

Needless to say, while in the Caribbean, Simon and I had a long discussion about eventually seeking some sort of help

Our initial idea was to put Sienna in school in America for three months so she’d get some sort of baseline understanding of what ‘normal’ school is like. Perhaps if an independent teacher showed her the way in addition to watching her peers do schoolwork she’d understand the importance of learning?

Moving from a three month stint to a full school year…

As discussions ensued and practicalities became more and more complicated our plans expanded to possibly provide a full year of schooling for Sienna. The cost of staying in one place for a long duration is considerable. There are marina fees that reduce drastically over longer-term stays and the cost to buy a car rather than renting is less costly if done for a year or so. Other financial considerations also came into play.

Living on a boat in Charleston South Carolina

Britican getting new antifouling in Wilmington North Carolina

Our first plan was to put Sienna in school in the city of Wilmington, North Carolina

There’s a fantastic new marina that’s within walking distance to the city and it’s located in a lovely setting. Additionally, my family would be a 2-hour drive from the boat. Sienna would have access to her grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins!

Unfortunately, however, the school district and private school options in Wilmington didn’t work for us. The school districted to the marina area has a very poor rating and the private schools wanted a massive amount of money.

I could have hired a private teacher to live on our boat with us for less

One thing let to another and my husband and I started to look for schools along the east coast with higher ratings in addition to places for us to park our boat. We drove to a beautiful vacation town called Beaufort in North Carolina making enquiries for both a boat slip and good local schools.

The schools were all rated very well however we couldn’t find a slip for our boat that ticked all the boxes. One marina was ‘safe’ yet it didn’t have any facilities (no bathroom, showers, laundry, etc.). Another marina had facilities but had a reputation for being destroyed or damaged every time a big storm came through.

The one place we seriously considered had a hurricane evacuation policy

In other words, if a hurricane was on its way we’d have to move the boat out of the marina, anchor her in a river, get off the boat and hope for the best. We couldn’t leave the boat in the marina!

Although hurricanes rarely hit North Carolina, I just didn’t feel comfortable with the possibility of having to motor our boat into a river and anchor it with loads of other boats having to do the same. What if our boat dragged? What if someone else’s boat dragged?

For us, it’s not just our boat that might get damaged or lost – it’s our home!

Not feeling comfortable with the options in Beaufort, I started to research Charleston, South Carolina as I knew that the city had larger marinas. To our surprise, due to our 85’ mast and our almost 8’ keel our options are extremely limited. We assumed the the eastern coast of America would be a playground for larger boats but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

So…what about living on a boat in Charleston South Carolina?

When I discovered that the public schools in Mount Pleasant, a Charleston suburb, had top rated schools Simon and I jumped in our rental car and drove four hours south to check it out.

We found a marina called the Charleston Harbor Marina that’s facing Charleston but based in Mount Pleasant. We then looked up the school district for the marina and discovered that the school had a 10 out of 10 rating. RESULT!

Feeling anxious we then had to get the marina to accept us as live-aboards, visit the school and get confirmation that they’d accept Sienna into the school and then work like mad to get Britican to the area before school started.

Today, as I write this part of the article, it’s the 5th of August and Sienna’s school starts on the 17th!

Living on a boat in Charleston South Carolina

Ryan (friend), Bryan (brother) and Simon (hubby) ready to leave for South Carolina

In an hour my mother is meeting me at my brothers house. My brother, husband, mom and I are then driving to Raleigh Durham Airport to pick up a friend. From the airport, we’re all driving down to Wilmington (2 hours) where mom and I will help Simon, my brother and a friend leave the dockyard.

Mom and I will then drive home. While the boys are sailing 24 to 36 hours down to South Carolina, my sister-in-law and I will drive down with our three kids (my daughter, niece and nephew) to meet the guys. We’ll all spend the weekend checking out Charleston and then my brother’s family and friend will drive back north leaving us to get situated in our new home.

Living on a boat in Charleston South Carolina

Driving down to Charleston South Carolina with the kids.

Can you understand why my stress levels are high?!

What’s interesting is that for the twenty years I’ve lived in England (after growing up in Rochester, New York) whenever someone asked me if I’d move back to America, I always said, ‘no way!’

I think that I spent my 20’s and 30’s reflecting on my negative American personal memories rather than the positive ones. The thought of going ‘home’ made me feel uncomfortable and thus I made up reasons why America wasn’t that great.

Seriously…if you asked me three months ago if I’d ever move or stay long-term in America I’d come up with a whole host of reasons why I’d never stay. My largest argument was about the ‘live to work’ rather than ‘work to live’ ethic that many Americans have. In America you’re lucky to get a week off after you work for a year. In Europe you get twenty days off the day you start a job and then you get another 11 public holidays!

Excuses, excuses

Interestly, if I was ‘forced’ to move back to USA, I would never have considered the south! I’m originally from the North in America…we’re trained to think the south is not that great (not that I really believe that).

Why the change of heart? Why do I now feel comfortable moving back to my country?

Well…first of all, I don’t think I valued my country as much as I do now

After sailing around many third world countries, it’s amazing to come home to a country that truly has everything. There’s an abundance of food, entertainment and every kind of facility possible.

When you grow up in America you don’t really understand how truly amazing this country is. It’s clean, the service is great, people are friendly, you can get anything you want at any time you want it…it’s nice to see that every toilet in a public place has a toilet seat, toilet paper and even soap!

For over two years I’ve had to work hard to communicate in other languages, spend hours getting something as simple as milk (often long-life rather than fresh), or enduring extreme frustration when locating an Internet connection to work on my website and download homeschooling lessons.

(As a side note I’ve also had the freaking time of my life too! It’s been brilliant sailing around the Med and Caribbean but it’s not an easy ride)

Second, my decision to come ‘home’ to America is because I really need help

I’ve realized that I can’t do the homeschooling right now. I’ve exhausted all my resource and strength. I’ve never been one to say ‘I give up,’ but I am comfortable at admitting failure.

To sum up my feelings quickly about homeschooling the best thing I can say is that I want to be a mom…just a mom. I don’t want to be a mom and a teacher. I can’t effectly handle both roles – I don’t know how.

So…where better to get my daughter a good start with her education?! Sienna IS American…she has spent her first 3 ½ years in England and now she’ll spend a year or so in the States learning about the history, culture and the truly abundant opportunities that are presented here.

Living on a boat in Charleston South Carolina

The boys making it to Charleston South Carolina

Who knows if our stay in Charleston South Carolina will last one year or ten?

Perhaps we’ll never leave South Carolina? Or maybe in a year we’ll continue on our around-the world sailing trip through to the Pacific Ocean?

Maybe one year in school will teach Sienna the necessary understanding about what school is, why it exists and the benefits of an education? Perhaps she’ll be eager to get back out on the seas and start back with homeschooling? After the age of six, children in America have to be affiliated with an accredited homeschooling program that helps with the ciriculum, testing and routine correspondence.

Perhaps if I’m armed with everything I need and Sienna is accountable to a teacher on land I might be able to simply be a mom that’s helping her get her school work done?

I don’t know?

Sailing and the sailing lifestyle has taught me that life is always changing and often it’s changing into something I could have never speculated about or imagined.

Living on a boat in Charleston South Carolina

Saying goodbye to family after moving Britican to Charleston South Carolina

Thus far I haven’t been disappointed

I’ve seen many things, met incredible people and have learned to be more open about what the universe wants to provide. This situation is no different.

It’s stressful, but it’s certainly fulfilling. I’m certainly alive. So…here comes yet another chapter in the Sailing Britican journey…

From the practical side of things, our current plan is to live-aboard our boat in Charleston Harbor Marina while Sienna attends first grade. Hubby and I have a long list of boat improvements we want to make so we’ll work towards getting Britican to be even better than she is now.

Some of our projects to improve our 2003 56’ Oyster Sailboat include:

– Fixing the teak deck (removing and relaying the black sycoflex between the teak boards
– Re-caulking the bathrooms and changing mirrors, upgrading fittings
– Working on damaged interior wood-work
– Making new curtains for all the rooms (a massive undertaking!)
– Making new cockpit cushions
– Redoing our black water system pipes/tubes (they’re discolored and a wee bit smelly)
– Sorting out all our recessed lights – many are rusting along the edges
– Fixing several of our Gebo side windows. The knobs are disintegrating and falling off!
– Replacing some of our engine exhaust piping – it’s cracked and warn
– Changing all our ceiling screens/shades as they’re falling apart!
– And more…

Living on a boat in Charleston South Carolina

Our view out towards the Atlantic Ocean



Has my return to land caused me to call it quits to sailing?

It will be three weeks since hubby, my daughter and I arrived at our USA base-camp for the summer/fall. Having to sail out of the Caribbean hurricane zone for safety and insurance purposes we chose America for a variety of reasons.

The most important of them was to visit family

Several years ago my brother and his family along with my mother and her husband moved down from Rochester New York to the state of North Carolina. Having family near the east coast, and above the hurricane zone, made our decision easy.

Furthermore, Britican was in need of a somewhat specialized antifoul treatment (special paint for the hull that keeps growth off of it) and we found a boatyard in North Carolina that could provide the service we needed.

Finally, I’ve been increasingly interested in getting our six-year-old daughter, Sienna, into a real school for a while now. I feel as if I’ve exhausted all my capabilities of being a homeschooling mom. Try as I might, it’s been very difficult for me to research, prepare and teach lessons – even for a six year old.

Call it quits to sailing

Britican in NC just before she was taken out of the water

The subject matter isn’t difficult – it’s the time it takes to find interesting ways to teach the same thing in different ways that I find problematic

Especially when I often can’t get an Internet connection!

On average, I must spend around one full day preparing for a week of schooling. And in the end I’m not certain if our daughter is on par with her peers or not. And I say that from an academic perspective. Hands down, her education about the beautiful world we live in would beat the pants off most of the population.

What I’m fretting about concerns math, history, science and reading. Getting Sienna to read is definitely not as easy as I thought it would be. She’s not just ‘getting it’ despite all my efforts.

Perhaps I’m just looking for reassurance OR maybe I just want my daughter to understand what a ‘normal’ school is like so she appreciates all the hard work I put in. And…truth be told, I want a break. I put so much pressure on myself to do a good job yet my benchmark is probably some perfect ideal that’s never achievable.

The fact that I don’t know what my benchmark is inherently says it all…

So, let me get back on my topic. After sailing the Mediterranean and Caribbean for two years, and living in England for 20 years, I was worried how I’d feel about sailing to my home country of America. My worry was that I’d enjoy being ‘home’ so much that I might not want to get back on the boat and keep going around the world. Read Conflict! What happens when you take your sailboat home to your homeland?.

It’s been three weeks and my worries are still present. I feel like I want to call it quits to sailing.

My husband and I have Sienna in a YMCA summer camp and I’m loving my free time. I can start writing an article or work on my business plan without hearing: ‘Mom…I’m hungry,’ or ‘Mom…I’m bored.’

Over the course of two years I must say, however, that I’ve had loads of free time

Almost everywhere we went I found friends for Sienna – whether they played on our boat or another boat, free time was abundant. Free time, however, wasn’t scheduled. In other words, I never knew when I was going to get free time. That meant that I always had to be ready to work if I could. And by work, I mean build my website and business or write an article for a magazine/newspaper.

I knew that when we left land that I was going to effectively become a ‘stay-at-home’ mom and a homeschooler…something that wouldn’t normally be my first choice. On one hand I desired the opportunity to watch my child grow and truly spend time with her yet on the other hand I also wanted to keep my creative outlet going, not to mention the need to make an income.

Taking care of a child full time (including teaching), trying to create a business AND sail around the world was, perhaps, a bit too ambitious?!

Needless to say, I’m happy to be in America. I’m happy to be home

At this exact moment, as I write from the comfort of my mom’s house with air-conditioning, unlimited hot water (hot showers), next-day delivery of anything I want and an abundance of summer camps for my daughter I feel very removed from my live-aboard lifestyle.

In fact, I’m surprised at how quickly I seem to have gone from being a full-time live aboard boatie to feeling completely at home with all the comforts of a typical American land based lifestyle.

Despite my original desire to get away from processed food, I’m loving McDonalds. Despite my longing to spend quality time with my daughter 24 hours a day every day, I’m loving the 8am to 5pm summer camp experience. Despite my need to have a proper work/life balance I’m totally enjoying spending most of my time working.

Furthermore, I can’t tell you how nice it is to live in a home that doesn’t have a list of 20 broken things all screaming for attention.

Does this mean I’m actually going to call it quits to sailing?!

A reader put the following comment on my website:

“Although the undercurrent of commercialized society may be repulsive, it is easy, easy, easy to get lulled back into the comfort zone. Family members will be “worried” and “just want the best for you.” Decades ago, I failed to listen to my grandfather (submariner) who told me to get back underway ASAP because others are “unable to comprehend…. have never tasted real freedom….”
(can’t remember his exact words). 1996 was the last time I weighed anchor, I pray this does not happen to you.”

When I read this reader comment I felt my heart sink. I could feel the truth in what he had to say

I spent a couple days thinking…is this it? Are we done? Am I going to call it quits to sailing?

And then I heard a very quiet voice inside me saying, ‘Kim – all you need is a break. This isn’t the end of your sailing journey…this is an opportunity for you to collect yourself, get balanced, regroup and prepare for the next leg.’

So…some people balance their lives in a daily fashion. They get everything they need every day. Some people, like me, get their balance by going to extremes. I might need to spend months with my family non-stop eating wholesome foods balancing my family time with my work time and then for months, I need to have lots of me time, pig out on McDonalds and work, work, work.

As always, there are no rules. There’s only what works for you. And more and more, I’ve realized I just have to follow my joy and not look ahead. Everything always works out.

Interestingly, however, I must say that the last two years have drastically changed me

Before we left I was against commercialism, processed food, broken systems (politics, education, health service) and so forth. I felt as if the world was broken and I needed to get away from it – find a new world.

I certainly found a new world.

The sailing community is amazing. Commercialism isn’t a factor – even if a boatie wanted to buy something there’s no room so it just doesn’t affect you. Finding a pre-made sandwich or ready meals in the Med or Caribbean isn’t common…and if you did you wouldn’t want to eat it. Politics/Education/Health systems aren’t really discussed because in our world, the sailing world, there’s usually something more pressing to talk about like how to repair a busted pump or where to find a bakery.

Now that I’m back in the ‘real’ world or on land…I still feel as if many systems are broken (heck, just look at the current race for the American presidency) but I don’t feel affected by them. I now realize I have a choice to just not focus on them – I can focus on what’s in my world…what’s important to me…and how I can contribute to making the world a better place.

We often spend so much time distracted by problems grater than us that we essentially stay distracted rather than doing something positive. Being on the sea has really taught me that if you’re not careful you can become so distracted by external things that you’re just permanently focused on stuff that 1. Doesn’t make you fulfilled and 2. Keeps you from being the best you that you can be…being a positive contributor to the world.

But who knows…give me another month on land and perhaps I’ll find myself caught up or distracted about something.

I just keep reminding myself to, ‘follow my joy…follow my joy…follow my joy…’



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?