Couples and families that set off with high expectations regarding the cruising lifestyle can be met with disappointment. What’s necessary for a successful sailing lifestyle is realistic expectations and these 11 secrets to long term cruising. Keep reading…
1. Being flexible
If you’ve been reading my articles, books or guides for a while you’ll know that I’m a recovering control freak. With a type ‘A’ personality my life was built around perfection, predictability and productivity. I didn’t have the word flexibility in my vocabulary. Incidentally, from a physical perspective I wasn’t very bendable either. I can’t remember the last time I could touch my toes!
The transition from living a corporate, fast-paced life in the City to setting sail on the high seas couldn’t have been a larger shift…and I was not prepared for it. I knew that I’d have to loosen my grip on predicting/forecasting/budgeting for the future but I had no clue as to how much.
When you step onto a boat there’s never any certainty that you’ll get to where you’re going.
Heck, there’s no certainty that you’ll leave! The sea state, weather conditions and a multitude of other factors make sailing an innately changeable setting. Predictability goes out the window. And it’s not just for passage planning. When you enter the sailing lifestyle you enter a different world.
But that’s not a bad thing. It’s only bad if you’re inflexible and unwilling to go with the flow.
Had I been mentally better prepared, or perhaps had different character traits to beging with, I would have more easily accepted the change of lifestyle.
For me, the change from living on land to becoming a long term cruiser hasn’t been easy, however, it’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done. They say that life isn’t about the destination, so much, but the journey.
If you’d like to read my full journey, grab a copy of my book, ‘Changing Lifestyles: Trading in the Rat Race for a Sail Around The World.’ From a 5 star rating reader: “This is the story of a woman who was on multiple journeys; looking for a change in her life’s course, learning the ropes of a new boat, and navigating what it is to parent a child as she and her husband embark on this journey. Great as an adventure story, but also got me excited to read it as a travel guide!” Cherie Shutz
Well, my journey of learning how to give up absolute control has been priceless.
And a note about my belief in my control. Looking back, I didn’t really have control over my life. I simply created a routine that caused things to be predictable. I thought I had control but what I had really done was to create a life that had no surprises, no change and nothing to push me to be a bigger and better version of myself. I was playing life safe.
It wasn’t until I submerged myself into the sailing lifestyle that I was able to break free from my controlling nature. And I’m so much healthier and happier for doing it.
Sure, I have relapses from time to time but overall one of the secrets to my ability to be a long term cruiser, after fours years, comes down to my new found flexibility in life. I do truly go with the flow. I enjoy the moment and see where it takes me!
So…if you find you’re a bit inflexible, start to decrease you’re need for predictability now. A great way to do this is to start saying ‘yes’ to everything especially when you have the desire to say ‘no.’ Watch the Jim Carrey movie, ‘Yes Man,’ to get an idea on how to proceed.
2. Very open lines of communication
On our boat we have three people. There’s my husband, Simon, and my daughter, Sienna (age 8). We often spend 24 hours a day with each other and from time to time that can be difficult.
We have a few rules that help us out. The most important rule is to never go to bed upset. We’ll sit down one-on-one or as a family and discuss any issues in an open and supportive way. In the past, I would overlook things and due to the busyness of life, several issues would disappear or get repressed until an eventual massive blowout.
Our family discovered that it’s easier to announce our grievances, hash things out and get back to living the good life.
In a confined space you’ll go insane if you don’t have it out. We often yell at each other and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. We express our anger, we let it out of our body and then we make-up and life goes back to normal. There’s no time or space to hold things in and let them fester.
Another rule we have is that when someone needs alone time, the space in front of the mast is dedicated to alone space and off limits to anyone else. We all need a place we can go to collect or thoughts, calm down or just take a break from the world.
For the most part our family works fairly well.
If however Simon or I get down about something we take time out, go for a walk on land and express our feelings. We then discuss various options and move forward. It’s not uncommon to have a conversation about selling the boat and moving back to land. We probably have that conversation around 10 times per year!
And it’s not that we want to move back to land, but we need the freedom to sometimes openly talk about alternatives. I think that it’s because we often talk about moving back to land that we’ll actually never do it!
3. Reoccurring revenue
I’m going to keep this short and simple. If you sell up, buy a boat and sail around with only a dwindling bank account to keep you afloat you’re going to spend your waking moments contemplating how you’re ever going to make money. Don’t do it. It puts a dark cloud over the whole lifestyle and it certainly does not lend itself to a long term cruising lifestyle.
Before you set sail you’re going need some sort of monthly income.
That can be from renting out your house, setting up an online business, living off investments, working remotely or creating a way to work on land part time and then sail the rest of the time.
On a positive note, over time the costs of being a long term cruiser reduce substantially. The first couple years money goes out hand over fist. You’ll spent a load of time and money getting the boat right. You’ll also fall into stupid money traps and spend too much with service providers and buying the wrong foods (imports rather than local foods) or going into marina’s when you really should be anchoring.
By year three, however, the costs come way down and that’s when the reoccurring revenue will help you stay afloat.
4. Taking breaks
Just like living on land, living on a boat will become normal. It’s hard to believe that being anchored off a tropical island with white sandy beaches will become ordinary but that’s what happens. You’re vacation lifestyle turns to normal, regular and routine.
Eventually, after the newness of it all, you’ll complain about the weather (too hot), the fact that you can’t find broccoli or fresh milk at the supermarket (errrr, scratch out ‘super’ and there are no supermarkets) and you’ve absolutely had it with your generator.
Just like land based life, you need a break from time to time.
HOWEVER, there’s a massive difference between a vacation from land and a vacation from the boat. When you’re on land and you go on vacation/holiday you generally rest, recuperate or have some sort of adventure that kicks a bit of life back into you.
When you vacation away from the boat, on the other hand, you get a reality check and a reminder of how freaking awesome your life actually is while living on the boat.
So – taking breaks off the boat is important for no other reason but to remind you about how we all tend to eventually take our lives for granted.
5. Developing positive habits
New liveaboards or cruisers seem to overlook the importance of consciously creating positive habits when moving aboard. And let me remind you that the reason I know all these things is because I made the error myself
The biggest issue that most cruisers have is regular exercise. On land, we might be good at going to the gym X times per week, going for a routine run, doing Yoga or taking walks with neighbors. On a boat, however, your routine frequently gets shot out the window. First of all, there is no gym so that’s not an option. If you’re sailing you can’t get off to go for a run, do yoga or work out. If you’re anchored you might be able to get off to land to run but it might not be safe to run (bad roads, roaming dogs, etc.)
The second issue that I see with new cruisers is the lack of positive habits regarding alcohol consumption (again, present company included).
When you’re on vacation you often drink.
When you’re a livaboard cruisers it feels like every day is a vacation (in the beginning). There’s the warm sea air, the beautiful views and the vacation pang in your head that constantly says, ‘hey – it’s wine’oclock’! Hopefully that pang hits at 5pm rather than noon. Hehehehe.
If you start off as you plan to go on, the holiday mode of daily sundowners (drinks when the sun goes down) can become a habit that isn’t so positive. With all the social functions, lovely surroundings and easy access to anything you want (food, alcohol and even drugs) it’s easy to create a new life with a bad habit.
Knowing this is an issue can help combat the problem. Considering some rules like, ‘I’m only going to drink on the weekends’ or ‘I’m only going to have one glass of wine a day at the most, ‘ or ‘I’m only going to allow myself a drink every other day,’ might be worth exploring before you get on board.
When you find something that works well shoot me an email as I could use the help! The book I’m reading now, that I’m hoping will provide some valuable insights into more exercise and less alcohol is this one:
6. Continuous education
With boats, you’ll be learning until the day you get off the boat whether you want to or not. That being said, it’s more rewarding to also learn proactively as you go. At first the whole liveaboard lifestyle is overwhelming. It’s not like just moving to another house – you’re actually changing your whole lifestyle.
When we first started out it was a baptism of fire. We learned because we had to fix something. Now, however, we have a very sound grip on being proactive and we’re often seeking information about better ways of doing things. Through the use of all my best selling guide, Checklists For Sailors we’re also able to stay on top of things rather than having a reactive approach.
Also, with new technology and better products there’s always something to be gained by researching battery options, alternative Man Over Board (MOB) procedures, the latest First Aid CPR procedure (it changes!), solar power, green technology, new rigging options and so on.
So another one of the secrets to long term cruising is to get yourself sorted (probably takes a year or two) and then get interested in learning about how you can sail better, do woo varnishing better, maintain the engine better, and on and on.
7. Balance (me time, social time, couples time, family time)
As highlighted above under Developing positive habits, your life can be knocked off kilter quite easily. With a new boat, new schedule, new lifestyle, new climate and on and on there’s so much to do and so much to see. It’s very easy to lose balance regarding your own time and spending it with friends and family.
Most new cruisers lose the plot in the beginning and that’s okay.
It’s part of the whole process. You might go overboard on the social side of things and forget about taking time for yourself but you’ll soon realize that something is not right. Just knowing that balance can be an issue is half the battle.
Now days Simon helps me have my ‘me time,’ by taking Sienna to shore or going for a long dinghy ride. And when Sienna has a evening playdate or goes to sleep over at a friends house, Simon and I have our date nights. It’s very easy to do everything for everyone else. Contrary to my tip under topic one of saying ‘yes’ to everyone, you also need to learn when to say ‘no’.
8. Maintaining and increasing the comfort factor
Being comfortable is important! Another secret to long term cruising is to make your boat and your life as comfortable is possible! If you love latte’s make sure you have the equipment to make them. If you enjoy your sleep, ensure that you have the best mattress possible (or best mattress cover possible)!
Of course there are compromises with everything on a boat. There’s a limited amount of space. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make your living area as lovely and comforting as possible.
For me, I must have cushions everywhere!
There’s no way I’d EVER sail without having a cushy place to place my bum. In our cockpit we have cushions, pillows and beanbags! And I also have blankets and hot water bottles if it gets cold.
Another comfort factor for me is my bedding and sleeping area. I have Egyptian cotton sheets and a very, very thing 1 tog Egyptian cotton duvet cover. My pillows are perfect and my bed welcomes me in every night for a peaceful night’s sleep. I have a fan mounted to the ceiling that keeps me cool and screens on all my windows keeping the bugs out. I am comfortable!
9. Have perseverance
I doubt there’s any cruisers that didn’t want to give up in year one, year two and on up. We all have bad patches. There are times when the weather won’t let up, something breaks and we have to wait weeks (and even months) to move or when we get stir crazy while wintering or laying up for hurricane season.
During these rough patches it’s important to remind yourself about the reasons you left land in the first place AND think about all the amazing memories you’ve had thus far. It’s great to keep a 1-line/day journal about a good memory, something funny that happened or a line that will remind you about fun times.
When things get a bit blah you can look through your journal and rekindle the good feelings. The better you feel the quicker the slump will pass.
10. Having a plan
Having a plan seems to reduce anxiety about the unknown. Some boaters have very specific plans – whether to sail around the world in two years or spend two years in the Caribbean and then head to the Med.
The plan will change – I assure you of that. But with a plan there’s something you’re working towards. Without one it can be easy to drift around feeling lost or boaters can also find themselves latching onto other people’s plans. That can be good or bad – depends on whether the other boaters are doing things in line with those of the boaters hopes and dreams.
Our first plan was to sail the Med and cross the Atlantic in one year.
We sailed the Med, loved it too much to leave so crossed the Atlantic after our second year. (In hindsight we should have stayed in the Med a few years longer!). When in the Caribbean our plan was to sail up the east coast of America, head down and then west. Instead, we sailed up the Caribbean, stopped in Charleston, South Carolina and stayed there (living aboard the boat) for one year to take a break. It was a great decision. We had time to recuperate from so much sailing, our daughter had a blast going to 1st grade and we made some life long plans.
This past year our plan was to sail down the Caribbean, winter in Grenada and then head to the ABC’s and beyond. As it stands now, we’re not heading west (yet). We’re going to hang out in the Caribbean for another year (at least).
Plans change, but it’s nice knowing there’s one in place. There’s comfort in that. Or perhaps it’s just my control freak nature coming out in me?! What do you think?
11. Proactive maintenance and servicing on the boat
My friend Ron from sailboat Samana gave me some wise words. He said that if you own a boat you either need a load of money to pay someone to keep it going OR you need to have a mindset that allows you to enjoy fixing things and troubleshooting. If you don’t like fixing things or solving problems then boat ownership is not for you.
When we started out we didn’t now how to fix anything. We couldn’t troubleshoot either because we had no knowledge – there was no base for us to start. Simon and I spent years being frustrated and it almost caused us to stop cruising. Something eventually snapped and we both decided that if we don’t start enjoying our problems we’re going to go nuts.
Simon and I had a change of perspective in addition to a load of experience. Now when something breaks we don’t even blink – we just set out to fix it. For Simon he gets a big grin when he finds solutions. I suppose it’s like any other game of life – you can enjoy i it or not. For now, we’re having a blast.
What are your secrets to long term cruising?
Or do you have any questions about what I wrote above? How about a story that highlights one of my points? We’d love to hear from you. Simply add your comments below.
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