What It's Actually Like To Live On A Sailboat

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I get so many messages from people telling me they are considering moving onto a sailboat, or people who are just curious about my experience, I decided to compile my thoughts on the matter here. Keep in mind that these are nothing more than my thoughts about my experience living aboard, so do take everything with a grain of salt.

I'm am east coast lady from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia (more or less) who, after coming home from a year of solo backpacking around the world started the job search anew and happened to get an offer in San Francisco. A year before, I'd spent a month backpacking around the West Coast, considering places I'd like to live because I'd decided it was best to choose the location I wanted to be before choosing the job. While I was in SF, I was invited to dinner by some friends of a university friend who happened to live on a sailboat. I spent the rest of the year I was abroad with one eye casually on craigslist boats for sale thinking about how amazing it sounded to built a tiny home on a sailboat.

When I got the job offer in SF, where boat and safe harbors are plentiful, I knew I had to at least look at boats. I set up a bunch of apartment viewings and boats for sale meetings, but I fell so hard for the first sailboat I saw I paid the guy for it before stepping back onto the dock! My first boat was a 1984 Ericson 28' in fabulous condition. I was the first person to ever live on her full time. She had a beautiful interior, sailed great and was just the right size for me to start out on. I think I got really lucky.

I happened to be at the same marina as my friends I'd had dinner with a year before, so I asked them over for a boat warming and told them to bring all of their marina friends! It was a warm fall evening and I'd barely unpacked enough to cook, but my boat was warm with twelve new neighbors indoors and outside sitting on the deck. Little did I know one of them was my future lover and husband. But I should have. I could barely see anybody because it was night and my lights were dim, but I knew he was the guy who made sure I had food on my plate despite being so busy trying to cook for twelve on my tiny new single burner stove. He was the one who washed the big dishes while I wasn't looking, said thanks and went on his way. Later I'd find out he's the perfect reflection of me, crazy in all the most compatible ways. We fell hard and fast in love, eloped in Mendocino just under a year later and now find ourselves sharing one slightly larger sailboat.

Pretty much since the week we met, we've been plotting and planning a many-year around the world sailing trip together.

Okay, that's the dreamy part. Now time for a reality check. Boats are hard work! Think an apartment you actually own that is surrounded by water on all sides. In fact, I'm not sure I would have made it through the first year without all the kindness and help of my now-husband who had already been doing this whole sailboat thing for six years. But I like to think I would. I did not move onto a boat because it was a cheap housing alternative (though you may have noticed the press likes that spin). I moved onto a boat because I wanted to be close to the water, create a more of a nest than an apartment allows me and have a sustainable means of traveling the world. I also really wanted to learn to sail! I'd been sailing probably 50 times before I bought my first boat and there was little that made me happier than to be on a boat at sea with the wind in my hair. I figured that moving onto boat would be a step in the right direction to becoming a sailor.

Truthfully, the last year has been the hardest year of my life. I have not gotten to sail nearly so much as I'd like. Instead, I've donned full body protective suits that I fondly call bunny suits and helped replace our deck, rip out and rebuild our entire interior, replace pretty much every single thing on the boat and then try to make it all pretty and livable again. But through all that, I never really considered giving up boat life. I definitely had some small breakdowns which led to lots of local road tripsand even an escape to Japan but then it was back to making my dream of sailing around the world a reality.

Of course, if you have the money, you can not buy a fixer upper boat like we did. Honestly, as we reach the end of our rebuild, I am not so sure we saved any money at all! But we both share a love for old things and I have yet to see a sailboat I like more than our homey Formosa 41'.

What It's Actually Like To Live On A Sailboat

Some Regular Questions:

How do you find a liveaboard slip? Aren't those really hard to get?

Well, the job I had when I first moved to California had me flying around the country for meetings every week and my marina allowed me to sleep on my boat three nights a week without a liveaboard slip. I was well under that limit so I didn't worry about getting a liveaboard slip. By the time I quit my job to focus on Salinity, I was sharing my current boat with my husband Charlie who'd already taken care of the whole liveaboard hassle years ago. What I hear is go in-person to the marina offices, get on the waiting lists, as and always ask about side ties. Apparently owning a boat in the marina where you want to live, getting to know people and being a great marina citizen helps your name move up the liveaboard list faster but that could be lore. I'm not really the right person to ask since I haven't been through this myself.

Did you actually end up saving money living on a boat?

Not yet. I don't track my finances to an incredible degree to know the answer to this question for sure, but we've spent so much fixing up our boat it is incredible! If we do indeed live on this boat for the next chapter of our life like we're planning, I think we might save money on average year over year. We'll see. I've heard many a boat owner fondly refer to their boat as a hole in the water they throw money into!

So when are you actually leaving to sail around the world?

I wish I knew! We've set so many target dates, told so many people, made promises to each other and within ourselves but they've all been broken. Circumstances! Outing a boat to cruise around the world is no small task. Lots of other people write about this is you are curious. All I know is that we are close to finished and still have sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge into the great blue beyond as our #1 priority.

Where can I learn more about the technicalities of finding a boat and/or living aboard?

Probably not here. That sort of nitty gritty is not my jam and lots of other people are writing expertly about such matters. Google away. This blog is more about creating a life that is organic, fluid & free, so you can expect me to be sharing wellness and sustainability tips, diving deep into travel, building a new model of business.

You're crazy! How did you even come up with this idea in the first place and how did you have the guts to follow through and actually buy the boat?

Oh friends, I believe we live in a beautiful but broken world. So many of the systems in place do not serve us well. I'm always looking around me with eyes and heart wide open to new experiences that may elevate my existence and help me form the sort of life that will make me a happy old lady. I live by the mantra, "If you want to do it, start trying!" You can always change your mind.

*Everything above is just my opinion so do take it with a big grain of salt. There's a lot of opinion out there and everybody experiences things differently.

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What It's Actually Like To Live On A Sailboat
sailingSarah Danu