Why wait for retirement? Put your cruising plans on fast forward and go now (published October 2012)
If you refer to acquiring the cruising fever as “catching the bug,” you’ve hit the nail on the head. For us, once the idea of taking off on an extended cruise was planted, it became an all-consuming obsession. As soon as we committed, officially shaking hands one night in the middle of our kitchen, our quest to make the dream come true commenced.
My husband Maxwell and I had spent the previous few years sailing our Tanzer 26 Second Wind on the Mobjack Bay and lower Chesapeake Bay. Those weekends were wonderful, but they were just that—weekends. We never made any big trips because we had jobs and limited time off. Just like all of our 30-something friends, we had a house, cars and all of the other land life anchors weighing us down. That was how I thought life was supposed to work.
TAKING THE PLUNGE
Before Maxwell and I shook on it, cruising was something I had never even considered. I knew people at our marina with bigger boats and even a few liveaboards, but it never occurred to me that we could do the same at our age. We were young and they were all retired, so I assumed that the lifestyle was exclusively for older folks. There is an order to things in life, right? Wrong.
For my enlightenment, I credit my husband. He was the first to start reading sailing blogs and join online sailing forums. When he proposed that we go cruising, I initially blew him off. Quit our jobs, pack all of our stuff into storage and move onto a boat? The idea seemed too far-fetched. But every day that I went to work, the thought was there, growing in the back of my mind. I began to feel confined and overly committed to the everyday grind of normal life. The notion of traveling to places unknown and the utter freedom of being in charge of our time broke down my defenses. Those defenses I later recognized were just fears and uncertainty of the unfamiliar.
In order to make a drastic lifestyle change, some financial adjustments were essential. All discretionary funds were immediately renamed “The Cruising Fund.” No more eating out on a whim, no more movie nights, no more new clothes just because they were on sale. Those things worked against our goal. We tightened up our land-based expenses and sold whatever was not important. We opted not to sell our house because it could earn money as a rental property while we cruised.
The boat search began and chugged on for months. We started looking in the summer of 2008 and did not purchase our floating home until February 2009. Fortunately, we stayed true to our budget and preferences, and in the end we were rewarded with a great boat. She was a “fixer-upper,” needing just a bit of time and devotion to become the perfect cruising boat. We spent the spring and summer customizing and outfitting our Baba 35 Anastasia for her first season of cruising in the Bahamas with her new owners.
Finally, at this point having left our careers behind, rented our house, placed all of our worldly goods in storage and moved onto a boat, our parents began to believe that we were really serious about leaving in the fall.
NICKELS AND DIMES
One of the biggest questions we encounter when meeting new people is how we are able to afford our lifestyle at such a young age. We are not collecting retirement, we are not super-wealthy, and we are not heirs to a secret fortune. We are simply very frugal and resourceful. Absolutely anyone can do what we are doing.
We work very hard for what we have and consider closely the money we spend. Each summer, we return to our home waters in the Chesapeake for boat maintenance and summer jobs. We choose do-it-yourself yards because that’s how we roll. When we encounter projects about which we are clueless, we learn how to fix the issue through reading and research instead of paying a technician. This has saved a lot of money better used for cruising.
While away, our expenses are low because of heavy provisioning prior to departure. Goods tend to be cheaper in the U.S., so we stock up on our favorites before leaving. Each season I have learned how to better use the tight storage space on the boat. No nook or cranny goes empty. We also eat a lot of fish, which we catch while sailing or by fishing the reefs while at anchor. This healthy and free food source fits perfectly into our budget.
Sailboats by design are a more thrifty way to travel. While under sail, we transit the islands virtually cost-free, only running our diesel engine in and out of anchorages. Of course there are days where we motor if the wind is hiding, but we strive to conserve fuel. It can be a huge expense when abused.
Another very important fact to mention is that we don’t plan to live this way indefinitely. Some cruise for just one season, while others keep at it for a lifetime. It is a personal choice, and you will not be considered a quitter for returning to land life. The most important thing is to get out there and give it a shot.
To keep friends and family updated on our experiences, we started a sailing blog soon after purchasing Anastasia. We enjoy chronicling our ups and downs and sharing lessons learned. From the blog, readers can link to our Sailing Anastasia Facebook page and SmugMug online photo gallery. It’s a great way to keep everyone posted on our whereabouts and recent activities.
Blogs are also a great way for us to stay informed and connected to our other sailing friends. It seems that everyone has one these days. The cruising community is such a small world, and the longer we are a part of it, the smaller it gets. We have a network of traveling friends from all over the world who share a passion for life and remarkable experiences. The connections we are making now will no doubt lead to life-long friendships.
As I write this, we are completing our third season of cruising and have put many miles beneath Anastasia’s keel. We’ve been throughout the Bahamas, the Caribbean, and much of the U.S. East Coast. Our longest passage was from Beaufort, NC to St. Thomas, USVI—10 days at sea.
We have learned so much in the past few years. One of our biggest lessons was learning that we are definitely “Cruising Babies.” Our cruising peers tend to be between 55 and 70, and most say they wish they had started the lifestyle earlier. We receive constant praise for living life in the right order, at least the way other cruisers see it. Waiting for retirement is a gamble, because you never know what life is going to throw your way. The reinforcement of our decision always makes us feel better about our unconventional choice.
So far we have been rewarded with more extraordinary experiences than we ever thought possible and truer friends than we would have met in 10 years of living a conventional lifestyle. You do not need the house, the new car, the picket fence and the power bill like “everyone else.” Try simple living at its finest. And go now, whether you are 30 or 30 times three!
Maxwell and Jen Williamson sailed their home waters of the lower Chesapeake Bay for years before moving aboard their Baba 35 Anastasia. Since then, they have been full-time cruisers traveling up and down the U.S. East Coast, Bahamas and Caribbean. Of all of the beautiful places they have visited, their true favorites are the Bahamian Islands, with clear blue water and white sand beaches that draw them back year after year. They think cruising is a wonderful way to travel and meet others who share similar interests. Read more about their adventures at www.sailblogs.com/member/anastasia