Peace, harmony, and romance are words that came to mind when my husband and I contemplated living aboard a boat. In 1964, a desire for adventure and the romance of living on the water brought us to this lifestyle. We found ourselves drawn to the ocean. At the sea, whether on a boat or simply watching it from shore, Al and I had a strong sense of belonging. With only this sense as our nautical heritage, we purchased our first boat, a 28 foot Lancer sloop, a single masted sailboat with a deep keel that required very minor modifications to live aboard. Along with new sails, rigging, and anchors, we added a cold plate and a bought small gimbaled stove. We had decided to live on our sloop until we could save enough money to purchase our first house. By the end of our second year of marriage, we had saved enough money to pay cash for our first home but decided that living aboard suited us just fine. We loved the lifestyle; we were tied to the ocean. Since then, Al and I have lived in over 33 countries, visited over 100 more, and are still on the go. Thirty-four years since our first inclination, living aboard a boat is still our choice for comfort and safety of a home. My husband and I have sailed since early in our marriage and now live aboard a motor yacht. The spaciousness of the motor yacht nicely combines the luxuries of an Oceanside condominium with the benefits of privacy and travel.
In 1964, we spent $9,000 on that first sloop and with both of us working, and living on the boat, we managed to bank $16,000 dollars in less than a year. Rather than buying that house, though, we sailed from Philadelphia to Tangier Island, around Key West Florida and experienced a bit of cruising along the way. On shore jaunts, we backpacked in the Rockies, bicycled in Hawaii and drank cappuccinos on the Amalfi coast of Italy. But onboard, we read the piloting and navigation books and contemplated the allure of living aboard a boat. Some of what we came to understand about living aboard and traveling we observed, but much we gained through experience. We learned the excitement of adventure, how to save, and the joy of freedom. We came to understand cruising as an outstanding way for a family to get to know life and enjoy its mysteries. We learned how to downsize and pack for small spaces, to cook while underway, to provision for living aboard and cruising, to deal with hurricanes and bright sunny days. From others we gained insight about cruising grounds and the maintenance and piloting quirks of different types of boats. And, we discovered how people educate their children while at sea and make a living without a conventional career.
Today, when meeting new people or talking with old friends we invariably hear the same questions: How did you make the transition from a large home; don’t you miss a yard; what about regular friends? The whys and wherefores of opting for life tied to water and boating is, for some, a strange choice. While some cannot imagine the lifestyle, others are eager to experience it. Having no prior boating experience often makes the choice even riskier, but there seems to be a trend—this trend is to sell the family home, buy a boat, and live on the water. Like us, newcomers to the seafaring lifestyle attempt to devour all the information that can be found on living aboard and voyaging. However, once aboard, they quickly learn that few books or websites truly capture the reality and debunk the romance of ￼live-aboard cruising. Largely, they find the literature written by those who have grown up around boats and boating and have salt water in their veins and celestial navigation in their hearts. Many boating books are either so complicated that a technical degree in marine engineering is required or so simplistic that the reader gains little useable information. In addition, most live-aboard guides relate to sailboats only, and although we have had a few, this is not the only type of live aboard choice available.
While Al and I are no exception to this trial by error of relying on the printed words, we came to understand that we had an angle to share on the liveaboard dream from which the new boater in particular might benefit. We had gained our sea legs by reviewing and revising much of what we had earlier devoured. Experience had taught us that awkward transition to full-time status, and that the expectations and trials of adjustment can be enormous. We had accepted the numerous pluses of living aboard, but we soon acknowledged the minuses there as well, and we quickly learned to navigate between the two. Unfortunately, many people contemplating the live aboard lifestyle are not so lucky in understanding what they are entering into.
It is a fact that only a small percentage of those who move aboard stay with it for any significant length of time. Today, the profile of the “live aboard” is married, between 49 and 69 years of age, and living on an income of less than $39,000 annually. Sounds great, doesn’t it, but this lifestyle really is not for everyone. Realistic planning, guidelines, good boating education and facts can enhance the success. We came from land and transitioned to a boat to fulfill a fantasy… the freedom to anchor on a whim, to move with the tides. The reality is that people choose to live on the water for a number of practical reasons as well.
Excerpted and adapted from the ebook “Living Aboard and Cruising Under Power or Sail” by Lisa and Al Fittipaldi.