Have you ever stared longingly at a boat on the water and thought, “man, that seems pretty wonderful”? Or have you ever looked around at all your stuff and fantasized about sailing away — for good?
Joanna Tunnicliffe can relate.
After she and her husband Paul retired a few years ago, they packed up their things, got on a boat, and haven’t looked back since. They spend their lives living on the water and wouldn’t have it any other way.
To be clear, they weren’t boating novices when they decided to do this. They both grew up in England, sailing and racing small boats. In fact, they actually met through sailing. “After we got married, we had a dream to ‘sail off into the wide blue yonder,’” she said.
So they did. They bought a 40-foot wooden boat built in 1947 and spent the next several years refinishing it to its original glory. They sailed up and down the coast of England and Scotland, before eventually moving to the United States.
Many years later, they’re retired and back to where they started: in a boat! But this time, they’ve learned some tips that they hope will encourage you to think about trying it, too. Tunnicliffe is a member of our Retirement Awaits Facebook group, which is how we first learned of her story. Now, she’s sharing it with all of us. Here are her tips.
1. You Don’t Have To Give Up Creature Comforts
Being avid lifetime sailors, we both swore off owning a powerboat. Then, when Paul was planning his retirement, we decided that although sailing is fun, a lot of the cruising we were planning would be motoring. So, we bought a powerboat. She is called Ursa Major — the big bear. And that’s what she is. She is heavy, solid, and lumbers along at 8 miles per hour. But she has all the comforts of home. We have heating, air conditioning, hot and cold running water, a washer, and a dryer. We are not camping! She also has sails, which helps to give us our sailing fix.
2. Be Prepared For Anything — Especially Repairs
Just like in an RV or house, when something goes wrong, you have to fix it. And as with older RVs and houses, more things tend to go wrong in older boats because of age-related obsolescence. So long as you keep up with regular maintenance, things will keep ticking over.
3. Be Comfortable Sharing Tight Quarters
If you are living with someone full-time or even part-time on a boat, make sure you are able to live with them in a small space. One of my main stipulations when buying our boat was that there had to be a separate cabin — my space.
4. Be Prepared To Walk
Assuming you will cruise away from your home port, you won’t have a car with you. So when you need to go grocery, hardware, or pet store, somehow you have to get there and back with your purchases. We have used Uber, or very occasionally, public transportation (it tends to be limited). We do shop online, but sometimes you just have to walk.
5. It Helps To Be Handy
It really helps if you can DIY. Whether it’s plumbing, engines, or just fixing and repairing things in general, it’s most convenient if you can do it yourself.
6. Learn To Chill
The best-laid plans will come unglued as soon as a swing bridge doesn’t swing or a storm suddenly appears. Or as in our case this year, one of our dogs, 2 days before we were supposed to leave our winter port, blew out her knee and needed surgery. Oh well.
7. Be Flexible
It helps to be flexible in everything — on a boat or on solid ground. And isn’t that true of life generally?
8. You Really Don’t Need That Much Stuff
You can live quite comfortably without a lot of stuff. If you can’t face completely downsizing, get a storage unit, then live on the boat and find out what works and what doesn’t. Do you really need a crockpot and an Instapot? Then trade things back and forth between the boat and storage unit.
9. Go Green, If You Can
If you are good with electrical things, it is possible to be almost completely “green” utilizing solar and wind-generated power. Most boats usually have to run the generator at some point, but it is kept to a minimum. But you can have a microwave, electric kettle, fridge, freezer, and so on.
10. Boating With Pets Is Doable, But There Are Some Challenges
We acquired our first pets, two 70-pound dogs, as we transitioned onto the boat, so the dogs have adapted really well to sea life. They love the water, so we have not encouraged them to jump in from the boat when we are at anchor, or even off the dock when we are in a marina.
They will both do their business on board, but obviously prefer to use grass and dry land whenever possible. Our biggest headache with them is when they need veterinarian care. We don’t own a car, so we have to rely on courtesy cars from marinas or even friends’ cars. We have visited probably six or seven different veterinarian clinics up and down the East Coast.
11. It’s Actually Pretty Easy To Stay Connected
We have internet and cell phones, so we can communicate as much as our family wants. We tell the family our cruising plans and let them know when we arrive at our destinations. It’s not lonely. There are plenty of other cruisers, but quiet time is also wonderful.
12. Dip Your Toes In Before Jumping Head-First
If you haven’t boated before but are rather tempted by the idea, charter a boat of a similar size first. Join a boat club and cruise with other people to get a feel for whether or not it might be something you want to commit to. Like anything, buying a boat is easy. Maintaining and selling is not as easy. Do lots of research; ask lots of questions. Would I have done it any differently? Absolutely not. I love this life.
13. It’s All Worth It
Dolphins. The stars at night. Fresh air. Being able to change our scenery. The people and characters we meet. Visiting places from the water always gives a different perspective of a harbor town. I love this life.
We have been on this boat now for 5 years. She was and still is a project. My husband, Paul, is constantly thinking of ways to improve efficiency. All things being equal, he won’t sell her until he is finished tinkering, so we’ll have her for at least several more years. Whether we buy another boat or a dirt home, who knows? I suppose it depends on our health. And as to where? No idea — we’re still doing the research.