My recent article on what is the right size sailboat to live on got me thinking. There are some other aspects of living on a boat that I didn’t mention.

It is finding and maintaining a balance in your life. Too many people buy a boat, and it consumes them. It is all they do, think about, and live for. Unfortunately, this often leads to some level of burnout, and the wonderful sailing life they have long dreamed of melts away.

The successful cruisers and liveaboard people I know find a balance between their boating life and other interests and hobbies. They regularly get off the boat to enjoy other things.

When I lived on my first boat in Seattle back in the 1970s, I also loved hiking and camping. A couple of hours north of Seattle was the newly established North Cascades National Park, a wonderland of nature. A bit closer was Snoqualmie Lake, another spectacular place, especially seen through the eyes of a guy from New Jersey. A weekend spent hiking and camping in nature was a refreshing break from my work and boat life. It honestly felt great to be off the water. It recharged my batteries. While my hiking and camping gear was a challenge to store on the boat and in the trunk of my car, I made it work because it was important.

(Seen below: Snoqualmie Lake)

Snoqualmie Lake 

As we get older, it is essential to enjoy other interests and hobbies. This keeps us happier, and we tend to live longer. Whether it is gardening or cycling, we stay active, both mentally and physically.

When I speak of successful cruisers, I define “successful” as being able to follow one’s passions for many years, perhaps a lifetime. This is in direct contrast to others, who are super excited when they get their boat, and off they sail over the horizon. Then they burn out after a couple of years of non-stop boating.

Everything in life requires balance. Even in cruising, or perhaps, especially in cruising.

I’ve known lots of boat people who understand this. World cruisers and full-time liveaboards who get off the boat and change things up a bit, pursue other things. They may move from one harbor to the next, constantly on the move for a while, then they pursue something else that gets them off the water and into the world. Out of the pilothouse or sailboat cockpit, and onto the ski slopes, or Europe, or the Grand Tetons. And many cruisers return every winter to a familiar island or place where they rejoin ongoing local community land projects, such as building a new school.

I compare that to others who dream of spending their retirement years enjoying the cruising life. They save and plan and come to boat shows and Trawler Fest year after year and attend seminars to learn all they can. The plan usually involves shedding some (or all) of their connection to the land: cars, house, all the stuff. They get their perfect boat and cast off the lines.

Away from the dock at last, the dream unfolds.

(Seen below: Staying at a marina near a city, like Annapolis, can offer shopping, historical attractions, and a good break from the water.) 

marina near annapolis 

They have a marvelous time for the next year or two and make many new friends. But at some point, it starts to get old, too many sundowners perhaps, because this is the only thing they do. Just boat, boat, boat. They have not kept up with their golf or tennis, no more hiking or antique shopping, or tinkering with clocks or cars, music, or any of the other interests they had before they moved aboard.

And they sell the boat.

Let me share some examples of people I know who fully embrace the balance I’m talking about.

One couple cruised extensively on their Krogen Whaleback. West Coast, Alaska, Mexico, Panama Canal, East Coast, down to the Caribbean and back. They had a very compelling bucket list. But they spread this out over many years. Every so often, they would park the boat in a marina, perhaps haul it, then tour North America by motorcycle. They went skiing, visited family and friends, and enjoyed their time on land.

This couple made it a priority to enjoy lots of activities. They told me this kept life fresh, interesting, and enjoyable. After exploring the Sedona countryside, or getting to know a new grandchild, the couple returned to the boat, refreshed and anxious to get back on the water.

One fellow got his wife to go cruising on the condition that she could play the piano several times a week. To their surprise, they discovered that down in the islands, if one visits any inhabited island anywhere, one will find a church with a piano or organ. It worked out well for them.

Another couple I met through a broker friend were enjoying living on their Grand Banks 49. She called it their “Banks.” His passion was the boat, her passion was tennis. They arranged their time so she had the opportunity to get off the Banks and play tennis frequently. They were a happy couple.

Stopping and smelling the roses might include attending a wine festival, or some local cultural event. You have no idea what you miss by staying on the boat when in a new town you don’t know. I fondly recall a young girl tapping on our hull to invite us to a practice concert in a pristine old church in the French village of Clamecy, along the Canal du Nivernais. The nuns urged the young girls to get a large audience to simulate Sunday’s performance. It was delightful. The town, by the way, was the birthplace of the famous French sailor, Alain Colas, first man to sail solo in an around the world race on a multihull.

While cruising the shores of Michigan on a new trawler I was writing about, the owner and I decided to go ashore to walk around. We learned that evening was a special night in Port Austin. A couple of hours later, sitting in a converted building that was their community playhouse, everyone sang the National Anthem to begin the local amateur show. The evening performances included the town’s lawyer on stage telling lawyer jokes.

It was a taste of Americana I will never forget.

(Seen below: Port Austin Harbor in Michigan.)

port austin michigan

Boat designer Bruce Roberts told me how he and Gwenda spent their summers cruising the French canals on their boat. That summer she enrolled in a French culinary school, and they planned their cruise around her classes. They had so much fun, not to mention wonderful food!

Three men stopped by our Annapolis office one year to tell me their story. One of them owned a Hatteras motoryacht, and they were headed to Florida, stopping to play golf at every golf course they could find along the ICW. Their wives bid them farewell, and their adventure, which started in Connecticut, was about as much fun as three guys could have. It was great. The Hatteras owner said if the trip went well, he might do the Great Loop and write about all the golf courses on the Loop.

I also know a super capable couple from Southern California who built a large power catamaran and cruised the East Coast before heading across the Pacific. As much as they love the fishing, snorkeling, and adventure of cruising remote islands, both took time off for weeks at a time. Perhaps she flew home for a family fix, while he stayed on the boat and did maintenance projects, or they traveled together. After many weeks with family back in California, they always returned to their boat with a fresh attitude. This kept their dream alive, year after year.

Keeping a land presence makes it easier for some, even if it is a lock-and-leave condo or townhouse. A place to go back to from time to time, see one's doctors and family during the holidays, catch up with friends, travel by land, and enjoy other favorite activities. Then continue cruising when it is time to return to the boat.

Another important point to consider is that there are many wonderful places to visit that are not reachable by boat. Our country’s national parks are fantastic must-see destinations. But visiting most parks is done by RV, motorcycle, or car.

Perhaps the most extreme balancing act is the couple I first met in Annapolis. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, he is an orthopedic surgeon, and their circumnavigation on a 47-foot, Bob Perry-designed cutter took 12 years. When they reached a new place they liked, they stayed for a couple of years, and he would provide his surgical skills at a local hospital.

It was a remarkable and rewarding way to sail around the world.

Finding a balance that works for you will help ensure a rewarding life for years to come.



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