Reflections (and lessons learned) from our first year of boat life

As I look back on our year of being a liveaboard family, all I can do is smile. Thinking about all of the adventures we’ve been through, things we’ve learned, and experiences we’ve had….I wouldn’t change a thing! 

We started our journey after day 30 of the COVID isolation in April, 2020. After assessing our current lifestyle, jobs, and school, then also making sure we could afford a cruising lifestyle…we took the leap and haven’t looked back. In only 2 months, we had decided what we wanted to do…and did it. Lesson learned: If you want to do something, just do it! 

In the early summer of 2020 we found and purchased a catamaran online, having never seen it in person. We drove cross-county from Colorado to Florida, then, on June 7th, 2020 we got to see it in person for the first time. Words can not describe our emotions when we stepped aboard. It was a sense of disbelief but also an enormous accomplishment for us as a family. As our dog ran around the boat, sniffing and exploring every nook and cranny…we frantically called dibs on our cabins and then settled down for our first dinner aboard. That day changed our lives forever. We were now liveaboards. We had to figure out a whole new way to store groceries, cook our meals, shower, do our laundry, put away our clothes, “walk” the dog, sleep in comfort, get to town, go shopping, and well, live! It’s a whole new lifestyle and almost everything you knew before about daily routines goes out the window. The only thing that didn’t change was our family dynamic. If anything, it made us stronger. Being together on a boat with minimal square footage for a year will bring you closer for sure! Lesson Learned: Understand what you are getting yourself into and be open to change & challenges.

Our year of boat life was broken into a few sections so that helped with the monotony of day-to-day life on the boat with each other. During the first few months of June and July, Konstantina, our catamaran, was “on the hard” in dry storage so we were able to really get to know her before she got in the water. What a learning curve! Moving from Colorado to Florida really threw us for a loop because of the hot and humid weather there, not to mention lots of rain and bugs made for an interesting introduction to boat life. The boat doesn’t have air conditioning (yet), so we bought a simple window unit and stuck it in the companionway so that we could have some cool air! We also dug out some hatch screens that came with the boat to try and keep the bugs out. We had some hot, sticky, buggy, and stressful days on the hard…but I wouldn’t trade them for anything! Lesson Learned: Be prepared to deal with uncomfortable situations…including heat, rain, and bugs.

During August-October my husband attended the Chapman School of Seamanship so we would work on Konstantina during the weekends. A boat mentor we met named Stan would also come up to teach us about all of our systems which was really helpful. Once Steve’s class was done, we splashed our boat for the first time on October 19th! We had a wonderful four day sail from St Augustine down the Florida ICW and settled at a marina in Stuart, FL for his second class from October-December. Living in a marina is pretty awesome. Most of them have many amenities available such as laundry and showers, as well as a pool and gym. Spending time with our boat on land and also at the marina sure made beginner boat life a bit easier for us landlubbers! As the beginning of December (and the end of his schooling) got closer, we were trying to make a decision on where our first big trip would be. We really wanted to head to the Bahamas so started planning on heading there around December 13th. Lesson Learned: Spend time getting to know your boat well (or have someone teach you) before you sail it.

Another lesson we’ve learned from boatlife…you can plan, or you can sail but you can’t do both. Schedules are non-existent and plans change! With the questionable state of COVID in the Bahamas, we decided to skip it for the time being and just head to the Florida Keys. What a great time we had but talk about a learning curve. This was our first time living on the hook (at anchor) and also sailing in the ocean! We spent about three weeks anchoring out, all the way from Lake Worth down to Marathon (about 152 nautical miles) then due to some nasty winds, we got a slip in a marina. We spent a total of two months exploring the Keys and we are glad we did because it was a great introduction to living on the hook. We practiced sailing a lot, anchoring, getting to and from town on the dinghy, repairing items while at anchor, as well as adventuring on and off the boat like snorkeling and spearfishing. Our goal was to get to Key West and to the Dry Tortugas, but due to the winter winds and our novice experience, it just didn’t happen this year but it’s on our list! Lesson Learned: Have in mind an idea of what you want to do, but be prepared for plans to change and give yourself the space to go with the flow. 

After our adventures in the Florida Keys, we made the decision to go ahead and sail to the Bahamas on February 12th, 2021. We found another new-to-boatlife family headed that way so we partnered up to sail together. Our first “long” passage (12 hours) took us to Riding Rocks, south of Bimini. The next day we had another 12-13 hours to go to reach our clearing in destination of Great Harbour Cay. We had waited about two weeks for a good weather window to cross to the Bahamas and once we had an opening, we went. Again, having a loose schedule and a general idea of where you want to go and when, is better than an exact day or week…you just don’t know what Mother Nature might throw at you. We felt comfortable by that time in our anchoring and basic sailing abilities so we were thankful for the time we spent practicing in the Keys. I have no doubt that our two months spent in the Keys is what helped us to be prepared and competent sailors and made us more comfortable during interesting situations we faced in the Bahamas. Lesson Learned: Being able to spend time practicing and getting experience on your boat first is very valuable before heading off on a big trip. 

Spending time in the Bahamas was another great learning experience. It was almost three months straight and over 600nm of living on the hook. We only spent time in a marina when we first checked in, and for 2 nights to experience Atlantis, once on our way to the Exumas, and once on the way back. I could write a whole book about our adventures in the islands so I’ll try to keep it to a minimum here. A valuable liveaboard lesson was how to provision food from Florida in order to have enough in the Bahamas. Even through we left the states with the boat packed full of canned goods, frozen meat, and shelf-stable items, we ran out. After the 3rd or 4th shopping trip in the Bahamas worrying about costs and also availability of items, we said forget it…and stopped worrying about the price, plus just made meals according to what they had available at the market. Eating meals out were a fun break from the norm, and a welcome activity after not eating out the past couple months due to covid. Most of the restaurants in the islands were outdoors and empty so that made it nice, and less stressful. It was common to not get a menu, rather a sticky note with available items and dishes written on it. It was also common to be there for a few hours, either waiting to order, waiting for the food, or waiting for the check. I don’t mention that as a negative aspect…in all actuality, it was a positive trait for these establishments because they forced us busy Americans to s-l-o-w down and enjoy the scenery and company! “Island Time” is not just an expression, it is an actual, tangible amount of time that you need to observe, respect, and honor. Just slow down and be thankful for their service. Every Bahamian we met was nice, kind, helpful, and went above and beyond the call of service and now are some of our friends who we hope to visit again someday! To be able to share a new culture, new adventures, new foods, and new friends with my family was something I am very thankful for and loved how it made us grow closer together. Lesson Learned: You need to get away from the ordinary to experience the extraordinary. 

 And now? We’re back in the States and had a major decision to make. Did our rushed “COVID Cruising Chaos” make us want to stay with it, or give up? We are happy to report that our family unit survived…and that we will be continuing on to year two of boat life! Our teenager wants to go to high school, get a job, and save up for a car while Steve and I want to continue sailing. We compromised with our kid and will allow him to attend in person high school after being boat schooled for his 8th grade year. Steve will pursue his new career as a Captain, and I will most likely get a job back in the nonprofit world, or even marine retail. Bella, our dog, I’m sure will continue to lay on the back deck while soaking up the sun and wishing she could run on the Bahamas beaches again. We had some “interesting” times as a new-to-sailing family including during an anchor dragging experience, our first time gybing, anchoring in 40kt winds, fighting winds and waves on long crossings, replacing zincs underwater, and more. We all know what our strengths, weaknesses and fears are so knowing those ahead of time and being prepared to apply that in a sailing situation helped us not rip each other’s heads off during our time out there. At least three out of four of us are ready for the next phase of boat life…and our son? He’s coming around slowly by correcting me when I’m wrong about boat stuff, teaching himself how to drive the boat, and even catching us dinner! Lesson Learned: Know your family REALLY well before you attempt a drastic new lifestyle. Be prepared to help each other through tough times and also enjoy growing together! 

5 thoughts on “Reflections (and lessons learned) from our first year of boat life

    1. Thank you! Congrats on your adventure, teaching scuba from the boat will be a valuable class to many cruisers I’m sure! Maybe we’ll meet up someday and scuba together!

      Like

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