Lessons learned over 5 years and 3 tries at living aboard

I’m not nearly as good of a writer as Brittany, but I’m going to take a stab at reviving the blog after nearly 3 years of inactivity. So where have we been? Surely we sailed off to some exotic location, too far from the internet to be able to update the blog but living our best lives none-the-less.

Fun with tide pools in St Augustine, FL

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we actually sold our boat, and then bought it back again. More on that later…

If Zoolander could quantity how much harder is it living on a boat

Living on a boat is probably one of the most rewarding things we’ve ever done but it’s also hard work. I’m not sure I can exactly quantify how much harder it is, but it’s more difficult in almost every respect. Mundane tasks that take very little effort on land can turn into monumental tasks living on a boat, and don’t get me started on estimating boat maintenance duration. But more than that, you have to make sure your relationship with your significant other is ready hardened to not just the rigors of living on the sea, but change in dynamic that you undergo.

What do I mean by the changing dynamic? In our case that change in dynamic was the fact that I went from working a full time job while Brittany stayed at home with the kids all day – to being around each other nearly 24/7. From her having freedom and autonomy during that time with access to her own car – to me having to shuttle her to shore for errands (it was too difficult for her to start the outboard). From having a close circle of friends, family and church that were within close reach – to being physically distant from all of that familiarity. That, along with other personality differences, led to many stresses in our relationship.

In the spring of 2017, after just 8 months of cruising we called it quits (the first time). This was mostly my decision, as Brittany wanted to keep sailing, but I wanted peace and I perceived the only way to get that was to go back to the way things were. We found a safe(ish) dock for Gromit, bought a car and moved back to Houston. I got my old job back and we bought a house within 2 weeks. I was such an idiot.

We lived in Houston for 2 years and I was in anguish most of that time. I missed travelling, but more so we had such big dreams for where we’d go and I felt I had just given up. What God had so graciously led us into, opening doors wide at every step, I had betrayed and thrown all of it away. The only way to suppress the pain of that decision was to try to completely forget that phase of my life had even happened. This was hard on Britt as she remembered it quite fondly. Eventually we worked through some of the trauma, and after being laid off from my job in 2019 we sold the house and moved back aboard.

The cutter stay doubling as a merry go round

We lasted maybe 9 months. Cue the idiocy again. On a “temporary” trip back to Houston for Christmas to visit family, we wound up selling the boat to my dad and buying a piece of property to build a home. This certainly wasn’t a calculated decision, but we were having some strains and yet again I perceived the answer to be to settle down on land. Admittedly I loved the property, and I enjoy building. Brittany, wanting me to be happy, supported this decision.

You’d think we would have learned our lesson the first time, eh? This time, however, I was more content with our decision. I looked back on our time living on the boat with good memories and was optimistic about our future on land. I let it go. We let it go. Then, mysteriously, God gave it back to us.

After the birth of our 5th child, God spoke something very meaningful to Brittany and we started talking about the boat again. We started talking about where we went wrong and what we should have done differently. In April of 2021 we even took a road trip to visit my Dad and stay on Gromit for a few days. I remember sitting in the aft cabin talking with Brittany and just being overwhelmed with this feeling of “This is our home”. The feeling was mutual. We spoke to my dad about buying it back and by the grace of God we found someone to buy our unfinished house.

So what are these lessons we learned?

Many of these issues were there before living on a boat: The truth is many of the issues that caused us much stress existed before moving aboard, they were just amplified and brought into the light during this time. Pet peeves and personality differences could be safely dealt with (read: ignored) when we only saw each other for 3 or 4 hours a day. The kicker is those problems didn’t go away after moving back ashore. Be aware of your differences. Are you an introvert? Are they an extrovert? Do you need X hours a day of downtime? Are you both up to travelling every day or do you need a break every few days? Try to plan for these differences so that everyone is happy, and when you encounter them try to be patient with one another.

Communicate, communicate, communicate: I definitely failed here on the first round. I was miserable but didn’t reveal anything until after we had made major moves in the wrong direction. The second try I was so fragile that Brittany was afraid to reveal her true emotions to me. In both cases it would have been better if we had sat down with humble hearts, perhaps opening with a prayer, to talk through our feelings and needs.

Make big decisions slowly: I can’t even count how many times we’ve moved in the last 5 years. Big decisions are expensive and have lasting psychological effects on everyone. The better option would have been to take a break, book a hotel for a few days, or a few weeks to decompress and analyze our emotions.

Misery is optional: Ok, I stole this from Behan of Sailing Totem, but it carries a lot of weight. As I mentioned in my opening, life on a boat is rewarding but harder than land life so anything you can do to reduce some of the misery and make life easier will make the overall experience less stressful – and more fun! In our case we’ve spent the last 11 months aboard making improvements to the boat in areas that make life easier. A bigger watermaker so we can make water faster, electric oven and stove (goodbye burned food), new fans, replacing worn our faucets, and a host of other major and minor improvements. In addition to that, we realized that we have the freedom to make decisions to avoid difficulties and complications. Picking calm weather windows, while perhaps not as frequent, put us at ease as new sailors. Sailing conservatively and choosing headings that result in more comfort at the expense of speed. Taking an Uber to the laundromat instead of walking.

“Plans are written in the sand at low tide”
Image from TakingPaws.com

Have loose expectations: Another way of saying this might be, “Be flexible”. With a family, especially with 5 kids, we have to be willing to cancel or change plans on a moment’s notice. Whether someone get sick, or the weather is just too snotty to go to the beach like we planned, having a flexible mentality removes the stress of being disappointed when something doesn’t work out. There are a thousand factors that are out of our control that contribute the plan working that it doesn’t make sense to get all worked up when things fall apart.

June 2021 we moved back to our boat for the third time, but this time feels different. Having learned and applied the lessons above we’re coming on up 1 year aboard, longer than any stint we had before, and things are going really well. I’m not going to pretend things have been perfect, but at the core I think we’ve got what it takes to make it work. We’re positive about the future with big exciting dreams for cruising. In a way this post therapeutic to write, closure for me in a way, but it is my hope that this may help anyone out there looking to make the dream of cruising a reality!

Starting Maggie young on advanced gaming techniques

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