This article was originally published in March 2000 on SailNet.
One of the first points made in articles on marine navigation is that a good navigator uses all available information. This advice is just as valuable when you prepare to make the change from landlubber to liveaboard cruiser after a life of working for a living. Pertinent information can be gleaned from a myriad of sources today: books, periodicals, the web, and cruising clubs offer data to ease your transformation from worker to cruiser.
"Ask the man who owns one!" was the recommended tactic in commercials for Packard cars in the 1940s and '50s. This concept is still valid, and you can follow this sage advice to learn from those who are already living your dream. If there are no cruisers in your immediate area, use the newsletters of cruising groups such as the Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA) whose monthly bulletin contains a wealth of information from full-time cruisers. It's worthwhile to note, however, that full-time cruisers often have strong and differing views on almost any subject. If you get four cruisers together, there may be at least that many differing opinions.
Blindly following another cruiser's course is almost always a mistake, and you need to form your own personal judgement. Forming your own opinions requires not only some study of others thoughts, but some reflection before you will be free to achieve your goal of enjoying those golden years aboard your boat. In spite of what many people assume, retirement and moving aboard do cause stress, just as any major change in lifestyle does whether good or bad. But some stress is needed in your life if you are to survive and grow. Just recognize the strain as a normal part of the transition, accept it for what it is, and deal with it actively to fulfill your dream. When the time comes, look at the change in lifestyle as the opening of a new door rather than the closing of the old one. You won't be losing old friends, but adding lots of new ones!
Here's the Hope Town lighthouse in the Bahamas captured at dawn from the author's cockpit. What will it be for you, a Bahamian sunrise or the morning TV news?
Goals You won't be able to navigate to your destination without a thorough understanding of where you are going. So when looking to the future, consider your goals first. Wanderlust, adventure, economic freedom, and humanitarian endeavors are all factors that have driven others to pursue cruising. For many, just going from one marina to another and meeting new people suits their needs. Some simply want to follow the lead of the migratory birds, moving south for the winter and north for the summer. Last, but not least, thoughts of trade winds, palm trees, and deserted, sandy beaches become the siren's call of offshore sailing to some. The key to a successful transition from the ranks of the gainfully employed is to have a good grasp of what you want to accomplish.
Motives Analyze your personal motives for retiring aboard a boat and suit them to the type of cruising you want to do. The freedom to move about and experience new environments can be a strong motivation, but the view along a waterway bears little similarity to that far offshore—and both vary drastically from the view along a freeway. The same can be said for the opportunity to try new and different lifestyles. It is not uncommon for liveaboard cruisers to emulate and adopt the lifestyle of the local society. Sometimes this means going to bed and rising with the sun, or wearing a simple, warm-climate wardrobe. In some waterfront locales, you may get the chance to sample exotic foods, while in others, just plain grub is common. If you are enticed by mangos, breadfruit, and papaya, you'll need to head for the tropics where they're "dirt-cheap" at local markets. If saving money is a priority, get the Coke in the US where it's cheap, and sail to the Caribbean where a liter of local rum is even cheaper than a can of cola.
Dreams Write down at least five personal dreams you have for retirement in their order of priority. If you have a spouse or significant other, have them join you, but ask them to create their own list. Then compare the two lists to ascertain and verify that you both share the same dreams. If you don't, the dream can become a nightmare! Numerous cruisers' marriages become "water-soluble romances" because they were pursuing different goals. I know of this occurring throughout Mexico's Sea of Cortez, the Panama Canal, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific.
Oui Si—the 33-foot "interim boat" that serves as the author's home while underway.
Compromise is perhaps even more essential onboard than ashore. We had a 33-foot boat for the 10 years before we left. It was supposed to be our "interim boat," since I felt that 28 feet was just right for cruising while my wife felt that 38 feet might barely be big enough. With only 24 months to go before we cut the ties, a re-assessment of our economic situation yielded the following: either work for five more years for a bigger boat or go on schedule with the existing vessel. Once we boiled the decision down to its simplest form, the resolution was easy. We're still cruising with that same "interim boat" on which we left in 1986. For us, it was the right choice, and we'd do it again in a heartbeat.
Reality Check Now that you've spent some time analyzing your goals and motives, and before you become totally engulfed in your dream, some reality is in order. On another sheet of paper, list the things that you have and enjoy in your present lifestyle. By that, I mean things like a telephone, hot and cold running water, electric lights, ice in your drinks, a color TV, a daily newspaper, and an everyday supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. Now, separate the list into those items which you really need to have and those which are just nice to have.
This reality list helps to define your priorities for your lifestyle of the future. As an example, my wife said it was mandatory that we have the capability to make ice for our sun-downers! I let her win that battle, and, in retrospect, I'm glad that she stuck to her guns, as we've enjoyed cold drinks ever since. Besides, we've found that the necessities and luxuries differ greatly when we live ashore from when living aboard.
If the beauty of nature, gorgeous sunsets, and horizon-to-horizon rainbows sound great as a replacement for some of the material comforts of home, the cruising life might be just what you're looking for. On the other hand, if seeing first-run movies, playing the stock market, and eating out five nights a week are your forte, you might be much happier on dry land.
First, The Decision by Sue & Larry
The Cruising Life—How to Get Started by Sue & Larry
Breaking those Shoreside Bonds by Don Casey
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