Sailing the Caribbean waters, living aboard indefinitely, taking your floating home from one exotic place to another is an interesting concept … To many people living a ‘normal’ life on land, living on a sailboat represents a life of freedom, beauty and perfect tropical weather. They imagine the sailing couple—whether they are friends, family or strangers they read or hear about—sitting on a sugary white beach, swaying in a hammock between palm trees, sailing with full sails over translucent water, swimming in the crystal clear sea, sunbathing on deck, snorkeling with turtles, rays and colorful fish or sipping a piña colada in the comfortable cockpit, while the sun drops below the horizon.
Why do we Cruise?
The reality is often far from that. When cruisers hang out in a bar during happy hour, you hear them talk about that last major squall that ripped their jib, the fact that their fridge is broken; the best remedies for seasickness, the unavailability of parts for their water maker or the annoyance of being stuck in harbor because a generator part they ordered is delayed. Information about what to get where and how is exchanged and helping hands are offered.
Boat parts are harder to come by on most of the Caribbean islands and they are expensive. Because our floating homes get kicked around a lot by wind and waves, things break often. The salty environment doesn’t help. When you captain a sailboat, not only do you have to be capable of sailing and navigating your boat, you also ought to be a diesel mechanic and a general handyman. You never know where and when something will fail and you better have some spares aboard. The adage ‘Sailing is fixing your boat in exotic places’ comes to mind often.
Another saying cruisers know all too well is B-O-A-T or ‘Break out another Thousand’. That’s right, we pay in ‘boat units’, every unit representing US$1,000 and many of those are spent a year. Owning a boat is in my experience NOT the cheapest way to travel the world (Gone are the days I lived out of a backpack for US$5,000 a year), but it can be done very affordably, depending on the kind of sailboat you purchase, the amount of things that break and/or you can’t fix yourself and your level of comfort. Daily life is cheap if you cook all your own meals, sail as much as possible (you do have a sailboat after all!), don’t go out often, and if nothing major breaks.
Most of the sailors out here are retired and have sufficient money to live on and keep their boat afloat. Younger people might have to make money along the way to not only maintain the boat, but also maintain the lifestyle. That ‘little’ fact adds extra stress and frustration to the already quite hardy and busy boat life. As any cruiser can confirm; nothing is easy when you live on the water.
Grocery shopping takes half-a-day and some needed items are hard to find. Raising sails, lifting dinghies and hauling jerry cans full of water and fuel breaks your back. Where is the nearest Laundromat? How about propane? Washing the dishes, cleaning the interior, checking the engines, tuning the rigging; boat errands never totally stop. You can hire local ‘professionals’ to help out with the unending list of boat projects, but that will cost you. How long will you have to wait around and will it be done right?
Before idealizing or desiring a life afloat, you have to realize the lack of comfort and what is involved. Don’t forget your dependency on the weather, local customs and languages and managing a ‘moving’ household, while using a small dinghy as the only transportation device. Now why would anyone choose a lifestyle like this, you wonder? I ask myself that very question frequently and imagine sailors are a stubborn lot … But then I’d be ‘out there’ sailing along at seven knots, staring at the horizon and observing a playful pod of dolphins, blue skies overhead and turquoise seas underneath. I would arrive at a pretty, remote anchorage with a gorgeous beach lined with picturesque palm trees. I’d go for an amazing snorkel and finish the day with a rum & coke (with ice!) in our cockpit, while the sun gloriously turns the sky red. At night I would gaze at the millions of stars and think to myself, “This is why I am sailing. Let’s keep doing it just a tiny bit longer …” One perfect day is worth all the other ‘trouble’.
Liesbet Collaert is a former teacher and freelance writer who lives and cruises on S/V Irie with her husband, Mark. Visit: www.itsirie.com Blog: http://xwaters.com/blogs/liesbets-blog