Lessons Learned: How to buy a boat

We thought we found our boat – turns out we were wrong! We certainly understand we have a lot to learn about this new lifestyle and sailing in general, and how to buy a boat is no exception.  We  went to St. Martin in April for a boat survey. This took a lot of coordination – flying my brother and sister-in-law out to watch the kids, get time off from work, pay for plane, hotel, food, etc. To get to this point, we had to sign an offer/contract ($500 for the lawyer to prepare the paperwork), put a 20% deposit into an escrow account, pay for our trip to do the survey, pay the surveyor ($600), and pay the have the boat hauled out to inspect the hull ($550). This makes it hurt that much more when you find out during the survey that there are some serious fixes that need to be made and the owner is not willing to negotiate. We are trying to make the best of it, and feel that we learned quite a bit about this process from our trip, so it wasn’t all for not! Here is a list of lessons learned:

  1. Never offer full price, even if you think it’s a good deal.
  2. Make sure the owner is willing to negotiate if there are major findings from the survey before you travel for a survey.
  3. Ask for prior surveys when available.
  4. Have a surveyor look at the boat and take video (mini-survey) before you travel 8 hours by plane to visit the boat.
  5. Make sure there are no outstanding/previous issues with expensive items to fix (the engines, hulls, fiberglass, sails, water maker, etc.)
  6. Use a licensed yacht broker. We were going the “by owner” route and did not have a broker. Many brokers are slimy – you must find one that is licensed and check to see if they have any complaints against them.
  7. Know that the surveyor is your best friend- they are the only one’s that honestly have your best interest at heart. Make sure to use a SAMS accredited surveyor. Not only are they highly qualified, but your boat insurance will require it.

So, here we go. We are taking those lessons learned and we will continue our search. The fact that we are not buying this boat allows us to stay in the U.S. for my brothers wedding and eliminates the need for us to travel back in July. It just wasn’t meant to be. There is something better out there waiting for us.

*** update***

We have a contract on a 38 foot Lagoon catamaran in Grenada and are waiting on the mini-survey results on June 6th before we schedule a flight out for Pat to check-out the boat in person.

Our new boat - hopefully!
Our new boat – hopefully!

Inspiration for living outside of the box

So, I have decided to write a book. There are already books like Living off the Grid: A Beginner’s Guide that talk about how to create self-sustaining homes, but I want to go a step further. As we begin our new lifestyle of living aboard a sailboat, we would like to put together a book for folks who say “that’s awesome, but I get seasick and I wouldn’t even know how to begin living a life outside of suburbia”. I want to show everyday people who feel the dissatisfaction with their current lifestyle that there are alternatives. I am interviewing people that live in tiny homes, on farms, in RV’s, on sailboats, travel out of their car, travel by bicycle, travel by foot, etc. I hope to use these experiences in this book that will form a compilation of “living outside of the box” examples. Not only do I want to give real life examples, but also a sort of “how to” – addressing major questions like:

  • What led you to this lifestyle?
  • What was your life like before you transitioned “out of the box”?
  • What considerations did you have to address before transitioning?
  • What did you have to give up?
  • What did you gain?
  • Do you intend to live “outside of the box” forever or is it short-term?
  • Reaction/feedback from family/friends? How did you deal with it?
  • What sort of preparation did you have to do?
  • How long did it take to prepare?
  • Have you ever felt like your health/safety was “at-risk”?
  • What do you do for health insurance? What has care been like outside of the country (if applicable)?
  • What are your plans for retirement?
  • How do you make money? *only answer if/how you feel comfortable
  • How much money do you need to live off of?

If you have children:

  • What were their ages when you left?
  • What do you do for schooling?
  • Socialization?
  • What is their perspective on your lifestyle?

I put a call out to folks I have met through social media that are living different lifestyles – check out WorldSchoolers and Kids4sail on Face Book to get an idea of what I’m talking about. I was overjoyed when overnight I received 23 responses of individuals/families that want to take part in this book. My hope is that I can get it published late this year. I can’t wait to share it with you!

The Same Page

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how fortunate I am to have a spouse that is on the same page as me. I can’t imagine feeling stuck in the rut of our life and an intense need for change and having my spouse be resistant to that change. Pat and I happened to be on the same page at the same time, which is really quite extraordinary. If you had proposed quitting our jobs, selling all of our belongings, and traveling even a year ago I would have thought you were crazy and emphatically said, “no”! In fact, Pat told me he would have done this a long time ago, but wanted to support me in my career. It took another untimely loss to catapult me into the frame of mind Pat has been in for a while. I don’t think there are many people that would take this crazy ride with me – I’m so lucky to have him as my co-Captain.

Ouch – in more ways than one!

Passport Health Office- pre-shots.
Passport Health Office: pre-shots.

In preparation for our departure, we met with a nurse, Brad, from Passport Health in December. Brad told us what vaccinations we would need, when we would need them, and gave good advice on what other medications we should request from our primary care doctors. We left knowing that we would all need the Typhoid vaccination, everyone but Pat would need the Yellow Fever vaccination (he already had it from the military), and a few of us would need another Tetanus vaccination. No problem – we’d come back as we got closer to leaving and get those shots.

Fast forward to this past Tuesday. I had made an appointment for the family to receive our vaccinations. The boys were super brave and Grant said he wanted to go first. They did awesome. Then came Hope – not so awesome. Poor thing had to be held down pretty forcefully for her 2 shots. After we all settled down from Hope’s drama, our trusty new friend, Brad, tallied up our total and then said we owed……. $1800!!!! What!?! Pat and I looked at each other, both of us with our eyes about to pop out of our heads. We had already received the vaccinations and I think we both briefly entertained the idea of running out the door!

Looking back, it would have been nice to know the cost of each vaccination before we got it, but the reality is it doesn’t really matter. We needed them, and there is no entering Grenada without proof of the Yellow Fever vaccine. Good thing we had just sold the 4runner and have a little bit of cash in the bank!

Who knew vaccinations were so expensive? Again, I am realizing how privileged we are to be able to travel internationally. The cost of a passport is not cheap, and then to not be allowed into countries without an extremely expensive vaccination is the cherry on top. Luckily these expenses (passport and vaccinations) will only occur every 5-10 years, and now we know we need to prepare and save up!

We thought we had created a pretty complete budget, and now realizing that we didn’t budget in $1800 worth of vaccinations, we’re a bit nervous that there are other (large) costs that we’re not considering. Fingers crossed that was our only big surprise!

Sale! and Unsolicited Advice

I spent much of Spring Break getting ready for our moving sale. We sorted what we want to take, put in storage, or sell. Over the course of the weekend, we sold the majority of our things with the exception of beds, couches, and the kitchen table which we will sell just before we leave. It’s crazy to think that all of your belongings are only worth a couple thousand dollars (or at least ours, as we have not upgraded our furniture after 6 moves and 3 kids).

One thing we have found to be fascinating is people’s need to tell us of their disapproval. During our moving sale people would ask why we were selling everything. We would tell them we are moving onto a boat. Without a dialogue or questions asked, we had complete strangers tell us of their disapproval. Then, 5 minutes later, we would have another person tell us how incredible it is and want to know more about it. Pretty much without exception, people are either in total support and want to do something similar someday, or they are completely negative and want to rain on our parade. We’ve been trying to figure out why this is the case – our family’s decision has invoked a strong reaction, both positive and negative, in nearly everyone who we’ve talked to. I’ve come to the conclusion that the people who are supportive have envisioned something different in their lives and like to see examples of people who are willing to do something drastically different. The people who are negative for some reason see our choice of an alternative lifestyle as a condemnation of their choice to live a more traditional lifestyle. I feel like we have hit on a nerve, and I want to explore that. It’s giving me some good material for a book I’m working on focused on inspiring folks through stories from the heart and also practical things that need to be considered when considering doing something different.

Although we really don’t need anybody’s approval, we want to avoid negative energy/attitudes – after all, who likes being around negative nellies? So, if it feels like we’re avoiding you, we probably are ;). We welcome encouragement, positive thoughts, and community spirit.

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What Are They Thinking!!! First and last disclaimer.

We know there has been quite a bit of chatter out there: What are they thinking?! It’s so irresponsible! What about the safety of their children? When people hear you are moving onto a boat to sail the World, I believe the image they see is one of a family of 5 on a small boat in the middle of the ocean; wild storms producing large waves crashing over the bow. Here is the reality:

  • We will be on a large, 38ft, very stable and seaworthy catamaran. It will have a living area (salon), kitchen (galley), 2 bathrooms (heads) and 4 bedrooms (cabins). It will have all of the safety equipment one could imagine.
  • We will be anchored 90% of the time. This means that we will sail to an island/coastal town, anchor, and stay there for an extended amount of time (visas typically allow 30 days, but can be extended). We will explore, go on field trips, and spend much of our days hiking, swimming/snorkeling on the beach, and mingling with the locals.
  • We have joined two different online groups that sailing families use to organize play dates. For example, we already know there will be many family sailboats in Grenada during hurricane season that the kids will be able to make friends with.
  • Is it not dangerous to travel the highway transporting our kids to and from activities or on vacation? There is risk in living day to day in the box, just as there is out of the box.
  • We will not do a major crossing until we are ready – this could be a year or more away. We will always take the necessary precautions with weather (it’s all about timing).
  • We have all of our vaccinations, will have a first rate first aid kit, prescription medications, emergency health coverage, and access to health care in other countries (which much to many people’s surprise, is often better (and cheaper!) than in the U.S.). We have met with our physicians, dentists, travel doctor, orthodontists, etc. to discuss health care abroad. Not one of them has said we shouldn’t do this. They have been supportive and provided us with resources to be successful.
  • We love our children and that is why we’re doing this. We would never put them in harms way. We feel this lifestyle will give them more than we ever could in our “box”.

We can’t live our life in fear. What kind of life is it to not explore, take risks, or follow your dreams because you’re afraid? Not one that we want to live. And we certainly don’t want to teach our kids to live in fear.


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Our checklist

Ahhhhh! There is so much to think about and do. I feel like preparing to leave is a full time job. I created a prep checklist at 4:30 this morning (when I couldn’t sleep, thinking about everything we have to do!), and there are over 175 items. Some are small – get water shoes for kids, buy bandaids/neosporin to supplement the trauma first aid kit (which I still need to buy), buy notebooks for the kids homeschooling, etc. Some are big – sell the car, find health insurance, get the boat insured, find a mail service, etc. Once we have finalized our checklist, we’ll post it to this site in case it can help anyone else in the future that is thinking about doing something similar. The picture above is the top of our checklist – the grayed out items are complete.

Part of why we’ve been so stressed is because we’ve really been struggling with when to leave. We will officially be owners of the boat in mid-April. We really don’t want to leave the boat sitting in the lagoon for months unattended where it is susceptible to robbery, but we also can’t pay thousands of dollars to have it stored on the hard. Additionally, we don’t want to be rushed in July when we get there; feeling like we have to leave immediately to get out of a potential hurricane’s path. I kept saying the reason we couldn’t leave earlier was because we couldn’t let our house sit empty, without our jobs, and paying on the mortgage. So, I’ve recently realized this was my perceived barrier. I emailed our new tenants who were supposed to move-in July 1 and they said they would love to move in a month early! Whew! That is one barrier out of the way. The next is that we want the kids to finish out the school year, which ends in early June. After some thought, we realized this is a perceived barrier and not a true one. It won’t kill anyone to miss a couple of weeks of school. So, the new plan is to move mid-May, take our time getting to know the new boat and sailing it South, before any major storms roll in. Then in July, we will fly back for my brother’s wedding. This is the plan for now, but I’m not guaranteeing it will remain the same!

The biggest stress of all has been the uncertainty of how we will continue to make money. The original plan was for me to continue teaching online. I haven’t experienced the internet in the Caribbean, so I’m a little bit leery of how well this will work. I am anxious to see what the internet is like when we look at the boat in April. If internet poses a problem, we’ll need to focus on other income making opportunities. One is writing a cruising guide book for the areas we spend a lot of time in. Another is writing articles for sailing magazines. We also hope to work at boat yards – making money and learning at the same time! We’ll figure it out as we go. We have enough saved to get us by for a while – when we created a budget for this lifestyle we figured out we will only need about $25K/yr. to live comfortably. That is the beauty of sailing – we can actually afford to see the World! While the preparation phase is stressful, it’s a good stress and it won’t last forever!

Giving it all up

With some time on our hands at the start of Spring Break and feeling like we are moving forward with the purchase of the boat, we have felt the need to start getting a little bit more organized. We need to figure out just how much we will have in storage, what exactly we need to sell, and if we will have to ship items to take with us to St. Martin or if we can cram it all into bags on the airplane in July. We will be having a moving sale this coming weekend- which we anticipate to be the first of several. It may seem a bit premature to be tearing our house apart when we have 3 months until go time, but being experienced movers in the military we know you don’t want to wait until the last minute because it is ALWAYS more work than you anticipate.

So, we will live in a house that doesn’t exactly feel like a home for the next few months- bare walls are the worst. This is my least favorite part of moving – feeling in transition for extended periods of time. This time it’s a bit different because I know we won’t see most of our “things” again. I try to imagine what it will feel like when we move onto the boat – how long will it take us to feel like it’s “home”? This time, we are severing ties with nearly everything. It has caused me to reflect on how much emotion we have attached to “things”. The “things” we are attached to of course have memories associated with them – the dress I wore the night we got engaged, my wedding shoes, my PhD regalia, taking pictures out of their frames to put in storage, dolls from when I was a child, the kids baby clothes, a painting Pat and I bought in Paris, a picture we got during our time in Alaska, etc.

We will be putting family heirlooms in storage and take a couple of special items with us. I’m bringing a glass bluebird from my Uncle, and a quilt made out of my dad’s clothes – (I don’t know what Pat is thinking about taking yet). The kids will bring a few toys (whatever will fit in one box each), their bedding, clothes, art supplies, and stuffed animals. I hope these items will help them with the transition.

It feels amazing to get rid of some things – nylons, suits, high heels, clothes I’ve kept hoping to fit into them again. I’m bringing clothes that are light and comfortable, swim suits, and flip flops/tennis shoes.

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The future Dessert First – hopefully!

We think we have found our boat/new home! We are signing the offer paperwork today and will head out to survey/inspect the boat in early April. It is located in Saint Martin, so there will be quite a bit of travel just to see it. This is not ideal, but the boat has nearly everything we are looking for and is very reasonably priced, so we figure it’s worth it. The fact that it is located in Saint Martin changes our plans a bit. Instead of driving cross country to Florida in July, we will fly one way to Saint Martin from Oregon (where my brother’s wedding will be on July 16th). We will ship the few items we will be bringing with us. We will then immediately sail South to a location that is not prone to hurricanes – maybe Grenada, Aruba, or Trinidad/Tobago. Thank goodness I have an awesome brother and future sister-in-law – they will be coming to watch the kids while Pat and I go to inspect and finalize the purchase.

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Privilege and Opportunity

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how lucky we are – I am so grateful everyday for the opportunities we have been given. I would be remiss if I didn’t address how this journey would look different if it were not for privilege and opportunity.

Education is central to our ability to take this leap. We would not feel qualified to home school if it weren’t for our education; we would not have been able to accumulate the resources necessary to do this (the way we are doing it) if it weren’t for education; we probably wouldn’t have known where to start looking to figure out how to make this possible if it weren’t for our education.We wouldn’t be comfortable leaving our jobs feeling confident that we could find work as needed if it weren’t for our education.

In every social policy class I teach, I stress the structural oppression that exists in our World, and how that is depicted in our education system every day. I understand that I was extremely privileged to obtain the level and quality of education I have today.

We also understand that this is an opportunity we are fortunate to have – we are able to do this because Pat and I, the kids, and our extended family are healthy. This time last year and for several years prior to that, this would not have been possible – we needed to stay close to be with struggling family. We don’t have to deal with partial custody issues, as many do. We no longer have a legal commitment to the military. I’m sure the list could go on and on.

On the other side of the coin, we will always have “barriers” to living our dream. Even if we have every resource necessary to make a dream happen, it can be scary to make the decision to live outside of what society expects of us. Sometimes the dream needs to change to accommodate reality. This was the case with Pat – his dream to fly was just not going to happen – and trust me – we looked at every way that we might be able to make it happen. So, here we are – a new dream. One that we are just as excited about and includes the whole family. We had many barriers that we had to seriously consider and decide if it was a real or perceived barrier, and if was real – was there a way to overcome it? What were some of the barriers we had to break down in our heads?

  • Being judged/unsupported by our family and friends — We decided to care about our happiness more than what others think.
  • What are we going to do with the house we just built?
  • What about our dog?
  • If this doesn’t work, will we have thrown away our careers?
  • What if we can’t find work to support ourselves? What if we find it, but it doesn’t last?
  • We don’t even know how to sail!
  • There is so much to learn about how to do this right – how will we ever learn it all? Don’t we need to know everything before we start?
  • How are we going to afford this again?! (I’ll write a post about this in the near future, as I think a lot of people wonder about this aspect).
  • And the list goes on……

The point I’m trying to make here is that yes, we are very fortunate. Yes, we had obstacles to overcome. Yes, we had to search hard to find a way of living that is fulfilling. Yes, we had to work towards a goal – creating a plan and taking steps to achieve the goals set out in that plan. No, this does not happen overnight – but it can happen sooner than later depending on your level of desire and need for change.

Sailing is not it for everyone. What is your idea of a truly fulfilling life? Some people will have more obstacles to overcome than others. What real/perceived obstacles do you need to overcome to make it happen? What is the first step you can take towards that dream?