Getting Ready to Go
August 11, 2005
Bought myself the perfect boat
E. Quinn, Tomorrow I'll Go Cruising
We're often asked practical questions about what it takes to live aboard full time and go cruising. The fact we're out here on our boat seems to be proof it can be done, but how exactly did we do it? Did we need a lot of money? Could we have done it on a smaller boat? What important things did we bring with us? How do we keep in touch? Some of these questions are listed, together with our answers, on our new Questions & Answers page. If our replies seem a bit evasive or filled with caveats it's because there's not a single prescription for how to go cruising. Everyone has to juggle a personal set of priorities in preparing to get off the dock.
Take, for example, our friends Paul and Mary Ouellette. Although they live in Windsor, Ontario, we first met them last fall in Annapolis at a rendezvous of Beneteau sailboat owners that Eileen was performing for. We bumped into them a couple of months later in Marathon, FL; we were waiting for weather to sail to the Bay of Honduras and they were vacationing in their trailer. On both occasions, Paul flooded us with questions about cruising. He has had his sights set on sailing to tropical paradise ever since he bought "Winpipe", a 36 foot Beneteau, four years ago. He has Mary and Malibu, their miniature schnauzer, 99 percent convinced to join him. He wants to do it right.
Paul doesn't lack for enthusiasm. He initiated a Beneteau owners group for Lake Erie (www.clubbeneteau.com) and remains its driving force. On Paul's recommendation, the organizers of the annual Lake Erie Beneteau Rendezvous invited us to attend their gathering in Put-In-Bay a couple of weekends ago. Put-In-Bay is on South Bass Island, on the Ohio side of Lake Erie. It claims to be the recreational boating centre of the Great Lakes. To get there, we were going to meet "Winpipe" in Leamington, on the Ontario side of the lake. We had heard a lot about Put-In-Bay, so we were delighted to have the opportunity to go there for the first time. Paul was also delighted that we could go because, among other things, he'd have an uninterrupted five hours going and another five coming back to pick our brains about cruising.
One of the first questions Paul asked us after we had boarded "Winpipe" at the municipal marina in Leamington was whether his boat was big enough for extended cruising. That was an easy one. Our boat is also 36 feet long and we've been living aboard it with a pile of music PA equipment for 11 years. "Yes," we said unequivocally. Then Mary confided that she didn't like having to climb over Paul getting into and out of their berth (or Paul climbing over her, for the matter); she'd prefer a walk-around berth. "Well," we retreated, "in that case, maybe you need a bigger boat."
It soon became apparent that Paul has his heart set on moving up to a 50 foot Beneteau. He and Mary have an eight year plan that involves selling their home, consolidating investments, and retiring with a pension. By that time, Mary's son should be financially independent and on his own. It all made perfect sense to us. "If that's what works for you, then go for it," we said.
We described the circumstances under which we left to go cruising. At the time, we didn't own a home or car, had simple investments, no pension plans, and no kids. Our ten year plan was abandoned halfway through when we returned from a family funeral and realized life is too short. We decided to leave early without a lot of financial security, accepting we would have to earn income along the way. It's worked for us, but that doesn't mean it's a course of action others should take.
This conversation took place as we were tacking across Lake Erie in a light southwest breeze. We were managing four knots, but unfortunately our projected track was going to take us through the centre of Pelee Island, a decidedly fixed object in the middle of the lake. It was getting late and we didn't want to miss the complimentary cocktail hour at the rendezvous, so Paul dropped the sails, started the engine, and we motored around Pelee Island, making a beeline for Put-In-Bay. There was one unoccupied mooring buoy left in the crowded harbour when we arrived; we grabbed it.
Put-In-Bay's historical claim to fame is that it served as Oliver Hazard Perry's base of operations for the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. On September 10, 1813, after heavy casualties on both sides, the American commander captured the entire British fleet under Commodore Robert H. Barclay -- a pivotal victory that was immortalized in Perry's dispatch: "We have met the enemy and they are ours." A 352 foot tall granite Doric column in the centre of Put-In-Bay's waterfront commemorates the occasion; "Winpipe" was moored in its shadow. David looked nervously at the Canadian ensign flying off the stern flag staff. "Do you think they hold a grudge?" he asked.
Any fears of a reprisal were quickly put to rest when we ventured ashore. Put-In-Bay on a sunny summer weekend is definitely a happening place with myriad bars, restaurants, and tourist shops putting out the welcome mat for the throngs of visiting boaters. We found our way to the Beneteau rendezvous and confirmed with Terry Freeman, one of the organizers, the details of our presentation. Primed by Paul's continuous questioning, David agreed to do a slide show about preparing to go cruising full time. Eileen would perform a number of her songs that illustrate what the liveaboard lifestyle is all about.
The next day, Eileen started our presentation by singing "Tomorrow I'll Go Cruising", quoted at the beginning of this entry. Now, at a boat owners' rendezvous sponsored by a yacht brokerage firm, you're not going to be too popular if you suggest that it's possible to go cruising on just about any kind of boat, that bigger is not necessarily better, and that a lot of expensive cruising gear is unnecessary. In his talk, David wisely decided to skip lightly over how to select and outfit a cruising boat and concentrate more on where to go cruising and what to do once you get there.
The point we were trying to make is that cruising is not primarily about boats and equipment. At least for us, cruising is about the places you visit and the people you meet. Our advice to anyone planning to leave on an extended voyage is to take it one step at a time. We know people who abandoned their cruising dream before it had hardly begun mainly because they had overly ambitious plans: they tried to do too much, too fast, and got burnt out. You'll never see everything, so take the time to enjoy each place you encounter. And don't be afraid to change course if things aren't working out or if other opportunities present themselves. That's all part of the adventure. By going slow and being flexible you'll minimize the stress of adapting to a new and different lifestyle. You'll also meet more people and build more connections. These will form the memories you'll treasure long after the trip is over.
We headed back to Leamington on Sunday. Paul probably would have continued asking questions all the way to the dock, but we prevailed upon him to give us a mid-lake pipe concert. He's been playing bagpipes competitively since he was 14 years old and he just happened to have a compact set onboard (we suspect he always has some pipes close by). With the autopilot engaged, he soon had us tapping our feet and crying for more. Now it was our turn to be entertained.
After we had unloaded Eileen's sound equipment and left Paul and Mary at the marina, Eileen mused, "That was a great weekend. I wonder if we'll see them out cruising one day."
David said, "They'll be hard to miss. We'll hear them first."
David & Eileen