Trailer Boat Cruisers

By Gary Kramer
Published: August/September 2011

No matter where they dock their boats, many boaters spend a lot of time in a place called Someday Isle. They sit and dream about cruises they hope to take someday and the big boat that will carry them. Unfortunately, most of those Someday Isle musings are never realized. Obstacles such as finances, health problems, family obligations, and other issues get in the way.

Photo of El and Bill Fiero
During 51 years of marriage, El and Bill Fiero, on teachers' incomes, have cruised throughout America's coasts and heartland, more than 41,000 miles, on boats no bigger than 22 feet — the perfect size to live out their philosophy of "simplify, simplify, and then simplify some more"

But El and Bill Fiero are one couple who turned their dreams into a unique cruising lifestyle. They began by retiring in 1984 at age 50 from their jobs as educators, selling their home and most of their belongings to become full-time nomads. Following several years of exploring this country and the world, they decided to focus their wanderings on the waterways of North America. They bought a 20-foot Pacific Seacraft Flicka sailboat, put it on a trailer, hitched it up to a pickup truck with a pop-up camper, and headed off. They ended up cruising 13,000 miles on that boat, including figuring out a way in 1992 to complete what's now known as the Great Loop.

The sailboat limited their ability to travel upstream, so in 2000, they bought a tough little 22-foot C-Dory Cruiser. With that boat, they've cruised all the rivers that the United States Corps of Engineers says are navigable by powerboats. They've been in the Pacific, Atlantic, and the Gulf of Mexico; have cruised waters in 29 states; and have repeatedly been in Canada — logging more than 28,000 miles on Halcyon, named for a mythical bird that built her floating nest at sea. The Fieros don't have unlimited financial means but they didn't choose this lifestyle to save money. Their decision to live simply and small came as part of their love of canoeing, camping, bird watching, and observing nature. Those passions dovetailed with their strong desire to visit new places.

Bill says the mindset toward simplicity began when he was a boy and the writer Thoreau became "my best friend. What he was saying just struck home to me — simplify, simplify, simplify," he recalls. Bill still reads Thoreau from the same well-marked book he had as a kid. El grew up sailing and always loved the water so she enjoyed the trip they took, paddling 1,300 miles down the Missouri River in a folding tandem kayak for two months. But hiking the Appalachian Trail for six-and-a-half months made a profound impact on her. She says the experience "teaches you how little you need." She realized, for instance, she really didn't need ice, so now the boat's cooler only holds a few things.

Photo of a tranquil moment on Lake Powell. A tranquil moment on Lake Powell.

Their wanderings started early in their 51-year marriage. After Bill earned his doctorate in geology, he accepted a split appointment at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV) and the Desert Research Institute (DRI). His career allowed them to make explorations part of their lives. He led adult education trips both here and abroad and became an official guide for the Ecuadorian government to the Galapagos Islands. Their adventures have been far ranging and filled with quests. Although a great number have been land-based, such as trekking in Nepal, crossing the Himalayas, and hiking and exploring in Australia and New Zealand, many were connected to water. They've rounded both Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope in small cruise boats. They've boated up part of the Amazon; paddled down the most remote river in North America, the Thelon; and watched Arctic seals from an inflatable off the Antarctic Peninsula.

They knew that aging would limit their activities so they scheduled their most strenuous trips early and slowly reduced the physical demands as time went on. Now, Bill laughs, "We haven't been to Europe for quite a while but we'll go back when we're older and can't boat."

Traveling lightly is connected to their views about the difference between wants and needs. They're not burdened by wants, which makes it easier to live on a small boat. When they feel an item has given them their money's worth or they don't want or need it, they give it away. Their giving has included a truck, camper, and boat engines. "We know people whose income is very small, but because they can differentiate between wants and needs, they can live a life of freedom," Bill says. As for the size of their boat, Bill says, "Fundamentally, we're backpackers, so living on a boat of this size is a luxury." He feels that a lot of people equate space with comfort, but that doesn't hold true for them. "We use the boat as a means to get places we wouldn't see otherwise, simply and easily," he continues. "It lets us do what we want and go where we want. Smaller is better for us."

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