Since we sailed away from land-life in August 2015, we have gotten quite a few questions from friends and family. We realized by some of the questions being asked that we were taking a lot for granted about their knowledge of what we do, and how strange our aquatic life may seem to our friends back on land. Here are some of the most common questions, and our answers.
How do you get food?
The simplest answer is, of course, “at the grocery store, just like on land.” But that answer fails to address one of the great complications of cruising life. We do get our groceries at the store, but in most destinations, a successful trip to the store involves a lot of planning and some research.
– When does the store get resupplied by the “mail boat”? This usually happens only once a week. If you shop right before the boat arrives, shelves will be bare and the produce will look like it’s been dragged behind a truck on a gravel road.
– What’s the mildest weather window to take the dinghy ashore and back without getting soaked? Unfortunately, sometimes you just have to brave the elements and get a face-full of saltwater as part of the adventure.
– Where is the store in relation to the dinghy dock or beaching site? We have to prioritize groceries based on what we can carry in bags or backpacks since we have no car.
– Can we get everything we need at one store or do we need to go to several locations? Island stores are usually small and do not always have everything we need.
Surprisingly, all this planning just to buy groceries (make groceries for our New Orleanian friends) turns a simple and boring grocery trip into an outing. It becomes the main event for that day, and it is part of the overall adventure of boat life.
If we’re lucky, some of what we eat comes directly from the water.
How do you afford to do this at your age?
Most cruisers will answer this question differently. Some young sailors saved to take a break from careers to sail for just a few years. Others work along the way to replenish the “cruising kitty.” Many wait until later in life when they have a large enough retirement fund. For us, the simple answer is our military pension allowed us to sail away in our mid-forties. The pension would not be enough to maintain our land-based lifestyle with a house note, two cars, utility bills, etc., but boat life is simpler. We don’t have cars, we don’t have utility bills, and our payments on our boat are much smaller than our house mortgage. We spend about the same as we ever did on liquor and groceries, as well as dining out, but other than that, our expenses are less aboard than on land.
How do you pay your bills and get mail?
Modern technology makes this very easy. We have few bills, but those we have are paid automatically. Mail, on the other hand, is a bit trickier. We get as much as possible electronically to minimize paper mail. But there are certain things that simply cannot be sent electronically. For those, we pay for a service in Florida that receives envelopes and packages. Through the web portal, we then direct the company to shred the item, scan the contents, hold it, or forward it somewhere else. If you come visit us, be assured that we will forward a pack of mail to you to bring to us.
Where do you live?
This question comes most often from locals and businesses. Because we move continually, the “where” is not a specific location or address. We most often answer that question with “we live on a boat, and are anchored here right now.” This answer seems to make locals happy. Perhaps it is because they realize we’re not just tourists here for a day (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), but have actually decided to spend some time getting to know their island, support the economy to the best of our ability, and went through great effort to get there.
Do you anchor in the middle of the ocean?
NO! Even between islands that are close together, the ocean can be stunningly deep. For example, St. Thomas and St. Croix are only thirty-two miles apart, but the ocean is over 15,000 feet deep between the two islands. We only anchor near land in waters that are forty feet deep or less – for every foot of water depth, we need 4-7 feet of anchor chain. We plan our travels to stay in bays and coves that will offer us protection from the prevailing winds and waves to make our stay safe and comfortable. If the weather turns very, very bad in the middle of a passage, it is possible to “stop” the boat to wait it out. Luckily, we’ve not encountered such conditions.
Do you sail at night?
YES! In many cases, sailing at night is preferred because of more favorable weather conditions. Other times, sailing at night cannot be avoided because the passage is over twelve hours long, sometimes several days long. When we sail at night, someone is always awake and on watch – looking out for changes in the weather, floating debris, and other boats. We also use our onboard radar to help us identify severe weather and other ships at night. With steady winds and moderate seas, a night sail is magical; the stars are bright, and sometimes we leave a bioluminescent trail in our wake.
What do you do if you get sick?
Fortunately, we have been very healthy since we left New Orleans. But when we need medical attention, we can go to a local doctor. Our health plan covers most medical costs, minus a deductible. We have found, however, that medical costs outside the continental US are dramatically lower than back home, and the quality of care is excellent.
Don’t you get bored?
Boredom normally kicks in when we are at anchor but are “trapped” aboard because the weather is too rough to take the dinghy ashore. We also can get bored on long passages when we are alone at the helm, and there is little to do. A boring passage is a safe and uneventful passage, so we welcome the boredom in those cases. When the weather is nice, however, it’s hard to be bored since we are usually at a place that we want to explore. The island communities are so colorful, and the locals so friendly that exploration is never boring. Other cruisers are always around, willing to join in the fun. We also spend a lot of time in the water snorkeling or SCUBA diving. Because we do not have television service, we read a lot more than we used to.
Do you get scared?
YES! Any sailor who will tell you otherwise is lying. Fortunately, the scary moments are few and far between. Almost all our scary moments aboard have been caused by weather. Even when you are ready for it, a squall with winds gusting to sixty knots while you are sailing is frightening. Fortunately, the more experience we get, the higher our threshold becomes for these scary moments. Knowing your boat and yourself is key to keeping scary moments from becoming moments of panic that can be deadly. Also, the occasional flying cockroach ensures that Kimberly’s fears are too often tested.
I’m traveling to XYZ, can you meet me there?
This question usually comes up when XYZ is a place quite far away from where we currently are. We have realized that sailing has skewed our view of distance. On land, driving 100 miles to meet a friend is not uncommon. But sailing 100 miles is a huge deal, especially because in most cases one of the trip legs will invariably be against the wind. When looking at a map, the islands can seem deceptively close, but when you travel at 5-6 knots (an average jogger can go this fast) and are at the mercy of the wind, those little distances suddenly seem extraordinarily large. We have decided that a better way to convey distance to our land friends and family is by using time instead of miles/kilometers. Now, instead of saying something is 40 miles away, we say it’s sixteen hours away, round trip.
Where are you?
This is perhaps the question we get most often, but it is also the simplest to get an answer to. Before departing New Orleans in August 2015, we got a satellite tracker for safety, emergency communications, and to create a near-real-time online record of our journey. Our every move is tracked online at https://share.delorme.com/PuraVida. We refer to our track often when writing our blog, and we know a few family members who check our movements on a regular basis. We hope that this live tracker and journey map will ease our families’ minds when we are far offshore, and also make it easier for friends to share our journey of exploration right from their desktop or smartphone. Another way to quickly see where we are is to check a recent Facebook post on Our Life Aquatic page. We always try to identify our location when posting pictures and updates.
These are just some of the most common questions we have gotten, but if you have others, don’t be shy about asking.