In the summer of 2002 I purchased, moved aboard, and sailed my new home, SeaWitch, to Charleston SC. A Cal 28 flat topper was certainly an interesting choice of living for a young naval officer, but it opened up some of the best years of my life. But that’s not to say it was all easy; far from it. The learning curve was sharp! I’ve thought about this often in the last few years, and what the differences might be in living aboard today vice then. Ten years doesn’t seem like a lot, but our society has made huge advances in some areas in that time. Let me preface this list with some context. This comparison is made against my live aboard lifestyle. I think it applies to other lifestyles as well, but maybe in different ways. It’s all perspective.
– Relatively small sailboat living (say under 35 feet in length)
– A working professional career (i.e. still going to work regularly)
– Desire to stay in contact with folks easily
– Staying on the U.S. East Coast conducting local cruising In not particular order….
1) Cell Phones Are More Advanced!
In 2003 I left Charleston for a short training program in Connecticut I knew I was moving farther south to Amelia Island at the end, so I was looking for a new cellular provider to support me down there. And provide service in CT. And a phone to possibly be a modem for my laptop while aboard. And be small. And do awesome things. I spent an unseemly amount of money for a Cingular candy bar style phone, that with a super-expensive cord (sold separately) could possibly tie my laptop to internet for an outrageous rate. And it didn’t work. Fast forward to 2013. How common are smart phones? Heck, they are computers. Bottom line. I can do more on my Motorola Droid2 Global than I could on my entire computing suite in 2003. And for about the same monthly price. The networks have changed since cellular became popular in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, which means better choices in providers and wider coverage. And there are several independent marketers trying to level the playing field, such as Ting. Better choices here would have meant better connectivity in more locations.
2) Tablet Computers
Sometime after moving down to Amelia Island, I left my laptop under a leaking hatch when it rained. Sure enough, my very enjoyable Sony Vaio laptop was a goner .. I found an auction for a View Sonic tablet, the V100. I think it cost me close to $500. Ran Windows XP. Had a huge 40gB hard drive and wifi. And needed a magic stylus to write on the screen (that also cost $50 to replace). It wasn’t bad, just…old. Again, fast forward to January 2012 when I decided to consolidate my electronic empire into one(ish) device: a Motorola Xoom tablet. No more portable DVD player, netbook., or Kindle. It was the closest to “the one thing” that I’ve gotten. I can’t describe all the ways a nice tablet like this (and the great apps running these days) would have benefited me living aboard. Entertainment station. Small-form computing with a bluetooth keyboard. Chart plotting. Inventory. Managing my finances on Mint. Photos on projects or memories. Everything stored, synced, and backed up in Evernote. Shelf space saved by having books on there. Sigh… And all for less than I paid for that V100, and no pen required.
3) The Internet Has Grown
One advantage folks have in 2013 over my old self is the vastness of the internet and its exponential growth. The availability of knowledge and information is substantial In 2003, I was spending several hundred dollars a year on books, both for reference material (how to do certain skills or activities) and motivation (what were other people doing.) Fast forward to 2013 and there’s plenty of both, online, and mostly free. That’s not to say we shouldn’t pay folks for their time and experiences. But, no one needs to go to Barnes & Noble and shell out significant sums just to learn whether this lifestyle is of interest. Instead, the avid reader can find numerous blogs of those already out there doing it. Many sailors keep well-maintained websites detailing improvement projects and repairs; YouTube videos exist for practically anything, and the variety of formats means there’s information available in some media for everyone. Are you interested in a particular design, or constrained to look for a new-to-you vessel in one geographic location? Great! Head onto Craigslist or eBay and set alerts for what you’re looking for. Read the numerous reviews many designs have received. Classifieds? If you want to, there are several online platforms selling boats, so paper is practically a thing of the past. Or shout out on Facebook and see who you know that knows a guy who knows a guy. The barrier to entry has never been lower.
4) Social Connect-ability
While not a game changer, social tools like Facebook and Twitter have changed the way we connect with others, and that is certainly applicable to the sailing sphere. If you’re a coastal sailor, it’s not unheard of to do check-ins with family via Twitter on your phone. Keep up with that couple you met on the docks in North Carolina via Facebook. Reach out to like-minded individuals on a topic or location via various forums and Facebook pages. Heck, one could even keep up a sailing resume via LinkedIn for potential clients. The danger of these tools is the enticing seat of the armchair sailor. It’s also never been easier for the critic to come home from work, sit at his or her desk, troll the forums for someone seeking inspiration or practical advice, and proceed to kill dreams. Sometimes knowingly, sometimes innocently. I’ve frankly avoided forums lately due to my hiatus from cruising. I don’t want to become that guy. Just keep in mind that there’s a place for everyone in this community. Some folks have earned their stripes; some are still earning them. And some will never earn them and sit on the side and spout ignorance.
5) Depreciated Boat Value
I purchased my first big boat, a 1970 Cal28 flat-top, in 2002 for the whooping price of $8500. Sailboats up to the lower 30’s were going for as low as $10-15K. What’s funny is these same boats haven’t really changed value too much. If anything, some prices have gone down due to the depressed economy. Bob, over at Boat Bits, described a reader’s story that if you find a good used boat it’s likely to be snapped up quickly, so come with cash in hand. That said, in my opinion the market has only gotten better for someone interested with getting in. A five digit budget of $10K to $30K will yield an amazing amount of quality used vessel. Even under $10K there’s lots of availability. And since inflation has theoretically reduced the value of my 2002 money, the deals are even better today.
6) Lifestyle Design Is In
I’d like to say that cruising sailors defined this term before the likes of Tim Ferriss got a hold of it. But, the increasingly visible segment of society who are shaping their careers and lives with flexibility, mobility, and freedom make this idea something important to incoming live aboard sailors. The perfect example of lifestyle design was my neighbor in Charleston, SC. He was an A/C repairman. He had the capacity to do much more (education, credentials, grit) but willingly chose to be content with his limited (by most social standards) role in society. He would find an employer, who provided tools, truck, and jobs, and work for a period of one year. In his spare time during the evening he free-lanced doing A/C repair on our marina’s boats. After that one-year period, he’d quit, sell off anything too bulky to carry around, and took his liveaboard sailboat, a well-maintained O’Day 25, down south to the Caribbean for one to two years. Then he’d come back to a new location in the U.S. and repeat. He’d even move around during the year if it suited him. While the fantasy of simply writing about your adventures in a blog and earning a six-figure income is highly unlikely, there’s plenty of opportunity for folks to take advantage of the changing face of business to combine sailboat living with a career, or leverage existing technology to make traditional cruising careers more efficient and effective.
7) Digitized Media
Not that it was debilitating, but in 2002 the collection of stuff aboard SeaWitch was pretty substantial. I had a hearty set of VHS tapes, a growing DVD selection in both cases and CD sleeves, the music family of your typical college student, and an appetite for reading. Space was a big problem. In 2013, I’m on a mission to downsize our media footprint, which is helpful in our home but makes me feel confident we could shift to the boat easily without a lose of lifestyle. Many of my books are purchased via Kindle, and I have plans for a digitizer in the near future to keep all of my favorites near at hand. Most all of our music is in mp3 format and on our computers and phones. Even our DVD collection is largely backed up on an external hard drive in mobile format. With little effort, my laptop and two hard drives could find their home easily aboard (and I tend to keep accessories aboard so I need not think of them.) and we’d be 90-95% established. With a handheld scanner and small-form printer, we have a tiny office ready to go! So much different than my set of four file boxes aboard a 28′ sailboat…
Convenience In Line With Simplification
Not that one needs all of these things to live aboard. Hardly. But, for those who enjoy some of the conveniences and comforts of modern living, the shift to a water-based lifestyle is much easier these days. Consider your options and feel fortunate we’re living in a Golden Era of life!