One of the top reasons that people get divorced is money. One of the top reasons people commit crimes is for money. And one of the top reasons people who read my blog or see my videos say disparaging or hypercritical remarks to or about me is…you got it… money! Here are some of my favorites:
“How many Americans could actually afford a 27-foot sailboat much less consider such a lifestyle of simple living? It is simple all right, simply incredible and egotistical in its lack of work ethic.” -Dr. Ileana Johnson Paugh, Canada Free Press
“Such a pretty boat. You must not live so simply to afford that boat. You live in such luxury.” -Nancy, from an email sent to me
“She looks like a rich kid” -stuntmanmike714 Youtube
“too bad most of the american population does not have the safety net of wealth/parents to do something like this” -ceelo4, Youtube
“…it would be nice if she would come clean about how she pays for this…I’m guessing dear old dad may be footing the bill while daughter sails around and finds herself.” -Owukid, Youtube
Well, Owukid, guess what…I’m about to come clean!
People often ask me how much it costs to live on a boat, and every time I give them the same vague answer, “The cost of life afloat varies as much as the cost of life ashore.” So today, I can only attest to how it worked for me.
The secret I found to affording life aboard Daphne is in three simple rules:
Rule # 1: Work my ass off.
The highest paying job I have ever had was working as a waitress. This certainly was not the most rewarding job, nor the least stressful, but waiting tables in the right location can be financially rewarding, especially if you work two shifts each day. Of course, the hours are long and tiring. There isn’t much time to spend the hard earned cash, so more can be socked away for cruising. The most intrinsically rewarding jobs I have had were in education. I worked for non-profits with at-risk teens, with children who have autism, and at private middle and high schools.
When I moved aboard Daphne and began to travel, with the exception of about three months, I had at least a full time (or several part time) jobs at each location I was at. I seldom was without work. I was not always excited about the jobs I was able to find, and was even less excited about having to search for a job. However, in the two years and three months that I was aboard Daphne I had seventeen jobs from housekeeper to social media marketer, or dance teacher to sailor. I also made some extra cash by selling handcrafted items through my online Etsy shop. Blog readers who felt that my blog was enjoyable or worthwhile often purchased from my store or sent a gift donation to show their support for my blogging efforts.
No one provided my sustenance. I do not have a trust fund, inheritance, financial support, unemployment, or independent wealth of any degree. I also don’t expect to have this in my future. What I earned each year varied wildly. However, according to Wikipedia, I never once earned as much as the average middle class income for a single female of my age and education level. (which incidentally is 20k less per year than that of the male). Without telling you my exact average yearly income (which I don’t know off the top of my head anyway) I can guess that I flow between lower middle class and working class.
I afforded the boat by taking out a loan. There certainly are cheaper boats, but the Nor’sea came with a long history of stories and wishes that I share with my father. When it was time for me to buy a boat I didn’t consider any other boat, so a loan was necessary. The cost of the monthly payment is about the same as a small apartment. In fact, it is about the average cost of a one bedroom apartment in Columbus, Ohio or Omaha, Nebraska and less than half the cost of the average one bedroom apartment in Boston or San Franscisco. I decided I would rather be paying off a loan and eventually owning my boat outright than paying rent on an apartment. I do not pay bills for heat, water, electricity, internet, or other bills associated with an apartment. Because I don’t pay for these items to be delivered to my home without complications, I have to alter my life from what is conventional in order to have the utilities I need and want.
Rule #2: Reduce expenses by living without luxuries.
Its easy to imagine that people who live aboard boats have many of the amenities that shore life has but with the added luxury of cocktails at sunset, tropical destinations, and freedom.
These are some of the luxuries I live without:
Electricity (for the first 16 months until I purchased a solar panel. Then I lived with minimal electricity)
Refridgeration (for the first 16 months)
Internet (I find internet at the library, McDonald’s parking lot, ferry terminal, etc.)
Hair dryer (for lack of power)
Weekly Yoga class
Residency (and therefore access to some benefits)
Washer and Dryer for clothing
Rule #3: Embrace an unorthodoxed lifestyle that sometimes lacks in comforts and ease.
I began to realize that America does not recognize nomadic people shortly after I purchased Daphne. I was at the USCG office to document her. When asked what my physical address was, I replied, “my boat.” It turns out, in order for Americans to “count” you need a physical address. Without it you can’t vote, drive, check out books at a library, get a P.O. box or a bank account, or pay your taxes.
It didn’t take long to realize that owning a boat costs a lot! I saved money by cutting out expenses that are typical of boat owners. With a few exceptions I did not rely on docks or moorings. This meant I couldn’t shut the door on the weather and feel secure. Instead, I stayed up all night monitoring the conditions as Daphne tossed about on her anchor. I did my own maintenance and engine work, which meant that any engine or maintenance issue that surfaced took twice as long to resolve because I was learning the skills of caring for a boat along the way.
The first day of making landfall in a new place was always a reconnisance mission to find the grocery, a shower, laundry, and toilet. A great anchorage is one where all these things are within walking distance. Yet sometimes I found myself pushing a grocery cart down the street for miles or not showering for weeks.
Some of the luxuries that I formerly took for granted while living ashore such as warmth, a shower, running water, and a toilet, required extra work living aboard. Aboard Daphne I couldn’t turn up the thermostat so my home would be warm when I returned at the end of the day. Instead, while bundled up in wooly clothing, I primed and lit my primitive kerosene heather, and drank hot tea while waiting for the cabin to warm up and the shivers to go away. I wash my dishes in salt water. I often wash my body and hair in salt water as well. And aboard a boat you can never simply flush the toilet and make it disappear. For that reason, I mastered the art of timing my large deposits with a trip ashore for groceries.
During the early days of owning Daphne I did not have electricity. I quickly learned which fruits, veggies, cheeses, eggs, and milks would last longest unrefrigerated and did without the rest. My computer went everywhere with me so I could charge it up anytime I saw an outlet. And I often fell asleep with my headlamp still on my head. With a solar panel I had more options. I could power the refrigerator and lights most of the time. I monitored the battery level closely and charged my computer or turned on the tunes when the sun was at its zenith.
Spring cleaning didn’t mean garage sales and dust bunnies. Alternatively, I was stepping the mast, de-winterizing the engine, and deconstructing the winter cover. Aboard Daphne I have my own version of a bed and back porch. I slept in a sleeping bag because my bed doubles as the dining table and the counter top doubles as a two-burner stove. Dinner parties of more than four required guests to share a plate for lack of space on the table. And when I want to enjoy my favorite dessert of a frozen coconut fruit bar, I have to eat the entire box in one sitting for lack of freezer.
And I live this way not because I have to, but because they are part of the cost in owning a boat on a modest budget. The challenges are great, but the rewards are greater.
It is possible to have many of these luxuries such as a freezer, shower, or hot water aboard a boat. Its also possible to feel more security by renting space on a dock or mooring. And some sailors also have a house, car, and community to return to after each voyage. But Daphne was all I had, and that made the dream possible for me. This is the most important thing to understanding how an individual of meager financial means such as myself could own a boat and travel a bit.