So, how does it happen? What made us give up our jobs, security and a comfortable home in order to go off in search of adventure at sea? Why did we choose this life? And at what cost?
Our sailing adventures started as a gradual progression. After our long studies in England, we moved to France to work and during our spare time we started renovating a beautiful wooden six meter sailboat in our garden. I had zero experience of sailing and a project like this was new to me, however, Guillaume was brought up and raised sailing around the world. Eventually when our little boat was ready to set sail, we headed off for a three month adventure, sailing the coast of Brittany. It was a short trip, with exceptionally good weather that sowed the seeds for greater adventure.
Our next boat, Rebelle, was a nine meter monohull that we bought for a bargain, after it had been abandoned in Guatemala, Central America. After a few months of hot sweaty labour we had restored her and kitted her out for our passage from east coast Guatemala, down to Panama, across the Panama Canal to the Galapagos Islands and on to French Polynesia, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
It was a long awaited adventure for Guillaume to arrive in the Pacific, and a steep learning curve for me, who up until then, had just been an occasional day sailor. The cruising life had begun….something I didn’t previously know even existed!
We set off with the ethos; small boat, small budget, small worries!
We ended up living for eight years in Polynesia on Rebelle, and although our lifestyle was idyllic, after eight years in paradise, I felt the urge to spend more time closer to family. We decided to sell our boat and business and return to Europe. After five months backpacking in South East Asia we arrived in France with a new project: to renovate a campervan and find a new home. We travelled through France, Spain, Morocco and finally settled in Lisbon, Portugal where Juliette our daughter was born.
A year later, we were faced with a difficult decision to make. Stay in Lisbon and continue building up a successful business or leave everything, once again, and sail away. We were given the opportunity to inherit Guillaume’s family catamaran that couldn’t be looked after anymore. Money VS Freedom? City VS Sea? What are our priorities in life? What makes us happy? In the end we chose to go back travelling and leave financial security. We decided to live in the moment, in simplicity, closer to nature and both be 100% present in bringing up Juliette.
What have we gained through this new lifestyle? Meeting new cultures and seeing a different outlook on consumerism. Thinking about what material goods we really need to make us happy, has been a big revelation.
To travel and learn about the world, through her own eyes, is something that we both wanted our daughter to experience. She may be too young now to remember every detail of our trip. But to receive love and kindness and be open to playing and exchanging easily with all cultures and social backgrounds, without judgement is something that we hope will be embedded in her character.
The upside of living on a sail-boat is that we have the world’s largest swimming pool on our doorstep, and the views are amazing. However, we need to be careful of our water consumption and fresh water isn’t taken for granted. Being brought up to value water, and not take clean drinking water for granted is already an incredible real-life lesson.
We realise how different our lives have become from friends when they visit us on the boat and comment on how novel it is to do the washing up by hand, and in cold salt water!
I never realised how much I value a washing machine, even though jumping on our clothes with Juju at my feet is fun, the turn of a dial and touch of a switch that ends in clean sweet smelling laundry is just heavenly. But I wouldn’t exchange our freedom for a washing machine….would I??
As we did on land, we still try to eat local produce as much as possible, Juliette is great at trying new tastes, no ready-made toddler meals and processed junk foods on board! Well only occasionally and they don’t last long!
Living on the water we eat a lot of fish, which is one of the main proteins in our diet. But during our Pacific crossings we ended up putting the rod away. We had a fish overload! We are often questioned on how we find the state of the oceans? Do we see lots of floating plastics? Are we able to fish? Well we have fished out plastic bags full of rubbish, we are always pulling out plastic bottles and often nappies, but we haven’t seen the huge islands of plastics that are just under the water in some parts of the ocean.
Crashing into a floating container from a cargo ship is one of my greatest fears, but luckily we haven’t come across any so far. As for fish, so far it has been rare not to be able to catch our own dinner. But with the rising levels of heavy metals in the larger fish and the risk of Ciguatera, a disease caused by a toxin accumulating in and contaminating the fish feeding on the coral reef, we are all too aware that the pollution of our oceans and the effects of global warming on the delicate reef biodiversity, is a real issue already causing sickness. So we fish, and we eat what we catch, but with restraint, not taking more than we need and being careful what we fish for.
We are firm believers in using renewable energy. We do aim to make the most of the wind, putting up sail as often as possible and waiting for the right conditions to navigate with the wind. We have two autopilots, one electric and the other wind driven, to maintain the direction of the boat. However, it is the wind-vane that we use the majority of the time. It tends to be more reliable, especially for long ocean passages, without requiring any electricity.
When we are close to shore we get the oars out and row ourselves to land! Although this can be infuriating as I paddle away madly and Guillaume just dips his paddle in and seems to unintentionally mock my best efforts!
So what has been the cost of this new way of life? The greatest downside is the distance from family. Not having the grandparents and family close by to see Juliette as she changes and grows so quickly. The isolation from friends and family can be hard to live with. No babysitters for a night out and no playgroup for Juju to have a little independence from us. It can be tough living on top of one another, thank goodness for long beaches and fresh air!
As a mother, there is always the worry of putting your child in dangerous situations. The sun, the heat, the mosquitoes, the risk of disease from contaminated water or food. Let alone the risks of being on and near the water. It can be difficult to relax, but thankfully we are two. Although saying that, we don’t always have the same view on what is acceptably safe or dangerous.
We are living out of the system. Healthcare, doctors and chemists are not always close by. We need to be self-reliant at sea. Health insurance is a large part of our budget, we have invested in good satellite phone communications, emergency distress beacons and a medical kit and pharmacy that any medic could be proud of. We know that if an emergency comes up we have to have the skills to cope with the situation, and have done courses and training to be prepared. It’s the scariest part of this lifestyle in my opinion, and I have to stop myself from imagining the worst case scenarios and reflecting on horror stories of what can go wrong.
I thought Juliette would always be in a lifejacket on the water, but living aboard I have become aware that’s just not possible. Common sense is needed and I have learnt to listen to my instinct and trust my judgement, although the mothers’ voice in the back of my head is always warning me of the dangers that lie ahead!
We are learning the need to budget, as money does allow us to have choices, but we don’t need a huge budget to live simply. On the boat we have no rent or mortgage to pay, we don’t live in a marina so there are no monthly charges, no water or electricity bills. We do occasionally stop at the odd marina to top up on water, fuel and be closer to the shops, and for that heavenly washing machine and hot shower. But we can choose when and where we stop. If the price is too high, we move on. It is a rather nomadic life, but like the nomads we can choose our own route, there are no highways, road signs and rules that limit us. Sailing, we live by the rules of common sense and a respect for the elements.
To quote the Greek historian, Thucydides “The secret to happiness is freedom and the secret of freedom is courage.” So, with a little courage we exchanged security for independence and freedom to travel. We are happy to keep our daughter out of day-care and to educate her together through real life situations and experiences. We swapped the pollution of living in a city for an abundance of peace and fresh air. It is not luck or good fortune that has made this life possible for us. People watching us on social media and seeing our paradisiac photos and films often say how fortunate and lucky we are.
The truth is this way of living is open to anyone, it doesn’t require a huge budget but requires courage, motivation to learn new skills, a lot of work but without always a financial gain and a certain amount of insecurity. We have faith that the winds will blow us in the right direction and determination to keep sailing on.
So here is a summary of our main Pros VS Cons of our lifestyle;
Living close to nature, self-reliance (the satisfaction of finding your own solutions), lots of family time, contact with different cultures, new adventures and horizons, discovery of the world, the value of simple things, living without constraints of an imposed system, distance from consumer pressure to purchase goods and services.
Financial insecurity, self-reliance (no choice but to learn to fix and do things yourself) medical self-reliance & distance from emergency services, distance from friends & family, help with childcare, unpredictable future.
It’s not all that easy to leave the lives we make on land behind. Are you ready to make the jump? We have lots of tips and info to share. If you’re interested subscribe to our newsletter and updates below.