have been sailing for over 30 years on the Great Lakes, mostly in small boats
beginning with Paul sailing our canoe, dodging the lake freighters on the
Detroit river, as he sailed back and forth between Belle Isle and the Canadian
shoreline. Mary would have nothing to do with that insanity, so Paul found
a used 16' Wayfarer as a starter boat.
For the past several years, ever since we purchased the Columbia, we have been living aboard for four to six weeks of every summer. Almost all of our time aboard "Dream Weaver" during our summer hiatus is spent on the hook in the secluded anchorages found in the North Channel and the north shore of Georgian Bay. We only take the boat to dock once every ten days to purchase fresh vegetables, pump the holding tank, fill up with fuel and fresh water then off we go for another 10 days. These summers spent in the northern waters of Georgian Bay require an annual migration of "Dream Weaver" from the hot, muggy climate of Windsor, up the full length of Lake Huron and across Georgian Bay; a one way trip of approximately 270 nautical miles. Sometimes the distance is covered in little hops taking a week to get the boat from Windsor to Tobermory, a distance of 210 nautical miles. Sometimes we've gone straight up the centre of Lake Huron in a non stop passage of about 41 hours. These overnight passages along with Paul's Mackinac race experience have played a significant part in providing us with both the confidence to weather severe conditions and more importantly, a very healthy respect for what can happen out there with very little or no warning.
In the last three years we have lived almost entirely on a fish diet since we have learned how to catch huge salmon and trout using downriggers to get our lures deep enough as we head from one anchorage to the next. In our six weeks aboard, we catch an average of 200 pounds of fresh fish. When we catch more than we can eat, it's a great joy to dinghy over to another cruiser (power or sail, it matters not to us, we are all boaters) and offer them a meal of fresh fish.
During these last several years we have had the wonderful opportunity of meeting and sharing boating experiences with many. Some are out for a week or two, others are in the middle of a year long trip called the Great Circle which includes the eastern seaboard, the Erie Canals, the Great Lakes, the Mississippi, the Gulf of Mexico and back to home wherever that might be. It's usually trawlers that do this trip.
Our most exciting meeting was with an Australian couple, Tony and Marj, who had sailed out of Fremantle, Australia some three years prior to our meeting. While they were in the Caribbean someone convinced them that they shouldn't miss the Great Lakes since they were so close. We had the good fortune of coming upon them since they were anchored in our favorite anchorages near Tobermory. The nerve! For two days, we took every opportunity available to pick their brains regarding their three years aboard. The most important thing that we gained from these conversations is that, with our experience, we have little to fear if we hope to travel abroad such as they have done. They have since completed their circumnavigation and are now back to work in Australia rebuilding the kitty for their next sailing adventure.
This brings up a contentious point about when is the right time to leave it all and follow your dreams. Our Australian friends were of differing opinions. Tony felt that we should cut loose and go immediately as the cruising environment is getting more crowded each day, and "we aren't getting any younger". Marj, on the other hand, was not looking forward to returning to work as a health care professional at the age of 50 to stock their cruising kitty. In light of our excellent pensions, Marj's advice was to stick it out and wait until we could retire with full pensions and move aboard permanently. It has been the latter of these two opinions that we have chosen to follow.
When home in Windsor, we get away for as many weekends aboard as possible. These are spent anchored in the Detroit River on the Canadian side of Peche Island, a nature sanctuary, in the middle of the sights and sounds of these two large cities.
We don't mean the Teaching or Healthcare profession reading. We mean the profession of living aboard and traveling abroad. This is a profession that necessarily requires one to be entirely self-sufficient; from caring for medical emergencies to maintaining and repairing sails and diesel engines. Although we have over 30 years of boating and sailing experience, we continue to read books and subscribe to no less than 4 periodicals that address all of the details associated with life aboard. The Internet has also proven to be an excellent source of information for this same purpose. We use every spare minute that we have to read and learn whatever we can.
Several years ago we sat down and looked at how we were spending money and how we might make it possible to afford a very expensive liveaboard sailing catamaran. We each made a list of what we could do without. We compared those lists, compromised, and the result was our "Long Range Cruising Plan"; affectionately called our LRCP. This plan, though broken on occasion, has served us well and kept us focused on our goals. We recently commented on how changing our lifestyle several years ago has been no hardship on us at all.
At around the same time, Paul designed a crude financial forecast using the spreadsheet on our computer to determine just how much we could afford in a new boat.
A key component of that forecast was to determine what our income and cost of living would be once we moved aboard. Income information was available from our pension plan statements. Information about living expenses while aboard was available through our professional reading. In fact we now have several testimonials and articles describing various live aboard lifestyles and the cost of each. We were able to identify which was most similar to our own intended style and therefore how much per year we would need. Our summers aboard have helped identify the lifestyle that we are most likely to lead once permanently aboard.
Having entered all of the relevant data, with updates and reports to Mary at least monthly, we were surprised at how much we would have available for the new boat. It was significantly more than we expected. Unsure of Paul's financial planning skills, we went to both our mutual funds management company and to the bank for validation. In a letter, we outlined our dream and financial plan. We asked them if they would look at the plan and comment on it's viability. Both took up the challenge, confirmed that our dream was indeed possible and both made recommendations on what we might do to maximize our fairly limited investments.
We had already taken several boat handling and piloting courses offered by the Canadian Power Squadron in our early years of boating including our ship-to-shore radio operators licenses. However, I felt that if I was to travel offshore I should have celestial navigation skills. Over a period of three years Paul successfully completed and earned the title of "Navigator", the highest level of certification offered by the Canadian Power Squadron program. During this time Mary purchased a brass sextant for Paul as an anniversary gift. Many will scoff that using a sextant in these days of modern satellite navigation is unnecessary. However, we will be much more confident in our abilities to know where we are having learned the art/science of celestial navigation.
More recently Mary and I have just completed the challenging course of receiving our Ham radio operators licenses and Paul recently became certified in Morse Code. This will not only enable us to communicate by voice with Ham operators around the world, a nice safety feature, it will also enable us to have free email access via the "Winlink" network of ham radio and the Internet. This will go a long way toward keeping family and friends posted.
This winter we completed the "Weather" course offered by, again, the Canadian Power Squadron.
A few years ago we purchased a heavy duty, industrial weight, sewing machine that we have learned to use to repair sails and canvas enclosures. This tool and skill will go a long way toward enabling us to maintain our own vessel and to possibly earn money or services in trade as we travel.
Developing skills is much more than book learning. As we have mentioned previously in this article, we have had the opportunity to practice and hone these skills when we lived aboard our most recent boat for most of the summer months.
For the last 6 years Paul has been continuously researching live aboard sailing catamarans. Sources of information have been the periodicals that we read, conversations with boaters that have experienced living aboard sailing catamarans, and primarily the Internet. We have spoken with four different manufacturers and have visited a factory and seen them in construction. We continuously monitored the prices and availability of a vessel that will meet our needs and our financial limits. We investigated the pros and cons of purchasing a new boat versus a used one. The research continued until February 2003, when we fell in love with the Seawind 1200 catamaran.
For 6 years our purchases have only been that which we absolutely need. We actively prepared for the biggest yard sale our street has ever seen. Mary decided which items would be sold, and which family treasures would be given to family members on loan.
Preparing our Families and Friends
Once we move aboard, we will not be as available as we are now. We may not be present for the passing of a loved one. We are already communicating this to our many brothers, sisters and parents. As for children, it's not an issue. They are already independent and living at different sides of North America. They have known about our plan since forever and look forward to joining us on portions of our travels, particularly the ocean crossings.
Likewise, for our many friends. We have been actively telling them about what our life will be like aboard. They have all been invited to come and stay aboard for two weeks at a time wherever we may be. Many have said they will. We'll see how many follow through.
This is by no means a complete account of our preparations for
our soon to be retirement and new life. In conversation with
family and friends, we go on for hours.