Life on the Water: Sailboat Living

From Boston to the Florida Keys, we make our home on our 30-foot sailboat.

| October/November 2005

My husband, John, and I live aboard a sailboat currently anchored in Marathon, Fla. It’s easy to be self-sufficient on a small boat, and living on the water allows us to travel even with limited means. Like a turtle, we travel with our “shell,” which makes it possible for us to be at home anywhere.

John purchased this sailboat, called Rubicon, in 1999 for about $15,000. Rubicon was built 40 years ago in Ontario and is graceful in shape and forgiving when sailed. John is a boat captain, and he has worked on passenger ferries and on boats that service large tankers and other ships that come into port. He has responded to oil spills, ferried crews to and from larger boats, and transported supplies. He lived aboard Rubicon in Boston Harbor for several years before we met on Thompson Island, near Boston, where I was teaching sailing courses.

We both sailed as children — John on Cape Cod, and myself on Lake Lanier in Georgia. A few years ago, I also took a course with the National Outdoor Leadership School, where I learned to sail on a small, open boat in the Sea of Cortez. John and I both fell in love with sailboats because we think they are functional as well as beautiful. For a boat to sail well, it needs the long, classic lines we love in our own boat. A sailboat also can travel more cost effectively than a powerboat and make longer trips.

Sailboats come in many sizes and price ranges. We’ve read about young couples sailing around the world — with children — in boats smaller than ours. We’ve also encountered brand-new sailboats that have more amenities than many shore-side homes. Our Rubicon is 30 feet long and 8 feet wide, and falls toward the smaller, simpler end of the spectrum.

Anchored in Boston

In April 2004, John and I moved onto Rubicon in Boston Harbor to save money for an extended adventure at sea. By living at the marina, we were able to maintain friendships and work full time, while preparing to cast our lines for new surroundings.

When we moved aboard, Boston was just beginning to thaw out from a long New England winter, but our marina already was filled with “live-aboards,” folks who reside on their boats year-round. In the coldest months, most stay warm by “shrink-wrapping” their boats with big sheets of plastic, which are heated to conform to the shape of the hull. When we arrived, most of our neighbors were still huddled in the confines of their plastic igloos. As they emerged, we discovered a remarkably diverse community, including a family who had sailed from Cuba 10 years before, and a family from Arkansas who shared our goal of sailing down the East Coast.

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