I know its been a while since we’ve put out an actual sailing post. I think I’m almost a year behind!!! Our last sailing post was about Suwarrow. Hopefully soon, a post about sailing in Tonga (Sept-Oct, 2018) will explode from my brain and onto the blog. It will come. For now, however, I do want to share a write up that I did for another blog/podcast. Sometimes having someone give a prompt helps the writers block and motivation. It is sailing related, but not limited to any particular location within our sailing journey. Hope you enjoy.
That’s a great question, HOW DO WE WANT TO LIVE EVERY DAY?! And how do we make that possible?!
HOW DO WE STRATEGIZE? This question was brought up by a dear friend, Whitney Archibald, writer and podcast extraordinaire of How She Moms regarding how we strategize with parenting on the boat. (Click the link above to see our response and listen to the podcast with a few on my answers along with a few other Mum inputs). But this question wasn’t just about parenting style, when a fellow boat parent on S/V Mahi approached me with the question of how we manage to do this long term cruising thing from a financial standpoint for the Kids4sail June 2019 Newsletter, I realised that this “parenting strategizing” extended beyond parenting on a day to day basis. The bigger picture was how do we strategize to live the life we want to offer our kids. How do we go cruising in order to raise our kids the way we would like them to be raised? For most people, including us, the biggest challenge of cruising was figuring out how we would manage it financially.
When we first were thinking about sailing the world with our children, not necessarily around, we were faced with a few big questions. The biggest, “HOW DO WE MAKE CRUISING WORK LONG TERM?” Many factors play into that, but the primary one people get caught up in when thinking about leaving their “current life” is figuring out how they can afford to do it financially. There are some blogs that write about cruising budgets, but its hard to grasp the idea that cruising really is affordable when not many people are willing to share their financial information and the people that do might not have the same budget you would have. Their are a few other topics are worthy of their own post, such as questions centred around education/boat-schooling, and how do you cruise and co-parent, with a blended his, hers, and ours like we have on our boat. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll leave those aspects out of this write-up and stick to finances.
Along our journey, we have met many others who have shared their very different ways of making cruising work from a financial standpoint. Like myself, there are a few nurses, but only a few. There are some teachers, computer tech related fields and other various professions. Most families out there cruising long term are still working in some way or form. Not many have been able to free themselves from the full work load completely. With an open mind to various possibilities, we, A FAMILY AFLOAT, have found ways to make it work up to this point and plan to continuing doing so. I could not imagine our life any other way than as a cruising family.
Lets first start by defining what a “cruiser” is. Someone who has left their “home” to sail around afar (this could be in the same country or foreign) for an extended period of time. There are all sorts of different sub-species of cruisers. Those who sail seasonally, meaning they do a few months of sailing away from home, and the other months back at home. There are those who just take a year (or just a season) or two off and squeeze in what they can and then go back to “home”. Those who leave for longer periods, and those who leave with an open ended plan. We left with an open ended plan of “we’ll make it work along the way and keep going as long as it’s working”. We left San Francisco in August, 2015 and slowly (over 3.5 years) made our way to New Zealand so far.
When Christian and I got married in 2010, we had already agreed that we would one day go cruising with the kids. Originally we were thinking of leaving around 2019, but in 2014, when we assessed our lives and our finances, we came to the conclusion that the opportunity to leave would open up for us for mid 2015. I was the primary income source with my nursing career in San Francisco. We were very fortunate to have a good steady income while Christian prepped the boat, raised the children and helped with schooling. He is trained and skilled in carpentry (ground to finish work), but when we blended our family and had another kid, it made the most sense for him to leave that job to take care of the “boatstead”. I worked three 12 hour shifts a week and focused any extra money toward the cruising kitty. We had already been living on our current boat (S/V Shawnigan) since 2012 and paid it off by 2014, so it was just a matter of putting enough savings into our “cruising kitty” account for at least one year’s worth of sailing.
Our costs were already relatively low, but there were a few changes we new we had to make in order to save enough in that next year. Six months prior to leaving, we pulled the kids out of private school to acclimate them to home-school life and in turn saved $$$. If you have the means to do this before you leave, we highly recommend it. 4 months prior to leaving, we moved Shawnigan out of the harbor we had been living in for the past 4.5 years and “anchored out” in the free anchorage. This options isn’t for everybody, but worth it if you can. Not only did we save quite a bit of $ by being anchored out, it allowed us to get use to what life was like not being able to just step off onto the dock or dry land whenever one wanted to. It was hard work. I would wake up at 4:45 am, kayak to shore in clothes that could get wet, then ride my bike 13 miles to work to do a 12 hour shift at the hospital. I wouldn’t get home until 9:30pm at the earliest on those days. But the hard work paid off. Don’t forget, the extra little things add up. We ate out less and started getting rid of our extra stuff, including cars and bikes. By August, 2015 we had $20,000 in our cruising kitty and the same amount in an “emergency found”. It allowed us to leave to go cruising with our kids and experience the world!
We kept a budget in mind while out cruising. Its easy to get into “vacation mode” and spend spend spend. Based on experience and hearing about it from others, we knew we wouldn’t be going out to dinner much and spending $ on extra sightseeing activities like some cruisers do. A sacrifice worth making and was a challenge at time. We seemed to start out great, especially in Mexico. But as we met more people with an extended budget and as we sailed through more expensive countries it proved to be more of a challenge. There were many times where we opted out of the group dinner out or the group sight seeing tour simply because we couldn’t afford to be spending money like that. Trips like the Galapagos, I intentionally worked a few extra shifts on the previous travel nurse assignment in order for us to go there and enjoy a few dinners out and a tour or two their.
Assessing funds and making them along the way: As our first year neared its marker, we knew it was time to refill the kitty. As a nurse, I’ve always kept it a possibility to pick up travel nursing assignments throughout our sailing journey. These are usually 13 week contracts that you agree upon with a travel nurse company. We figured hurricane season would be a good time for me to hop off the boat and work back in the U.S.. The family stayed on the boat a bit longer, but also took this time to come back to the States. As life tends to always change, just like the wind and the seas, that work stent ended up being 6 months, 4 of which we were all together in the States. Our boat was safe and secure during that time, in San Carlos, Mexico. The next year, was similar. We cruised for 9 months and then I returned back up to the States for another Travel Nurse assignment. This one lasted 4 months, in which during that time the family stayed on the boat, explored the Sea of Cortez, and visited the States for 1 month. The next year, we made it 10 1/2 months before returning to work. The Shawnigan crew sailed from Mexico to Panama, to the Galapagos, and crossed the Pacific Ocean, explored French Polynesia, a blip in the Cook Islands, and 6 weeks in Tonga. From Tonga I flew out for my last Travel Nurse assignment… for now.
Upon arriving to Tonga, we assessed our kitty and decided that even though the plan was to work in New Zealand, I should fly back to the States for one more assignment. This was by far the hardest choice to make and to actually do. I would be away from the family to work for 13 weeks, but the payoff was great. Sometime, mid Tonga, I had a phone interview with the hospital in Wellington. I was offered the job, given the info I needed for a work visa, and given permission to delay my start date until mid January while I waited for my work visa to go through and completed my travel assignment in the U.S. In the meantime Christian and the kids sailed, with the help of our friend Nick, from Tonga down to New Zealand. He then took the next few months, sailing solo with the kids, down to Wellington, where we are all at now…on the boat, in a marina…schooling… working… refilling the kitty…. for the next leg of our sailing journey.
At this point we are uncertain how long we will stay in New Zealand… we just want to keep everyone on their toes.
Group shot (minus Ellamae, who was already back in the US with her biological father) of the family taking me to airport in Tonga to fly out for a travel nursing assignment in California.
Fun Facebook Video calls with the kids made it tolerable.
And a few photos revisited from along the journey.