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What It's Really Like to Live Full-Time on a Sailboat

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The idea behind living on a sailing boat for us, was to travel as much as possible, cheaply.

I remember for my 22nd birthday we went on a P&O cruise into the Pacific. We went to New Caledonia and Vanuatu. It was absolute paradise! My partner, Micky, would stand on shore and look at the Yachts anchored in the bay and say - "that will be us one day." At that moment, I thought one day would have been many many more trips around the sun.

But fast forward 3 years we were purchasing our very own Catamaran and were slowly on our way to that very same bay. 

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Preparing to live on a sailboat

Leading up to our trip we use to stay up late watching YouTube videos of other people that were living our dream. The one that we could relate to mostly was SV Delos. We learnt about the winds and currents using weather forecast techniques, how to make drinking water from the ocean, how to clear into and out of different countries and all the other things that we had no idea about.

Another amazing nomadic lifestyle is to live full-time in a van or RV.

couple with child aboard their white sailboat
Our sailboat, The Cosmos

It was so overwhelming in the beginning and I did have some doubts thinking it was all too much, but seeing the amazing places that they went to and thinking "how good would that be?"

We knew we could either stay home and keep doing what we knew or we could get out there and give it a go...

The next step was to pack up our life at home. Now this in itself was a big task! We had to clean out the house, rent it out and figure out what items we wanted to take with us. Being weight restricted meant we couldn’t take much and after living on the boat for a while you realise you didn’t really even need half of it. 

Ready as we'll ever be

It is amazing how quickly you adapt to life on board and you start to question things that are so natural at home.

For example: having a shower, you don’t even think twice about turning the taps on and waiting for it to warm up until it is just right before you step in. On the boat water is so precious. We have a 300 litre tank and when we are being really good we can get 10 days out of this before we need to get our beloved Watermaker out again to make some more.

Dirty clothes take on a whole new meaning because washing is such a big job. Sure you might have spilt tea on your shirt when you were getting thrown all over the cabin in rough seas, but I reckon you can get a few more days out of it.

Then there is the food. You find recipes in the back of your brain that you didn’t even know where there, like making a meal out of tinned potatoes and 1 egg that can feed 3 people. It doesn’t always work out, but you are hungry enough to finish the plate, and will be grateful for it. With shops sometimes being weeks away, you just have to make do with what you have. 

Mom and 3-year old daughter reading a book on their sailboat
Entertaining our 3-year old, however we can!

A horizon of endless adventures

For the first year we stayed in Australia anchoring and fishing in bays on the East Coast and spending lots of time out on the Great Barrier Reef, getting to know our boat The Cosmos.

This was the most amazing playground for us. We're water lovers and couldn't get enough of the sea life, the crystal clear water and paddling around little islands seeing what every little cove had to offer.

On the other hand we had a swell that would pin our boat side on at night in some places. Those nights we wouldn’t sleep a wink thinking we were dragging into reef or because of that sea sick feeling. We spend the night praying to god for the sun to hurry up so we could finally see what's around us. 

In the almost 5 years we have had living on and in the water, I thought we would have had more experiences with sharks. We honestly get asked about this all the time.

In saying that, the experiences we have had are enough to keep us going for a while. Following a pretty rough passage from Vanuatu to Australia where we didn’t really sleep for 3 days from the rumble of the white wash in-between the hulls and just the all over terror of being days from the shelter in a storm. When we finally made it into the passage a little baby shark was chasing one of our drag ropes.

All of a sudden the baby shark disappeared, Mick yelled out because he saw a massive patch of the front of Cosmos and thought we went over reef. This is one of those heart stopping moments and we were waiting for a crunch.

A happy family on a dingy boat, with their sailboat in the background
3 of the 4 of us, with Cosmos in the background

Looking behind us, in the face of the next wave was the biggest shark I have even seen. It was longer than our boat was wide and it was probably the only time I was glad it was a shark since it's better than grounding into reef. Not that it was needed but we reassured ourselves that we definitely did not want to end up in the water!

A new burst of energy was found that got us through the dark and into a semi protected bay where we could drop anchor and have a few decent hours sleep. Needless to say when we made it to Thursday Island the following day and cleared back into Australia, I hugged a tree and kissed the ground. 

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Life on board

Living on a sailing boat is really challenging, especially having had no real sailing experience, I completely threw myself into the deep end.

Man and woman on sailboat with freshly caught lobster
Freshly caught lobster dinner

Now I can sail and run Cosmos all on my own, knowing all of the functions and could fix most things if anything was to go wrong.

It is a lot like the earlier days where all you need to do on a day to day basis is find food, water and shelter.

We look on google maps, zoom in to an area that has a beautiful shade of blue with protection and go there to explore.

We play and soak up everything nature has to offer and love most of it, even the hard times, for they make for the best stories. 

If anyone was interested in living this life, my advise would be to just start. Contact the nearest sailing club and jump on some boats. People always need crew for racing or even for trips. You can also hit the ports to find a position as a stewardess or deckhand on a luxury sailboat or yacht. Just get the experience up, it all comes pretty natural. 

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