Sunsets and rainbows and a lot of work

Ah, the cruising life! Swinging in a hammock, sipping fruity rum drinks, soaking in a spectacular view. Well, that happens sometimes


Friends, French 75s, and an Australian sunset – 2012

Focusing entirely on life afloat as a family was a luxury we had as new cruisers. Although we were theoretically retired (for the first time!), it astounded me how much of our time was occupied by activities that would not be considered leisure. Homeschooling was just one little piece of it. The flow of activity was a sine wave alternating busier days with more recreational ones, but in general, the hours fill up with non-leisure activity more quickly than we anticipated as pre-cruisers.

Our experience is typical, and it makes sense when you consider the time-saving conveniences which disappear overnight. There’s no car to run off to the store with for a forgotten item. Shopping bags are carried after a longer trip on foot or by bus instead of tossed in the back of a vehicle. There’s no dishwasher, microwave, rice cooker, InstantPot, whatever. We do finally have a washing machine but it holds a fraction of the capacity of a standard household washer. We can’t count on easy information and entertainment from the internet, because we can’t count on internet access. The things we need are harder to source and acquire. In a world where instant gratification is the norm, slow living can feel awkward at first.


Niall helps carry groceries; La Cruz, Mexico, 2009

The first year is often the hardest as the transition from land life to cruising life takes those dreamy expectations and grinds their pretty faces into the sandy beach of reality. For families, it’s especially challenging as most of us aren’t used to 24×7 kid management: whether it’s school, or day care, or after care, or a neighbor, there are a lot of kid-free hours available for chores or me-time that vanish overnight.

The fact that simple tasks all takes longer is OK: time is what we have, and what most of us traded land life for! It’s just sometimes jarring when experiencing slow living in real life instead of in theory. One friend pointed out that “…boatschool, meeting kids’ needs, and the fundamentals of shopping/cleaning/cooking/laundry take up all my time.” That didn’t include time for exploring, time underway, and boat projects. Another echoed, but offered that  “at least the coffee breaks are longer.” There’s a good reason why may well-intentioned bloggers and YouTubers fizzle out once cruising begins!


There’s always something…aboard Totem, 2008

Fast forward a decade: the experience we’ve gained eases our everyday life, but new roles make life even busier. No longer retired, a mix of part-time work streams keeps us financially afloat. For the first time in years, I wake up composing email in my head. I have to keep a calendar for meetings and deadlines. I still haven’t considered a watch, though!

About a year ago, I jotted down a list of the different hats I wear during a particularly difficult afternoon. As the name suggests, it was on a particularly trying day. If nothing else, it puts definition to the question of – how busy, really, is this beautiful life?


Except it’s more like … ten. Ten jobs. In no particular order:

  1. Coach / mentor
  2. Freelance writer
  3. Freelance editor
  4. Magazine ad sales rep
  5. Blogger
  6. Public speaker
  7. Boat swab
  8. Homeschool parent
  9. Elder care supporter
  10. Spouse/partner & mother

The simple line of “boat swab” includes a range from maintenance to administrative tasks (I have dedicated a crazy number of hours to investigating insurance recently). Jamie’s list would look a little different, but it’s not any lighter. He overlaps on most of these roles, and adds in hours as a consulting sailmaker while overwhelmingly owning the maintenance on Totem. Added to both of our plates currently: the massive prep for our long and remote passages planned for this year…and the opportunity for cash-in-hand work we can’t pass up to help others with their preparations. Thank goodness we raised a crew who now handle dishes, laundry, and help with meals!


Laundry day, Madagascar; 2015

I’m only sort of making light about the teens’ contribution; it is real, as even simple everyday tasks like these add up. I’ve been to the nearest supermarket exactly once in the last month because it takes half of a day, and I’m limited to what I carry on my back. But the kids can pick things up from a local shop with a list and some pesos. They’ve owned dishwashing duty since they needed a stepstool to reach the sink, a time-consuming process given it’s all done by hand with an eye to water conservation. Laundry is their job, too: faster now that we use a small machine instead of a bucket, but still takes monitoring and time and getting everything on the lifelines to dry (and in before a squall).

Working and cruising: compatible?

Don’t let me give the wrong impression. I love this life, and believe that navigating a balance between working and cruising is a privilege. Even the tough days are better than commuting to a desk job and not seeing enough of my family! I’m so grateful we have found a way to this enviable place.


Even grateful when wearing flip flops in -8F / -22C for the boat show! Toronto, 2020

In recent weeks we’ve had a couple of conversations about whether it’s possible to work and cruise. It’s possible, but it’s not easy, and comes with tradeoffs. One of our coaching clients drew on the challenges it presented their family when commenting in a busy thread on our mentoring group about working and cruising: “Overall, and I can’t stress this enough, don’t f@cking do it. Make a plan that includes only cruising.” I’d adapt that to say- make a plan that includes only cruising for the first couple of years. At that point, you’ll have learned a tremendous amount about what you can/can’t do, and at least as importantly, what you want to do.


Remarkable to have stumbled into rewarding work of coaching! Kids help with a call; 2017

The remote-work potential is real, but the pull of other boat needs, of schedules (does the forecast thwart your need to sail to better wifi?), competes in ways that make it a challenging task to do both well – and a nearly impossible one when trying to find rhythm as a new cruiser. Live aboard in a beautiful place and work, maybe, or accept that the job may not be accomplished to desired standard. It’s better not to start with the pressure at all, if possible.

Making compromises

Our choice to manage working while cruising means tradeoffs. Smart weather choices and boat safety always come first. Our route is by necessity influenced by internet access points. It’s been easy in Mexico this last stretch; it won’t be on the next phase of our adventures afloat. But this compromise is easy to accept. It still means watching sunsets from the cockpit more nights than not; it means exploring the world with my family, and a fulfilling way life we are so incredibly fortunate to have.


Time to explore: St Helena, 2016

20 Responses

  1. Lovely article as usual Behan. We loved so much our cruising life than when we arrived in Tahiti with a plan to sell our catamaran we became yacht broker in Polynesia instead…and still have our cat. I remember an interview from Leo Castelli (Andy Warhol’s art dealer) explaining that art is like drug : at some point you get so addicted than the only way to afford your addiction is to become a dealer. Seems to be true as well for yachts 🙂

  2. Been such a treat to watch your family grow, meet many challenges, have great travels and experiences and complete your circumnavigation. And still smiling in flip flops, make national news. We feel honored to even be a very small part of the earlier Mexico start. You guys just plain rock!!
    Big hugs!!

  3. I’m new here. Haven’t bought our cat (currently our goal) yet, but our plan is 5 years this May we’re taking the leap. Why 5 years you may ask? Our youngest son(14) is climbing the ladder as a goalie in a ice hockey world. Sometimes we have to set our dreams aside for a short time to help our kids reach theirs. In 5 years he will be graduating high school and can pursue his dream by himself or give it up, if it doesn’t go as far as he wants, for a cruise life with us.

    I’m glad I found your family so I can sail along with you and prepare for our maiden voyage. Thank you.

    1. We started with a five year plan, too! It’s a great timeframe for a planning window. No judgment for waiting, it sounds like a great option for your family. Let us know if we can help you realize your dreams with our coaching service!

  4. This is such a well-written post (nothing new there) that shares the challenges of life afloat especially when seen through the eyes of someone trying to also work. I’ve now got another resource to share when I see the frequent question about wanting to leave land life to cruise and also work along the way. It’s not that it can’t be done, but it’s not as simple as it might appear to someone not familiar with the cruising lifestyle. Thanks, Behan!

  5. Don’t forget that your teens are independent learners–lightening the home school load a bit. Well written as always.
    Melissa (new to us vessel with yet to be determined name)

  6. When we were younger we didn’t have a car, but did have a useless bus service, so we had “grannies” shopping trolleys for the walk to the shops. I can’t understand why more cruisers don’t use them, we do. $18 from the Chinese markets. We also have the folding wheel dolly for the heavy stuff. Fits a diesel jug/jerry easily.

    1. Those are awesome! We don’t have a “grannie” but have used a hand truck (folding wheel dolly) to similar end. I was probably toting that behind our nine year old in that picture! It’s been a while since I’ve used it since we have more crew to help. They are great for jerry cans for sure.

  7. Great article. After 5 years of fulltime cruising we had to stop to refill our kitty. I much prefer to stop and work fulltime and save up money. We still live onboard, in a marina, and the kids are still homeschooled. We are very careful not to settle in or get too comfortable. I can’t imagine combining cruising and working remotely. I think it really prevents one from enjoying the experience to the fullest. And, as you say , boat life is a busy life. Enjoy the passage planning! Very jealous … we can’t wait to do another Pacific crossing 😊 Audrie S/v Rehua

    1. Hi Audrie, that’s great perspective! The parking-and-working didn’t work for us at all, we prefer working while cruising – but there’s no one size fits all solution to this. We won’t be able to go as remote and untethered… but the stress of trying to pass for Normal while working on land was worse for me. Hope we get to share an anchorage someday!

      1. Hi Behan, Haha you made me giggle, passing for ‘normal’ can be a challenge indeed. Hope to meet you all in person some day too! Audrie

  8. My wife and I have been 1/2 time cruisers for 6 years. I work full time as an emergency physician and put in the shifts during two weeks each month. It is possible and fun. We’ve enjoyed the Yucatán, Bahamas, US east coast FL to Maine, Nova Scotia, Bermuda, eastern Caribbean, Bahamas, ABCs and Colombia. Yes, we fly a lot, but it’s a great lifestyle and we don’t mind the back and forth every month. Family, friends, and work are still part of our lives. I do all our boat maintenance and we do use marinas with proximity to international airports. We plan our schedules many months in advance.
    Our goal is to circumnavigate…. and that can wait for retirement. But there’s plenty to see and do as a cruiser while still working. I’d bet most full time cruisers put in fewer sea miles as they tend to grow roots when they stop. We have always kept the program moving and are somewhere in the range of 25k miles. Just another perspective as there are no hard and fast rules. Always appreciate your articles. Thanks.

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