Sailing out of harbour

Living the Dream: Life on a Sailboat

“I’m going to turn us 15 degrees to port” I shouted to Ryan, as I climbed down into the aft cabin to change course on our tiller pilot. As we sailed into the night, the sunset painted the horizon with an orange glow and the first stars appeared above our heads.

A year ago none of these words would have made any sense to me. I had never helmed a sailboat, let alone spent a night on one. Now I live, play, and work from a small sailing catamaran with my boyfriend and take every day as a new adventure.

Why we moved onto a sailboat

Ryan and I have always been passionate about the outdoors and used to spend our weekends hiking, camping, or rock climbing in the Peak District or Wales. Our holidays were filled with days spent scuba diving, kayaking, bouldering, and free diving in exotic locations. We loved spending time surrounded by nature, so the office life felt a little tight.

I decided I couldn’t live the standard way of life anymore

In May 2016, after a whole winter spent indoors at the climbing wall, I decided I couldn’t live the standard way of life anymore. I needed a way out, so I started bugging Ryan about it and looking for alternative lifestyles. We both wanted to live a greener and more adventurous way of life, where we had plenty of time to dedicate to the outdoors.

We initially thought about buying an old farm in Spain or Italy and live a green life there, working part-time. We knew we needed to live off-the-grid, as we didn’t know how much money we could make off freelance work; however, we realised we had a big desire to travel too.

A month later we left for a holiday in Majorca (Spain). While we were on a beach, resting from a bouldering session and a snorkel, we spotted a little sailboat bobbing about in the bay in front of us. That was the spark that put everything in motion.

Jumping into water from boat

How we did it

We started researching this new way of life and realised there are people living on sailboats all over the world. It is typically retired people who dreamed to sail around the world all their lives, but since the big boom of sailing channels on YouTube a few years back and the growing popularity of tiny homes, more and more young people are getting out there too.

We reduced our monthly spend drastically

We read up about everything: how to sail, digital nomad job ideas, boat maintenance, boat refitting, how to buy a good boat, etc. We also reduced our monthly spend drastically, saving about 50% of our salaries. We didn’t want to lose momentum, so after a month or so, we started looking for a sailboat. In August 2016 we purchased our Heavenly Twins catamaran for under £10K. She’s 26ft long and it was built in 1977 in the UK. We called her Kittiwake. She’s not fast, big, or fancy, but she’s super study, sea-worthy, and simple. It’s exactly what low budget cruisers like us need. We sailed her a few times around Falmouth, where we bought her.

Ryan had a little sailing experience from crewing on other people’s boats a couple of summers when he was younger, while we prepared by reading books and watching a lot of videos. In the spring Ryan took the tests he needed to sail Kittiwake abroad and we refitted the boat to make it suitable for living aboard. We spent all our holidays working on the boat and fixing it up.

Inside boat

In the meantime, I started lining up clients to build some freelance income and worked seven days a week for a few months. Once I had two regular clients that paid enough to keep us going, I quit my job. A month later (April 2017), Ryan quit his job and we moved onto Kittiwake. By this time, we had saved enough to pay for the refit and keep us going for a year, plus we set aside a contingency fund for any major boat repairs or emergencies.

We set off in May 2017 and traveled south. We sailed to the Isles of Scilly, crossed The Channel, sailed the beautiful Atlantic coasts of France and Spain, and then down western Portugal. That’s where we are right now.

The whole trip was simply wonderful. We learned so much about sailing, self-sufficiency, and ourselves. You quickly forget about being stuck in a dirty harbour for 10 days once the sun is up, the wind is blowing, and you set off to reach a new exciting destination. Some of our favourite places were St Agnes, with its stunning sandbar, St Evette and the Glénan Islands with their tropical-looking waters, and the cliffs of the Algarve.

The good, the bad and the ugly of living on a sailboat

Living on a sailboat is both amazing and challenging. We’ve had some tough times – we’ve been through a storm at anchor, when another boat nearly crashed into us and we had to call the coast guard for a boat that sank. Life on the sea means taking charge of your safety, and spending some sleepless nights to make sure your boat is securely anchored.

Evening on a sail boat

We’ve also had some incredible times – we swam with dolphins in the open sea, wild camped on a sandbar, and improvised some bouldering on a deserted beach. Every time we row ashore, hike up a cliff, and see Kittiwake bobbing about at anchor we feel deeply content.

We can decide what to do with our time

What makes our way of life special to us is that we can decide what to do with our time. Since we left the UK, we found time to hike, rock climb, snorkel, and free dive along the way. Unless there is some urgent work to do, or the weather is terrible, we can choose to spend time chilling in our hammock, or play beach volleyball on the beach at any time. We’ve also met some amazing people from all walks of life, which made our experience even more special.

The only big downside for us is the fact that life without a fixed address is difficult – you can’t get stuff shipped to you, or buy a new SIM card easily. However this small problem is worth all the happiness this lifestyle gives us. We’ve never been this close before and we feel truly alive.

Algarve

How we fund our travels

Our main source of income is freelance work. We take on copywriting, web design and content marketing projects through our website seawolfdigital.co.uk. We work from the boat, using our phones as hotspots. I started picking up clients back in Manchester through my personal connections, as I already worked in marketing. Ryan, however, was a civil engineer, so he taught himself how to code along the way and picked up clients later on.

As well as this, we document our adventures through our YouTube channel. This earns us a little extra cash. We get a tiny amount off YouTube ads ($30 to $40 a month gross) and donations through a website called Patreon, where people can choose to support our video production. It’s like voluntary payment for videos on demand.

What’s next for us

“The plans of sailors are written in the sand at low tide.” Making plans when sailing is very difficult. The weather, wind, boat maintenance, and freelance work influence our daily decisions. Our plan is to keep going while it’s fun. We’re headed to the Mediterranean this year. We don’t know what the future holds, but that’s what makes life even more adventurous and exciting.

Elena pulling up anchor

Thinking of sailing away? Here’s some advice

  • Try sailing first, and get confident the lifestyle suits you. If you can’t afford to go on a sailing holiday, going away wild camping in a small tent for a week or so will give you a feel for what it’s like to live in a small space off-the-grid. Add a few luxuries (some energy from solar panels, a tiny fridge, a loo) and some rocking and rolling, and there you have it – that’s the liveaboard lifestyle.
  • Know yourself. Just like on land, your monthly spend depends on you and your finances. We prefer to work less and live more, so we do everything on a tight budget. However, there are plenty of sailors out there who lead luxurious lives on big boats that have all the comforts of a house. It’s all entirely up to you. Understand what will work best for you.
  • Decide on a monthly budget and stick to it. It can be really tough to adjust to living on a sailboat while travelling, as initially you feel like you’re always on holiday, travelling to new places each week. This means you’ll feel like going out for meals or splurge on some touristy activities often. Try to decide what sort of lifestyle you want to lead in advance, figure out a budget for it, and most importantly stick to it. We’ve heard of too many people who set off with the intention to be gone for years, who had to go back after six months because they spent all their money.
  • Find a way to make money that works for you and test it before you leave. We made videos and wrote blog posts on how to find work while sailing. There are infinite ways to earn a living, so find your own niche.
  • “Go small, go simple, go now.” This quote from famous cruisers Lin and Larry Pardey sums up the best bit of advice you can get once you’re set on the idea of sailing away. The money will never be enough, the boat will never be big or equipped enough, and you will never have enough sailing or boat maintenance experience. As long as you’re safe, you’re confident you can sail your boat and keep it safe, and you know how you’ll earn your living, just set off and go. Go, live, learn.

You can find more information on us and Kittiwake and how to sail away yourself on our blog and YouTube channel.


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About Elena

author-elena

Elena Manighetti is a blogger, vlogger, and freelance copywriter who loves the outdoors. She lives with her boyfriend Ryan on a small boat, which they're sailing around Europe.

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