Two Years Living on a Boat

Two Years Living on a Boat Looking ahead

It’s sometimes hard to believe that we moved onto Sava two years ago! December 5, 2018. Which means we’ve spent two years living on a boat. Happily, we’ve survived and in some cases even thrived through all the crazy twists and turns that boat life – and life – have thrown in our way. We started out so ignorant and naive about life aboard, but we’ve done and learned a lot in two years.

Sava under sail
Sava under sail racing in Bonaire

Lessons Learned After Two Years Living on a Boat

I could list every mistake and dumb move we’ve made, but I already have. Don’t expect to get all the way from Florida through the Panama Canal and stop at every island in between in one season, for one! We had ambitious plans and not much knowledge when we moved onto Sava, but we think we’ve gotten better at this cruising thing, and learned some other skills over the years.

Self Improvement

Me? I’ve learned how to drive a boat and a dinghy. I’ve learned a lot of new recipes including how to make yogurt! Multiple new water sports. And self-reliance. I spent more than a week on the boat alone, I can drive myself to and from shore, and can provision and feed us for offshore trips and weeks of lockdown.

Brian? He’s learned about fixing things in exotic places. Plus he’s learned paddleboarding and free diving and gotten good at the second.

Brian Here: I am still lousy with the SUP, but I am getting much better at freediving, especially from the help of Hugo and Carlos of DeepSea Bonaire. Great skill to have when needing to collect a dropped dinghy lock onto the sea floor at 10 meters deep. As for boat repairs, every time I think I’ve learned all the wires and pipes on the boat I find a new one which I have no idea what it does or where it goes.

I’ve also learned a lot about diesel engines, from cooling systems to fuel systems. Our friend CB, taught us the first lesson in our first month – “if it’s not working it’s the fuel” – something that’s come handy many times. I even recently discovered another fuel filter that I had no idea we had on the boat – and luckily it hadn’t fully clogged up. I’ve also learned how water makers work, and can talk to you about power usage and battery power in ways I’d never imagined before this adventure.

Most importantly, I’ve learned always to ask for help. Our friends on other boats sometimes have had similar challenges on their boats and the suggestions are always helpful. I think I now actually help out other boaters sometimes with their challenges.

Working two years living on a boat
Brian working on the rigging
Shared Learnings

Thanks to our experiences onboard Sava, we are both comfortable sailing at night. I never thought that was possible during the scary trip through the Dominican Republic when I spent what felt like a whole night worrying I would crash into shore. It was probably only a couple of hours though because Brian never sleeps long on passages. But our sail to Bonaire was so easy it calmed us both about night sailing and passage making. Brian even slept about 5 hours straight that last night he was so comfortable!

As Brian mentioned above, we’ve both learned to ask for help. It’s easy in the cruiser community: so many people will offer advice and assistance even if you don’t ask, and when we need to ask, we get it! Sometimes we need a lift up the mast or a ride to the hospital, and cruisers always step in. We try to pay it back and forward too because we don’t want to break the chain of cruisers helping cruisers. It’s what makes the community so special and made these two years a lot easier than they could have been.

In our two years living on a boat, we learned to give ourselves a break. We got some time away from the boat toward the end of this season which rejuvenated us and Sava! It’s a little harder to do with Domino, but not impossible, and so worth it, so we hope to take more nights off and even trips away once we’re able.

Two Years Living on a boat
We’ve come a long way in two years!

Read about our first year on the boat in the Caribbean.

Highlights From Our First Two Years

Oh! The places we’ve been and the people we’ve met! Definitely the highlight of these two years is the people. Moving around the Caribbean, we made friends and bumped into many of them multiple times, which made our travels lots of fun. It’s so cool when we recognize a boat name on AIS or see a friend’s boat when we pull into a harbor and know we aren’t alone! Hopefully we will keep seeing friendly faces as our journey continues because we know a lot of cruisers heading the same direction.

Cruiser party two years living on a boat
I miss the days of cruiser get-togethers, this one is in Bequia, SVG
Boat Improvement Highlights

Brian says one of his highlights was fixing the autopilot and I agree! Not having to hand steer makes every sail easier and better and we never want to go without again. A working watermaker is another impactful boat project. Making water makes us more self-reliant so we can stay away from shore longer.

Most Memorable Events

We had some great times in our first two years living on a boat! Highlights include Spicemas in Grenada, Christmas with music, food and friends in Martinique, and our lockdown in Great Bird Island. I know! You wouldn’t think lockdown for Covid would be a favorite memory, but the amazing friends we spent that time with (socially distanced!) made it a highlight for us both.

  • Spicemas Cruisers
  • Cruisers in Great Bird Island
  • Jolly Harbor Beach Antigua
  • Flip Flop Beach Stocking Island
  • Cruiser friends at Grenada Hash
  • Bonaire dinner

Missed Opportunities

After Curaçao and Aruba, we will head to South and Central America, if all goes according to plan (see don’t make plans). We love the Eastern Caribbean and ABCs, and explored a lot, but we would have done a few more things if pesky problems like hurricane season and Covid hadn’t gotten in the way. Here’s what we wished we hadn’t missed.

St. Patrick’s in Montserrat

I had my heart set on visiting Montserrat for their annual St. Paddy’s Celebration as did a few of our cruising friends. We were all planning to sail from Antigua for the festivities. Unfortunately the island locked down and the party was canceled due to Covid 19. I don’t know what St. Paddy’s in Panama will be like but maybe we’ll get to see.

More Scuba Diving in Guadeloupe

The Jacques Cousteau Marine park in Guadeloupe is one of the best diving sites in the Caribbean and we only did two dives there which was not enough!

Pigeon island Guadeloupe
Pigeon Island in Guadeloupe is one of the best dive sites in the Caribbean

Our plan (you see why cruisers can’t make plans!?) was to head there after St. Paddy’s in Montserrat, due more diving, stock up on French food and wine and maybe make another Decathlon run, but we stayed in Antigua for Covid. Oh well. We got to go to Barbuda again and did a lot of diving in Bonaire, so I am not complaining.

Room for Improvement

I have learned a lot in these two years on a boat and I am still learning. My opinion is if I’m not learning I am done, and it’s much too early for that!

Sometimes the things I learn about myself aren’t so great but I am trying to turn that into a positive and make improvements. I need more down time and less social time than Brian does. So sometimes I let Brian go and be social and I stay on the boat and work on the blog or cook or just read. That’s ok.

I have to not beat myself up about it too. I also can let myself get down or upset when things on the boat don’t work or something unplanned happens, which means I need to be more flexible and adaptable. It may be too late for me, but I can try. The days when I don’t let a broken stove or a wet dinghy ride bother me are better than the days where I do, so I keep trying!

We’ve Changed After Two Years Living on a Boat

Maybe it was inevitable, but we have different priorities after two years living on a boat.

We Pay More Attention to Weather

One big difference is we make decisions based on the weather. Living in Toronto, rain and snow affected our commutes and travel plans but that’s the extent. We could enclose ourselves in our office or house and not notice the weather until we looked out the window or tried to leave the building again. When it rains on a boat, we rush around closing all the hatches before everything gets soaked. We’ve learned the hard way to close every single tiny window before we leave the boat in case in storms while we’re away.

On a boat, we couldn’t sleep if there was a wind reversal in Bonaire and couldn’t leave Point a Pitre until the Christmas winds subsided – for our safety, not just our comfort. That’s the big difference. We focus on weather and our decision making about weather in ways I never would have thought. Two years in and that’s our new normal.

Storm clouds Grenada
We are more attentive to storm clouds and weather in general on a boat

Living on a boat is half living outside, half inside. We don’t have heating or air conditioning on Sava like some boats do or like we did on land. It’s fine. We’ve mostly gotten used to it after two years. We use fans and we haven’t been anywhere we’ve needed heat. The worst is when it’s hot and rains a lot and we can’t keep the windows open. Or when it rains and then mosquitos swarm. The best is sitting outside under the bimini shades watching the wildlife, sunrises and sunsets, and the stars.

Rainbow two years living on a boat
It’s not all rainbows living on the boat, but we still love it
Sunset in Saint Lucia
We get to see a lot of beautiful sunsets on our boat. Sunset in St. Lucia
We Interact with Wildlife

Speaking of wildlife, we are closer to it now, which is one of my favorite benefits of life on a boat. We swim, snorkel, paddle and scuba with the marine life regularly. On land, we hike frequently and enjoy our interactions with the local animals, ranging from goats and roosters to parrots and iguanas. The variety of the creatures we see is only topped by the proximity in the places we see them. Roosters walking around our table at lunch and iguanas crossing the road while we drive is normal now. And I love it.

goats on a hike Antigua
It’s always a treat to see goats on a hike!

We recently watched David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet and it brilliantly conveyed what we see and experience regularly: the health of nature and wildlife is so important to our species. Respect it and please do everything you can to nurture it. Two years living on a boat gives me respect for nature and her creatures. Except cockroaches. F*%& them.

Our Priorities Are Different

I read back over the things I have learned and realized it sounds like we are doomsday preppers. My new skills are very doomsday prepper, and are the same skills you need for long passages or living in a pandemic on a boat. Wow. Priorities have changed!

Brian and I still want us and our loved ones to be healthy and safe, but our other priorities are different. Keeping up with the neighbors means beating them to the next anchorage (it’s always a race when you’re sailing), not owning more and better things.

Looking good means being dressed and not sunburnt, not perfectly coiffed and made-up. You’ve seen my photos. Getting dressed up is showering, shaving and wearing clean clothes.

All this to say that life on a boat is different from our lives in Toronto, and we love it. Most of the time.

Two years living on a boat Martinique
Brian and I after a hike in Martinique. Boat hair don’t care!

Looking Ahead to Year Three

It’s hard to make plans but we still do. If all goes well, we’ll head west soon. We’ll probably stay in Curaçao through New Year’s and then head to Colombia with maybe a stop in Aruba.

Colombia just opened its borders to boaters on December 1, and fellow cruisers are on their way from Curaçao. So we’ll wait for reports back from there, get our fill of Curaçao’s anchorages and supermarket goodies and follow their lead. After Colombia comes Panama and the canal.

Everything is taking longer because of Covid. We have quarantined once and are not keen to do it again, but if that’s the price to move on, we will. We also may have to get tests, which we have avoided so far, but we’ll probably have to get one of those dreaded nose swabs soon. Countries change their rules of entry on a weekly or monthly basis, sometimes while sailors are on their way, so we’re just trying to keep up and follow the rules as best we can. We’ve learned to take it one day at a time.

Our Goals

Our hopes and dreams are to see more of the world, meet and engage with people, and hike, paddle, and scuba where we can. We are experiencing life in different countries and always noticing the connections we have with people we’ve never before met or known anything about. And we are always on the lookout for monkeys, baby goats and dolphins, and any other creatures out there.

We know how lucky we are to be living on a sailboat traveling the world, and that many people would like to take our places. I complain about quarantine or rough anchorages from time to time, but I know we are living the dream. Here’s to a few more years of life on a boat! What about you? What do you think would be your favorite or least favorite thing about living on a sailboat? Share in the comments.

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Author: Mel

Living aboard a sailboat, blogging about the places we visit and the adventures we have. Love hiking, cycling, scuba, animals and adventure.

6 thoughts on “Two Years Living on a Boat”

  1. Loved your observations and insights. I’m sorry that our paths aren’t likely to cross again anytime soon, but i do love keeping up with you thru this blog!

  2. Great read, Melinda! I got a real kick out of your cockroach comment, haha! I’m not sure there are many people who would disagree with you on that topic. Have you had terrible infestation problems on your boat? I have heard actual horror stories of cockroach infestations while at sea, and they can be super difficult to get rid of. I know that one of the best ways to keep cockroaches off the boat is to remove all cardboard and paper packaging from your items before taking them on board – especially food items. Those little spaces between the cardboard are the PERFECT spot for cockroaches to breed and lay eggs. Theres some good information in this article about keeping pests at bay on a boat: – might be of some interest to your readers! In any case, I enjoy reading your posts – keep up the good writing!!

    1. Thanks Travis! After 2.5 years, we never bring cardboard onboard. I even bought a lock n lock plastic holder for eggs! The roaches were the worst in Bonaire as they literally FLEW on board people’s boats. All good now! Never again, I hope.

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