Seven years ago, as a pair of empty-nesters living in London, Sheila and I embarked on an impulsive sailing adventure. I was working at a frenetic pace, flying all over the world advising global corporations on future trends. Meanwhile, Sheila was running our company, working as a magistrate, and holding everything else together.
We were looking to slow down a bit, and also to develop new skills, reinvent our future and rejuvenate ourselves. But we were worried about damaging the business, neglecting family, wrecking our bank balance and risking a host of other things. Could we make it work by spending a third of each year aboard, as ‘hybrid sailors’?
MAKING THE LEAP
It was a huge step to buy our own yacht after chartering a few times. “I thought Patrick was mad at first,” Sheila admits, “but in the end, I was the keenest on the whole idea. My father owned yachts but by 70 was unsteady at sea and losing his nerve.”
Sheila’s mother had memory loss by 69, while my father died of cancer at the same age. My early years as a hospice doctor had also shown us both that life is far too short to waste a single day doing things you don’t believe in – or don’t actually need to do. We both believe in seizing the day: when life is uncertain, ‘eat dessert first’!
When we made the decision to buy Moxie (then berthed in Lagos, Portugal) we initially assumed we’d bring her back to the UK. But the lure of sunshine, warm seas, and the fascination of the many countries along the Mediterranean coast persuaded us to sail east instead.
We flew out to Lagos several times in the three months before setting off. It was a very busy period, equipping Moxie and getting her ready, but ‘normal life’ continued: the day to day running of our company, client calls, lecture bookings, relentless answering emails and, for myself, traveling to speaking events, wherever in the world they might be. Our own time has value to the business, so we found it best to focus on our clients, and let boat experts do much of the yacht preparation.
MAKING IT AFFORDABLE
We bought Moxie as a 10-year-old 47ft yacht, kitted out for offshore sailing, for the price of a large motorhome. Five million people in the UK own second homes – but you can buy a boat for a fraction of that, and there are bank loans or finance options. Depreciation is low if you go for a well-built older model and keep it in good order.
To fund day-to-day living costs we diverted holiday spending into our adventure and made savings on domestic bills such as energy and petrol. Anchoring usually costs nothing, and many ports in places like Greece offer very low rates for yacht owners out of season - though hybrid sailing can rack up big marina bills if you fly home in summer.
We also moved out of London to buy a guesthouse on the seafront of Weymouth, which we now let out to large groups on AirBnB – but only when we are afloat, so AirBnB now covers most boat bills.
Moxie has ended up paying for herself several times over. Living aboard soon refreshed our thinking and led to us trying new initiatives. Despite previously having had 16 books published, I’d experienced a decade of writers’ block. But within three months of beginning our new lifestyle, I had a contract for The Future of Almost Everything, and Salt in the Blood followed on.
Along the way we’ve met all kinds of liveaboards, some with creative ways to finance their maritime adventures. We met a wonderful Australian couple in their 80s who regularly fly to Europe, buy 20-year-old boats and sail them to Australia. They sell on arrival for up to £20,000 more than the purchase price (as good quality yachts are in such high demand there), which finances it all.
However, few liveaboards cruisers are true hybrids. Most are retired, living aboard permanently except for trips to see family. Some are much younger on career breaks. Others are taking a couple of years to go round the world, homeschooling as they sail. Few are still fully integrated into ‘normal life’ back home. In our case, we set off in a timing window which we thought could close rapidly – our adult children were just married, we were aware our parents might need us more in future, and we were used to working virtually in the business.
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