2020 has been the year that many people have re-evaluated their lives. It’s thrown into question how safe we really are in our existing environments, and made a lot of people look for ways out.
This year we’ve seen a lot of talk on forums from people wanting to sell up, buy a sailboat and start a life at sea. Some have realised that life’s too short, and that waiting isn’t an option for them anymore. Others believe that during a crisis, a sailboat is the safest place to be.
We fully back anyone that wants to try out this lifestyle for themselves. It may stick, it may not, but you’ll have an incredible time figuring it all out. Whether or not to do it during a pandemic though, that we’re not so sure about.
The grass is always greener. Having lived on board throughout this year and all it’s many surprises, we thought we would offer our opinions on whether a sailboat really is the best place to be during a pandemic.
What Makes A Sailboat The Best (Or Worst) Place To Be During A Pandemic?
Are You Really Isolated On A Sailboat?
Perhaps the reason why so many see a sailboat as an attractive place to be during a global pandemic is that you’re pretty darn isolated out at sea. Experienced sailors have learnt to live from provisions for months at a time, so it may be possible to isolate for a month or more before needing to head to a supermarket (but remember, if you can do this on a boat you can do it even easier on land). You could be all alone at anchor with no one to infect you, and only take a trip to shore once a month.
That being said, you’re going to need to know what you’re doing for this to be the case. You’ll need a fully equipped boat with a watermaker (or large water tanks), diesel and gas to last you and you’ll need to know how to really make food last – unless you’re happy living from tins for weeks on end. You’ll probably also want to know how to fish to keep your supplies up – though in many countries fishing and swimming was banned too.
Basically, it isn’t as easy as you might think to live on board for extended periods of time without going to shore. There will come a time when you have to head to the supermarket just like you would on land. The difference with being on a boat is that you have little (or no) option of getting food delivered. So for some, being in a house is far more safe than on a boat.
You’re Used To Isolation When You Live On A Sailboat – Pandemic Or Not!
There are many stretches of time when you find yourself alone, or with only the people you sail with. It can be quite a lonely way of life with only nature for company. People who live on a sailboat have often found ways to overcome the isolation, through internet connections or other distractions. Or they are just comfortable with the quiet life.
When people were plunged into lockdown with no warning it was hard for those who hadn’t had time to adjust. For those already living on a sailboat, lockdown didn’t have quite the same impact.
For people struggling to adapt to being around their partners 24/7, I wrote a post that might be useful. It’s based on the hardships and battles Adam and I had to overcome when we first started living on a sailboat, and if you’re finding it tough you should know you really aren’t alone.
The pandemic didn’t affect us in that way, because it was something we’d already dealt with months ago. To be honest, lockdown didn’t feel different to normal life in that respect which was a big plus for living on a sailboat during the pandemic.
You May Already Work From Home / You’ve Found Ways To Make A Living In Isolation
If you live on a sailboat then chances are you’ve already found ways to make a living (or you don’t need to!)
Working from home was something we’d already adjusted to a long time ago, so it didn’t make any difference to our lives on board. We already had our little home routines. We had got over the motivation hurdle early on and worked out ways to stay on track. We’d already mastered video calls and getting dressed in the morning. The pandemic didn’t change our day to lives in terms of the working week.
You’re At The Mercy Of The Weather On A Sailboat During A Pandemic
When Greece announced a second lockdown we were sheltering from very high winds in a nice little bay. The winds had just started, and were forecast to blow for roughly a week.
We were given three days notice before all sailing was banned. This meant we either had to risk moving in horrible weather conditions, and let’s face it, Adam and I aren’t the most competent sailors, move illegally once the weather passed and risk a hefty fine, or stay put and pray the wind didn’t change to an unfavourable direction.
We had booked into a boatyard for over winter, when the weather here can be pretty horrible. But the boat yard we’d booked was miles away. We’d planned to spend about a month making our way over there, hiding out from bad weather and exploring along the way. This was no longer an option, and we felt pretty scared if I’m completely honest. We either risked the weather, or the Greek authorities (I’m not sure which is worse).
In the end we managed to find a boat yard only an hours sail away that would take us for the winter, but it was a nerve wracking few weeks not knowing what to do, and we took a risk moving the boat during lockdown with big fines that we couldn’t afford as penalties.
Many Have Been Stuck In No Mans Land On A Sailboat During The Pandemic
We’ve read about quite a few cruisers now who have been stuck out at anchor and refused entry onto land. The rules of the pandemic left sailors in a bit of a grey area, and countries didn’t tend to have much of a plan for what people living on board should be allowed to do.
People were turned away from docking to collect drinking water, banned from getting food from the supermarket and even refused entry into countries they’d arrived in and left to sail somewhere else in awful weather conditions. Quarantine rules meant you had to stay in a designated anchorage to wait out your two weeks and if that anchorage was horrifically rolly and you literally couldn’t sleep for two weeks then so be it!
Facing Expensive Fees During The Pandemic
Cruisers we spoke to in the Caribbean had a very tricky time navigating the pandemic. They ended up stuck there during hurricane season, but to try and escape oncoming weather meant checking into new islands where they have to pay huge amounts for covid tests alongside entry into the country. When you’re cruising on a budget a setback like this can cost you big time.
You’re Far From Family, Friends And Your Health Care System In A Pandemic
Cruisers take this risk knowingly and are mentally prepared for something to happen to them or a loved one while they’re far from home. But during a global pandemic? That’s a very different situation to the one they signed up for.
Firstly, the risk of getting ill abroad or family and friends getting ill is suddenly much higher. Secondly, with flights being cancelled the option to get back in a hurry if you needed is suddenly gone with little to no warning. Thirdly, if you did fall ill you might well be in a place that doesn’t speak you language or have the same health care system you’re used to. That’s a scary thought when all you want is to be surrounded by people who understand you!
You’re Used To Being Stuck In A Small Space – Sort Of
One of the hard things about boat life is being stuck in a tiny space. When you live on a sailboat you get used to it and you learn ways to cope, which you may never have had to do if you live in a small house on land.
That being said, there is always light at the end of the tunnel for sailors. The long passage will end, you can jump in the sea and have a swim or head to shore for a long walk on land. Stuck in isolation on a sailboat meant you literally could only walk a few steps before you had to turn around again. It was so hard to ‘stretch your legs’ properly and get any sort of meaningful exercise.
The Pandemic Bought Community Spirit To Some
One big thing we really lacked mentally when sitting through two lockdowns on a sailboat was the community spirit all our land based friends were experiencing.
We clapped for the NHS in an empty boat yard and we had no one to bring us food and water when we couldn’t leave the boat. We couldn’t borrow a jigsaw puzzle from the lady down the road, or make rainbow posters to put in our windows. We were alone, and we really felt it. It took a big toll on us mentally.
When the pandemic hit we were plunged into a very different world, and the reality and expectations we had been living and wanted for the future were very drastically changed for those living on land and on the water.
Living on a sailboat comes with its own risks, but there are usually systems in place that make this life easier – being able to access land for food and water, being able to fly home to family if necessary, being able to move the boat to keep safe from weather and find shelter. When these options are taken from you pretty much over night it only adds to an already very uncertain situation.
In summary, moving onto a sailboat during a pandemic because you want to feel safe is probably not the best idea. If anything, the pandemic has made us question our lifestyle choices and we’ve certainly found times when we would have a felt a lot safer and more protected in a land home surrounded by community (even if we couldn’t actually see them!)
If the pandemic has forced you to look at what you really want from life and chase your dreams now rather than later then go for it. I can promise you won’t regret it!
We’d love to hear how the pandemic has affected you in the comments below.