We made the move from a 2000 sq/ft house with a huge yard to a 350 sq/ft boat in June 2016. It was a big decision for us. Here’s how we made it.
Deciding to live on a boat
It wasn’t an overnight event. We didn’t wake up one morning and say, in unison, “Let’s move onto a boat.” No, we’d been talking about living on a boat for years.
It was never the right time. For several years, our marriage wasn’t very strong. Moving onto a boat would have been the end of our relationship, I’m certain.
Then Erica was pregnant and then we had a baby and then a toddler and then another pregnancy and baby and toddler. We held off the boat-life fever for the time being. As our family grew and our marriage strengthened, our outlook changed.
Then, in April 2016, we realized the time would never be “right” to move onto a boat. There’s always excuses for us to not take chances. Whether it was income or career or family, something would always make this decision feel impossible.
Nailing down what we wanted out of boat life
Once we’d made the decision to move onto a boat with our family of four, it was time to talk brass tacks. Thankfully, we both had similar ideas of what we wanted out of boat life.
We wanted to be close, but still have our own space separate from the kids. And we wanted the kids to have their own space, too. That’s important for us.
We wanted a large common space for the boys to play on the floor and spread out their Legos or do homework or yoga. That meant we needed a big salon or an enclosed deck.
We wanted to be able to go anywhere, especially over to the Bahamas, without worrying about rough seas. That meant a freeboard that could handle big waves without sweating. Being able to go anywhere also meant having adequate fuel range.
Neither of us have a romantic view of sailing. It’s cool and we get why other people love it, but we’re motoring folks. We don’t mind going slow, but sailing is just way more work than either of us want. Knowing that we didn’t want a sailboat helped narrow the field for us.
Choosing the right boat to match our needs and aspirations (hint: trawler)
All of these needs helped focus us on a specific class of boat. We started looking for diesel boats (great fuel consumption) with a split cabin plan (one berth up front and one aft).
That put us squarely in the trawler category. Sportfish boats are nice and many people live on them, but they don’t typically have a split cabin plan. Motoryachts can be accommodated nicely, too, but many modern MYs have gas engines and short ranges.
Trawlers are spacious because they typically have plenty of cabin and salon area. They have high freeboard and most are designed to handle rough seas gracefully. They’re normally powered by a single or double diesel setup with lots of working space in the engine room.
Trawlers are common liveaboard vessels because of their comfort and how easy they are to operate. They also tend to have ample deck space for lounging or entertaining, which is important to us.
Reconciling our dream boat with life’s realities
Now, it was easy to find plenty of trawlers for sale, but most of them were either designed for a single couple without kids (therefore pretty small) or for a wealthy oil tycoon (therefore massive). We are neither.
What’s more, modern trawlers aren’t cheap. In fact, they’re downright expensive. I love the look of the Nordic trawlers, but one perusal through YachtWorld.com will make your eyes pop at how much they cost.
While our dreams had us sipping cocktails in the cockpit of a megayacht, our budget laughed in our faces. We had to find the Cinderella trawler: big enough to suit our needs and cheap enough to suit our bank account.
Aside: we refused to go into debt to make this move. We have a firm no-debt policy in our family. It’s what has allowed us to have more freedom in life and we weren’t going to trade financial slavery for a chance at living on a boat. If we couldn’t afford to buy a boat outright for cash right away, we would wait until we could.
Finding the right mix of size, price, and condition for a liveaboard boat
The last factor that was a non-negotiable for us was the condition of the boat. We would not buy a “fixer-upper.” Although I can be handy when needs arise, I just couldn’t get excited about spending money on a project boat.
The boat would have to be ready-to-go from the get-go. We could handle some cosmetic TLC needs, but mechanical and electrical components had to all be tip-top shape.
Our budget pushed us toward single-engine diesel trawlers in the 40-foot range, built before 1995, with a recent clean bill of health. We also have a friend who does boat surveys who offered to do one for us pro-bono once we found the right boat.
The search for the right boat
I scoured boat sites for weeks. I narrowed my search to boats built by Grand Banks, Albin, and Mainship.
One day, Erica joked, “Do people sell trawlers on Craigslist?” I’d always thought of Craigslist as a place for small knickknacks and house listings, not yachts. But I had nothing to lose, so I did a quick search for anything in a 300 mile radius.
Low and behold, there was gem sitting 30 miles away. I immediately knew this boat had a chance. It hit all of our requirements and was only slightly out of our price range. Wth a little negotiation, maybe we could get the owner to come down a little.
After seeing it twice, getting input from my Father-in-law (a longtime boatman), having my friend run an informal survey on it, and a few rounds of negotiation on the price, we were the new owners of a 43-foot Albin trawler.
Meet the Wanderer