Life Aboard: Middle of the Channel

Recounting the joy of starting a life aboard and pondering how to live when it’s over.

Being in the middle gets a bad rap it doesn’t always deserve. No one wants the middle seat on the plane, and they don’t hand out medals for finishing in the middle-of-the-pack. Yet here I am, enjoying my current view from the middle ground.

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This perspective came to mind for me recently, when friends called to tell me they were considering selling their boat. I could hear the pain in their voices over the difficult decision they were weighing; life-long boaters, with thousands of nautical miles under the keel, now contemplating what life would be like without a boat. While still in excellent health, they are considering redirecting some of their time and resources into exploring the world by different means. In our conversation, they were trying to imagine what it would feel like to speak about boating in the past tense. After defining themselves by their boating life for so many years, they needed to talk through what this new life would feel like.

My friends didn’t know when they called that I was in the process of helping another couple take delivery of their new boat. We had just left the commissioning yard in Savannah, on a planned ten-day training cruise to their new home marina on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Here I was, on a call, counseling old friends through the emotional decision of ending their boating life, while simultaneously helping new friends just beginning theirs.

The confluence of these two interactions caused my wife, Dori, and me to take stock of where we are in our boating lives. Our conclusion was we are pretty much in the middle of where these two couples find themselves. Right now, Dori and I are having the time of our lives, but we are quite aware that it’s also just a time “in” our lives. We know there will come a day, when like our friends, we wrestle with the decision to transition out of boating, but we know it’s not in the immediate future.

Dori and I both grew up on our families’ boats. In our years together we’ve bought and built numerous boats, each suited to how and where we were using them. We remember the excitement of leaving our careers and beginning our current boating life of long-distance, extended cruising. Today, we are enjoying our place in the middle, meeting fellow cruisers at different points in their journey. We take every opportunity to make friends with and learn from more experienced boaters than ourselves, while also meeting people just beginning their life aboard, couples who are where we were years ago. To them, we are the seasoned salts, the ones they look to for advice and counsel as they are learning.

This transition doesn’t only pertain to long-distance cruisers, it could be your best friends at the yacht club, who’ve chosen not to renew their membership, a slip neighbor who decided to sell their boat, or a fishing buddy who’s suddenly spending more time playing pickleball than fishing. It also isn’t necessarily associated with age. Our best friends we’ve made while cruising are younger than us, and have chosen to take a break from long-distance cruising not because of their age, but in order to spend time with their grandchildren on a smaller boat used locally.

We were encouraged to know our boating doesn’t have to end anytime soon when we met a couple in Maine last year that had just purchased a new larger boat to have more room aboard when their son visits. At the time, they were 103 and 97—their son was 72! When I asked the couple how they were still running their own boat at their ages, their response was: “I don’t know, it just never occurred to us to stop.” They added: “We always said we would stop boating when it stopped being fun, well, I guess we’re still having fun.” From the comfort of our vantage point here in the middle, we’ve learned to accept the transitory life this is. It is an ebb and flow; new people just beginning their boating life, while others are moving on to other adventures.

All of the experiences our friends share with us will hopefully help us prepare for the day Liberdade no longer serves our needs. Currently there isn’t anything we want to do on a boat that Liberdade doesn’t do for us, but we also know we won’t own her forever. As we see it right now, boating won’t end for us after Liberdade, the only thing that might change is the type of boat and boating we do. With some luck, I’ll be sharing that life with you in these pages as well.

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This article originally appeared in the May 2024 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.


Boat Lyfe