Enjoy an Affordable, Liberating Life by Downsizing
Tj Akey writing on downsizing…
It was, as I recall, a pretty normal evening, when Deb, my wife of several decades, leaned over the staircase rail and asked: “What would you think about retiring onto a sailboat?”
We didn’t even know how to sail.
Yet here we are, six years later, living on a 1982, 42-foot Tartan named Kintala, sailing our way around Chesapeake Bay, the Florida Keys, Biscayne Bay, and Tampa.
Instead of slogging through weekdays to get to the weekend, we have travel days…anchored-off-a-beach days…visiting-cool-places days…and hanging-on-for-dear-life days.
Sometimes we drop an anchor late in the afternoon, get a bite to eat, climb into the v-berth for a night’s sleep, and pull the anchor up early the next morning to keep going. Sometimes we find an isolated, little anchorage we like and settle in for a week or more.
My life as a corporate pilot and flight department manager was pretty good. We weren’t getting rich, but I could muse about a new motorcycle once in a while.
But like most careers in America these days, it wasn’t as good as it used to be. Pay had stagnated, with raises rarely keeping up with inflation. The requirements for recurrent training grew ever more tiresome.
But could living on a boat be an affordable way to live while still offering us the chance to travel, explore, and maybe learn something new?
We signed up for sailing lessons at a lake just an hour’s drive from our St. Louis home.
That first sailing lesson was all it took to seal the deal. We ghosted across the lake in light winds, setting sails and using nothing but the wind to make a boat move. Later, we sat in the cockpit, nursed a warm cup of coffee, and watched the sun set over the water.
Within a year, we found Nomad. She was our “starter boat,” a 27-foot ComPac sailboat we bought at the same lake. While we worked on downsizing our lives and filling up the retirement fund, Nomad taught us the art of living both in a small space and close to nature.
We spent long weekends away from the dock sailing then anchoring in a small bay, watching the sun set with a cold one in hand and greeting the sunrise with a steaming cup of coffee.
Three years later, we said goodbye to little Nomad and bought Kintala. She was more of a project boat than we had hoped, but we were still working and could cover the costs of rebuilding some of her systems and upgrading some of her equipment.
It was six years and two boats from the first sailing lesson before we could “retire.”
We decided to take the plunge and sell everything we owned.
Out the door went our much beloved motorcycles, my Nissan 350Z, and a good part of the massive collection of tools accumulated over four decades of fixing airplanes, helicopters, cars, motorcycles, and houses.
We shipped Kintala to the east coast, finished up some projects, and cast off the lines.
Compared to houses, boats are very small living spaces. Living in a small space means living modestly. All the promises of a consumer culture fall on deaf ears when one has only 450 square feet of space. The latest gadget is of little use if there is nowhere to store it for going off shore. Clothing is functional, fashion means little, and clothes get replaced only when they are worn out. Knick-knacks and doodads are few. When anything new comes on the boat, something else has to go.
To be honest, there are moments when a nice, little cabin set in the woods somewhere sounds attractive. But it is nearly impossible to imagine going back to living the way we used to live.
Living on a boat means living with a sense of independence, self-reliance, responsibility, and modesty that is hard to capture on land. Solar panels collect the few watts of power we use; a small generator stands by for duty on rainy days. We carry enough water for a couple of weeks. A small refrigerator meets our food needs. We have the tools on board that we need, and the skills to put them to good use.
But as independent as we are…as light on the planet as we live…and as fantastic as the view from the cockpit is when sitting in clear water off a tropical island…it is hard to fall prey to pride.
The night sky is simply too full of stars, the ocean too big and powerful, the sunsets too spectacular, and the sunrises too quiet.
Living on a boat, for us, is a life well lived.
P.S. Discover how you can enjoy a more laidback, authentic, independent way of life in The Savvy Retiree Daily. Sign up below to have it delivered – free of charge – to your email inbox.