From Liveaboard Sailor to Landlubber

A sailor who read my article about selling our boat in Australia (Ocean Navigator, November 2014) asked: Are you left standing there on the dock with all your family possessions? What then? How do you deal with the “stuff”? What will your family do next?

Those are questions that we had plenty of time to contemplate on our way across the Pacific! I’ll answer the first with several examples, since we were one of five boats that sold at about the same time in Brisbane.

We were lucky in that we had a flexible schedule and a flexible buyer who asked us to deliver the boat 800 miles north to her home in Cairns within three months of the sale. That gave us time for a last hurrah on our floating home as well as time to think about what things we wanted to keep. We also booked our return flights at that time (three months ahead of our actual departure). Once we reached Cairns, we spent a final two weeks on board. Since we used evenings and weekends to orient the new owner to the boat, she let us continue to live aboard and split marina fees with us – a very amiable arrangement for both parties.

Back when we were preparing the boat for viewing, we had already culled down our “stuff” as much as possible, throwing or giving things away and shipping three boxes of personal goods home (a pricey proposition at AUD$5 per 500 grams even for sea freight). Once we reached Cairns, we shipped another two boxes home (foul weather gear, sextant, log books, Lego, other personal gear) and packed the luggage we’d fly with (including two suitcases bought at a second hand shop). Those were a fairly intense three days, during which time my husband Markus managed to inflict the worst injury of our entire three year trip on himself – a broken collarbone sustained in the local playground where he was goofing around with our son! Then the new owner’s friend gave us a ride to the airport, and we were off (hiding our tears at saying goodbye to our trusty Namani).

The other crews we knew had much quicker moving-off experiences, though all followed the same pattern: already throwing or shipping out gear to make space aboard, then taking the rest as flight luggage. One crew paid to stay in a nearby motel during that time so as not to have the complication of living aboard the vessel you’re trying to pack and clean, but the rest of us avoided this extra expense. These crews spent a maximum of one day interacting with the new owner, showing them the idiosyncrasies of their boats.

However, everyone had a fair period of forewarning, given that buying/selling a boat is a step by step process. It was immediately evident when we had a serious buyer, though it took another week to two weeks to set up a sea trial and survey. That gave us lead-up time to get serious about shipping things. Even after a contract is signed, there are a few days waiting for money to transfer. So it was a lot of work, but none of us were ever in the position of being left on the dock with a mountain of gear and nowhere to go. We rented a car for one day to schlepp all our belongings to the post office in Brisbane, and got a ride to do the same in Cairns. Many of the crews we knew had scheduled in a period of land travel after arriving in Australia, so when they moved off the boat, they moved their remaining belongings into rental cars or campers as an intermediate step. One crew we knew used a shipping agent to send a larger quantity of goods home. That makes sense for sailors with a lot to ship and the budget to pay for it. For penny-pinching sailors like us, this wasn’t an option.

All of the above crews traded one to two months of cruising time for a bit of a cushion in terms of a sales window. Others cruised right up until their firm go-home date and alloted themselves only two weeks after arrival in Australia to get everything prepared: cleaning and repairing the boat as well as packing their things. Then they departed for their home countries, leaving the boat in the hands of a broker. Some are lucky; their boats sell fast. A 2001 Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 43 we know sold sight unseen even before arriving in Australia, and the family flew home within a week of arriving in Brisbane. On the other hand, this approach did not work well for a 1975 Wauquiz Amphitrite 43 ketch that was priced too high. It ended up languishing on the market for months. With no one to keep her up, systems started seizing, and that drove the ultimate selling price down to nearly half of the original asking price eight months down the road.

As I said, many sailors bridge their time between living aboard and heading home with a period of land travel depending on when and where the boat sells. We booked a multi-leg series of flights home to Germany to be able to visit friends and places along the way. Over a period of six weeks, we enjoyed stops in Indonesia, Japan, California, Vancouver, and Calgary. We then spent six weeks with family in Maine before flying on to our home in Germany. The price of that entire ticket (booked through Tickets Round the World was about US$3000 per person, whereas a direct flight would have cost about US$2000. We feel the extra was well spent and we were able to keep our costs minimal thanks to various friends who hosted us throughout that trip. It was a lovely reunion trip, and a great transition time for us: we were still footloose travelers, but had the chance to get used to land life at the same time.

So, now that we’re home, what will we do next? I went straight back to my teaching job at Munich International School, from which I had taken an unpaid leave. Our son went into Grade 5 as scheduled and managed the transition very well. Markus had interviews set up before we returned to Germany (thanks in part to maintaining contacts at the job he left to go cruising) and started his new job within a few weeks of arrival. We had sub-let our rental apartment and loaned out our car in our absence, so it was an exceptionally smooth transition home. We still pine for the freedom, the space, and the open horizon that sailing gave us, and hope to do it again someday. For the foreseeable future, we’ll be land-bound in Europe, but that doesn’t mean we’re not planning the next trip!

In a coming post, I will write about our transition back to land life, so please come visit again or sign up for the mailing list to be notified when new material comes out.