True Story: We Live On A Sailboat

Have you ever wanted to live on a sailboat? Halina and Peter made it happen - and they didn't even know how to sail when they bought their boat! Click through for their sailboat tips and advice for small space living!

Halina and Peter’s boat/home

On the long list of thing I fantasize about, living on a boat is in the top five. Halina and Peter actually made it happen! This is their story.

Tell us a bit about yourself!

My name is Halina and I’m a young-at-heart 44-year-old. I was born in Mexico, grew up in the US, worked for a decade in the Middle East, and am now living and working in the Caribbean with my Significant Other, Peter. I am teaching English at a university in Grenada.

I’m a language nerd who loves to read, write, and discuss the benefits of the Oxford comma. I also love to spend time with Peter and travel. We both have new passports and we’re anxious to start collecting entry stamps.

Prior to this move, what was your living situation? 

Before the boat, Peter and I were renting an average apartment in a nice residential part of town, and paying what seemed like exorbitant rent.

The house had a lovely view of a bay, but it got all the evening sun, none of the refreshing Caribbean breeze, and only the bedrooms were air-conditioned. It felt like we were always sequestered in the bedroom just because of the AC.  

Walk us through your decision to buy this boat! 

The idea to live on a boat started in the previous place where we were living: Abu Dhabi. Rent in Abu Dhabi is comparable to Manhattan, so when Peter moved there with me, he mentioned living on a boat as a way to live more frugally. However, boat prices in Abu Dhabi were about as reasonable as the rents, so that idea got scrapped.

In Grenada, the idea popped up again. Peter isn’t working so if we could buy a boat with a bad engine, my mechanically-inclined significant other would have something to do, and we wouldn’t be paying rent. We knew we’d be paying for the boat and the repairs, but at least all that money would be going into something that was ours.

Our search started online, of course, and we found a boat in Grenada that seemed to fit our criteria: a non-running engine and cheap. Although we browsed other boats online, ours was the only one we actually looked at. That sounds like the worst way to go about making such a significant purchase, doesn’t it?

But it turned out to be the only way we could have pulled this off. Of all the boats we looked at online, the other cheap boats we’d seen were at least twice as much as ours, usually smaller, possibly in slightly better conditions, and up to 1000 miles away. It would not have been possible. We paid for our clunker in cash: $9,500 USD.

Tell us about your boat.

The boat is a 1972 Dufour Sortilege, which means nothing to anyone.  She’s a 41-foot-long ketch monohull. This means she’s a normal sailboat (as opposed to a catamaran) with 2 masts.

Her last owner had bought her, sight unseen, for his parents to live on. According to local gossip, the parents stayed on board for a couple of weeks and then left. The boat was on the market for years. She was neglected and the owner before that had had a lot of repairs done, but they were done poorly.

When we actually looked over the boat carefully, we saw she would need a lot more than engine repair. The electrical and plumbing systems needed upgrading. The layout was awkward for us. Typically boats have very small beds (berths) and Peter is almost six and a half feet tall.

We would need to completely re-do the bedroom so he would fit. The kitchen cabinets had wood rot and we would have to replace them all. And those are just the repairs needed to live on her.

A lot of people find it hard to live in a full-sized house when that’s being renovated. How do you manage that in a much smaller space?

We manage the way I guess anyone doing a renovation manages: you live with the inconvenience of having one area under construction and you do your best to work around it.

Peter’s most recent project is re-configuring our anchor locker. This involved removing the previous anchor locker and designing a new one with additional storage.

It’s coming along nicely and it’s going to be an improvement, but we currently have a 4’ x 4’ sheet of plywood in the middle of the living room (salon) and we have to squeeze past that every time we need to go to the bathroom (head). This is our daily life.

I’m not going to lie: it is hard to live like this. What keeps us going is the idea that we’re building our “home”. We have to keep our eye on the goal.

Have you ever wanted to live on a sailboat? Halina and Peter made it happen - and they didn't even know how to sail when they bought their boat! Click through for their sailboat tips and advice for small space living!

kitchen before and after

Have you ever wanted to live on a sailboat? Halina and Peter made it happen - and they didn't even know how to sail when they bought their boat! Click through for their sailboat tips and advice for small space living!

hallway before and after

What changes have you guys made so far? How much is left?

We look through the photos every once in a while to remind ourselves how far we’ve come: The engine now runs. We added a dodger to our center cockpit, which makes that outdoor space so much better!

We are now protected from wind and rain. We added a dodger to our rear cockpit too, which raised the ceiling in our bedroom. We redid the bedroom and now have a large enough bed for Peter’s 6’5” frame and shelves for my clothes.

We have a hallway connecting the living room with the bedroom where there used to be a useless bunk and a door we had to crawl through. We redid the kitchen (galley)) and have a refrigerator. We refinished the navigation station, which will be our workspace. We fixed up two outer storage lockers.

We now have doors to enter our boat where we used to have slats. Doors are so much more convenient, especially during Grenada’s rainy season. It’s a lot faster to close a door than to put in 5 horizontal slats when the rain starts pouring. Everything we’ve worked on has gotten a new, bright coat of paint.

There is so much left to do! We still want to redo the bathroom because there is no working sink in there at the moment and, like other parts of the boat, there is wood rot due to water leaks.

We need to fix our sagging mast and redo the rigging, which are the steel cables that hold up the mast. The entire exterior is in need of a fresh coat of paint. The living room needs some love as well. The list goes on and on!

How do people react when you tell them that you live on a sailboat? 

People usually express surprise and curiosity. “Wow! You live on a boat? What’s that like?” and I’m happy to talk about my experience. Even my colleagues have been curious about my life on the boat.

So far, I haven’t encountered anyone who reacted in a negative way. I’m sure some people think we’re crazy. In fact, I think we’re crazy sometimes!

What has surprised you about this experience?

I’m surprised by how comfortable Peter and I are living in such close quarters. I’m surprised by how few luxuries we really need. I’m surprised by how possible it is to live outside of the box. I’m also surprised every time we take her out to learn to sail.

Oh – didn’t I mention? Neither Peter nor I had any prior sailing experience. We’ve taken her out a handful of times to teach ourselves. Peter times the repairs so that on the weekend, we can take her out for a few hours to practice sailing, as long as the weather conditions allow.

What have you learned from this that ANY of us could apply to our lives?

Our lives are our own. We get to decide what that looks like, as long as we accept the consequences of our choices. Living on a sailboat is not conventional.

Living on a sailboat that needs as many repairs as ours does is not easy or comfortable. But I’m not doing this for the ease or the comfort. I’m not even doing this because I’ve always wanted to sail. I hadn’t given sailing a second thought before we bought our boat.

I’m doing this because I wanted an adventure and living on this boat is definitely an adventure! Go for what you want. Live deliberately!

I loved your story, Halina! Do you have any questions for her? 

P.S. Other small space interviews: living in an Airstream trailer, a garden shed, and a tiny house!

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  1. steph

    When I was in college, a classmate of mine lived on his boat. But, what was really crazy is that few years later one of the dorms had to be remodeled unexpectedly. They moved all the students onto a decommissioned cruise ship. No lie!

    I have a few friends who have houseboats for the same reason mentioned here…it’s pretty economical. And how fun for out of town guests to stay on a boat rather than in a hotel?

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! I’m pretty actively fantasizing about getting a houseboat and using it as a ‘vacation home’ and then renting it out on Airbnb. You can find them on Craigslist for under $10,0000!

    • Caitlyn

      You know you attended St. Mary’s College of MD when… hahaha, seriously though I was coming down to comment that I had a friend in college who lived on a boat when I saw your comment. <3

      • Sarah Von Bargen

        Oh my gosh, this is so funny!!

  2. Mickey

    Neither of them had sailing experience before? That’s courage. I’ve considered living in a boat for about 10 seconds, but I would live in a houseboat like the ones that line the canals here, in the Netherlands. Most of them all on the grid though (electric, sewer, water), so some of the eco-friendliness is lost that way.

  3. Jim

    My wife & I took up sailing and living on board at age 59 with”0″ experience.Bought a good old boat and learned how to sail and did a lot of cruising. We lived off the grid on a 31 ft and didn’t miss any thing! Sold it last year and now looking to buy again at age 68.

    • Marie

      That sounds awesome!

  4. Marie

    Used to know a guy who lived on a housboat in Oxfordshire (England) with his dog. He was a bit of a hippy but I’ve always wanted to at least go on holiday in one since then to see if I like it. I’m 5’4” so it wouldn’’t be as bad for me as for my 6’ husband!

  5. Walter Hynson

    My oldest brother,graduated from ST.Johns worked on sailboats all summer while he was in college. Good Old Annapolis , Md..He always kept a photo of me sitting on the cannon in front of the school, I was too young to understand why he was going to school so far away from home at that time..

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