Written six weeks ago, finally uploaded now while the kids are sleeping soundly on board.
Wanting something different…
About a year ago, we made the decision to leave our home, not to move to a new house or to a new area, but to change our whole lives and live aboard a sailing boat.
We had for a long time been considering moving from the home I always foresaw as our ‘forever home’- Dave works over an hour’s drive away, which makes for early starts and long days, and we both felt that as a family we would benefit from living closer to Warwick University. The downside was the cost. We have a beautiful house with an acre and a half of garden, but to get anything like this within a better traveling distance of Warwick, we would be looking to pay perhaps double our house’s current value. While we were both willing to compromise on the size of plot and house, a large garden was a must. That work-life balance was beginning to look less achievable.
There was another option- after a three-week trip in Canada after our wedding in 2015 (the first and third weeks, Dave was working so we made a ‘honeymoon’ out of it), we fell in love with British Columbia on the West Coast. It sounds trite, but that’s how it is. It’s difficult to express exactly what it was about the area, perhaps it was simply that it felt so much like home. But it was also cleaner, friendlier, and more environmentally conscious, with a stronger ‘outdoor’ culture. We casually discussed moving, and even browsed property, but I wasn’t really sure- after all, three weeks spread between Toronto (East Coast, but equally enjoyable, visit if you get the chance!), Vancouver, Ucluelet and Victoria isn’t a lot to base a move half way across the world, especially when we’d be leaving behind family and friends, and would have to find work.
But the idea kept coming up in conversation, it was persistent, so with about two months’ notice we booked flights for a four-and-a-half-week trip in March/April 2016 so we could get a better feel for things, particularly Vancouver Island. We travelled the island for two and a half weeks in a campervan, and spent the last two weeks between Whistler and Jasper, and in a lakeside cabin near 100 Mile House in mainland BC.
When we returned, I joked to Dave that if we seriously wanted to move, we should sail our 26ft Westerly Centaur to Vancouver Island. Dave has always wanted to sail long-term, so he was quick to explain how realistic this was, and I was quick to point out that it would be a shame to miss out so much of the world if we were seriously planning to sail anywhere at all. By May we had somehow decided that we would do it- sell the house, buy a boat and leave our normal, day-to-day lives for something entirely different. Looking back, I can’t really pin-point the moment we decided. The idea just evolved and grew until it was definite and we were broaching it with family.
Fast-forward a year…
We bought our boat in August last year, a 40ft catamaran, after viewing several boats in person, and numerous online. At first the choice seemed overwhelming, but with two young children our requirements were clear, and few boats met both these and our budget. Since we made the decision to live aboard, we have been finishing the renovations to our home of eight years whilst gradually downsizing our possessions. Dave has always found this latter part easy- he never accumulated a hoard of clothing, shoes and accessories, and has very few items he would consider keeping for sentimental reasons. Theo hasn’t really developed an attachment to any particular toys, or at least not to the extent that he misses something when it can’t be found. Even Arthur has taken to the process- he happily takes his broken diggers to cars to the bin, even when they have been favourites for years, and has spent a lot of time with Nana B sorting through toys he no longer wants or needs without protest.
I think Dave is surprised at how ruthless I am being- initially I felt a twinge of loss every time I parted with something, even when it had never left the packing box since we moved from Coventry, even primary school classwork, but with a deadline of 6 weeks make that in the past by the time this goes live! and counting before we leave, I’m a lot more relaxed. I separate items into ‘sell’, ‘family’ or ‘charity shop’ piles, though selling things second-hand (used or new) is so difficult that as the weeks pass an increasing number of things are finding their final home in a charity shop for convenience and speed. I have a couple of boxes of things I won’t part with, photo albums, and some clothing that isn’t ‘boat suitable’, but I’m enjoying and embracing the lightness which comes with shedding material possessions, and I’ve really noticed how this is enabling me to focus on what really matters- us as a family and our experience. I read that one live aboard couple made a rule that every item that comes onto their boat must have more than one purpose- with space and weight at such a premium, I can see why!
As for the renovations, well…we are two three months and counting behind when we wanted to have our house on the market. Work, children, difficulties scheduling skilled labour and unforeseen tasks have all made their mark on our plans, but the end is in sight. When we first made the decision to sell, we discussed leaving the house unfinished and using an auction- we’d get the money quickly and it would leave us time to concentrate on planning our trip. But I don’t think either of us could face this. We bought the house at auction after it stood empty for two years, and we have poured hard work and love into the changes we have made. Certainly, I knew that I needed to see the renovations through to the end, to see what we could create from the shell we purchased, without loose ends or regrets. I thought it would be more difficult than it has been to do all this knowing that we won’t be living here- so many people ask the same question, “Isn’t it sad finishing your renovations for someone else?”. But strangely, it isn’t. That’s not to say that the day we leave I will walk away light and free; on the contrary, I will be desperately holding it together for Arthur’s sake, as I know now it will be me and him that struggle the most. But I think that, despite all the memories we have created, the time we have spent creating a home, and the joy I feel when we are here together, there are two ‘areas’ of things I will miss.
Firstly, creating new memories- Arthur and Theo love the space, the freedom and the independence we have here. I worry that we are swapping one potential source of amazing opportunities for another, one not necessarily better than the other, at least from their point of view, especially when at home they feel safe to make the most of these opportunities. I have always pictured our home as the place Arthur, Theo and any future children would grow up, laughing, playing, fighting, exploring and developing, and it’s always hard when you know something won’t happen after you have visualised it so thoroughly. Sitting in the garden writing this part of this post, I’m listening to Arthur play whilst Dave carries a sleeping Theo in the wrap, and I know future children won’t experience this. Maybe it doesn’t matter, but it sometimes feel like it does.
Secondly, there are certain features of the house and garden that hold special memories or importance. Every now and again, these will spring unbidden into my mind when I pass a certain point or if my gaze strays onto a particular object. I will write a post about some of these at another time, and this might also go some way to allaying my concern that without the physical triggers around the house, these memories or the significance of the objects will be lost- this blog can be my record and my cue. You hear a lot that a house is just bricks and mortar, possessions are unimportant, what’s important is to build and hold onto the important things- memories and the people you love. I won’t argue with this, but I do worry I’ll lose the memories with the house, or maybe the problem is that, because I like how these memories are triggered by the house, I don’t want to lose the it.
Delays in completing the house have meant that our getting the boat ready is also delayed. As I think I have mentioned in my post about our boat Mistoffeles, she is perfectly safe, sea-worthy and liveable, but there are some elements we want to add or alter for ourselves, including installing a water maker, and new fridge. After renovating our home in Coventry and our current house, doing the same with our boat-home will not be new experience, but I think this transition will present so many different problems and difficulties when compared with moving to a traditional home that we perhaps could have done with the extra time to get these ‘essentials’ in place.
It’s all starting to seem more real now- Dave and I have had some heavy weather waterproofs arrive for poor weather/sailing conditions, we all have new life-jackets, and the kids have harnesses and tethers. The countdown is in single figures, we have some blog posts live, and we’re finally getting the ‘house jobs’ list down to two bulleted sheets of A4. It’s a worrying, scary, daunting and confusing time, but equally exhilarating, exciting, humbling and exultant. I don’t expect any of these feelings will change over next two years, but as things stand, despite any concerns or reservations, I wouldn’t miss this opportunity for the world, or maybe that should be, of the world.