#54 Reflections ... A Year Later

Today, we’re going through stuff.  Our house sold in early summer and fortunately the buyers wanted most of the contents, all except personal things.  We’re sorting into three piles: necessities, memorabilia and garage sale.  Not surprisingly, the only “necessities” remaining from a fully furnished home all fit neatly in one box and a hang up bag each.  No regrets, that's just the way it is.  The reality of a plan we put into motion three and half years ago is now taking its true, although somewhat unexpected form.  One set of keys (our boat home), two backpacks and, well, that’s it.  

A different perspective.

Recently one of our readers posted the following questions; “Do you miss land life?  What is your long range plan?  Anything you’d change especially regarding the size or type of vessel?  What words of advice or caution to others considering this lifestyle?”  

After some thought, we decided there are no short answers.  Perhaps it’s time to revisit a discussion of our evolving life.  Last year, as we were getting ready to leave for California, I wrote the article “Reflections ... Leaving Home” about the process of leaving our comfortable land based life.  Here’s a paragraph from that entry:

Reflections ... Leaving Home (June 5, 2010)

“So at this moment we're finding it helpful to remind ourselves once again and say out loud what our reasoning is.  After a lifetime of stepping off into thin air, it seems to us as though faith in a power greater than our own is the exact quality that binds us.  We don't want to get so comfortable that we forget what it feels like to live each day as it is given, not fully knowing what tomorrow will bring.  Is an unknown destination with uncertain cost unreasonable?  It's been said that people in their final days are more regretful for what they didn't do than for what they did.  Like us, everyone seems to know where their heart is leading, but often can't overcome the fear of actually doing it or even the discomfort of explaining it.  It absolutely means leaving the familiar for a heaping dose of the unfamiliar.”

That was the perspective from a year ago.  Herewith, now, I enclose several ruminations on our evolving formula.  Two disclaimers:  First, this is only a snapshot in time.  Our ideas are constantly changing.  Second, this isn’t for everyone.  Only what we think works for us.

Less is More

Migratory boat life has been one of the most invigorating, challenging and vocationally satisfying retirement occupations imaginable.  Our sense of accomplishment is high.  It keeps our minds and bodies exercised to the fullest.  But the unvarnished truth is: it requires the full-time attention of both of us working together and does not yield well to legacy obligations.  We can’t keep our past life’s plates spinning and do this at the same time.  As we shed assets and commitments, we have rediscovered an age old truth first hand ... less is more.  Fewer things is good for us.

Faith and Family

We don’t view our life aboard as escapism or vacation.  The fundamentals of life’s rules don’t change even though our surroundings do.  We are sensing a greater awareness of personal identity, family, faith and mission.  

The challenge is we miss the support structures of home such as our church and those we trust implicitly through experience, maybe to the point of complacency.  Boat life is forcing us to take more initiative in living out our faith.  We have our ups and downs, but it seems as though making the effort provides us with comforting stability.

Then there is family, particularly our children and grandchildren.  We don’t see them every day as we used to.  We’re thankful our two daughters and their husbands are good parents which grants us peace of mind.  Every six weeks or so we’ll travel home and move into alternating households for a week devoting nearly all our time to family.  This super immersion is giving us a completely different grandparent experience than we had before.  They all love Eliana too, so occasionally we get the chance to reverse roles.


Internet is an important part of the formula.  One that wouldn’t have been possible until recently.  Our KVH V7 satellite service comes with two Kansas City phone numbers 24 / 7 and full time Internet about the speed of DSL.  Our cell phones work OK domestically within range of a cell tower.  They are, however, unreliable in places we often go and data service is usually not good or outrageously expensive.  Local WIFI hotspots are notoriously hit and miss.  In my opinion, the structural integrity and ubiquitous coverage of the KVH is a necessity, not a luxury.

We have used the KVH even more than we thought.  It goes without saying we use it for family and business.  It’s also been invaluable for planning routes, destinations, arranging services, getting news and entertainment, tracking weather, placing orders for delivery to our next destination, driving directions, banking and paying bills.  With KVH we’re only minutes away from essential answers to questions and problems.  In an emergency, it’s comforting to know we can make a telephone call at any time.  The KVH is without question the most important safety equipment aboard.

We get all of what’s left of our land mail by Internet.  It’s forwarded to Janelle, who opens, scans and places it in our Dropbox account which automatically downloads to Eliana’s server.  All of our records are stored electronically, so this step dovetails with the rest of our document storage.  

The flip side is television.  We elected not to have a satellite television receiver on Eliana.  Missed it at first.  We selectively download a couple of favorite shows and will watch an occasional movie.  Honestly, there isn’t much worth watching.  News and current events come from the Internet.


Good health is part of the formula.  We believe our physical and mental well being is critical.  With an increased awareness of health we have targeted four things: eating right, plenty of rest, exercise and safety.

Debbie cooks almost every meal so we know what we’re eating and rarely eat out.  Her method is (as she says) “simple ingredients prepared simply”.  We have found fresh fruit and vegetables to be abundant and inexpensive except in the most remote areas.  Proteins on the other hand are feast or famine, so we are learning to freeze fish and meat in two person portions.  We like at least 60 days worth in the freezer.  Every night she pulls out the proteins she wants for the next day to defrost.  We drink water and a glass or two of wine each night.

The cardinal rule given to all guests staying aboard Eliana is to get plenty of rest.  Force oneself to rest.  Food digests better, activities are safer, energy is higher which improves alertness on watch.  In a year where we had a number of guests get seasick, we’ve found getting more rest helps prevent or combat it.  Conversely, nothing good happens when people are tired.

Living aboard is good exercise by itself.  Not as much cardio, and nothing as good as Rebecca’s Pilates class, but still boat activity promotes strength, stretching and balance.  We also work to find opportunities ashore for cardio such as running.  One of the most effective workouts we’ve discovered is washing Eliana.  It’s about 5 hours for the two of us but when we’re finished, it feels like we spent an entire day at the gym.

It’s easy to get hurt on a boat.  Once I hurried outside barefooted and caught my toe on the edge of a scupper hole.  Broke the toe, and definitely slowed me down for a while.  So now we intentionally go about each activity slowly and methodically keeping safety in mind and, of course, wear shoes outside when working!  

Car Rental

We sold the cars and now rent which fits our new formula well.  We always have a clean, maintained car that way and can match the type of vehicle to the situation.  Nobody has to pick us up at the airport or take us back.  No worries about garage, tires, cleaning, maintenance or tags as we used to.  Since we only rent a portion of total days, it’s cheaper.

We have learned a couple of lessons.  First is to focus most of the rentals with one company rather than shopping each rental.  It’s easier and through loyalty benefits we believe we’re paying less and getting better service.  The other lesson is rental insurance.  Daily coverages are expensive, so we decline all of them.  American Express has an outstanding rental car coverage for $25 per rental with no deductible regardless of how many days the rental is.  It’s a great program.


While pricing a marina last year I commented to the salesman that I felt the rate was too high.  The salesman said they charge a higher rate for bigger boats because they don’t think the owners care and slip fees must be pocket change for them.  I told him that as logical as that may sound, in our case it isn’t so.  We think controlling cost is important for sustaining a successful, full time cruising career.

Our priorities are almost exactly reverse of the seasonal boater.  We aren’t as concerned about ownership cost because it’s spread over an entire year of full time boating.  Besides it doubles as a home.  There isn’t much we can do about it anyway.  Ongoing expense is more important.  The six primary expenses in order are fuel, internet, travel, insurance, maintenance and slip rental.  Being astute with these makes up for a multitude of errors on everything else.  

The most important budget lesson we’ve learned is to do as much as we can ourselves.    The more we do, the less we spend and the happier we are.  We make fewer phone calls, interview less, wait less, give fewer instructions, oversee less and have less to dispute later.  Remember, that as we move from place to place we have to deal with a new set of vendors and all the rigamarole that goes with it.  So as part of our formula, self sufficiency is the key to freedom.  We’re learning to do everything possible ourselves, even things we haven’t done before.

Boat Choice and Boat Life

The boat that works into our formula is one that functions like a home in every way we were accustomed to.  It doesn’t need to be as large, but it must serve the same purposes.  Eliana is proving to fit that requirement.  The space works well for just the two of us or with guests.  In answer to the question, “Do you miss land life?”, My response is ... other than the changing neighborhood, there isn’t that much difference.  In fact, when not underway it’s easy to forget we’re living on a boat!

The next point is Eliana must be manageable by the two of us.  If she requires paid crew, the idea loses its appeal.  To do that, we have divided responsibilities.  When at rest (which is most of the time), Debbie focuses on household and I on the boat.  We thrive on routine mental checklists for our duties.  When underway, we divide tasks and coordinate each step by discussing it before and after.  By talking through and rating how things went, we have improved many processes through time.  Cross training or alternating responsibilities haven’t worked as well for us.  One activity we do together is exterior washing.  Even then we work better by dividing the task.  I wash while she dries.  I like it this way because it gives me complete control of the hose so I can spray her down if she gets out of line.

The third part of the boat formula is flexibility and safety.  Because of her weight, Eliana is supremely safe and comfortable at rest or underway in a wide variety of sea and conditions.  Coupled with fuel efficiency and range it’s possible to make travel decisions that a coastal boat might not consider.

Did we choose the right brand and model?  Nordhavn isn’t the only company to build great boats.  I believe, however, the Nordhavn philosophy matches our objectives the best.  All the models are built to high standards with the above cruising formula in mind.  Any are perfectly satisfactory based on personal preference.  Just because we chose as we did, I wouldn’t question for a second the competency of other sizes or arrangements.

Future Plans

In our first year of cruising we spent most of the time learning and boating.  We put almost 8,000 miles on Eliana, spent hundreds of nights at anchor, visited dozens of marinas and had many guests.  Her systems are now well tested.  Any defects have been exposed and fixed.  Everything is becoming more routine for us.  We think we’re ready to modify our travel formula by expanding our activity beyond the boat.

During the coming year, we plan to slow the pace and travel more land side by car.  This requires us to select a few locations along our itinerary for an ‘extended stay’ of at least one month.  Most marinas offer lower monthly rates and the slower pace reduces the planning that accompanies each movement.  Of course the journey between each extended stay will be made up by a combination of many short stops and/or long multiple day passages as we’ve gotten accustomed to.

Over the next 12 - 18 months we plan to progress toward the Panama Canal.  Extended stays of one month or more will begin with San Francisco, then southern California, two or three stays in Mexico, a stay in El Salvador, possibly Nicaragua and finally a long stay in Costa Rica before reaching Panama.  All subject to change!

Before Closing

I intended to report on the annual inspections which are just finishing up for Eliana and her equipment.  Most of it I was able to do myself.  There isn’t much to report as everything is in excellent shape and ready to go.  I may cover some of it in future posts.

Thanks for reading Eliana’s Journal.  We appreciate your interest.  Please feel free to post your questions or comments.  The link below will take you directly to the website.  Also, if interested you can go back to the original “Reflections ... Leaving Home” post from June 5, 2010.

We’ll be looking for a weather window for our first move south approximately mid September.  You may use the Track Eliana link below to follow our progress.

Rick Heiniger

N7617 Eliana

Mileage: 7,378 Miles

Lying: Seattle

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