We in the global west have an odd relationship with change. We tend to assume that what is, will always be, be it good or bad or somewhere in between; however, what I’ve come to realise, slowly and sometimes painfully, is more in line with eastern traditions and that is, that the only constant in this world is change. It is comforting and terrifying all at once, but these natural states – i.e. change as the norm vs stability as the norm – influence our lives significantly, from how we plan for the future to how we perceive endings. It is this last point that I want to focus in on now, because, after months of deliberation, Kane and I have decided that it is time to close this chapter of life and embrace one of the many endings that will occur in our lives, this one in the form of selling our beloved Avalon.
“You’re selling the boat?!” I can hear you all crying through your computer screens. “But you just started having fun…why sell?”
It’s a fair question and one that I hope to answer in this post, because it was a hard and long decision, but one that is ultimately, bringing us peace and contentment.
See, when this plan was first born in 2018, we were very different people. We were just married, I’d just finished graduate school, and we were both yearning for adventure. That desire for adventure grew even more with the pandemic-imposed grounding of the 2020-2021 years, so by the time the end of 2021 rolled around and the borders inched open, we threw caution to the wind and jumped into adventure, into uncertainty. We quit jobs to move across the country to buy a sailboat in a hot market. We were excited and hopeful. We had no idea how hard what we were planning to do would be, but isn’t that the beauty of youthful enthusiasm, that you’ll do the crazy things, that you’ll make those memories?
Anyway, fast forward to when we actually bought Avalon back in September of 2022 and we’d been waiting to buy for 10 months, living in limbo and out of suitcases – bouncing between random crewing opportunities in foreign countries, family trips, and our lovely friends’ home on the Sunshine Coast. We were excited to have a home again. We were tired of the travel, of the uncertainty, and ready for the ‘real’ adventure to begin. Alas, boats are, as a friend likes to put it, allergic to sun, salt, water, and people and it ended up taking 9 more months and $50,000 to get Avalon, and ourselves, ready to sail north for the cruising adventure.
We threw off the dock lines for good two and a half months ago and in that time we’ve had amazing moments. We saw newborn humpback whales. We dove the Great Barrier Reef in glassed off, otherworldly conditions. We sailed overnight under the light of a full moon. We welcomed friends and family aboard, making amazing memories all around. We also had some scary – broke a reef line coming into Mackay in heavy weather – and just downright uncomfortable – washing machine style swell that continued even at anchor – moments. And now it’s coming up to September 2023, the deadline we set for ourselves to re-assess, to decide, is this life, with all it’s high highs and low lows and significant expense, worth it?
And for me, for us right now, at this time in our lives, the answer is no.
I know, it’s not what you’re supposed to say once you achieve a dream that so few will ever get to do, you’re not supposed to admit when it wasn’t what you’d thought it would be, but that’s not me. I think it’s important to be honest and transparent about these big flashy moments in our lives, because, let’s be honest the pictures I post can make it seem like this life is the end all be all, the glassy reef, the shining sun, the beatific ocean, but it’s not.
The ocean is an amazing, ever changing place, that can go from serene beauty to sheer terror in mere hours and it’s one thing to understand that from a logical place, it’s another to understand it emotionally, to live it, to really know what it feels like to trapped aboard in howling wind, worried about other boats dragging anchor into you, the boat rocking and rolling, while you pace about like a slightly deranged border collie deprived of land for too long.
But even that, at the end of the day, is not the main reason we’ve decided that this chapter will only be a year long, because storms always pass. No, for me anyway, it’s the things that won’t pass that have driven this decision – the things like loneliness and a slightly pathological need to move more than boat life allows.
So let’s dive into that first one, the L-word that we are taught to never utter for fear that, in admitting our social needs, the world will label us desperate and desert us. All the whales in the world, stunning and awe-inspiring as they may be, for me, cannot make up for consistent community, for having friends to go to coffee with and talk their ears off when Kane is peopled-out. The sailing community is great and people have been very helpful and we’ve made friends, but you never know when you’ll see them again as everyone is on different schedules and different paces. Maybe you’ll know five boats in one anchorage and you’ll have dinner parties and sundowners, but that will never last and soon you’ll find yourself alone again, anchored amidst strangers, or worse, unattended boats. The fact of the matter is that every single amazing day we’ve had aboard Avalon has been shared and I’ve just come to realise that I need more people in my life than I thought, turns out I’m not so introverted after all. I guess that’s the thing about this life, you need to know what you, as a unique human with unique needs, need to feel healthy, happy, and content, and Avalon, our beautiful wonderful boat, has helped me learn what I need.
Moving on to the physical part of health, well this life at sea is actually surprisingly sedentary, and more suited to the lap dogs amongst us than the herding dogs – to continue my slightly strained dog analogy. There are days when we’re anchored off islands with no walking trails and tiny beaches that I’m lucky to get over 500 steps in and let me tell you, it’s not pretty when I don’t move. My mental health is strongly tied to my physical health and I NEED to walk, to run, to move in more than a small circle around the cockpit. It is funny, what you learn when you take yourself out of normal life, and for me, that’s been that walks are absolutely non-negotiable. See I really am a bit like a border collie, I’ve heard they even put those poor pups on Prozac when some ignorant owner coops them up in an apartment and that’s me, the crazy doggo without Prozac trapped on a boat chewing the couch…okay it’s not that bad…yet. Jokes aside, I sleep better when I move a significant amount during the day (for me 10,000 steps is the bare minimum), I think more clearly, and just overall feel better.
That being said, if you’ve lived a fairly sedentary life prior to boat life, you’ll probably feel boat life is a step up in movement, but for those humans like me who move a lot, you will likely find yourself treading water under the boat in a desperate attempt to not go insane.
“You’re selling the boat, that beautiful boat you worked so hard for, because you missed walks and coffee dates?”
Well…yes…though it does sound a bit odd to write it out, because in our fast paced, image-centric world it’s the big flashy dreams that capture our imagination, not the smaller, quieter, more ‘normal’ things like daily walks and coffee with friends, but at the end of the day, for me, it’s the everyday things that sustain me, not the momentary glimpses of brilliance, and I miss those beautiful, small, everyday things.
So, those are the things that will never change, the keys to the decision to sell our girl, but there is more, there is always more, and I’ll try to work my way through those points faster than the previous two big ones.
Now onto the elephant in the room…money. This life is not cheap no matter how you look at it. We bought a 38 ft catamaran that puts us solidly in the middle of the sailboat market, there are many way, way cheaper than ours and many, way, way more expensive than ours. Even if you get beyond the upfront cost of Avalon, a sizable deposit on a home, keeping her has been significantly more expensive than we expected. Throughout our year of ownership we’ve spent upwards of $50,000 AUD in upgrades and maintenance, and that doesn’t include any of our “life” costs – which prior to living aboard were coming in around $60,000 AUD yearly for the both of us to live on land in regional WA. This is a big jump in cost that we hadn’t really expected. We knew it would be expensive, yes, but we didn’t know exactly how expensive it would be.
We didn’t know that, no matter how well you maintain your boat, things break and those things are often labeled ‘marine’ thus tripling their price. Before we lived aboard we said “Oh we’ll just stay out of marinas, we’ll be aboard full time so we’ll just be at anchor” when confronted with the cost of where to put a boat when you’re not aboard…turns out that just wasn’t realistic for us. We needed to leave her in a marina for a few months when we went back to work in WA – as our health related jobs don’t lend themselves to remote work opportunities. We needed to stay in a marina in Mooloolaba for some time as there were no safe anchorage options around while we got her ready. We needed to pay for time on the hardstand at Boat Works – at the not cheap price of $100 per day to live in a parking lot. And now, as I write this from the marina in Mackay, we are tucked away safe from a big blow that came in prior to us leaving her here while we flew back to the US for a wedding. This is all to say, while boat life can be done on a shoe string, if you get an old, small monohull, don’t have insurance, and are happy to leave it unattended at anchor and/or never leave the boat, that is the exception, not the rule.
So, yes, it is about three times as expensive as we thought it would be to own a boat like Avalon, which we could have continued paying, if we thought that, on balance, it was worth it, but then once you factor in the things we forgo to live this life – pets, other investments, having kids earlier, earning money rather than haemorrhaging it – it doesn’t stack up so well.
So what does the ending look like? Well I’ve stopped pretending to know what exactly the future will hold, but the general shape of the plan is, enjoy the rest of the season sailing south, see all the beautiful spots we missed on the way up (like Lady Musgrave and the rest of the Capricorn group), then wander down to the Gold Coast to prep her for sale in the Boat Works come November. From there it really depends how quickly she sells, but whenever that is we’ll likely buy a 4×4 and a camper trailer, move all our worldly belongings off the boat and into the car, and, slowly, drive across the country back to WA. I figured – since flying will all our stuff was about as much fun as a colonoscopy – that as we’d be driving anyway, so might as well make a bit of a trip of it. Hopefully we’ll get a couple months to see the Victorian high country, the South Australian wine country, and the most southeastern parts of WA, before we need to get jobs, find somewhere to live, and re-connect with the normal world.
Another ending that will occur when we sell our Avalon is that of this blog, but as I’ve already gone on a bit much, I’ll leave the rationale on that for another time. Suffice it to say that I’ll work on writing up all the adventures that have already come and then work our way to the end, leaving myself with more mental space to pursue that other big, flashy dream that has been percolating in my brain since I was 8 years old, to become a novelist and actually – finally – finish what I started back in 2017 when I began work on my yet-to-be-completed trilogy.
Maybe I’ll even – after a decade of blogging – figure out which way’s west.