Somewhere in 2014, as happens with many couples, Emmy and I (Justin) took a step back and gave our life a solid “looking over”. At the time, we were both working full time while trying to raise our two kids as sensibly as we could (or paying an admittedly amazing nanny to fill in where we weren’t). Life had gotten complicated. And busy. And stressful. And we were both having some pretty negative feelings about the way things were going; the future we had spent so many hours excitedly dreaming about when we were younger had arrived, and it was starkly different than planned.
When dating, I had been a schooner bum (sailed around New England on old schooners for a living) for some years and we often talked about how we’d one day buy a boat, travel Earth’s oceans, and see the world. When reflecting on where we had led our lives, we had been been so wrapped up in “being adults” that we had forgotten our younger selves and the family, experiences, relationships they wanted. We had followed advise and made decisions hoping for outcomes that really either wouldn’t have mattered, wouldn’t have worked, or cost too much, and were often all of the above.
So, with this in mind and after weighing every option we could conjure, we sold everything, bought a boat, and have been getting back to the people we were always meant to be.
By Way of the Sea is the rough documentation of our experiences; a look into what it might mean to live life differently. Thanks for stopping by, and do have a good look around.
Check out the Blog for more detailed info on the day-to-day stuff living like this brings, and our YouTube channel for weekly (mostly weekly) short films about our experiences taking another path!
Our home, s/v Prelude, is a 1987 Jeanneau Sunkiss 47 Regatta (Owner’s Version). When we decided to embark on this journey, she was the first of many boats we looked at, but in our price range (<$100K), she was the closest to what we had decided was needed in our financial sphere. Now, when you research blue-water boats ideal for carrying a family of four around the world, Jeanneau (anything) doesn’t show up on the shortlist you'll come across again and again (though, quite a few have done it). When looking into pedigrees of the various boats we looked at (a few were on that “shortlist”), we found that as wildly varied as the sailing community is, there was a relatively common opinion on what makes an ocean worthy vessel. The consensus seems to lean heavily on conservative, older, heavier, stable, more traditional designs from builders with a strong and proven history of reliable construction.
It is important to note that while I (Justin) was essentially raised on sailboats with a fair amount of sailing experience - both recreational and commercial - under my belt, I have never actually successfully owned my own boat (more on that caveat at a later time). Emmy’s sailing experience was somewhat limited to sailing with my folks on their boat, or sailing as crew with me on the traditional schooners I worked. So again, limited experience in the “ownership” department.
Once deciding to take the plunge and move from city life to the liveaboard cruising lifestyle, we sat down and came up with a list of things our wind powered freedom machine would need. Emmy’s most important prerequisite was that everyone have their own space, so a three-cabin layout quickly climbed to the top of the “must haves” list. As it happens, this requirement - in conjunction with our relatively limited budget - greatly reduces available options. After looking at several boats, a sense of openness became important, as when you’re talking about living in roughly 200ft2, having a feeling of spaciousness really goes a long way.
While many offshore/distance sailors with families don’t have a three cabin requirement, we were able to meet it with Prelude, and I honestly can’t imagine life without them. Living on a boat, regardless of its size, is tight! And doing it with two young kids in tow is TIGHTER! Having our cabin to get away to has been pretty sweet, and the kids really do like the type of personal space theirs afford. It’s also been really nice to be able to put the kids down to sleep at the end of the day without having to institute a boat-wide “quiet hours” policy. This especially comes in handy when entertaining, which happens often when cruising.
Something that was important to me was speed. Despite my somewhat traditional background, for me speed (while a potential liability) is a safety issue. With ever changing environmental conditions and increasingly complex and powerful weather patterns becoming prevalent, speed can mean additional options when getting a bad GRIB in the middle of nothingness. Additionally, speed is convenient relative to general travel - more destinations are afforded given a specific time frame.
Now, (and in keeping with the nature of the universe) everything is a compromise. The faster a sailboat goes, the faster things happen, and if not carefully attended, horrible things… Additionally, there are typically design compromises related to strength in boats designed to be fast. These designs rely more heavily on crew experience than structural strength as lighter weight means faster, but less strength because of it. In other words, sailing a light, fast boat requires a bit more finesse and knowledge of the boats strengths and limitations. In my opinion, intimately knowing how to handle your boat in a wide array of conditions is essential to competent and safe cruising. But, how you get that experience?!? It’s something of a paradox, and should be considered.
As we continued to look, other factors emerged as important considerations. Tankage (the ability to hold fuel and water), ability to be single-handed (sailed alone), simplicity of rig design, open deck plan (uncluttered and easily navigated foredeck), and cockpit volume/depth and it’s designed capacity to empty should it be suddenly filled with water, and several other traits surfaced as important to consider. Now again, everything is a compromise, and everyone comes to their own ideal as they may.
Now the specs! The Jeanneau Sunkiss 47 is an IOR offshore racer/cruiser designed by Phillipe Briand, a well known designer still drawing for Jeanneau and others today. She’s 47.4’ long, 14.5’ wide, 6’11” draft (9,000lbs of cast-iron), 60’ air draft (tested…), 1,000ft2 of working sail, and weighs in at 25,353lbs. She’s got a 50hp Perkins 4.108 diesel, 57gal of fuel, and 165gal of freshwater. She’s easily handled, fast, and relatively simple.
Prelude was in pretty rough shape when we found her. The prior owners had her as a sort of condo at their private dock, and from what we’ve found, aside from the bare essentials, she wasn’t much looked after. From what we can tell, she came out of the water rarely over the ten years they had her, and it was just long enough to slap on some paint, and then in she went. There were also a slew of “creative” solutions to a variety of issues, most of which has “creatively” created even more interesting problems. A for instance would be that the factory battery bank had been moved and increased at some point. Whomever took on the task thought it brilliant to install two wet-cell 8D batteries at a decent angle in such a clever way as to focus the leaking acid (wet-cells at an angle) directly onto the bronze propellor shaft seal (thing that keeps water out of the boat where the propeller shaft passes through the hull). That was a fun surprise, and emergency haul out number one on her maiden voyage home. A thorough survey showed that despite cosmetic and a few mechanical issues, she was a sound vessel with a solid structure. So after negotiation, we settled on her in October 2014 (with all our earthy possessions in the back of a pickup truck) for $65,000 - a fair margin below asking and estimated value, which we considered a win.
Since, we have worked hard to get her to where she is now, and make her a comfortable home. Since buying her, we have replaced every thru-hull, replaced all seacocks, replaced/upgraded all plumbing, replaced freshwater pump, replaced wash-down pump, installed potable water filtration, installed forced air heating, removed forced air heating, rewired literally everything to standard, upgraded distribution panel, installed propane monitor, installed vapor alarms, installed digital battery voltage/amperage monitor, installed digital wifi antenna amplifier, replaced/upgraded running lights, replaced all interior lights, replaced/upgraded/relocated all batteries, replaced/upgraded battery charger, replaced/upgraded electronics, upgraded/upgraded autopilot, replaced stuffing box with dripless, rebuilt the transmission, replaced injection pump, rebuilt engine head, rebuilt heat exchanger, installed waste treatment system, replaced genoa, upgraded mainsheet traveler to windward-sheeting model, replaced all running rigging, replaced/upgraded ground tackle, ground/faired/sealed keel, repaired rudder, painted bottom, installed heavy-duty aluminum arch w/davits, replaced/upgraded grill, and bought and sold three inflatable tenders and two outboards (still looking for the right thing).
This last paragraph is pretty key if you’re looking to get into this. The adage, “Pay now, or pay later”, definitely applies. We went into the purchase looking to spend under $100K, thought we got a great deal at $65K, but have spent a ton more in both time and money settling on the bargain. I’m not sure I would do this again. We made some mistakes along the way (buying things that didn’t work out), but buying a boat - albeit more expensive initially - that is in good shape for what you’re looking to do likely will save you a fair bit of time and money on the backend. Some of the things we did weren’t patently necessary, but enough of them were that we would have been in another initial price bracket had we considered it. But, we didn’t need a loan, so we own our home. That in and of itself has its own tremendous advantages. I think the bottom line is (and I did read this somewhere before this all started) that the cost to buy a boat and sail away is… all of it. And that’s the gods-honest truth.
In the time we have had the boat to this point (about a year and a half), Prelude has become an indispensable member of our family. We’ve learned a lot about both the boat and ourselves, and that sort of keeps going daily. We've traveled about 1,100 miles on her, and the time and insight gained have been invaluable. We’re really excited for what comes next!