Food & Travel

Home On the Houseboat: Consider the Cruising Life

In 2005, my wife Libby and I retired. Unconventionally, we rid ourselves of all property, house, cars, furniture and all, and invested in a cruising sailboat. Our boat, Tarwathie, is a Westsail 32. Westsails are famous as being among the most rugged, seaworthy, and affordable cruising sailboats ever made. We invested only $60,000 to buy the boat and to equip her for extended cruising.

Since then, we have been cruising nonstop. We had early ambitions about circumnavigation and sailing to Alaska, but we soon learned how wonderful the USA’s East Coast, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean are. The sailor’s paradise is right here in our backyard. Grandchildren are also a powerful magnet that keeps us from straying too far from home.

Like geese, we migrate south in the fall, and north in the spring. We spend most winters in Florida and the Bahamas. So far we spent two summers in Maine, and three in our favorite place – Lake Champlain. In our opinion none of those exotic places are better than Champlain. In the fall and spring seasons, we explore the delights of Chesapeake Bay and the inland waters of North Carolina. Does that sound like a permanent luxury vacation? It is!

You don’t need to be rich to enjoy the cruising life. It is a frugal life style. We live on Social Security plus a little bit from savings. We have no other pension. About one third of our budget goes to boat repair and maintenance. It would cost two or three times more to live in retirement on land. We would have to pay mortgage or rent, utilities, taxes. We would need a car and pay for repairs, replacement, gas and insurance. We would need to own furniture and TV, winter clothes and countless other possessions. We can’t afford to do anything other than cruise.

There are only a few secrets to frugal luxury living on a boat. Avoid marinas, avoid restaurants, do your own repairs, and be healthy. The active lifestyle even helps with health. Cruising sailors tend to be slimmer and fitter than any other group of the same age.

Some people say that cruising sailors live greener than just about anyone. Perhaps so.  Wind supplies our transportation; solar panels provide electricity. We also use about 400 gallons of diesel plus 30 pounds of propane per year. Those fuels provide supplemental transportation, cooking, refrigeration, heating, cooling, and entertainment. Significantly, we have no TV. If we did, it would double our energy use and negatively affect our lifestyle.

We took an online carbon footprint test. It said that we create 0.8 tons of CO2 per year for the two of us. Only people in Bangladesh use less. A single airplane trip for just one of us would produce more carbon than the two of us consume in a year.

We like articles about minimalist housing. Cruising sailboats are already designed for minimal, self-sufficient life. People have been refining boat design for 12,000 years.  Tarwathie has a full galley with stove, oven, fridge, freezer, and sink, living room, sleeping room, bathroom, closets and numerous storage lockers. We carry enough food, fuel, and water for 2 months. We store wastes for proper disposal on land.

What we don’t have is excess space. Our living space is about 160 square feet. We also have a guest bedroom/store room of about 50 square feet. A visitor once commented, “I’ve been in jail. My cell was bigger than this, and I didn’t share it with anyone.”

We don’t mind; we’re very comfortable. Did I mention that husbands and wives should get along exceptionally well if they want to live this life?

Lack of space has an unexpected side effect. It helped to cure us of consumerism. Before buying something new, we must throw something else away to make space.

We keep in touch with family and friends even when out to sea where there are no cell phones and no Internet. We use our HAM radio to post articles to our blog nearly every day. We posted more than 1,300 blog articles so far. We also have regular readers from 39 countries that follow our blog. Readers say they dream of cruising themselves and live the life vicariously via the blog.

Interested? We have one piece of important advice for would-be cruiser. Day by day you are probably not getting much richer; perhaps even poorer. Yet every new day brings a chance that a new health problem may come along that could make you or your spouse unqualified to live life separated from doctors. Good health is a prerequisite for cruising.  Therefore, stop dreaming about cruising and start acting. Do it today.

Dick and Libby Mills are formerly from Essex Junction and South Burlington.  You can email them at

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