So You Want to Live on ... a Boat

Whim and water determine the location of this couple's floating home.

Living on a Boat

Lorenzo Beviaqua

Penny Farrel makes a mean waffle. It tastes especially good with fresh local berries and a 360-degree view of Long Island Sound. Or of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Or of a favorite Bahamian cove.

Penny says she used to think it would be hard to choose where to live among all the coastal locations pictured in magazines such as this one. "Now," she says, "I don't have to choose. I can live in all of them."

Penny, 57, husband Malcolm, 63, and Breezy, their water-loving Havanese pup, live aboard First Light, a 60-foot Grand Alaskan yacht. It comes pretty close to what most people imagine when they think of a motor yacht―a beautifully appointed vessel with gleaming woodwork and state-of-the-art gadgetry. "The comforts of home," says Malcolm, "in a smaller space."

The couple, experienced sailors and boat owners, moved aboard First Light in 2002. They waited until Malcolm retired last year from his job as a finance executive in a South Florida bank to pursue their long-planned dream of cruising full time. They'll winter in Fort Lauderdale and the islands to the south. In the summers, they'll cruise the Atlantic Coast as far north as Nova Scotia.

More than half the fun is in getting there. "We travel with dolphins and flying fish," says Penny. "We have our own private whale-watching tours."

The success of Living Aboard magazine shows that plenty of others also love life afloat. What began in the 1970s as an informal newsletter has grown into a 10,000-circulation (though still reader-written) publication with subscribers in every state.

Cell phones, e-mail, and satellite communications have made the cruising life more accessible and secure. Still, operating and maintaining a boat big enough to live on requires a range of skills. "My recommendation is to try it in stages," says Malcolm. "Charter a boat for a weekend, then a week, then for a longer cruise. If you like that, buy a boat for weekend cruising. Then try extended cruising."

Giving up the house or the condo means giving up room for stuff, even on a comfortable-size yacht such as the Farrels'. "If living with less is a problem," says Penny, "you're not going to be able to do it."

Engines, wires, and mechanical equipment need continual attention, often when a maintenance service isn't available. "There comes a stage when I need professional help," says Malcolm. "But when we're under way, I'm doing everything."

Those who take to living aboard see letting go of possessions and accepting full responsibility for their comfort and safety as liberating. They spend their days in bathing suits and T-shirts, enjoying their waffles on decks that overlook yet another coastal paradise.

"It's the lifestyle we've planned for," says Penny.

 For first-person insights and advice about the onboard lifestyle, see Living Aboard magazine; 800/927-6905 or livingaboard.com.

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