When I tell people I am living and sailing on a boat in the Caribbean, their eyebrows raise and questions arise. They are curious about a whole bunch of stuff, but the most important thing they want to know is whether my partner and I are rich. When the answer is “no” or “I wish”, the mystery remains: “How can you keep doing this?”
The author and her partner Mark at work "in the office"
Generally, there are two categories of cruisers in this small “community”: the ones that don’t need to work (anymore) to sustain themselves and the ones that do. The first category consists mostly of retired sailors, who sold all their belongings, including house and car, to spend their days on their boat. Retirees still owning a house are on a six months on, six months off schedule. They haul their sailboat during hurricane season and go home to stay connected with their families, see the grandchildren grow up, and enjoy the pleasant summers and the conveniences and luxury known in the western world. Other members of this group are younger (40-60 years) and made some lucrative investment decisions in the past, now living off the profits or dividends. A small group in this category is even younger, having saved up funds to sail for a year or two, before returning to their home country to work again.
The second category of cruisers is a much smaller one and the one Mark and I belong to. Age doesn’t really matter, but most of our peers are between 30 and 50 years old. Once some money is “invested” in the sailboat and the equipment, they are on their own. They need to have or find a skill that will bring in a quantity of cash to survive and fix boat issues. Most of our male friends who work their way around are handy with tools and either help out other cruisers who gladly pay for their knowledge of electronics or their mechanical and electrical services, or find a job ashore. Female cruisers accept a position as a waitress or an administrator and/or make jewelry. Of course, this is a general assessment.
The author as a bartender in St. Maarten
Mark and I are just handy enough to take care of Irie which provides enough boat projects to keep our hands full. Manual labor is not our favorite. In the past, Mark has consulted other boat owners with computer problems. I have cleaned boats, assisted with home schooling, worked at a bar and exerted myself as a leaf cleaner during the fall. None of these gigs lasted very long, but we had food on the table and I like new experiences. One time, Mark and I scraped fences for two weeks straight, removing the old paint. No wonder I hate scraping barnacles off Irie’s bottom!
The Wirie, a long distance marine WiFi device, manufatured on SV Irie and in the USA
All that lies in the past. Both of us found new professions. And we don’t even have to leave home anymore. I work as a freelance (travel) writer, putting my passion, experiences and inspiration to good use, and I act as a proofreader and translator English-Dutch. I also help out with the business Mark and I started about two years ago. After not finding high quality WiFi equipment on the market, we decided to build our own wireless internet solution for the boat. When friends saw what we had come up with, they wanted one as well and encouraged us to go public with it. The Wirie was born!
Happy Hour with $1 beers
Over time, we developed our product as the only marine grade long range WiFi system available (with a couple of high quality custom built parts) and set up a website. We now sell The Wirie off our boat and online, providing excellent customer service as well. It is a full time occupation and not an easy feat from a sailing catamaran in the Caribbean. Combining all the jobs, daily errands and boat projects is challenging and, unfortunately, the sailing adventure has been seriously subdued. But, at least we are working in a pleasant climate with a beautiful view, cheap happy hours ashore (here in St. Martin), and once in a while a weekend off in paradise.
Mark at work on SV Irie with the coastline of pretty Barbuda in the background
The best way to make your money last is to live on a tight budget and be very aware of where those hard-earned dollars go. If you are a pro at that, your preferred, low-key, low-maintenance and relatively primitive life on a sailing catamaran can get prolonged considerably. But, that is a whole other topic that I will most definitely discuss in the near future.