Interview with an American Sailing Up the Eastern Seaboard

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The post-college but pre-full fledged adult years (22-27) are a really interesting time for people. Every one has different priorities, expectations, motivations, and dreams. Many people choose to get a job or chase after a career, but the outliers are the most interesting ones. They are the ones that open up your mind to new possibilities and make you look at the world around you in a fresh way.

Today I’d like to introduce you to one of these outliers – Rachel from the blog, Pirat. Rachel and her fiance are sailing up the eastern seaboard as we speak and plan to take their adventure into the Caribbean someday.

This interview was really fun to do so I hope you take something away from Rachel’s attitude towards life.

Austin: Can you give the audience the cliff notes to the last 5-10 years of your life?

Rachel: I went to college at UC Berkeley, graduating in 2007 with a double major in anthropology and linguistics. I went straight to graduate school after that, studying museum anthropology at the University of Denver. During that program I worked at the National Park Service for one summer and at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science for a little over a year. I really enjoyed my schooling at DU and the jobs it connected me with. I could have made a career at either the museum of the Park Service.

I also met my fiance while attending grad school. Lee and I met on a Colorado Mountain Club (CMC) hike in June of 2008. We had both just joined the club and ended up hiking all over the Rockies together and with the CMC.

In April of 2009 we started talking about going sailing. Lee was frustrated with his job at the National Renewable Energy Lab and we both wanted to do something adventurous and offbeat while we were young. I don’t really know how the idea of sailing came up, perhaps it came from our discussions about weird accommodations we would live in (we lived in a warehouse in Denver and Lee has always wanted to live in a tent). I said I would live in a boat in a heartbeat, so we began the search for a worthy sailboat.

A: What’s your sailing background like?

R: I grew up sailing on my family’s 42-foot sailboat, raced dinghies in high school and college, and raced big boats regularly during that time as well. Lee’s parents had a 35-foot sailboat when he was growing up and he is a capable wind surfer.

A: Describe the adventure you two are currently on.

R: We decided we wanted to go cruising. We would start sailing wherever we found a boat we liked and bounce around the ocean for a while. We never really had the goal of sailing around the world nor did we set a time limit on our trip. We’ll sail as long as it’s fun and affordable.

We found our boat in Padanaram, Mass. After looking at a handful of sailboats on both coasts. Fortunately several trips we’d already planned allowed for boat shopping. Buying a boat was a trying experience. Doing research, dealing with brokers, surveyors, and owners was incredible difficult from our remote location in Denver. We did end up with the right boat in the end. It was a good fit at a good price and I became attached to Pirat very quickly.

In October 2009 Lee and I quit our jobs. People really had to believe we were serious about the sailing thing at that point! We drove back east and spent the winter living on the boat in Rhode Island. Fortunately, Lee’s parents live in Maine so we spent a lot of time up there and they helped us make it through the cold winter.

A big part of the adventure during that period was Lee working on projects to get the boat ready while I finished my Masters thesis. Lee is an engineer with a Masters from MIT so his background helps immensely with boat work. He’s also just very handy, good with tools, and a fast learner. We saved a lot of money thanks to his research into the products we needed and his ability to do the work himself. Lee installed the auto pilot, new batteries, an inverter, various upgrades to the electrical system, the GPS/chart plotter, RADAR, new holding tank, an ingenious bicycle mount that allowed us to take our full-size bikes on the boat…the list goes on. All that was his full-time job for 5 months. Meanwhile I managed to finish my thesis. I think I really needed the motivation of the sailing trip to get it done as soon as I did.

As the winter came to a close we modified our original plan a little bit. Instead of heading to the Caribbean as soon as we could we decided to cruise up and down the eastern US for a while. There was no way we would be ready to sprint down through the Caribbean before hurricane season.

A book, The Care and Feeding of Sailing Crew by Lin and Larry Pardey has very helpful advice for supplies and everything else you could imagine dealing with on an extended sail. They started doing exactly what Lee and I are doing in the 60′s when they were the same age we are (24 and 29). As far as I know they are still sailing, or at least continued into this decade. They started on a 24 foot wooden sailboat with no engine that they built themselves. I found their story pretty inspiring.

A: What is your itinerary for your journey?

R: Right now, we’re heading for Chesapeake Bay. We’ll probably sail around there for a while, meet up with some friends, and then sail back North to cruise from Rhode Island up to Maine. Hopefully we’ll spend some time at Block Island, Cape Cod, and all those quintessential New England cruising grounds. I’m particularly looking forward to Maine and exploring all the secluded little bays.

In November, the ideal time for passages south, we’ll head down to the Caribbean. That gives us a few months to island hop and find the perfect location for our wedding! Beyond that, we don’t have much of a plan. Eventually we’d like to go through the Panama Canal to the Pacific and cruise up Central America, Mexico, and California. The South Pacific looks awfully tempting too!

Our plan all along has been to spend as much or as little time in a place as we feel like. If we find a place we like we might try to get jobs and stay for a while. Lee’s skills and tools will be in high demad for boat repairs in out of the way places. There are little local museums all over where I might be able to help out. I also happen to be a certified yoga instructor so I can always do that.

A: What are the boat expenses like?

R: Right now, our biggest expense is probably diesel fuel. The wind has been pretty light so we’ve been motoring a lot. Our engine is tiny and uses very little fuel by power boat standards but it adds up. Our tank holds 27 gallons and diesel is about $3/ gallon right now. We’ve gotten diesel three times since we left, mostly to keep the tank full just in case.

Outfitting the boat was the most expensive aspect of this endeavor but we went for some major upgrades that we probably didn’t have to do or could have avoided if we’d bought a different boat and settled for something simpler. The Pardeys are big advocates of small sailboats with as little technology as possible being a very inexpensive way to go cruising. If they can sail around the world without an engine or fancy equipment like GPS and RADAR then we could have done it that way too.

We avoided paying the state registration fee by documenting the boat instead. Documenting requires a one time fee of less than $100 while registration has to be renewed and paid for every year. Buying a pre-owned boat in Rhode Island was tax free. That varies by state.

Docking fees, or boat storage, vary by season on the east coast. We kept our boat in a slip in the water at a marina in Rhode island for $1,200. That was 6 months of “winter wet” storage. Most people have their boats taken out of the water for the winter. During the summer when everyone wants to use their boats permanent storage is more expensive. It is definitely cheaper to keep moving and anchoring in new places every night than it would be to stay in one slip or on one mooring all summer.

I have a feeling this is the most expensive part of our trip right now. Cruising down southern New England to the Chesapeake we often have no choice but to pull into populated ports and pay for dockage or mooring. Hopefully we’ll be exploring little anchorages in Chesapeake Bay as well as up in Maine later this summer. Then we’ll drop anchor every night and our accommodations will be free.

One helpful factor is that we’re starting sort of pre-season so we’ve talked people down on mooring fees ($45 to $30) and don’t have to compete with a lot of boats for anchoring space or anything.

Also, now is a good time to buy a boat. They are even being foreclosed on, like houses.

A: How do you organize meals and food?

R: I cooked on the boat all winter. We avoided eating out much partly because we both prefer home cooking and partly to save money. It’s tricky because of limited storage space, especially in the ice box (yes, it’s not a fridge, but an ice box). I pretty much went shopping for a few things every day.

Before heading out for our sail south I stocked up at Trader Joes, Costco, and the regular grocery store. I had a sizable rebate from my Costco credit card so that bill was reduced by about 50%. I filled the space under the forward bunk with giant boxes of oatmeal, protein bars, canned tuna, pasta, rice etc. I have all the staples to cook pretty much anything I want. Produce is really the only problem. I’ve stocked up on that a few times since we left, basically whenever I have access to a grocery store I buy enough fruit and veggies for a few days but not so much that it will spoil before we eat it. Of course we have to keep a good supply of ice in the box as well.

We eat almost every meal on the boat now that we’re cruising. Dinner out is kind of a treat. Right now we are only sailing during the day. That means we leave from wherever we are in the morning, sometimes very early, like 5 am, and get to our destination in the afternoon or evening. We have to time things with the tide and wind. We try to anchor whenever we can but we have also tied up to moorings and come into a few docks.

Anchoring is free and uses all our own gear. It’s kind of like just parking your boat somewhere. A mooring is a preexisting anchor you tie up to. Marinas and yacht clubs own them. We tied up to a free one owned by the city on Long Island, NY. The others range in price from $20/night to $35, at least that’s what we’ve paid. Some places charge by the foot of your boat length per night (so $2/ft/night) and it gets pricey. Right now we’re docked in Cape May, NJ to wait out some bad weather. We would love to anchor but there is no place deep enough for our boat to anchor so we’re sort of stuck paying for a slip. It adds up to about the price of an average hotel room and you get showers, an electrical hook up, access to water, laundry, and wireless internet. It’s really not a bad deal.

A: What do you do on the boat while you’re sailing? Read, write, etc?

R: …stare off into space. Lee tends to fiddle with the chart plotter, figure out navigation, or read. We both steer the boat and make adjustments to the sails. We have an auto pilot so we don’t have to steer the whole time. We admire the scenery when that’s available. New Jersey has been really boring to sail past but we did see a few dolphins and the lights of Atlantic City.

I read a bit, cook, sleep, write in my journal. We also just sit and talk a lot, mostly about the plan for the next few days, the weather, boat issues etc.. While we motored through New York city we made a list of people to invite to our wedding.

A: Do you have boat and individual insurance?

R: Yes, we have boat insurance. It’s not required, like car insurance, but it makes us feel a bit more secure. The cost varies based on things like your sailing experience and where you’re sailing. We’ll have to upgrade our insurance when we sail to the Caribbean. It’s not horribly expensive but it is more than car insurance.

I am hanging on to my dads health insurance, which I can stay with for a few more years thanks to the new health care bill. Lee is on Cobra from his former job.

A: What do your friends and family think of your adventure?

R: They all think it’s great. I think our dads are a bit jealous. What we’re doing is every sailors dream. My dad is also outfitting his boat for some extended cruising so maybe he will be inspired to do the same thing when he retires. I know my mom worries about us but she knows our capabilities and trusts our judgement. I guess we’re really lucky that no one seems to judge us negatively for ditching our careers and taking off on this adventure. Lee is just kooky enough that anything he pursues doesn’t surprise people. Our families and friends recognize what we’re doing as a positive contribution to our life experience. I plan to put this on my resume when I do apply for jobs again. Especially as an anthropologist, seeing the world and experiencing life in a non-traditional, highly problem solving oriented way should make me better equipped to any job I would want to do. If I can’t use what I learn here in my eventual career then it’s the wrong career.

When we first formulated this plan and started telling people about it we got a lot of smiles and nods. I’m sure people were thinking that we were crazy and not really going to go through with it. It was pretty funny when we bought the boat it became clear to people that we were not kidding.


Thanks a lot to Rachel for this look into her sea world (ha!) and make sure to check out her site Pirat for updates about their journey.

If you have any questions for Rachel, leave them in the replies and she’ll get back to you with an answer.


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1 Comment

  1. This closet looks so very lovely. It also looks enormous!! I am very jealous right now…


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