Cutting The Ties That Bind

JHHGH1-1020465 For various reasons we spent most of the summer at our cabin in Nova Scotia, working way too much and sailing way too little. While preparing to get back out cruising, we were once again reminded of the difficulties and sheer work of leaving a land base: Get car ready for storage, store same, move all the stuff that had migrated from boat to cottage back to boat, winterise cottage, set up mail pick up, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Don’t get me wrong, we really like the feeling of security that having a land base confers: a place to retreat to if disaster should strike us or the boat. And our land base is near ideal for our needs:

  • Small, primitive and uncomfortable enough that we don’t get too attached to it. In fact we are generally more comfortable on the boat and consider Morgan’s Cloud our primary home.
  • A large and well equipped basement workshop for boat projects.


  • A huge storm mooring off our own waterfront in a sheltered cove.
  • Cheap enough to maintain that we don’t have to rent it, so we know that it is always available if we need it.
  • Easy and relatively quick to winterise with no drywall to be damaged by freeze/thaw cycles.

Yes, on balance we like having “Base Camp”, as we call it. But there are times when we wonder if the cruisers that just sell everything and go light have not got it right. What’s your ideal solution? Leave a comment.


The complications of shore life compared to cruising are graphically demonstrated by the difference between the key rings required!

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Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

36 comments… add one
  • Ken Walker Oct 25, 2010, 7:00 pm

    Don’t know if you are in Cape Breton, but it is a wonderful place. Tied up in St Peters a few weeks back and head south from there in early November and only wish I had the time to do some cruising in Bras d’Or in the meantime. That area looks to me to be the right place for a land base.

  • Robert in Norway Oct 26, 2010, 7:36 am

    With prices for both homes and boats on the way down, now and for the foreseeable future, the consequences of leaving the bubble housing market are less dramatic. But still I would always keep a home on land somewhere. I just have too much stuff that I will not part with, and boats have too many ways to go by the bye. If a person asks me, I would say get a cheaper boat and keep the house. Useable boats are dirt cheap for the time being, so economy has less to say. And I know that after two or three years of continual cruising, I have had enough for a while and enjoy being at home.

  • Matt Oct 26, 2010, 9:24 am

    It’s a truly handsome yacht you keep! I’ve been following your posts closely over the past few months and I think the shot you’ve included here is the best I’ve seen of her. She looks great – elegant, strong, and very seaworthy. She’s a yacht to be inspired by. And a yacht to aspire towards!



    • John Oct 26, 2010, 6:55 pm

      Hi Matt,

      Thanks for the kind comment. Yes, Jim McCurdy really knew what he was doing, designing boats. We are proud to have been owned by “Morgan’s Cloud” for nearly 20 years.

  • Westbrook Oct 26, 2010, 10:52 am

    Any time you are lonely for life ashore, Cindy and I will be happy to let you mow our lawn.

  • bernard douteau Oct 26, 2010, 10:54 am

    we are buying a boat now. Our commitment is 2 years to the project hail or shine. So we are keeping our home, because we feel it is the better reasonable way (a family member will contractually live there). Hopefully 2 years out we will have defined how we will carry on. However I am not worried about that part because it will have matured on its very own. Who knows, maybe we will end up in a high place in the mountains…

  • Nick Kats Oct 26, 2010, 11:34 am

    Love the photos of the 2 sets of keys, absolutely hilarious!

  • Scott Kuhner Oct 26, 2010, 12:00 pm

    Kitty and I agree with you. You need a shore base. We have no mortgage on our home in CT, therefore the rent that we get is, after taxes and insurance, money for cruising. The house also has a separate garage with a garage apartment that we use as our base when we need to be ashore. It is perfect for us.

  • Capt. Stroh Oct 26, 2010, 1:29 pm

    Had the house sale a couple weeks ago, garage sale last week, and going away party is this week in which I hope to convince my friends to take “stuff” away with them. It’s amazing how much “stuff” there is to get rid of in order to leave! We’re putting a few things in storage, leasing the house and heading to the boat we bought in GA a year ago with plans to cruise the Pacific for 4-5 years. It’s been quite a process trying to leave the land of dirt dwellers, but we’re going to give it a go.

  • Matt Marsh Oct 26, 2010, 1:50 pm

    I can’t speak from experience on the blue-water side of this issue. I do tend to agree with John and Phyllis, though- even if the boat is the real home, there is something to be said for having a shore-side base where you can rest, fix things, etc.

    Long-distance cruising for me currently involves a trailer and station wagon as well as my little powerboat…it’s amazing how many really neat cruising grounds become available when you can go to windward at 60 knots. Since Sunset Chaser is too small to live aboard (we set up camp on shore as we go), a home base is essential- the key feature being a garage that’s big enough to work on the boat and engine.

    Our next boat, currently on the drawing board, will be capable of longer cruises- parts of the Caribbean, for example- but will still be trailerable. Even if we do set out for the open ocean, I think I’d want to have somewhere to come back to. A simple, efficient house on a navigable river, with a big shop, a solid mooring and a ramp or marine railway, would seem appropriate….

  • Gordon Thompson Oct 26, 2010, 3:44 pm

    My parents sold their house and bought a trailer with the plan of traveling. My mother always regretted selling the house, saying that you always need a home to come back to.

  • Lane and Kay Finley Oct 26, 2010, 6:36 pm

    Hi John, Lovely spot you have! We believe it is a good idea to keep a home ashore. We also own an insulated (ex refrigeration) 20′ container, which we lock up on our property. This allows us to rent the house while we are cruising and we don’t have to pay for storing our land things. When we move ashore, we move our stuff out of the container into the house and unload the boat into the empty container. By the way, get a combination lock for the boat and lose that last key! Cheers from New Zealand – Lane

    • John Oct 26, 2010, 7:06 pm

      Hi Lane,

      Good idea on the container. We have a small room in the basement that is insulated, heated and dehumidified, where we keep the small amount of stuff (books and art) that really matters to us.

      On the combo, good idea except that some years ago dummy here locked his dinghy with a combo to a palm tree and then came back after dark with no flashlight and at least one drink on the wrong side of sober. Do you have any idea how long it takes to get a lock open by feel in those conditions? I have not felt the same about combos since!

      • Charles L Starke Jan 10, 2018, 9:13 am

        I locked my dinghy with a combination lock with a heavy wire around a piling at the end of a floating dock. Of course, the weight of the lock and wire took the lock and wire through the hole in the dock to the bottom of the piling since the wire to the dinghy was long.
        Now, I come back to the dock with my nice clothes on. Of course, since the wire loop locked back on itself tightens up, and there are barnacles on the piling, and the lock is heavy, and the heavy lock iand wire end are now on the bottom of the harbor, and I can’t pull on the wire to get the lock back to the surface since the loop is so tight around the piling and barnacles, do you get the picture? Of course, I have no swim suit or place to change.
        So I had to take off all my clothes in the middle of the harbor, dive into the cold water, and maneuver the wire loop and lock up the pole above the dock level.
        Lesson: don’t lock your dinghy to te piling on a floating dock.

        • John Jan 10, 2018, 1:05 pm

          Hi Charles,

          That would have taken a lot of explaining in court if a cop had come along!

  • John Oct 26, 2010, 7:01 pm

    Thanks for all the great comments. Interesting that it seems to be a unanimous vote for a shore base. We guessed that many would opt for selling up and going light—shows what we know!

    • Capt. Stroh Oct 27, 2010, 1:59 am

      No offense, but it wasn’t unanimous – As I said, we’re taking the “sell up and sail” approach. Two weeks until we leave it all behind!

      • John Oct 27, 2010, 7:58 am

        Woops, sorry—near unanimous.

        • Capt. Stroh Oct 27, 2010, 11:52 am

          I will say that I would love to have the kind of set up that you have with a huge storm mooring off your own waterfront, cheap enough to maintain that you don’t have to rent it, easy and relatively quick to winterize, etc…
          The thing for us is that we plan to cruise the South Pacific for the next few years, so maintaining a home in Detroit wouldn’t be of much use to us.

  • Louise Johnson Oct 27, 2010, 12:53 pm

    Hi John, interesting opinions (and yes your place does look just right!). We have all our ‘stuff’ in containers, which are paid for out of the monthly rent we gain from the house we have tenants in. Although we live on the boat full-time (and do love that sense of freedom), we do steal ourselves away and live within four walls every now and then, usually through renting a small cottage somewhere that takes our fancy for a week or so. Sometimes we feel the need to escape off into the hills… It’s gorgeous to reconnect with forests, mountains and green landscapes, and having the contrast makes it all the more lovely to return to the boat, feel the motion and smell the sea once more…

    • John Oct 27, 2010, 6:10 pm

      Hi Louise,

      That is a really good point: With your system you can choose a different “Base Camp” for each shore time that fits your mood and gives variety, rather than being stuck with one place.

  • Ken Oct 31, 2010, 6:43 pm

    Such a very important topic to the cruising lifestyle. How much land life to hold on to?
    My wife and I are hoping to be back to living aboard by next fall and are considering a well ventilated container to hold our few “have to have, can’t get rid of ” material possessions. Most of my wood-shop tools (boat carpenter, shipwright, house finish) will be stored in a box trailer that can be moved to our choice of location as long as we stay near the US shores. I still have to work a few more years before we can completely leave it all behind, if we so choose. We want to leave our options open.
    In our past cruising times we rented our home and put everything in storage. We don’t want the burden of worry this time of a place left in the hands of others. We were fortunate in the past but choose not to take the chance this time as we have gotten a bit older. We’re selling the house and all of the largest possessions, so if we choose to follow the dream of a world cruise there will be little to deal with. other than one vehicle and the box trailer.
    To live with less…is the ultimate goal.

    • John Nov 1, 2010, 9:01 am

      Hi Ken,

      All really good points, particularly the worry of renting. For some years, while we were out cruising, like you, we had our house rented. It was a constant worry and series of problems: Of three sets of tenants we had: one great, one awful, one that stiffed us for thousands.

      When the great ones left, we sold the house, downsized to the cottage described in this post and banked the balance. This has turned out well for us in that we no longer have to rent it and the place is always waiting if we need it. Also, it’s such a dump, we just don’t worry about it!

  • Paul Mills Nov 2, 2010, 7:07 am

    Hi all,

    What a timely thread, as after our first summer of cruising we are considering our long term accommodation options; and the financial implications balanced against a sense of ‘roots’ and our boys’ future. In our case we have a house, large annex and two offices that we rent out. After several weeks of consideration we have come to the following:

    1. That we want to keep our winter base, but are downsizing into the annex – one spin off of two adults and two kids sharing 40′ for six months at a time…

    2. We have upgraded our agent and ‘landlords insurance’, this gives piece of mind

    3. We have sectioned off two rooms in the house where we can store our valuable possessions, and create a ‘crash pad’ for occasional nights back home

    4. Our rent fee includes gardening and exterior maintenance; this gives useful flexible income to some good friends – and means the properties get regularly visited…

    5. In the current financial climate, renting gives us a much better return than investing/putting the money in the bank, and so we have allocated a part of the surplus to cover any damage – and hence quieten any fretting whilst retaining the positive of enhanced income. We also have come to realise that renting the house alone, coupled with not paying marina fees to ‘store’ the boat over unused summer time, more than pays our cruising costs – which feels very good 🙂

    On the subject of shore ties, this is a real biggy for me, and it’s amazing how after only a few weeks back my time is already getting pressured…

    John – please keep up the good work on this site 🙂

  • pete & sally Nov 19, 2010, 1:14 pm

    We rented the house for the first 3 years but in the end I had to use force to eject the last lot and the repairs cost us £3500 doing it all ourselves.
    We have now sold and gone. The only problem is income as we now have all the dosh in the bank and they are as tight as ducks A&*%#s. Still 2 years to go and the magic pension. Can’t wait

  • Bill Jan 30, 2011, 4:38 pm

    We sold the house and cars last year and have been living on the boat for 8 months and have cruised 4000 miles, love it.

    We felt that it was going to be very expensive to maintain the house and have it empty so that it was available to be a base camp. Real Estate Taxes, house insurance, caretaker to watch it, pay to have grass cut & snow shoveled, allocation for repairs, heat. It looked like it would cost $8 – $10K a year for the house to sit empty. Cheaper to rent or stay in a hotel on land.

    I do miss the basement workshop.

  • Ian Feb 21, 2011, 8:36 pm

    John, If I was to own a ship as pretty and seaworthy as yours, I would sell and be gone. Nice website, enjoyed wandering through it, learning, taking in the sites. Truly great for an armchair sailor in the throes of winter. I live on the Wet Coast of Can. and do own a coastal cruiser that I have been rebuilding, so I can appreciate all you have done here. cheers

  • David Mitchell Dec 4, 2011, 7:35 pm

    In places like rural NL you can still have a land base at a very reasonable price, community marine centres where you can keep your boat, and a great jump off point to great cruising ground.

    St. John’s, NL

    • John Dec 5, 2011, 12:18 pm

      Hi David,

      A very good point, plus you get to live in a beautiful place with some of the nicest and most friendly people on the planet!

  • Kaptnuno May 24, 2012, 6:30 pm

    We have taught of selling everything and move in to our boat permanentely with our teenage children, fortunately the couple that bought our house could not sell theirs and we ended not selling.
    Today we think of it as a very positive happening, mostly because we will start cruising at 45 years old, no date of return. This means that when we reach retirement age there will not be any big retirement to talk about… Therefore we see our house today as our retirement. We can live of it, very big estate with 3 apartments, or we can sell it if we feel like.
    I do long for downsizing, and many years, specially after our cruising year in the Mediterranean, we just wanted to sell everything. We don’t know what the future reservs but in some way it feels good to have a base to live from in the future. 4 years left to leave land behind! 🙂
    Thank you for your great site!

  • John Lundin May 24, 2012, 7:08 pm

    It’s fair to note that the base camp is likely a necessary accessory to high-latitudes adventuring, which has more seasonal limitations than say Caribbean, Med, Mex, or S. Pacific cruising. Having a place to retreat to during winter is important unless you strive to over-winter in the ice somewhere exotic. John, you and Phyllis have masterfully executed this arrangement with the NS cabin and sheltered mooring. Our own cruising aspirations follow the same theme of attack/retreat with a shelter on land to regroup and hit the ski slopes. That said, I do look forward to ditching land entirely for a multi-year cruise. Either way, we keep the possessions very light, and focus on simplicity as much as possible.

  • RDE May 24, 2012, 10:25 pm

    Check out the idea of “Container Housing!” Two stacked containers with the top one placed 90 degrees to the bottom one and fitted out with high end finishes or rustic cabin interior and nice windows can be more than adequate for a couple. Leave the containers “natural” on the outside, put a big padlock on the door, and go sailing!. Want to change your land base from the north woods to Horta or southern Chile? Containers go anywhere in the world for little more than the cost of an individual airline ticket.

  • Daria Blackwell May 25, 2012, 10:12 am

    I really needed to have a land base to return to ‘one day’. Now we find that alternating between a couple of years at sea and a year or so on land suits us. Of course, we have family near by and they are not getting younger so the draw is there to spend as much time as possible between the two.

    But it is hard. Coming back to the house does require a bit of work. Our car battery was dead, tires were flat, insurance/tax/registration needed to be updated, satellite TV had to be reinstituted, gardens neglected, etc.

    For a boat, it’s not much harder than getting ready for any new season though. We found that moving onboard but remaining in our anchorage for a few days let us return for all the things we forgot the first time around.

    • John May 30, 2012, 10:12 am

      Hi Daria,

      You are so right: It’s great having a shore base but the transition can be a pain.

  • Tom Aug 22, 2012, 3:02 pm

    Hi, John I think I saw Morgans Cloud at prince’s inlet this spring, but before I had a chance to contact you it was gone! Was it my imagination? Anyway I wanted to comment on this thread because i have just listed my C&C 99 and we’re looking for something more “cruisy” Budget limitations have me looking at early 2000 vintage Saga 35’s . We are not considering selling our house and I don’t think I would ever want to convert all or even most of my house equity into boat eqity, but specifically I wondered if you had an opinion on the Saga 35 mostly for Atlantic coast Nova Scotia with ever widening circles to Nfld New England etc. I think I can move into that boat without very much difference in price when our corrent boat sells

    • John Aug 23, 2012, 9:36 am

      Hi Tom,

      I’m sorry. but I really don’t have any knowledge of the Saga 35’s. However, I have looked over a Saga 43 and sailed next to one for a while. Based on that very cursory look, we really liked that boat.

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