Is There Life After Full-Time Cruising?

Phyllis in "thankful to be voyaging" mode.

Phyllis in “thankful to be voyaging” mode.

Most of the time I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate to live the life I do. But, every once in a while—I’m kind of scared to even admit this, as I realize how many people wish they could go cruising—I wonder: Did John and I make the right choice twenty years ago, when we quit our jobs, rented our house (which we eventually sold), and went off cruising full-time?

No Place To Go Back To

It’s usually when I hear someone talking about how busy they are with family and friends, how connected and involved they are in their community, how rooted they feel in their place, that I have these thoughts.

Yea, I have friends, but they are spread all over, and I’m not part of their daily life. Yea, I have family, but they all live inland, where I don’t think I can ever live again after spending so many years by the water. Yea, I’m involved in a community, but it’s the sailing community, and it is, for the most part, online and world-wide (though we are starting to make connections here in Nova Scotia).

And, no, I don’t feel rooted in any one place. Since I’ve moved around all my life (with my parents—who continued to move after I left—and afterwards on my own), I’ve never had that sense of rootedness that people who have lived in the same place all or most of their lives have.

Though this post is a reflection of my feelings, not John’s, I think it’s important to add that when we sold our house in Bermuda in 2004 to fund our continued cruising, we knew we were closing that door forever, thereby ruthlessly tearing up any roots that John had embedded in the place he was born and grew up in. So he is, like me, rootless.

Which means that, unlike for most cruisers (I’m making an assumption here), for us there is no home place “to go back to” after we stop full-time voyaging.

Isolated Anchorages In Remote Places

And our usual form of cruising adds to this sense of disconnection: Instead of sailing from populated anchorage to populated anchorage with a number of other cruisers with whom future sailing-in-company itineraries are planned and lifelong friendships are developed, we tend to seek out isolated anchorages in remote parts of the northern high latitudes.

And, for the most part, I am okay with this. I have never been one to get involved in a lot of group activities or go out multiple nights of a week. Neither is John, though he is more extroverted than I am.

Besides, for us, anyway, the full-time live-aboard cruising lifestyle, by definition, means you and your partner are happy to spend a lot of time with each other. And not a day goes by that I am not thankful for the wonderful interesting life I have had and continue to have with a wonderful interesting partner.

What If…?

However, on the other hand, our un-rootedness and our primarily solitary cruising lifestyle do contribute to another big part of the insecurity I feel, which is that my whole lifestyle revolves around one person. If something happens to John I won’t just lose my life partner, I’ll lose my job (I won’t be able to keep AAC going on my own), my home (the boat), my mode of traveling (I won’t continue cruising without him—I started too late and I’m now too old), and probably a big part of my community (the sailing community).

So, though I don’t want to waste the wonderful present by worrying about a future problem that might never occur, when I hear people talking about their strong sense of place in a community, in a wide circle of family and friends, I get nervous.

The Future

And then, of course, there is the fact that twenty years have passed since John and I embarked on the cruising lifestyle, and part of the reason these ponderings are showing up with more frequency these days is that, as we are aging, we are starting to look at things somewhat differently than we did all those years ago. We are starting to yearn for a place that we can call home—a place where we have friends, connections, roots of our own.

But that entails no longer voyaging full-time, because developing roots and connections means, bottomline, being in one place for extended periods of time. It means being on the radar when people are planning social occasions. It means getting involved in a community, by volunteering, or taking classes, or being part of a bookclub. But, before we can do any of that, it means choosing the place where we want to plant our roots, and that we’re finding hard to do.

And one of the reasons we are finding the decision so difficult is that it requires figuring out what to do with Morgan’s Cloud during the times we aren’t voyaging, which is what we’ve been exploring the last couple of years:

We’re considering them all.

So, over the next while, we will be writing about this new journey we are on: the journey of figuring out life after full-time cruising.


Do any other live-aboard cruisers share my feelings of un-rootedness? Are you also thinking about what happens after full-time cruising? Or have you already started down this road? Please leave a comment.

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Meet the Author


Phyllis has sailed over 40,000 offshore miles with John on their McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, most of it in the high latitudes, and has crossed the Atlantic three times. As a woman who came to sailing as an adult, she brings a fresh perspective to cruising, which has helped her communicate what they do in an approachable way, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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28 comments … add one
  • Lee Cumberland Mar 29, 2016, 11:05 am

    My wife and I have been thinking about this same thing now that we’re full time cruisers. We’re coming from a different prospective (and generation) which presents its own set of worries. Being 28, we’ve dropped out of our social lives right when all our friends are getting married, having kids, buying houses and all that mucky muck. We find ourselves wanting to stay connected to our friends and families everyday lives and be a part of the memories everyone is making. It’s tough to do that thousands of miles away when you have to put your cell phone up the rig to get service.

    We also haven’t had a chance to really build wealth given our lack of age. We’ve got the boat, and a monthly budget but if something major breaks we might have to stop and work to pay for it, or more likely, figure out why we don’t need it. At some point we’re going to need to go back to the mainland and restart our lives. Our boat is our home, so where do we go when we return? Living this lifestyle at a younger age presents many of the same issues Mick presented in his article.

    Is it worth it? You bet it is.

    • Charley Mar 30, 2016, 2:22 pm

      I let everything go (career, business, home, community) to cruise full time for 5 years in my 30’s. Best thing I ever did! In fact, now I am refurbishing a boat to go again after living 25 years of land life with community, business, and just enough wealth to afford a full time lifestyle if it works out.
      The small town life sure suited me and I am not sure of giving that up. We intend to try some of both to see how it feels the second time around (first time for my present wife). I appreciate all the comments about this subject, sure seems to strike a cord.

    • Phyllis Mar 31, 2016, 1:26 pm

      I agree – it is absolutely worth it. I wouldn’t trade a single day (okay, there’s maybe a day or two I’d trade!) of our voyaging life.

      I guess it’s like what Stein says below, that there’s always going to be a certain “soreness” because of the other life we haven’t led. Mick alluded to it in his article as well, that the hardest thing about cruising full-time is that one is always saying goodbye.

      I guess the bottomline is that everyone has to strike the balance between the adventure and the roots that works for them. Not necessarily an easy task since both are very attractive.

      And our choices are not always easy for our family and friends to accept either, which also makes it difficult. I lost friends early on who couldn’t understand why we were so shifty and couldn’t commit to anything! And my father hasn’t slept a full night since I went off to sea!

  • Sean Soares Mar 29, 2016, 12:21 pm

    Hi Guys,
    I saw a link to one of your stories (Life after cruising) from one of the other bloggers I follow and I saw that John was a fellow Bermudian. I’m dead set on cruising a bit later on myself and have been reading, watching and following a good number of cruisers out there. I’m looking forward to gaining as much insight and information as provided by the both of you, as well as reading about your journeys.

    Cheers from Bermuda


  • RDE Mar 29, 2016, 2:03 pm

    Hi Phyllis,

    Indeed a quandary, and as you point out it is in part a result of the style of cruising you and John have created and loved. I can’t really see you choosing to retire on MC tied to a dock in Ft. Lauderdale! Or hang out with 200 other boats on the net in Georgetown (Bahamas)! And it is doubly reinforced by the fact of Eastern seaboard winters and the desirability of remaining in Canada (for health insurance reasons among others).

    Go West young(ish) man & woman!

    I lived aboard in Puget Sound and the US Pacific Northwest for seven years, and the community I came to know as a result was the most varied and interesting I have ever experienced. Port Townsend is the Crown Jewel of west coast maritime towns, but the Sunshine Coast on the BC mainland, the Gulf Islands, and Vancouver Island have many smaller communities that would be a great place to call home.

    You could bring MC over, but it is a long haul via the Canal & Hawaii and more challenging through the NW passage. And she isn’t the best choice to live aboard and cruise the Queen Charlottes and Alaska. Time for the Tubby Trawler!

    ps “Attainable” has always seemed to me a bit of a mouthful for a key word in the brand identity. As somebody else pointed out, Morgan’s Cloud Adventure Cruising just sounds right!


  • Dick Stevenson Mar 29, 2016, 2:12 pm

    Hi Phyllis,
    A nice thoughtful post.
    We sold the house in 2002 and lived aboard for 12+ years full time. The last 2 winters we have moved to a 6 month on 6 month off schedule and started another dream: wandering the US in a small RV. I must say, never “winterizing” Alchemy for all those years was a joy.
    As to where we will end up, the jury is still out. In 2 winters we have put almost 20,000 miles under the wheels expecting some location to just call out and say “Live here: this will be great!” but this has yet to happen. That said we have gone to lot and lots of wonderful places.
    We may have to revert to my long held belief that the only “solution” is a cruiser’s commune where we can have pot lucks, continue the socializing that has been so terrific and tell taller and taller tales about our past sailing exploits.
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

  • Guy Erb Mar 29, 2016, 11:25 pm

    Hows you Español or do you desire to learn? Park your boat in Guayaquil Ecuador and watch Cabañas Tres Rios for me the eight months it is empty then sail November through March while the lodge is busy?

    – guy

  • Gavin French Mar 30, 2016, 8:06 am

    Thanks for the self-exploration you share. My wife and I are at the beginning of the journey just having sold the house and quit work and are moving aboard full time as soon as the ice goes here in eastern Canada. I’ve actually spent some time reflecting on and reading thoughts of others on your question… Is there life after full-time cruising? Interestingly, for us, accepting that it will end at some point and we will probably choose to do something else after a while was tremendously liberating. While I held fast years ago to the dream that we’d move aboard and it would be perfect “forever” was very stressful and now being comfortable with a future imminent transition has made the “jump” much easier to make. Who knows what it will be, but hopefully it will just feel right at the time.


  • ChrisW Mar 30, 2016, 9:40 am

    I went to 11 different schools before I reached college. I had had 17 mailing addresses in the same time-frame. I now live in my 36 residence (in my 7th US state) after completing three careers involving nearly 25 job descriptions. Such a life was excellent preparation for our three years of full-time cruising. It was and is an adventure. Through it all Janet and I sailed together for 40 years. Our rootedness is in our commitment to keeping life adventurous. If the scale and the scope of those adventures are somehow less grand, well time and age demand new strategies.

    Now that we have moved back ashore and have returned to seasonal cruising, we have begun to develop shallow roots in the local community. This has made life a balancing act between complete absorption in the locale and retaining a sense of adventure. Its an experiment in life we welcome.

    My Mom had a similarly adventurous life and her advice was life skill number one was learning to bloom where your are planted. Number two was treat it all as an experiment. Number three was failed experiments are often more valuable to one’s evolution than successes. It seems to me your questions are indicators you and John have everything you need to face this new adventure. Bon Voyage!


    • Phyllis Mar 31, 2016, 1:14 pm

      I thought I had moved a lot! You’ve definitely got me beat!

      Your comment about how part-time cruising means you now have to strike a balance between complete absorption in your new place and retaining a sense of adventure is a good way to put it.

      There’s a chance that I have inherited the gardening gene, which is causing John a lot of angst! A balance will need to be struck for sure!

  • Mick Mar 30, 2016, 11:31 am

    Oh dear – you certainly hit a chord aboard Hannah, even Bee who never reads anything to do with sailing, read the entire post and found it remarkably honest. I know from her perspective she feels that whilst we have had an extraordinary life it has also robbed her, as a woman, of a degree of independence that living ashore would afford.

    I guess we’re a few steps behind you in this discussion, the where and when of the next stage but it certainly features far more in conversation than it did 5 or even 3 years ago prompting us to recently put the boat on the market, albeit in a lukewarm way, before deciding we might still have a trip or two left in us. What is interesting, to us, is how thoughts of being “land-based” are firmly related to small, almost isolated communities where the chance to continue living off grid are probably greater. A continuation of our sea based life albeit without the need to return from the supermarket weighed down with bags, load them into the dinghy, row across the anchorage in the rain before hauling everything up onto deck, hoping a bag doesn’t split in the process…. However like Dick, we too have wondered about the commune idea or “dribble farm” as it has come to be known by our close cruising friends when we gather, pension books in hand, to discuss the future – I guess the name sums it up really. Whatever, it is, from our point of view, a timely post. We’ll compare notes when we meet up.

  • Jo Mar 30, 2016, 5:07 pm

    I have no personal data, but going by dead blogs it seems a lot of cruising careers end after 5 to 7 years. Just like marriages do. So yes, for many people, there’s a life after cruising.

    As to having roots and something to go back to, as an expatriate for most of my life, my experience is you lose them after 2 to 3 years. You’ll be a stranger wherever you go back to and adapting to life back home can be just as hard as starting afresh somewhere new. If that bothers you, you’d probably won’t have left in the first place.

    In short, if you’re a person to go cruising, you have all the necessary skills and attitudes to start a new life after cruising too. Nothing to lose sleep over.

  • Jeff Bander Mar 30, 2016, 10:00 pm


    You write beautifully and I felt your emotions around this issue. It’s a side of the voyaging lifestyle that I never fully appreciated until reading your post.

    Thank you,


  • Stein Varjord Mar 31, 2016, 7:41 am

    Hi Phyllis
    Great points and a topic most probably don’t put into the equation well enough. It’s easy to get lost in the dream of the adventure. Focus on the practical “manly”, or should I say boyish :-), sides of the sailing life gives the illusion of being real and reasonable. Your question is an important challenge to that illusion. I do think, however, that there are several answers.

    I’ve sailed a lot my whole life, but never lived on a boat more than about 4 months, which means I haven’t made the move. I have still been much like a nomad since about 1984, now 55 and living in Amsterdam.

    I grew up in a small town, 3000 inhabitants, by the fjord close to Oslo, Norway, where the community was tightly knit. Everybody knows everything about everybody. There is both good and bad in that. 35 years not living there has not ended this connection. When I accidentally meet people from the town, they are still overly happy like finding family. The people I went to school with, from 6 years old, still meet up now and then and we have strong bonds, remembering first love, etc. Many of us moved abroad long time ago.

    The interesting thing is that it seems to be no need to start at age six to have that strong bond. When my girlfriend and I moved to Amsterdam a year and a half ago, we met nice fun neighbours. We immediately started making ideas and last september we had made a two day music festival that was a bigger success than we dreamed of. The crazy amount of work over a 5 month period made us all into family. A month later we all had to move, as the building was to be demolished. The core group of 5 people and another 6, are now scattered, but still close friends. We’re all in contact and are now thinking about new fun projects.

    So what’s my point really?
    Our roots are not so much places but mostly people. Our link to people seems to depend on remarkable shared experiences, more than duration. Our ability to share remarkable experiences may diminish at a higher age, but the serious cruising community consists of people with a much higher than average ability to “make a difference” than normal. More initiative. Less fear. Perspective on life. I think most long distance sailors are able to grow very good roots in a quite short time.

    The question is if we really want roots.
    When we live as nomads, we get used to a type of freedom that is hard to loose. The feeling that there is always an unknown adventure waiting just around the corner is like a drug. When we follow that adventure, we miss the roots and the people they are linked to. If we embed our life in the roots, we will miss following the adventure. There will always be a soreness in the life of a real traveller. I think we just have to accept that. We can learn to like the feeling as proof of a beautiful life.

    As you may have noticed, I’m an incurable optimist! 🙂

    • Phyllis Mar 31, 2016, 1:09 pm

      I really like your last thought, Stein, that there will always be a soreness because, well, because we can’t do it all in one lifetime! I have that printed out and taped to the wall!

  • Phyllis Mar 31, 2016, 1:08 pm

    Thank you all for your thoughtful and insightful comments. And from such a wide range of experience and perspective: from those just starting to cruise through to those like us who are looking to change to part-time; from those who have lived in a small town to those who have moved continuously throughout their lives…Thank you all!

  • JCFlander Mar 31, 2016, 6:19 pm

    Hi, I’m not really qualified to weigh in here since I’ve never been on west coast. But for some reason, I remembered Carol Hasse’s interview on Cruising World (Port Townsend sails), and the way that article described the local cruising community… I thought that perhaps you could fit in that area very well.

    btw: and for some another reason, this came back to my mind:
    “The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.”

    Cheers, JCF

    • victor raymond Apr 1, 2016, 11:49 pm

      Port Townsend is great. (Both Carole and Brion Toss are in the same building across from the Port Hudson marina.)

      Sidney/Victoria BC are even better IMHO. Of course it is an easy day sail between the two.
      Both have custom houses.

      I could not recommend Canoe Cove in Sidney more favorably for leaving the boat on the hard for the winter. A short walk and you are either on a bus ride into Sidney or Victoria or the famous BC ferry system for all the Gulf islands and Vancouver. It’s all there and very affordable as the Canadian dollar is greatly discounted relative to the US dollar.

  • Richard Mar 31, 2016, 8:50 pm

    What a wonderful post and comments! It’s nice to hear from the heart from time to time.

    John, I guess you know it but I’d just like to remind you….you’re a lucky man!

    • John Apr 2, 2016, 9:03 am

      Yes, I think about just that every single day.

  • Roger Harris Apr 1, 2016, 10:16 am

    “If something happens to John … I won’t continue cruising without him—I started too late and I’m now too old”.

    Hello Phyllis, I suspect Jeanne Socrates would suggest otherwise! Let’s hope it remains a moot point. Best wishes, Roger

    • Phyllis Apr 2, 2016, 10:44 am

      Hi, Roger; I think it’s wonderful that Jeanne Socrates is able to do what she does. But I’m no Jeanne Socrates!

      I refer you to John’s post about how important it is to happy cruising to be self-aware about your strengths and abilities and preferences.

  • Wilson Fitt Apr 14, 2016, 10:55 am

    Hi Phyllis

    Thanks for this post and my apologies for the delayed reaction, but it has been rumbling around in the back of my mind since you put it up.

    The unspoken and usually ill-considered challenge that you point out so effectively is, having made your escape from the ties of daily existence and completed a big adventure, how do you make a successful transition back to a more prosaic existence ashore.

    Like many others, we spent years and a disproportionate amount of our capital reserves dreaming, planning, building and fitting out our boat. We finally quit the jobs, cancelled the phone, sold the house and car, and sailed off. That was all great and we don’t regret any of it for a minute, but the inevitable return and reintegration in the face of no money, no jobs, no house, etc, etc, was something of an emotional cold bath even though we were and still are very deeply rooted here in Nova Scotia with a wide circle of family and friends. We were good at organizing and executing the adventure, but had no real plan for how to bring it to a conclusion and fill the inevitable vacuum. Everything worked out of course, but there were some challenging moments.

    One of the solutions, oft expressed at the beginning of an adventure, is not to come back at all. But I don’t think that’s very realistic. It seems to me that that nearly everyone who travels for extended periods eventually feels the need to swallow the anchor and renew their shoreside roots (if I may mix my metaphors). Even the great voyagers of yore like W. A. Robinson, the Smeetons, the Hiscocks, the Pardys eventually settled ashore.

    We met an elderly singlehander in Antigua who had fairly obviously come to the end of his voyaging days. Both he and his boat were well past their prime but he had nowhere to go home to, no family waiting, very little money and the general demeanor of a lost soul. I often wonder what happened, envisioning him having been deported to the land of his birth (England) and ending in a government run nursing home. Not a happy thought.

    Worrying about how to end is not as important as figuring out how to begin, but the challenges of ending can’t be ignored and should not be underestimated. I have no doubt that you will find new and satisfying roots when the time and place are found. If we are lucky, they will be here in Nova Scotia, weather notwithstanding.

    • Phyllis Apr 14, 2016, 9:44 pm

      Hi, Wilson; Thank you for your thoughtful response.
      Yes, we too have seen sad situations where cruisers are trying to keep living the cruising life past the time when they can handle their boat safely or maintain their boat properly. That is something we are very cognizant of and want to ensure we make the change well before that happens.
      Neither do we want to keep doing the same thing over and over (what? Greenland again?!).
      So, I guess we’re doing as you say, trying to negotiate the challenges of the transition as gracefully as possible (though some might say we’re just worrying it to death!).

    • Jo Apr 15, 2016, 3:56 pm

      Not all need to come back. Some I met have their home-place in their heart and find peace wherever they are. But I guess, they’re hard to distinguish from those not yet done with their adventure. Or perhaps it’s all the same but they just have more dreams than time left.

      Also, having experienced already one homecoming with the associated disillusions and disenchantments, I’m not sure coming back home will really solve anything.

  • James peto Jun 29, 2016, 9:19 am

    Sometimes events force one to give up the Cruising Life.
    In our case illness,after 10 years of making new friends throughout Europe, but whilst we desperately miss Cruising Life and our Yacht,which we had built especially for us. Life goes on, we sold the Boat which was very traumatic – akin to a death in the family.
    Now firmly established on shore in a new home and area we have found that life moves on bringing endless opportunities to make new friends as well as adventure and travel.
    Life is what one makes of it…..look forward not backwards for life is short.

    • John Jun 30, 2016, 9:02 am

      Hi James,

      Thanks for a great comment about a positive attitude that all of us will need to develop someday.

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