Sharing Our Stories

Our decision to leave

Hello ! My name is Valérie, I’m 55, and I sail with my husband François, 67, on our sailing yacht, Cybèle 17, an OVNI 445, in Scandinavian. We live year round on her, on water.

Many thanks to Women & Cruising for inviting me to contribute to your blog. I’m French and English is a second language for me: thank you, Gwen Hamlin, for correcting mistakes I may have made writing this in English.

As a first topic on this cruising blog, I thought it could be useful to share how we went about leaving.

  • How we decided to go cruising;
  • How we decided – eventually – to sell our house, and not buy a new one;
  • How we decided to dare – as I often say – to live our own life, and not the life the others would like us to live.

Because the most difficult part is to DECIDE.

François and I met in 2002, in Brittany, France.

He had sailed since age eleven, mostly on his father’s successive sailing boats, and he owned at the time of our meeting an 8 meter long motor vessel.

I had sailed on dinghies since my youngest age, so we both were accustomed to sailing. I love traveling, he loves sailing. Our very first private conversation turned around boats. It seemed that we could be a good match.

Since François still had ten years more at least to work, and I just had begun to work on my own as a business consultant, we had some time for our dreams to mature. All of our six children (three for each of us) were either grown up or adolescents.

Because of our 12 year age difference, my first idea was to let him go on his own, while I continued to work. Then I could join him in warm and safe places. We even had a market survey done for the opening of a chandlery shop in Ireland which I’d run, while he was sailing! But the market survey gave us negative results.

With time the idea to leave and sail together took shape, as our relationship grew stronger, and after we got married in 2008, it no longer made sense for me to let him go alone !


After we met, everything we bought or created was conceived for just the 10 year term until we could leave. Our common house, my company, the bigger motor vessel that we bought for criss-crossing French and British seas, were all about waiting until we would eventually have more time.

We knew we would leave, and we shared that intent with everyone around us, family, friends, customers. They all were prepared. That was an important point. There was no surprise, and they all had plenty of time to get used to the idea.

François collected information and experiences from everywhere he could: magazines, web forums, training. He knew that we had to choose a boat, because of a program and not the opposite. And he wished to sail far, and safe.

An aluminium sailboat, with a centerboard, had always been the one he was dreamt of: safe, secure, and able to sail in shallow waters or lay up on sand when possible.

We checked out many different boats, different brands, always together, and the more we discussed, the more fine-tuned our wishes became.

Year round sailing was a certainty. I wished to have space for us, but also to receive friends and family, ideally two non-adjacent cabins, two bathrooms, and a storage/working space.

Of course, we also talked about the program. Our dream roughly was to spend the first two or three years up north in Scandinavia, come back over Great Britain and Ireland to France, cross over to South America, and eventually to come back to the Mediterranean.

I must say that for me, my motivation was more to travel than to sail. For me, sailing was a means to travel, so I never cared that he made the decisions about sailing.

Our roles were also set from the beginning : he would be the captain, and I the mate. No discussion, and there’s always only one captain aboard. This situation doesn’t avoid discussions, sometimes animated. But it’s important to agree on main projects.

All through that process of maturating plans, the key words were : COMMUNICATION & LEARNING and not only between us as a couple, but, of course among our relatives and friends. Our project became theirs.

While writing « learning » I must say, that mostly François did the learning. My motivation was not strong enough to learn much before leaving. I already knew the basics of sailing, we spent all our vacations for ten years on the water, and I didn’t want to learn more. I got no special license. I wasn’t obliged to. I wasn’t not the Captain ;-) And now, it doesn’t matter. I can steer as well as he, and take my night’s watches.

Keeping or not keeping a house ? This topic was a very important decision to take. But it took hours of discussion, and it came step by step.

We had bought our house a few months after meeting. We looked into keeping it and renting it, but we didn’t want to take on the anxieties of renting.

The main idea is this : No troubles, no worries. We wanted to enjoy our sailing life without having to worry about anything in France, for which we might have had to come back or spend time – and money – to solve.
Money, of course, was an important factor. Since I’m not retired and get no pension, and François’ pension isn’t so substancial, we had to think about restricted expenses.

But for François it was difficult from the beginning to imagine leaving without a « chez moi », a home. We first had a look in Brittany around places where we would like to live and buy a house. We found places, but the prices were high. After a while, he conceded to have a look at flats, but he determined that flats were not the sort of home that he wanted to live in.

In the end we had to consider what we would have done with a house/flat in France while cruising. Our plan was to live ten months out of the year aboard and to come back just for a few weeks to visit parents, children, family and friends. They all live in different places, so the reality was that to visit we’d have to travel and find accommodations near them, if not at their home. A house of our own ? What for ?

As the time for departure approached, we had a serious look at our finances and realized that all costs of owning and caring for a house added to the boat expenses was more that we could possibly manage. The decision was then made.

In the end, we’ve been lucky enough to have a relative who offered to lend us their summer house in Brittany during winter time. Thank you!

Moving to the boat

François retired in December 2011, which meant that was the year I also stopped working.

Even though it had been planned, it was harder than foreseen. I had created my own job for almost ten years. The best thing I did was to get a wonderful associate two years before leaving, so that she was able to take over the business. Early January also brought the birth of my grand son (I now have five) which also made the idea of leaving hard.

Fortunately I have a lovely husband, and all our kids were encouraging us forwards. They all were adults, most of them in couples, living their own life, autonomous. And we live in the 21st Internet-connected century.

Early 2012, we got the phone call we’d been dreaming of. Two flight tickets to Lisbon in early March, followed by one-way tickets in April, and François and I were the new crew of Daimon, that we rebaptized Cybèle 17.

Daimon/Cybèle waiting for us in Setubal, Portugal

Why « 17 »? Because she is the 17th boat, his and mine added together, on which François and I have experienced the sea : eleven for him, four for me, and Cybèle 17 is already the second owned together.

Even if I couldn’t participate equally in her financial acquisition, I managed to contribute 10 % of her price, so that I feel I am her owner too.

We brought Cybèle back to France, had her checked out in a shipyard in La Rochelle, baptized her with our family and friends, and spent the first season along the coasts of our cherished Brittany’ and Isles of Scillies getting used to her. This was also a test year.

Back in the water – La Rochelle


Christening of Cybèle, with a bottle of Champagne

The next step was to introduce Cybèle to Pirate. Pirate is our cat. 12 years old at that time, who had spent all his time hitherto strolling in the garden, even when we were on vacation. He had never previously put a paw on a deck.

Pirate arrives aboard

Despite the skepticism around us, we moved him on board early July. And we were right!

It took him few months, to get really used to his new life, but afterwards enjoyed a passionate life of discovery, jumping on all the pontoons he could and walking on his own around new places every day. I could write about him later.

4 months after his installation on board,
Pirate honored us with his presence on deck for the first time at sea

Winter came, and it was finally time to execute our plan, empty our house and arrange our new home. We had an « open-doors » private selling, and put 20 cubic meters of furniture and memories in storage.

Spring 2013 came very quickly and with it the time for departure.

The last technical jobs done, we left our winter port, Arzal, in South Brittany, in April.

Casting off


The gates of the Arzal lock, on the Vilaine, open for us, towards a new life!

We had a stop in Brest for a last embrace to family and friends, and took the route North.

Since then, we have arrived as foreseen in Scandinavia, but had the revelation all along the Dutch canals, that we didn’t have to hurry anymore ! We henceforth have lived a slow life, and our plan has turned to be : to have no plan !

Sunset on the Glénan islands. Last passage in our favorite archipelago off Concarneau before our departure.

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