#13 – Keeping a Home Back Home

One of the most difficult decisions people confront when they set in motion the plan to go cruising is what to do with their home and the stuff that fills it. The traditional strategy is to sell everything, cut all the “docklines”, and commit yourselves fully to the cruising life. There are many people who would insist that without doing so you will never truly feel the full freedom of cruising.

The decision you make will depend on many things, but chief among them are going to be your financial situation and the planned duration of your cruise. If you are planning a finite trip — say a season to Mexico or a year-and-a-half jaunt around the Caribbean, selling out makes less sense, unless you are just hankering for a fresh start. If the planned cruise is longer or even open-ended, it will come down to practical and financial realities. Many people simply don’t have the choice; there is only enough money for one or the other, the house or the boat. Jean and her husband Tom of the CSY 44 Jean Marie, for example, are currently prepping for their second circumnavigation, and Jean says, “Neither time have we chosen to keep a home. We don’t have the money to maintain both and we have never wanted the hassle of having to deal with a rental property from afar, the only way we could have afforded it.”

Without doubt it is easier to let go and immerse yourself in the cruising life when there are no strings attaching you back home. Strings have a way of getting tangled, and trying to untangle them long distance can be a challenge. But when you come from an area where real estate values are going wild –California’s Bay Area, for example – the hassles of renting out your home may be worth it. Lisa of Lady Galadriel says, “It was never a question for us. With the cost of housing escalating as it is, if we ever wanted to go back, there’s no way we could afford it.” Like many cruisers wanting to maintain a toehold in their home turf, they have rented out their house while keeping a room and storage area for themselves. But, houses need maintenance and rentals need management, and holding on to real estate will often require long distance communication and expensive and inconveniently-timed trips back home. “You have to budget for repairs, insurance, taxes, etc on top of your cruising expenses,” Lisa adds, “and renters will never care for your home the way you did. By the time you get back, your home may not seem like home any more.”

But even when selling out is the logical thing to do, must you do it all up front? What if you don’t like cruising? Hard to imagine, but it does happen. I remember meeting a family four months out on their first cruise. They’d sold everything – home AND business – ready to embrace cruising fully. Only it wasn’t working. The passage down had so unnerved them all that they simply couldn’t keep going. What a bleak prospect, knowing all your bridges are burned behind you! Yet, other cruisers I’ve known have tried to hold on too long from afar, only to find the house or business has run downhill in other hands, and they have to quit cruising to go back and salvage things.

What can be hard to realize up front when you are shrewdly hedging your bets is that the cruising life is addictive. It’s not long before the boat is truly home, and everything else is “back there.” Plans expand and years go by, and what you expect from life has been changed by the world you have seen. So when the time comes to wind down and bury the anchor, many cruisers opt to settle far from where they started. We have cruising friends settling in Panama, the Caribbean, New Zealand, Fiji and Hawaii.

This brings up a point about STUFF. “Before we left on our voyage,” says Vicki of Firebird, “we put a lot of stuff in a locker in Florida, but here we are in Hawaii! I’ve been paying the rent on the locker for years, but now what am I going to do with it?”

When cruisers do go “back,” family is often the catalyst. It seems a general rule that cruisers with kids aboard find their way back to land about the time the oldest needs to start high school. Sometimes, cruising families continue the adventure by living aboard in a marina in a new area, but others swap the boat for a house, and those who kept their original home just pick up where they left off.

For older cruisers the family draw “home” is often aging parents or new grandchildren, but in this day and age, the mobility of families often means that neither the folks nor the kids are where you left them. Kathy B of Sunflower, who sold their home in Kansas to circumnavigate, tells how her daughter has since moved to Michigan. “When we return from cruising, we want to be near them, so it’s just as well we sold when we did.”

It’s an irony, I think, that after years of living like a turtle, carrying our homes with us, one of the hardest parts about suddenly needing to be back ashore part-time is not having a consistent place to lay our heads. Motels and guest rooms get old quickly! For this reason, many cruisers like Kathy of Sangaris have taken the condo option. “After years of schlepping duffels to family and friends’ houses during visits to the US from Europe, we eventually bought a condo where we could empty out our storage locker, keep an eye on our auntie in assisted living, and just have a place to land. We decided after all a few strings might not be too bad.”

Some couples buy the condo in the original decision to downsize before cruising, hoping that the investment will pay off over time. Others wait a bit to see where they might want to roost. And others, after years as vagabonds, can’t commit. My husband Don and I fall into this category, and our solution for the months we spend Stateside as grandparents, is an RV. I call it “a boat in a box,” or the “rolling suitcase.” The lifestyle is similar to cruising, and there’s enough storage on board to leave behind our stateside clothes. It has all the other comforts of home, yet we need not be fixed in one place. Then, when we return to the boat, we park it, close it up, and forget it. Unfortunately, unlike a condo, a motorhome is a depreciating investment!

Whatever you decide, pulling up roots is never easy, nor, quite frankly, will be putting them down again when the time comes to dock for the last time. But the reward of the broadened horizons of cruising is well worth the gamble for most of us. Even though we are not fixed in one place, we add up to a huge community, with “air-roots” (so to speak) the world around. You’ll know you are a real cruiser when someone asks, “Where are you from?” …and you find it hard to answer.

Contributing Admirals: Jean Service, Jean Marie; Lisa Schofield, Lady Galadriel; Ellen Sanpere, Cayenne III; Vicki Juvrud, Firebird; Mary Heckrotte, Camryka; Kathy Blanding, Sunflower; Katherine Briggs, Sangaris; Iretta Micskey, Rigó; Kathy Parsons, Hale Kai; plus others. (And thanks very much to my webmaster, Sherry McCampbell on Soggy Paws)

This article was published in the August 2007 issue of Latitudes and Attitudes.

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