How does it feel to travel around the world living on a boat and have summer all year round? Simon and Carla from Sailing Ocean Fox shares all the tips and tricks to living the Yacht life on their Catamaran. We speak about exciting travel stories of boats drifting off coast at night, adventures of Dobby the naked cat and very valuable insights to setting up your own sailing travel lifestyle.
- 01:24: The stressful parts of boat life
- 06:26: Why choose travel by boat?
- 10:20: A timeline for the adventure
- 14:48: A boat. Asset or Liability?
- 17:18: Advantages of traveling by boat
- 22:35: The night watch schedule
- 24:00: A sailing cat’s adventure
- 27:55: Going with the flow
- 30:00: The sailing community worldwide
- 31:55: Getting started as content creatos on YouTube
- 33:22: Strategies to growing your audience
- 38:45: Finding WiFi for work
- 42:10: Travel pace and schedule
- 44:25: Tips to get started with boat life
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The following is an extremely summarized version extracted from the transcript of the full conversation. I strongly recommend listening to the podcast for all the valuable insights. You will also hear more detailed and contextualized stories from the guest(s), as well as pointers from me in a two-way conversation.
Let’s start with an introduction! Tell us about you and your background story.
Simon – I’m Simon, this is my wife, Carla, and we’ve been living on our 30-foot catamaran for over three years now. We sailed 26,000 miles. We bought her in Croatia, sailed through the Mediterranean sea, the Atlantic, around the Caribbean, and across to Panama, Mexico, and Cuba, and then back across the Atlantic to Portugal.
What do people think about your traveling lifestyle?
Simon – People think this lifestyle is a stress-free type of lifestyle, sitting around enjoying cocktails and looking at sunsets. We do get those, but there are constant worries over affording to stay in marinas the whole, which most of us do because that’s the best place to be. There is quite a lot of stress over whether your anchor holds if it gets windy and things like that. So it is more stressful than you think?
Docking in Marinas is the natural option, but what is your other option if you don’t do that?
Simon – There are three options. One is in the Marina or in a harbor where you’re tied to the land. The next option is you can take Mooring Buoy, which connects to the seabed you won’t find those everywhere. The problem with that is that they will probably charge you for using it, which could be anything from 10/30 dollars per night. Or you use your anchor laid into the seabed and hang off that. And usually, that’s very successful.
Carla – Yeah, that’s what we do; usually, It’s free, so that’s an excellent way to live because we don’t pay to moor in a marina. And then you have the stress of not having enough electricity or hot water, just things like that.
Simon – I think we stayed at anchor over 30 days in one hit.
How does the weather affect your travels?
Simon – It is a constant worry. We don’t go one day without checking the weather. Even in the Caribbean, it can get quite rough there.
Carla – It can be pretty rough, and sometimes you just don’t sleep because the weather turns.
Simon – We had a funny experience once we went to bed and everything was fine. It was a very calm night; there was no wind. I got up at six in the morning to make a coffee, and the island was a speck on the horizon. We had drifted off for about three to four miles, and a big commercial fishing net slowly comes down the coast and wrapped around our anchor, and ripped it out the seabed.
Do you have an emergency alarm?
Simon – You can get an app on your phone, which works off GPS; you can set it to go off if you drift more than 50/100 meters. Unusually we would just wake up if the feel of the boat changes.
Did you find it difficult you get used to?
Simon – Because our catamaran is very steady, especially when you’re in a bay, it is very level; it doesn’t rock around too much. If you’re on a Monohull, which is a boat with only one hull as opposed to ours, which has got two, they do tend to sway around quite a lot. That could be pretty uncomfortable in some circumstances.
Carla – And even so on the catamaran, sometimes we get movement, which can be irritating.
What made you decide to uproot your life and go sailing?
Simon – Well, we just got married in Barbados, it was very lovely. And we had all our children; we have two children each, our four children are out there with us. We were lying on a sunbed, and two days after we got married, Carla said to me, why don’t we sell the house and buy a boat and go sailing? It took me a little bit of time to get used to the idea because I’ve been sailing before, and I’ve had four yachts before, but I’d never sailed that far. One journey, overnight, around 22 hours, is the longest I’d traveled across the English Channel. So to think about sailing an ocean was quite frightening. I think Carla didn’t understand because she’d never sailed before. She didn’t have any knowledge to base any fear on. That is how we decided to do this, and then it was around about 15 months later, we sold the house because we were selling one home and buying another. And so it was back 15 months later when we sold the second house and purchased the boat. And off we went. We never really looked back, to be honest. It was fantastic. I really enjoyed it.
Carla – So I always loved the sea, and I used to have motorboats. So I want to be around the ocean and go back to boat life. I just felt like we were there, we were happy, we should make some changes in our lives. I was busy with work and life. I used to have five jobs working 80 hours a week. So I just thought, let’s do something, let’s make our life a bit more unique and do something special for ourselves. Because so far, we have just been doing what ordinary people do; work and raise kids. We wanted to have a different experience.
Simon – We wanted to do something special with our lives because we had been together for a few years. We’ve both had relationships before, and we wanted this to be different and special and exciting. We certainly achieved that. Our rig took us through the Mediterranean, and after about five months, we were in Gibraltar. Then we went down to the Canary Islands, then down to Cape Verde, another set of islands off the African coast. From there, we did the big Atlantic crossing to Barbados, which is about 2000 nautical miles.
Do you follow the tropical weather?
Simon – Yeah, absolutely. I promised Carla we would only ever have summer.
Did you have a timeline for your trip?
Simon – I think we knew we were going to stay for about two years. We’ve done it for just over three years; we are actually in the process of making a change at the moment. We’ve been on the boat for about three years.
What was the reason behind the boat change?
Simon – We sold our boat in Spain about five weeks ago. We’re just in the process of buying a huge barge, which is an ex-commercial barge. It is 156 feet long. We’re going to convert it into a house which we can use on the rivers in England and on the continent.
Carla – I get very seasick. So, for example, when we leave to start an ocean crossing, I’m sick the first two days. I got the beat tired of that because it’s been over two years, and I need a bit of time. Also, our children are starting to get married and have kids; we wanted to be around for a while.
Simon – My daughter is having my first grandchild in a month. So we wanted to be back here and spend a bit of time back in the UK to see them and get to know the grandchildren. It’s not an ideal place to live on a catamaran. That also influenced us to buy a barge, but we never thought we would buy a complete shell. The project is enormous.
First, we have the boat cut in half and 20 meters of the boat cut out because it is far too big and far too long; this is a massive project and quite scary but equally exciting.
Are you doing the construction yourselves or getting professional help?
Simon – To physically cut the boat and put it back together, we have to get professionals in a dry dock. The people do need to know what they’re doing. But once the significant metalwork is over and done with, we’re going to be doing everything. Things like hot
water systems, heating systems, electrical systems. We’re going to make it as self-sufficient as possible so it’ll have many solar panels, generating a lot of electricity to run the heating systems and things like that. We can never be sustainable because it’s got an engine to make it go. Still, it is going to be as sustainable as possible.
Simon – I think the plan is next summer to have it down here in the South of England on the River Thames. It just passes through the lock with 50 millimeters on each side.
Carla – We like the stress.
Simon – I think it’s going to be a fantastic project. It will give us something to do over the next couple of years and get this thing looking good and smart. It’s going to have three bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a vast living room kitchen.
Are boats an asset investment or liability? Will you be able to make a profit on it if you sell it in the future?
Simon – It depends on what you buy, you need to be very careful what you buy and how much you pay for it. Our catamaran, for example, was built by a French company called Lagoon. They are one of the biggest catamaran manufacturers in the world. Even though we’ve done 26,000 miles, we sold it for more than we paid for it. We did have to do some upgrades to the boat to take it across the Atlantic twice. But relatively speaking, I think if you buy the right boat at the right price, you can get your money back. I’m not saying you can turn a profit by flipping it. If you were to buy a boat in Turkey or Montenegro, for example, and take it to the Caribbean and sell it there, if you bought it right, you would make a profit, I’m sure. We have considered doing that.
Carla – That’s one ofthe reasons we bought this specific brand. It was because we knew the resale price would be reasonable.
Simon – The barge is entirely different because we don’t get them by the manufacturer; you get them by type. There are many different types and styles, made by all sorts of people. And some of these bargains are 100 years old. The one we’re buying is 70 years old. These things have been around for a long time. I think we’re probably paid the right price for this one, although I’d like to have had it for £10,000 cheaper.
What advantages are there to living the boating lifestyle?
Simon – You go to the most incredible places, which you would never get to go any other way. For example, we went to an Archipelago 350 Island called Los Roques of the Venezuelan coast; they belong to Venezuela. These were the most stunning islands; the waters were so clear and blue, the beaches were white, and they were utterly deserted. You could have gone there; if you’d flown and then got a boat out to the island but had everything there, you’re freezer, fridge, beer, wine, food, and everything.
Carla – We take our home with us all the time, so we are self-sustainable. We have everything.
Simon – An incredible thing to do. If you go on a package holiday, you just go to the airport, get transferred to the hotel, then you might go out on a tour or a trip. You get a different feeling about places than you do if you go on a package holiday.
Carla – the other thing is you get to know real people from that place. Because we have to deal with everyday things as if we were living there, we needed gas; we needed to go shopping and interact with the local people. So we get to know the people.
Simon – It’s a very different way of traveling. It is a long way of traveling; you tend to do about 150 miles in 24 hour period. It’s peaceful and lovely, very lovely. You also have to deal with many officials. When you arrive in a country or island, you have to go and see the Customs and Immigration people and fill in all the forms, ships papers and stuff like that. It is not the same as arriving at an airport where you flash your passport, and they put a stamp.
Carla – It can take from an hour, half an hour to the whole day. They’re very slow sometimes, and they are not together. We usually have to visit three official places, and they’re not together. We don’t have a car, so we have to walk or get transportation. So you arrive in a new place, you have to work out all these logistics, but it’s very exciting.
Simon – For example, we went to an area called Bocas Del Toro in Panama. It is a backpacker’s paradise to go there by boat and be sitting there. We have a little rigid inflatable thing, which we go from the main boat, and that’s quite exciting.
Do you think travel perspective is different depending on the mode of transport?
Simon – It took us 15 days to cross the Atlantic in one go, so 15 days at sea. We do not see anything; there is nothing out there, apart from the water. It is fascinating; we do a little fishing and catch big fish on the way. Carla is the head fisherperson.
Carla – You get into a very slow pace of mind when you are out at sea. Things happen slowly; you have a significant lack of sleeping during the night because you have to be on watch. During the day, things happen slowly, so you can sleep a bit more during the day.
Simon – We split the night into shifts; we do three hours each. So watch for three hours, and then we swap over.
What do you keep a lookout for?
Simon – It’s a legal requirement that somebody is on watch. We’re looking for ships that could do some harm to us, and we’re monitoring the weather.
Carla – The weather, if the wind turns, we have to put sails down or change the sails.
Simon – So you tend to sleep a little bit during the day to catch up on some of the sleep you miss.
Do you have issues with your body clock because of the schedule?
Simon – I think it takes about two or three days to get into the rhythm, and then you go to bed, and you go straight to sleep. You don’t need an alarm; you wake up two or three minutes before you have to be back on watch.
Carla – You might not sleep those three hours because we have a stringent rule onboard. If we need to go outside to adjust the sails or do anything else outdoors. We will wake up the other one, no matter if they are sleeping or not.
When you travel with your cat, are there any issues on board?
Simon – He gets seasick, so he spends a lot of time sleeping and not doing anything. Then as soon as we get to land, he’s out there sniffing the air trying to work out what it is because it’s a different smell to him. He can smell the different islands and things. He usually doesn’t go off the boat; he stays on the boat the whole time. He’s off the boat now and discovering other things to run around. He’s been perfect; he has fallen off four times into the ocean. Once he flipped off the front, that was pretty serious because it was over a 2 meters drop. He was in a bit of a shock. I had to dive in and swim underneath the boat and rescue him. The other times he’s fallen off trying to jump onto a pontoon or looking at fish over the back, so it’s complicated.
What other interesting stories do you have?
Simon – I think one of the most wonderful things we’ve done is meeting people along the way. It is effortless to meet people because you’re all anchored up together. Everybody has a flag at the back, so it’s easy to find another British flag, invite people to drink, go ashore in the evenings, and have a big barbecue. It is romantic, absolutely beautiful, especially if you’re eating fresh fish that you’ve recently caught. The bad thing is when the weather’s rough. It is tiring, rough, and inhospitable. We were going to Cuba from Mexico, and a real blow built up, and we got pushed south. We ended up having to go back to sea for another day, and we ended up on the south coast of Cuba, which we weren’t planning on doing but was wonderful.
Carla – It was an extra 1000 miles. We go slow, and we can be delighted.
Simon – Things never quite seem to go according to plan. Even with the best planning, you still can’t know what’s going to happen. When we came back across the Atlantic from the Caribbean to Europe, one of the legs was from Bermuda to the Azores. It was supposed to take 12 days; it took us 18. Mentally that isn’t easy because you’re prepared for 12 days at sea in your mind.
Carla – Then you end up staying 18 days, and your mind doesn’t cope with that situation, so you get upset and stressed.
How do you pack for supplies?
Simon – You don’t pack for 12 days; you pack for a lot longer than that. We have a watermaker on board, so we can’t run out of water because we can make water from the ocean; also, we have bottled water.
Carla – I always prepare the boat for three months.
Do you take lots of canned food as opposed to fresh?
Carla – We take fresh food too, we take vegetables and fruits. You have to choose vegetables carefully; you’re not going to choose loads of tomatoes. You’re going to choose things that will last longer.
Simon – Fresh fruit and vegetable, you can get it last two weeks if you’re careful with how you store them.
Do you find like-minded sailors to be younger or older?
Simon – You discover there are some people in their early 20s living this lifestyle. Some of these people are not wealthy, and they’ve got quite any old boat. Somehow they’ve managed to buy that, and you can see them struggling to maintain it. Then you get other people who are our age and even older. Some of them can be quite wealthy, and they just pay for everything to be fixed.
When you get to your destination, are you more of an outdoorsy type, or do you search for cultural experiences?
Simon – Well, there isn’t that much culture in the Caribbeans. So most of our days are walking or hiking. We did quite a lot in Colombia. For example, in Panama, we went up into the mountains, seeing waterfalls and various jungles and forests. So we do quite a lot of walking because we don’t have a car.
Carla – Also, when we stop from a journey to work because we were doing our YouTube videos and things, we need some time to catch up and put everything up to date.
What is your plan for your Youtube channel?
Simon – It was always part of the plan because we needed something to do to entertain ourselves.
Carla – We thought we needed to do something, so we thought we could do a channel so our family, friends, and other people could see what we were doing. We have been very successful. We have loads of subscribers; over 4 million views. We are doing well with that part.
Simon – It is fantastic. We love the comments that we get and interacting with people, whether on Facebook or YouTube, or Instagram.
Carla- We did it all from scratch. We did a lot of promotions, not paid promotions. We learned everything from scratch because I didn’t know anything about Facebook or Instagram, so I read and experimented and was out there as much as possible. It did pretty well.
What are some tips to grow a YouTube channel from scratch?
Carla – We do a lot of sharing. Simon writes a blog on Facebook every day when we are out in the boat. That blog has a loop of our YouTube video that week; then, I will be sharing the blog within the groups related to our sailing life. I share with 20 groups every day, so I annoy a lot of people.
Simon – You’ve got to be prepared for people saying you’re promoting yourself; you can’t do that and just forget about it. Just ignore it and just keep going.
Carla – No, you need to have a good relationship with the group administrators, so they like your Facebook. That’s what we mostly do; Facebook and Instagram stories. We do loads of stories every day and have stories going on Youtube, Facebook, our personal pages, IGTV. I use all the resources.
Simon – Putting in all the tags and linking it all everywhere. You can’t do it if you put out one video every couple of weeks and don’t do anything else. You got to make around two or three videos a week for YouTube to notice you.
Carla – We do about three videos a week, and we are doing our podcast now too. It is a lot of work, as you probably know.
Simon – I don’t think people appreciate how much work these influencers and content people go to to make the free content they watch.
Carla – It’s the tiny things that you have to do every single day, all the time. I probably spent about two hours just promoting the channel every day; it has to be done. It’s just very time-consuming. I love it. I like it for me; it’s a pleasure to do.
Simon – We’ve learned lots of skills through this. For example, video editing and how to talk to the camera, and social media skills.
Carla – It just proves that you can do anything you want; if you want to do it; which is why we’ll do it.
Simon – We had to get back from Spain with all our belongings. Most people would go to the international courier company to take all their belongings back to the UK, jump on the aircraft, and return. But we decided we will buy a Mercedes Sprinter van and bring it back to the UK, convert into a camper van and sell it. That’s what we’re planning on doing as soon as we’ve got it unloaded. That hopefully will pay the cost of actually coming back. You see what I mean. We should be able to sell it at a profit as it has been converted. It’s always about looking at different opportunities and different ways to make a living.
Carla – It inspires people to do things, especially at our ages, because we are not in our 20s. So people get inspired by us. We meet people who say they’re at sea because of us. They are enjoying life like us.
Simon – It is a fantastic experience. If anybody is thinking about doing this, it’s better in reality than it looks on video.
Has WIFI been an issue for you?
Carla – It was a nightmare, to be honest.
Simon – WIFI is always a big problem, in the end, we have to buy local SIM cards, the ones who have unlimited amounts of data. They may last ten days, then we have to replace them or refill them in most places, but they were pretty cheap.
Carla – In the beginning, we started going to coffee shops just to upload the videos. We realize that you spend more money on coffees than by buying a SIM card. We realized that we’re going to have to buy a SIM card and do things properly, but then you have problems with the signal as it’s not good everywhere. Sometimes we would find a beautiful bay where we would anchor, and everything is perfect.
Simon – Cuba was tough because there’s; basically, there’s very limited GSM, so you have to hotspot everywhere. You can only buy a token for an hour, so you’re forever trying to buy tokens. Everybody sits around the square of the village using the local free WIFI. This is partly because they can monitor WIFI much easier than they can monitor the mobile phone. When we went into Cuba, they did take out satellite phone off us.
How long do you usually stay in a place?
Simon – For example, we spent seven weeks in Aruba, but we only spent 24 hours in Dominica.
Carla – It depends on how we like the place. There are some boundaries because we need to worry about the weather in certain places.
Simon – You have something called the hurricane season, so you have to make sure you’re out. You have to find your way around those things as well. That meant going down to the ABC islands, and by the time we’ve done that, we then were able to go back into the box go up to Grand Cayman and Mexico.
Simon – You wouldn’t go across the Atlantic ocean any time of the year. You would typically go from east to west during December, January, and February. It would be best if you thought which months of the year would be the best.
Simon – We look for weather windows as they are the best time to sail. We have to make sure the wind is behind us because that’s an easier way to sail than going into the wind.
Carla – We have to wait for the right wind.
What tips do you have for people who are considering the yacht and sailing lifestyle?
Carla – First, start by getting some training; it’s essential.
Simon – You’ve got to have all the correct safety equipment on board. That’s probably the next most important thing because if you fall off the boat, you don’t want to in water on your own. You’ve got to have a satellite system to get the boat to come back and find you. The next thing is generating more electricity than you will need. We didn’t have enough solar panels on our boat, so we struggled with generating enough electricity.