Purchasing a sailboat for many is a daunting task, especially if you’re determined to make that boat your home, but for Chris, Marissa, and their cat, Cleo, they’ve decided they’re in it for the long haul. For this couple, though it may be challenging at times, they find it incredibly gratifying.
“It’s a lifestyle you will never be able to 100% understand. There’s always something to learn,” Chris explained. “That’s probably the best part about sailing. Not one person has mastered sailing completely.”
If your dream is to sail off into crystal blue waters, explore the world, or even become a part-time cruiser, it’s crucial to understand that owning a boat comes with enormous responsibility. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to making this commitment.
“You don’t need your own boat to sail when there are many people willing to take you sailing,” Chris said. “You can hone in on what it is you want in a boat versus just guessing and buying something that you later learn isn’t perfect for you.”
“Whether you’re looking to sail on the weekends or live on your boat, get on as many possible,” Marissa added.
In March of 2018, the couple moved onto a 1979 Cheoy Lee 41,’ who’s name Avocet came from the previous owner’s wife, Robin, an avid birdwatcher who loved the namesake birds.
“We weren't necessarily crazy for the name, but two weeks into owning Avocet, it just felt right,” Chris recalled. “We figured that we might as well get as much good karma as possible and continue the legacy that the previous owners started 30 years prior.”
The couple is currently docked in Ventura Harbor, right outside the Channel Islands of Southern California, enjoying every moment as they prepare to sail off into the horizon.
On their decision to live aboard
Chris: Since 1991, my family has had a Mason 43. I grew up sailing “big boats” and “small boats” in the San Francisco Bay, where there’s always wind blowing, and Huntington Lake which is very well known for the High Sierra Regatta. My older brother has a Hans Christian 33 that he has been cruising since 2014 and back in 2016 we flew down to Costa Rica to visit and that’s where I asked Marissa to marry me. That’s when we caught the cruising bug and started thinking about life on a boat a little more seriously.
In 2018 (the year we graduated college and got married) we started the hunt for our future boat and home. At first, we thought we were going to get a boat that was going to be a simple crash pad, and nothing more. We didn’t necessarily think a boat like Avocet was in the cards because we were young and couldn’t afford boats like her, but the universe works in mysterious ways and she just fell into our laps. She was definitely a project boat but happened to be within our price range so we signed the papers and made her ours. Since then, the boat has inspired us to think outside the box and dream bigger.
Marissa: Because Chris comes from a sailing family, it was natural for us to follow in his brother’s wake and get our own liveaboard. At the time, we didn’t anticipate getting a boat of this caliber, especially since we had our heart set on something completely different, but we soon realized that we needed to pivot because our expectations didn’t align. I'm so glad they didn’t or else we would have never come across Avocet.
On purchasing Avocet and managing their expectations
Marissa: While I had an idea of what to expect, Chris was more of a realist.He knew there was a lot more work that needed to be done than I realized, so I’ve had to adapt my internal plans and learn how to go with the flow.
Chris: As mentioned, I grew up with a similar boat to Avocet, but it was taken care of exceptionally well since 1991, whereas Avocet had been sailed hard then sitting for a few years in dire need of some TLC. There was a moment when Marissa and I were reviewing the ownership papers and getting serious about buying Avocet when I had to take her away for a second, look her in the eyes and ask, “You understand what we are getting ourselves into here? This is not going to be a fairy tale of sunsets and sailing. This is a long-term commitment, and there’s a tremendous amount of work to do.” The thing that I emphasized most was, “I’m not going to do it alone.” We had to be in this together 100% of the time. To date, we have never broken that promise.
On familial support
Marissa: My parents and Chris’s family were pretty close when we were growing up, so my parents weren't too shocked by this decision and were supportive. While my extended family has also been supportive, they have many questions, which I’m happy to answer. My aunt was very concerned about us wanting to sail the world because she thought it was dangerous which was a great opportunity to discuss that living on land is also unsafe, it’s just a different type of danger you’re coming to terms with. So, I see these moments of uncertainty as an educational opportunity, if anything, to teach people that risk is all relative. There are earthquakes, fires, tornados, hit and runs, etc. on land! Life is dangerous no matter how you look at it, we just chose the danger that is the most fun to us.
Chris: We think sailing is not even close compared to driving a car. It’s an entirely different lifestyle, but you can’t understand until you’re doing it.
Marissa: It’s a learning process, and there are things that you wouldn’t necessarily think about until you’re put in that situation. But overall, my family has been very supportive, and that’s because they trust Chris.
On the global pandemic
Marissa: We had hauled our boat out to the boatyard for a plethora of projects, like painting and fiberglass work that needed our attention. It was on the books for a long time and we were thrilled to finally be getting things done. The first week was fine, but the second week is when we first got wind of a deadly virus that was overtaking the globe.
Chris: Like others, because there was so much unknown about Coronavirus at the time, we didn’t think it would be a big deal. But then businesses were shut down, followed by the lockdown, and everyone started panicking, toilet paper was gone, and life in the boatyard became that much more difficult.
Marissa: Everyone went home. We were the only people in our boatyard because the harbor had shut down its operations. It was stressful because if there was a bigger emergency like a tsunami or something, we were stuck on land. At that point, we were running through plans A, B, C through Z trying to figure out how to protect ourselves while navigating through the most tumultuous time yet.
On facing challenges together
Marissa: There are some days where everything is a breeze and other days that are nothing but challenging. A good example is when we did our fridge rebuild. Once we started, we had to pivot in three different directions because things weren’t as they seemed. It was frustrating, and mentally taxing but we worked together to figure out the best course of action (with some supporting help from Chris’s brother too!)
Chris: When it comes to anything on a boat, double it. If you’re planning to do a haul out, double the amount of time and money you think you will need and you’ll never get caught off guard. There’s not one example that I can think of when that rule doesn’t apply to sailing. We’re three years into this sailing and cruising lifestyle, and we are still coming to terms with the fact that timelines are arbitrary and plans are written in the sand at low tide.
On making a liveaboard work long-term
Marissa: There’s a lot of common misconceptions about living aboard. People are in love with the dream of sailing into the sunset and the “easy lifestyle.” However, that’s more like the highlight reel of what’s really happening. There’s a lot of work that goes into owning a boat, not only financially but also physically and mentally. You have to love it to do it and to do it right, especially with a partner. When people ask about living with my partner in a “small” space, I often respond with “wherever your relationship is going it will get there faster with a boat involved” and that's true, for better or for worse. Communication and trust are key!
Chris: There are always little things that tend to pop up out of the blue even in the most iron-clad of plans, and if you’re not prepared, it can be upsetting. In those moments we have learned to shrug it off, deal with it and keep going. Life is too short to sweat the things we can’t control or can!
Marissa: It’s all in how you deal with it. My advice to everyone is to leave your expectations at the dock. When you commit to this lifestyle, you’ll have your set idea of how it “should” be, but you must roll with the tide or else you might sink.
Chris: Exactly. There are a lot of curveballs, especially even just this last year with everything we’ve all gone through. It’s been no different on the water. When we were hauled out, that was the most stressful time for us, mentally and physically. The fact that our getaway vehicle, the poster child for “freedom,” was on dry land when the pandemic was happening was a challenge and a mental battle. We were trapped. You don’t even consider the possibilities like that until you’re already in one of those situations.
Marissa: There are a few reasons why this lifestyle doesn’t work out for people, but one of the most prominent reasons is because they are so set with their expectations and unwilling to again, go with the flow. I probably sound like a broken record by now! Coming into this, I had to adapt because personally, I’ve always needed structure to thrive. Moving onto a boat has opened new doors and allowed me to grow as a person. As an example, we’ll have people on the dock come over unexpectedly all the time, or get invited to impromptu sails to the island. Five years ago, that would have stressed me out because I'd have to clean, cook, entertain. I’d want to plan something like that way ahead of time. Now I welcome the unexpected delights of life, and cherish these precious moments because whether we like it or not each incredible sunset marks one less day on this big beautiful planet and I want to spend it with loved ones doing fun things and seeing all I can. This lifestyle has reminded me how fragile and wonderful life is, and not to take it for granted.
Their advice to new sailors and potential liveaboards
Marissa: A lot of people are interested in sailing but don’t know where to start. My recommendation is to find your local yacht club or even a local sailing group (there's a lot on Facebook) and make your interest known. People are usually so happy to welcome you aboard their boat, and eager to teach “newbies” how to sail. The sailing community is excellent in that aspect, we all love our boats and we love sharing the sport with others, which grows not only the sport but also the community.
Chris: If you already have the mindset to buy a boat, take your time. You don’t need a boat to sail when many people would just simply take you sailing. You can hone in on what you want versus just guessing and buying something that isn’t perfect for you.
Marissa: Whether you’re looking to sail on the weekends or live on your boat, get on as many as possible. Figure out what you like and don’t like. If you’re going to have a weekend cruiser on a lake, that’s not a huge commitment, but if you want to sail around the world, you should take more time to research and figure out what exactly it is you need to be successful and safe.
On the joy of sailing and living aboard
Chris: It’s the most sense of pride I’ve ever felt in my life. There’s nothing better than raising the sails, getting over the breakwater, and having dolphins meet you out on the bow. It’s the same feeling of excitement, thrill, and fun, every single time. Moments like those remind us why we work so hard to live this way. It's beautiful.
Marissa: Every time we sail there is something new that we have done to the boat, so it's fun to watch our finished projects perform as intended, and sometimes not, which leads us to try again. She’s been a labor of love, but that’s the best part. She’s becoming more and more ours every day and we cannot wait to look back on these incredible memories and see just how far we have come. As I said, life is short and we are going to sail it to the fullest.
A note from the owners of Avocet: To all those blue water dreamers, don’t give up! Work towards your dreams and don’t be afraid to ask for help. We hope to share an anchorage with you someday.
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