Sailing Journey: 21 Years a Liveaboard

What’s it like being a liveaboard on a sailing boat for 21 years? This sailing journey chapter wraps up life as a liveaboard.

How it all began

Guess I should start this chapter with a little reminiscing on how becoming a liveaboard all began.

This little preamble is also for readers that are new to my Sailing Journey series. Maybe you haven’t read or followed my previous chapters?

You may be thinking that it’s a little unusual to spend half your life in a small, confined, perpetually moving floating vessel. Think that I adapted very quickly and quite easily – just love the lifestyle. Anyway, I digress, as usual.


It all started in Windsor, which is close to Sydney (Australia). During my early 20s. I became an integral part of building a Bruce Roberts 28′ Motor Sailor from plans. Yes, from scratch.

No, we weren’t boat builders and went into this project blind.

Windsor, NSW, Australia, Oceania

Instead, learning as we grew into the dream of owning our boat and sailing off into the distant sparkling horizon.

Building a boat, Hawkesbury, Australia, Oceania
Building from boat plans

Australia holds a wonderfully expansive coastline to explore. Around 34,000 kilometres – that’s 21,126 miles – not including its islands. Many of the islands are uninhabited. All this on our doorstep – sound appealing?

Did you know Australia’s maritime borders include 8,222 islands? So, why not explore this coastline and thousands of islands in your private boat.

Lizard Island, far north QLD, Australia, Oceania
Lizard Island, far north QLD, Australia (1990s)

I guess when you’re young, you think you can conquer anything. Boatbuilding was just one tiny hurdle on the agenda. Not that we had an agenda.

Expanding the dream

Think building a boat isn’t hard or challenging enough?

After several years of sailing Naiad, we also went through the pain of extending her (boats are always female, sorry guys) in far north Queensland, Australia.

Expanding Naiad in Townsville, far north QLD, Australia
Expanding Naiad in Townsville, far north QLD, Australia (1990s)

Of course, there are always unforeseen sagas when building or deciding to extend a sailing boat. I have to say, it was worth the pain in the end though as Naiad sailed and motored much better after the extension. The other bonus is that she gained a roomier cockpit, which is great for parties!

Expanding Naiad in Townsville, far north QLD, Australia
Extending Naiad’s cockpit, hydraulics, rigging, plumbing, and seating area

I’ve published several posts for you to read about what it’s like to build a boat. Check out Part 1 and Part 2, launching, and sailing off into the wild blue yonder.

Sailing, far north QLD, Australia, Oceania
Sailing the Whitsunday Islands – far north Queensland

Liveaboard objective?

Enjoy life. Explore. Relax. Freedom.

Drop out of the social tightrope for a while and ‘Go bush’, as we say in Australia. Quite simple really.

Catalina 470 under sail, USA, Caribbean
Reality under Spinnaker (Photo credit: Colin Palmer)

Long-term sailing up and down Australia’s east coast, stopping to pick up work along the way and saving money to take off cruising again – a liveaboard lifestyle.

Would I build another boat?


Although the experience is challenging and you learn a ton of invaluable skills, I believe it’s too expensive and takes too long to build a boat.

Building a boat, Windsor, NSW, Australia, Oceania
Building Naiad (1980s)

Production boats are built to make money. So, materials are costed to only include a small percentage of wastage. When you build a boat, you tend to use a lot more materials with a lot more wastage. And of course, everything takes much longer.

You also need a decent-size place to build the boat in that is free or charges a minimal cost. You can’t always find such a paddock, shed, or space.

Building a boat, Windsor, NSW, Australia, Oceania
Paddock in Windsor, Australia (1980s)

If you’re not in a hurry and have years to spare, then building a boat is a labour of love and passion.

One huge bonus is that at least you know every inch of your boat when you’ve built it from scratch.

Would I live on a boat again?


It’s a great nomadic, eclectic lifeblood that filters through your veins and never leaves in a hurry.

You need lots of time when you live on a boat. Everything you do takes longer than when you live on land. A boat teaches you patience, although nature teaches you even greater patience.

Los Roques, Venezuela, South America
Los Roques blues, Venezuela

I’ve heard too many yachtie stories of running into trouble that spawn from time restrictions. Typically, forcing the skipper and crew to venture out in foul weather only to come unstuck.

Los Roques, Venezuela, South America
Los Roques storm, Venezuela

The only time we ventured out with a deadline during the cruising years, caught us in a cyclone. This little Cat 3 baby wouldn’t make up its mind for a couple of weeks on where it wanted to cross the Australian coastline. Cyclone Justin caused us to anchor up in cyclone holes in north Queensland three times, waiting for the cyclone to hit or pass.

Middle Percy Island, QLD coast, Australia, Oceania
Middle Percy Island, QLD coast, Australia

Don’t get me wrong, you inevitably hit bad weather at some point, during your years of sailing. It’s inevitable. Regardless of the App that you use or the Meteorology Bureau’s predictions, no one can predict nature 100% of the time. Why not minimise running into bad weather, by giving yourself some slack and taking more time to enjoy the cruising pace?

Catalina 470, Dominican Republic, Caribbean
Gorgeous waters of the Dominican Republic

Unlike racing a boat, cruising is not about getting from A to B in the fastest possible way. This way of life is much more laid-back and meant for exploring at leisure, the plethora of fantastic destinations.

Gran Roque, Los Roques, Venezuela, South America
Gran Roque, Los Roques, Venezuela

It’s easier to find an uninhabited island than to find an isolated spot on land. Although, I may be wrong or exaggerating, as in Australia there are many isolated spots on land.

What I like most about life as a liveaboard

Freedom. Discovering. Exploring. Meeting like-minded travellers.

I love the fact that you take your home – the boat – with you everywhere. There isn’t a need for booking hotels in advance. Sometimes you need to book a marina in advance, but typically, I prefer not to use marinas, so this isn’t such a big issue.

Chichiriviche, Venezuela, South America
Chichiriviche, Venezuela

When you anchor, you have everything with you. Unlike backpacking or camping, you don’t have to unpack anything. You may need to tidy up a little if you sailed through rough weather, but that’s all.

Chichiriviche, Venezuela, South America
At anchor – Chichiriviche, Venezuela

Living on a boat is similar to motor homing as you have all of your creature comforts with you.

motorhome, Burton Bradstock, UK, camping

Once you own your boat, living is relatively inexpensive, depending on where you’re sailing. If you stay clear of marinas, then food and fuel are your biggest expense.

Drawbacks of living on a boat

Of course, nothing in life is ‘Utopia’. There are always drawbacks. Similar to drawbacks when living on land, living on a boat also festers drawbacks.


The main issue you can face as a liveaboard, especially if you’re not on a marina, is a shortage of power and water. If you own a desalination unit, then water shortage isn’t an issue. Otherwise, you need to pull into marinas to fill up. Depending on the country in which you’re sailing, this isn’t always free.

Motor in Catalina 470
Installing Reality’s desalination unit that ran off the generator

Typically, power on a sailboat is 12 volts. Unless you run a noisy generator to top up your batteries while your boat is on anchor, then you’ll experience power drainage. Especially, if you run a fridge/freezer.

Galley, Catalina 47', Long Island, New York, USA
Reality’s Galley with separate fridge and freezer

A couple of ways to resolve this is by installing solar panels and/or a wind generator. Neither are cheap but necessary for cruising.

A drawback of installing solar panels is that you need the deck space. A wind generator usually is installed aft of a boat, but you still need space and clearance from the rigging wire. Also, if not installed correctly, it can be noisy when the turbine is turning, which can vibrate through the rigging wire and to the hull.


Regardless of what you use to communicate to the outside world, there’s always an issue. I’m speaking about internet connections, not VHF or HF radios.

Almost gone are the internet cafe days and now replaced with purchasing data cards around the world. These aren’t always optimal and typically, very expensive, especially when sailing around Cuba, the Caribbean, or Venezuela.


Depending on the size of the boat, of course, space can be an issue.

The walk-in robe that maybe you owned in a house is reduced to a small almost closet-like box on a boat, in many instances.

Inside a boat, Sydney, NSW, Australia, Oceania
Shedding before cruising – (1990s)

You need to organise everything, otherwise, you throw out loads of stuff. Call it a continual cleansing ritual. Buy something new, throw out something old.


Possibly the worst drawback (for me) of being a liveaboard is when you slip the boat.

Each year, the boat is hauled out so that the barnacles and slime can be scraped from the bottom, and to apply a couple of fresh coats of Antifoul paint. It’s also a great time to fully check the hull over below the waterline, to make sure that nothing’s gone amiss.

Slipping a Catalina 470, Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles, Caribbean
Slipping Reality at Curaçao (Photo credit: Colin Palmer)

Not only is hauling out a little stressful, especially if you’re working the tides or whether it’s a ramp or travel lift, but this work is also hard and dirty.

Slipping a boat, Sydney, NSW, Australia, Oceania
Slipping Naiad in Sydney. Raising the waterline (Photo credit: Colin Palmer – 1990s)

Unless you have buckets of cash to employ someone to do the work, you do everything yourself. My hands still carry scars where barnacles ripped at my skin while scraping the bottom.


I could go on for much longer with the pros and cons of long-term liveaboard life but fear that I might bore you too much.

Sailing in Los Roques, Venezuela, South America
Concentrating in Los Roques, Venezuela (Photo credit: Colin Palmer)

Although, if you’d like to read more about this transient lifestyle, then let me know and I’ll write more. It’s all swimming in my head, somewhere.

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more global images. More sailing posts at Image Earth Travel.

More chapters on life as a liveaboard

Check out a couple more chapters in this liveaboard series!

Related posts




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34 responses to “Sailing Journey: 21 Years a Liveaboard”

  1. indianeskitchen Avatar

    Absolutely amazing! What a fantastic way of life. Thank you for sharing this, I found it so fascinating.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you, Diane!
      It is a great way of life and the boating community is special.
      I’ve been boatless now for over 10 years and now a “landlubber” as we used to say… 😉

  2. Trablogger Avatar

    That is some great 21 years indeed. I’ve sailed in cargo ships for some time. So I can imagine the excitement of sailing and doing all the things associated with it all by yourself for more than 2 decades!! Incredible.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Jithin,
      Thank you for the great feedback and taking the time to comment.

      I’ve never sailed in cargo ships or cruise ships, so don’t know what that’s like, but have passed many along the sail over the decades. 😉
      It was an incredible experience and fortunate that I learnt many valuable skills and lessons throughout the years. You may like to read how it all started, by building a sailing boat from the plans.

      Will pop over to your travel blog to check out your work Jithin (hope that I have your name right?). How did you come across this post?


      1. Trablogger Avatar

        Hi Nilla, I will definitely read more about your journey. And yes, you got the name right. I used to read a lot of blogs in the past, mostly finding the link from other blogs. I haven’t been doing it in a while and now that I want to do that more often, I was looking for interesting blogs to read and found yours. Thank you for going through my blog and finding my name 😉

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Whew! Glad I got the name right. 😉
        Thanks for letting me know how you found my blog, it’s always interesting to learn how someone finds you when there’s millions of blogs out there…
        You have a great blog and enjoyed discovering about your travels. I also love the design of your blog – well done!

      3. Trablogger Avatar

        Yes, there are millions of blog out there and its difficult to find the good ones! Thank you for checking out my blog too. Glad you liked the design. It was my latest design change for my 6th year come back 😉
        I’m sure I will find the answer to this question from your blog soon. But just to understand quickly, I’m going to ask you. Are you still sailing?

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Yes, I’m sure I left you a comment on that post.
        Not, not a liveaboard since 2010 but a travelling landlubber.
        Over the decades, I’ve had many requests to document my sailing tales, so started doing this late last year. Just a brain dump over a couple of days and voilà, I had over 20,000 words as a start, but haven’t even scratched the 21 years of sailing.

      5. Trablogger Avatar

        haha.. Side effects of having an exciting life! I’m pretty sure your future editor will have a tough time! 😉

      6. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Indeed it is…ha, ha, I will! 😉

  3. gillmorris Avatar

    What a fabulous and exciting 21 years. I can just imagine sailing the waters of Australia with the wind in my hair.. totally free feelings and not a care in the world (except the obvious things of boat living) Great post Nilla as always.xx

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Gill, thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my post.
      Yes, it was an exciting 21 years! 😉 xx

  4. Puzzles of the Soul Avatar

    Thank you or sharing your most interesting account of sailing giving details and conditions most of us would not think about. It seems an idyllic way of life relaxed and moving on. There is far more work to living like this. Blessings to you.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for your kind feedback and blessings Nanette.
      There is a lot to be said for a much simpler and less-cluttered way of life.

      1. Puzzles of the Soul Avatar

        There definitely is. I am now a minimalist means I can move when I want to quickly. There is room for something else instead of clutter.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Fantastic and sounds wonderful.
        As a landlubber, I’ve definitely collected a lot more, but have started to cull now… 😉

  5. Yeah, Another Blogger Avatar

    Hi there. You have a very adventurous spirit. I’m wondering what kinds of work you have done ashore to earn money for sailing. See ya. Neil Scheinin

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Neil,
      Thank for taking the time to read and comment on my post.

      I’m a Technical Writer with also usability and internal auditing background. So, mostly working contracts in the IT space for the Public and Private sectors.

      Once you own your boat, it’s really not expensive to live on as long as you stay out of marinas for the better part. Are you thinking of living on a boat?


      1. Yeah, Another Blogger Avatar

        I like going on boat rides now and then. But living on a boat? No, that’s not me. See ya!

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Fair enough, it’s not for everyone… 😉

  6. Mostly Clean Eats Avatar

    Wow! Can’t believe you lived on a boat for 21 years. What an amazing experience that must have been. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Yes. It was 20 years on Naiad (boat we built) and 1 year on Reality (boat we bought in USA).

  7. Eleanor Avatar

    Hi Nilla, Thank you for answering my questions. I am currently living in Australia. I don’t travel often, but have made my way to New Zealand, SE Asia and Europe. I am now free to explore new destinations and revisit much loved ones, however like yourself, COVID-19 has placed a temporary halt on my international travel plans. We have to be flexible and patient during these uncertain times don’t we? I am planning on making the most of the situation by exploring more of Australia, within my own state first and then further afield – once the borders open up again. Although I don’t currently have a blog I have considered starting one. I have wondered if sharing my knowledge, including the highlights, drawbacks and offering solutions to problems that arise when ‘doing the BIG lap’ with a canine companion may help others contemplating the same endeavour. I have always loved writing, so it will be a way of refining my writing skills.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi, no problem at all and happy to help in any way that I can. Where in Australia are you? Will you do the ‘big lap’ in a caravan, camper, motorhome, car & tent, or?

      It sounds as though you’ve done a fair bit of travelling so maybe it’s time to start your own blog – even if it’s just to record your travels for yourself. You never know, you may get a kick out of reading them later in life. 😉

      I haven’t been right around Australia and would like to see more of our beautiful country. Maybe it’s time to do this now instead of O.S. travel, but need to wait until the borders re-open. National Parks will be a little trickier with a canine although I’m sure doable as loads of people travel with pets.

      Blogging is certainly a way to learn more about writing. These days, it’s not just about writing, it’s also about SEO, keywords, and much more. I don’t do as much as I should do and surprised my posts actually get some exposure.

      Many thanks for your comments,

  8. Eleanor Avatar

    Hi Nilla, thank you for another wonderful insight into being a live-aboard. Your photos certainly capture the tranquility and peace you must have enjoyed during your time sailing the Caribbean, and on to Venezuela. You sailed to such wonderful destinations and are fortunate that you achieved your objectives – exploring, relaxing, enjoying life. Of course we would love to know more! Please share why you ended this wonderful life style after spending so much time and effort to purchase and fit out such a beautiful sailing vessel and do you have any plans to take up a sailing lifestyle again (when we are able to resume international travel, or perhaps sooner in Australian waters)? It sounds like you really miss it.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Eleanor,

      Thank you for your great feedback and happy that you enjoyed this post. I need to do a few more brain dumps in the future but right now, I’m writing a few posts on Australia – boatless.

      My time on Reality ended because of personal reasons. It would be great to own a boat again but a boat is so expensive to buy and run unless you live on it, which of course, I would. I need to save up money to buy one.

      Yes, I miss boatlife but also miss motorhoming. Guess I miss travelling in my life as it’s the first time I’ve had the travel choice removed, but it’s best to be in Australia right now so I’m not complaining. I can always publish more stories and re-live my experiences while waiting to travel again. 😉

      Where are you in the world? Do you own a boat? Do you travel a lot (apart from 2020)? Do you have a blog/website I can follow?


  9. the eternal traveller Avatar

    It sounds so idyllic and such a free and easy lifestyle, although from what you’ve written previously I know it wasn’t always like that. I do think you could turn this into a memoir style book. It’s a great read with wonderful photos.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Carol, thank you so much for your wonderful feedback.
      A work colleague suggested that I do this about 6 years’ ago… 😉

  10. Lisa Dorenfest ~ One Ocean At A Time Avatar

    You’ve done an amazing job with this series and I hope that you will write more. I think that COVID will see many more people transitioning to a sea (or RV) lifestyle. Ahoy from Santa Rosalia. You’ll be having
    Tehani Li in your waters again soon

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hey Lisa, thank you for your kind feedback. Totally agree that with COVID, many more may start to think about alternative lifestyles, possibly away from people. May be a good or bad thing, time will tell.
      Hope you’re both well and good to hear you’ve made it to Santa Rosalia. Loved your travel chat with Grey Globetrotters.
      Yes, they’re on their way and can’t wait to catch up with both as it’s been a while.

  11. sheetalbravon Avatar

    Living on a boat , never thought of it till I read your post . You have brilliantly listed the pro and the cons and at the same time given me a glimpse of what it’s like to live on water . Truly an adventure of a lifetime!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Ha, ha, there are loads of people that live on boats. We like to keep a low profile as landlubbers can get a little nasty if we anchor in “their” bay for free when they’ve paid millions for their home. 😉
      Thank you for the great comment. I’ve just added some Lessons Learnt buttons at the bottom of this post, which connects the posts up if you’re interested to read more.

  12. Blogging_with_Bojana Avatar

    Of course you should write more. It’s a unique life style.
    How many times did you sail the world? Where haven’t you been yet?

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Bojana and will try to download more of my brain in the future. 😉
      I haven’t done a circumnavigation as more interested in coastal cruising or island hopping.
      There are loads of countries I haven’t been yet, but there’s still time…

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