Skip to main content

Life at displacement speed (and even a bit faster)

Not the Bohemian lifestyle of yesteryear, trawler cruising means freedom but also responsibilities

Not the Bohemian lifestyle of yesteryear, trawler cruising means freedom but also responsibilities

You wake up in the morning and start thinking about the day ahead. Sometimes you’re amazed by the realization of all the things you don’t have to worry about. Like traffic jams on the commute. Or the frigid-air blast and snowstorm sweeping down from the Canadian plains. Or putting on a tie and dress jacket, hoping that office protocol will allow you to take them off if the air conditioning breaks down again.

It feels good to not think about these things. The things you do think about make you feel even better. Wavelets are lapping on the hull, wind blowing through the portholes. You look out and see marsh, deep woods, a small deserted beach and the river flowing all around your own moveable island. It’s better than an IMAX vision of one of nature’s perfect spots, and it’s your anchorage.

You’ve got a tough decision to make: Do you stay here, maybe explore some creeks with the dinghy, maybe just hang out and read? Or do you pull the anchor and head on to yet another perfect spot? But first coffee while sitting up on the flybridge, taking in yet another beautiful morning in paradise.

Cruising is part of the real world

What I describe above is typical of trawler cruising at displacement speed, and at semidisplacement and planing speeds. It’s a good life. Of course, there are also the bad times, but even they often lend a better flavor to life. For example, there are the bad times that you have to pack yourself into some tight corner of your engine room to fix a seemingly impossible mechanical problem. But it feels good when you’ve finished the job and are under way again. It feels good to be independent and to have the freedom that results from it.

There also are bad times, like when weather forecasts warn everyone to immediately go inside a strong building and into the basement or most-interior closet, and you’re sitting there watching the approaching maelstrom and thinking, Uh, excuse me? And there are the scary times when lightning sizzles into the water all around you, and the wind blows rain and wave tops horizontally. You can’t see except when your little slice of the world is blindingly lit by an especially close bolt, and you’ve got to hang on, keep the boat heading correctly, handle the waves, pray for the engine and stay off the reef. But experiencing first-hand the sheer power of nature helps you to better appreciate who and what you are.

There also are the confusing times when the sheriff’s office back home (when home was there) calls and leaves a voice mail on your U.S. number. You’re sitting in a remote anchorage in the Bahamas when you get the message. They want you to call them. Oh, good grief, what now? You finally get through, costing you several dollars a minute, to learn that they want to know about your 911 address. “Suppose you need help and we need to rescue you? We can’t seem to find you anymore.”

Handling the problems

Taking off to go cruising doesn’t solve all of life’s problems. It replaces many of your landside problems with a new set. But most of us who do it prefer this set. It was fun telling the sheriff’s office, “I’m in the Bahamas. If I need help I’ll let you know.” And hearing the deputy come back from far away, “The Bahamas? The heck with the ‘needing help’ part, I’ll come to the rescue right now.” But because of the new set of problems and because many of the landside problems still persist, going cruising takes commitment, planning and education.

Unlike the old myths, cruising does take money. As you may have noticed, fuel isn’t free, nor is anything else. You must take care of the business of cruising, which includes handling assets “back home.” You have to be able to do long-distance banking as well as many other things, like paying bills, getting snail mail, watching investments, and ordering parts and supplies. When we began cruising many years ago this was quite difficult, but it’s much easier now because of the Internet. Receiving snail mail is still a problem if you want to hang out in remote islands, but there are solutions — for example, having a friend at home check mail for potential problems, such as a letter from the IRS.

The above illustrates what some, at first blush, consider a negative aspect of cruising, but it really is the opposite. Many don’t go cruising because they have the impression that when you take off, you’re dropping off the end of the earth — severing all ties, giving up all the good things you enjoyed ashore. It’s not like that. You can still stay connected, not only to business interests but also to family and friends and the things you like about the “old life.” The extent to which you do this is largely up to you, but it’s a relief to many to discover how easy it is to still do things like keeping in touch with children or elderly parents, or even taking a vacation from the boat to visit the mountains.

Comforts of home

The old boating magazines often featured cruisers as unbathed people sitting on an ancient sailboat all day, waiting for wind and drinking hot beer and cruising relatively cheaply. But that lifestyle is getting more and more unrealistic as the world marches on and, besides, most people don’t want to live like that. And you don’t have to when you go cruising. With today’s trawlers and other types of boats (sailboats included) you can have all the comforts of home while anchored in some idyllic spot or moving from paradise to paradise.

Comforts of home include air conditioning, all the water you want if you have a reverse osmosis system, Internet and phone, refrigeration and deep freeze, home entertainment system with satellite TV and, of course, a huge swimming pool. You can even equip your boat with stabilizers to diminish rolling in typical conditions while under way.

One very distinct discomfort for people getting ready to take off is the fear for their safety. This is a good fear to have. You can obviously improve the risks by learning seamanship and related skills. But in addition to that, it’s comforting to know that advancing technology has done wonders to make you safer if you purchase the right equipment, maintain it well and use it properly. For example, a personal locator beacon (PLB) can, relatively quickly, bring rescuers to within a very short distance of your location. AIS can vastly reduce the risk of collision with other vessels. And satellite communications, software and hardware for compressed downloads of large weather files, real-time weather consultations via SSB, and e-mail and other developments make it easier to obtain good weather information while at sea.


Cruising takes a huge amount of preparation, learning, skill building and attitude adjusting. The good news is that the preparation is part of the fun. For example, deciding what type of trawler you want and then buying and equipping it is very exciting, as well as important. There are many types from which to choose, and you need to figure out what will work best for you.

This is a huge challenge because the answer to that question depends in part upon what type of cruising you will like best, and it’s hard to know before you start doing it. It’s common for couples to discover that they’re having a wonderful time doing things very differently from what they had planned. For example, they frequently think they’ll want to cross oceans but find they’re having so much fun cruising the coast that they’re no longer interested in going to the Med on their own bottoms. But whether it’s weekend and vacation cruising, retirement cruising along the coast and in the Bahamas, or offshore passagemaking, there are trawlers for that purpose.

You’ll also need to decide the type of living arrangements you prefer. For example, couples expecting many visits from children or friends might prefer an aft and forward stateroom layout. Some prefer a large “living room” aft that opens into a large “back porch” cockpit, with sleeping accommodations in the bow. One good way to learn what you’ll like best is to charter as much as you can, trying out different types of trawlers. Another is to go out with friends. Yet another is to attend seminars and special events, such as those put on by PassageMaker Magazine, as well as talking with those who have done it.

Regardless of the living arrangements and cruising characteristics you prefer, it’s critical to have a boat that gives good access to all sides of the engine and all systems. This must be for you, not some agile, skinny kid in a boatyard. You need to get your body to wherever it takes to do whatever it takes to keep your boat’s systems healthy and alive. Inherent to cruising is that you’re using your boat much more frequently than on occasional weekends, often in areas where there’s no help available. Your ability to fix things translates directly into more independence and fun and, very importantly, safety.

If you share this dream, work at making it happen and enjoy it as you go. It’s not just boating; it’s a lifestyle. Maybe we’ll see you out here.