Heather Brewer and Paul Bultema were living in Seattle, Washington, when they met on the dating app Bumble in March 2020. Heather liked his profile immediately. “He’d been to 91 countries. I had seen 72. I knew he would be interesting,” she says. They felt a strong connection on their first date. On the third, they boarded a plane to Guatemala with the intent to see parts of Central America. “People said I was crazy to take off with this guy I had just met, but I had a good feeling about him. We had a number of professional friends in common, and we both described ourselves as action-oriented people who go after our dreams.”
They were having a blast when Covid-19 put the brakes on their travel plans. They headed back to the U.S., but rather than split up to quarantine in their homes, the couple decided to ride out the pandemic together aboard Paul’s Sea Ray 310 Sundancer, where they would live and work while cruising the San Juan Islands.
Paul is a director of workforce development at Amazon. Heather is a management consultant. Neither one had worked from a boat before, but they were up for the challenge. “We bought a hot spot from T-Mobile and brought our laptops aboard,” says Heather. “Paul set up his desk in the cabin and I was up on deck, surrounded by beach towels secured to rails with bungee cords to reduce the glare on my screen.”
On the Sea Ray they learned a lot about each other, and boating. “I had done some sailing with my parents as a kid, but for the most part, Heather and I were inexperienced. We made every single mistake possible,” says Paul.
Five months later, they were ready for a larger boat. When he came across a used Nordhavn 43 with a range of 2,500 nautical miles for sale in Florida, he felt he found what the couple needed. “At the time, we didn’t really understand the difference between a trawler and cruiser, but we knew we wanted a seaworthy boat that could travel long distances and allow us to be comfortable,” says Paul. On Christmas Day, they were in the Sunshine State moving onto the Nordhavn. They had ordered all of the supplies they’d need from Amazon, and had the packages shipped to a nearby hotel room.
They pieced together a float plan. They would travel from Florida to the Bahamas and the Caribbean before running through the Panama Canal to Costa Rica and then Mexico. They hired a captain to join them, so they could deepen their knowledge of the boat and navigation. And before they cast off, they had Lauderdale Marine Center upgrade their home office setup with a new satellite system and telecommunication devices. They were ready to begin their adventure. But first, they had to name the boat. “We can’t tell you how often we were told that long-married couples couldn’t survive this type of trip, never mind two people in a new relationship,” says Paul. “We just felt grateful to have found each other, which is why we named the boat Gratitude.”
“We’ve been living and working ‘reboatly’ for eight months now, or 8,000 nautical miles,” says Heather, who called me from Puerto Escondido on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. The couple plans to return to Seattle by May, when they’ll be earning their paychecks in traditional offices a few days a week. Even so, their plan is to continue to use the boat on the days they’re not required to be physically present for meetings.
They believe their time in quarantine has made them boaters for life. “We’ve both traveled the world and seen a lot,” says Paul. “The thing we’ve discovered about each other is we both love the water and being outdoors. It’s just who we are.”