It’s that time of year again. Costumes, candy and haunted houses. HALLOOOWEEEEEN! Back home in Louisiana the leaves are changing colors and the temperatures are cooling off as the summer fades to fall and Tate and I spend numerous hours (ok, maybe not that long;) looking at our five little nephews dressed as pumpkins and superheros as our family homes are decorated in orange and black. Here on Sundowner the spirit is a decidedly different. Far from the reaches of candy aisles and leaves besides palm fronds, Halloween for us is more than an excuse to gorge on Skittles…it marks the day we moved aboard Sundowner in 2014…it is our liveaboard anniversary and today is the first. Happy First Anniversary to us.

This time last year there was a strong cool breeze in the air and everyone around us was getting ready to go trick or treating and to costume parties. Instead of joining our friends in the quest for diabetes and hangovers Tate and I were frantically clearing out the rest of possessions from our apartment and finally around 8 pm we locked the door on our land based dwelling for the last time and handed over the keys. We had finally done it! After 5 long years of planning and preparation we had successfully moved onto a boat, OUR boat, our new home. We celebrated that night with margaritas at our favorite Mexican restaurant, Carretas. How very UNHalloween of us, I know.
Tate's moving truck
The salon area with all our stuff

What started out as a strong breeze quickly turned into two months of nearly 40 knot winds blowing nonstop at the dock. Soon the temperatures plummeted into the 30’s and 40’s (This is October and November in New Orleans we are talking about here people) and we wondered if we had made a mistake. Why was mother nature punishing us so?

We had hoped to enjoy some of the best 60 and 70 degree temperatures that typical Louisiana falls bring but instead we were met with what we loving referred to as “The Artic Winds”, dropping the temperatures in the boat into the 40’s. Each morning I trudged down the dock to my warm car trying my best to not be blown off into the water on each side. I got dressed and fixed my hair and makeup in the parking lot while telling my frozen core that it was worth it. That one day it was absolutely going to be worth it.
Tate smoking his pipe with the lantern on
Dani playing cards with wool blanket

Kept alive by my hot water bottle and coffee we organized the boat and got her ready to leave. The winter holidays came and went and we bid farewell to our family and friends. That was it…it was time to leave. Still unsure of the route we would take we headed to a nearby anchorage next to Rabbit Island near Slidell. Finally off the dock and we sat at anchor trying to decompress and take in this new found freedom.
People on the dock at our departure
Tate and Dani aboard Sundowner at departure
Sundowner leaving the marina
Dani sailing and helming the tiller
Tate and Dani First night hanging out
Tate smoking a cigar on his first night

Very first sunset at anchor in our new life.
First night sunset

Mother Nature however did not want us to sit for too long, she had other plans. As a hard January freeze rode down the country the temperature inside the boat dropped into the 30’s. “OK THAT’S IT” Tate said as I lay next to him in the vberth trying desperately to keep alive. “I draw the line at gloves and hats in bed” he said. I suppose my two layers of gloves and my many layers of hats snuggled up to him was just too unsexy. We made plans to leave shortly after. What started as a possible bad omen was transformed into a catalyst thrusting us forward straight across the Gulf of Mexico to Key West and into our new life.
Dani after a very long watch
Sunset on the last night before Key West

Arrival in Key West, January 2015.
Dani and Tate on their arrival to Key West

We have learned a lot after living aboard for exactly one year we today as I write this I am happier than ever. Somehow we keep getting happier.

Living and moving about on Sundowner and just boats in general takes practice. In the beginning Tate and I, well maybe more I, wore “boat bruises” on various parts of our bodies. “I promise he doesn’t beat me” I had to tell land lubbers as they looked on suspiciously at my green and black markings. Boats are smaller than houses, Sundowner is smaller than most and I would constantly bang into this or that while cooking, walking and just plain living. Over time however we have become more agile and can fly around our old gal down below and up on deck without hitting or straining anything. We’ve gotten used to living in this confined space and now she feels plenty big enough of the two of us.

Out here cruising we have been on TONS of other boats, most quite a bit larger and definitely more complicated than Sundowner. We can honestly say that after a year we wouldn’t change anything about our boat. We wouldn’t go bigger and we certainly don’t want more amenities (read complicated systems). One of the things I am most proud of Tate for is his unwavering determination to make Sundowner a simple and self sufficient boat.

She is run completely on solar power (500 watts) and batteries. We don’t have pressure water, A/c, heating, Tvs or anything that is too power hungry. We have an Engel MT45 for our ice and cold beer and many Caframo fans to keep things comfortable. We have the non electric Monitor windvane, a manual SeaTiger windlass, and simple chartplotter and VHF with AIS receiver. We have the Airhead composting toilet and a solid propane stove and oven. We have the easy Rainman watermaker and I wash our (very few these days) clothes in a bucket. All of our needs and many wants are met.

We live at anchor, and LOVE it. Aside from our forced stay at a dock at Marina Hemingway in Cuba we have always lived on anchor. The marina provides nothing for us and in fact Sundowner doesn’t even have a shore power hookup.

Key West Jan 2015
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Cuba, Marina Hemingway Feb 2015

Isla Mujeres, Mexico March 2015
Sundowner Finally anchored

Providencia, Colombia June 2015
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Holandes Cays, San Blas Panama Sept 2015
Sundowner Swimming Pool

I can not tell you the amount of people out here who work constantly on their boats. This breaks, that breaks, this needs repairing etc. Usually it has something to do with their overly complicated systems like refrigeration, navigation, generators, electrical set up, watermakers, and plumbing. I have heard time and time again that cruising is “working on your boat in paradise”. This has not been the case with us. Rare is the occasion (it’s actually a bit exciting) that we have to fix something onboard. Granted we just did a 5 year refit, the system problems that plague many other boaters don’t faze us. Tate designed the systems to be simple and idiot proof. I want people to know it IS possible to cruise without a laundry list of boat projects, we are doing it.

Living aboard for a year has completely changed the way we think about dwellings. Seeing other people on their boats (motor and sail) and also seeing how some of the rest of the world modestly lives has been an eye opener. You don’t actually have to have all that stuff (and the debt and expense) to live really comfortably and happily. I would argue without the huge debt that comes with large houses and everything to fill it with you might actually live happier with less.

We aren’t sure what the rest of our lives hold for us. Buying a house somewhere isn’t top on the list that’s for sure (granted we don’t/aren’t going to have kids). We love Sundowner and have toyed with the idea of living on her forever…I mean she’s paid for and meets all of our needs. Being debt free and living on a boat has opened a world of possibilities for our future. There’s no telling what the Pacific side of the world has in store for us. If you were ever concerned with how you will acclimate to life aboard I beg you to keep an open mind and give it a shot.

This first year aboard has been absolutely LIFE CHANGING! We are healthier than ever before, have made many deep and fulfilling connections with kindred spirits, have seen jaw dropping sights on land and at sea and are having the TIME OF OUR LIVES. Any of you “on the fencers” reading this need to get out here! If we had to throw in the towel and go home tomorrow WE can honestly say that the past 5 years of hard work and sacrifice has been worth this one unbelievable year, no question. The good news is that we ARE going to continue, through the Panama Canal (February?) and beyond. This trip is just getting started and we ooze with happiness about what the future may hold.
Tate with Nassau

Tate’s latest prized catch…25lb Nassau Grouper
Dani with 25 pound Nassau Grouper

Y’all have fun and eat some candy corn for us both.