We are sailing around the world on our Lagoon 400.
By Simon Fowler
Carla and I were married on the 4th January 2017. Two days later, Carla suggested that we buy a yacht and take to life on the open sea, living aboard full time. In March 2018, having sold our house in England, we did just that. Now we find ourselves bobbing around the Caribbean, having sailed over 12,000 miles from our starting point in Croatia.
Many people think the liveaboard life is just an extended holiday, but what is it really like to arrive in a country in your own floating apartment, deal with customs and immigration, and simply buy the things you need to survive? When you go on holiday to a remote Caribbean island, most things are organized for you: flights, transfers and accommodation, food, drink and excursions. The most you do is search for a restaurant for a night out or a nice souvenir shop.
We first realized that this was a little more serious after we left the Mediterranean and were making our way south from Portugal to The Canary Islands. We expected a four day passage in late October with pleasant following winds. It was not to be; on our first night out the wind blew up to storm force nine, a full gale.
At three in the morning we were both on deck, fighting to get the sails down in the dark, being drenched by breaking waves all around us, our nerves and bodies shaken. By now Carla was seasick, and for the next three days we clung together inside our catamaran hoping we would come out the other end. As time passed the conditions did improve, and four days later we arrived in Lanzarote in calm weather and warm sunshine. Our adventure continued across the Atlantic to Barbados by way of the African islands of Cape Verde. By now we were a little more seasoned at sailing, at least.
Each time you arrive at an island, which for the most part is another country, you have to go through the “clearing in process.” This is normally where the fun starts. Some countries have the system streamlined, like in the French islands, where they sit you down with a computer and simply fill in the boxes. The form is printed and stamped and you are on your way.
Some islands make you feel they really don’t want you there, as if it’s too much trouble to process you. Although, on the whole, we have found local officials to be polite and respectful. The process normally starts with customs, where forms are produced and stamped, and items that are not allowed - flare guns or spearguns for example - are either taken and returned on departure or bonded to the yacht.
Port health officials will ask about sickness onboard and if anyone has died en route. Agriculture is another invasive department; in Cuba, for example, they inspected all the ships stores, meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, as well as rice and eggs. They also inspected our cat Dobby, who fortunately has all the correct health certificates to satisfy the authorities. His last medical check was carried out a month ago in Mexico; the vet never did see him, but she issued a health certificate anyway for a fee, even if she got his sex wrong.
You follow up with port authority to pay any dues for using the harbours and waters, and finally immigration will stamp your passports. Then you are free to roam the islands at will. The whole process can take anywhere from a few minutes to three days, and you may have to travel from one location to another, many miles away by bus, taxi or simply walking; or they could all be together at a customs quay, as in the Cayman Islands.
The cost for checking in varies from free in Aruba and Bonaire to in excess of $300 USD in Mexico. And you may well have to pay again to leave the country, which was the case in Panama and Colombia.
Without the use of a car, everyday things become a little more complicated, such as refilling your propane tanks. As in the case of Grenada, you are not allowed to take the tanks on the bus or in a taxi - you have to walk and have a fold-away trolly to hall the canisters to the filling depot. In the British Virgin Islands they would not refill our European cylinders, and we did not have an address that we could use to sign a contract for their US-style bottles. We managed to find an old bottle at a car scrap yard which the proprietor allowed us to have free.
Supermarket shopping is another interesting experience. We feel you have to go every day if possible. You never know what you might find, but when you do find something you want, you buy as much of it as you can carry. One of the fruits we love are bananas, but surprisingly they can be very hard to find in local stores in the Caribbean. Fresh water is another expensive item; fortunately, we can make this onboard from seawater, although it does take time.
So what are the rewards, you may ask. Freedom is a big one - just being able to say ‘we love this place so much, we will stay another week.’ Which happened to us in a cove in Ibiza and again in Bonaire. Beautiful, clear warm waters to swim in, sandy remote beaches where you're all alone, Catching fish as you sail from island to island, then finding a sandy beach for a BBQ, alone or with friends that you have made along the way. The endless golden sunsets, and the sun rising over the bow as you approach your next destination, are both inviting experiences.
Our travels have taken us to thirty seven countries, including a tour of the Caribbean for fifteen months. From Cuba, we will make our way to The Bahamas and Florida, before venturing out into the Atlantic again for the trip home to Europe by way of Bermuda and the The Azores.
We are not done with this lifestyle yet, and we intend to visit the countries of North Africa, the Black Sea coast and the Red Sea resorts over the next two years.
It’s incredible how life can change when you say “I will” to your soulmate.
You can follow our adventures on Youtube, Instagram and Facebook @sailingoceanfox