by Barbara Theisen

I couldn’t believe we were finally casting off. With a final toss of a line, we were free. We had dreamed about this moment for several years and now here we were taking off on the first leg of our journey. The adventure of a lifetime, some said. We thought of it as a lifetime of adventure.

Out of Bounds anchored at Lime Cay in the Sapodillas along the southern part of 
Belize’s barrier reef.

Six year old Kate helped her dad, Tom, raise the mainsail while her sister Kenna sat in the cockpit explaining the business of sailing to our new kitten. I was at the helm and feeling ecstatic.

Our first “freedom” sail was a short few hours but for us it marked the start of everything new. From here on out time was measured in “before” or “after,” referring of course to our “sailing away.”

Soon the familiar form of Horseshoe Island came into view and it wasn’t long until we were dropping anchor at this favorite hideaway. “We’re home,” I said with a smile. True, we were only 10 miles or so from our starting point, in Sturgeon Bay, WI but we had broken all ties, burned our bridges. We had been living aboard for the past 3 years, ever since leaving our life in Colorado behind, but now we had sold our car and quit our jobs. We were free. With no dock to return to, home would be wherever we happened to drop the hook.

Since then the splash of the anchor has announced our arrival in many new neighborhoods. Often times we’re the only ones who have set up housekeeping. Other times we feel we’re in the midst of a growing city.

Once the anchor is down and secure we may find time for relaxing in the hammock (some days it’s more like collapsing in the hammock) or we may head out by foot or dinghy to explore our new surroundings. Yet despite what the shorebirds - who envision us living a life of leisure - think, there are still domestic chores to contend with. “It must be nice to be on an endless vacation”, those who don’t know better say. As any cruiser or liveaboarder knows, it’s anything but. But it is a lifestyle we’ve chosen to live and we love it.

The cooking, cleaning, laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, garbage, maintenance, etc. keep us busy. These domestic chores take on a whole new way of life on a boat. The hauling and pumping of water, cooking at an angle, hand washing the laundry and finding that runaway can of tomato sauce that I know is stored somewhere under this berth.... Tom’s list of engine maintenance and repairs of this, that, and the other thing seems never ending. The kids are homeschooled, adding another wonderful new dimension to our lives. And when we’re under way, there’s navigational chores and watches to add to our “to do” list. For many of us, there’s work stops to be made as well, when the cruising kitty gets low. No, an endless vacation, it’s not. But we wouldn’t trade this lifestyle in for anything.

Kate and Kenna enjoy their new backyard near their anchorage at Lighthouse Reef, a coral atoll in Belize.

We’ve “given up’ certain things that we enjoyed in our “previous” life. We’ve compromised on or traded others. But we’ve gotten so much in return - memories and experiences that material things can’t compare with.
But one thing has remained the same. Our home. Because four walls, a roof and a floor are what make a house, not a home. Our unconventional floating home is full of love, laughter, warmth and adventure. Changing the “backyard” just adds to our fun.

There have been a variety of “backyards” in the past few years. As I think of some of my favorite anchorages, I realize their diversities. There are the towering canyon walls of Utah’s Lake Powell along whose sides we tied in our first sailboat, a 26-foot Balboa. Her swing keel would also let us pull up on a sandy shore. I remember, as if it were just last night, watching a meteor shower in the desert sky while lying on that sandy beach.

There are the anchorages of the Great Lakes, who beckoned with their hardy pine-frosted islands where we spent many evenings listening to the laughter of loons. I think of the granite rocks where we would climb in the pre dawn hours to watch the sunrise. What a feeling of accomplishment for the girls and me as we sat on top of the world. We watched the sunlight slowly spread itself across the anchorage below us like golden syrup across pancakes, spilling into each and every cranny, spreading cheer into a dark, shadowy world. Poor Tom, down below us, curled up asleep - he didn’t know what he was missing!

We’re equally at home in palm-studded coves where colorful fish dart in the sapphire water beneath us and warm sand beaches beckon. Here we gather with cruisers from around the world for potluck beach parties. We’ve anchored at The Blue Hole in Belize, made famous by underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau. We’ve watched the sunset behind the Mayan ruins of Tulum while anchored off the Caribbean coast of Mexico. 

Out of Bounds anchored at the town of Punta Gorda, Belize.

Once I had a very restless night while tied to a mooring buoy off of a coral atoll. We had just spent an unforgettable week at Lighthouse Reef Coral Atoll. We had a long sail ahead of us the next day and hoped to get an early morning start. But Tom and Kate (passionate scuba divers) wanted to do “one more wall dive.” Outside of the reef were several “dive balls” – mooring buoys used by the dive boat companies. We called one of the dive boats and got permission to spend the night on one of their mooring balls. This meant that we could head out of the reef during the good light of afternoon and that the next morning, we could leave as early as we wanted to (instead of waiting for the light we needed to be able to safely navigate the reef.) 

Kate Theisen stands “at the top of the world” to view a sunrise. A chunk of brain coral adorns our new backyard.

We tied off to the mooring ball and were soon in the water investigating our new “backyard.” Secured to a huge ground tackle system in about 30 feet of clear tropical water, the bow of Out of Bounds floated over a beautiful coral reef. The stern of Out of Bounds floated over two thousand feet of nothing. I snorkeled along this amazing wall that dropped from 30 feet down, down, down into an ocean abyss. I just stared in utter amazement. That night I tossed and turned. It didn’t feel right to be “anchored” in 2,000 feet. I dreamed that we dropped all of our silverware overboard, never to be seen again.

Although we generally seek out remote anchorages, one of our most memorable nights was spent as solo occupants of an anchorage in the Big Apple. Under the glow of the Statue of Liberty we watched night descend on Manhattan. We would have been intimidated anywhere else in this metropolis, but here with Miss Liberty beside us, we were right at home. The following morning a sunrise painted the steely gray city in shimmering shades of gold as we raised the sail and headed out. 

I love the excitement of heading into a new anchorage, wondering what we will find, what we’ll discover on our explorations, who we might meet. But I also find warmth in returning to old favorites, remembering the good friends we met or the good times we had.

There have been hundreds of anchorages in the past few years and all of them have felt like home. My favorite anchorage? I stop for just a moment as dozens of memories dart through my mind. My favorite anchorage? That’s easy. The one were heading to right now. Because home is where we hang the hook.

Barbara Theisen has spent the past ten years living aboard Out of Bounds with her husband Tom and daughters, Kate and Kenna. Visit the Theisen’s Website at www.TheCruisingLife.com.