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How Two Retirees Sailed Into Their Golden Years How Two Retirees Sailed Into Their Golden Years
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How Two Retirees Sailed Into Their Golden Years

Northwestern MutualVoice Contributor •  January 8, 2015 | Enjoying Retirement

By Judy Martel

Most workers dream of the variety of activities and hobbies they’ll enjoy when they retire. Some, like Carol Witt and Kent Bradford, are floating off to wherever the whim—or wind—takes them.

The couple, who retired in 2008, cruised into their golden years on a 45-foot sailboat named Destiny. For five years, they lived aboard and sailed all over the Caribbean and Mediterranean, chronicling their adventures on their blog, saildestiny.com.

For Witt, the allure of this type of retirement was the ability to travel extensively while still enjoying the comfort of their home, without the packing, unpacking and inconvenience of airport security. “Kent estimates that we traveled 25,000 miles while we were on the boat,” she said. “I saw fabulous places and had experiences that I would never have had if we had been on land.”

Carol Witt and Kent Bradford

But the lifestyle isn’t always carefree. “Because you are moving a lot, every new port means finding the nearest grocery store or laundry,” said Witt. “Grocery shopping sometimes took half a day to locate the market, buy the food, transport the food back to the boat—sometimes by dinghy—get the food on board, stow the food; it makes me tired just thinking about it.”

Her husband, she added, spent much of his time on boat maintenance. “The reality is that something breaks frequently, and you need a ‘Mr. Fix-it’ on board, or you will spend a lot of money on repairs,” she said.

Boat Budgeting

Witt, a former family law attorney in Massachusetts, and Bradford, a software executive, had a three-year plan for their retirement, said Witt.

In 2006, they purchased their boat with a portion of their retirement savings, giving them time to customize it and become familiar with sailing it. “Destiny was the first boat we looked at and the one that we ultimately bought, even though I ventured as far from home as Annapolis to look at other boats,” said Witt.

They spent two years getting to know the boat and preparing their finances. Just as with a land-based retirement, careful budgeting is the secret, Witt says. While some costs are eliminated by living on a boat—the need for a car, for example—there are other expenses, such as marina fees and boat insurance, to include in your budget.

By 2008, Bradford, then age 62, was consulting and able to quit his job whenever Witt, then age 60, was ready. She chose her retirement date based on the expiration of her office lease.

After casting off, they rented their condo to generate income while they sailed. Bradford also began collecting Social Security, which brought in additional income.

Wish You Were Here

Bradford and Witt sailed out of Massachusetts in the summer and cruised south to the Caribbean, where they stayed through the winter. They then shipped their yacht to Genoa, Italy, rather than sail to the Mediterranean. “I didn’t want to do the big trip across the Atlantic,” said Witt.

While in the Mediterranean, the couple sailed around Italy, Corsica, Greece, Turkey and Croatia, spending their free time hiking, swimming and exploring.

Thanks to technology and easy access to the Internet, staying in touch with family and conducting routine business was easy, Witt said. “The Internet was available everywhere in the Med and very inexpensive by U.S. standards,” she added. “We had [monthly] wireless Internet in most countries for the equivalent of $20 to $40.” In Turkey, where they spent nearly a year, their monthly Internet plan cost 15 euros, or approximately $19.

Health Matters

Although Bradford became eligible for Medicare while they were sailing, it was of no use to them outside the United States. The couple was in good health, so Witt purchased an insurance plan with a $10,000 deductible for $1,500 to $1,800 a year. In fact, she noted, health care outside the United States was excellent and affordable, and they had no trouble paying cash for services within the deductible.

“When we were in St. Bart’s, Kent developed a staph infection that required several days of intravenous antibiotics,” said Witt. “The nurse came to the boat to clean and dress his leg and administer the drugs, and the overall cost was less than 500 euros [$631]. In the U.S., he would have had to go to a hospital, and the bill would have been several thousand dollars.”

Jump in, the Water’s Fine

After five years at sea, the couple moved off Destiny and now call Montana home. “Our original plan was to cruise until it wasn’t fun anymore or the money [we budgeted] ran out,” said Witt. “In truth, what brought us back to land was the grandchildren and my need to be close to an aging mother. After a while, the exotic locations did not make up for missing family.”

Bradford has put his 40-plus years of boating know-how to use by teaching sailing lessons and helping others select the right boat for their own retirement adventure.

Witt said retirees who are considering a floating retirement should join forums such as the Seven Seas Cruising Association to learn from other members. There are plenty of people who make boating a way of life, and they all have valuable information.

She has a few tips for other potential sailboat retirees:

  • Decide where you will cruise, and pick a boat that is designed for that kind of cruising. You don’t need a boat capable of ocean passages if you plan to stay close to the coast.
  • Spend at least a year familiarizing yourself with the boat before you leave on your adventure.
  • Be prepared to push your comfort level. “The ocean is unforgiving, no matter how much planning you do,” said Witt.
  • Don’t plan to be anywhere on a schedule because weather and repairs will cause delays.
  • Sign up for direct deposit for Social Security and online banking.

And while there is no substitute for being prepared, there’s a point when you have to untie from the dock and follow the wind. As Witt noted, “Plan, plan, plan—and then just do it.”

Judy Martel blogs about wealth on Bankrate.com and is the author of The Dilemmas of Family Wealth, published by Bloomberg.

Originally published on Northwestern MutualVoice on Forbes.com.

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