Once upon a time, living on a boat and sailing the world was a dream reserved for a privileged few, free from the demands of the nine to five. But a couple in their late twenties from Bristol, along with their dog, are proving that even the wildest of dreams can come true.
When post-pandemic work patterns changed and living expenses surged, the impossible became practical. Paddy Vasey and Esmée Heath sold the Bristol flat and bought a boat instead.
It's not a standard solution but a boating background came in handy - as did an adventurous mindset. “We both love adventure and being outdoors,” Esmée says.
Paddy grew up dinghy sailing at Bosham Sailing Club in Chichester Harbour. “My dad was into racing, so I got into that first,” he explains. “I raced through my teens and did some big boat racing. I then did my RYA Day Skipper course for our family charters.
“We did loads of cruising over the last three seasons. I loved it. I've done most of my mile-building as a skipper rather than crewing on other people's boats. I do things very by-the-book.”
Esmée had also sailed Toppers as a child, then learnt 'the big-boat stuff' with Paddy over three seasons on his family's Southerly. They spent summer 2022 sailing around the Channel Islands and returned with a 'crazy dream' of living on a boat and sailing full-time.
“We love sailing,” Paddy says. “We've got this set of skills that can take us anywhere. So, we thought, let's just do it.” But they'd just bought a flat and were working fulltime. “It didn't feel very achievable, but then the cost-of-living crisis reared its head and we started to research the idea,” explains Esmée.
They sold their flat and eventually found, Moonlighting, a 40-foot offshore cruiser, in Plymouth. Now renamed Selkie, she's an unusual boat - a 33-year-old South African-built Lavranos Crossbow 40. She's crossed the Atlantic many times and been refitted over the years, as Paddy discovered during the renovation.
A 50-hour sail brought her around to Bristol in 2022. Then began a major refit. “There was lots we did ourselves quite affordably,” explains Esmée.
Cramming DIY around their full-time jobs, they created a beautiful, homely space. Including marina fees, winter's peak running costs during the refit were £695 a month. Cheaper than rent or mortgage repayments.
Remote work, spurred by the pandemic, has made it all possible. Paddy works in environmental policy for the government: “It's been remote since Covid, but I can still go into the office if I want, which is why we keep a mooring in Bristol.”
As a social media manager for the RNLI, Esmée is fully remote. “My whole life is nautical,” she laughs.
When we catch up with them, Esmée and Paddy (and Peggy the dog) are in Weymouth having covered 330 miles in three weeks, with more to come. “We might hop across to the Channel Islands or Brittany,” Esmée enthuses.
“That should log me enough miles to finish my RYA Yachtmaster® offshore,” Paddy adds: “I'd like to become a cruising instructor, to earn something while we're travelling.”
And they have big plans for that. “We want to circumnavigate the UK next year: up the west coast, through the Caledonian Canal and over to the Faroes or Norway,” Paddy explains. “Then we could go down to Europe and eventually cross the Atlantic that winter to the Caribbean. Then the plan is to just keep going. But who knows?”
Through social media, they hope to show people what living on a boat is really like and that its possible. “I definitely recommend it,” Esmée says. “The biggest barrier is that you need sailing experience, but the courses don't cost loads. So, learn to sail, get the skills to do it safely.”
Sailing could offer young people a life of freedom and adventure; a release from the difficulties of the past few years. “It's not always easy,” Esmée admits. “But you rise to the challenge, find out more about yourself, and ultimately you thrive.”
Alternatively, why not start your own sailing adventure through an RYA training course near you.
Our interview with Paddy and Esmée was first published in the autumn 2023 edition of RYA magazine.