I met a fascinating couple at Alaska’s Denali National Park in the Teklanika River Campground last summer when one of my sons and I went over to their nearby camper to warn them of a huge grizzly bear we had just spotted munching on soap berries near our camper.
When we found out they were from the Traverse City area, I couldn’t help but get their card so I could contact them and find out how they enjoyed the rest of their Alaskan journey. Several weeks later, they shared some great highlights from their trip — and the couple, Bob and Linda Boynton, told me they actually live most of the year on the water, on their sailboat.
Michiganders and Michigan BLUE readers are fascinated with all things water, so I asked the Boyntons if they’d share a few insights into their unique lifestyle.
Linda and Bob, both retired from supply chain careers — Linda from Abbott Laboratories and Bob from Gatorade — were happy to provide a glimpse of the ins and outs of waking up daily on the water.
Megan Swoyer: You mentioned Elk Lake near Traverse City. Is that where you first fell in love with Michigan?
Bob Boynton: Yes, Elk Lake is heaven. My family would rent a log cabin for a couple weeks every year. We’d go crazy on the water — waterskiing, sailing, tubing, swimming. We had a small sailboat as a kid. When I was in college in 1982, my parents figured out a way to buy the cabin next door to the one we rented. Fast-forward to 2003, and another cottage with about 900 square feet, north of that one, was for sale. Linda and I bought it. My sister is down the road. The lake has always been a magnet that brings the family together. We spend our summers at the cottage now.
MS: And, of course, when not at the cottage, you’re somewhere in the world on water. When did you know that you could maybe spend a lot of time aboard a sailboat?
BB: I remember in high school I sailed up the Soo Locks near Sault Ste. Marie on a friend’s parents’ boat and I fell in love with the concept of being on the sailboat for a long period of time. Ever since college, I had the dream of having a boat and traveling the world on it. Over time, the dream became part of our family’s grand master financial plan. After lots of research, we purchased a boat in 2016. When we retired in 2018 and 2019, we were ready to go.
MS: What kind of skills do you need to live several months a year aboard a sailboat?
BB: Everything is a bit more challenging aboard a boat. The highs are higher, of course, but the lows are lower. You have to fix or maintain things every day or
you get behind.
Linda Boynton: We’re both engineers, but Bob is very handy and can fix most things on his own. I do the food provisioning. Other prepping required for a journey is seasick medication as, believe it or not, I’m prone to seasickness.
MS: I’m speaking with you in as you ride out the weather in Hampton, Va., before taking off for the Caribbean, correct?
BB: Yes, we’re joining the Salty Dawg rally of 120 boats, sort of a flotilla. And we’re all heading to Antigua. But we have to cross the Gulf Stream and because there’s wind across the current, we’re waiting for a window of opportunity to take off.
LB: It will take 14 days because we’re stopping off in Bermuda. So four to six straight days of sailing to Bermuda, and then six to eight days to Antigua. We have an extra crew member for the passage, so we’ll each do a shift and get some sleep in between.
MS: How do you become a decent sailor?
BB: We both grew up sailing small sailboats in Ohio and Michigan. We also did bare boating in the Virgin Islands, which means you rent a sailboat and it doesn’t come with a captain or cook. We did that several times with family.
LB: A fun way to figure out if this is something to be serious about is to plan a 10-day sailing trip. It’s like camping on water. We also spent five months in our camper, a Geo Pro that’s about 19 feet long. That was good practice for sailing, as it’s smaller than our boat and we had to learn what meals to plan and cook and what clothes to bring. When you first start out sailing, you don’t need to be an expert. You can learn the minimum through American Sailing Association courses, and keep learning as you go. You have to be sensible and start out slowly — we started off by sailing Lake Huron, the East Coast, et cetera.
MS: Before sailing to Antigua, what kinds of trips did you take to prepare for such an epic, long-distance one?
BB: We took our boat from Chicago and sailed Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, and Ontario’s Georgian Bay and North Channel. By the way, I’m not sure people know how beautiful the Georgian Bay is. Just gorgeous! That was our first experience with just us two living on the boat for a longer period of time. Then we took it through the Erie Canal and down the Hudson River. Incidentally, to go through the Erie Canal, there are 33 locks and you’re going under bridges — which means you have to take the mast down for the canal.
Another great way we built our confidence was by taking a three-week training sailing trip. It was excellent; we had eight people including a captain, first mate, and six students. We went from New Zealand to Tahiti. There was some rough weather and we had to experience that. The destinations are great, but to sail the ocean between the two points can be really challenging. We saw 40-knot winds and 20-foot seas — it was challenging, but very good learning.
MS: What type of boats do you own?
BB: We’ve owned two sailboats — a small Catalina that was 28 feet long we used in Lake Michigan, and then in 2016 we purchased a 46-foot Hallberg-Rassy, which is considered a bluewater boat, meaning you can feel comfortable sailing the ocean on it. It’s sturdy. Its name is Tiger Lily.
MS: You plan to spend your summers on Elk Lake and winters somewhere else in the world on the Tiger Lily. What have you discovered about this new life on water?
BB: We lived in a four-bedroom home in the Chicago suburbs, sold that, and moved, downsizing in phases to an apartment, the cottage, and then the camper — and then actually upsized to the boat from there. We’re still trying to get rid of all our stuff! We’ve discovered we like living in small spaces and being mobile.
LB: You look at your stuff and ask yourself, does it bring me joy? It’s a good feeling to be light and nimble. Some of the pluses are that we get to anchor in lots of places for free and we don’t need a reservation. You do need to be flexible, because you’re dependent on the weather. We’re always watching the weather!
MS: Do you ever get lonely?
BB: Oh, no. We meet lots of interesting people. Instead of exchanging business cards, you have boat cards with your contact and boat information on it. It’s a community of nomads, really. And everyone’s super down-to-earth and willing to help each other.