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Leaving Land Behind

Sometimes on a beautiful day, I find myself sitting in my office staring out the window daydreaming that I am on my boat.  The thought of casting off the lines and heading out with the sunshine glistening on the water creeps into my head as a smile finds its way prominently onto my face.  That is usually when someone walks in and asks me a question about vendor management issues and I am immediately brought back to reality.  I guess I’ll have to wait for retirement to experience boating every day.  

Does it really have to be that way?  Do we really have to wait until we are at retirement age before we can cast off the lines and point the bow towards paradise?  According to some, the answer is no.  Right now, while you are reading this article there are many individuals doing this very thing, and many of them are not of retirement age.

Such is the case with Sheldon and Cyndi, a couple from Ottawa, Canada.  I first found out about them when I was searching YouTube for boating related content about a 6 months ago.  Like many other boaters, one of the items on my bucket list is to do the Great Loop.  I was searching for channels that featured content about long distance cruising.  What I found was pure gold.  You see, Sheldon and Cyndi are not just doing a single long distance cruise like the loop, but they have chosen to be permanent live-aboards while cruising the waters of paradise. 

Sheldon and Cyndi - Life on the water is better than life on land.

A few years ago, they sold all of their possessions tying them to land e.g. house and cars.  They found the perfect boat for them and since then, they have been cruising the East Coast and The Bahamas. They named their boat C-Shel II.  It is a combination of their first names, but it also has a pleasant nautical ring to it.

So, what is it like to sell all of the things that tie you to land and become permanent residents aboard a boat?  The Ships Logg had the opportunity to interview them and find out.

THE SHIP’S LOGG:  How long have the two of you been boating?

Sheldon and Cyndi:  Probably 20 or 21 years.  We started off boating in the Rideau River in Ontario, Canada with an 18 foot pontoon boat.  It had a camper enclosure and we used to sleep on that.  We later bought a 26 foot cabin cruiser and cruised the Rideau and St. Lawrence Rivers extensively for about 7 years.  After that we bought a 34 foot Tolleycraft and cruised The Great Lakes, Ottawa River, St. Lawrence River and other parts of the US.  That boat kind of poisoned us for society and we said that we needed to do this all of the time.  We have always pushed our limits.  Each season, we would go a little farther or cruise somewhere where we have not been before.  We had bought a house and later realized that the house was taking us away from where we really wanted to be which was the boat. 

THE SHIP’S LOGG:  So how did the idea of living aboard first come about?

Sheldon and Cyndi: We bought our 34 Tolleycraft and moved to a new marina.  At that marina, there was a couple next to us that had been to The Bahamas before.  Hearing their stories, we thought that we would love to be able to do that but figured it was 15 to 20 years into the future for us when we retire.  As the idea began to settle in and we realized that we really wanted to do this, we decided to see if we could try to do it sooner than later.  You do have to tailor your life to get to that point.  At first, it was a question mark but we put a plan into place and figured if we get through the first few steps, we could get all the way.

Sometimes as we were cruising on the Rideau in our 34, we would meet people who were doing the loop and many of them were live-aboards.  Some were in retirement and some were taking a break from work and we thought that as a worst case scenario, we take a break from work, do the trip and then go back to work.  Sometimes when we would sit on the bow of the boat at night or watch the sunrise, we knew that is what we wanted to do and that is where we wanted to be for sure.

One key element that put us over the edge was a leadership training exercise given at work where you are supposed to learn what your values are.  We took the test and what came up for us was Freedom, Adventure, Simplicity.  That is the tag line that we use on our YouTube videos but it also represents our core values.  We realized that a house is an anchor and does not lend to freedom or adventure.  That life in a traditional society is complex, not simple.  It was that realization that caused us to decide to switch our lives to more align with our values.  

A pic taken along the ICW during the first trip from Canada to the Bahamas

THE SHIP’S LOGG:  How about the transition from living on land to living on a boat?  Tell us about that.

Sheldon and Cyndi:  The transition was probably the toughest part of the whole process.  We enjoyed getting rid of the stuff but it just took longer than we thought it would.  It just doesn’t happen overnight.  We made the decision at the beginning of the summer and we thought that we could leave for The Bahamas at the end of the summer, but that did not happen.

We also had to sell the 34 Tolleycraft and find the boat we have now.  We were quite comfortable in the 34 but it wasn’t diesel and we knew that we need diesel engines for the type of cruising we were going to do.  Eventually, we sold the house and the 34 Tolleycraft and we had not found another boat yet.  We spent a whole year without a boat and that was absolutely torturous. 

THE SHIP’S LOGG:  What was your first long distance cruise?  What things did you do to prepare for the cruise?  What things did you not do that you wish you had?

Sheldon and Cyndi: Our first long distance cruise was when we took delivery of this boat.  We went from North Carolina to Canada.  The biggest thing that we didn’t have at the time was effective battery charging because we didn’t have solar at that point.  When we stopped, we had to run the generator quite a bit to keep the batteries topped up.  When we got back to Canada and before we left for The Bahamas, we decked out with 600 watts of solar panels.  We didn’t have a freezer either but that is okay when cruising the east coast because there are grocery stores everywhere you stop, but once you get to The Bahamas it is different.  

Arial shot of C-Shel II at anchor.  Notice the solar panels on top.

THE SHIP’S LOGG:  Do you miss anything about living on land?

Sheldon and Cyndi:  We don’t really miss anything at all.  Maybe the frequency of which we get to see family and friends.  That is the only thing.

THE SHIP’S LOGG:  Do you tend to follow a schedule in your adventures or do you just prefer to go with the flow?

Sheldon and Cyndi:  We have a very loose schedule.  We only tend to plan two or three days out.  It is all dependent on weather.  It also depends on whether we are working or not.  Sometimes we are working full time and sometimes we are not.  To not have plans or expectations makes life out here so much easier.  We like to say that plans are written in beach sand at low tide. 

THE SHIP’S LOGG:  Tell me about C-Shel II.  She is a 44 foot Tolleycraft and a beautiful boat, I must say.  I have done a bit of looking and they are not easy to find, especially on the east coast.  How long did it take you to find her?

Sheldon and Cyndi:  They are not easy to find, especially ones in good shape.  Even this one needed some work when we got it.    The style is easy to find but Tolleycrafts are not.  We took two boats to sea trial before this one but they did not perform well.  We started looking before we sold our other boat but the search became really intense after the 34 sold.  We still went about a year without a boat before finding it.

C-Shel II - Their 44 foot Tolleycraft anchored in the pristine waters at Black Point, Bahamas

THE SHIP’S LOGG:  We all have experienced setbacks and unexpected events in life.  I remember watching your video of the incident in Hopetown Harbor when your mooring failed during a storm and you crashed into another boat.  I remember that I was impressed that even when something bad had just happened, you two still chose to share the event with your viewers. There was a point, Sheldon, where you were explaining what had happened and you looked like you just wanted to be sick.  Tell me about that.

Sheldon and Cyndi: That was probably the roughest night of our lives or at least in boating terms.   Cyndi is so even keeled that she picked up that camera and started documenting it.  I would never think of that.  In the video, you can hear her voice cracking as she pointed the video camera towards the window but she still did it.  You said sick, yeah, I was pretty much sick.  I was shaken.  What you don’t see in the video is that the boats in Hopetown Harbor are so close together.  After the initial accident, we were trying to maneuver the boat through the mooring field to raft up with another boat in 30 knot winds and our prop got tangled in the mooring of another boat.  At that point, I thought we were done.  The trip is over.

There were all sorts of things going through our minds, including how much this was going to cost.  Insurance did take care of a lot of it but it also cost us because there were some things that the insurance company did not want to do that we wanted done.

It took us a week to recover.  It was such a shock to the system that we could not leave the temporary mooring until we were ready.  We couldn’t move the boat until we were over it.  But it all worked out in the end.  That’s life.  It’s like that on land and its like that on the water.  You just have to deal with it and move on.

THE SHIP’S LOGG:  What was it like having to move back to land for a few months while your boat was being repaired?

Sheldon and Cyndi:  It was reminiscent of the time when we had sold our 34 Tolleycraft and we did not have a boat.   We would walk down to the marina think, “We are not on a boat today.  This is rough.” We still have no desire to spend any time on land. 

THE SHIP’S LOGG:  What is it like sharing your lives with your viewers?

Sheldon and Cyndi:  We love taking video and editing it.  It is a creative outlet for us.  The bonus for us is that other people like it.  We would do this anyway because we want to be able to look back when we are 90 years old and living in a retirement home and be able to look at what we have done.

We also like the idea of inspiring other people to do something like this.  To show them that life could be very different from what they are doing.  We want people to see that and we think video does it best.

THE SHIP’S LOGG:  You mentioned that you both work remotely.  How difficult is it to get reliable internet access?

Sheldon and Cyndi:  In The Bahamas, it is not a challenge which we were really surprised about.  We took the first year off because we did not know if we could do it.  But when we got here we found that the internet in the Abacos was better than what we had on the East Coast or in Canada.  We have been anchored off remote islands and still were able to stream HD movies off the internet.  Right now, The Bahamas has everything we need.  We would like to go farther south, say BVI or into the Caribbean but we are not sure what the quality of internet access is there which currently is something we need.  Eventually, we will get there as we get more info on internet access there or if we decide to take a year off. 

THE SHIP’S LOGG:  Now that you have been doing this for a while, is there anything that you would do differently?

Sheldon and Cyndi:  We really don’t think so.  Things happen slow enough where we can make really good decisions.  Maybe we wouldn’t have taken that mooring in Hopetown (laugh).  We do always dive on our moorings now though.  Maybe we would change some weird small things like here, we think now that paddleboards would be better than kayaks.  We also might choose a different dinghy caddie because the one we have keeps the boat too close to the water. 

THE SHIP’S LOGG:  What is the most favorite destination you have visited so far and why?

Sheldon and Cyndi:  In The Bahamas, every cay is different.  They each have their own flair or vibe and we love them all.  A favorite is Warderick Wells in the Exumas Land and Sea Park.  There are moorings there and we took one.  The water is gorgeous.  The sand is gorgeous.  Off the back of your boat you can see eagle rays, fish and sea turtles.    Another favorite is Lee Stocking Island which is just north of Great Exuma.  That is also very picturesque.  The highest peak in the Exumas is also there and there is tons of good snorkeling.  

Sheldon and Cyndi taking in the view at one of their favorite locations, Lee Stocking Island

THE SHIP’S LOGG:  What is next?

Sheldon and Cyndi:  That’s a good question.  We don’t plan too far ahead, remember?  This is the time of year when we do start thinking about hurricane season so we may stay in The Bahamas, possibly Great Harbor Key because there is a marina with a hurricane hole.  Towards the end of the season, we may go to the Eleutheras because we have not been there.  We may to the Abacos after that.  

Next year, we will probably go further south in The Bahamas and maybe the ragged islands.  There is so much to explore here.  We could never do it all in one season.  We are quite comfortable, at least for the foreseeable future, redoing The Bahamas.  We talk to a lot of cruisers that have cruised all over the world and they always come back to The Bahamas because it is one of the best places they have been.

THE SHIP’S LOGG:  Is there anything else that you can think of that other boaters and even non-boaters should know about this lifestyle?

Sheldon and Cyndi:  Make sure both of you want this.  It will make doing this much easier and more enjoyable.  Some people come out and do this where it is one person’s dream and the other is tagging along.  That might be okay for one season but if you are going to do a live-aboard permanently, you need to have both of you committed to doing it.

This lifestyle works for Sheldon and Cyndi because it matches both of their values.

Also make sure that you are comfortable with the boat you are buying.  If you are going to live on it, you need to feel like it is home.  Take your time looking for a boat.  Don’t rush into buying one.  Also understand who you are.  Don’t take someone else’s dream and make it your own.  Understand your top values and tailor your life to fit that. 

The Ship’s Log was elated that Sheldon and Cyndi were gracious enough to provide their time for this interview, and I thank them for taking the time to share their life’s experiences.  Sheldon and Cyndi have shown us that this is about more than just boating.  It is about living life to the fullest.  It would be a gross understatement to say that I simply enjoyed talking to them.  The fact is, I could have talked to them for many hours.  They are a fresh reminder that not only is life meant to be lived but we all should put in the effort to live the lives that we want.

Whether your passion is boating or something else, don’t let life pass you by.  I have often heard that when a person is about to leave this earth, they spend more time regretting things that they did not do than regretting the things that they did do.  So whatever it is that you want to do, get out there and do it.  I know I will.  

Check out Sheldon and Cyndi's YouTube video that expresses their view on living life.

To subscribe to their YouTube Channel, click the link below:

Searching for C-Shels YouTube Channel

Happy Boating

Captain Frank
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  1. Jennifer Sunderland HagaApril 22, 2019 at 9:11 PM

    We’re actually considering doing this with another couple... reading this makes it seem a whole lot less insane��

  2. Ya KNOW my thoughts on this subject; "Let's GO!!" WHEN DO WE LEAVE??!! ��

    1. I like the way you think Bro!

  3. Loved the story, quite interesting, good luck!

    1. Thanks! They definitely had a great story to tell. Hearing it has definitely given me inspiration.

  4. There’s a dream come true! ��‍♂️����

  5. Great trip. What speed is the normal travel speed?

    I’ve always wondered if electric drives would work for that trip. ?

    1. The 44 Tolleycraft is more than capable of getting on plane and running at 20 plus knots. Much of their cruising is done at displacement speeds (8-9 knots) though. If you check out their YouTube channel, you will see that some of their video is shot while underway and you can get an idea how things progressed.

  6. Great article, thanks! Funny story: My wife and I had settled on a Tollycraft 44 as our next boat about 4 years ago. We weren't ready to buy one, but had done a lot of research about high-quality, affordable, live-aboard boats that combined a turn of speed (20+ knots when needed) with minimal draft (<4 feet) and minimal air draft (<15 feet). While waiting patiently for the time to be right to buy our Tolly, we were still happily cruising our 25' Regal as much as possible. I was researching a Golden Triangle cruise 3 years ago and found some great videos that Cyndi and Shel made about that trip on their Tolly 34 on youtube. I started watching more of their videos and discovered that they had recently purchased the same exact boat we had choosen as our next boat; it was a very strange coincidence. Since then, we've done the Golden Triangle cruise and it was great. We also sold the Regal and will take delivery of our Tollycraft 44 next month. We will be living on it full time by Spring 2020. Can't wait.

    1. That's awesome! Congrats to the two of you and good luck in your adventures!

  7. I’ve been watching them. They do a very good of documenting in their vlogs. The good times and the bad. Also love “Tula’s endless summer”

  8. Living the Dream!

    1. Tony MacDonald , just read this. How amazing. Checking out YouTube link now.

  9. Alan V. Cecil “M/V SIGMACHI”April 29, 2019 at 4:37 PM

    Wow! Their professional quality v-blogs and Captain Frank’s excellent interview of Sheldon and Cyndi gives My a great sense of pride in following.C-Shells for about a year. My wife Jeanne and I have been refitting, in part, my 40’ Pacemaker flush deck flying bridge for a year. We will be ready to launch SIGMACHI by June 1, 2019. Though our refitting still has some things to do the boat will be ready for cruising the Chesapeake Bay and the tributaries this summer and several MTOA events...Projected plans are to head South this winter.

    Yes, Cyndi and Sheldon are inspirational and we hope to cross paths sometime somewhere!

    Tight Lines!


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