We are Sara & Lee from Sailing Catalpa. Welcome to our article on how to sail around the world on a shoestring budget. We are a family of four from the Northern Rivers of New South Wales – a normal family of two kids in primary school. Lee and I used to run a business selling yoga products.
I taught yoga classes and workshops all over Australia. We had a wonderful life living near some of the country’s best surf beaches. Our life revolved around the ocean, surfing everyday and scuba diving when we could. Basically, the beach and ocean were our happy place and we would spend as much time as possible being there. Before we started sailing, our life on land was pretty great – I’m not going to lie – but we were constantly busy.
We always had somewhere to be and life got stressful with many deadlines, appointments and commitments. My mum passed away when Taj was six months old. As hard and sad as that time was, it showed us that life is short because even though you can have these grand dreams for your future – for example, my mum and dad wanting to travel once they retired – it’s not guaranteed that you will get to live them. Years later Lee’s dad also passed.
This reminded us once again to live our dreams. We have always loved the ocean. Lee and I both grew up surfing and Taj and Bella (our two kids) have been in the ocean since they came into the world. We weren’t sailors originally but saw a sailboat as a way to explore the world while doing what we love: surfing, fishing, diving and sharing these passions with our kids.
Deciding to Sail Together as a Family
It was clear that the time we have with them wouldn’t last forever and we wanted to create memories before they adventured off on their own. So in 2014, Catalpa became our means of travel and in 2015 she became our home. Although, we bought our first boat in 2007 when Taj was 4 and Bella 2. We loved the idea of taking our home with us as we traveled.
It was fun to talk about this dream with our children. Funny story: Taj used to tell his teachers in school that he wouldn’t be there long. He would say: “We are going to buy a boat and sail the world”. In a way they were prepared, and expected that we would sail away from friends and family.
Everyone was excited for this new lifestyle, so it’s not like any of the family members didn’t cope. Taj was 10 and Bella 9 when we sailed away. It’s difficult to leave it all behind, don’t get me wrong, but we were thrilled to go and we made the decision as a family (which made everything easier).
Early Days of our Sail Adventures
We weren’t sailors to begin with and still don’t call ourselves ones, but we learnt how on our 26-foot Roberts and then again on our 44-foot Catalpa. To this day we are still learning and have just bought a 53-foot Pearson. Our plans, we like to say, don’t really exist. We have options a, b or c – whatever works best. One thing sailing has taught us is that you shouldn’t get stuck in your ways or to a schedule, it will most definitely get thrown out.
We set sail from our hometown Tweed Heads and headed north up the east coast of Australia. It took us six months to travel north and once we got to Darwin we decided to sail to Indonesia. Going up the east coast blew our budget, and we spent a lot of our savings fixing and upgrading the boat.
At the time, we were earning a bit of money from Patreon and YouTube, and even though we only had $5,000 we still sailed away from our home country to embark on new adventures in Indonesia. It made sense to choose Indonesia since it’s cheaper. So in November, 2017 we sailed to Kupang on an old boat with very little money but a lot of enthusiasm.
Top Highlights Sailing in Indonesia
In terms of countries we haven’t sailed to, the total amount is five. Even though we have traveled over 10,000 nautical miles in Catalpa, most of our time has been spent in Southeast Asia – mainly Indonesia. This country has 17,500 islands to choose from, so it’s a sailor’s dream. We have spent years exploring this beautiful part of the world and still could spend many more.
The highlights were Raja Ampat (The Last Paradise) during the pandemic, surfing and exploring Morotai Island, and surfing the Sumatra coast – especially the Mentawai Islands on the western side. Traveling to Indonesia is special in itself but traveling on your own boat is next level. The clear waters, tropical islands and people all make this easily my favorite place.
Challenges When you Sail on a Budget
When you sail on a budget there are definitely some “inconveniences”, let’s just call it that. Can anyone do it? Absolutely! Would it be more comfortable having lots of money? Absolutely! But would I choose not to do it and wait? Probably not. Life is too short and also has a funny way of working out. It’s hard not being able to fly and see your family when you miss them, and limiting your food shopping to cheaper local food, but we made it work.
On the upside surfing is free, swimming and snorkeling is free, and actually Indonesia is quite cheap to go sightseeing. So I don’t feel we missed out on anything. Living on a shoestring sail budget made us appreciate each other and made us realize that you don’t need that much stuff to live happily.
A big challenge for us in 2020 was not being able to cross the Indian Ocean. After our crossing from Malaysia we felt like our sailboat was not up for it, so we had to stay in Southeast Asia for another season. But we are now in California on a bigger and better boat. Like I said, life has a way of working out. We appreciate what we have now so much more because of all the challenges and the beautiful moments our simple life has created.
Patreon & YouTube Boosts our Sail Budget
Thanks to platforms like Patreon and YouTube, we have been able to continue our budget sail trips around the world. Lee did fly back to work in Australia from Malaysia in 2019 because we wanted to get a bigger boat, which was a massive help to our cruising kitty. Other than that though, we make money online sharing our adventures on our YouTube channel Sailing Catalpa where we have over 300 videos of our life on the sea.
Tips to Sail on a Shoestring Budget
Eat local food, shop at markets, spear or catch your own fish and make your meals on board. Live within your meals. Anchor rather than stay in marinas and find a way to make money as you travel, either online or in the cruising community. Use the wind, after all it’s a sailing boat and that is free.
Priceless Moments Money Can’t Buy
The most priceless moments on a sail trip – be it low budget or big – are the times spent together as a family, the memories created, and the places and people you meet along the way. Everyone we meet has their own story of why they are out sailing and each one is unique. We have made friends from all over the world and no matter how much money you have, moments and people are what makes this lifestyle so incredible.
Picture a day of sunshine catching waves in clear water with no one else there, climbing a tree to snack on a fresh coconut, and jumping over the side of your floating home spearing a fish and eating it together as a family for dinner. A day like this doesn’t involve money, it’s just priceless. Not all days are this special but the days that are make all the challenges worth it.