Connecting People to Places

Living the adventure: Life on a sailboat

Brian Britton and Sierra Crupe relax with their cat Pockets on their sailboat Four Winds. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Connie Leinbach

Sierra Crupe and Brian Britton are camping on the water.

The two are spending their second year living on Ocracoke on their 27-foot Watkins 1981 sailboat, Four Winds, docked near Down Creek Gallery.

Landlubbers from Wheeling, W.Va., the couple found that owing to the fracking industry, the cost of living in their home town was outpacing their incomes.  Landlords can charge high rental prices for fracking industry workers.

“They make nice money off the rentals,” Britton said. “There aren’t a lot of people renting to locals.”

So, five years ago, they decided to take the leap into their dream of traveling around the world.

At first, the couple explored joining the Peace Corps or Greenpeace, but later decided on sailing. To pay their way, the couple got their scuba diving certifications in order to be able to work cleaning the bottoms of boats, though they’ve stopped that service.

“Too many sharks and ‘gators in the marina in Coconut Grove, Fla.,” Britton said.

On Ocracoke, Britton, 35, works at Island Golf Carts and Crupe, 26, works at the Variety Store while they save enough money to continue pursuing their dream of traveling the world.

“We don’t have enough time on the planet,” Britton said as he and Crupe relaxed after a day’s work. “We want to see as much of the world as we can.”

On a boat, the living space is comparable to a camper—with a lot of differences.  With a minimum of stuff that includes their tabby cat, Pockets, they have been able to make it work on a budget.

“There are a lot of things we give up,” Britton said. “We have just what we need.”

They get showers from their landlord from whom they rent their boat slip, and laundry is done with the help of generous island friends.

They cook inside or on a grill attached to the boat’s stern, their favored method on which they don’t always skimp.

“Filet mignon,” Britton said. “Five years ago I got into cooking over wood.”

But canned foods and rice are more frequent fare.

“I learned to do a real good canned chicken dish,” Britton said with a laugh.

The view out the front of Brian Britton and Sierra Crupe’s boat docked in Silver Lake harbor. Photo: C. Leinbach

Essential tasks for boat living include constant repairs and staying on top of the mildew.

“It’s very damp on a boat,” Britton said.

Then there are jugs of water as well as diesel and gas containers that have to be stored.

“Instead of hiking and camping, we carry our house with us,” Crupe said.

An air conditioner hums inside their 24-foot cabin and in the winter, they use a space heater. Most of January and February, they anchored in Savannah, Ga., before arriving back in Ocracoke in April.

“It was cold,” Crupe said.

And soon they will brave an Ocracoke winter.

They hope to next tackle a sail to the Bahamas in their 10-year dream of circumnavigating the world.

But that goal is down the road when they can afford a bigger boat with a deeper draft. Their small boat would not be able to handle the world’s oceans.

Indeed, the novice sailors are still learning the limits of their boat.

They began their sailing adventure on the Chesapeake Bay, Crupe said, then practiced more by going down the Intracoastal Waterway to the Florida Keys for the winter.

“The fall was amazing,” Crupe said.

They tried to fish the whole way down but didn’t catch much—mullets and a barracuda, which they used for bait.

On the way, they were treated to a NASA satellite launch at Cape Canaveral while docked 10 miles away.

“We’d never experienced anything like that,” Britton said. “It just lights up the sky. When the afterburners kicked in, we could feel it in our chests.”

Most others they’ve met in the boating community are older and have been ‘cruising’ for decades longer.

“It’s rare to meet boaters our age,” Crupe said.

But they have found the boating community to be a sharing one.

“In the boating community, it’s ‘pay-it-forward,'” she said. “It’s been life-changing.”