Live aboard? Why not?

feature1609By Shelley Fleming-Wigglesworth
For Points East

For the last two years, Duffy and Kathy Doherty, of Kennebunk, Maine, along with their 3-year-old rescue dog Dory, have lived aboard their 39-foot Catamaran, Sea Turtle. And the semi-retired couple, who are both in their early 60s, said they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“When we got married 40 years ago, we talked about someday living on a boat,” Kathy said. “About 10 years ago, that initial spark was ignited again when we took a sailing trip. We loved it and started sailing on and off for the next few years after that.”

“The timing was right for us to actually take the plunge and do it two years ago,” she continued. “Our three kids were grown and out of the house, I was retiring, and we had the advantage of Duffy being able to work anywhere with today’s technology, so we said ‘why not?’”

So in 2014, the couple sold the family home where they had lived most of their married life, and raised their three sons. They got rid of most of their worldly possessions so they could embark on a lifestyle that neither one had ever experienced before. “We’d spent all but the last two years of our lives on land,” Duffy said with a laugh. “Some people thought we were crazy to do this, and sometimes we think they were right.”

“After the house sold, and we got rid of our stuff,” he added, “we moved onto the boat, which was already in a slip on the river, and we just never looked back.”

The Dohertys settled in for the summer season, living on Sea Turtle at Performance Marine, in Kennebunk’s Lower Village. “It took some getting used to, but we had a great summer. When Columbus Day rolled around, we set sail for our winter port in the Bahamas,” said Kathy.

The Dohertys took the Intracoastal Waterway route to their destination, traveling only during the day. “We were in no rush to get there,” Kathy said. “It was a leisure experience. We made pit stops along the way to visit friends and family, and we had a few weather delays, too, which was expected. Once we arrived, we spent our first winter island-hopping in the Abacos.”

While in the Bahamas, the couple soon realized they were not the only ones espousing the nomadic life at sea. “There are tons of people living this lifestyle,” said Kathy. “Some are yachties, some are cruisers, but we all share a common love of living on the water. It forges an immediate connection.”

“It’s really a laid-back group of people who choose to live this way,” said Duffy. “I mean, you kind of have to be laid-back to live on a boat full-time.”

That first year living on the water wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Dohertys. “It was a bit of a struggle, we had that learning curve,” Duffy said.

“For example, we spent too much money, especially on food,” Kathy elaborated.

“The next year, we were smarter and bought a freezer,” Duffy added. “Now we stockpile food, and this has saved us a lot.”
“Not to mention the cost of boat maintenance and the repairs,” he continued. “Every time you turn around, it seems like you need to fix or replace something, but when you have a boat, that’s just the way it goes.”

Living in tight quarters is another thing that was understandably trying at times for the couple. “It took some adjusting to living in such a small space, joked Kathy. “After all, the kitchen in our old house was bigger than this entire boat, but that’s why we have a catamaran. I have one side, and he has the other. We each go to our own rooms when we need space.”

“In all seriousness,” she added, you have to have a good sense of humor to be able to live together this way, and you have to be able to just roll with everything. I like to compare it with camping on the water.”

With the first winter season behind them, in spring 2015, the Dohertys sailed back to Kennebunkport, refreshed from spending months in the sunshine and warm air. Once back in Maine, Kathy worked at a seasonal gift shop close to the boatyard, while Duffy continued his consulting work from Sea Turtle. “We feel at home being at the marina, being a part of all the boats here, interacting with the people and the waterfront environment in general,” Duffy said.

When Columbus Day rolled around in 2015, the Dohertys embarked on their second journey south, this time to winter in the Florida Keys. “That was another great experience,” said Kathy. “You can’t beat the scenery. The sunsets and skies were amazing.”

And when spring came around this year, the couple navigated Sea Turtle back north, accompanied by dolphins for part of their journey, arriving back in Maine for Memorial Day weekend.

Now a seasoned catamaran couple, the Dohertys have established their groove for the cruising lifestyle. “We know what works and what doesn’t, and we now have a system,” Kathy said. “We plan to live this way for as long as we can; as long as we are healthy enough and able to, we will be living on the water.”

This summer, Kathy has been working as a hostess on the Spirit of Massachusetts, a retired sail-training schooner that’s been converted to a floating restaurant, and is docked close to Sea Turtle. Duffy will continue to work from the boat, and the couple will set aside plenty of time to be with their sons, daughter-in-law and granddaughter, who all live nearby.

“The highlight of coming back each summer is being with them,” Kathy said. “It gives us something to look forward to. We have a great family, and we know we are blessed. Although we travel to different locations, Kennebunkport will always be our homeport. It’s where we raised the boys; it’s our home.”

The Dohertys plan to sail to St. Thomas, U.S.V.I., for the upcoming winter. Naturally, they’ll return to Kennebunkport next spring. To follow the Dohertys’ journey from a different set of eyes, visit Dory the Dog’s Facebook page,

Shelley Fleming-Wigglesworth is a freelance journalist from Maine specializing in sea stories and maritime and commercial-fishing news.