28 Feet of Paradise. Imagine the sunsets. The freedom of living on the sea. Sailing away, spending your days in the Caribbean or Mediterranean, fighting the waves and watching incredible scenes come to life. But, do you know anyone who has actually done it? The prospect of quitting your job, selling your stuff, buying boat and saying Saia Nora to friends and loved ones is usually too much for most of us to plan out and actually do.
Not so for David Welsford, of Nova Scotia. He found a twenty-eight foot wooden Herrshoff built in 1968, ready for the boat graveyard, and restored it to its former glory. Throughout his life David had always looked for little places to call his own. “When I was a kid, I always built like tree houses and climbed trees and built forts,” said David. “When I first walked into Lizzy Belle and looked her over, I was like, this is the perfect fort.”
Once the boat was ready David, his father and a close friend planned to sail the boat down to the Caribbean, which they attempted in vein. After deciding to avoid gale force winds in the North Atlantic, David and his father shipped the boat to the Dominican Republic in hopes of a speedy delivery and release, with their eye on the British Virgin Islands. Much to their surprise, the Dominican Republic is not the friendliest of countries, and David’s earrings, bandana and long hair made them more than a little suspicious. It took over 20 days of sitting in government offices 5 hours a day, schmoosing the clerks, signing paperwork and, of course, drinking beer, to get the boat back into the water and on her way.
It is not uncommon for a boat owner to refer to their boat has “he” or “she.” But, David seems to have an extra level of affection for his vessel, almost personifying her as a living being. He named her Lizzy Belle and often refers to her likes and dislikes as she fights through whatever the ocean has for her. He talks the boat through rough times and encourages her to live up to her potential to dominate the waves and ocean that threaten her.
During his journey, he spared no time or expense in keeping Lizzy Belle in tip top shape, so she could carry the precious cargo David invited on board to share the journey with him. And, there were a lot of guests. In fact, along the way he was joined by friends and family so often that it was two years before he sailed an open water crossing single-handedly. Sailing off of Puerto Rico he didn’t expect the emotional impact the journey would have on him. “I couldn’t believe that after two years I was finally doing my first single-handed sail in the Caribbean,” David recounted. “I think I will remember that moment for the rest of my life.”
Often the guests included family, and whether it was intentional or not, David’s sabbatical gave him and his immediate family opportunities to bond and spend time together, building life-long memories. It had been 12 years since they had all vacationed together. On one such occasion, they sailed from the U.S. side of the Virgin Islands all the way to the edge of the British side of the group of famous islands. The vacation was filled with snorkeling, beach going, sailing and enjoying David’s young nephew, a toddler, whose infectious curiosity of new things and wonderment touched everyone there. A highlight of the trip was sailing (accidentally) through a highly competitive sailing race with participants from all of the world. They were shocked to see the crew members of these fantastic vessels get out their cameras to take pictures of Lizzy Belle.
David’s adventure was not all peaches and cream, but with the help of friends along the way, he made keeping a 40+ year old boat part of the adventure instead of a chore. He really embraced every part of the journey and soaked up the opportunity he was capturing in this season of his life. The work on the boat was not easy and David spent considerable time at the Marina to keep the boat in tiptop shape. Cheered on by the community there and assisted by friends Evan and Chris, the team took off Lizzy Belle’s blocks in her running rigging and sanded them by hand, then prepped them for four coats of varnish. They also reinforced the forestay, which required being harnessed and hoisted up the mast. And, they reinforced the jib sail with a borrowed sewing machine thanks to new friends they made in the British Virgin Islands.
Life on a boat comes with some major lifestyle adjustments. In a video produced by National Geographic, David gave some hints as to some of the routines he adopted for everyday tasks that we all take for granted. Like a shower, for example. Every few days or so, he lathered up with soap from head to toe and then dove in. When you think about this alternative lifestyle, it seems fairly radical when compared to the traditional ways most of us live. But is it? And even if it requires adjustments, wouldn’t they be worth the experience?
The question of how David supports himself is unavoidable. For him managing money is a simple issue and requires a minimalist view. “I think I understand money in my way of understanding money,” he said. “Once you figure out how to make enough, then go to the things that make you happy.” In the National Geographic Video, David shares his love of photography, and says that he feels like one of the richest people in the world. “I think that it is important that I do this kind of stuff, so that I look back in twenty years and be like ‘Wow, I’m sure happy I did that’. It is worth a million dollars in my bank account, and maybe I will be content when I am ready to go.”