Yachtsman Phil Johnson decided on a difficult step. He transferred his entire life to the sea - his business, family, and hobbies. And happy!
Phil Johnson will talk about working on his boat, as well as the technologies and skills required to make money at sea.
The beginning of the way
“At the end of 2018, my wife Roxy and I grabbed a few suitcases and boarded our 47-foot Cheoy Lee,” says Phil. "Everything to go on a lifetime cruise."
So, the familiar beginning of a well-known story. Unlike most yachtsmen, they "took" with them another important thing. Your job and career.
Phil did not sail or work in the maritime industry. His specialization is entrepreneurship. He was in the retail business.
With the onset of the pandemic, businesses started to go online. This enabled Phil and his wife to start working remotely.
The difficult step was to leave the usual life and start a new page. But after talking with his colleagues from various fields, Phil received a lot of advice and guidance on how to combine cruises and careers.
Reality makes its own adjustments
Imagine the scene: you are walking along a narrow sandy path lined with overgrown Bahamian bushes. All this accompanied by the sounds of reggae music.
You find yourself on the beach with the legendary rum bar dotted with several dozen sun-drenched party-goers dancing around a pile of tables and hammocks suspended between palm trees.
This all sounds great, except it's Monday. And you don't need to hang out, just grab your Wi-Fi password and try to concentrate on your work.
“We've learned valuable lessons,” said Victoria and Mike Stenhouses of their first experience of combining cruise and work.
The Steenhouses run a UK-based real estate development company. They moved aboard in 2019 to be able to work from anywhere of their choice.
Alas, it quickly became clear that combining work with this lifestyle was a little problematic.
“Trying to move too fast or see too many places was stressful. The reason for this was the lack of time for work, ”explained Victoria.
There is real value in traveling slower. At a pace that better suits your work life. Yes, you may not make a trip around the world in a year, but it is better and deeper to immerse yourself in the culture and atmosphere of the chosen place.
The “work from anywhere” mindset is as follows. It allows for flexibility in your work schedule because you do not take a limited break from work on land.
Not a project - a lifestyle
“We viewed the complete relocation on a yacht as a time-limited project, but as a way of life,” says Greta Höller, an Italian industrial engineer and researcher. She works full time sailing in the Caribbean on the Beneteau 393 Fortuna.
Her partner Michael Hofer also works as a consultant for startups. “We chose this life because it allows us to travel the world in an environmentally friendly way on our own terms,” says Greta.
And yet - was it possible or is it possible for someone to successfully combine work under sail and work schedule from 9 to 5, 5 days a week?
Roxy tried to do this in her previous job when Phil was traveling part-time in the Bahamas. “It was difficult to sit in a hot, stuffy booth all day on Zoom calls. And miss the best time for swimming and walking, ”she recalls.
Her strict schedule led to rash swims at sunset. Locals call twilight “shark feeding time”.
One possible solution is to choose a universal time zone. This will allow you to conveniently organize both working hours and leisure time. For example, some are looking for sheltered and well-fortified parking areas. They work for them. And on weekends, transitions drop out.
This makes it possible to "cram" the working hours at any convenient time. For example, Phil sometimes works late at night, while it is raining overboard and the boat is at anchor. Or maybe early in the morning during breakfast.
The ForTuna team does the same - working hours are “scattered” over the day so that you can rest, work, and make transitions. And all this without harm to the nervous system!
“We've definitely learned that work gets done much easier when you're in the right mood for it, instead of having to work on a deadline set by someone else,” says Greta.
The couple managed to combine their work with sailing from Israel to Martinique last year. They are heading to Mexico and Cuba right now!
Divide and rule
“The boat itself can be a full-time job,” said all the cruisers Phil spoke with. Delegating tasks can help and simplify time management.
On his boat - Sonder - Phil usually makes maintenance schedules. In turn, Roxy manages most of the day-to-day operations of their business. This gives complete autonomy in personal projects, but they still come together for larger ones.
“This is a great time to think, plan and just enjoy each other's company. Without being distracted from the usual distractions of modern life, ”says Victoria.
How does moving aboard affect the relationship between employer and employee? “When you work remotely, flexibility is needed on both sides,” says Greta. From time to time, interruption of a video call or rescheduling of a meeting is inevitable.
Fortunately, with careful prioritization, more problems can be prevented. “When we find out that we have an important call, we will find the right place with good cellular coverage,” she adds.
Let's go online!
There is always the opportunity to go ashore at a cafe or to the pier. And already there, use terrestrial Wi-Fi. Alas, for a full-time job, this is usually not the most practical and long-term solution.
Connecting a Wi-Fi network to a laptop from a phone using local or regional SIM cards is usually the fastest, cheapest, and most reliable way to transfer data.
If your work requires video calling or the transfer of large amounts of data, unlimited data plans are necessary.
However, buying and signing a contract can be a challenge. Of course, subject to frequent travel between different countries. The ideal solution would be to activate an international tariff plan.
There are many international plans to choose from. Google Fi (for US customers) is the one we currently use Phil.
He has one SIM card that works with partner networks in over 160 countries. It is not an “unlimited” plan, but it can connect reliably when entering coastal waters.
SkyRoam (for European and US customers) is another solution for international hotspots.
What if the signal is weak?
To boost weak mobile signal or Wi-Fi bandwidth in the wheelhouse and cabin, there are many signal boosters and extenders on the market. Wi-Fi extenders will work wherever there is a 5 GHz or 2.5 GHz network,
“When it comes to cellular communications, there are two categories of long-range repeaters,” said Richard Anderson, owner of Seattle-based SeaTech Systems. The company specializes in communications solutions for seafarers.
“Another way to do this is to use a dedicated cellular modem and router,” he says. Basically, it's an AP with a multi-band antenna on the mast and a Wi-Fi router in the cabin.
This setup seamlessly switches between compatible cellular networks, giving you a "home office" feel even 20 miles offshore.
All of the working groups we spoke to found that 4G data plans cover most of their connectivity needs, but going overseas and in more remote areas like the South Pacific will require a satellite internet system.
Mike Stenhouse hopes for Starlink. This is a groundbreaking satellite internet service from SpaceX Elon Musk. Many workers I have met hope that this is a panacea for bad internet at sea.
However, the launch of Starlink may take longer than we think. “You must have a ground station that is within sight of the satellite and your boat,” adds Richard.
This means no internet connection if you are a few hundred miles from land. Even if you get closer to the shore, much will depend on the weather, and you still need expensive antenna equipment.
Seize the moment!
The combination of life on a yacht and a career or doing business means a lot. At the very least, you don't have to wait for retirement to embark on a grand adventure.
“People often think that the only way to afford a full-time cruise while you're younger is to become a YouTube blogger or live off the savings. But it’s not like that, ”laughs Roxy.
Phil is on track to meet his ambitious business goals this year. Continuing with her cruises from the UK to the Mediterranean.
There can still be many logistical hurdles on the way to work or business. But the potential freedom you get is well worth the effort.
“If you have the opportunity to do what you love now - get down to business,” says Victoria Stenhouse. Don't put off what you can do today!
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