House sitting for Cruisers
Charging batteries from the solar panels, catching rain water, refueling the dinghy; all typical daily tasks for a cruiser. But wait, we aren’t cruising. And we sold our boat. So why all the off the grid tasks, you ask? Well, these are the efforts necessary to keep an eco-resort on a remote south Pacific island operational. But wait again, we don’t own an eco-resort. In fact, we don’t own a home anywhere. So how did we end up in Tonga? Let’s go back in time a bit.
Until nine months ago we were living on our sailboat in Newport, Rhode Island and renting out our house in New Hampshire. We had a new boat under construction but would not arrive until the fall. We were homeless, sure, but we saw a great opportunity to travel wherever we wanted, with no schedule and no commitments. But the thought of nine months of hotel bills was daunting. That’s when Lisa went to work on finding us an alternative and house sitting looked enticing.
As Lisa and I perused the various house sitting web sites we were encouraged by the geographical range, nearly world-wide, and the variety, a loft in London, a farm in Vermont or a home in Tennessee. And we were surprised that total home owners would invite total strangers into their homes, and then leave! Why would people do that?
What we realized was that most people who engage house sitters, do it for their pets. With a house sitter, their pets stay home where they are comfortable and relaxed, and the owner avoids expensive boarding costs. Besides that, sitters provide security, maintain lawns and gardens and may shuttle the owners to the airport. And as we were to find out, owners occasionally search for sitters with special skills in order to maintain essential domestic systems such as solar panels, rain catchments and the like.
Our first sit was near Atlanta. New England was getting cold so this location met our primary objective, go south! And we had a son in college in Atlanta so that was a nice bonus. From there we moved on to Tennessee, then Mississippi. Why Tennessee, one might ask. I did ask that very question and her answer was that Tennessee was warm, and we had never been there, and the start date coincided with the end date in Atlanta. Three great answers so off we went. As it turned out, our stay in Tennessee was much more fun and interesting than we could have imagined. The five cats and dogs turned out to be a pleasure, the local distillery tours fascinating and I was able to indulge my hobby of visiting civil war battlefields.
Mississippi, our next gig, was picked for similar reasons, plus the fact that I had never been to New Orleans and this house was just an hour’s drive away. This stay was southern hospitality at its finest and we were made to feel like family by the friends and relatives of the home owners. We did get to New Orleans and gorged ourselves on beignets and grilled oysters. We visited quaint coastal towns and had great time watching the local Mardi Gras parade.
From Mississippi it was on to the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific. And yes, this takes a bit of explaining. The owners on an eco-resort were looking to do some traveling of their own during the off season while the resort was closed. For this they needed a couple with some rather unusual skills for the average house sitters. Tie a bowline in the dark, underwater, navigate coral heads in a narrow channel, charge batteries with a portable generator, prepare the property for a threatening cyclone. Not unusual skills at all for a live aboard cruiser at all. The owners said they received hundreds of applications, who wouldn’t want to live on a deserted island in the South Pacific for three months, for free! But they received only a few applications from cruisers with the requisite skills.
Needless to say, we had an incredible stay in Tonga. The culture is entirely different from anything we have encountered in our Caribbean travels and in very good way. The snorkeling was spectacular and the clothing optional beech (remember, we were the only two people on the island for much of the time) was beautiful.
Now we are back in the USA, house sitting for friends in our old neighborhood in New Hampshire. As the time to delivery of our new boat approaches we are reflecting on how fun and enriching, and inexpensive these last nine months have been. During this time we spent less than thirty days in motels during gaps between gigs, and it could have been even less if we had not been as fussy about the geography. Instead of just marking time waiting for the new boat we got to see new parts of the country, meet some great people and even checked off a bucket list item, the private south pacific island stay.
Along the way we realized how perfect house sitting is for cruisers. So often we leave our boats for significant periods of time, either during retrofits or to wait out hurricane season, and then need to find a place to stay back home. Some of us keep land homes just for this reason, despite the expense. We are here to tell you that you do not need a land home at all, and in fact you might really enjoy the freedom provided by the house sitting life style. There is a rather steep learning curve at first, lots of different house sitting sites, each with their own niche and pricing structure. But with a little effort anyone can find a sit that suits them. And as a sitter builds a resume and a stack of recommendations, the next sit gets easier.
And the inverse is worth considering as well. Cruisers who need to leave their boats often spend a lot of money parking the boat in an expensive marina and then hiring a boat watcher to keep systems operating. We wouldn’t trust just anyone with our boat, but we might trust a fellow cruiser.
Lisa has become so excited to spread the word to fellow cruisers that she has launched a web site; housesitboatsit.com that will act as a source of information for cruisers looking to learn more about house sitting and to put cruisers looking for sitters together with qualified sitters. The site is in its infancy now, but please stop by and check it out and help it grow with your comments.
House sitting for Cruisers