Need Snowbird Advice

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Sababa

Senior Member
Joined
May 23, 2022
Messages
344
Vessel Name
Sababa
Vessel Make
Maritimo 52
Although we live in the Pacific Northwest, my wife and I are seriously considering buying a boat on the East Coast to vacation on in the Caribbean in the winter and spring during our kids' school breaks, and to work remotely from in New England and the Maritimes during the summer when they are away at camp. The idea would be to moor it in Florida from December through April and in the Boston area from May through November.

What I'd like to know from professional snowbirds is how to handle moorage. Is seasonal moorage likely to be reliably available in those areas year-in, year-out, or would I need to secure a permanent slip in one or both locations? Any recommendations on locations that might be cheaper or more available?

Doesn't need to be pretty on the Florida end because we don't plan to spend any time at the dock when we come and go there, but we would live aboard here and there up north and would love something there within walking distance of a charming little town.

Please also feel free to tell us we are crazy and should stick to boating in our own amazing back yard.
 
Although we live in the Pacific Northwest, my wife and I are seriously considering buying a boat on the East Coast to vacation on in the Caribbean in the winter and spring during our kids' school breaks, and to work remotely from in New England and the Maritimes during the summer when they are away at camp. The idea would be to moor it in Florida from December through April and in the Boston area from May through November.

What I'd like to know from professional snowbirds is how to handle moorage. Is seasonal moorage likely to be reliably available in those areas year-in, year-out, or would I need to secure a permanent slip in one or both locations? Any recommendations on locations that might be cheaper or more available?

Doesn't need to be pretty on the Florida end because we don't plan to spend any time at the dock when we come and go there, but we would live aboard here and there up north and would love something there within walking distance of a charming little town.

Please also feel free to tell us we are crazy and should stick to boating in our own amazing back yard.

There are a few "Professional Snowbird" types on this forum. While I'm not one, I had a similar dream 17-years ago when I moved to Florida and left my boat in San Francisco. I had the freedom to travel and work remotely and planned on spending a lot of time in SF, use the boat, etc. I spent less time than I thought, and when I was there, I had to work on the boat rather than use it. Boat deteriorated quite a bit. I'll also add that it's often a PITA to not have a car, especially when you need to get parts and such. So rental car fees really add-up on top of airlines, etc.

Might make more sense for you to consider buying a condo and joining a boat club.

Regardless, good luck.

Peter
 
My experience is a annual slip in both locations...expensive but marina crowding is killing everyone.

But storage, either wet or dry in out of the way spots if while you are in area and cruising full time is not as bad.
 
We are snowbirds, but leave boat in Florida year round. Agree that to be sure of availability of a slip or on hard in yard, it requires an annual lease in Florida. Transient slips are typically available for short term, not seasonal.

And there are waiting lists at most marinas for annual slips.
 
Southern New England (Boston and south) has long waiting lists for slips and moorings. Not saying it’s impossible but it won’t be easy to find something. And what you find probably wouldn’t be your first choice.
 
I have one boat period so no experience with what you are thinking of..

However, sometimes a marina will allow the transfer of a slip along with the sold boat when the boat is sold out of the marina in question. TO be clear the boat must be a permanent , not transient, slip holder.
 
No personal experience, but I think it's a great idea. Now that Akeeva is in Mexico, I've sometimes wished I had kept my old NT37 to leave in the PNW and use during the summer.
 
No personal experience, but I think it's a great idea. Now that Akeeva is in Mexico, I've sometimes wished I had kept my old NT37 to leave in the PNW and use during the summer.

Don’t think I haven’t considered it! But it wouldn’t get much use in the next few years if this comes together.

Basically the situation is that our seventeen year old daughter is in a school for special-needs kids outside of Boston where she will likely stay until she is 22. Boating is the thing we can do with her that doesn’t keep us bound to our house but the logistics of getting her back home to cruise with during school breaks are punishing. So the idea is make lemonade out of the situation by exploring some new cruising grounds until she ages out, at which point we would bring the new boat back to Puget Sound or take it over to Europe depending on what our lives and finances are looking like at the time.

Good to hear from you by the way. We blew past you two summers ago in Olga straight trying to make high water at Mirror Harbor. I remember being embarrassed because we were in such a hurry that we had forgotten to pull our fenders in. But it was worth it for the soak in White Sulphur Hot Springs!
 
I think you need to adjust your calendar a little to take in account transit time between New England and Florida. A month each way is not uncommon. It can be done in shorter time but can become a grind if you are running like it’s a delivery. It also depends on your boat and if you intend to go outside nonstop or in the ICW. You need to be highly flexible for weather. Hurricanes and hurricane remnants can play havoc with your schedule along with hundreds of other snowbirds.

By November most snowbirds are somewhere between Norfolk and Beaufort waiting for the last threats of hurricanes before proceeding- either due to prudent seamanship or their insurance companies’ requirements. After celebrating the end of hurricane season, the winter gales start, bringing high winds every few days.

We’ve started heading north from the Keys in March and often from Charleston in April putting us on the Chesapeake mid-April to May depending how much dawdling we are enjoying. Then in NE sometime in June. Again, waiting for weather is common in the spring. In the ICW it is less of an issue but we go outside from Fernandina to Charleston and from Charleston to Beaufort. In the ICW waiting for bridge openings and high tides is more common.

Only a few times on the Chesapeake have we taken a “permanent” yearly slip owing to family issues. Otherwise we are transient. However, in NE and south on occasion we’ve shown up as nightly transients and decided to stay for a month or two. In every case, we were able to convert to a monthly rate, sometimes a weekly rate. Some marinas run prepaid special rates for 3-6 months which we’ve also done, mostly in Charleston.

When marina shopping, make sure you can stay there nightly. We’ve seen marinas limit how many nights a month you can sleep on your boat, usually something like ten nights a month. It may depend on whether you are considered a transient or a permanent slip holder. You might find a private slip in a condo development but might also be subject to restrictions.

You’ll need to think about ground transportation, whether to rent a car when you need, Uber/Lyft if available, bikes, scooters or own a car and move it when and where needed.
 
I snowbird spending November through March in Florida and April through October in the Chesapeake and more recently in the Great Lakes.

When dockage in Fort Myers tightened up 3 years ago, I purchased a slip to guarantee dockage when returning home.

If you plan to be absent from the boat for extended periods of time, my preference would be to have the boat hauled, less to worry about. Not having a slip in this situation may be less expensive, but obviously doesn't allow for the floating condo if you aren’t returning to the boat to cruise.

Renting a slip off the beaten path in Florida can also improve availability and reduce price. There are marinas on the Okeechobee waterway and further up the St Johns river that can be quite reasonable but require a day or two to return to the coast. If the boat has some solar to maintain batteries when away, this marina (no electric at the slip) is reasonable and quite protected. For $8 per foot per month, one could afford to have a 6 month lease to guarantee a space.

https://portlabellemarina.com/

Ted
 
I keep my boat on Green Bay of lake Michigan. The summer weather is not at all extreme. Rarely above 90 degrees, never near freezing.

Last summer I was forced to leave the boat unattended for August and September. It was almost unusable due to the filth (and spiders) when I finally was able to get there in September. It was musty, the hull was really dirty, spiders everywhere, the windows were so dirty you could hardly see through them. No "critters" on board but lots of seagull droppings everywhere.

I did a very cursory cleaning before wrapping it up for winter storage but it would take me at least a week to get it clean. Just saying...

pete
 
How you are going to get the boat from Florida to the Carribean on a two week spring or winter break and back to Florida is a little beyond me, but ignoring that detail:

Since you don't care about the niceness of the Florida spot, consider pulling the boat out on the hard during the summer. There are two yards along the Okeechobee canal that specialize in this service, one on the Stuart end and the other on the Ft Myers end: The Glades Boat Storage in Moore Haven (cheaper) and River Forest Yachting Center in Stuart.

You will probably need to secure a long term spot to get a dock in the NE.

And as someone noted above, it will take a month to get to Fl from the NE and vice versa.

What kind of work do you do on board. It will probably require a Starlink setup to cover the entire east coast reliably. Don't know if it works in the Caribbean.

David
 
Slips in New England are typically seasonal. Most are from April 1/April15 to Oct15/Nov.1. There are marinas that will allow boats in year round, however they are rare.

Many marina's want a winter contract with the boat on land to secure the summer slip.
 
How you are going to get the boat from Florida to the Carribean on a two week spring or winter break and back to Florida is a little beyond me, but ignoring that detail:

The boat is a 57 Tolley with big MTUs that cruise at 17 knots. The idea is to make the run from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport in five hours or so then putt-putt around more economically before blasting back and flying home. Other than the grand in fuel it would take each way does that seem doable logistically?

Once Starlink lights up in the Carribean (they say coming soon) I would also have the option to pre-position it deeper into the Carribean with a friend while working remotely and have my wife and kids fly in for the break, then remote work it back to Florida after they return.
 
I guess I was confused by terminology. For most people I know and meet along the way, snowbirds head south in the winter and stay there until spring at which time they head north. Liveaboards, as long as I’ve been familiar with the concept, actually live on the boat as their principal residence. But this being the internet folks are free to use terms as they like. Sounds like you want to deliver your boat to FA then go visit for a few weeks now and then and go home. In the spring reverse it and do the same in NE. Yes, lots of people do that too and during the migrations there are plenty of boats and delivery crews. As others have noted, you will likely have to secure full time dockage at either end and we’ll in advance.

You mentioned Caribbean but also a five hour run to Freeport and that threw me off and maybe others. The Bahamas is not in the Caribbean which has a whole different set of considerations.
 
The boat is a 57 Tolley with big MTUs that cruise at 17 knots. The idea is to make the run from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport in five hours or so then putt-putt around more economically before blasting back and flying home. Other than the grand in fuel it would take each way does that seem doable logistically?
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Ok, the Bahamas sounds quite feasible for a two week break. If you keep your boat on the hard at one of the places I suggested near Stuart then you could bring the boat down to Ft Lauderdale, meet up with your kids and head off to the Bahamas for a week or two then back to S Florida.

I think that almost any boat that we call a “trawler” on this forum can cruise the Bahamas. The Caribbean requires more range and a stouter hull than most “trawlers”. Just look at the kind of boats you will find at the anchorage in St Martin for example. I don’t think you will find many Grand Banks there. A 57’ Tolley might qualify just due to its sheer size whereas a 40’ Tolley wouldn’t. Stabilizing fins would help.

David
 
Just look at the kind of boats you will find at the anchorage in St Martin for example. I don’t think you will find many Grand Banks there. A 57’ Tolley might qualify just due to its sheer size whereas a 40’ Tolley wouldn’t. Stabilizing fins would help.

"Bumfuzzle" is a family of 4 who have ventured throughout the Caribbean for the last 4-5 years or so. They recently sold their stabilized GB42 Puerto Rico, though since they were then in Aruba, he delivered it to the new owner in PR. They post frequently to their blog.

They are insatiable adventurers with many magic carpets in their wake including two prior sailboats (and a circumnavigation), a 1958 VW Camper that carried them through Central America, a 1980's era Bluebird Wanderlodge, and a vintage Airstream pulled by a similarly old 1960's International Travelall. Their adventure continues - again back to sail with a catamaran they recently purchased near Puerto Vallarta.

I find inspiration in stories like theirs - few on this forum would recommend a GB42 for such a trek but they have done it with aplomb, though he was quick to realize the benefit of stabilization. I think it's more about attitude than boat. At least I hope so -

Attached pic is from their website - mom and kids leaving boat for last time in Aruba. Boat will be delivered by dad to Puerto Rico.

Peter

Bumfuzzle Aruba.jpg
 
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I guess I was confused by terminology. For most people I know and meet along the way, snowbirds head south in the winter and stay there until spring at which time they head north. Liveaboards, as long as I’ve been familiar with the concept, actually live on the boat as their principal residence. But this being the internet folks are free to use terms as they like. Sounds like you want to deliver your boat to FA then go visit for a few weeks now and then and go home. In the spring reverse it and do the same in NE. Yes, lots of people do that too and during the migrations there are plenty of boats and delivery crews. As others have noted, you will likely have to secure full time dockage at either end and we’ll in advance.

You mentioned Caribbean but also a five hour run to Freeport and that threw me off and maybe others. The Bahamas is not in the Caribbean which has a whole different set of considerations.

You’ve got it nearly right. In addition to cruising New England and the Maritimes we’d like to use the boat as a pied a terre in the Boston area to be near our daughter during summer and fall, then do week or two excursions from Florida in and around school breaks in the winter, moving back and forth between seasons. And my investigation so far confirms that this would require permanent moorage on both ends, each costing many times more than what we are used to paying if it were available at all, which it isn’t. So this idea sadly looks likely to die on the vine.

And sorry for the confusion about the Bahamas and the Caribbean. The one looks like it just sort of runs into the other from out here!
 
You might want to try chartering in the Caribbean before making the commitment. We kept our sailboat in the Caribbean for three years, leaving it in the summers in the BVIs. We loved it, but new people from the east coast who had a Grand Banks trawler. They had it shipped to the BVIs, came down for a week a few times. After a rough trip to Virgin Gorda from Tortola, they told the dockmaster to come get it and have it shipped back to Charleston. The waters and winds in the Caribbean can be pretty rough for a trawler. We've found the movement of a trawler to be different than a sailboat. What would be comfortable in a sailboat is a side to side wallow in our trawler. Weather conditions that the sailboat handled nicely can be the same conditions we avoid traveling in on our trawler. I'm sure there will be some who've had a trawler in the Caribbean. It could be that different trawlers handle the conditions better than ours. We're really glad we had a great sailboat (Caliber 47) in the Caribbean.
 
Southern New England (Boston and south) has long waiting lists for slips and moorings. Not saying it’s impossible but it won’t be easy to find something. And what you find probably wouldn’t be your first choice.


I disagree. Fintry (79') was in Boston from 2005 until 2021. There was always space there at Boston Harbor Shipyard and Marina, summer and winter. BHSM is in East Boston, a dinghy ride from downtown, but walking or biking distance to all kinds of shopping and eating in East Boston. An easy walk to the subway and the airport. Half the price of the marinas on the west side of the harbor and free parking too. Wonderful view of Boston.



From September 2021 until now she is in New Bedford. There is also space available for the summer there. Not quite as convenient in every respect -- a long walk to groceries. There's a bus to Boston.



Morning Light is in the Merrimack River at Newburyport. There's not a lot of space, but certainly it is available. Also a longish walk to groceries. Train or bus to Boston.


Contracts in all three places run November - April and May-October, with the summer being 2 to 4 times more expensive. You wouldn't be far off if you figured $125 a foot in the summer.



Jim
 
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Mooring vs docking

We stayed in Jacksonville, Florida in the St Johns river. There are many marinas in that area and if you are careful about your choice, you'll be able to walk to restaurants and shopping. There were always a few boats moored in the area, but were almost always a problem especially if they broke loose. We just did not trust mooring our boat and leaving it unattended. At least in a marina the management and neighbors would look after it. We stayed at Ortega Landing and watched over a couple boats for friends, and when we traveled to visit family, other friends watched over our boat.
Fort Pearce and St Augustine are similar and have nice live aboard slips.
 
I recommend you consider Mexico, especially the Sea of Cortez. Beautiful water. I spend winters in the Loreto area in the Baja on my 52 ft motor yacht on a mooring ball. $450 per month. Great cruising to local islands and coastal areas with primitive villages.
I haul out in the summer and head north to Alaska and a more spartan experience in Ketchikan on my 34 ft C&C sailboat. I have a slip downtown. As a member of the local yacht club I have shower, laundry and weekly activities close by, and free bus service to grocery and hardware stores. Good fishing.

Alaska Airlines serves both locations with regular jet service.
 
I feel that cruising in the PNW is better than in PNE. (Based on 6 season cruising PNW, and 1 season cruising PNE, living on the Chesapeake for 2 years, and spending another year there in our boat.). We have home based in Pensacola Fl. for 30 years now, and it is a great place to live (becoming more crowded every day). We have boated all over Fl.; for the last 20 years we had trailerable "trawlers"--and before that several larger trawlers/motor yachts--and spent seven winters in the keys. Spent about 8 months cruising the Eastern Caribbean--and several trips to the Bahamas.

If you were going to anchor, then I think the NE might be a better mix. Agree that the Tolly 57 is not really a boat for the trip to the Eastern Caribbean (We did that in a 62' LOA full keel sail boat--coming back from Europe). Same for the Western Caribbean. If you want the Caribbean--then charter there.

If you just want to leave the boat in FL, then the St. John's River is a wonderful place. But, it is also subject to hurricanes--as in this year with flooding and damage to marinas. St. John's is a great cruising ground and we have cruised there for a month each of the last 10 years. But it is not S. Florida--with the crowds and high prices.

I understand about the daughter, and that is certainly a defining need, especially with a limited number of years when she is in the current living situation. Probably renting a living place with easily transported boat (Sedan or picnic boat no more than 11' beam in the 34' to 36' range or similar pilot house boat) would be better because it could be fairly easily transported on road to Florida and other places.
 
Thanks to everyone for all the suggestions. In addition to the moorage issues (or dockage, as they call it in Massachusetts—moorage there means a mooring ball), there is the issue of insurance. It turns out that moving up from 40 to 57 LOA in an older boat in an unfamiliar cruising ground is not a layup with the underwriters. It’s looking very unlikely that this could come together but we have certainly learned a lot trying to figure it out.
 
In winter, you can't just buzz back and forth to the Bahamas from mainland Florida. Winter cold fronts = northerly winds. Northerly winds against the north flowing Gulf Stream can make passage nigh on impossible for days at a time. This coupled with not so warm, windier winters in Freeport may not be ideal for you.
 
In winter, you can't just buzz back and forth to the Bahamas from mainland Florida. Winter cold fronts = northerly winds. Northerly winds against the north flowing Gulf Stream can make passage nigh on impossible for days at a time. This coupled with not so warm, windier winters in Freeport may not be ideal for you.

Oh so true. :iagree:
 
We keep a boat on Lake Huron and one in Florida, but we own a dock in each location, fortunately purchased when things were not so tight; seems your ready to spend a “fortune” each year going back and forth on the east coast and always transient docking in addition to the not insignificant fuel costs of “popping” over to Freeport or Boston Harbor. Unaddressed also is the aspect of ground transportation in all these places, where rental cars can be everywhere from expensive to unavailable. Bahamas are also no warmer than Florida in the winter, and frequently cold and windy. Several winters spent in these islands and a long time Florida resident. Best of luck.

Much has been said above regarding the uncertainty of weather in these plans, and I would add that Freeport is far from a Mecca in the Bahamas and far from what I would consider true Bahamas experience.
 
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I definitely assumed wrongly that the Bahamas would be warm, sunny, and accessible from S Florida in the winter. Even so, for as much as it would cost to do this, we could keep our existing boat in Seattle and charter in the Carribean for two or three weeks a year and still come out ahead. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Thanks TF crew for straightening is out!
 
Pardon the interruption, but I have another question regarding the same subject(snowbirding). What would be the feasibility of having a boat on each coast? We wouldn't be going back and forth but more traditional, say 6 months in the puget sound area or even Alaska somewhere and 6 months in gulf coast area. I would haul the boat out for its respective off season.

Just pondering??
 
We are looking to do the opposite!
We are from NL Canada and have been boating from the Great Lakes to the Bahamas and looking to relocate to the North West (British Columbia) to be closer to Grandchildren and experience the PNW. I think it would be good to have a discussion. Feel free to PM me and perhaps we can set up a call.
Currently in West Palm looking for a window to cross to the Bahamas.

Cheers
 
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