Couple Downsizes to Sail

ROCK HILL, S.C.--Adventurous. Bold. Daring.??

Those are a few ways?to describe Liz and David W. Shaw.??

Two years ago, the couple downsized from a four-room cottage shy of 700 square feet to a 36-foot sailboat named Sonata, with about 200 square feet of livable space.??

And for 15 months, the Shaws, who now live in Rock Hill, sailed through waters calm, rough and stormy. They navigated the East Coast of the United States, including a 1,000-mile-trip from the coast of Maine to New Bern, N.C.??

"I just figured the risk was worth the adventure," said David W. Shaw, 46, who has been sailing most of his life.??

Liz Shaw, 60, agreed: "We're crazy. But we are cautious."??

They found both joys and challenges at sea. Some nights were picturesque, with moonlight and clear, starry skies. Then there were other nights when the couple rode out storms in the pitch black, as the sailboat was tossed by the ocean.??

Sailing has been David's longtime hobby and passion. Since he was 4, he has been sailing with his father, who chartered sailboats and eventually bought one.??

But Liz had no experience in boating when she met David. They found each other in 1986, through a newspaper ad placed by then 24-year-old David, who was looking for a companion.??

Liz, then 39, said she was talked into responding to the ad by a friend. The couple met and discovered they had the same interests. The next year, they were married.??

Soon after, Liz learned to maneuver a sailboat on her own.??

The Shaws' extensive boating journey began in June 2005, when they decided to move themselves and a few belongings onto their sailboat.??

A year earlier, the couple had moved from Westfield, N.J., to Midtown, R.I. David, a freelance writer for 17 years and the author of seven nonfiction books, was working as an associate editor for a magazine there.??

Liz, who taught English and social studies to fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth graders for 30 years, had retired in 2004. After a year in Rhode Island, David desperately needed a change, and longed to sail without being tied down to a desk.??

"My career took a turn for the worse," said David, who said he felt the magazine job was not the right fit for him. He decided to leave that job and go back to writing and sailing.??

The Shaws had some experience with living on a boat--they had lived on a smaller sailboat during the summer, until it was time for Liz to return to school.??

But the trip that began in 2005 was the longest they had ever lived on the sailboat, which is equipped with a motor.??

During the trip, they spent months sailing offshore and through the Intracoastal Waterway from Southport Island, Maine, two hours north of Portland, to New Bern.??

The boat had just about everything they needed, including a full galley with a stove, bathroom and a stall shower.??

"The space below was a lot bigger," Liz said, comparing their most recent boat to the smaller boat they'd lived on. "It was compact, but it wasn't lacking anything."??

The only appliance they had to do without was a refrigerator. They had an ice box instead.??

Many days and nights, the couple sailed alongside other boats and ships. Dolphins often greeted them while they were cruising in Maine. They had stretches of sailing and short periods when they would dock for repairs or to get supplies.??

They made stops along the coast at places including Massachusetts, the Highlands in New Jersey and the Delaware-Chesapeake Canal.??

Liz said that whenever they would get off the boat they would have "sea legs," which felt as if the floor or walls were tilting.??

The Shaws operated their boat in three- to four-hour shifts throughout the night. Liz recalls one night when she was on duty and a huge ship passed them off the coast outside Long Island, N.Y. It had been a 26-hour stretch of sailing for the couple, as they headed to the Highlands into the dark, stormy night.??

"This giant ship went by and I was thinking, 'I am cold and I am drenched in rain. There's no one out here but the two of us,'" she said. "Within 10 minutes, he was gone. You're at the mercy of the weather when you are in a boat."??

No matter which direction they took, the couple always informed a friend, who also is a sailor, about their location. At each destination, they called him on their cell phone to tell him where they were and how long they expected to be there.??

They had agreed if the Shaws did not check in with their friend in a certain amount of time, he would contact the U.S. Coast Guard to search for them.??

The Shaws' first venture on a boat was a six-week trip to Canada after they were married. After returning inland, Liz said her first words to her mother were: "We are still talking to each other."??

She said some people are in disbelief at how well they get along in tight quarters.??

"What women ask me is, 'How do you deal with him that long?,'" Liz said. "We had been used to it, because David was always around when I got home from school and he was always there. We learned very early to give each other space and know when to leave each other alone."??

A few months into their trip, in October 2005, the Shaws made a pit stop in New Bern, N.C., where they docked the boat for the winter, although they were still living on it.??

The "southern hospitality" and charm in the small town began tugging at their hearts. They started thinking about dropping anchor and settling inland.??

Liz began researching the South and discovered what they were looking for in Rock Hill. They had never heard of Rock Hill before, but they thought it was worth a try, because of the taxes and its location. They moved to Rock Hill in October 2006, when their boating excursion ended.??

They sold the sailboat in May and used the money to purchase their new home last month.??

Since coming ashore, the Shaws have been settling in and making friends.??

David is working on a "nonfiction proposal in development," while Liz is getting back to sewing and knitting.??

But a sailor is always a sailor at heart, and the Shaws know that.??

"Some day, we will get the chance to do it again," Liz said.??

David said: "It's bittersweet. You have to move on in life. I feel very fortunate."??


To see more of The Herald, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.heraldonline.com.

Discuss This Article

Latest In Sailing

Connect With Us