The dream of leaving everything behind and sailing off into the sunset is a common one. Far less common is the commitment and resolve to actually live out that dream. Sharing a passion for adventure and living lighter, in tune with the natural world, Dr Lou Luddington and her husband Tom fall into the second category.
A marine biologist and photographer (Lou), and a freediving instructor come magician of the Magic Circle (Tom), together their journey aims to shed a light on the incredible stories to be found beneath the surface of our seas, inspiring others to protect this incredible environment.
The plan that was loosely formed in autumn 2018 - to sell our home of 17 years in Pembrokeshire, buy an old sailing boat, renovate it, move aboard and sail away - reached its zenith on 1st August 2020. That was the day we set off south from our home shores as fledgling liveaboard nomads.
The unexpected loss of three friends all younger than us in the previous year had brought an urgency to the question ‘what do we really want to do with our time?’. The passing of our faithful old dog Maizy was the final push. Daily life was so entwined with our memories of her that we needed to lift our roots and roam; it was time to embrace a new era and make memories elsewhere.
We talked excitedly about the idea. We wanted to travel, but not fly long haul. We didn't have much in savings, but our house had some positive equity. A massive sailing adventure; we could do that, we could sell up, buy a boat and liveaboard.
Sometimes you just have to be naive enough to do these things and stubborn enough to see them through.
We had read Voyage of the Swell by Liz Clarke and both been inspired. Travelling by wind in our new floating home we could live more sustainably and closer to nature. And travel to amazing new places. As a marine biologist, nature photographer and writer (Lou) and magician and freediving instructor (Tom) this would surely be the dream set-up? Apart from the initial shock from our families “But what about pirates?” we were surprised how much everyone agreed that this was perhaps the best plan we had ever made...
We had never owned a sailboat before, in fact the most time I’d spent on a yacht was an overnight trip to Skomer Island with some friends the previous summer. Tom hadn’t sailed once since training as a dinghy sailing instructor 20 years ago. Yet we knew we could rise to the challenge; between us we had gathered some solid seamanship skills from sea kayak guiding, and years of surfing, freediving and scientific diving.
The 18 months between buying the boat and setting off was a huge test of our commitment to the plan. We travelled 8 hours to north-east England to find her, and with help from the previous owner sailed her in 6 days and 6 hours round to Pembrokeshire. Rounding Lands End with dolphins and seeing basking sharks off Lundy spurred us on.
Old and neglected the boat needed a lot of work and way more than we could have imagined. Two major phases of renovation brought us to the end of the first Covid lockdown in the UK and the opportunity to finally launch into home waters as liveaboards. In our first weeks afloat two sails were ripped in a storm and the boom split in two from corrosion, further testing our resilience, but we hung on to the dream. The house and many of our possessions were sold, with a few keepsakes moved into storage. In order to get ourselves and the boat ready, we had achieved a to-do list that was truly epic. The silver lining was becoming closer to our families as they tirelessly helped us to prepare. We were all-in and laser focused.
Now that we are on our way, our intention remains glorious but simple - an open-ended ocean voyage in search of wild and beautiful stories to tell. We believe that by following our hearts and doing what we love, we can give back to the natural world. Noctiluca is our floating home and she has carried us safely through Bay of Biscay storms and many lively crossings. Countless dolphins have joined to bow ride and on calm days we have drifted among whales resting and breathing at the surface. Major engine trouble stalled us for a time but we also surfed downwind on the backs of open ocean waves with the hull singing from the speed and swum naked in 5000 metre deep water.
The most valuable thing has been to have our freedom during these unprecedented times, as we sailed through France, Spain, Portugal and then out to the Canary Islands.
The small living space of a 10.7 metre boat forces us to consider carefully what we keep on board, only cherished clothes and possessions. We buy biodegradable detergent and natural soaps, use every glug of water thoughtfully and our wind turbine and solar panels provide renewable power to our electrical devices. By eating a vegan diet and seeking out organically grown, local produce we aim to eat in tune with nature too. The boat has a small diesel engine but of course we sail whenever we can; the wondrous feeling of our home getting pushed along by wind alone never dims. We spend as much time at anchor in the wild places as we can.
Our ethos is to be thankful for the things we have and to look after them. We have learned to repair and make do and realise that we don't need much day-to-day. Life becomes simpler when you have less. We have a few favourite items of clothing that we wear over and over and choose good quality sustainable brands that create products with the planet in mind. My Finisterre shirt is an old favourite; it provides cover from the sun and has very handy pockets for stashing lens cap, glasses, lens cloth and spare camera battery when I’m on deck with my camera. It has washed so well over the years too, I love it! When you live the nomadic sailing lifestyle clothes can be a little grubby and shabby but still function perfectly well. I recently patched a beloved jacket and pair of trousers and I felt uplifted to be able to wear them again. This was why we found a space for my sewing machine when considering what to bring along.
The make-do and mend mindset is invaluable at sea; resourcefulness and resilience are key to maintaining this lifestyle. We have learned that hardships can be good when they have meaning and the rewards have certainly outshone the difficult times so far. Our rich experiences at sea have given us hope and reinforced our commitment to sustainable living in its deepest sense. To live and love for the greater good of the planet, is to realise that each of us already has enough. What you have today is what you once desired, so give thanks and enjoy...
About the Authors
Dr Lou Luddington is a nature photographer, marine biologist, author, surfer and sailor who lives aboard her sailing boat Noctiluca with freediving instructor, surfer, and magician of the Magic Circle husband Tom. They have a shared love of the ocean and work together as A Light at Sea www.alightatsea.com to share the real stories of life in our seas. Support their voyage through Patreon.