I was interviewed by Wikianswers and Answers.com about our choice to live aboard our boat and cruise the Caribbean for years in search of a new home. It was a great interview and I decided to publish it to my Caribbean Travel Blog to allow our readers to better understand why we made our choice and what it is like to live aboard our boat. Enjoy!
Q&A with Robb Hamic on Answers.com.
Robb, you live on your boat, the Miss Lone Star, with your wife and two children. Can you tell us what life is like living on a boat?
Living on a boat with the whole family is interesting each day! The live-aboard lifestyle is fun, relaxing, hectic and chaotic all at the same time. Living in a small space with a dog and two kids can be challenging but we make the most of it. We don’t have to remind ourselves that we are living the dream everyday but our pesky kids try to give us the business, when they get the chance. We are always busy until there is nothing to do. We take the time to share some of life’s greatest moments with each other and we have grown much closer as a family aboard our boat.
What influenced your decision to live on a boat?
I had the dream of living in the Caribbean since I was a kid. I dreamed of sailing the open sea and diving for pirate gold at the bottom of the ocean. I would catch lobsters with my bare hands someday! It was a kid dream that never died, in reality. We ultimately came to the radical decision of living on our boat because of a number of factors. School violence in the US is prevalent and early childhood education is spotty in schools. We thought we could do better but why do it from a home in a suburban neighborhood? We felt guilty for having a big house, multiple cars and too much stuff that we didn’t use. It made a lot of sense to keep only what we used daily or wanted forever. We actually save a ton of money living on a boat in the Caribbean compared to our everyday life in Austin, Texas. We are creating memories that are unreachable for many people and we felt the positives outweighed the unknown.
It must be exciting to live on a boat! Can you describe Miss Lone Star?
Miss Lone Star is a modest ‘yacht’ of 37 feet and powered by twin gas engines. She has two staterooms, one small bathroom and a small kitchen and inside table. The space below deck is cozy and perfect for 4 people. The kids share a full-sized bed and we sleep on an amazing queen sized mattress with a huge skylight opening to the outside above our heads. We mounted a large iMac computer that doubles as a TV on the wall. We made some great upgrades that make the boat feel like home such as a convection oven, water maker that turns sea water into drinking water and teak flooring. My wife decorated it with homemade curtains, accents and pictures.
Above deck, the back of the boat has canvass that doubles the living space. It has seating for 8 and clear views around the outside. There is a sink and refrigerator outside, lights and a great stereo system. The front of the boat is large and has cushions intended for people to lay around in the sun. There is a large swim platform with an outside BBQ. We mounted a dinghy lift to the rear of the boat that doesn’t take away from the space. I installed a bank of solar panels above the canvass that will run all of our appliances except the oven and air conditioner.
Tell us about your service dog, Onyx. What are her duties aboard the Miss Lone Star?
Onyx is a valued member of our crew. She is a highly-trained and intelligent German Shepherd who is a former police dog. I am a service disabled veteran and she is trained to detect seizures, assist me in my daily activities and provides me emotional support. She doubles as the best protection dog ever! She has a watchful eye for any trouble and she babysits the kids when they are on the beach. She also guards the boat at night to ensure no one comes aboard or takes any of our things. Theft and boarding of boats by people with bad intentions happens on the Caribbean and she make us feel safe. She accompanies us into towns and watches over her pack.
Tell us about your travels. Do you have a set course or schedule, or do you decide where to visit along the way?
We have only a general direction of travel in mind and we anchor at many locations along the way. Sometimes we stay to ourselves and are in remote locations and other times we go into cities and dock the boat. We are traveling clockwise around the Caribbean until we reach Grenada then we will turn around and go back, this time hooking around to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico toward Panama. We think that once we have visited each country and spent a few years aboard, we may be able to make an informed decision on where we will end up. We are aware that we may love cursing so much, it may become a lifetime pursuit. In that case, we would buy a larger sailboat and learn to sail in all of the world’s oceans. We believe that God has a plan for us and we have faith that it will become clear.
What is it like when you have to weather a storm or rough waters?
Weather is the obsession of any boat Captain. I spend about 2 hours researching and evaluating weather conditions each day. We are very conservative about traveling in weather or rough seas. We are fortunate not to be on a schedule and choose to move anchorages only when there is a good weather window. We are also very fortunate that our boat is self-sufficient and we can live off of the grid for weeks. It has 350 miles of cruising range because of it’s fuel storage and it has a fast optimal cruising speed of 30 mph. We cover more distance in a shorter time because of our boat and limit our distance to 50-100 miles in a given trip.
Rough seas and strong winds are the fear of most sailors. We have been in our share of bad weather and it can be scary. We tie everything up and situate ourselves safely to ride out storms. We carry 4 anchors to keep the boat in position. We have a shallow draft and can get to protected areas to weather storms. At first, the dog and kids freaked out but we did things to occupy them such as singing and watching the rough weather. It is also a great time to take photography.
How long do you plan on living on your boat? Do you plan on settling down somewhere in the future?
We have plans to cruise for a couple years, spending no certain amount of time in any one place. We are free spirits and we plan to visit each Caribbean and Central American nation with the exception of Venezuela. We have a habit of staying longer than anticipated in places we love. We may stay a month or two in a place we love, exploring and learning the cultures and we have made shorter visits in places that don’t interest us. Flexibility is a big benefit to having your own boat and no time-table. We are actively interviewing each country to eventually settle down. I have the luxury of being a military retiree with fantastic benefits that can be used anywhere. We eventually want to buy land and build our own house in the perfect Caribbean country. So far, we like the US Virgin Islands, Panama, Belize, Costa Rica and Grand Cayman the best. We figure that life is an adventure and the place we will settle down will find us.
What are some of your favorite places you’ve encountered in your travels and why did you find them so intriguing?
Cuba is amazing and we hope to spend a lot more time there! It is the largest island in the Caribbean and fells like you’ve traveled back in time when you see this majestic country. 1950’s era US cars are everywhere together with 15th century architecture. The people are warm and the land feels unexplored. Americans fear new places, for some reason but we don’t. We love St. Croix and the beauty of this US territory and its people! It is an amazing and less traveled place where you can be alone on most non-tourists beaches that are easily accessible by rental car.
We want to experience all that is unique and different without assigning any expectations about what we may find. We plan to explore places that are less-traveled and not talked about. We find many of the best places by talking to local people. We love going to new and old churches on different islands and we meet wonderful people who talk with us as locals. The best way to immerse yourself in a new place is to hang out with locals and get away from tourists, in my opinion. Imagine where you live. How could a person experience all that it has to offer if they just went to the places that were on a guided tour?
Can you describe the beautiful waters of the Caribbean for us?
I believe that the Caribbean has the most amazing waters on the planet and they are more blue and clear than you see on the movies. Sometimes you can see down 100 feet and more underwater. The seas are teeming with wildlife and interesting creatures. I love to swim with dolphins and whales. The water has different colors at sunrise and sunset, which are startling. The azure hues are sublime to see first-hand from our boat.
What are some of your experiences in homeschooling your children aboard the Miss Lone Star?
Homeschooling on a boat is the easiest of our tasks, believe it or not. The kids are constantly learning and we teach them much of what we do, relating it to lessons. Imagine learning navigation as a kid and actually being able to apply it to solve a real life problem. Learning takes place seamlessly in our lives and in everything we do. Math is required to complete tasks rather than an abstract problem on a piece of paper. We read a lot and I think our kids will be reading big books in a year.
My wife is a naturalist and uses her first-hand knowledge of plants and animals to educate the kids. They’ve both dissected more fish and animals than I would care to admit. We take comfort in the fact that our kid’s education is not limited to anything that is stifled by a grade-level curriculum. Kids have the ability to learn more than they are taught in school and we take our time on the boat to show them that learning is a life-long endeavor. Aubrey and I are both attending college online and studying for our degrees in Elementary Education. We hope to set a good example for our kids and pick up the skills we need to educate them along the way.
Your blog, Miss Lone Star’s Travels, is very interesting and tends to draw the reader in as if they’re there! Do both you and your wife author the blog, and what types of things influence the subjects of your posts?
We initially started our Caribbean Travel Blog to keep our family and friends apprised of our voyage. We were immediately influenced by readers who came from around the world, wanting more. It turns out that we are living a pretty interesting life that could never be summed up in a reality show. I think that we address so many issues and interests on the blog that it really offers something for most people. The power of the Internet is amazing in its ability to find like-minded people who want to share in our adventure.
We tend to write about our daily lives, challenges and obstacles. On the blog, we detail our thoughts through genuine feelings. It is rare for bloggers to do that for readers. I think we represent what the larger portion of society wants to hear about through our travels. In researching most travel blogs, they are often authored by 20 something girls without kids staying in resorts or backpacking in remote places who post a lot of ‘selfie’ type photography. Many of these blog posts are actually reviews, paid by destinations or tourist bureaus. We are just a normal family who is taking part in a captivating journey. This is our life; we are not on vacation.
What else have you written? Any books or other published articles?
In my past life, I was a private investigator, bodyguard, private security company owner and professional military and law enforcement instructor trainer. I traveled far and wide doing my work and learning from some of the world’s great masters. I tracked down bad people and exposed them for what they did. Formerly, I risked my life on a daily basis to protect people or find facts. I authored a book in 2010 that detailed some of my work titled ‘Karma’s Helpers.’ I have written extensively for law enforcement and military publications detailing my teaching of Israeli Krav Maga, combat shooting, tactical training and active shooter response for school shootings. I have written feature articles for several U.S. newspapers and journals. In a decade, I’ve copyrighted hundreds of works and produced several DVD’s, including one for the National Rifle Association (NRA). I am always writing and I will undoubtedly write a book about our journey and experiences in the Caribbean at some point. I am happy to retire to ‘the good life.’
You might say there’s a different world underwater. What are some interesting experiences you’ve had as a dive master and avid scuba diver? What do you see down there in the underwater world?
Seventy percent of the world is underwater and virtually unexplored. I had no idea about the true wonders of life until I started scuba diving. I was timid, like most people, at first. I remember diving in a fresh water spring and being startled by a harmless perch as it swam up to my mask. Swimming alone with playful dolphin pods and diving on deserted ship wrecks are defiantly highlights of my diving so far. I have the added benefit of diving daily and filling my own air tanks aboard our boat. I haven’t found a Spanish treasure galleon yet, but my boyhood dream reminds me that most of the 16th and 17th century wrecks still lay on the ocean, undiscovered.
I was intrigued by underwater life and it was always my dream to be a dive master. I’ve been a teacher for more than half of my life and it was natural fit for me to use my communication skills to allow others to realize their own dreams underwater. I loved diving so much that I’ve never taken a break in my education and training. I started a new certification as soon as I finished the specialty I was working on. Knowledge is power and I have set my sights on becoming a PADI Course Director within a few years, which is the highest level of certification scuba diving has to offer. I want to teach people everywhere we go and eventually teach instructors. We want to write specialty course curriculum for PADI to help divers become better underwater photographers. I think I will open up my own dive operation someday.
You answered a question on Answers about there being no bears on the Caribbean islands. What types of animal life do see in your travels?
I remember answering a question “if bears were in the Bahamas” and the answer is certainly no. I’ve read about a certain species of polar bear that resided on Nanuq, in the Portuguese West Indies but I can’t find it on a map. I saw a bear crossing sign in St. Croix but I think it was a hoax. Many diverse groups of land animals exist in the Caribbean and we are fond of them all! We’ve seen too many species of lizard to list. There are red deer and swimming pigs. Belize is home to the world’s largest jaguar population and hosts 900 American crocodiles. The US Virgin Islands have a large Mongoose presence. My wife has an odd addiction to catching all types of wild animals and she is on a quest to catch everything she can possibly trap alive or hand-catch. I’m sure she has at least 100 separate species at this time. I’ve had to become really good at first aid, safe to say.
When you dock to visit an area, typically, how long do you stay? What are some of the places you’ve been you favor the most and why?
We have an fairly democratic system for choosing where we stay and for how long. Everyone except the dog gets a vote and the Captain gets two. We usually stay on an island for at least a week and we will take a couple months for particularly interesting places. We ‘anchor out’ on remote beaches mostly because we like the seclusion and there is no fee. When choosing an anchorage, I prefer the ‘leeward’ side of an island because the trade wind blows most days. The boat can find a good spot and it is less windy for the crew, with the wind blowing at your back. We enjoy docking once in awhile so we can enjoy some creature comforts such as air-conditioning and laundry service. You have to pay docking fees but we also use the time to get gas and stock up on provisions.
We love the ‘out islands’ of the Bahamas because of the seclusion. It is really interesting to see a place that isn’t effected too much by tourism. Towns that have only one church, bakery, grocery store and a bar are pretty cool in my book. You would be surprised to hear some of the stories from a grizzled old guy who has lived on one island his whole life. We enjoy finding a good place to drink coffee in the morning. Panama City is an unbelievable sight for people who have been at sea for a long time. The skyscrapers are huge and there is an abundance of night-life. The theater is one of the best around for thousands of miles. We always look for a new experience anywhere we go to broaden our horizons. They aren’t hard to find.
Both you and your wife are professional photographers? What type of photography do each of you specialize in?
My wife Aubrey specializes in portraiture especially children. She has an extensive education in photography and the arts. She captures amazing photography of animals in their natural habitats. She is a very talented landscape photographer. I love underwater imaging. There is no better way for me to put my underwater skills to use than behind a camera. We are fortunate in that we took all of our gear with us and we have a mobile photography studio. I was not formally trained, except by my lovely wife. She says I am her favorite understudy but I think that is because I carry her gear and never say no to an opportunity to take a shot. I might be that guy in the middle of the street, dodging cars for a unique picture.
If someone wanted to get in touch with you about writing articles or your photography, how would they go about contacting you?
I am writing extensively about Caribbean Travel topics and our experiences. If there is interest for me to do a piece, I can be reached by my personal email – firstname.lastname@example.org. Clients can also contact me through our Caribbean Travel Blog, Facebook or Twitter. We have done an extensive amount of photography for clients while on location and we are happy to serve people who want professional photography while visiting some of the world’s most exclusive destinations. We have served many people by taking photography on their yacht, under sail or underwater. We can be reached through our photography website or through the means listed above. Aubrey would love to do photography for publications such as National Geographic but we haven’t reached out to them yet. Maybe she will still have all of her fingers when they call.
Is there anything else about your lifestyle on the water you’d like to share with us?
If I had one additional thing to share it would be: chase your dreams, wherever they may be. All things are possible and easier than you think. We hope to illustrate this premise by living an extraordinary life with small children in tow. If we can do it, anyone can. A few years before setting off, I had very little boat experience, had never spent a night aboard a boat. I didn’t know how to fix an engine and never caught a lobster with my hand or speared a fish. I had never been diving and had no thought about how I could actually get to the Caribbean to stay. I never considered raising kids on a boat. Now I do.