Start Sailing Now: Anticipating the Liveaboard Lifestyle

A nomadic existance while transitioning to living aboard full-time

After more than 20 years living in Northern Virginia, Liz and Doug Schnelzer are self-declared nomads. Although still in transition, these Chesapeake sailors have taken the leap to become liveaboards and have big plans for the future.

With the youngest of their three children away at college and jobs that allow remote work, Liz and Doug have sold the family home and are currently waiting for their new Balance 442 catamaran to be built. When we caught up with them in October, the pair was in Sea Cliff, NY, on the north shore of Long Island. You might imagine that this couple has waited years to pursue their liveaboard cruising dream, but in fact, after decades of other outdoor adventures (camping, paddling, and scuba) Liz and Doug just started cruising in 2018.

Schnelzers sailing
Liz and Doug have sold the family home and are awaiting delivery of their new Balance 442 catamaran. They plan to be full-time liveaboards.

"We've got to find a way..." And they did!

Liz grew up sailing at the Saltaire Yacht Club on Long Island, where she spent summers racing Sunfish. At age 19, after five years as a summer sailing instructor, she was asked to be the club’s head sailing instructor, the first “girl” to hold the job. Although she spent many years racing, Liz, who still owns her Sunfish, says her real love has always been more leisurely sailing. 

Doug was introduced to sailing in his late teens (his parents had a partnership in a Catalina 30 in Long Beach, CA) but didn’t do much sailing from that time until 2018, when he accompanied their son to Sea Base (a scouting program) in Islamorada, FL. There he spent six days sailing on a Morgan 41, a trip that really hooked him on sailing. Doug says, “I remember the next to last morning of the trip, sitting on the bow sipping my coffee, thinking, ‘We’ve got to find a way to do this on our own.’”

Sailing lessons and adventures on club boats.

Doug continues, “The weekend after that trip, Liz and I drove to Annapolis to visit four sailing schools. We felt that The Sailing Academy in Deale, MD, was the best fit for us. We signed up, had fabulous instructors for ASA 101 and 103, and got more time on the water by joining The Sailing Academy boat club. The club gave us access to nice boats that weren’t too big but allowed us to start exploring the Chesapeake and get experience. Classes intermixed with lots of sailing was a fantastic way for us to learn and grow our sailing capabilities.”

Liz at helm with Doug sailing
The Sailing Academy in Deale, MD, was a good fit for Liz and Doug to expand their sailing horizons. The school offered lessons and club boats for exploring the Bay.

The leap to boat ownership.

As their skills and confidence grew, Liz and Doug were ready to sail farther and cruise longer than the one-night limit permitted on the club boats, so in 2019 they bought Wombat, a Beneteau 393.
Wombat’s previous owner taught us a lot about the boat and introduced us to our great boat neighbors, Allan and Linda, at Herrington Harbour South,” explains Doug. “We joined Herrington Harbour Sailing Association (HHSA) and met friends that were wonderful to hang out with and taught us more on every trip.”

Liz adds, “Many of our dock neighbors have taught us so much about boating, and everyone in the HHSA community is very supportive of one another. Stefan, Andrea, and Paula, especially, have been such great mentors to us. Once we became proficient in sailing, they shared their favorite spots on the Bay and taught us how to buddy boat safely.”

In 2021 Doug and Liz sailed Wombat from Herring Bay to the Long Island Sound via the C&D Canal, the Delaware Bay, the New Jersey Coast, and the East River. In 2022, after completing ASA 114—the catamaran cruising course, the pair did their first bareboat charter aboard a Fountaine Pajot 40 catamaran with Virgin Islands Yacht Charters.

Finding time to sail pays off.

Liz says making time for sailing has enhanced their lives. “We both feel more productive in our jobs when we’re on Wombat and sailing,” she says. “And sailing has been good for our relationship, too. We each feel more fully ourselves.”

Liz and Doug have made intentional decisions that have allowed a smooth transition to the cruising life while still working. Liz explains, “Finding creative ways to explore the waters we have access to while showing up for our jobs has been key.”

For example, they explain, “In 2022 we turned Wombat into a city apartment for a few weeks. After sailing from Herring Bay to St. Mary’s City and up the Potomac River, we docked at the Capital Yacht Club, where we tied up to a T-head for almost a month. We got to live on the DC waterfront, experience The Wharf, go to the Smithsonian museums, attend concerts and Capitals games, and shop at the local farmer’s market, all without a car. And we were still able to work remotely.”

Plans to live aboard

When their new Balance catamaran is ready in 2025, Liz and Doug will become liveaboards. Their plans with the Balance include coastal cruising to New York and Maine and down the coast to Florida, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean, perhaps joining a Salty Dawg Flotilla. Last year they attended Balance University, a four-day sailing class on a Balance 482 designed for sailors committed to building their own Balance vessels. Next year will bring more excitement; they plan to go to South Africa and see the build in process. Until then Liz and Doug plan to continue to enjoy Wombat and sail between the Chesapeake, New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. 

If someone were interested i n learning to sail, what would you tell them?

Doug: Sailing has surprises, challenges, beauty, and adventure around each bend. Start simply, give yourself time, and enjoy the learning process. We started by just enjoying our ASA classes and then expanded our skills one step at a time.

Liz: For us, Jeff Bowen and Angie Wilson at The Sailing Academy were extraordinary. They were able to assess each of our abilities, separate from one another, which is important for a couple, and provide excellent sailing instruction. For women interested in sailing, I highly recommend The Sailing Academy. You will feel respected, educated, and will have a great time.