Elizabeth and Shawn Krenke sold their home to live aboard a Nordhavn 43. Now, they plan to cruise MV Freedom all around the world...
Many couples celebrate the start of their lives together by buying their forever home and planning a family with 2.4 children and a dog. Others, however, go to a boat show!
Our story began in 2004 at the annual Milwaukee Boat Show in Wisconsin. Shawn was 24 years old and ready to trade in his motorcycle for something more exhilarating; I was 21 with two more years of college ahead of me, yet very much in love with the idea of cruising Lake Michigan and enjoying summers on the water. Like many boat show attendees that night, we were there only to escape a cold Midwest evening and not to buy a boat.
Within a few short weeks, however, our motorcycles were sold and we were the proud owners of a brand new 24ft Glastron pocket cruiser, aptly named Tide The Knot. As many boat owners will attest, buying a boat isn’t exactly a great use of financial resources, especially when you don’t have a lot of them!
Rather, buying a boat is more of an investment in personal experiences and life-long memories, and less about future financial gains. We had no idea at the time that our new boat would take us to countless destinations along the west coast of Lake Michigan, introduce us to life-long friends and open our eyes to a whole new way of life.
When thinking back on how our journey began, a quote by Robert Frost always comes to mind: “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its wonder forever.” The sea, albeit a freshwater Great Lake, had begun to cast its greatest spell yet!
Realising a dream
When we purchased our first boat, Shawn was a few years into his engineering career with a global manufacturing company and I was about to begin a fast-paced career in merchandising for a large retailer. We were working hard, playing hard and loving life.
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After six-and-a-half years spent cruising the west coast of Lake Michigan on Tide the Knot, we were ready to upgrade to a larger boat, one that was more spacious and that could take us further in greater comfort.
The new boat, Gigi II, was a 2004 36ft Carver Sport Sedan with a flybridge, an interior sky lounge, two staterooms and a spacious main deck galley that allowed us to cook meals together while enjoying expansive views wherever we were. We cruised further and began to cross Lake Michigan to explore the beautiful white sand beaches that line the eastern shores.
During the long Wisconsin winters, when the boat was wrapped and tucked away in storage, Shawn and I found ourselves immersed in YouTube videos created by people who had left traditional life behind to travel the world on a boat.
One of our first inspirations for exploring the world on a boat was Three@Sea, a vlog created by a family of three who had sold everything, moved aboard a Nordhavn trawler and cruised the coastlines of North America, Central America and the Caribbean for eight years while working and raising their daughter, Ayla. Who knew that people could actually do that? Leaving the grind behind and living every day on the water, seeing and exploring the world, was something we absolutely wanted to do.
In October 2013, Shawn and I visited Seattle for the first time to mourn the end of what would be our final boating season in the Midwest. While it does rain a lot in this part of the world, the Pacific Northwest is a magical place for boaters and non-boaters alike.
Outdoor enthusiasts can ski, hike, mountain climb, and explore world-class vineyards by day, and enjoy beautiful sunset cruises on the calm waters of Puget Sound by night… or vice versa. We loved it so much we decided to pick up our lives and make Seattle home.
By April 2014, I had landed a leadership role with a prestigious North American retailer headquartered in Seattle, Shawn had negotiated a semi-remote work arrangement with his company, and we were officially Seattle-ites!
Once Gigi II arrived in Seattle a month later, we quickly began exploring the Puget Sound region. With over 200 ports all within 15 miles of one another, Puget Sound is arguably one of the greatest destinations for recreational boating in the United States and Canada.
Shawn and I enjoyed seven months aboard Gigi II exploring areas near Seattle, further north into the archipelago known as the San Juan Islands, and across to nearby Victoria, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. With its historic architecture, friendly people and diverse food scene, Victoria, B.C. remains one of our favourite boating destinations.
After less than a year cruising the Pacific Northwest, it was time to sell Gigi II and transition to a boat better suited to our ever-changing needs on the water. We were enjoying year-round cruising on the weekends but felt it was time to buy a boat that could keep up with our expanding cruising plans.
We purchased a 2007 40ft Sea Ray Sundancer sportscruiser with twin diesel engines, bow and stern thrusters, and higher cruising speeds that could take us further and faster to new destinations such as Desolation Sound and the Broughtons north of Vancouver.
We even circumnavigated Vancouver Island in less than two weeks, something many cruisers dream of but never attempt to do out of fear, lack of time or both. It was during these trips that we began documenting and sharing our own journeys on YouTube so that other cruisers and world travellers could catch a glimpse into one of the most beautiful places in the world.
All routes point Nord
As we continued to cruise the Pacific Northwest and live in awe of the beauty that surrounded us (expansive mountain views, whales, bald eagles, sea lions and much more), Shawn and I found ourselves questioning the meaning of life and what we wanted out of it.
We started to question our careers, our hectic work schedules, our futures, our current cruising lifestyle in Seattle, and what we wanted long term. Travelling the world in the comfort of our own long distance motor boat was becoming a major life goal for us, and one that we wanted to realise sooner rather than later.
In order to cross oceans comfortably and safely, you need to have a vessel that can comfortably and safely take you wherever you want to go. For us, the Nordhavn range of trawler yachts was and still is the number one choice. Very few yards build 40-50ft motor boats with the range and sea-keeping to safely cross the world’s major oceans.
While we had always dreamed of owning a Nordhavn, we never really believed it would be possible due to the high price they command, even secondhand. Throughout our boat search, we considered many other full displacement trawlers mostly from Selene and American Tug.
Both offered the ability to cruise long distances on a single tank of fuel in the comfort we were looking for and at a more affordable price; however, neither brand had models in our size range that were capable of crossing the Atlantic ocean or handling the kinds of voyages we planned to embark on.
Our hearts were set on the Nordhavn 43 as it was fitted with everything we would need to live aboard, including comfortable living spaces, a water maker, redundancy back-ups for all the major mechanical equipment and stabilisation for rougher seas. Knowing it was the only boat for us, and that it came with a price tag more than double the average house price, we put an aggressive plan in place to turn our dream into a reality.
Over the course of three years, we forced ourselves to live on one income while saving the other (salary, bonus, shares, side jobs etc.), we invested in the Seattle housing market, sold our rental apartment in Wisconsin, waved goodbye to our Sea Ray and began a massive downsizing effort spanning every aspect of our lives.
Right down to our sock drawers, we analysed each and every article of clothing, pair of shoes, kitchen appliance, TV, throw pillow, plate, bowl and eating utensil. If we hadn’t used it much or worn it over the past six months, and if it wasn’t needed while living on a boat, we sold it or donated it to charity. To be honest, this process wasn’t easy and required time and a mutual commitment to a common goal. But in the end, Shawn and I felt freed from attachments and re-energised to take our next big leap in life.
Luckily for us, all the years of hectic work schedules, dedication to our careers, minimalist lifestyle choices and a newfound commitment to strict budgeting would soon pay off. In April 2018, we became the proud owners of our dream boat, a Nordhavn 43 that was fully capable and ready to take us anywhere in the world. We named her MV Freedom.
Over the past two years, Shawn and I have continued to explore the waters of the Pacific Northwest of the United States and British Columbia. We are constantly mesmerised by the natural beauty that surrounds us: whales that gracefully accompany us on our travels, bears that quietly hunt the shorelines at dawn, snow-covered mountains, eagles that soar high in the sky, and so much more.
We also love cruising at a calm 7 knots, in a fully stabilised vessel with all the amenities of home. In fact, we are now proud to call Freedom our home. On March 1 2020, after years of planning, saving, down-sizing and dreaming, we closed the door to our life on land and moved aboard MV Freedom full time.
Despite the constant reminders every day that nothing in life is certain, we are totally content with our choice to sell nearly everything in exchange for a life on the water. It’s the best decision we’ve ever made. Living on a boat is different, and maybe even a little more work, but it has proven to be the right choice for us.
Waking up to the sounds of the sea, breathing in fresh salty air and being greeted by the occasional dockside sea lion is a pretty incredible experience. Furthermore, knowing we have everything we need to cruise the globe is a feeling like no other.
Into the wild
Shawn and I are more determined than ever to turn our dreams of global travel aboard MV Freedom into reality. While Shawn continues to work semi-remotely for his company, I have now ‘retired’ from my 13-year career in retail merchandising to focus on other interests such as photography and creating content for our YouTube channel to help support us as we begin cruising the world full-time once coronavirus restrictions ease.
In the words of Dennis Fox, a long-time boat owner and world cruiser: “You can always make more money, but you can’t make more time.” With that mantra in mind, we’re working towards our next goal of cruising the coastlines of northern British Columbia to Alaska and through the Northwest Passage, before turning our compass south towards warmer waters of the southern United States and the islands of the Caribbean.
What we do and where we explore after that is still to be determined, but we’ll be excited to experience whatever the Universe has in store for us next!
First published in the October 2020 issue of MBY. You can follow the adventures of Elizabeth and Shawn on their blog, YouTube channel or Instagram.