28 November 2019

Working Day Jobs While Cruising

Unlike most long distance cruisers, we have retained day jobs while sailing. The cadence of our days is a bit different from many of the other sailors around us as we plan our boat projects/maintenance, land excursions, and sailing schedule very much around work commitments and the ability to secure reliable internet.

Captain Linda Perry Riera

What Do We Do?

Linda:  Clinical Operations and Clinical Research Scientist

When on land manages studies for investigational drugs for rare and neurological diseases in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. When cruising cannot (and does not want to) be available to the extent needed to do this work well. Therefore shifts to document writing (e.g., standard operating procedures) and document review (e.g., study protocols) related to clinical research when cruising (about 10 hours/week).

Bob: Software Engineer

Primarily hands on coding in support of the internal business processes for a corporate travel and technology management company based in Massachusetts, USA. Able to do the same type of work when living on land or a nomadic aquatic lifestyle (but decreases to 25-30 hours/week when cruising).

Typical Daily / Weekly Schedule

The pattern of our lives maintains a Monday through Friday cadence centered around day jobs, as when living on land, followed by a change of pace on the weekend. However, we enjoy more flexibility than when we are working full time on land. A typical midweek schedule is:

5:15 Alarm goes off, perhaps a snooze or two.
5:45 Bob is working. Linda makes coffee and takes in the sunrise from the cockpit; reads.
7:30 Linda goes for a long exercise swim (if anchorage is safe). Bob continues working. Both bathe off transom followed by a quick cockpit freshwater rinse.
9:00 Linda begins working. Bob continues working.
11:00 Bob does some boat projects.
Linda jumps in the dinghy and goes ashore; walks to a bus stop, finds a couple of markets, buys only what can be comfortably carried back.
14:00 Both jump in the water to cool off, scrub the bottom of the dinghy or water line of Argon while in the water.
15:00 Dinghy back ashore to work somewhere that laptops can be powered (so we do not drain Argon's batteries too much) and with free WiFi (to ease off on our usage of paid data).
While access to free WiFi may update apps, download podcasts, books, videos, do life logistics on line (personal emails, studying weather and where to sail to next, reading articles).
17:00 Dinghy back to Argon. Do some boat tinkering. Cook dinner.
19:00 Final swim off transom to cool off. Relax in the cockpit.
20:00 Last check back in to work. In bed reading, listening to a podcast, or watching a downloaded video. 
21:00 Usually asleep.

Of course the above is just an example. There are all sorts of permutations including sometimes getting on to land for part of a day to hike or explore, but that is normally reserved for the weekend. Or a significant boat issue may need attention. And, when we are actually sailing, there is time to prep the boat to weigh anchor, then perhaps several hours or most of a day or more actually sailing to the next harbor or island which is sometimes done midweek depending on work commitments. If the new island is in a different country there is quite a bit of added time to check out of customs & immigration of the departing country, and then check in to the new country.

Once re-anchored, there is a myriad of small items to attend to that have become quite routine including organizing lines, covering the main sail, deploying the dinghy from the davits, snorkeling on the anchor to check the hold, setting up the forward hatch awning, monitoring the swing on the anchor (and re-setting if needed). And, critical for our day jobs, confirming data / reception and connecting to WiFi (see below) so we can get back to work.

Ultimate in Open Office Design and Flexible Workspace

Argon is mostly at anchor while we are cruising and we spend much of our workday on board. However, we regularly get to shore seeking free WiFi and to couple working with some land errands, or just for a change of scenery.

Below are photos of some of the places we set up shop for our day jobs while cruising.

Linda's favorite workspace:  Argon's cockpit in a breezy, beautiful harbor while at anchor.

Most common workspace: On board Argon in the salon.
Although working at home (on board Argon) is often easiest, it can be difficult to stay comfortable. Temperatures in the salon are often in the high 80's or low 90's.

This on shore workspace has everything: Breezy restaurant with access to power, free WiFi, cool beverages and feathery company (perhaps he's someone's dinner).

Finding shelter from a downpour. (Bob is on a teleconference.)

Modern coffee shop with not only power, WiFi and great lattes, but also the rare air conditioning!

Tiki Bar restaurant Prickly Bay, Grenada. Lots of power outlets but non-ideal due to music playing and/or TV on.

Bermuda. Another great find: comfort, power outlets, WiFi, air conditioning and quiet!

In the cockpit of Argon early in the morning, Grenada.

Porch in St. Lucia with a lovely vista.

Corner office on the Dutch island of Saba.

At anchor somewhere in the US Virgin Islands.

Turks and Caicos.

Turks and Caicos. Overcast to allow Bob to barely see his screen.

Dominica. Another beautiful view.

Satiating a Voracious Appetite for Data


Our appetite for data is huge compared to any other cruiser we have encountered. We chow down 1-1.5G/day mostly due to our day jobs. Needing this generous amount of data, as well as reliable connectivity daily, have been major challenges. Many people will offer advice related various methods but we usually find out that the thresholds for data usage are way too low for our needs. During our first extended cruise (2016-2017) we learned that WiFi options in anchorages (as well as on shore) are massively unreliable causing tremendous stress as we needed connectivity regularly to deliver on work commitments. We made many data-related mistakes and spent an average of nearly $500/month! A prior blog post outlines our approach and many learnings.

Shroud Cay Exumas, Bahamas back in 2017 during our first cruise. To my dismay, we stayed only a few hours because we had no data and Bob needed to get back on line for work. There were too many times that we skipped over an interesting place or minimized our stay because of data issues.

Our second extended journey 2018-2019 brought improvements all around including decreasing our spend to about $300/month. Our main strategy was an unlocked cell phone (separate from our two regular personal phones) with stripped down apps (to avoid any inadvertent data usage). Then securing local data SIM cards from the current country. Some key challenges included:
  • Sometimes having much difficulty finding or getting to where local SIMs could be purchased (would require a long and expensive cab ride and/or the store had scant business hours, especially on smaller islands)
  • Figuring out how (or remembering to) top off balances before the data ran out (especially difficult in some of the French islands where all info/apps were only in the local language)

Some of our collection of local SIM cards: Chippy (St. Martin and Saba), Orange (Martinique, Guadeloupe, Les Saintes, Marie Gallante), French Digicel (Guadeloupe but crazy expensive; Orange is better) and Dominican Digicel. We also have SIMs for Flow (Antigua) and BTC (Bahamas).

Now at the front end of our third extended cruise, we think we've got things figured out. Fingers crossed anyway. Our approach is to combine the local data SIM card method with Google Fi leveraging 4 cell phones now:
  • Bob's personal and Linda's personal (roaming off of course, and settings set to no automatic updates when connected to WiFi... as our WiFi is usually metered)
  • Unlocked stripped down with GoogleFi
  • Unlocked stripped down with local data SIM card - for both data and local phone calls
Having two cell phones to use as hot spots (local SIM and GoogleFi) also allows me to take one with me when I venture to shore while Bob remains aboard. This affords the luxury of connectivity as I do errands or go on land excursions. 

Four unlocked Androids: 2 are our personal phones, the other 2 are for local SIM cards and GoogleFi to serve as hot spots.

GoogleFi is a great option but only up to 15G in a month, then it's less attractive due to the cost:
  • $10/G up to 6G, then free up to 15G. Once 15G is reached, the data speed is slowed waaayyyyy down (unusable for our needs) and it is back to $10/G. 
With our voracious data appetite (35-40G/month), GoogleFi would be well over $300/month. Therefore we aim to keep the GoogleFi data usage to 15G/month with the remaining data from SIM cards and on-shore free WiFi. And GoogleFi has worked well so far but we have only been in Grenada... let's see if it is as reliable as we make our way up the Caribbean chain. A back-up option (or two) is prudent and will surely be needed at some point.

The cost of data through the local SIM cards varies widely from country to country anywhere from $3-$15/G but will often be less expensive than the cost post 15G through GoogleFi, and will provide a back-up method.

Here is one of our cheap Androids with a Digicel and a Flow card.

Thus our monthly data usage and spend is likely to play out as follows:
  • 15G through GoogleFi at $90 (includes direct data cost plus fees)
  • 10G through local data SIM card at $30-$150
  • remaining 10-20G onshore free WiFi
We very much hope to decrease our average data spend to $150/month!! Status report in six months.

Flexibility and Supportive Employers are Paramount


Linda: I converted to an independent consultant in my field of clinical trials and clinical research mid 2017 with the objective of flexing up my work when in land-life mode, and throttling back when we are cruising. It is working out wonderfully thus far. When cruising I work about 10 hours/week on document writing that, while less interesting perhaps, affords much flexibility requiring minimal scheduled meetings/telecons and I can mostly make my own schedule. The more interesting assignments will resume (along with heavier hours) when back on land. 

Bob: Before our first trip to the Caribbean back in 2016, Bob told his boss over dinner one night: "Linda wants to sail to the Caribbean. I can either go with her, or I have to move in with you". That settled it. Bob switched from full-time salaried, to full-time hourly to allow flexing down of hours while traveling (a bit), gave up health insurance and paid time off and has remained in this status with his employer ever since. Bob works 25-30 hours/week while cruising, and full time when on land. Note: We both must buy health insurance privately which is an important financial consideration.

Both:  We take our work very seriously and do our best to not leave our work colleagues waiting on us for anything. We are able to be very productive, and yes, it does cut into the fun part of cruising a bit, but it also makes this wonderful cruising lifestyle possible.

The perfect combination of work, adventure and pleasure.

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