WILMINGTON — As a child, Hampstead native Anthony Tatum grew up sailing and living on boats. Seven years ago, he met his wife Stephanie, who shared his passion for sailing. Following their engagement, the couple purchased the “Aurora,” a 36-ft. sailing ketch they used to take a nine month journey through the Caribbean this past year.
Recently, the couple returned to the waters off Wrightsville Beach, where they now float between Banks Channel and Masonboro Island. This week’s Where We Live welcomes you aboard the Tatum’s floating home, and below decks for a taste of what a life at sea is like.
“We got back to Wilmington two months ago, this is home port for us,” Anthony Tatum said. “It’s funny, there was never a time when we were in other countries where we wanted to stay there. But, when we got back to the United States on our way back here, we’d stop in all these coastal towns and be like, ‘man, we should just live here,’”
“We’d meet people who would be like ‘you can stay here, you can leave your boat here,’ and we’d just be like, ‘OK, we’ll just live here.’” Stephanie Tatum added. “It’s a weird feeling, the freedom it gives you, we could just live anywhere.”
The Aurora was designed by Cheoy Lee Shipyards, a Hong Kong-based company known for high-quality racing vessels and yachts.
According to the Tatums, one of their favorite things about the Aurora is that, when originally built and shipped to the United States, it was kept in the Great Lakes. Finally, after 41 years, they came along, and took it to its true home at sea.
“When we first took her in the ocean, she was stoked, we could just feel it,” Stephanie said. “‘She was like, ‘I got this, let’s go,’ then we took her out sailing and she took it like a champ.”
The vessel was designed for speed, not comfort, able to sleep up to six crewman for long range voyages. According to the Tatums, the boat was designed by the same people responsible for a victory in the America’s Cup, one of the world’s premier yacht races.
Although they said they love their friends, their boat was not built for entertaining. The couple recalled a time they invited a friend and her dog aboard, only to find the cabin a little cramped.
“The dog got nervous and peed everywhere, it was just a little too much to handle. Never again,” Stephanie said with a laugh.
Luckily for the Tatums, it’s just the two of them in the cabin. They’ve made the most of their space, storing surf boards, fishing tackle, and much of their gear above deck to maximize their living room.
The main bunk is in the bow of the boat, giving it a distinct wedge shape. While at sea, the couple operates in three hour shifts, allowing the sleeper to maximize his or her legroom in the bedroom and to stretch out.
The cabin itself features a couch and futon, with a central table that can be stowed when not in use. Storage areas line the sides, with handrails at shoulder height to brace while the boat moves about.
The trade offs of land vs. sea
There is a small kitchenette built next to the main doorway, connected to a propane tank in the rear of the boat. While at sea, the Tatums live solely off of canned food, and what they can catch.
Being a ketch, the Aurora has two masts, both in front of the helm, allowing room for both members of the team to relax behind the wheel. Depending on where they are, the duo has been able to fish for species like mahi-mahi, Spanish mackerel, flounder, jack crevalle, red snapper, various species of grouper, conch, lobster, crab and even the occasional lion fish.
“Basically we trade off the refrigerator for that,” Anthony said.
“With no A/C it get’s hot. That’s usually how we wake up,” Stephanie said. “You’ll be sleeping, and you’re fine, and then the sun comes up and it’s like a little oven down there, you’ll just crawl out here and hope that it’s windy.”
“But, when there’s no wind, you can always just jump in the water,” Anthony said, which immediately prompted a demonstration from the Captain.
The boat does have power and running water, although in limited amounts. The boat has an 80-gallon tank, used for showers, the small head (bathroom) and dishes, as well as four, seven-gallon BPA jugs for holding potable water, used for drinking and cooking.
According to the Tatums, they can live about two weeks off their drinking water between marinas.
Power is supplied through a solar panel attached to the top of the boat, which provides about 80 percent of the Aurora’s energy. This is connected to two battery banks that power the boat’s lights, fans, chargers, and electric sailing gear. On days with no sun, or when they’re in port, that Tatums rely on the boats 53-hp motor to power the alternator, charging the batteries.
While you might think missing your favorite TV shows, or luxuries like dining out at restaurants, would be the draw-backs of living at sea, for the Tatums that is not the case.
According to Stephanie, it was doing laundry that became the biggest hassle.
“We tried doing laundry in a bucket, with a plunger…and we destroyed our clothes,” Stephanie said with a laugh.
On their journey, they would need to seek out an island to get the job done. Luckily, now that they’re back stateside, they can take their small dinghy to shore where they can head to the laundromat.
“It’s definitely more comfortable living here, we know there’s a laundromat here, and we can always head to Robert’s for groceries,” Anthony added.
For Anthony, the things he misses most while at sea are air conditioning, real showers and refrigeration.
“I really miss my refrigerator, that’s definitely the biggest thing for me,” Anthony said.
One of the things you give up living on a boat, is personal space. This, of course, is countered by the freedom to go where you please, but it’s something that Stephanie says she sorely misses.
“I love writing,” she said. “And it’s not like we don’t have space, we have the whole cabin below. But for me, as a writer, I need to have my desk, my lamp, a chair, my space, you know what I mean?”
So, how do you enjoy your marriage, while living in such a confined space? For many people, this might be unreasonable, but the Tatum’s have worked out a method for married life on the high seas.
“People always ask us, how do you not hate each other, and get in fights?” Stephanie said. “We just work through it, when we’re at sea, he’s the Captain, and I’m the First Mate. When we’re anchored and we’re comfortable, he’s my husband, and I’m his wife.”
Stephanie says it took several months to learn the dynamic of their relationship on the boat. The important thing to remember at sea is that often your very life can depend on your actions.
“Some people ask, ‘how do you deal with that?’ and my answer is, ‘happily,’ ” she continued. “When we’re sailing, it needs to happen just like that, you better jump to it. If he says grab that line, you better have that line in your hand.”
“I learned pretty quick,” she said. “‘When we first set out, I’d be like ‘you don’t talk to me like that, don’t yell at me! I’ll do whatever I want!’ And he’d just be like, ‘damn it Stephanie …’ But after going down the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway) and doing some shakedowns with the boat, we got it figured out.”
Through it all, the couple said they they’ve been happy with their life at sea. The Tatums often see dolphins and sea turtles playing in their anchorage, or on one of their camping trips to Masonboro Island.
“The dolphin like to come around in the morning and also at night time, and they’ll just hang out here,” Anthony said. “I’ll jump in the water and try to swim with them, and they’ll just swim around and circle the boat. You can stick your head down and hear them, it’s really cool.”
For Stephanie, it’s the spontaneity of their life, and how adventure can come with the change of the breeze.
“The view here is amazing, but you do kind of get used to that. A lot of people say it’s living the dream out here, but the dream is sort of just because you’re on one side of the fence as opposed to the other,” Anthony said.
“So, once you start living the dream, it’s no longer a dream, it becomes reality. You appreciate the beauty of the scenery, but the things that change are the best part,” Stephanie added.
Maybe one day the Tatums will move back to shore but, for now, the sea beckons.
“The people, the wildlife, and the spontaneity of it all is my favorite,” Stephanie said. “Just that freedom to be like, what do you want to do today? That’s what we live for.”
Where We Live is a weekly feature looking at the homes and unique places to stay in the Cape Fear Region. Do you have a home, on or off the market, that our readers may be interested in seeing? Let us know at PCD@localvoicemedia.com.