Like most teachers working through the pandemic, Christopher Bergeron has been holding classes remotely for a while. In May, however, he took remote work a step further: The Portland, Maine, college professor started working from a boat. Here’s a look at how he does it.
An instructional design professor at Bellevue University, Bergeron had already been working remotely for more than five years before he and his two sons moved onboard a sailboat this May with their cat.
He had been mulling the idea of living on a sailboat for two decades.
“I’ve always been very passionate about travel and always looking for ways to travel,” he said. “During the COVID lockdowns, when I was sitting at my kitchen table and working from my kitchen table, I was thinking, ‘Well, what’s the difference between working from this kitchen table and working from the kitchen table on sailboat?’ And I realized that there essentially was no difference. And I’ve always, always loved sailing; I thought that I would eventually retire onto a sailboat. So we just decided not to wait.”
One of the biggest changes the family experienced in the move was the drastic downsizing.
Before moving onboard, they shared an apartment of roughly 800 square feet, which was a downsize itself as the Bergerons tried to ready themselves for the close living conditions on a sailboat.
Now, they have just 500 square feet among the three of them.
They kept their boat on the hook for a while, meaning it stayed in nearshore waters and the occasional marina, which Christopher says “isn’t much different than living in a really small apartment.”
Last month, the family moved the boat to float at anchor further out in the water. This brought a few changes.
“The boat moves a lot more freely when you’re at anchor, and electricity becomes a little bit more front-of-mind,” Christopher said.
Everything on the boat runs off of a 12-volt battery, except for Christopher’s laptop.
Two portable solar panels power batteries, and another set of solar panels charge the boat’s house bank. The family tries to rely primarily on solar to minimize use of their generator.
“We’re very conscious about making sure that my laptop is as fully charged as possible and that, if we run into a few cloudy days, I will have enough electricity on the laptop to make my work happen,” he added.
For internet, the Bergerons have a 4G LTE hotspot with no limit on data usage.
The family is eagerly awaiting Starlink satellite internet for their boat, Christopher says.
In the meantime, they plan their trips based on where they’ll be able to access WiFi.
“The hope is that once the Starlink system is operational for sailboats, we will have a wider range of places that we can go,” he said. “But for now we’ve limited ourselves intentionally to places where there’s a cell signal.”
They time their trips to stagger sailing with Christopher’s work so he can fully focus on sailing when they’re in motion.
If they didn’t, their WiFi could probably still hold up: Christopher’s youngest son, Liam, was able to participate in live classes during a 40-mile (64km) trek from New Hampshire to Maine.
Despite the close quarters on the boat, Christopher has plenty of options when it comes to his workspace.
He sometimes sets up his laptop or iPad at an indoor table built into the boat. Other times, he’ll work at the kitchen table or, weather permitting, in the cockpit outside.
He also does a considerable amount of work from coffee shops.
“I love working in cafes,” he said. “One of the things that I do when I look at planning our destinations is I go on Google Maps and I look for the coolest local cafes.”
Besides its smaller space, the Bergerons’ boat also has a few other differences from many homes on land.
For one, the Bergerons use a gimbal stove to keep pans level while the boat rocks. They also need to remember to switch their pump for water pressure on and off. In the bathroom, their toilet uses salt water for manual flushes, bringing waste to a holding tank that they periodically empty at a pumpout facility.
Christopher says his passion for sailing boils down to “the connection of the love of nature and the love of travel.”
“Sailing is moving from one place to another using the wind, so you’re using nature,” he said. “It’s difficult to have a hobby or a lifestyle that’s more connected to the outdoors when you’re so dependent on the weather and the movement of the water and the movement of the air.”
Perhaps the family member who has most enjoyed boat life is the Bergerons’ cat, Apollo.
“It helps that his hobbies include sleeping in the sunshine and eating, which translate quite well to life aboard,” Christopher said.
So far, the Bergerons have made their way along the coasts of New Hampshire and Maine.
They’re planning to sail down the rest of the East Coast to reach Florida by December.
Christopher describes the experience of living and working on a boat, particularly at anchor, as “freeing.”
“You’re very much connected to nature while being disconnected from a lot of distractions, so I find that I’m able to focus quite a bit more on the work that I’m doing,” he said. “It ends up being this double benefit because a lot of the distraction is removed. You end up having more time to work and more time to play, which doesn’t sound exactly possible, but it is.”