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Posted on Apr 24, 2013 | 0 comments

Margin of Error

A financial safety net is just as important as a physical one.

A financial safety net is just as important as a physical one.

Whenever we are dealing with finances Dan and I like to plan for a pretty decent margin of error. (Dan would appreciate it if I would practice this a little more in dealing with scheduling as well; I am consistently 5 minutes late.) If you could listen in to some of our mini-planning sessions we frequently have, you would hear the phrase “worst case scenario” at the beginning of most of them. We figure that if we plan for the worst case – within reason of course, we aren’t going doomsday here- then we will be left with a much higher comfort level and safety net in times when we’re living on the other end of the spectrum.

The margin of error is especially important when we are talking about making a budget for a lifestyle that we have never lived before. Sure we think that we will be fine living on $1000-$1500 per month based on our research, but that’s all it is right now, research. It’s crucial for us to know that if that doesn’t end up being true we aren’t left high and dry (pun intended). The whole basis of this adventure is our desire for freedom but you can’t have freedom if you are constantly worried about how you are going to pay for the next time your engine needs a tune-up.

There are a couple of big ways that we are dealing with the margin. The first is in how we are planning out our rental income. Dan has created a spreadsheet that we use to evaluate any potential rental properties that we look at which takes into account all expenses (including property management costs at the highest rate we’ve seen in our area) and also vacancy rates of our tenants. We have separate columns for vacancy rates at 0%, 4%, 7%, and 11%. The current accepted vacancy rate in our area is a very low 2-3% but we use the 7% rate as the amount that we use for budgeting purposes. We hope this will give us a very safe expectation of income from our rentals even if the market worsens a bit before we leave. Hopefully we’ll continue filling vacancies within a week or two as we have done with our first 2 houses and also find a manager we like at a lower price, but if we don’t we are still fairly comfortable.

The second part of the plan is maximizing our income earning potential while cruising. Dan is currently a certified PADI Dive Master and plans to become a PADI Open Water and Specialty Instructor as soon as possible. Because PADI is recognized worldwide we are hoping that this will give us a nice back-up option if our income falls short of expenses. We also intend to log our sailing time once we start cruising to begin the process of getting Coast Guard Captain’s licenses (6-pack at least) which would allow us to complete deliveries and also increase Dan’s marketability as a SCUBA instructor who is licensed to carry divers himself. Finally, investment income on other savings and maybe some future swing trading as described in Live on the Margin in addition to some small income from this blog (yes we have recently added ads to the site) eventually could all add to a few hundred a month for extra flexibility.

Best Case Scenario: our costs will not overextend our rental income, we will have renters who stay for years at a time and financial stress will be a thing of the past in our new life. Worst Case Scenario: we have crappy renters who tear up our houses, our boat breaks down too often and Dan has to take up part-time work doing his favorite hobby. Sounds like a pretty nice life either way.

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Posted on Nov 16, 2012 | 0 comments

I Can Hear Clearly Now, the Pain is Gone!

Note the “multi-baffled” design with the vent through the middle. Keeps water out and lets the pressure release.

Okay, the pun is a little much I know. The important thing is, it’s true! You see, for some reason when I am scuba diving I have a very difficult time equalizing my ears while descending. For anyone who has ever felt that pressure squeeze, you’ll know it can be very painful and distracting when you are just trying to have a good time diving. There were multiple times even in our training pool dives that I just could not get my ears to equalize properly only going down to 12 feet! Not only was it a problem during the dive, my ears (especially my right ear) would hurt for a week or more and cause muffled hearing.

After looking up the problems I was having online, I discovered that the continuing pain was a good indicator that I was doing real damage to my eardrum, duh. I decided I needed to do something to protect myself from permanent hearing loss, but I didn’t know what. Dan uses a special mask that covers his ears because he has surgical tube implants in his right ear and can’t get his ears wet, but it’s a pretty expensive mask and I wasn’t entirely sure that would help my equalization problems. At this point though, I was starting to feel like I needed to find a solution or I wouldn’t be able to dive anymore.

Finally, when I was researching the problem I found what I thought might be a real solution. On a few of the scuba forums, people were discussing the use of vented ear plugs while diving. The idea was a little scary because one of the first lessons you learn about diving is how wearing normal earplugs actually creates a negative pressure zone between your eardrum and the plug and can cause worse damage than wearing no plug. However, the vented ear plugs have a vent to allow air to escape from that pocket. I wanted to try them out, but our local dive shop didn’t sell them and I was wary of buying some online without being able to see them first.

Then, on our trip to Bull Shoals (yes the one where I came home with staples in my head) the boat dock was selling JBL Hydro Seals. To quote the JBL website they “utilize an advanced multi-baffle polymer design providing exceptional protection against water entering the ear canal.” And they work! I used them for the first time on our advanced training deep dive, and I have never had an easier time equalizing my ears. To be perfectly honest, I’m still not entirely sure why they work, but I know that I won’t be diving without them again. Another bonus is that because of the vented design, you can still hear normally while wearing them, so you don’t have to worry about missing anything important or need to wait to put them in until you are getting in the water.

To recap: if your ears hurt from diving, buy some JBL Hydro Seals*. You won’t be sorry!

*Another popular brand of vented earplugs is Doc’s Proplugs, though I haven’t personally tried these they also get good reviews online.

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Posted on Oct 24, 2012 | 0 comments


No, it isn’t a shark. It’s a spoonbill from Mermet Springs.

You might have noticed a new check on our To-do List… With a second trip to Mermet Springs in three weeks, I’ve finally earned my PADI Divemaster certification. It was quite a relief to finally be finished, to be honest. Kyle and I had been working nearly every weekend since May… taking tests, completing practical exams, assisting pool classes, grading quizzes and tests, guiding tours, assisting with student training dives, and anything else a dutiful dive shop slave does.

We will definitely still be doing most of those things, but at least the rush is over. We didn’t want to say no to any opportunity to complete a part of our certification requirements due to the fast approaching winter (and no diving for the warm blooded… water so cold your head wants to explode isn’t fun). Each time I assist with new students I am amazed at how far I have come in such a short time. From worrying about not banging into the coral/rocks to flawlessly floating through a submerged Boeing 727, I’m a much better diver than I was a year ago when I was in the Caribbean. I love being able to help students discover diving and improve their own skills.

I still have much to learn about diving and teaching diving, especially as I hone my skills for the instructor class, but it feels great to have attained professional diver ranking.

So where do I go from here? The eventual goal is for scuba to be able to provide some supplemental income while we are cruising. The best way to earn money in scuba is instructing and leading dive tours. As a divemaster I can already lead dive tours, but I am severely limited in the independent instructing I can do. Next up are the Instructor Development Course and the Instructor Exam.

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Posted on Jul 11, 2012 | 0 comments

From Planning to Preparation

“Success always comes when preparation meets opportunity” -Henry Hartman

And so begins the next step of our journey. Ladies and Gentlemen, Dan and I have officially changed our mindset (and actions) from what we like to call the Planning Stage to the Preparation Stage. As I said in my last post, we are preparing now to be ready to cruise by the end of next year’s hurricane season. We’ll be (hopefully) saying Happy New Year 2014 from an anchorage in the Bahamas. That being said, there is a LOT to do in a year if we really want to be prepared to get out there.

First and foremost among items on our To-Do list is getting our house sold. We are frantically fixing up all the little loose ends around our house that have been left undone in the almost 4 years that we have lived here. Prime example: the family that lived in our house prior to us moving in apparently decided they like their mantle piece on the basement fireplace too much to leave it behind, (totally bizarre I know) so we had to put a new one in. Luckily, we’re hoping to have the vast majority of those things completed within the next 2-3 weeks, as we would like to have our house on the market by the beginning of August. Speaking of getting our house on the market, anyone know a good realtor in Peoria?

Secondly, we have instituted a policy of no spending that is not beneficial to live on a boat. While that may seem somewhat broad, the biggest part of controlling our spending is based on the mindset of looking at every dollar going out of our bank account. Every dollar we spend on land is another dollar we won’t have when we’re living on a very fixed income on the boat. Going out to eat? No way. Visible home improvements? Sure. New swimsuit? Maybe. There are still quite a few large purchases/financial obligations that we will need to deal with before we can leave, but hopefully many of those will help us make money (like Dan’s scuba instructor certification) or save money (like getting LASIK surgery) in the future.

So what’s next, quitting our jobs? buying a boat? telling our family? duhn duhn duhn. Coming soon to a blog near you!

Follow your Dreams. Follow the Horizon.

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Posted on Jun 6, 2012 | 1 comment

Bull Shoals Houseboat

We were impressed all around by Bull Shoals.

Michele and I were fortunate enough to be able to spend a few nights aboard a 60 ft houseboat on Bull Shoals Lake recently. I was quite impressed with both the lodging and the diving. It’s no Caribbean, but it’s way better than anything around us. The houseboat was a four bedroom, 2 bathroom (ok, head) model that was custom designed by the owner of the boat dock. I’ll get to how we met the (super nice) owner later…

The main reason Kyle, Becca, Michele, and I decided to go on the trip was for Kyle, Michele, and I to finish the open water portion of a few scuba certifications… advanced for all three of us as well as rescue for Kyle and I.

Not what I was expecting. (Credit: BSLBD website)

To be honest my expectations were quite low. I’ve seen houseboats on the Illinois River… and, well, they look like houseboats on the Illinois River. Most are barely more than tents or campers precariously perched on a few rusty pontoons. Not so with the houseboats from Bull Shoals Lake Boat Dock. The boats were open, clean, and basically felt like a house inside (I know).

The diving was varied… a recent lack of rain coupled with unseasonably high temperatures has created a large algae bloom, reducing visibility to 5-10 feet in places. Below the thermocline at 26 feet the visibility greatly improved to 50-70 feet. Unfortunately the temperature dropped from 75-80 °F above the thermocline to around 55-60 °F below… too cold for our 4/3 wet suits.

The dives consisted of a few wall dives, some sunken machinery, and a ton of fish. My favorite dive, however, was our advanced class “deep” dive. Deep in quotations because we’ve already gone deeper in the Caribbean. Don’t tell PADI. When the Bull Shoals dam was built a huge swath of land was flooded, creating Bull Shoals Lake. The houses were dismantled prior to flooding but the trees were not. On our deep dive we were able to swim through an underwater forest of decades old trees… it was unreal.

Bull Shoals Lake

While preparing to descend for our night dive Michele was injured by Kyle accidentally jumping in on top of her. One of the instructors was bringing us over closer to the boat’s lights so he could explain the dive plan more easily. In the time between Kyle checking the water and announcing he was about to roll in, we entered his drop zone. We should have been aware divers were still entering the water. The instructor with us (who was facing the boat) should have been aware divers were still entering the water. It was dark. Kyle followed the proper procedures for entering the water… accidents just happen, however.

The owner of the boat dock was simply awesome. He instantly picked Michele and I up in his speed boat and brought us to a waiting ambulance at the dock. He then was kind enough to pick us up from the hospital at 3 in the morning after Michele was discharged. If you are ever in the area, I would highly suggest renting a boat from Rick at the Bull Shoals Lake Boat Dock. I am confident Rick will take great care of you.

Fortunately the three of us were able to complete our additional scuba certifications despite the accident. Kyle and I are now ready to begin divemaster training! The road to our dream won’t always be easy, but it is a path that is worth taking. It felt great to live on the water, if only for a few days. We can’t wait until it becomes full time.

Follow your dreams. Follow the Horizon.

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