A Year on a Boat: the Schoonvelds' Journey

A Year on a Boat: the Schoonvelds' Journey
The Schoonveld family

A decade ago, Patrick and Melissa Schoonveld set their sights on a truly YOLO project: to live on a boat for a year. Being planners at heart, they started saving and steadily chipping away at making their dream a reality. In 2019, they bought their boat Oestara, a 2005 Sweden 42, and steadily refurbished and outfitted her until she was ready.

The Oestara at anchor

Finally, in June 2023, they said goodbye to their home in Jersey City, moved onto the boat in Rye, went up to Maine, then down to the Chesapeake, then Charleston, and then down to the Bahamas. Their daughter Cecelia was now 10 years old — Melissa had been expecting her when the plan was hatched.

Of the couple, Patrick is the lifelong boat person. If he spots another boat on the water, he’s instantly in a race. “I’ve always said, if my job fails, what should I do? Go sailing,” Patrick told us when Bell 42 caught up with them recently over Zoom. Melissa came later to the sport. It appears that part of falling in love with Patrick also meant falling in love with sailing.

Proud winners of their class in a race around Stocking Island

Amusingly, 9 months into their adventure, it’s Melissa who is completely hooked. “If you asked us before we left, we would have said that Patrick would be the one cajoling the family to continue on for another year. We’ve swapped. I’ve adjusted to living on the boat and being less integrated with friends and our social life.” Patrick responded, “It’s true. I’ve one-eightied. I’m looking forward to a proper American supermarket, going into a hardware store and finding the correct tool, and using a flush toilet again!”

The journey has clearly awoken parts of Melissa that had been dormant with their busy life in the city. “My brain has been so crammed with work and corporate stuff for 20-plus years,” she said. “It’s been so interesting to feel that unravel over the last 9 months. The creative part of my brain has come back to the fore — writing poetry, reading, learning about new things.”

“You do learn a lot about yourself being restricted to a 45-foot boat,” Patrick said. “Before we left, there were pools going for how long it would take for Melissa to push me overboard.”

“The whole world becomes a distillation of everything that is you,” he continued. “Everything is magnified. We learned how mathematical we are about everything — how much we are type A people. Yet I think I’ve also found out that I’m more adaptable than I thought. You become a higher concentration, stronger version of yourself. While rule #1 is maintain the boat, rule #2 is maintain ourselves.”


While the trip has had its difficult moments, it has indeed been everything they hoped for. Most importantly to them, Cecelia — who was originally against the idea — has fallen in love with sailing and the journey as well. Melissa has been documenting their journey with a blog, Sailing Oestara. “Many of my memories leave me as soon as I publish a blog post,” Melissa said, “But the little joys remain: Cecelia figuring out what snorkeling is about. Her learning to use the GoPro. The turtle swimming by — even though there are turtles every day. The nurse shark living under the boat for a week.”

Cecelia the Mermaid

Their challenges actually began before they left. Even after 10 years of planning, they weren’t expecting their insurance company to pull out, taking the idea of going to the Eastern Caribbean off the table. In sailing both to Maine and the Bahamas, they had to sail right into the teeth of serious weather. And around Christmas 2023, they spent weeks stuck on a mooring in bad weather. “Spending 8 hours pinned at a 7 degree heel — while on a mooring! — was not fun,” Patrick said. “We thought, ‘maybe the dream was wrong’ and almost packed it in. But that pain made the highs even more high.”

Dolphins on the trip from Hampton to Charleston

While Maine had its share of bad weather, spending time on the boat while on the U.S. coastline had benefits. “As much as we prepared every inch of the boat, living on a boat is another thing,” Melissa said. “It took us months to work out the gremlins and so it was very useful to spend the first 3 months within easy access of tools and yards.”

Patrick added, “Moving onto the boat early meant we had things down to a system. It exposed weak points that didn’t seem to be weak points. Now I know every inch of this boat, including the 5 things that don’t currently work. But remember, we are type A people. Many of the other people down here aren’t really sailors but rather adventurers who have a boat. We are sailors. We spend time thinking about what we want next and how we’re going to do it.”

We asked for their advice for anyone thinking about doing such a journey. While there’s tons of pragmatic advice for prepping a boat (“Buy lithium batteries, have all the sails and don’t leave the spinnaker at home,” Patrick says), both said, “Just go.” The reasons why people go vary, and the levels of preparation people are willing to do varies, but Melissa put it simply, “You only get one ride on this roller coaster.”

As of this writing, the Schoonvelds are back in the Chesapeake Bay on their way back up to Newport. As much as Patrick is dying for a breakfast sandwich at the Franklin Spa, we hope they drop in at Rye to catch up with all of us at AYC.

Photo credits: the Schoonveld family