As told to Alex Hannaford
I have been a serial entrepreneur my whole life, and the last business I owned (a seafood restaurant) went under when the economy crashed. I held on to it for five years and just couldn’t do it any longer. After 40 years of being in business I realized I was still as broke as when I started, so I thought: why keep working my life away?
After I closed the business I decided to take an entirely new tack and hike from Orlando to Key West for six weeks. I lived out of a backpack just traveling. I loved living in nature, but after 350 miles I got tired of walking.
I suffered an injury to my groin from excessive walking and so I started thinking, how can I keep traveling without walking? In my 30s I’d taken off in a sailboat and I had the ocean in my blood. I knew I had to do it again.
It was 2013, and luckily I had a house with paying tenants. After the rise and fall of the housing market, I still had equity in the property, so I pulled that equity out and bought a 39-foot Ericson sailboat called Gypsea Soul. I went to work fixing it up so I could live completely off the grid. I wanted solar panels, a freezer for freshly caught fish, and rain catcher for my water. It took me the next two years to get it rigged.
I was off the grid for five months altogether, living on the boat. I caught my own food and felt I lived a pure life. My kids are grown now and on their own. They weren’t worried—they know I’m a survivalist—and I don’t have a partner.
There were some challenges, like hunting for food. I mostly caught lobster, but when I was sailing I always pulled a lure and so sometimes I ate mahi and tuna. I’d fish the bottom for smaller fish. The key was having a freezer, so when I caught something I didn’t have to either eat it all or throw what I didn’t eat over the side. Having storage for what I did catch was important.
I had a barbecue grill on board, so I cooked fish on that or steamed them and finished with a bit of olive oil. Having had a seafood restaurant I was a pretty proficient cook.
I had dry goods like rice, and I made my own tortillas out of flour and water and a dessert tortilla with sugar on top. I always had my coffee. Most of the time there was no alcohol on board because that’s a resource you have to go to land for. My whole goal was to survive without needing many commodities. Even propane, which you need to replenish eventually, lasted me six months.
I remember waking up to a storm in the middle of the night; I had to reset the anchors because the ground wasn’t holding well. Another time I dragged anchor and almost ended up on a reef. The ocean can be life threatening if you’re not aware of your environment and don’t have a little sailing time under your belt.
I kept myself occupied by writing. I wasn’t bored. I wasn’t lonely. I’d already been on my own for quite a while by the time I set sail. Sitting there in my hammock with just the ocean all around was the perfect environment for me. It seemed like energy just flowed to me.
I’m a changed person because of it. I don’t think I’ll ever live on land again. My boat was wiped out in Hurricane Irma. I’m now on another boat in Key West and I’m preparing to take off again next August to spend six months on the south side of Cuba. A friend once told me it takes time for your brain to adapt and deprogram when you go back to nature. You’re so wrapped up in the rat race. So after I’d been out there a while, all of a sudden it felt like I was part of something greater.
Exhausted from 60-hour workweeks and never-ending debt, Mark J. Reinhardt sought a way to live off the grid, away from the demands of work, bills, and what he described as the “soul-sucking routines of modern life.” He found it on a sailboat. His book, Off the Grid, which he describes as a guide to following your dreams, is available on Amazon.