2020, our big year. Or not.

February 18, 2021

Reading time: 11 minutes

2020 was going to be our year. True, we’d thought that about 2016. And 2017. And 2018. 2019 gets a pass because of life in general, but 2020 we were finally going to do it.

The big decision

We started 2020 in Jacksonville, staying with our “Christmas family”, who had temporarily moved from Colorado. We kayaked and spotted gators instead of taking our usual snowy hikes.

New Years Eve 2019 at the Jacksonville Zoo

2019 had been, to out it mildly, a total sh*tshow for us. We’d had to bury one of our closest friends and Ailsa’s mum. Life was on hold while we supported Ailsa’s dad. We were ready to start living again.

That time in Jacksonville was a balm, and not just because of the balmy winter sun. It gave us time to pause and reflect, to chat with our friends over long nights of Cards Against Humanity. This, for its faults, has become a bonding ritual for us over many a craft beer. We had gone out there thinking 2020 might be our year, but that trip sealed it. We were finally free of debt and even had some savings. Colin was working as a contractor which meant remote work opportunities would be easier to come by. We had made peace with leaving the UK.

Lightbulb moment

We finally figured out the one big hurdle that was holding us back. We needed to sell our home BEFORE looking for a boat. This would mean that that when the right yacht came up we would be ready. We’d also completed two bareboat charters, and knew that we were looking for a larger monohull or a small catamaran. Once we sold our house, we’d know our budget, and have the cash ready to buy.

The plan

We arrived home full of fire. Our plan was to get our US visas ASAP, and our house on the market in April. Ailsa would finish up work in Spring. In July, we would move out to Florida, buy a cheap car and start our search for our new home. A tourist visa would allow us up to 6 months in the US, but our goal was to find something and be heading to the Bahamas in time for Christmas.

An easterly wind

In early-February, we took a trip to Portugal for a few days. One day, hanging out with some friendly cats, we got chatting to a couple who had travelled the world cat-sitting. We were already thinking about it, but chatting to them really helped to make up our minds about accommodation in Florida – we would look for house and pet sitting opportunities.

In Portugal, with cats

While we were in Portugal, we kept half an eye on the news from China. Our flight home was cancelled due to UK storms. As we checked into a hotel we told the receptionist we were having trouble flying home. She asked if it was “this virus thing”. We chuckled light heartedly and said, “no, not at all, that’s far away”.

The last weekend

On 21 February, we walked up to the US Embassy for our interviews. The waiting room felt like something out of Black Mirror, all white and futuristic. It was only missing the treadmills for us to earn credits.

By that point we were already using a lot of hand sanitiser, and making an effort to walk rather than take the tube. London was very quiet. But life still felt normal. Visa’s granted, we celebrated by meeting Colin’s nieces at our favourite Soho bar.

We spent a fun weekend in Cambridge with our friends, but we were still glued to the news. A number of small villages in Lombardy, Italy, had gone in to lockdown. Our Italian friend and host was getting worried…

That was our last normal weekend… do you remember yours?

We had a night at the pub a few days later, before starting to avoid public places. Like most people though, we expected it to have blown over in a few weeks. We pressed on with preparing to put our house on the market in April by decluttering and cleaning up our flat.

The last normal night out

Goodbye office

Ailsa took her laptop home on 17 March, and was told to expect to work from home for a few weeks. She hasn’t sat at her desk or seen her colleagues in person since.

Colin was already working from home regularly. Colin’s contract wasn’t renewed, and he was furloughed. Stuck in our small 1 bedroom central-Edinburgh flat, with no garden, getting away and on to a boat never felt more appealing.

Some of our early attempts at WFH setups

Lockdown life

What follows is no doubt familiar to many, if not all of us.

On 19 March we had our first family Zoom, in lieu of a family lunch for Colin’s dad’s 85th birthday.

By the time the UK went in to full lockdown on 24 March, people in Scotland had already been staying at home, only getting takeout, and social distancing on the streets for 2-3 weeks. Both toilet roll and hand sanitiser were like gold dust. Ailsa was already attending streamed yoga classes, and we were going to an online pub on Fridays. The streets were deserted when we took our weekly outdoor exercise walk. The rest of our walking was indoors on a treadmill.

Our weekly walks up to Edinburgh Castle Esplanade in March and April

By the end of March, shops were boarded up. Ailsa had ordered some scissors to cut Colin’s hair, and our first Zoom wine tasting was booked. Upcoming trips and events were cancelled.

Wine tasting on Zoom with Wine Events Scotland

On Good Friday, we raised a few hundred pounds for charity by walking 75km on our treadmill. PJs and sweat pants were all we wore. Gatherings with friends, family and coworkers switched to being online, and both birthdays and funerals shrunk to an iPad screen. We spent a lot of time sitting on our windowsill trying to absorb the uncharacteristically beautiful weather. We watched all of The Walking Dead.

Our charity fundraising during lockdown made the national news

Hitting pause

Needless to say, our plans slipped away. We had the gradual realisation that we were just staying put, for however long it took. It seemed simplest to assume we were just continuing with life as we knew it. We could revisit the idea of moving in 2021. We sorely regretted giving half of our clothes and belongings to charity in early-March.

Signs of life

At the end of May, the day after Ailsa’s birthday, we were allowed to sit out in the sun, and to meet other people outside at last. Over the next few weeks, things slowly came back to life. A BBQ in the park with family, a walk with a friend, or a trip to the osteopath became a hyped up event. After months of not leaving a 2 mile radius of our city centre flat, we could finally visit Ailsa’s dad. We managed to get a weekend in a cottage with friends in Yorkshire in July.

Freedom! Bagging our first Munro whilst camping with family in early-August


There were other signs of life too. Signs were appearing around us in Edinburgh’s New Town – flats were going on the market, and selling. Fast. Our upstairs neighbour even sold before we knew they were selling.

We immediately called our estate agent and got back to preparing the flat for sale. We went on the market on 12 August during a lovely camping break with family.

Our plan at that point was to sell up, and find temporary accommodation with family until the right boat came up for sale. We expected that we’d end up flying out to check out a few boats sometime in early 2021, maybe.

Perfect timing

It was oh so much simpler.

On 14 August, two days after going on the market, Colin saw a Facebook post about Mirounga.

Within a week we’d got to know her owner and agreed that we’d have a survey in November. We planned to move out to Bequia in March to move aboard.

The day we confirmed the sale of our flat, 3 September, was the day we paid our first deposit on Mirounga. At that point we were holidaying with family and friends in Iona, and life felt almost normal. Anything felt possible.

Our only time aboard in 2020, on a day trip in Iona on Birthe Marie, the week we paid our first deposit on Mirounga

Where did autumn go?

We can honestly barely remember the rest of the year. By late-September cases were rising, and life was already restricted again. We barely noticed as we were already working on our next project.

We needed somewhere to live from November to March, and our solution was to renovate part of Ailsa’s dad’s house. It had been an office since the early 90s, and empty for 15 years, and we decided that we would make it a home again. Ailsa’s semi-retired dad can earn a new income from it on AirBnB once we leave. We moved here in November, and finished the work in January.

Some team work while renovating; Ailsa providing some ballast while Colin walks the plank

Except for having to cancel our Christmas trip to Denver we barely noticed that shops and restaurants were closing again. When the UK went back in to lockdown the day after Christmas, life didn’t really change.

Not all plain sailing

Of course, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. It’s still making itself known.

The boat’s owner couldn’t fly to have his last season with her in November as planned, and she still hasn’t had her full survey. Mirounga remains on the hard, in St Lucia. Her current owner remains in London, unable to fly to collect her until March. There are now strict quarantine periods and testing requirements to hinder travel. One of our flights has been cancelled, so we’re reshuffling travel plans. We thankfully have accommodation in Bequia sorted for as long as needed, but we won’t be on board until May. We have no idea when or where we can access a vaccine.

2021 is gonna 2020, just a bit.

Lost in limbo

That leaves us where we are now. Due to move in a month, but not knowing totally how, and whether anything will go to plan. Unable to say a proper goodbye to family and friends – we haven’t seen most for over a year. Feeling like we should be buzzing with packing, prepping and no doubt panicking. But it’s hard to get into the mindset that we’re going to move soon when everything is so shut down around us.

After a year of either being completely on pause, or fast forward, it’s pretty hard to mentally press play and start to properly prepare.

2021 is going to be our year. Right?


New Years’ Day 2021, looking forward with hope