After six years at sea, they find lake life just right

by Ann Fletcher

Paula Taylor poses next to her husband, Rick, with their Yorkshire terrier Maggie in this photo taken in 2006 aboard the couple’s 45-foot sailboat “Topless.” The couple lived aboard their sailboat for six years before resettling in Birkdale Village.

HUNTERSVILLE – Rick and Paula Taylor, two recent Lake Norman transplants, arrived in Huntersville after downsizing, upsizing, and right-sizing their way through adventures typically found in daydreams.

After years imagining what life would be like living on a boat in the Caribbean, Rick, a New Jersey chiropractor, and his wife and office manager, Paula, closed their 17-year old practice, sold their home, stored or gave away all but their creature comforts and bought “Topless,” a 45-foot sailboat that became “home, sweet home” while the couple island-hopped throughout the Caribbean.

They launched in October 1998, and although they anticipated a lengthy time away, they never imaged they’d be out six years.

At first it was difficult for Rick to relax and appreciate the natural beauty around him.

“It was surprising how self-sufficient you had to become,” said Rick Taylor. “You were your own plumber, your own cook, your own diesel mechanic.”

They even had to become their own security crew.

Off the coast of Jamaica, they ran into pirates scouting easy targets.

“Their desperation creates the danger,” Rick said. “You have to be careful and let them know you’re prepared.”

Rick prepared by packing a semi-automatic for protection. Although he brandished it on occasion, he never had to fire it.

Having sailed since he was a kid, Rick was also prepared for the rigors of sailing, but knows it’s impossible to be completely ready for life at sea.

“You have to decide you’re going to do something and be as prepared as possible, then push all the dangers from the forefront of your mind because if you thought about them, you probably wouldn’t go at all,” he said.

One of the biggest dangers for sailors is tumultuous weather.

On April 1, 2000, as they motored into the Gulf Stream outside of the Grand Bahama Island the “milk pond,” smooth waters turned into 18 to 22 foot waves.

A storm front tore through the waters and turned what was supposed to be a seven-hour pleasure cruise into 18 hours of terror.

“Mother nature is very unforgiving,” Rick said. “Once she starts, she doesn’t stop until she’s done. Lighting can smash through the water and water spouts can come up out of nowhere, but as far as the most harrowing experience we had, that storm was it.”

With no channel markers to guide them, the couple sailed with others when possible, particularly helpful when others had preloaded GPS waypoints and knowledge of potential dangers.

Time and again, they were struck by the “absolutely unbelievable” kindness of fellow human beings. “Somebody would pitch in to help and we’d do the same,” Rick said.

Their high-seas adventures came to an end in 2004 when Paula sustained a back injury while manning the boat.

The injury forced them ashore and they upsized again, purchasing a coastal home in Florida. Then they realized they weren’t ready to retire.

“It just wasn’t a good fit,” said Rick, 54. They combed the coastline from Texas to Florida for an ideal place to live, uninspired until they struck Lake Norman.

“With a big, beautiful lake for sailing and so many inlets and restaurants,” said Rick, “it was perfect for us.” Paula’s son lives on the lake, and they were hooked as well.

With their Florida home on the market, they right-sized into a Birkdale Village apartment overlooking the shopping district. The Florida home sold within two weeks, but they haven’t jumped back in to home ownership. Instead, they’re relishing the Village vibe and the freedom that comes from renting after six years at sea.

In addition to their sailing trips, they’ve traveled the world by land, taking four to six weeks off each summer and winter when they weren’t at sea to tour England, France, Belgium, Amsterdam, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, Austria, Switzerland, Australia, South America, Ecuador, Colombia, and Galapagos Islands. The key, said Rick, is to go while you’re young.

Now they’ve settled in Lake Norman to reestablish Rick’s chiropractic practice with Duncan Chiropractic in Cornelius. Don’t expect to see the Taylors too far from the lake though.

Although it’s not the Caribbean, for the Taylors, for now, it’s smooth sailing.

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