September 5, 2010 in Idaho Voices

Couple selling all to live on the sea

Jacob Livingston
On the Web

• Visit fortheboat.

The screensaver on Ben and Maxine Byers’ home computer is a daily reminder of a fantasy lifestyle. Pictures of a 43-foot Gulfstar sailboat roll across the screen.

The white and red ship sits dry-docked on metal frames in one image. A wood-lined living area, complete with a couch and La-Z-Boy, awaits decoration in another. A master bedroom with a series of ocean-view windows above the bed appears in the next.

For this Post Falls couple, the description accompanying the image gallery also offers a glimpse into their not-too-distant reality: “Our new home.”

The catch? They have to sell almost everything they own before they move into their new ocean-cruising abode.

The Byerses, who have been married for 15 years, are in the final stages of realizing a long-held dream, to sell nearly everything and settle into a life aboard the 1975 sailboat currently docked on Whidbey Island north of Seattle. For 52-year-old Ben, who spent 13 years in the Navy, and his wife Maxine, 50, it’s a semiretirement plan where they will be liberated from much of the hassles of the daily grind.

“We’re selling everything to go live a dream,” Ben said, shortly after returning home from the industrial equipment maintenance job he’s held for years. “A lot of people have said they wish they could go and do it, but they never do. The difference is we’re actually making it happen.”

On their aptly named For the Boat website, the couple have itemized their existence. The gallery of for-sale items represents a smattering of their old life, from a 30-foot Wilderness camping trailer for $9,500 and a one-ton 1999 Dodge pickup for $11,000, to four-wheel ATVs, a shop vac, wine sets, decanters and Seraphim figurines. Even their 1,200-square-foot ranch-style home on 15th Avenue, complete with a large shop and hot tub in the backyard, can be found online.

It’s all on the market and priced to sell.

“We have always dreamed of being able to just run away. Now, we have the chance to actually do it,” said Maxine, surrounded by a dwindling collection of personal items in their home. “You just have to be willing to jump off the cliff, or the pier as it is in this case. We’re very excited. I can’t wait to watch the sunsets off the boat with a cocktail in hand.”

Their plan is to live aboard the sailboat, stopping at coastal towns. If they need money, Ben, who has been working in various mechanic and maintenance technician positions over the past 30 years, plans on picking up maintenance work wherever he can find it, building up a seasonal clientele along their sailing routes up and down the coast. With any changes in mood or weather, they can set sail for the next destination on the West Coast. The two are going “to just … live,” as their website states.

The story behind the Byers’ decision to uproot and move to the coast started five years ago. Maxine, a former timber industry employee, survived a ruptured cerebral aneurysm and, as part of her treatment, underwent a “coiling” procedure in which a small plastic tube was inserted into her leg and piped into her brain, through which were threaded platinum coils into the aneurysm, blocking blood flow to prevent future rupture.

Ten months later, however, the aneurism was found to be growing around the coil and Maxine underwent a much more invasive brain surgery.

“A small aneurysm had been forming under one of the clips in my brain. During that same time period, my husband’s stepmom, his father, my father and his grandmother all passed away within an eight-month period. We began to appreciate every day as if it were our last,” Maxine wrote on their website.

About a month ago, on a trip to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for her yearly brain scan, Maxine received some surprising news from her doctor. “He told me that the aneurysm had not only stopped growing, but that the vein wall was thickening around it. I am free,” she said. “I don’t have to go back for three years and I can even ride roller coasters if I want. I love roller coasters.”

Added Maxine: “I called Ben on my way to the parking garage and told him to put the house on the market – we’re heading for the coast to have some fun, baby!”

So began the couple’s quest to sell it all. They know they need at least $60,000 to cover the boat’s cost, which they plan on buying in cash, and would like several thousand more in the bank. The big-ticket items such as the truck, ATV, Jeep and camper have yet to go, but once those do they’ll be almost at their goal. So far, the couple has raised roughly $15,000.

“Life is short and we want to live it while we can, and that’s what we’re going to do. That’s what this is about, so we can live the life we want to,” Ben said. “By the time I’m ready to retire at 67, I’ll statistically only have two more years to live. And who knows how long my body will last. But I won’t be punching a time clock, and that’s the most important thing to me. I won’t have someone watching over me cracking the whip. I’m really looking forward to us going and enjoying ourselves for the next five, 10, 20 years. I see us pretty much going out for the long run on this. And with my maintenance background, I can fix pretty much anything that goes wrong on the boat.”

Ben and Maxine will pack only a fraction of what used to pack the cupboards of their Post Falls home. Some of the things that will make the trip over include an antique gun passed on from Ben’s father, a flat-panel TV they have yet to buy, some clothes and shoes (though only a sampling of Maxine’s current assortment, she said), a Nintendo Wii and their two Dachshunds: 15-year-old Burt and 12-year-old Zoey.

If the house sells sometime soon, the Byerses will be setting sail by the holidays. “We would like to be out by the new year if possible,” Ben explained. “The big things have to happen before we go. We have to have the house sold because I can’t afford the mortgage and the boat. But if everything goes, we’re gone. We could be gone next week.” Many people have asked if it was difficult selling everything they had worked so hard to collect. The answer, Maxine said, is refreshingly no.

“It’s freeing. You start to realize that those things really don’t matter as much as you thought they did,” she said.

However, not everyone in their extended family, four children and 15 grandchildren, is eager for the two to leave.

Chas Johnston, the oldest daughter from Ben’s previous marriage, said the news came as a shock.

“Off and on throughout my life my dad has talked about being a campground host or something like that. The fact that they are going to sell everything to live on the ocean is what was most shocking to me,” she said. “I’m really proud of them. I think that, like any kid that’s proud of their parents, they really deserve it. My dad has been doing manual labor all his life, and with Maxine’s health issues, they both really deserve it.”

The hardest part, Chas said, may be that her parents, and her own kids’ grandparents, won’t be just up the street anymore.

When the Byerses were asked if the tight quarters might wear on each other’s nerves, they both shrugged it off.

“I think it will be fine,” Maxine said. “In the 15 years of being married – and we’re both grandparents now – you get to a point where you don’t care where he leaves his toothbrush anymore. You kind of move past that point, those little things that used to drive you crazy don’t bother you anymore. And if he really ticks me off, I’ll just go up on the deck. That or kick him onto the dingy.”

Chas Johnston offered her own opinion on the subject.

“They’ve been married for about 15 years now. Just like everybody else they have their ups and downs,” she said. “In so many ways they can’t live without each other. He is her right arm and she is his left leg … . I guess, just like when the kids grow up and leave home, sometimes you have to let your parents go as well.”

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