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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Ultimate snowbirds

Oct 03, 2022 03:49PM ● By Leanne Goebel

Many of us long to be seasonal migrants and fly south for the winter like the sparrows and grosbeaks. Some of us are lucky enough to take vacation time and hit the beach while the winter winds blow across Western Colorado. Others come north from their southern sunshine to experience snow skiing and snowboarding. Still, others build architectural masterpieces they visit twice a year in exclusive enclaves like Ouray and Telluride.

Montrose residents Martin and Sally Sprang might be the ultimate snowbirds, dividing time between their home in Montrose, their cabin near Horsefly Peak and their 40-foot sailboat The Down Island, a single-mast, full-keel, blue water ocean vessel, between Florida and the Bahamas.



Living for months on a sailboat was not something that happened spontaneously.

The Sprangs were on vacation in the Caribbean many years ago when they became interested in sailboats. They learned to sail and were certified. Then, they chartered sailboats for two-week trips to the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and the Grenadines for 10 or 12 years. After dozens of charter trips, the company’s workers said they were surprised the couple hadn’t purchased their own boat. That got them thinking, researching and planning. Eight years ago, they bought a 1998 Island Packet.

They knew that living on a boat was an off-grid experience, which they understood from their charter trips but also because Sally and her family have an off-grid cabin up Dave Wood Road.  

Martin, Sally and her two brothers spend much of their summers up at the cabin. It’s the perfect time to be in Colorado because June through November is hurricane season in the southern waters. 

“We have this game we play,” said Sally. “In October and November we close the mountain cabin—the water gets drained, everything gets turned off and emptied and is put away for the winter. Then in November, we go to the boat and turn everything on and put the sails back on.”

She provisions the sailboat with 30 days’ worth of food, and they have a decent water tank to hold fresh water for drinking. Another tank holds diesel fuel for the engine. Last year, they left Montrose in December and returned in May, but they have no set schedule.

“Weather always wins,” said Sally. “We don’t have a schedule because everything is weather dependent. The only thing we know for sure is when we leave here. We buy one-way tickets because we don’t know when we will be back.”

Sally retired five years ago from the investment consulting firm she founded, and Martin retires this month from the real estate investment trust firm he works for. Martin’s remote work has kept them closer to Florida ports and those with Internet access, but they prefer small towns and non-resort areas in the Abaco islands. A favorite location is Green Turtle Cay. They’ll do more exploring this winter when Martin is no longer tied to his remote work schedule, which is something they look forward to.

“For the most part, we anchor, moor or go to a marina at night,” Sally said. “Once in a while, when we are underway, we just go through the night and boat on.”



Sailing has taught the Sprangs many lessons. 

On their maiden journey to the Bahamas, they left Fort Pierce, Florida, believing they were prepared for the eastern-flowing jet stream. They went out of the inlet and hit large waves that pushed the boat up and down, making them anxious, excited and unsettled. But eventually, they got the sails up and 20 hours later they made it to their destination.

“We said ‘Okay; what did we learn?’” Sally asked calmly like the mathematician she is.

The answer was “tides matter.”

“We’re much better at determining that,” she added.

After they got their boat, they left Fort Pierce and went into St. Augustine with Sally at the helm. They were going to catch a mooring ball—a place where they could safely secure their boat—and she thought she understood the directions but she ran aground.

“If you haven’t run aground, you haven’t sailed much, or you’re lying,” Sally said.

They’ve also been more intrepid than they should have been, letting their desire to get to Green Turtle Cay supersede their caution. To reach that cay, Sally said you must sail around an island grouping called “the whale,” which pushes farther into the Atlantic where the sea conditions are more intense.

“I learned that if I just sat on the floor of the cockpit with my life vest on and hooked in, as long as I didn’t fall out of the boat, I knew I was going to be fine,” she said. “I trusted the boat.”

They trust other boaters as well. Boaters who live on their boats are known as “cruisers.” They are a very close-knit and helpful community, Sally said—similar to the sheepherding community where she grew up. When the sheep sheds burned, everyone came together to help each other. Just as farmers and sheepherders are neighborly, so are their fellow cruisers.

“You pull in next to them in the marina, you meet them and exchange boat cards, and the next thing you know, you stay in touch and run into them again,” Sally explained. 

Last spring, the Sprangs planned to visit Fort Pierce, where they’d kept their boat for several years. They planned to stay one night, maybe two, at the marina. A week later, they were still there because they were having a good time with old boat friends they hadn’t seen in years.

Martin and Sally both have venturous spirits. Sailing allows them freedom and mobility that is different from having a cabin in the mountains. The mountains and the ocean let you know how small you are and require you to be careful.

“The adventure is what it’s about,” Sally said. “We could sit on the couch watching a reality show of someone having an adventure, or we can go out and have our own.”

The Sprangs shared these convenient tips for cruising comfortably.

  • We made our boat a second home. It’s move-in ready and is our happy home on the water! 
  • We utilize a mail service so we can have things delivered as we sail from place to place or come home to Montrose.
  • Cruisers are very friendly, social and helpful people. We have met many interesting and wonderful friends!
  • Plan, but plan for changes. The weather rules. The seas rule. Be flexible.
  • Let go of stress! Enjoy the moment wherever you are. Soak in the culture of new and different places and people.

Read about another local couple who retired on a sailboat:

Savings on the sea: One local couple’s seafaring retirement

The average senior would likely think of retiring on a sailboat as an impossibility. But for Gary and Genie DiDonato, both 74, it was merely ... Read More »