Charlotte Harbor, Florida. Our chartered Hunter 28.5 sloop is pushing 6 knots, sailing to windward and heeled over hard. It's a tender boat, which makes it great for light winds, but it pulls hard at the wheel today. Puffs have the leeward rail nearly awash. I am sailing with two of my brothers. The last time the three of us were together was two years ago, when all the brothers gathered to bury the ashes of my stepfather, their father, in the Gulf of Mexico.

A family of Patrick O'Brian fans, brother Doug turns up the volume for the music from Master and Commander. But it can't be heard over the wind. We tug at the roller furling and take in some of the jib.

All three of us are maniacally happy.

Like many families, ours has its complexities. I am the only child from my mother's first marriage. My three brothers were born in her second marriage. We have always lived as brothers, bonded by blood and water. Doug is closest to the water, a tugboat captain in Maine. Don is a college professor in California, but he's also an avid sailor.

At one time I was so into sailing I owned a 25-foot sloop but didn't own a car. To reach the boat, moored south of Boston in Cohasset Harbor, I carried large duffel bags and took the bus. Since then I've owned a sunfish, two windsurfers, a sailing dinghy, and a magnificent 32-foot Herreshoff ketch. Alas, except for charters, I've been beached for 20 years.

Hence the occasional thought: Perhaps it's time to chuck it all and sail away.

I'm not the only person who has such thoughts. In fact, while some figures indicate at least a million Americans live on the road in RV "land yachts," thousands do much the same on the water, living in marinas and cruising. They have a magazine, "Living Aboard," that tells their stories and champions their issues. Those issues usually turn on being allowed to live on their boats. There is also a growing body of literature about the hows and whys of life afloat. (See URLs below.)

In fact, living aboard, is a good candidate for "Living Lite" because it can reduce your cost of living even as it increases your exposure to one of America's fastest vanishing wonders: waterfront.

Here's an example. Our charter is based at Burnt Store Marina, the nautical focal point of a WCI Communities development north of Fort Myers, Florida. WCI Communities, one of the premier developers in this state, is now offering water view condos here, starting at $500,000. The operative word is "starting." You can pay a lot more really fast.

 ¬†You can, however, buy a very nice used boat, sail or power, for $100,000 or less and live on the water. You'll have less space to live in, of course, but the reduction in space will also allow you to chuck a lot of things (and related expenses) that you don't need.

You can, for instance, simplify your wardrobe big time. Depending on location and amount of travel, you can also eliminate the standing overhead of owning a car. Your utility bills will virtually disappear as you go from thousands of square feet in your home to tens of square feet on your boat. Your local tax bill will decline. Your state tax bill may disappear. Boating is the best excuse ever invented for living lean and simple.

What does it really cost?

It all depends. In Boca Grande we saw a small boat with a strange superstructure anchored with the other yachts and captained by a man with a well-developed Rastafarian hair-do. I'll bet his living aboard expenses are a lot lower than those incurred by the owner of Lionheart, which was docked not far away on exclusive Useppa Island. (Ross Perot owns Lionheart.) Like everything else in life, the final cost is a matter of the resources you have and the choices you make.

The October issue of Cruising World, a magazine dedicated to sailors who venture from their boat slips, got down to real dollars on the whole issue of living aboard. They surveyed some full time cruising families and asked for an accounting of expenses. In a way, what they learned was a bit depressing--- whatever their target budget, cruisers found that life appeared to cost 10 to 20 percent more than planned. (Not exactly unique, is it?)

Actual spending, however, ranged from only $14,736 a year (for a 47 and 35 year old couple on an older 35 foot boat) to $66,600 a year (for a 65 and 54 year old couple on a 40 foot boat). If that $66,000 figure intimidates you, consider that the couple spent $16,600 for home and off-boat trips, not to mention $10,200 for provisions and $7,200 for restaurant meals.

So it can be done. Many do it and never look back.

Next Sunday: Getting the Range: Pricing A Luxury Florida Retirement

On the web:

Living Aboard magazine

Cruising World magazine

Boats for sale at Boat Trader Online