Living THE Dream
When fall crispness gives way to the onset of chilly winter temperatures, wanderlust begins to intensify
for Ren and Ashley Chapman. But the couple delay until after Christmas, so the grandparents can spoil the
children. With the holidays out of the way, it’s time to pack up the family trimaran and prepare for departure.
Departing from the berth outside their condo on the Northeast Cape Fear, the Chapmans will head south
aboard the three-hulled boat, Jade. The Florida Keys beckon, then it’s across to the Bahamas, Jamaica,
Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, then the Bay Islands of Honduras, perhaps Cuba. B y S i m o n G o n z a l e z
OR THE NEXT six months or so the family
will live and travel, using warm breezes to sail
the turquoise-blue waters of the Caribbean
Sea, watching dolphins swim alongside, and
calling at exotic ports.
It sounds like the dream life, available only to the privi-leged
few. Footloose and fancy free. Escaping the daily
grind. No rush-hour traffic, no demanding bosses.
But while it’s a good life, theirs is not the lifestyle of the
rich and famous. The Chapmans are not numbered among
the idle wealthy.
“Everyone just assumes it’s a stroke of luck, like we’ve
been given millions of dollars that have allowed us this
opportunity,” Ashley says. “That’s not the reality. There’s
awesome benefits, but it’s not easy.”
The reality is four people crammed aboard a 40-foot
boat, responsible for their everyday needs.
“We’re completely self-sufficient,” Ashley says. “We make
energy, we make water. We’re constantly responsible for all
of those things you might take for granted on land. On
land, when you flip a switch the lights come on and you
pay a bill at the end of the month. But on the boat, we
have to monitor water and power uptake and output, we
have to manage our waste, we have to manage our water
resources. Just living is a full-time job.”
The reality is hustling to make a living. Ashley is a
champion freediver who has set multiple world and U.S.
records for reaching depths with just a wetsuit and goggles.
She’ll enter competitions, and she and Ren will teach
classes and clinics. They’ll lead adventure trips to dive
cenotes in Mexico.
“We don’t just go to work, come home, and collect the
paycheck. We have to plan, and hustle and market,” Ren
Ren is a Wilmington native — “New Hanover High
School Class of ’92,” he says proudly. Ashley is from
Richlands, North Carolina, near Jacksonville. She came to
the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and stayed
after graduation. They met playing ultimate Frisbee. Ren
was a businessman, running a playground construction
“I was going into the Peace Corps,” Ashley says. “My
leave date had been canceled, and they were looking for
a reassignment. During that time we fell in love. Then I
decided to stay back, which was a hard decision. Who stays
back for a man? Especially these days. But I did.”
Staying back didn’t mean forsaking her sense of
“I told Ren I’ve been in school my whole life, in college
when I didn’t really want to. I’m just ground down,” she
says. “So we made a five-year plan.”
At the end of the plan for them was the Holy Grail of
goals: buy a boat.
“We wrote it on our whiteboard,” Ren says. “Buy a
32-foot (or larger) sailboat that we could adventure on and
live on. At the time I was renting a little place in Scotts Hill,
WBM january 2019