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Living in a Boat to Pay Tuition

NEW YORK (MainStreet)—For Joe Pearce, living on a sailboat for 14 months in the U.K. was a simple decision to make so he could finish getting his thesis-based masters within the geography department at Aberystwyth University in Wales.

Pearce, 23, had already exhausted his savings from working at a hotel the previous summer and did not want to incur any debt to pay for the £3,500 ($5,250) degree. While he was studying for his master's degree, Pearce wound up ending a relationship with his girlfriend unexpectedly. She had contributed half of the rent, or £400 ($600) a month.

Knowing he could not afford to keep up with the rent of the flat, Pearce started searching for viable options. A fan of boating and kayaking since he was a child, he started searching for boats online to see if he could find an affordable one. Eventually, he got lucky and made an offer and counteroffer to purchase The Golden Cloud, which he nabbed for £800 ($1,200)--a steal compared to the listing price of GBP 3,000 (USD 4,500).

"I looked at my finances and saw I didn't have enough money to complete the master's without working 50-hour weeks," he said. "I started working nights seven days a week to get spare cash and a bed, but I found this strained me for my master's the next morning and my relationship with my boss."

Living on a boat had its challenges since the nearly 40-year-old boat was rotting in areas and leaked whenever it rained. The sailboat was made for someone who was merely five feet tall, so Pearce, who is just about six feet tall, was not able to spend much time standing up.

For the first six months, Pearce didn't have any electricity, but learned to live without it. Instead, he changed his schedule to adapt to Mother Nature. "Once the sun was down, you couldn't do anything," he said. "As a result, you change your day to wake with sunrise and sleep with the sunset. Your body loves this rhythm and you get up early and do a lot before anyone wakes up and see the world in its early morning beauty. Living simply and with little also made me more social, giving, respectful and thankful."

By docking the boat at a UNESCO nature reserve, he only had to pay £1 ($1.50) each day instead of shelling out hundreds to be closer to his graduate school.

His neighbors taught Pearce how to make repairs on the sailboat, and he added solar panels so he could have electricity. He was still eight miles away from the campus and bicycling to class and to his job at the hotel in order to save money from taking the train.

He also added a wood-burning stove, which heated the boat during winter when temperatures fell to 17 degrees Fahrenheit. Pearce also cooked on the boat and used the driftwood from the reserve as fuel.

Pearce said he learned that many modern luxuries was a "waste" and that a person could easily forego what he had previously considered a necessity such as power.

"I would highly recommend it to others," he said. "Living with little in such a small environment teaches you that you don't need a massive house and all that goes with it."

In the end, Pearce saved at least £5,500 ($8,500) by living on the boat and learned that he could find happiness from spending time with his friends and enjoying his freedom.

"I learned that I didn't need qualifications to be happy and that modern life pulls you through in a zombie-like state of melancholy" he said. "I learned that more than anything, friends are fantastic, that I'm not an academic as I once thought and that if you enjoy what you do you never work a day in your life."

After graduation in December 2012, Pearce volunteered in Greenland for a few months as a first mate and a field technician with Aberystwyth University's Centre of Glaciology on a 53-foot converted research sailing vessel, taking samples and monitoring conditions of sea, sea ice, outlet glaciers and climate in Umnak Fjord during the winter 'freeze in.' When he returned, he embarked on a trip and sailed 500 miles to the Isle of Wight off the coast and raised money for the Lifeboats and the Isle of Wight Society for the Blind. He was able to raise £400 ($600) for the two charities that provided assistance to his father after he lost his vision from multiple sclerosis. He shared his experiences via his blog 24ftescape.blogspot.com.

Pearce is living freely, having not signed up for long-term debt with regular payments and buying only what he could afford at a particular moment.

Now Pearce is working as a fieldwork technician for an Aberystwyth University offshoot and applying to be a hydrography, oceanography and meteorology officer in the Royal Navy. He is splitting his time between living on the boat and staying at home with his parents and plans a long trip to either France or around the U.K.

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"With weekends off I'm going on little sails around my local area seeing all the harbors and coves," he said. "For now I will just live with a smile on my face and a spring in my step."

--Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet

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