Emma McCormick ’19 is “exactly the sort of person” to buy a sailboat, move to Florida, and live in a marina, according to Clara Johsens ’19. And that’s exactly what she did.
McCormick, who majored in economics at Hillsdale and works as a financial analyst for General Motors in Detroit, grew restless working remotely during the pandemic. Having worked from home since March 2020, McCormick, founder of the Outdoor Adventures Club at Hillsdale, began to plan her next adventure.
“She was visiting me in D.C. in October, and it was so funny because the entire time she was super focused on this idea of buying a sailboat and moving to Florida,” Johsens said. “It was definitely one of those things where we all thought it would be cool, but that was it. And then she actually did it. So then of course we all had to go visit her.”
In September, GM told its employees they would work remotely until July 2021. For McCormick, that was the push she needed to pull the trigger.
“I had had plans during the summer, and I had plans in the fall — I was visiting a bunch of different friends. But I had zero plans for 2021,” McCormick recounted.
After Christmas, she canceled her lease, put the majority of her belongings in storage, and moved down to St. Petersburg, Florida to start her life in a new home — a 25-foot Freedom sailboat with a single main sail. Last weekend, Johsens, along with Lauren Sheard ’19, Catherine Howard ’19, and Kaitlin Makuski ’19, came from all over the country to stay with McCormick in her sailboat for a four-day weekend.
“I was like, ‘I don’t want to spend the winter in cold, gray Detroit,’” McCormick said. “‘I want to try something different.’”
“Try something different” is a bit of a motto for McCormick. She ran an Iron Man after her freshman and sophomore years. Last summer, she ran 100 miles across the Idaho Panhandle. Johsens recounted how she and McCormick became friends when, one weeknight in the Mossey Library as a sophomore, Johsens found cheap tickets to Paris, and McCormick said “yes” to a European adventure without hesitation.
“All of us were unsurprised when she decided to move to a sailboat, because she’s run out of insane, physical feats to accomplish,” Johsens said with a laugh.
Twenty-five feet isn’t a lot of space for five girls, especially on a sailboat that only sleeps four. Catherine Howard, only 5’1’ tall, said she couldn’t quite stand fully upright in the hold. The girls originally planned to sleep in a hotel, but Howard said since she and Sheard are “pretty tiny,” they ended up sharing a bench-bed so all five of them could all spend the night together.
“Obviously, it’s a pretty simple, minimal lifestyle, but she seems so happy just being there,” Howard said.
McCormick wasn’t in the sailing club at Hillsdale, and she didn’t grow up sailing either. In fact, the first time she sailed was after graduation, when she moved to Detroit and joined a racing crew.
“It’s small for five people to stay on, but it’s a pretty large boat,” Howard said. “When we went out sailing, she was directing us, guiding us, teaching us how to put up the sail. It was really crazy, but she loved it and was really excited to share all of the sailing knowledge that she’d gained.”
Her move to Florida definitely made waves, McCormick said.
“Most people I talked to back in Michigan thought I was pretty crazy,” McCormick said. “And my parents did too. Here, though, almost everyone knows or knows of at least one person who lives on a boat. It’s a lot more common down here.”
A native of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, McCormick started from square one when she docked her sailboat alongside about 600 slips in the marina in Tampa Bay. But being the only person she knows for miles around isn’t uncharted territory for her.
“I didn’t know anyone when I moved here,” McCormick said. “But I didn’t know anyone when I moved to Detroit, either, or when I came to Hillsdale.”
McCormick estimated 150 people in the marina live aboard their boats full time, from couples to families with kids to retired folks.
“It’s been fun to get to meet them,” McCormick said. “We go sailing together, and we’ll help each other with projects on our boats. And it’s interesting; I really enjoy hearing peoples’ stories of why they’re doing it. What brought them here? They’re from all over.”
For more than a few of them, what brought them down was the global turn to remote work and school for the foreseeable future.
Johsens recounted conversations she had one night over margaritas, chips, and guacamole, with some of McCormick’s friends at the marina. One family, a Southwest pilot with his wife and kids, has become pretty good friends with McCormick, Johsens said.
“They just started homeschooling, bought a Catamaran, and are living at the marina,” Johsens said. “There were definitely a lot more people living there than I expected.”
When hurricane season comes in August, and it’s dangerous to be on the water, many marina residents will simply dock somewhere else — like one family Johsens talked to, who planned to relocate to the Bahamas.
During business hours McCormick is still working remotely from the slip, though on weekends she’ll take trips out on the bay — whether that’s for a short ride or for a six-hour, 12-mile Odyssey just depends on the day.
“I don’t want to lose my job, of course,” McCormick said. “I have to be back by July, unless they change their mind. So at this point, I’m kind of thinking the end of May is when I’ll head back to Michigan.”