Thursday, October 01, 2015

Cruising Perspectives: Fourteen 'Side Effects' of Living on a Boat

Note: I was invited to write this post back in June of 2013 (!?!?!) by the lovely Tammy of Things we Did Today for the great 'hive mind' site, The Monkey's Fist. I am only now getting back to it with the time to flush it out. Check out other blogger's takes on this great subject here.

Living on a boat: it doesn't take a genius to realize this is very different from living on land. There are a million ways in which the cruising and/or live-aboard lifestyle differs from that of a land-lubbing existence, too many to list in fact. Living on a boat is certainly no utopia, but it can be pretty great - and many of us find that we have strengths we never knew we had, hobbies we never knew we loved, and skills we didn't think we possessed. These are great perks of the lifestyle. Then, there are some other more unexpected things we get from the lifestyle, I call these: side effects.

Here are 14 "side effects" that I have experienced from five years of boat life:

1. Water usage: Sure, we have a high output water-maker and carry 120 gallons on our boat. But still, even that is a finite and limited supply and must be monitored so as not to run out. Remember that time I carried 60 gallons of water to refill our tanks? I have not forgotten it. Even on land we use water sparingly and letting a tap run for any extended length of time feels wrong. Letting it run while you don't need it, i.e while brushing teeth or in-between doing dishes? That's just criminal.

2. Storage Envy: Houses are full of pretty right angles and nice, square (or rectangular) storage spaces. THIS IS A LUXURY, PEOPLE. Boats have none of those things. We have oddly shaped 'cabinets' and 'cubbies' which make general storage annoying, difficult and - in some cases - impossible. We have gear stuffed so deeply in the rabbit-hole recesses of our boat I'm pretty sure we'll never see them again (in fact, we never did find that spare mast-head light in our last boat...). Gear is stored on a priority basis because you simply have no other choice - which means items used daily or regularly are semi-easy to get to, and things that you don't use daily or regularly require blood, sweat and sometimes tears to get to. All those years of playing Tetris paid off. Luckily, our Brewer has a ton of storage - but even still, it's a struggle to get to and when I see boats with nice, big closet-like spaces (cough-catamarans-cough), I get a little twitchy.

3. Everything is a Compromise: I just mentioned that our boat has a ton of storage, and it does. But guess what? It comes at the cost of living space. The sides of our boat are so chalk-full of cubbies and cabinets, that our living area is significantly more narrow to accommodate it. Boats who are smaller in size, can end up feeling much bigger than ours because of this. That is just one of a MILLION examples I could give you. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING on a boat is a compromise. You install a freezer, you become a slave to your generator. You spring for the wind generator, you get the noise. You re-configure for more galley storage, you loose your microwave. And on and on it goes. Be prepared. Nothing comes on or off the boat that doesn't have a price, both literally and figuratively.

4. Spacial Awareness: When you buy anything for your boat, the first things you will think about is, "Do we have room for this?" and secondly, "Where will this go?" because, at least on our boat, the golden rule is: A place for everything and everything in it's place. This comes very easy to me because I am by nature an incredibly OCD 'tidy' person, but for those of you who are less inclined to put things away, going sailing will be a messy ordeal because, NEWSFLASH: boats are prone to rocking side to side and items not stored properly can and will go flying. 

5. Power Struggles: When you are not concerned with space, you will be concerned with power. Amp hours are another limited commodity on a boat, and even though we have a nice array of solar panels and a decent sized battery bank, we still need to run our generator from time to time to keep up with our energy needs. Rare is the boat that has all their power requirements met by sun and wind day in and day out. Want to bring aboard that Vitamix blender that you love? First of all, see #4 (space) and second, better check out how much juice that thing will suck out of your batteries. Before you buy that system or appliance, you will (or should) be wondering "What does this draw?"

6. Hoarding: I realize this sort of contradicts #4 (space), but hear me out...Living on a boat where simple chores like grocery shopping can become one hell of an ordeal, not to mention the fact that certain places don't have certain things, mean that you try to stock up when and where you can. The Exumas in the Bahamas had grocery stores that looked like they came right out of socialist Russia and the grocery stores in the smaller islands of the windwards had cans on the shelves that were over ten years old! When you get somewhere with good bounty, you'll want to stock up. The same applies to boat parts/supplies. If we order a new "O" ring for our generator's heat exchanger, you better believe we're ordering an end cap, gasket, cover and capscrew as well, and two of each!

7. You Wait for the 'Other Shoe to Drop': I wish we could say we were in the types of cruisers that falls under the 'minimalist' category, but we are not. While Scott could probably swing that way, I like certain creature comforts. I love our water-maker. I love our generator. I love our engine. I love our cockpit speakers. I love our refrigerator. I love our AC (at the dock.) These things make our boat more comfortable and livable for us but, sadly, they come at a price (see #3 - compromise).  As much as we appreciate these systems, they are prone to breaking. They say a cruising boat is in good order if 80% of it's systems are running and truer words were never spoken. It is ALWAYS something. ALWAYS. From the mundane (polishing ever-rusting stainless) to the disastrous (a leaking fuel tank) you will never not have something to fix.  As the 'worrier' of our duo, I'm always looking ahead and wondering, "What's it gonna be next?" The windlass? The stereo? The main halyard? The autopilot? Scott always says, "We're always just one ring-ding away from disaster!" Sad, but true. Boats break. A lot.

8. Heightened senses: An odd vibration under foot, a faint waft of an unusual odor, a dull yet different sound emitting from the engine? All of these things will not only put you on high alert, but set you into action to figure out "why?" You will grow to know every creak and groan your boat makes, you will be unusually familiar with the 'normal' vibrations of your engine and you will know *immediately* if any of your pumps, from those in your bilge to those in your water maker, are acting up. On a boat ignoring these sounds, feelings and odors can be detrimental so you'll be hyper aware of it all. Fun fact: You'll also be able to predict wind speed within a knot or two based on the sounds it makes through your rig. 

9. Resourcefulness: The need to be 'resourceful' has been a bit atrophied in this day and age when we can pretty much have whatever we want or need in a matter of hours, but in the islands this is not the case. Sometimes (actually, a lot of times) we must improvise. Lack of facilities, under-stocked stores, and public holidays are all things that can wreak havoc on you getting that part, talking to that agent, or finishing a project. As such, you need to be resourceful and use what is on hand. Scott has become a veritable McGuyver as a result of living on a boat and his handiness is a mega asset.

10. Hitting the Road (on foot): We walk, a lot. It's so funny to me how little islanders walk or how they seem to judge distance. A very normal conversation will go like this: Us: "Excuse me, but could you point us in the direction of the grocery store?" Islander: "You're not walking, right? It's too far to walk!" Us: "How far, would you say?" Islander: "Oh, I don't know...a really long way." Us: "Okay, well, we like to walk - is is this way?" Islander: (Shaking head with a laugh) "Okay, yes - just up that road there..." And then we walk and it's, like, two miles away. But, yeah, when we're moving around on land we walk a lot to get from point A to point B.

11. Putting it all Out There: Underwear on the line, bras hanging from the the mast, food scraps in a bowl in the cockpit (ready to be tossed overboard later), and sometimes, donning nothing more than our birthday suits, cruisers are not a shy bunch. We tend to put it all out there because, well, we don't really have room to put it any place else. We shower off the back of our boats and sometimes greet our cruising buddies in our underwear. Every year of cruising trades few more social mores/graces for a little more 'heathen' I think.

12. Patience: I am not, by nature, a patient person. It is yet another of my less-than-desirable traits and perhaps the one that I do battle with most regularly as a cruiser because a) a sailboat is S L O W and b) "Island Time" is more real than you can ever possibly imagine. Whether it be having to wait two weeks for your simple package to clear customs (sorry, it arrived during Carnival!) or sailing into the wind and making almost zero VMG for twenty-four hours, living on a boat in the islands will test your patience daily. As a result, you will have no choice but to become more patient or drink a lot to take your mind of the frustration. 

13. Settling for Second Best: When you combine #7 (things break) and #9 (resourcefulness) you sometimes need to settle for a solution that is for sure second-best. Boats are constantly breaking down under the UV of the sun and the corrosion of the salt and unless you have a staff, you will not be able to stay on top of all the work and maintenance your boat needs, meaning you will get used to having certain things not working and/or not looking pretty. Our teak toe rails are a disaster. In fact, all teak on our boat - both inside and out - needs a good re-doing, but we just don't have the money or time right now. And that's okay.

14. Bi-Polar Tendencies: And finally - if you are anything like we are - living on the water will make you bi-polar. You will, at times,  have a love/hate relationship with: your boat, the ocean, the lifestyle, the islands and (most likely) your spouse. High highs and low lows across the board. We can't have it all, right?

Sorry I was so ridiculously late Tammy! Thanks for the great thought-provoking post idea!


byn always said...

I very much appreciate your blog... although I don't know if this post makes me want to run to our boat or away from it. I'm already bipolar on land!

Seriously, though, its mostly reassuring, because it sounds very similar to the years we spent living on the road on the bus when the kids were little.

Byn ~ Oh Sail Yes!

Emily said...

I love love love when you do lists like this. They are some of my favorite posts. I admit to being a HUGE water waster; I let the sink run the entire time I'm washing dishes nonstop. My mother won't even let me wash dishes when we go over to visit because I "waste too much water." Not saying there aren't benefits to wasting water ;)

Ken said...

Such a very good write-up for someone like me - thinking about jumping on board! Thanks for this Britney!

Eileen Schwarz-Duty said...

Hi there! Here's one more must-have item for any saltwater sailor: Boeshield T-9! It's serious corrosion protection you simply spray on and then wipe off - and it really lasts a lot longer than other products in the category. (And the can stashes easily almost anywhere!) Ask your Chicago friends Dana and Katie Schwarz about it - Dana's uncle owns the company! :)
P.S. I love your blog!

Jess Reilly said...

Oh, how true these are!! My partner just sent this list to me--as we rip apart our battery wiring and I use a spray bottle to rinse my dishes. And you should see how much 'natural' peanut butter I have on board, I think it's causing our list to port.

Special thanks for the last one. I just wrote a blog about a recent meltdown when we sailed away from Loreto: It's reeeeally nice to know I'm not the only one!

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