SimplySailingOnline.com shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.
Our son and his young family are looking for a boat. I suppose it should come as no surprise, since he spent over half his life on one, sailing around the Caribbean, soaking up the culture, food, and sights of a different world. Rural Montana (is that redundant?) probably isn't providing the stimulation that he's accustomed to. But in true McBride fashion, he acknowledges his occasional blindness to reality. Last week I got the following message from him:
When I'm really excited about something, and I can't think of any reason NOT to do it, I feel as though I'm missing some crucial information. There are always good reasons not to do things. Right? I can't think of anything that I've ever done, without first thinking up some reason not to do it. So, since I mostly experienced the fluffy, "rainbows and unicorns" side to living aboard (mostly) could you tell me about the sucky parts that I might not have noticed in my little bubble of oblivious youth? Just some reasons why I might not want to buy a boat, I'm having a hard time thinking of one.
So the question remains, what are the negatives to the lifestyle we adopted all those years ago? I was having a hard time coming up with any, but thought that might be because I'm still in the fluffy, "rainbows and unicorns" side of it myself, having just returned from a 5-month traveling stint in a van. So I asked around. Some responses surprised me, others reminded me of the annoyances of the first few years, and a few pointed out my occasional blindness to reality.
The first obvious shock to anyone who has been part of the consuming masses is the lack of space. We moved from a modest 1800 square-foot home to a 34-foot boat--less than 300 square feet. Space dictated how much of the stuff we had accumulated in our 30 plus years we could bring with us. The boys were each allowed one Rubbermaid tote of toys and another of clothes and books. The rest had to be sold or given away, with the exception of one box of "can't bear to get rid of but can't fit on the boat" stuff that got shipped to grandma's. We limited ourselves accordingly. Being book fanatics, we were heartbroken over the 17 totes of books we donated to the local library. And since I'm not particularly fashion-conscious, I was shocked when loading up my suits and other clothes from a decade of professional work brought me to tears. I found myself sitting in a pile of non-boat friendly attire, blubbering on the phone to my best friend. "I've had some of this stuff for years!" Her wise response saved the day. "All the more reason to get rid of it."
What you do decide to bring onboard is at risk. We have been very lucky (touch wood) and are fastidious about keeping water on the outside, so we haven't had the amount of loss that many boaters experience. Books can mildew, white clothes get golden spots on them that won't wash out, pictures get damp and stick together, any one of a dozen things can happen to the precious items that you do decide to bring onboard. Even though we have lost very little over the years, what we have onboard is often hard to access. Many times I dreamed of our old master bedroom with the wall lined with bookshelves. Ahh, the pleasure of being able to walk to a shelf and pick up an old friend to peruse. No more. Now I have to remember which locker it is crammed into, remove all the contents of that locker only to discover my memory was faulty. By then I'm too aggravated to really care what's in the damn book. And I start dreaming of more bookshelves.
For those who are artsy or enjoy a craft, small spaces cramp creativity. Even if you find the room to store the necessary supplies and tools, it also requires space to use them. One of Dave's biggest complaints is that, though he has room for his jewelry supplies and even has a jewelry bench in the aft cabin, he can't leave everything lay out on the bench when we're traveling. Only when we stop for predictably long periods can he produce any jewelry. The boat is starting to cramp his style.
With small spaces comes other concerns. Even on larger boats, there is very little privacy. Those who are more private about things that go on in the head often experience anxiety on a boat. If you have guests onboard the privacy issue becomes even more apparent. And because heads are generally so small on boats, showering is always more difficult onboard. There are a lot of different solutions, but none change the fact that things are always a little harder to do in small spaces.
Not only is showering more difficult, but you have to relearn how to do EVERYTHING, trying to make it a little easier. There is no denying that everything is harder on a boat. Making the bed, washing dishes, going to the store, doing laundry, the list is endless. You may have more time on a boat, but you need it.
Maintenance on a boat isn't any easier than everyday chores. The tools have to be dragged out from whatever hole they are stored in, manuals have to be studied, maintenance and repairs must be performed when the situation requires it, not at your convenience. If the roof of your house leaks you can ignore it a long time before either fixing it or calling a roofer. But if your boat leaks, it may be your life that is in danger, not just the stuff in your attic. And it seems that something always needs maintained, repaired or checked onboard. It's not always as easy as just calling a plumber when your sink drips. You either acquire the skills necessary to repair the systems on your boat, or you shell out a lot of your cruising kitty to someone else who has. Basically, you either work or you pay.
A lot of cruisers are surprised by the amount of money that the lifestyle requires. Since we had the exact opposite experience, we've tried to analyze why people are spending more money than expected. There is an accepted amount of 10% of purchase price of a boat this is required annually to maintain her. That's not cruising kitty, slip fees, cheese and wine. That's bottom paint, amortization of sails and canvas, motor maintenance, paint and varnish. Because we only spent $29,000 on Eurisko, we add $5,000 annually to our cruising kitty requirements. We spend $2,000 a month to live (Which I find to be outrageous! We really have to get that back to the $1,500 we spent a decade ago) plus 1/12 of $5,000 for the boat. And if we motor instead of sail, we have to pay for fuel separately, too. So perhaps the unexpected money that people are talking about spending is the 10% for the boat. But I tend to think that it's the choice of paying instead of working. It's easier to take your laundry to shore and pay at a laundromat than to do it onboard. It's easier to motor to windward than tack. It's easier to stay at a marina than to anchor out and row to shore to do chores. It's easier to take a taxi to the store than to walk. You get the point.
Besides the physical negative aspects, there are plenty of psychological ones. As soon as you no longer have a residence on land you no longer fit in the American box. Heaven help you once that happens. Everything becomes a little harder. The good thing is, once you get out of this country it no longer matters as much, but while you're hanging around the US, it's better to give only the information required and learn to lie as necessary to make your life easier. And as soon as you step on a boat, you give up your 4th Amendment rights. Illegal search and seizure becomes legal on the water. You can be stopped for any reason (or no reason) and your home searched at any time, by any one of a handful of agencies, anywhere in the world, simply because you are an American flagged vessel. Land of the free.
Any time you go against society's expectations there will be those who don't understand and who try to make your life difficult. If you drag children into this alternative lifestyle the stakes are even higher. Be prepared to have to defend yourself to many people including authorities, make sure you have all your ducks in a row and can produce all the right paperwork, especially once your children are school-aged.
Onboard your floating home, there are more psychological pitfalls to avoid. Be prepared for a change of pace. You can't always go to shore when you want to (it might be blowing or raining or both), you can't always travel when you want to, your entire life becomes weather dependent. The more quickly you accept that, the easier your life becomes.
Take two independent people (and a baby), put them in a confined space, increase their work load and decrease their freedom to do what they want when they want, and you're mixing a stew of potential disaster. Living on a boat undeniably changes your relationship. Your job is to make sure it's for the better. Otherwise you may find your crew jumping ship at the next convenient port.
When you carry all your utilities with you, you become more conscious of your usage. You must haul all your water onboard, you have to generate your own electricity, you must dispose of your own trash, and if you want internet it's your responsibility to find a way to access it. Again, everything is just a little harder onboard.
One disadvantage to the lifestyle became painfully obvious to us in Panama. There is a tendency, especially among men, to ignore health issues when in situations where seeking medical treatment is difficult, uncomfortably, costly, or in a foreign tongue. As we saw firsthand, when you require medical treatment, postponing it can only be more difficult, uncomfortably, and costly, in any language.
Then there are the psychological negatives that we often bring about ourselves, namely guilt. There's the guilt of not providing your children with a "normal" life. The feeling that you have to keep going or go farther because all this time, money and effort have been put into cruising. There's that horrible feeling of not being able to commit to seeing family, or worse, committing and then not being able to follow through because of weather. There's the guilt of not being there for your family when they need you. And worse than any of these, for me, is that feeling in the pit of your stomach the first Christmas that you spend without any of your kids because you're traveling and you didn't know when you'd be where so none of them could make plans to come see you. Add a sweet, beautiful grandchild to the mixture and you start to see why we haven't yet returned to the Caribbean.
There are also the random annoyances. An inability to get rid of energy on those days that become weeks of confining weather. The need to play in the dirt and watch something grow. There are a million little things that can be pointed to as negatives.
You would think, after spending the morning listing all the things that drive us crazy about this lifestyle, that I'd be headed to the nearest dock. Instead, I'm going to make a cup of tea, grab a good book (if I can find it), and sit and watch the rain as it gently falls in our secluded anchorage. Confident that the sun will shine again soon and it will always all be worth it.
Whether you leave your boat for the winter in northern climes, for the summer in the hurricane belt, or for extended periods when other adventures call, chances are you will at some point have to store your boat. MONDAY we'll share some tips that helped Eursiko survive 18 months on the hard.
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