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.
Magazines are full of advice for boaters in northern climes about how to store a boat. Of course, in the frozen north, these articles refer to preparing a boat to survive low temperatures and other wintery phenomenon. Rather than re-explain how to winterize your motor and your water system, let's talk about how to keep your boat safe and healthy when stored in the hot, humid tropics or other meteorologically unfriendly places for the summer or longer.
If you live aboard your floating home for very long, it's going to happen. You're going to need to go back to civilization for an extended time, decide to do some land travel, get another boat to play around in, or in our case, a combination of all the above. When life pulls you away from your boat and you need to store her for months or years, here's some advice that may prevent some nasty surprises upon your return.
We were extremely nervous leaving Eurisko for what turned out to be a year and a half. Storing a boat in south Florida can be treacherous on several fronts. We started by choosing a marina where she would be relatively safe from big weather events: hurricanes, tornadoes and floods. For her time on land we chose the middle of the State, as far away from both coasts as we could safely get her, at a marina relatively free from floods because it's between locks, where tornadoes are not very frequent. Of course, anything can happen, and we returned to find the boat two down from ours completely ruined. It had been struck by lightning. You can't prepare for everything, but we sure did our best. The only precaution we didn't take (that caused a few sleepless nights) was lowering the mast. The marina does not remove masts and a crane would have had to have been brought it, increasing the time and expense necessary to prepare her for storage. Instead, we left the rig up and hoped her being shorter than her neighbors would be her saving grace.
In the same marina where Eurisko was stored for so long, Indiantown Marina, a friend of ours had his boat sink on land. It's a frequent occurrence at any marina, but especially where there are large rainfall amounts and soft soil. It starts with a little water getting in the boat. (His began when blowing rain entered through the slats cut in the companionway board to improve ventilation.) Then, if the boat is the slightest bit bow down, the water runs forward, making the bow even heavier, causing the forward jack stand to sink into the sand and the problem worsens. After three years the water was over the cushions, ruining cabinetry, sinking the motor, growing dangerous black mold, essentially killing the boat. A sad story isn't worth telling unless there is something to be gained by it. When storing your boat, be sure that the bow is slightly higher than the stern. We removed a hose from the engine intake, leaving a big hole in the boat for water to run out should any get in. (Knowing it would be quite a while before we returned to her, we also left a giant note on the table: Do not launch! Hose removed!)
Another possible entry point for water is due to clogged cockpit drains. Leaves blow into the cockpit, it rains, and suddenly your cockpit won't drain. Where will all that water go? On Eurisko, as long as we have dogged down the aft cabin hatches well, it will overflow the cockpit and then flow over the deck. Our companionway has only one drop board and it is above the level of the bridge deck, so the overflow would not enter the cabin that way. Many boats have boards that are part of the cockpit, so they are a potential place for water to get in.
Some people cover their boats with tarps or leave awnings rigged to help keep rain out of the cabin. Tarps become basically useless after a few weeks in the southern sun, and the added windage of flapping tarps and awnings may actually cause more damage than they prevent rain entry. The only way to truly ensure that no rain gets into a stored boat is the have it shrink wrapped, another expensive option we opted not to pursue, but many people do.
Once you have considered water entry and what to do about it, remove everything from the deck: all brushes, removable seats, sails, flags, canvas, jugs, tanks, light boards, anything that can become a projectile or will be windage. We have removed the boom before, but usually we lower the aft end to deck level and tie it well. We also strapped Eurisko to four "sand screw" type anchors to secure her to the earth. Her jack stands had plywood under them to keep them from sinking as quickly into the Florida sand. With her exterior as safe as we could make her, we concentrated on the interior.
In order to keep critters out of our cushions, we covered the Dorade vents, preventing the entry of anything too large to fit into the thru hull we'd left open for drainage. Which means cockroaches were still a serious consideration. I've read that roaches can survive an unbelievably long time on the oils left in a fingerprint. I don't know how true that is, but I do know that the less food you leave around for them, the less welcome they feel; so we removed every scrap of food from Eurisko. Every can, every spice, every Tupperware, we wiped out every locker, cleaned up every crumb, and left her as spotless as we could. As an added precaution, we left clumps of Combat in obvious places (so we would see them and clean them up before we brought the cats back onboard) to take care of any curious wanderers.
Our next worry was mold. Since we'd plugged our Dorades, there was very little ventilation. To discourage mold (which also requires a food source in order to grow), we wiped down every hard surface with bleach water. We sprayed every fabric surface (cushions, pillows, mattress) with spray Lysol. To allow as much air flow as possible we left the galley and hanging locker doors open, propped open the fridge, put the cushions on edge and raised the mattress off the platform.
Much debate surrounded what to do with the sails. In the end, we left them in the aft cabin in their bags. We have since decided that when we do this next time we will put the sails in plastic bags (to keep the rust off) and store them in metal trash cans. That will prevent them from become a rat's home, should one find its way inside.
We drove into the boatyard where we'd left Eurisko 18 long months earlier. Her rig was easy to identify because of her baggy wrinkle, so we knew she was still standing before we could see her hull. But when we turned the corner I burst into tears and Dave sighed, "Oh my God..." I felt like I'd been stabbed in the heart. We stumbled forward, unable to make our feet move us at anything faster than a funeral march and I whispered, "I'm sorry, girl. I'm so sorry." She was a mess. Hardware in her rubrail had left rusty streaks down her faded hull. The Florida sun had cooked her hull paint to a chalky film and baked the black paint off her bulwarks. When we climbed on deck my few tears became sobs. All her lines were either green or black, depending on the microorganism growing on them. Her deck was black with mold; her deck paint was missing in a hundred places. I could hardly see through the tears in order to go inside, and when I did get below I was afraid to believe what my eyes were showing me. She was exactly the way we had left her. Not a bit of mold, no critters, not a drop of water. We discovered one chainplate had leaked and dripped on a pair of pants in a locker, but that was our only casualty.
As for the mess she was on the outside, everyone was correct when they assured me it was just cosmetics. She was in need of some TLC anyway, so Dave says the sun just saved us some sanding by doing part of the job for us. After how she looked on the outside, I was very pleased with her condition down below. I don't think we could have prevented any of the exterior damage, except of course, by not storing her in the Florida sun. But, you know, sometimes life drags you in other directions. If you find yourself needing to store a boat in the tropics for long periods, the work you put into preparing her before you leave, will reap great benefits upon your return.
Because of the holidays, we won't be posting until the New Year. MONDAY January 6, we'll share how to grow your own fresh food onboard. No garden required.
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