Dawn starts – worth getting up early for!
Are you toying with the idea of living the sailing life, but not sure what to expect? Or not sure how easy the transition to a nomadic sea existence would be? Being in her fourth year on a sailing catamaran, Chris Danger sheds some light on the matter for us.
July 2017 was that daunting but exciting time when we gave work the flick, packed up our belongings, rented out our house and moved on our boat. We have been living aboard ever since. The decision to embark on a life afloat was not made on a whim. Wade and I had sailed together for some 20 years prior to that and explored during extended holidays while we were working, getting away on our catamaran every year for a couple of months at a time and sailing on many weekends. We had a pretty good idea of what to expect and were itching to start our sea wanderers’ life in earnest. Four years down the track many people ask us: “What is it really like, how different is living afloat?” So here it is, warts and all!
LIFE VERSION 2.0
Think of your life as you know it and imagine it is thrown up into the air – your house, car, job, activities, places you hang out ... Then imagine being on this beautiful vessel living and sailing on the ocean – without all the paraphernalia of your traditional land existence. If cruising and living aboard is your dream, realise it is not like a change of job or a new house. You are not swapping out a section of your life, you are swapping your life for another life which embodies the outdoors, exploration, adventure, marine creatures, new friendships. It may be quite easy to romanticise living on a sail boat full time. However, this is a unique lifestyle which brings a mixed bag of adventures and challenges. What changes in your world? Adaptability, minimalism, rhythms and connection to the environment are where the biggest transformations occur. It is a change of mindset and habits. So let’s take a closer look.
More maintenance: the anchor winch is on the blink.
Constant maintenance required on a boat – today it's re-sealing the windows!
If you were a bit of a control freak on land (I’ll admit I was one) things have to change! There is a saying that describes this well: ‘cruising plans are made in the sand at low tide’. You cannot plan very far ahead and have to stay flexible. You make decisions everyday based on changing conditions and environment rather than based on a schedule. Another saying you often hear is: “the most dangerous thing on a boat is a schedule”. Whereas you had everything ordered, programmed, controlled in your life version 1.0, in your life 2.0 many things are mostly out of your control. It can be quite frustrating unless you relax into it and go with the flow. Being adaptable and flexible is paramount for safety and wellbeing.
Most people get caught up in a pattern of life that demands constant expansion ... get a holiday house, another car, another plaything .. but maybe it is not necessary! You can grow your life in a different direction. By far the biggest change as you transition to a life afloat is that you adopt a life of minimalism, by choice and also by necessity. You go through a process of pragmatic paring down because even a big boat does not give you much room. Here are some figures to put the whole issue of space into perspective. In Australia the average floor size of a house is 186m2 (sourced from ABS statistics). It is quite a bit larger than in other countries and growing! At the other end of the scale, a Tiny House is about 37m2 or less. On board Anui, we are lucky to have 66m2 of living space including the cockpit. The front deck is not included since it is mainly nets! It is a larger catamaran. Most cruising people have somewhat less than that. Thus you can see how the most important change you have to make with limited room on board, is to become comfortable with a lot less space and to stop collecting, stop accumulating things and multiples of things. You also need to be slightly obsessive with tidiness or your space quickly turns into a mess.
The shrinking starts before you get on board as you prepare to leave your traditional house: you reduce, make a choice of what comes with you and what gets sold, given away, thrown away or stored away. But the process continues as you settle into your life afloat. You quickly find that the things you believed important on land, are not so important afloat any more.
A fast sail under screecher with threatening skies. Conditions are now always ideal.
One handy aspect is that when you are away from mainstream advertising, living in a small space with limited room and are anchored off an island that is deserted or has very few shops, your desire for material things reduces dramatically. No more purchasing of clothes, shoes, books, toys. No more knickknack collection, no more impulse buys, no more accumulation of stuff because you don’t need it and you can’t store it anyway!
Living a clutter free life and being happy with less does not mean you do without elements of beauty or style. You just have to decorate your floating home with one or two pieces that have meaning, reflect your personality and resonate with your surroundings. For us, the reef colours and marine life are present in our soft furnishings and the photos on our walls.
Because your boat is your home, comfort on board is important and you should not skimp on that. You are not camping. There is nothing temporary about this life. On Anui we have made changes to address aspects that were acceptable at the beginning, or might have been while on holidays, but soon became sources of frustration as we went along. For instance, we recovered our lounge seats because they were not wearing well, were itchy in the heat and a bit blah to look at. We have improved our solar system to give us more reliable power because you don’t want to have to constantly worry about your electricity production and certainly don’t want to make a choice between turning a computer on or running the freezer! We have installed a Telstra Cel-Fi booster to improve our ability to stay connected with the world even in remote areas, because it is important to us for safety and wellbeing. We want to be able to call our friends, check the forecasts online, surf the net as and when we need to. Refinements or improvements are continuous and a part of adjusting to life on the ocean.
On land, your life is intensely structured around you work, your family, your extracurricular activities. It is highly predictable. On a boat, we find there is none of that, but there are rhythms.
First and foremost, you live by the rhythm of the weather. Essentially you go where the wind takes you or you don’t go at all. You are not tacking, you are not battling the elements, you go with the flow. You just have to construct your days around the wind direction and strength. Some days the weather will be perfect for what you would like to do, or it will allow you to go, but not where you had hoped. Sometimes it will be recalcitrant – way too windy, too rainy or dead calm. You will simply need to make another plan, or sit tight and wait. Although you never really know what each day might bring, living on a yacht requires a lot of preparation, organisation, and an ability to face whatever the ocean and weather gods throw at you.
You live by the rhythm of the sun and seasons. In winter you will find us in the tropics, preferably between latitude 25° S and 15° S. In summer we will be in more temperate regions (although this year, with Covid it is not the case). This is to manage the heat and humidity, the risk of cyclones, and to be where we can most enjoy our days. Living by the rhythm of the sun is also reflected in how we manage our daily routines. We remember struggling to wake up in the morning when we were working. These days we get up at dawn, enjoy blissfully calm mornings: beach walk with the pussycat, a swim maybe, a lazy breakfast. Days could be spent passage making, enjoying a jaw-droppingly beautiful anchorage, heading out for a snorkel, or taking a hike up a hill with newfound friends from the anchorage. We might have to do some maintenance, or god forbid we might tackle some domestics like laundry or tidying up our abode. We might make a plan for the next exciting chapter or just lay back and relax. The fact is there is a lot of slow time on a boat so a few hobbies like reading (on the Kindles of course), photography, learning (online courses are a great resource) help fill in free time. Evenings are spent celebrating a wonderful day, feeling lucky as the sun sets in a last burst of brilliant oranges and pinks. And pretty early in the evening, it’s bed time. You don’t tend to stay up for very long! All that is on a good day, and there are many of these.
The weather does not always cooperate
And you also live by the rhythm of your boat. To cruise safely often demands as much time be devoted to boat upkeep as to carefree play. Let’s face it, being a yachtie is nowhere near as glamorous as you think. No matter how new the vessel is, there is always never-ending maintenance and to do lists. A day rarely goes by without something on Anui needing to be attended to, fixed, changed, fiddled with, improved on, dismantled, or re-constructed. Over time you develop an amazing array of skills to keep the boat in shape and you wear multiple hats: electrician, motor mechanic, sails repairer, plumber, cleaner ... and that’s before you have even started sailing! Without proactive servicing of all systems on board, things stop working. And let me assure you if it is going to breakdown, it’s usually in the worst spot like approaching a harbour entrance or between two reefs!
CONNECTION TO THE ENVIRONMENT
When you live aboard, you become salt water people. You live on the ocean and by the ocean. You develop a strong connection to nature, concern for the environment and it becomes part of your identity. You develop awareness, concern and knowledge of ecological issues and conservation. You cannot ignore the impact of climatic changes happening in the Great Barrier Reef or along the Australian coast for instance because you see them and feel them first hand. You understand how fragile this environment is, the damaging effect the human race has on nature, but also how each one of us can do our bit to protect our natural world or at least not make it worse. It shapes our behaviours. We feel more concern about the environment than we ever did when we lived in our suburban home on land and have made changes to our life to reduce our impact. Apart from ‘retire’, a few other ‘R’ words have got our attention — reduce, reuse, refuse, reclaim, renew, revitalize, refurbish, rethink and redesign, to name a few.
LET'S TALK NITTY GRITTY NOW
Here is the reality check. The cruising life is a series of compromises. It is not all about dreamy days and fun in the sun. There are chores, housework, just your normal routines which are typically more difficult to deal with afloat than on land. Your resources are limited and you are forever checking your consumption – water, power, food stocks. You can’t just flick a switch, turn a tap on, or duck out to the local shop if you run out of something. You also have to consider the sea state when you do anything. Doing chores on a heaving boat is a recipe for seasickness.
Domestic activities generally take planning and occupy half your day. Take the washing for example, depending on where we are, we will run our twin tub washing machine on board, which invariably will turn the boat into a Chinese laundry with clothes, sheets and towels flapping in the salty air. If we are in a harbour, we do a dinghy trip to the local laundromat armed with loads of coins.
Provisioning is another big task. It starts with working out menu ideas for however length of time you are going offshore. We have a growing catalogue of recipes gleaned from other cruisers and internet sites and use this to generate our shopping list. Then comes another dinghy trip to the stores, armed with trolleys and crates to carry the loot back, and finally the challenge of fitting everything into fridge, freezer or lockers.
While we are on the subject of the dinghy, your tender as it is also called is your means of transport to and from the big boat. It allows you to explore, do reconnaissance trips, get ashore. It is the work horse for provisioning trips, to get fuel, to ferry people on and off your vessel. It therefore needs to be reliable, big enough and a powerful engine is handy. We had a 10ft Walker Bay tender with a 2.5hp engine on our last boat, light but very slow; we have a 3.1m Sirocco rib with an 18 HP engine on Anui, which we much prefer. But there too is a compromise: a big engine gets you places fast because it allows you to plane, but it also means a heavy dinghy to drag ashore. We typically anchor it rather than risk breaking our back dragging it up a beach. You have to pick your poison!
An important aspect with life afloat is electricity and water. We are self-sufficient when it comes to the generation of both. One kilowatt of solar panels powers everything on board and we run a watermaker which is a critical system for us to give us comfort and independence from ports. But again, we are constantly monitoring the gauges to check production and consumption. We are frugal with showers for example: we turn the tap on to wet ourselves, then turn it off, soap up, turn the tap back on to rinse. No wallies on this boat!
Beautiful sunsets, one of the perks of cruising.
Dealing with rubbish is another challenge – think space and smell. We start with making provisioning choices that decrease waste: we consider what can be compacted, leave unnecessary packaging ashore, favour cans that can be crushed rather than glass bottles, get rid of cardboard which can harbour bugs, use washable mesh bags when buying fruit and vegetables rather than plastic bags. We rinse any empty jars in sea water before binning them or reuse them for storage. We compact everything, we chop packaging in little pieces, we use empty containers to pack other rubbish into. You have to be a bit obsessive with reducing garbage if you want to stay away from port for several weeks.
Yet another difficulty is managing your health: regular medical and dental check-ups, specialists’ appointments, skin checks, prescription supplies all have to be organised in advance around your itinerary. We tend to use a central location to get all this done, and our specialists are happy to do skype consults. But it takes some thinking ahead and organising.
We are highly reliant on the internet and email system. Banking, bills, general communication are handled that way. Any gear or spare part we need is purchased online. We tend to use the post office network and strategically organise for any parcel to be delivered to where we think we will be next! We are lucky to be able to use a family member’s home as our postal address and any snail mail still trickling in gets scanned, binned or redirected to a post office near us. Of course, this requires some sort of reliable laptop or tablet and good internet coverage!
Our abode from above.
There are probably more practicalities which could be covered, but hopefully this tackles the main issues. It is quite manageable, just a little more awkward and time consuming than on land.
Living on a boat full-time is not for everybody. But we are totally invested in this lifestyle of ours ... the care of our boat, the joy of sailing, the wonder of discovery, the passion of photography in all its forms. Despite all its compromises and constraints, our sea wanderers’ life has given us a sense of peace, a lasting feeling of bliss and freedom. We are focused on getting the most out of life, doing what makes us happy, what keeps us reasonably healthy, fit, comfortable and hopeful. Anui has been our sanctuary from the breakneck hassles of traditional land life. We believe nature offers us a far richer life experience than our jobs and suburban home did. And every day, we have the privilege of getting close to wildlife: whales, dolphins, manta rays, turtles, all kinds of marine life in an environment of unparalleled beauty. The payoffs are immense.
In our fourth year of adventure, we are not stopping. Where to next, we are not sure, but there is an open horizon ahead and we are going to sail into it. We hope our story inspires you to set off on your own venture … with eyes wide open.