Instead of my traditional where are we now and what are we doing blog, I thought I would write something about what it’s like living in a floating moving home. Perhaps this will be of some interest to those thinking about living and traveling aboard their sailboat. I think these feelings are mostly related to life on a sailboat, not life in a camper van or for someone traveling but living shoreside. I say this because of the unique circumstances one finds themselves in when you live in a home with a huge moat around it and very often in places where there is either no one to share stories with, or no one sharing your language. Perhaps there are similarities to those who are on long sojourns traveling and away from friends and loved ones, being in a new place every few days, however the unique aspect of living in some 400 square feet of space with one other person adds a different aspect to the mental ups and downs of being a traveler away from home.
I would like to start out with the disclaimer that I feel blessed to have the life I lead. Most people don't have the opportunity in their lifetime to be able to do what I am doing. Most only dream of sailing away from it all. Most of the time I feel enthused, alive, energetic and extremely happy to be where I am and face the day in front of me. However, there are many times that I curse my circumstances, feel extremely bored, have trouble figuring out what to do with myself and in general have feelings that I am missing out on something back where family and loved ones are. What I am saying really is, Buyer Be Ware, know what you are getting into. This life is not all rum drinks on a beach swapping stories with new friends that stream in and out of your life easily. It’s not all sunny days, fair winds and following seas. There are periods of boredom and slight (emphasize slight) depression where you miss the old life. Perhaps a feeling of being homesick. Someone once told me that life on a boat is where the HIGHs are really HIGH, and the lows are really low. There is not the steady emotional state most people have in a normal existence.
If you’re a reader of any sail blog -- Cruising World, Blue Water Sailor or any such publication -- what you are reading are almost always the HIGHs. Why would anyone share the lows and why would you read it anyway? People in almost all circumstances only show the bright side. Stories shared to the outside world are mostly the same, a sales pitch to the positive, making you want what they seem to have in their adventurous, friend filled, happy, full of laughs, and great family life. I aim to give it to you from my perspective in an honest way with no agenda.
So first, I will set the table for you to have a better understanding of our living conditions. From bow to stern, inside 44 feet of space, we have a V berth to house our guests (which we get about 5% of the time we are living aboard, but mostly used for me when I snore as the admiral needs her sleep). Then a forward head (bathroom) which has a toilet, sink, and shower all inside the space of a small closet. Across from that is cabinet storage for clothing, tools etc. In the next room going towards the stern is the Salon (living room) which merges with galley (kitchen) and Nav Station (office). And the companionway (a set of stairs) leading to the cockpit (driving area and outside picnic table). All this in most likely less than 1/4 the space of your standard home living room. The last room going towards the stern is the master suite. It has a queen size bed, small sitting bench, and then a door to the aft head (toilet) which, like the forward head, has a shower toilet and sink, but is smaller than the forward head.
As perhaps I have different types of readers here, there are going to be mixed reactions. If your a land person, you must be thinking, wow, really small, how do they do it. If your a sailor you have one of two reactions. First reaction, “I wish I lived and sailed on a Hallberg Rassy 43. What a great boat, so much bigger than what I have. How could this jerk complain or think its tight!” Or, reaction two: why didn't he just get a bigger boat, like a Hallberg 53, or an Oyster 60, what a fool!” So first let me say, I am not complaining. To many, this is your dream boat and for some this is slumming it, and for the non sailor liveaboards I am just painting the picture.
For TWO people, and I emphasize two, this space has been easy to get used to. When at anchor or at the dock, and always when sailing, living in this size of space is fine. The admiral turns the salon into her art studio when needed, I write the blog at the picnic table in my outdoor space. We have a two bed two bath apartment and small yard basically, with a moat of course, and an ever changing view. The downsides are that we crawl over each other to get in and out of bed and the inside sleeper always has a slight feeling of claustrophobia. The forward berth is comfortable enough but on windy bumpy nights, or when sailing to weather, this forward area is too noisy and bouncy for a solid night’s sleep. Both heads always have an odor. No matter what you do, it’s not like your bathroom at home. The shower has enough hot water for two short hot showers before reheating needs to take place. We have struggled greatly to beat the ever present smell in the aft (back) bathroom. The galley is only big enough for one, so doing the dishes or cooking dinner is not a team event. There are a few spots you need to duck your head when going the length of the boat. All this is not a big deal and I have easily adapted to living in this space. I wouldn't like to be in a smaller boat, however; if I was, I would likely have the same feelings I have now, which is that I have adapted to the space and am comfortable with it. Would I go bigger, hell yes. But with this comes more expense in many ways, as well as limiting some harbors and tight anchorages.
Our day to day all depends on what’s going on. When at anchor, our time is spent usually getting the lay of the land where we are. Is there a grocery market, laundry, internet, good pub, and sites to see while there? Jess usually handles more of this ground work than I do. She is always anxious to get off the boat so almost immediately on the anchor hitting the seabed or tying to the dock, she is planning her escape to land. She will either go for a run or long walk and get acclimated while I generally get the boat put away and ready for stationary living-- lines stowed, water tanks filled, gear all put back in its place etc etc. If there are any nagging repair jobs, they are handled over the next couple of days while the boat is still. Jess likes to take 2-4 hours for her painting or drawing daily. When we are feeling inspired and energetic we get in a work out and spend a fair amount of time hiking,, walking and exploring.
This all sounds pretty exciting, right? Well, let me say after several weeks of doing this you start to feel like there is something missing. What is it? We both have the feeling and both don't know the answer. I always try to check myself when I start to take the natural surroundings for granted and don't seem to have the reaction of “wow, what a lovely spot, how beautiful.” However when you see one beautiful place after another, you can’t help but take it for granted. How long can you stare out at the amazing view and still consider it amazing, especially when just around the corner, or across the ocean is another amazing place.
We both have our opinions on what is missing. One common thread on the subject is friends/companions. Being in new places, one after another, makes it is hard to meet likeminded people. So far, in my opinion, Europeans tend to keep to themselves. Most other sailors are on a short holiday and have family and friends with them. Most of the other sailors we have met are 10-20 years older than me, and I am 10 years older than Jess. They are likely to be her parents age. Now let me say, there is nothing wrong with hanging out with older folks. They bring wisdom, more history to draw humor from, a better understanding of self than perhaps we do, and many many other attributes. But we both really want to meet some people closer to our age group. We have yet to bond with and sail with any other likeminded people. This is what I feel I am missing the most. Are there any youngish sailors living the dream? The vast majority of liveaboard sailors are 60 plus. At least this has been our experience thus far.
A second shared emotion between us is the lack of a feeling of relevancy. Before moving aboard Cadence we both held down jobs where people counted on us. We had purpose and our work was relevant to the world around us. We felt like we were making a contribution to society. In this new life, neither of us feel like we are making a contribution toward something greater than us. We feel we have become inconsequential in the scheme of things. What purpose do we serve? I often think that this feeling is something felt by career athletes that all of a sudden, either by injury or retirement, have to leave their profession. They must go through a period of time where they ask these same questions and have these same feelings. They no longer can make the contribution they did and must search for another means to be relevant. I believe we are both going through the same thing at this time. I can only hope that the journey I am on now will enlighten me understand what my purpose and place in society is. The time we are taking to “live the dream” will not go on forever and we will return, and perhaps with a more enlightened perspective.
Always living on the move can get old but so can the anchorage or marina you’re in. I swing from one side of the spectrum to the other. After being a coastal hopper and anchored for too long, I prefer to be at sea. The boat sails very well and is a pleasure to skipper on passages. I like the open ocean and feeling it brings. Then, once I have had my fill, I am ready for a marina or calm anchorage. But this feeling again is fleeting and only lasts until I need to get my fix of the sea again. I have a little bird on my shoulder always whispering, “time to make some miles.” It’s kind of a seesaw for me finding the balance to be positive. Jess on the other hand prefers very short passages and anchoring or marinas, only moving the boat every few days. She must be out of any swell with access to land to use up some energy. If we are on a day sail and there is significant negative swell, she is prone to seasickness. She handles the longer passages better because she has a day plus of queasiness and then gets used to the motion and can try to enjoy the passage. She has a worry in her mind as to what we will face and I know this is hard to handle for anyone. We, or I, struggle with the pace and empathize with the motion sickness. I do my best to go along to keep the peace and a positive atmosphere on the boat. Often however, I am accused of being a stupid man and not realizing my poor ability to understand. The old Venus and Mars saying comes to mind here.
One of the things that really starts to wear on you is hunting for a safe harbor and sitting out bad weather at anchor. I generally check the weather several times a day in places like Scotland where things can change quickly. There is always a little piece of me that sits with anxiety. Where shall we go if the wind changes and comes out of another direction and/or brings a swell into the harbor that makes the boat uncomfortable or unsafe? There is always a plan B in place to build. Sometimes you just want to have no worries and go about your day with no agenda but enjoyment as opposed to having that little bit of anxiety in the back of your head. But then again, there are times that there is no threat of foul weather and life is bliss. So, again, the seesaw of living in a floating moving home. Of course, if you’re willing to sit in the marina as many do, this is no issue, but we are generally on the move.
Writing this story has been helpful. I have learned from this self-reflection several things. First, that any particular state of mind is a fleeting feeling. Change the circumstances and the state of mind can be changed. Change the anchorage to the one with no swell, get off the boat and take a road trip, stay in a hotel for weekend, get in a long hike, read the newspaper and catch up on national news. Don't be a fool, soak this boat experience in, the good and the bad. Everything your missing out on will get filled in down the road, or it’s not worth missing in the first place.