Six Months On a Boat – A Wordy Supplemental

So it has been roughly 6 months since we began this new live-aboard life. We are far from being very salty. But my compare/contrast abilities between both lives are still quite fresh. I also realize a lot of people may have misconceptions or confusion about what exactly we are DOING out here anyway. Sometimes I wonder myself 😉

First of all, contrary to popular belief – we are NOT on vacation. It’s true we have closed our businesses and for the time being we are not generating income of any sort. But we did not enter into this life expecting it to be all hammocks, umbrella drinks and endless happy hour. While there are opportunities for the kind of enjoyment and adventure that most people try to find temporarily in their annual vacations, I’m starting to realize that we will probably get about as much of that “relaxing” vacation time as most anyone else who tries for it.

This is not a break from our previous life, with a plan to “go home” at some future point, nor are we temporarily ‘getting away from it all’ or running away from anything in particular (as we know full well, “you bring your problems with you” or, as my Dad has always said “Wherever you go, There you are”).

So, what ARE we doing?? I am only speaking for myself here, but nothing destroys my soul like routine.

One of my favorite quotes has always been -“I travel a lot, I hate having my life disrupted by routine” (-Caskie Stinnet). That is not to stay I don’t appreciate – and need- safety, security, a home to nest in, etc. But day to day routines have long been something that pain me greatly. Having to get up at the same time every day and go to the same place and do the same thing is simply not for me. I understand that it is a great comfort to many people, but to me it is what kryptonite is to Superman. When I quit my corporate job and sold everything to travel back in 1998 – that was the best year of my life. For the first time ever I felt ‘at home’ –and at peace – even though I was homeless and alone out in the world. Becoming aware of how happy a life of ‘the unknown’ and lacking routine makes me is what led me to start my own business – and I absolutely enjoyed having every day be different and never knowing what I was going to walk into when I showed up at each client’s home or business. But then there’s the routine of living in a house that never moves (save from the occasional earthquake). I think that’s partly why I’ve always been so organized – having systems in place to manage the routine (aka: boring to me) with as little time/maintenance as possible – means I can function successfully in a world that requires routine while freeing my brain up to think about anything but routine.

Buying food and necessities week in and week out, paying the same bills over and over again, makes me almost insane. I used to order a year’s supply of toilet paper online just because I couldn’t stand having to go buy it over and over again (plus it was economical…). In the last 25 years I’ve lived in over 20 places. I get restless. I like change. I need change.

There’s also a very strong possibility I have gypsy blood in my not too distant ancestry.

Slowly the trappings of my recent, overly busy landlife are falling away. “Trappings” is a good word for them, too.   It was quite a process to extricate ourselves from the albeit comfortable (at times) trap we were stuck in.   I realize the vast majority of my time was spent simply maintaining that life – not really LIVING it. The constant errands, the multitude of bills needing to be paid and the many hours spent earning money to pay them, was not my idea of a fulfilling life. As much as I enjoyed the work I did – and it’s probably the one thing I truly loved about that life. I was always amazed that people gave me money for helping them out (and I often resented the fact that I NEEDED that money just to keep doing it).

But the things that seemed so complex and time consuming are completely gone and the things that I used to take for granted are the things that are complex and time consuming now. Finding water to fill our water tank–and if we can’t get the boat close enough to the source, filling our jerry cans and ferrying them back to the boat, often more than once, locating food and lugging it back to the boat, trying to get places on land (navigating buses and taxis and walking and biking), figuring out how and where to do laundry, finding a source to fill our propane tanks so we can cook food, bathing (usually salt water with fresh water rinse), building our bed every night, setting the anchor to make sure our home will not end up crashing onto rocks in the middle of the night, putting the motor on and off our ‘car’ every day, so it will be secure and not get stolen in the night, and often times pulling the ‘car’ (dinghy) on deck to insure it will be there in the morning. Even using my computer involves a number of steps that weren’t previously required- and if you want to add internet usage to that, you add more steps still—packing it up in a waterproof case and lugging it ashore and finding someplace with wifi at a reasonable cost and power (my battery is nearly done for) – and then hoping the wifi as actually fast enough and consistent enough to upload a blog entry…

These ‘difficulties’ are fairly laughable. I prefer spending most of my time on meeting these most basic needs and being mostly free from other more complex time-sucks. It’s like living closer to the basic needs of LIFE rather than insulating myself from it in a complex fabricated world. This kind of living-centered life is something that has always interested me – but I usually pictured myself as a hermit growing my own food on a farm or something like that…

But instead – here we are on a sailboat. A home with 360 degree ocean view and no mortgage. Powered by sun and wind. We no longer have to pay PG&E, Comcast, Rent, Car insurance, gas (over and over), etc. etc. etc. Leaving life in California afforded us an 80% drop in living expenses. That means 80% of the work I was doing was just to pay bills for stuff I don’t actually NEED to be paying for. Now of course, income dropped 100%, and I don’t need my astute bookkeeping skills to know this is not a forever-sustainable life. It’s more of an experiment, a dream realized, a new way of seeing the world and the possibilities for living in it.  My version of Thoreau’s “Simplify, Simplify, Simplify”.

Speaking of sustainability, let’s look at the big picture. I’ve always been interested in my impact on the earth (going way back to canvassing for environmental organizations in college and writing a thesis on “Green Marketing” and being generally obsessed with what I bought and the energy and resources I used (not having children was a big factor in that equation – once learning that American children use over 70% more resources than 3rd world children—although I’ve now heard its more like 200%). This is a longstanding passion of mine. When the term “Carbon Footprint” became popular, I realized that was the name for what I did a lot of thinking about, and I struggled with “how to reduce mine?”. I think I can safely say I’ve finally hit the jackpot in this department.

I would say about 95% of the energy I use now comes from the sun. The rest comes from burning diesel fuel when we run our motor to go places (dual purpose – on the occasions we need to motor, it also charges our batteries) and gasoline in our dinghy.   My dream as we were preparing for this life was that the sun would keep my food cold. It is happening! Our 2-140 watt solar panels provide us more than enough energy to run our refrigerator, the computer I am using now, the lights that are on and the radio that is playing and more. Even in the rain we are sometimes able to produce a little energy!

I have calculated our non-food consumable resource use estimates as we’ve been living so far :

Propane – 2.4 gallons / month = 28.8 gallons per year

Gasoline (for dinghy) – 3.75 gallons/month = 45 gallons/ year

Diesel Fuel – 14.5 gallons/month = 174 gallons/year

Fresh Water * – 200 gallons/month = 2400 gallons/year

*This does not include the occasions when we do laundry in a machine or use showers on land – which is far less frequent than when we lived on land.

We have a 2 gallon trash can and we can go around 2 weeks without needing to empty it.  Our bathroom trash (1 gallon) can go about two weeks- that’s our toilet paper – nothing gets simply flushed ‘away’ any more! You literally cannot ignore your own shit living on a boat).

I have not been able to calculate the vast amount of stuff we purchased in preparing for this life – it was quite a lot – maybe not as much as some who choose this life, and still more than others. I imagine there will be occasional bouts of consumer purchases when opportunities arise – for example my sister came to visit and I placed a number of orders for parts and other desirable goods we can’t get here (most of which is edible). I’m sure I could calculate the jet fuel used to transport that suitcase full of stuff and maybe even the calories my sister burned in lugging it down here…but I’ll save that for another time.

I hope I am unwinding enough to begin tapping more creative energy. It’s a part that has seemed long since missing in me and I hope to find IT again, whatever it is. It seems like it is taking forever, but then I remind myself we’ve truly only been ‘free’ for 3 months. The 5 weeks spent coming from Santa Cruz to San Diego was our ‘shakedown’ to get a feel for the boat and sort of ‘vacation-y’ and the 2 months spend in Chula Vista was sort of a transition – getting used to living on the boat and working nonstop on the last ‘US-based’ work projects on Summer. That’s not long when trying to shift away from 30 years of ingrained habits and beliefs. But still, as fast as the last 3 years have flown by, the last 3 months seem to have begun a grinding slow-down. While at the end of every day I can’t believe how quickly the day passed, I am still amazed it has only been 3 months – when I think back to all we’ve done (and all the supplies burned through…) it seems like far longer. Time is shifting in a big way and it’s a little disorienting. I’m sure we’ll adjust, but right now we’re in that weird zone like when currents are shifting and the wind keeps switching and it’s hard to know what’s going to happen next.

I can definitively say that I DO like this life very much. Getting in tune with the rhythms of sunrise and sunset, tides, and weather. It doesn’t get much more real than that. I have discovered that being indoors in daylight makes me feel claustrophobic and antsy. Being in a marina and being on land is useful and necessary and often convenient, but every time we get back out to anchor, I sigh a breath of relief. You never know what’s going to happen out there! I still have a lot of adjusting and ‘getting my head around’ things and of course so very much to learn about this lifestyle – but it all feels right. I’m happy to say all the fears about ‘will we get as far as Cabo and decide we hate cruising and have to sell the boat?” are unfounded at this juncture. I’m looking forward to becoming as salty and savvy as some of the friends we’ve met so far. I’ll try to do another reality check in another six months – that should be somewhere deep in the middle of hurricane season. Stay tuned J

[After writing all this, I just saw a new study about a ‘wanderlust gene’ Hmmmm ]