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Why I’ll be Living Aboard a Sailboat

Big News: I’m going to live on a sailboat. Full time. I’m giving up most of my possessions and trading it for a life on a boat, out on the bay or in a dock. For those who don’t care to read the lengthy explanation below, let me summarize why I’m making this change: freedom, romance, frugality, pride of ownership, it’s darn cool, and because I can.

It’s not a joke. I’ve already purchased the sailboat, a 1972 30 foot Islander MK II. She’s been on a successful sea trial and had a great survey. She’s my boat, and soon she’ll be my home.

sailboat

My new home

How it began

My friend, Kym, invited me to her sailboat. I’ve only seen a few boats in my lifetime, having always been a horse and barn sort of girl, but I’ve always marveled at a boat’s clever use of space, coziness, and how cool it is to just be on a boat. Kym’s boat had the essentials: a stove, sink, settee, fold-away table, storage for food and utensils, a bed at the bow of the boat (called the v-berth), toilet, and more storage at the stern. I was impressed. And as I sat there with Kym, munching on cheese and crackers, I asked her, “Could you live here?”

Riley with Kym

The question I was really asking was, “Could I live here?” Riley, Dog With No Fear, was completely comfortable on the boat. He was ready to take an extended tour and see what was what, but later decided to chill out on Kym’s lap and enjoy the non-rainy weather. Riley has no concept of heights, danger, strangers, or bad people. The world according to Riley is a pretty sweet place. So he at least, would be down for living on a boat.

After visiting Kym, all I could think about was living on a boat. How awesome. Even if it’s not a good time to travel, don’t, just live on the water. It sounded so wonderful!

Small Boat = Less Stuff

I’ve fallen less in love with stuff each time I move. And every time I move and decide to get rid of more stuff, I feel better. Let me be clear: I am not against stuff. This post will not be an expose on materialism or consumerism, nor is it a referendum on traditional lifestyles. It’s been my experience that less is more. Getting rid of my belongings feels good to me.

What I need is a place to work, play, eat, relax, and sleep. After coming away from Kym’s boat, I sat down and thought about what it is I use, need and want. A boat has a dinette (dining area), settee (to sit or recline), galley (kitchen), v-berth (master bedroom), head (toilet). A boat has all the furniture and accommodations needed to be comfortable.

To work I require two things: a computer and an internet connection. That’s it. I own a laptop–I can take my work wherever I want. Because I use Clearwire for my internet, I can go anywhere within coverage area.

I no longer use a television. That’s not to say I don’t watch TV shows, I just don’t pipe them through a box. Netflix Instant and Hulu are my media entertainment providers. I don’t need a TV, DVD player, stereo, and all the wires and power that goes with them to watch my favorite shows.

I use a Kindle to read novels. I’m no longer collecting books. Books, though great, take up A LOT of space. A Kindle, however, is about the width of a pencil and weighs just a tad more.

To summarize, here is everything I will bring on the boat:

  • Riley, Dog with No Fear, and all his necessities (food and dishes)
  • MacBook Pro, mouse, power cord, etc.
  • Intous Tablet (for artwork)
  • Kindle for reading
  • iPhone for staying connected
  • Clothes for wearing
  • Cookware for preparing food
  • Food for consuming
  • A few books I’m unwilling to part with, mainly my Harry Potter collection, The Count of Monte Cristo, and a leather bound collection of Jack London’s entire works (a gift from my mom).

That’s it.

This means that all of my furniture, my couch, chairs, coffee table, desks, rug, shelves, etc. must go.

Tiny Space does not Equal a Tiny Life

sailboat haul out

Being Hauled Out

A boat is small. My boat is 30 feet long with a 10 foot beam (width). That does not equal 300 square feet, though. The entire cabin is about the size of a small bedroom without a closet. It’s tiny. But a small living space does not mean a small life.

Open up the companionway and walk into the cockpit and the entire horizon is your backyard. Seals and dolphins are the new squirrels. There are no buildings to block the view. Gulls herald in the morning. Unlike a house or apartment, a boat can be moved from one view to another, from one place to another. It is my goal to sail to the San Juans next summer, perhaps even to British Columbia. And my home would go with me.

If I want to spend most of my time in Poulsbo, no problem. If I want to spend the weekend in Seattle, easy-speasy. Kingston, why not? Port Townsend? For sure. Look at a map of the Puget Sound and even north of that, and you’ll see a ton of places to go without even touching the Pacific Ocean. When the wind fills the sails, and powers the boat forward, the feeling of pride and freedom increases ten fold.

Sailing is Romantic

under sail

Not my boat, just cool photo of a boat under sail.

When I decided to live on a sailboat, I didn’t know how to sail. You may think that sounds crazy, but I’d bet a lot of people look at something and decide to jump right in without knowing a gosh darn thing about it. Horses, for example, command romanticism in the same way: the wind in your hair, being powered by nature, pounding the ground, one with the animal, flying through the air. Horseback riding can be exhilarating.

I’ve done my research. I’ve learned a lot about sailing and about sailboats. There’s still a plethora of things to know, but that will come. I’ve read about boats, about living aboard, about sailing maneuvers, the sails, etc. Terms that sounded alien to me three months ago mean something to me now.

Doors Flew Open

There are times in all of our lives when bad things happen. If you look back, you can see where you went wrong. I’m not talking about huge accidents, or incurable diseases. I’m talking about closed doors versus open doors. Opportunities versus impossibilities. When you barge in where you shouldn’t, something worse happens. Conversely, there are times in our lives where nothing is forced and everything is easy. Doors open.

Holding up my boat. Camera added 30 pounds to my body.

Instead of doors slamming in my face, telling me to forget about it and keep living in my apartment, doors flew open. As soon as the idea to move on a sailboat hit me, everything became easy. I kept waiting for doors to close, but they never did. The biggest obstacle to owning a sailboat is having a place to keep it, but I found a place for it. I also have a place to keep my car. I applied for a boat loan (sure that this would be the end of the dream) and was approved. Kym introduced me to Ron, who knows just about everything about sailing and sailboats. He taught me how to sail. Then I found a boat and fell in love. She had everything I needed and was affordable. After Ron took a look at her, he gave the thumbs up: a good boat. I took her on a sea trial: she handled great. Then she was surveyed (examined for any damages, maintenance, and so forth), and passed. My lease for my apartment ended in June.

The loan closed on 7-7-11 without a hitch. Obviously this was meant to be. The whole process has been ridiculously smooth.

Frugal Living

I love saving money and watching it grow. Because a boat is small and cannot hold a lot of stuff, it’s a cheaper way to live. For the summer months I’ll be living on the hook, anchoring out in the bay. To do so is free. In winter I’ll have a slip, which will cost 25% of what I’m paying for rent. Because the boat is small, energy costs are low. Rather than heating 700 square feet, I’ll heat about 30 square feet. In the summer, when I’m out on the anchor, I’ll have to generate my own electricity (more on that later) and will be totally self-sufficient and energy independent.

The boat is almost forty years old, and therefore needs some TLC, just like an old house would. Making repairs and improvements to my boat is something I look forward to. I enjoy working on projects, and these projects would be improving my boat, my home, something I own. It will not belong to someone else, I will not be paying rent. I’m going to own where I live, and where I live will be a sailboat!

What I Need and How You can Help

Port side of the cabin. Yes, cushions will be changed.

Starboard side of the cabin. Map of Puget Sound to be applied to table surface!

galley

Where the food’s made!

I’m going to sell as many of my possessions as possible to help the boat budget. Before winter, the boat needs some maintenance work, including being hauled out to have the bottom and topside painted. Because I’ll anchor out in the summer, I need a dinghy to get to and from the boat and land. Getting into the boat requires a ladder.

There are some things that can wait for winter, but since I’ll be living on this boat, I want the inside to look great. The cabin requires new paint, filling in some dings to counter surfaces, sanding and revarnishing the door to the forward cabin, slip covers for the hideously ugly cushions, a new surface for the dinette table (I’m thinking a map of Puget Sound), rug for the floor (will be cold on my feet in winter!), and other modifications. To store sails, I need to add a separating compartment to the port side lazerette, which is currently wide open to access the engine. Then I’ll need tupperware bins for my clothes, blankets, etc. to stow into the starboard quarter berth. To capitalize on space, I’ll use Space Bags.

Fun stuff I want: barometer, wall clock, mirrors to make the space seem larger, radar, new life vest (this is really a need, but it’s fun too), life vest for Riley, small iPod/iPhone powered speaker system.

Energy

My boat will need to power the following: my computer, VHF, charging my Kindle and iPhone, and that’s about it. When I’m anchored, I’ll have to draw power from the battery. There are a couple of ways to charge the battery, thus keeping the electricity going, one of which is solar paneling. Solar panels are expensive, so this is further down the list of things to buy for the boat. There are also wind turbines, which generate electricity and charge the battery with wind power. For our area, that makes more sense, as sunny days are few. Turbines, though, are also pricy. I’ll have to run the engine to charge the battery as well, and keep the engine nice and healthy. For now, a generator is a more likely and cost-effective option, until I can afford solar and wind power. The latter are preferable, as they do not require continual cost.

Time and Money

On the other side of the door is the v-berth; where Riley and I will sleep.

All of the maintenance, adding features, changing things to my liking, require time and/or money. Fortunately I’ll be selling all of my stuff, or as much as I can, to add to the boat budget. Since I’ll no longer have rent, I’ll be money ahead regardless of what I do for the boat in any given month. But that doesn’t mean I’m walking/sailing scot-free. You can help me. In the next few days I’ll be listing everything I think is sellable and selling it. If I have something you want, tell me, and I’ll sell it to you. If you think it’s something a friend of yours would want, tell me, and I’ll sell it to them.

Then there’s the stuff that can’t be sold, for whatever reason: an old radio, old books, etc. A lot of my stuff will be given away, either to Goodwill or to you. If you want it (whatever it is) pipe up and be heard, and I’ll give it to you.

Why Didn’t I say Anything Before

This is big news to everyone. I told a select few people about this decision as I was going through the process, five at most. I wanted to keep it sort of a secret for the following reasons:

  1. I wasn’t sure I was going to do it. It took about six weeks for me to go through the process, and I didn’t want people asking me: “So how’s that boat plan going?” and have to respond, “I decided not to do it.” Or, similarly, I didn’t want to say anything if I hit a roadblock and had to, pardon the analogy, abandon ship. It’s never fun to explain disappointment.
  2. Moving to a boat is a big decision, and I would be asked many questions. Announcing it this way spares me having to answer the same questions multiple times, therefore giving me more time to work and plan for my big move.
  3. It affects no one’s life but mine, so I wanted to be the one to think it through without anyone tossing in their opinion/advice/encouragement.
  4. There are two possible responses to “I’m going to live on a boat.” The first and most common is: “WOW! That’s so cool!” and requires little follow up. The second response is “A boat? It’s so small. I wouldn’t want to live on a boat, why do you? Have you thought about _____?” When I told people in California that I was moving to Washington, 95% of the responses I got went just like this: “You know it rains a lot there.” I figured something similar could happen with my boat announcement: “Well, you know a sailboat moves,” or “The ocean is dangerous, you know,” or “You’ll be giving up a lot, you know. Have you thought about that?” Those kinds of responses would only irritate me and require a snappy, possibly rude, comeback. 😉

Yes, I’ve thought about it all.

So, let’s go over what I’ll be “giving up,” because I know you’re thinking about it, and possibly wondering if I’ve considered everything. Just as I knew it rains in Seattle, I know a boat is small and the ocean is dangerous. So here it goes:

What I’m Giving Up

  1. Dishwasher, microwave, washer, dryer and other big appliances. I’m on a 30’ sailboat, I don’t have the room or the power to have such things. This means I’ll have to wash dishes by hand, cook real food with a pressurized alcohol powered oven and stove, and haul laundry into shore and put quarters into a machine. It also means I’ll have to be smart about what I cook and when I cook it. I’ll not have a refrigerator or freezer. I’ll have an icebox. No meat stored on my boat! All my food will be fresh.
  2. Hot water. Yep, you read that correctly, I won’t have hot water coming through my sinks. I’ll have 35 gallons of fresh water on board, but it won’t be heated. To wash dishes, I’ll boil water on the stove.
  3. Shower. This is a big one, so big that it’s become a joke, as in “Mom, I need to get off the phone so I can shower while I still can.” No shower on the boat. What does this mean? It means I shower on shore at the port’s showers, which are protected, secured, and clean. Bonus? I no longer have to clean the bathroom!
  4. Plumbing. My boat is outfitted with a LectraSan head, which means it treats the waste and essentially turns the turds into dirt. When I’m out sailing in the Sound, this dirt is pumped out of the boat. It’s safe, it’s “clean.” However, when I’m docked in the marina during winter, the dirt needs to be emptied out regularly at the port’s dumping station.
  5. Space. Every square inch of my space will be used effectively. There’s not going to be a lot of it, so I have to be wise about what comes onto the boat and what cannot. I’m in the process of de-papering my life: making all bills paperless, and looking into electronic billing for clients. I want to be done with paper. So don’t give me flyers or bulletins, as I’ll just toss-oh-lay them.
  6. An address. That’s right. No address. Neat, huh? What mail I receive will have to go to my PO Box, but I’m working out plans so that I get all my correspondence, bills, etc. via email.
  7. Rent. I’ll pay off my boat each month, but the boat is mine. Unlike rent, I’ll own where I live. In winter I’ll rent a slip, but I’m still well under what it costs to rent my apartment.
  8. High bills. Eventual energy independence, and small space living means low to zero electric bills, and low water bills. No cable TV, so no cable bill. Internet runs about $35/month.

Common Questions Answered

What about Riley, your dog?

As covered at the start of this novella, Riley is Dog with No Fear (with the exception of fireworks, as I learned a few days ago). Riley is the happiest, most outgoing dog I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some. He loves to go places, meet people, do stuff. He’ll be fine on a boat. I plan on walking him every day, as I already do, by putting him inside the dinghy for summer (doggie life vests have handles on the back) and rowing him to shore. In winter, when I’m docked, I’ll take him out like I do now. For his business needs, Riley will be trained to use a pad which I’ll keep on the foredeck, but I plan on letting him out on land for a walk/run session at least twice a day. When I need to go to kickboxing class, the store, or whatever, he can come along with me and stay in the car, if it’s cool enough.

What about your horse?

Dante hasn’t moved for years. He’s stayed with my parents through my past three moves, and will continue staying there for this one. His life will not change, and I plan on riding him still. Dante will be fine, loved, and cared for.

What about Christmas/Birthday presents?

My mom asked me this question, and I loved it. I don’t want to collect anything, but I’ll always need something for the boat. Clothes are welcome, but I’ll have to toss some old outfits to make room for the new. Since my boat is 1972, she’s old, and needs a lot of work to get her shipshape. By Christmas 2011, I’ll have a good list of things I’ll still need. And, if you don’t give a flying crap about getting me something for my boat, there’s always an Amazon gift card for Kindle books, or a Starbucks gift card for my caffeine problem.

How will you stay warm in winter?

Winter will be easier living (in theory) than summer, as I’ll be connected to shore power and will have plenty of electricity. Right now I’m considering two different heat sources: electric heat, or a diesel heater. If the first, I’ll just need a space heater and plug it in. Because I’m heating a smaller space than you are, I can get the boat pretty warm and toasty in no time. Also, this boat was used as a liveaboard boat for 30 years, so she’s already been insulated. I’ll be fine.

What about the rain?

Ah, here’s another way you can help. Boats often have what’s called a Splash Dodger over the companionway (entry) to keep water from entering the cabin. This is an expensive buy, and my boat does not have a dodger. Buy my furniture, my book, or even a website, to help me stay dry!

How will you sleep?

From what I’ve read and been told, sleeping on a boat is amazing. The rocking motion helps people sleep better, not worse. I plan on adding a couple inches of memory foam to my v-berth cushions to make it extra comfy cosy. If there is too much wind, I’ll abandon the v-berth and head into the salon. The dinette table drops down and forms a double berth (bed) and will be more comfortable in stronger waves/wind.

How will you cook?

The boat comes with a Shipmate alcohol stove and oven. It’s not electric. It’s a bit smaller, but it has everything I need: two burner stove and one oven. No microwave, so I’ll have to be smart and prepare just enough food, as I won’t be able to heat (or store) leftovers. The boat also has a propane BBQ.

Does the boat have a name?

Yes, but not for much longer. It’s not a name I want for my boat, so I will un-name the boat (this is quite a procedure), and, after she’s been repainted, christen her with a name of my choosing. I plan on making this a grand celebration and will invite friends and family for the occasion. I have told a few people the current name of the boat, and what I plan on renaming the boat, but I do not want to leave a record of either.

Why did you choose this boat?

Love. I looked at about seven or eight boats, but the others didn’t leave a mark on me. I traveled to Seattle to look at three and, though two of them were prettier inside and out, I felt nothing for them. A few other boats I saw felt cramped. This boat pulled at my heart. As soon as I saw her, even though she needs some care, a little voice in my heart said “Oh!” I’m happy sitting in the cockpit, I’m happy sitting in the cabin. I took lots of photos of her and enjoy being around her. She makes me happy. I want to care for her, and she will care for me. I said “Do you want to go see my girl?” to my parents before taking them to her. She’s mine, she picked me. She’s my girl. That may sound silly to you, but not to me.

When I was thinking of buying a house, I wanted one I could fix up and make my own, customize it to myself. This boat will give me that. She needs new paint inside and out, so I can do that, and give her the paint she deserves (she’s plain looking right now). Thankfully I’m a graphic designer, so I’m sure I’ll come up with something clever that suits her.

Working on the Boat

This summer I’ll be doing two things with the boat: learning to sail her single-handed, and making improvements. No one can help me with the former, but everyone can help with the latter. Not to worry, I will not rope you into helping with the boat. She’s my responsibility and I’ll take care of her myself. However, working on a sailboat is pretty cool, so if you’d like to come by and help, I won’t stop you. If you have a boat of your own, if you help me, I’ll help you.

Any other questions?

I am thrilled and excited beyond belief for my next and newest adventure! I’ll be moving onto my boat as soon as I can, no later than August 1.

Do you have any questions I did not answer? Have something you’d like to say? Please leave comments below (not on Facebook) so I can address them here.

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UPDATE: As of Fall/winter of 2012 I moved off my sailboat. Read more about it here.

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Copyright 2018. Courtney Kirchoff.