Whenever we are on board, the domestic side of our life afloat follows much the same pattern as at home – only with less space and much more focused on resource management. Cruising for us is about simplicity, fitting in to the natural world and leaving the rat race behind. But because we don’t want to transplant the rat race onto the water, there are aspects that make living on a boat a bit different. Yachties and friends who have come sailing with us know what life afloat entails. For the rest of our followers, this post might be a bit of a revelation. But by the way, we are not living on board full time yet and won’t be for quite a few months! So don’t go spreading any rumours please!
Space and Decor
No matter how comfortable and cosy you make your boat, there is one issue to get used to: the drastically reduced living space, even on a catamaran. I remember my sister’s reaction when she stepped on board to come cruising with us. Her face said “three weeks in this, I feel claustrophobic already!” But in reality you don’t spend all your time on board and in any case your outlook from the boat is one of vast expanses of ocean, broad bays, uninterrupted horizons and million dollar panoramic views. Still, being in a small space, you have to be tidy and organised. You can’t leave gear lying around. Once finished with, things are put away or the boat quickly becomes a mess. This goes for dishes, tools, toys, clothes. The old saying holds true: a space for everything and everything in its place. You also can’t bring too much ‘stuff’. Your big wardrobe and collection of shoes have to be left behind!
In reality you don’t need a lot on a boat. But you still want to make it homely. What contributes to feeling good about where you live is how you furnish and decorate inside. On board Take It Easy you get a sense of warmth through the beautiful New Guinea rosewood paneling, cabinetry and trims. Over the last year we have updated the fittings, the galley, the flooring. It is fresh, bright, colour coordinated, with fun and energy coming through our blue and orange furnishings. There are photos of sea creatures and places we have been to, quilts I have made, and a few decorative pieces we really like… It is welcoming and cheerful in there.
As you can see from the picture, the galley is in one of the hulls, and bench and storage space are at a premium. It is narrow, so it is one person at a time down there, unless you like full body cuddles. But despite this, we like good meals which add pleasure to the cruising lifestyle. So we have a well-stocked pantry. We keep an assortment of dry and tinned food, spices and sauces. We stock up on provisions for remote trips and have our trusted “Provisioning List” for reference. We bake our own bread; we have a bean sprouter for greens and a yogurt maker. There is a good size fridge to keep fresh food, and a separate freezer for meats, fish and a few pre-prepared meals. We also have decent crockery and glasses. One of our pet hates is drinking or eating from plastic.
Barbecues and oven baking happen outside, using our “Galley Mate” gas barbecue. It is a bit small especially when we entertain friends, and we wish we had not believed the advertising, claiming it is perfect for 4 to 6 and bought the larger one!
Creature comforts are as important on a boat as at home. As we often say, this is not camping but you can’t accumulate too much gear, and you learn what is essential and regularly used, and get rid of the rest.
Now this is where things start getting a bit tricky. At home you flick a switch and don’t much think about consumption except when your electricity bill turns up. On a boat you have to produce your own power to run your instruments, water pumps, cabin lights, music, TV, run the fridge and freezer, charge your laptops, cameras, phones. Most boats have a diesel engine running a large alternator capable of producing 65 to 150 AMP. We have two outboard engines that only produce 6 AMP each. Therefore the vast majority of our power comes from sun and wind.
For a long time our solar panels were insufficient, especially on overcast days, and our AGM batteries were small and inefficient, so we often had to make a choice: do you want to run the fridge or turn the laptop on, keep the meat frozen or watch a movie? We also had to run a small petrol generator regularly.
We have upgraded our power system: we now have 500 watt of solar panels and a 300 watt wind generator that feed our 540 AMP lithium battery bank shown here. Our last cruise proved this new set up is ample. Consumption soon mounts up though and we are still careful, although Wade is less of a scrooge these days.
We take being scrooges to another level when it comes to water! One of the critical limits to cruising independence, freshwater is a real challenge. There are three main ways of replenishing a boat’s water supply when on the move: rainwater collection, transfer of town water and desalination.
Up to now we have relied on our rainwater catching device and topping up in port from town water taps to fill our 180 litre tanks plus 90 litres in jerrycans and 30 litres in two solar shower bags. This is not much and requires being super stingy with consumption as our visiting friends will attest.
To give you an idea, on land we use 165 litres a day between the two of us to cover cooking, drinking, dish washing, showering, toilet flushing. But on the boat if we did that our tanks would be empty in a day and a half! So on board tank water is for drinking, cooking and the briefest of cat washes when it is too cold to do this on deck; this uses 6 to 8 litres between us. We bathe in salt water, rinse off in warm freshwater from solar shower bags; that is an extra 5 litres a day between us. We have a salt water tap in the galley for cleaning dishes and only rinse glasses and cups in fresh water. The toilet is flushed in salt, not freshwater as on land. Laundry is reserved for days when we can access freshwater on land, or have collected enough after heavy rain. We use our good old twin tub washing machine, which requires 90 litres in jerrycans. Otherwise it is a trip to the laundromat.
This sort of regime is passable during a holiday and in warm regions. It is not for living aboard when you want long interludes at sea or in remote areas or outside tropical waters. So in the interest of couple harmony, comfort, and greater independence from ports, we will have a new addition on Take It Easy: a watermaker. We will desalinate sea water on sunny days a couple of times a week to top up our tanks when we produce enough solar power to run it. And we will at last be able to relax our water consumption rules. Wade says “I don’t know about that!”
One of the great advantages of cruising on a catamaran is that you don’t have to deal with V- berths or poky sleeping arrangements. Sleeping comfortably is really important to us. We have an island queen bed in the master cabin that runs port to starboard. This has two advantages, firstly, we don’t have to climb over each other to get in or out, and secondly boats generally roll at anchor from side to side, so when you sleep this way, it is more comfortable. You don’t roll out of bed! The visitors aren’t so lucky; they get a standard double bed that runs fore and aft. Both beds are equipped with a domestic mattress and a mesh underlay to allow air circulation and avoid condensation. The original foam mattresses were quickly disposed of: too sweaty, uncomfortable and prone to mildew for our liking!
We also have a very good anchor, a Manson Supreme. Now you might wonder what that has to do with sleeping, but let me tell you: if you know your boat is not going to drift away in the night all by itself, you sleep a hell of a lot better.
Entertainment and communication
No matter how fascinating our conversation is, or how funny Wade’s jokes are, we need entertainment: music, hobbies, games, books and other distractions. We have Kindles instead of hard copy books so we have a big library of reading material without the storage problems; we have copied a huge collection of CD’s on an MP device, we have a TV with a good stash of movies and documentaries on portable drives. And then there are toys: cameras, kayaks, kite surfing equipment, snorkeling gear, fishing gear, surf board…
As far as communication goes, all contact with the outside world is via emails and mobile phones, and we have a satellite phone for emergencies. All our bills, banking, etc are handled online. Once we move on board – and this is still several months away – snail mail that still trickles to our home will be redirected to a family member who can periodically forward anything important to us along the way.
We have equipped the boat with a Telstra wireless hub for internet data with an aerial mounted on top of the mast. In effect we will shift our home ADSL costs to this mobile set up to allow us to seamlessly continue to use the internet for weather, emails, social media, as we used to on land.
We hope that this post will have given you a better idea of the practicalities of life afloat. If you have any question, drop us a line in the comments section!