Ok, so the title is a play on words, this is more of a sales pitch, a sales pitch for this kind of lifestyle. As we’ve just crossed the Year marker, we’d thought we’d do a post on the what it’s really like to have this lifestyle, that said I’m sure you don’t want to hear about the toilet breaking or what we’ve just rowed about, so when we post, we try to keep it as fun and interesting as we can. After all, contrary to popular belief, this lifestyle isn’t all about constant wild parties and socialising…… well not all the time!
So this is going to be about the things we’d wished we had done, things we wished we hadn’t, things we didn’t expect, things we had or hadn’t taken into consideration etc. Most of it has been covered in the posts, but we thought it would make interesting reading to put it all in one place.
Well, we have to confess we thought we’d covered everything. If you asked Dave our mate in Swanwick who did work on the boat for the two-three years prior to leaving and helped us load the boat on the last few days before we left, he’d say too much! In fact, we raised the waterline twice because we had so much on board, our Nickname on the ARC was Submarini.
I generally justify this by saying I’m an engineer and you can never have enough spares and although I understand you have to be rational, but the reality is, you cant! Spares and replacement parts even for the most common things can be a nightmare to source in the Carribean, when you can find them they are sometimes twice or three times as much – although I still manage to find an excuse to nip into the chandlery now and again, for research purposes you understand.
When we first left I thought he was mad and there still are some things that I roll my eyes at (how many velcro dots does a man need?) but I now happily join in Steve’s ‘Spares for Spares for Spares’ mantra as we have at times not only saved ourselves considerable time, money and hassle but also been able to help out mates by having on board a spare that they so desperately needed. Sitting down and making a list of your essential spares and then buying as many as you can upfront is a great thing to do. I am very lucky in that I have a Steve who can fix most things, but if you don’t have one of those on board then having the spares for the person who can to do the job is half the battle at least.
Anything that we should have brought but didn’t – not so far! Helen
One thing we did over-provision was tins of food, we bought so much of our favourite food for fear of not being able to get it, we probably added another ton to the boat ( i know it seems an exaggeration, but try it yourself get a strong bag put ten tins of food from your cupboard in it and put it on your scales, now imagine provisioning for a months at a time). As things turned out you can get most things, even the obligatory Heinz Baked beans, although they probably cost you $3-4 a tin? so to get the load down we’ve been eating a lot of tin food lately, that said the local food everywhere is so amazing, you soon forget about the comforts of home food….hmmmmm, well maybe not the baked beans!
We do however now cook and eat differently. When we are somewhere with good and not stupidly expensive meat, we’ll vac pack it and often chop and marinate it at the same time and then freeze it.
This brings us on to another highly recommended purchase – a good quality vacuum packer. We use this all the time – great for vaccing up spares, clothes to make them small and easily storable, as well as food. Also great for protecting bags of spare flour etc to make your kitchen less attractive to small creatures!
As for the gin – well yes, 20 bottles was far too many to bring but to be fair that’s how many we found out that we owned when we left.
Stuff to Wear
Clothes and Shoes was another gem, we packed far too many, we’ve been living in shorts, tee-shirts and flip flops, since we arrived in St Lucia, in fact everywhere you go cruisers wear the same, in the states, they do even in some of the most glamorous restaurants.
That said you do need some kit when we need to go home, warm clothes, shoes and the occasional coat, but even so, we still need to rationalise. To be fair I think where we probably suffered more than most was from severe downsizing, twice in fact, first from a large 3 bedroom townhouse to a 1 bed flat and then onto the boat, we had tons of stuff that you accumulate over years. Imagine how hard that its, particularly for a shoe and handbag collector or a gadget freak like me
Girls, all you really need are a couple of easy to wash, easy to roll up dresses And some waterproof shoes you can jump on and off the dinghy with – Skechers, Hely Hansen (check out the Sales). Add one pair of easy to wear heels, some sarongs and bathing stuff and the aforementioned T shirts, Shorts, Flip Flops – job done. Helen
Stuff you’ve just gotta have, or can’t live without. (well for us anyway)
First off, let me just put in this caveat! Before we go any further, the views below are that of Helen and me, we have never purported to be purist sailors, we are cruisers, and luxuries of land cruisers at that! There will be sailors reading this, who have travelled like us or are still travelling like us and those that are no longer with us who would probably be turning in their graves, those are the guys who will always make a teabag make two cups, who maybe only washed every two days and even then, washed in the sea then rinsed off on the back of the boat, who did their clothes washing in a tub on deck by stamping their feet, who didn’t have a generator and only have the smallest of watermakers for drinking water, they may say the whole point of sailing is being out of comms and that they dont need to be “in touch” we’re certainly not poo-pooing that lifestyle, each to their own, but it’s not for us, after all, I’m bloody 59, not bloody 29!
Generator – Ok so if you want you can spend a lot of time in marinas and in most countries or islands there are marinas you can stay in if that’s your preference. You can probably get away without owning one, however, if you do want to stay in marinas you’ll need a lot more money to live on, prices can range from $30 to over a $100 US a night, with water and electricity on top. (in the islands, if you’re not prudent, the water and electricity can sometimes outweigh the berthing costs, obviously depending on what you use). But let’s assume we are at anchor.
Of course, you can live without a generator, some still do, but in this day and age if you’ve got the time and the money we really recommend one. You can, of course, charge your batteries by running your engine, but if like us when you are at anchor, at some stage you might want to run 240v appliances, ie washing machine, food mixer, bread maker etc or you need a generator – depending on your to top up your batteries or run a watermaker?
Watermaker – So the same applies as above, but again if you want to spend more time at anchor and you don’t want to be ferrying large 25l jerry cans back and forth to the marina/dock, then you’ll need one, you can get 12v and 230v options, but again depending on the duty (the amount of water it makes) you’ll probably need to run your engine to use the 12v or run your generator to use the 230v. To cross an ocean, you’ll most likely want one, or be prepared to be fighting your way over cases of water to use the heads (loo). All that said, unless you want to be running your watermaker twice a week then you still have to think about water usage, you cant leave the tap running when you brush your teeth or continuously running the shower (you need to turn it off between lathering and rinsing), we have the capacity to store 750l in three tanks, but with a shower a day or sometimes two a day it soon goes.
240v Mains/ Shorepower – If you have a European boat, then it’s going to be wired for 230v, that’s pretty much ok in the islands from the ABC’s & Trinidad up to BVI’s but after that the further north you go, 230v fades away in favour of 110v, not only that, even if you fit, as we have a 230v to 110v step-up transformer, you have to be aware that the frequency is going to change too, 50hz makes way for 60hz, that means anything you fit has to work on both frequencies, (most electronic kit, TVs, PC/Mac, Ipad/Tablets and Phone chargers run quite happily on either, as do electric toothbrushes, hairdryers and razors etc, if not the have a little switch, to allow you to use both, its prudent when buying stuff like Air Con that you fit the 230v 60hz option, most well-known manufacturers make them, if you don’t they will soon pack up on 240v 60hz, as 60hz can run on 50hz but no the other way round.
Solar Panels/batteries and Inverters – Ok so you can fulfil the majority of your 230v needs by using an inverter, certainly from a technology standpoint, for the uninitiated, a good quality inverter (pure sine wave) can make 230v by transforming up and some clever electronics from a 12v supply. essentially it converts 12v dc into 230v AC allowing you to use 240v appliance connected to it, however, there’s always a downside, inverted energy eats the amps, imagine running your 230v 2.5kw electric kettle or toaster through an inverter, that would equate to approx 232 amps DC, or say you want to run your immersion heater for an hour that would be 285ah, so if your battery bank is only 1000ah (as ours is) if you forgot about your immersion being on your batteries would be flat in less than 5 hours! (12v to 230v inverter calculator) So sensibly you’re only running low wattage stuff like computers and TVs on the inverter and start then generator or anything else. Supplementing the energy used onboard is where the solar panels come in, fortunately, sunshine isn’t such a rare commodity as it is in the UK, so apart from the odd cloudy day you can stick some serious amps back into your battery bank, again the purists would say that solar panels bolted to the back of your boat destroy its sleek lines and make the boat ugly, that might be true but the minium you need is your fridges to work and like it or not were from a electronic age now and without power you can’t tweet, facetime, Instagram, post, blog or email without it. in fact, I wouldn’t be posting this blog without it, so get over it, as for batteries I think I’ve just covered that in the last few blogs.
Washing machine – Now not an essential by any means, but when you consider that most laundry services charge you anything from $20 -40 US per load ( a bin bag full) it doesn’t take long to rack up the £400 for a small Zanussi 3kg washing machine. sure you can hand wash shorts and t-shirts but it’s nice to be able to wash the bed linen and towels properly. There are all sorts of different types so again if you’ve got the time, money and space fit one!
Icemaker – now completely a non-essential item, but again if you’ve got the space a little countertop jobby is a must, which will run on an inverter, even if you haven’t got a room in your fridge for your cold beers you can make enough ice in minutes to put in a bucket.
Freezer – where else are you going to keep your English bacon?
Air Conditioning – No, of course, you don’t need it, when you are at anchor there’s nearly always a nice breeze blowing to keep you and the boat well ventilated and as long as you’re far enough offshore there’s very little chance of Mosquitoes or bugs, so hatches open and nice cool air abounds! However, when you’re in a marina or up a quiet little backwater in the USA, where there are nasty little critters and no wind, you can’t live without it! We have a big one in our salon and a smaller version our forward berth, in hindsight perhaps we should have put one in the guest cabin, but hopefully, when we have guests we’ll be a sea and it won’t be an issue.
Paperwork – Ok, so there still is a lot of bureaucracy around the world, in the bigger places it’s going electronic, in the smaller island it’s still pages and pages of stuff to fill in, the majority is repetitive entry and exit forms!
You should always have your boat papers (Registration Part 1 or SSR) and your boat insurance ready. Keep your exit papers as you will need them for re-entry to your next country. For the USA, an ESTA visa is not enough, in fact you will not be able to take your boat into the USA on an ESTA, you will need a B1/B2 visa, which means a trip to the American Embassy in London, but if you’re lucky this will last for 10 years (6 months at a time). You’ll also need a cruising permit, which should last for 12 months and a clearance paper, both available at your port of entry.
Get yourself a cheap Scanner printer (HP Deskjet series are only £40ish) that way you can scan all your documents and upload them to Dropbox (dropbox.com), Dropbox is a great online service, (you can sign up for the free version and you get 2TB of online storage) its secure and allows you to store copies of all your important ships papers, passports, medical records etc, should you lose them, it makes obtaining new ones easier or in most cases printing off a new copy.
Other Small Things or Tweaks that we love
For most small window lights you can buy mesh inserts that protect you from mozzies – these and mozzie hatch covers are great for those times when you are anchored near mangroves – or even in some European marinas where you’ll find swarms of them lurking in rocks!
Lock n Lock boxes – these are so much better than any others for keeping things dry
Check out Oxo’s salt and pepper shakers
Blink cameras – peace of mind when you are away from the boat
We had acrylic doors made to fit in front of our washboards – so much easier for 99% of the time
And collapsible stuff – washing up bowls, colanders, washing baskets, storage bins etc etc.
Again you have to consider that although this stuff is nice to have it takes up all of your spare storage space and it all adds weight to the boat.
Things we’ve learnt on the way, stuff we didn’t know or expect, what to believe and what not to believe. (particularly from other cruisers and yachties!)
On the whole, the cruising world is full of likeminded people that cannot do enough to help one and other and will often go completely out of their way to help you. In fact, one of the most attractive qualities of this life is that “old neighbourly community feeling” that we had as kids but has now been long forgotten.
However, with that also comes the negative side of the cruiser fraternity, as always there will be a small group of folks that will tell you all the places you shouldn’t go or things you shouldn’t do, more often or not because they wouldn’t do it themselves. It’s quite strange how these people try and recruit you to their way of thinking, its usually its quite harmless and easily ignored, but if you take heed you might miss out on places that you would otherwise visit.
Don’t get me wrong you don’t need to keep “reinventing the wheel” sometimes the advice is good advice and can save you money and time and effort, just filter out the crap and be careful not to become part of the herd. baaa….
Listen to all, nod politely and then make your own decision.
Relationships on and off the boat
Don’t let anyone tell you differently, living in a small space (smaller than your average studio apartment) especially for long periods of time is tough for any couple and sometimes guests. Imagine living in your lounge and only being able to walk back and forth to your bedroom or bathroom, you couldn’t just nip down the shops or wander down the pub, small insignificant things can easily become big issues if you let them. If your relationships is tough at times at home, or you’re bickering towards the end of your two week holiday, then buying a boat and doing this maybe isn’t a great idea for you, we’ve seen many a relationship come to an abrupt halt through sailing together. The first year out is definitely the hardest – in a way like the first year of marriage used to be – you need to come to know each other in a different way even if you’ve been with each other for 20 years.
Having guests on board can be tough too, an extra two people in the same space or those that have been or are sailors in their own right can be particularly tricky. We sailors can be quite arrogant sods (see above) and we all think we know best and that our way is the only way. , we’ve been on board and had sailors on board that just didn’t work out, so maintaining a balance is a fine art.
I’m sure if you asked us honestly and separately we’d both probably say we haven’t quite mastered it yet and it isn’t all like a Rose & Jack Titanic love story.
The majority of the time we get on fine, we manage to survive to by trying to respect one another’s time and space, I’m a natural-born tinkerer, I can amuse myself fiddling with bits of electronics or writing blogs, Helens quite happy reading or working. Under sail, we seem to naturally assume different roles and responsibilities, but both of us are more than capable of doing pretty much any of the jobs on board, although Helen will always say she’s better at navigation! (she probably is actually!)
Meeting new people and revisiting old mates is another great thing about this life, we meet new people nearly every day in one way or another, some turn out to be just acquaintances others become life long friends. The ARC was great for that, although we weren’t overly impressed with the ARC itself, (a bit like a bad weekend in an old yacht club), one of the greatest things that came out of it was the friendships, we’ve met fantastic people first off on the way down to Gran Canaria, then at the pre-crossing parties, then reinforced on the radio net, then on arrival and then bumping into each other up and down the islands.
This life can be fantastic, but it’s definitely not everyone’s “cup of tea”. It does teach you how to mellow, it opens your eyes wider than they’ve been stretched before, it makes you resourceful, creative and allows you to appreciate this wonderful world in which we live, both good and bad.
A year on we are still thinking of good ideas or learning things from other people that make us go – why on earth didn’t we think of that before?
As they say “you’re never too old to learn” and you can “teach an old dog new tricks”!
This list isn’t everything, we’ll add more as we go along, but hopefully, it’s given you a little insight into our world.