Consider This

Mike and I have never ‘lived aboard’. The times we have spent night after night on the boat, times where we’ve been able to get into any kind of routine, we’ve been at anchor somewhere on vacation. That’s a way different animal in many ways than living aboard at the marina. This week we turned the house over to Jill and Andrew and decided to stay at the marina. We get 8 days/month to stay aboard without being considered ‘liveaboards’, so we figured we’d take them while the weather is decent.

When you live at the marina, you get to see things like this.

When you live at the marina, you get to see things like this.

How are we doing with living at the dock? Pretty good. As a rule we’ve always enjoyed being at the marina, and, of course, we love our Galapagos. But here are some differences between dock living and land house living that readers who don’t have boats may not have considered. These are among the many things you must be able to take in stride if you are going to live aboard a boat happily. So if you are considering living aboard, consider these points.

ONE: It’s loud. I mean really loud. We are next to the freeway and the train tracks. We are next to other people on other boats; people who talk to each other when we are trying to sleep, people who have dogs that bark at us. Flushing the head is loud and long. Everytime someone runs the water the water pump comes on. Walking across the floor would put an old house’s creaks to shame.
Our solution? These particular earplugs. Even though I am very hard of hearing, earplugs are necessary for me to get any sleep here. Fortunately, these really do work! I just ordered a lifetime supply. You might want to hurry and order. They’re on sale. Don’t let the price deter you. You can use them over and over and over.

The neighborhood.

The neighborhood.

TWO: Privacy is different. We love the marina community here and everyone appears to be entirely respectful of each other’s private space. But it is very different because you actually see people all the time. They are out and about, walking up and down the docks, sitting in their cockpits waving as people walk by. It’s like living in the middle of a small city. We hardly ever see anyone at home, and if we don’t make an effort, we can go weeks without visiting our neighbors. We really enjoy being in a community of people at the marina, and the amount of privacy we had at our house is unlikely to be missed too much. But I can imagine some marinas where this would not be at all true. I think it has to do with the people where you are and we got lucky at Foss Harbor. In spite of that I will not be sitting in the cockpit in next to nothing drinking my morning coffee in the marina like I do at home, and at anchor. I do have my limits.

THREE: Tasks take longer and require advanced planning. Consider my aforementioned morning coffee routine. Boil water, unplug kettle, plug in frother and froth milk. You can’t do it at the same time, and in the winter I will have to turn off the heater before doing either of these things. That’s because there isn’t enough power on the boat, even plugged into the dock, to run two heating devices at once. (Not to mention the fact that there are way fewer areas to plug things in.) I learned that the hard way last winter when I tried to make coffee while the heat was on. Whoops. Want to dry your hair? Turn everything else off first. Need to change a lightbulb? Well, it’s unlikely you will be able to get to the extra bulbs unless you take a bunch of other things out of the cabinet first. It’s not like at home where you walk into the utility room, reach up on the shelf, grab a bulb and go for it. Probably it’s going to take you at least 15 minutes to do that simple task. Multiply that by the number of tasks performed daily.
Just ugh.

Just ugh.

 FOUR: Grit City. This is how Tacoma is referred to and we have figured out why by having our boat docked in downtown Tacoma for several years. This black grit is everywhere and on everything. Therefore it’s kind of hard for the boat to ever feel really clean to me. Today I rinsed off the hatch lenses and lo and behold, there really is sky out there and I can see it again! Wiping the surfaces inside the boat will reveal everything getting covered in gritty black dust. If you like to clean, you’ll love living on a boat in a marina in the city. I like our marina, but I look forward to getting away from this dirt.

FIVE: Everything is tiny. This seems obvious, but think about the implications. Doorways are tiny. Passages are narrow. Sinks are elfish. In the shower, you can practice your squats to pick that soap up off the floor because there is no room to bend over. Small, narrow spaces mean you have to pay attention to where your body is in physical space. Bruises are ubiquitious to boat living because there is always something to bump into. And that’s just while at the dock! (Actually, there are fewer bruises when underway in these small spaces because they give you a place to brace yourself. But this post is about being at the dock.) These small spaces also mean that the few pounds I put on over the summer have to go. I really feel the difference on the boat. And remember, we have a really big boat by most people’s standards.

Turn sideways, please. And watch your step and you walk through our shower.

Turn sideways, please. And watch your step as you walk through our shower.


SIX: Cooking is tantamount to building the Parthenon, as we say around here. That means it is unnecessarily complex. The workspace is on top of the fridge, which is bloody inconvenient almost all of the time. Lots of people love cooking on a boat and maybe you would be one of them. But even at home, I’m not crazy about cooking. In a perfect world I come down to find breakfast waiting in a variety of heated dishes on the sideboard and served by a man named Jeeves. Since that’s unlikely in this lifetime the simpler the better in terms of meals.

From unloading the fridge to accessing various pots and pans at the bottom of a deep storage space, most boat cooking is a bit of a challenge. I haven’t found my groove with refrigeration organization yet.

SEVEN: You must have constant vigilance regarding moisture. And I’m not talking about the obvious thing like boat leaks, although there’s that, too. I’m talking about how you can’t store anything below the water line without putting it in plastic to avoid mildew. And that’s only the beginning. For instance, today I bought air tight containers to store medications and first aid supplies because the air on a boat is always moist to some degree and that moisture ruins things. In a house, you bring home your medications and even things like spices, and you put them in the cabinet. On a boat, you do that at your peril. Storage containers must be airtight if you want these kinds of things to last. Think for a moment, if you will, about storing everything you have in your house in plastic ziplock bags or air tight plastic storage containers. Everything.

Jeeves. Fridge to the left, cabinet where pots are stored to the right.

Jeeves. Fridge to the left, cabinet where pots are stored to the right.

EIGHT: Boatatosis. We all have our super powers and mine is the sense of smell. I could always tell when it was time to clean the floors at my house by how the house smelled when I walked in. This was due to our having a dog in the house. On board Galapagos, we battle smells from our engine room. Hiram’s room (our little red Beta engine) can have a smell reminiscent of teenage boys’ filthy socks. Maybe we should have named that engine Audrey because everyone knows girls smell better.
The worst part is that when a boat has a smell, people, including us, assume it must be the head (the bathroom). That’s not always the case. For us, it’s the bilge. We’ve tracked down the smell to the spillage of hydraulic fluid which, when mixed with bilge and heat, creates a stinky stew that is really offensive. At home, I could just wash my floors and get that clean house smell. On the boat it’s much more complicated and involves cleaning out a deep, dark reservoir of rank. Oh yes, and we can’t actually see into this bilge because Hiram is sitting on top of it. (Yes, Mike is just finishing up replacing the original hydraulic fluid lines, which apparently had a leak somewhere. Hopefully this will lessen our problem.)

NINE: Expanding on number 5, even the trashcan is smaller. When cruising trash is a really big deal to handle and our boat is large enough that we have to have a written plan for handling it.  But even at the dock, dealing with the inevitable trash of modern life is constant. We have one trashcan. One. And it is smaller than the size of a plastic grocery bag. We endeavor to keep as much trash as possible off the boat but even so, especially when doing projects, we have to make at trash run each day. We almost always have an overflow trash bag in the cockpit, which drives me a little crazy.

Trashcan for tiny trash.

Trashcan for tiny trash.

TEN: Rule of the boat. Boat dwellers already are familiar with this. This is the law of nature that says that wherever you need to go on a boat, someone is going to be in your way. Need to get through the passage into the aft cabin? Mike will be in the engine room with the doors open blocking the way. In order to get through you will either have to go around, or he will have to disturb his task to let you through. Need to get something in the galley? Not if someone else is there first you don’t.

Am I complaining? Not even a little bit. But it is what it is and people need to know all the things that are true, not just the sunshine and sandy beaches things. Which, by the way, we did not even get this year. There will be times when I will become seriously annoyed at one thing or another on this list. But on the whole, it’s going to be completely worth it. In fact, last night as I nestled down in my comfortable berth after a long day of boat projects, I noticed this little niggle of a feeling bubbling up from somewhere close to my solar plexus. I think it was something like contentment.

Do you live on a boat? What annoys you the most?

Shit’s About to Get Real

Remember that time when I said that I never wanted to live aboard a sailboat during a Pacific Northwest winter? You know, that time I said that people would have to be a certain kind of crazy to live on a boat during the winter; especially an uninsulated sailboat in the Pacific Northwest during what is our rainy season? Yeah, all the minor gods and goddesses remember that too. And they’ve decided to thwart me good. Be careful what you say out loud. That’s right. We’re getting ready to move aboard. And it might be 90F now, but the rain is just around the corner.

Soon, this will be ‘home’.

This weekend marks the beginning of the final transition from full time land house dwellers to full time liveaboards. Do you notice how we rarely do anything really fast? There is none of this ‘today I live here tomorrow I live there’ nonsense. Instead we have multiple divisions of time that describe the excruciatingly slow process that is unfolding. First there is the transition into the liminal space, then there is the liminal space itself; a time of pupating, almost gestating as it were. Then there is the beginning of the end of the liminal space and now it’s the beginning of the transition into the ending. We are literally beginning to end our land life. It’s bloody exhausting even to write about it, much less to live it. It makes me think that people who just throw everything away, buy a boat down someplace warm without even seeing it, and then go to that place and never look back know something we don’t know.

Regardless of tortuous divisions of time today is the day our son, Andrew and Jill are coming to live in the family home. They will get jobs and start their post-graduation life here in Tacoma. (Blatant advertising for Andrew, who finished up his GIS certification this summer and is looking for a job, hopefully in Tacoma or Olympia. Know anyone who knows anyone? He’s smart, plays well with others, and eager to get started in the world.)

This will free us up to spend most of our time aboard Galapagos while still having access to the house and the dog and other important things like the washer and dryer and the occasional land sleepover. If this works out for everyone it will allow our Skippy dog to live his life in his yard with his family, and will allow us to keep the house until we are sure we want to sell it. We are seriously crossing our fingers.

We won’t be full time liveaboards right away. There is another young couple moving in with Andrew and Jill in November. That’s what makes this place affordable for people just starting out. Until then we’ll be going back and forth from the house to the boat, but spending most of the weekends at the marina. So yeah, we will be moving aboard right as winter is upon us. We must be out of our minds.

I’m not going to lie; it’s a wierd and unsettling time. It’s hard to be excited and sad at the same time. One minute I’m looking forward to the adventure, the next minute I’m wanting the familiar comfort of our home of 16 years. Even though I’m long past wanting to work in that yard, some days I just go a bit numb so I don’t have to feel anything much at all. What a strange and wild time this is.

But onward! This last year of our plan is flying by. We have a very long list of things to accomplish between now and next spring. But this time next year we should be on our way to Mexico!

Windlass Locker Refit: Epoxy is Your Friend

When we bought Galapagos we were kind of enthralled with our Lofrans electric windlass. It’s a love affair that continues to this day and because we love her, we want her to live in a nice place. Long ago we noticed that her locker on the foredeck had seen better days. It looked to me like there was wood rot underneath her foot switches and a couple of times when we pulled up anchor, Mike saw the floor of the locker move a little bit. This gave us pause.

So it came to pass that we decided we better get to it and refurbish that part of the boat. This has been one of those projects that takes much longer than you’d like, simply because there are a lot more parts to it than you think, and because Mike still works for a living. That leaves the weekends. And me.

Mike pulled the windlass off and carried her home to take her apart and make sure all of her parts were shiny and new looking and give her a general going over. He can write about that part soon. The windlass has always worked great and we want to keep it that way considering that pulling up anchor by hand on this boat, even given the hand ‘crank’ we can use, would cost a lot in terms of energy, time, and effort. Whatever needs to be done to keep this windlass in good shape is time and money well spent.

When we examined the wood under the switches it was clear that there was not only rot, but that there was a lot of it. If it were not for the fact that this entire locker is hell for stout, we would have had a bigger job on our hands. The wood in this area is about 10” thick meaning you can have a lot of rot before things start getting serious. That also means that after I removed all the rotted wood, we still had plenty to work with. We decided we did not need to remove the entire floor (thank you, gods of windlass lockers!) and that we could fix the area with a series of epoxies, from the liquid kind that soaks into wood to give it new structure, to the kind you smear on like wood putty.

After drilling holes all over the place to make sure we found all the rot, and a good thing we did, too because water came out of some of the holes, we waited as everything dried out in the hot summer sun. Then, over a week or so we mixed batch after batch of System Three End Rot liquid epoxy and their wood putty version called Sculp Wood. When we ran out of the End Rot stuff, we used the straight System Three liquid resin epoxy. We poured the liquid stuff down into the holes and let it seep into the surrounding wood on the topside. When that was cured, we poured in more. We added fiberglass fibers to thicken the paste and troweled it onto the inside of the locker from below, filling in gaps left by the wood we removed. It was a long process that involved a lot of boat yoga, waiting, and sanding in close quarters.

You may be wondering how rot got involved with this windlass locker in the first place. Two reasons became apparent. Let the first reason be a cautionary tale about being sure you are bedding your screws with butyl tape or the equivalent if they are going to be exposed to water. On our two foot switches, the screws holding one switch onto the wood were bedded with something that protected them from water. The screws on the other side were not. So one side had rusty screws, proving that water was ingressing in that area. The wood around that switch was where the rot started and it spread from there. Of course, it’s probably been 20 years or more since those switches were installed. Let’s keep things in perspective here.

Second, the drainage in this locker was poorly designed in our opinion. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that drains that are above the level where water stands make sense. Think about it. In your sink, the drain is installed slightly lower than the bottom of the sink. That’s because water runs…..down. Not up. So a drain that stands proud of the surface will never, due to the laws of the physical universe, drain all the water out. Standing water is a bad thing, especially if it is close to electric switches installed with unbedded screws. Voila, rot.

So Mike decided to redesign the drains making them much simpler, and making them drain correctly. You know how when people are married for a long time they start thinking alike? We both came up with the exact same idea independent of each other. When that happens, it’s a go. So instead of reinstalling the drains as they were, he filled in the hole where they would be set, cut off the top of the drain that was too high, then drilled out an area and epoxied the drain directly into the hole. Then he attached the hose. It’s not going anywhere and it drains really well now. Plus with all that epoxy the wood will stay protected long after we’re dead. We are considering this simple solution for some other areas of the boat.

When all the epoxy was cured, he sanded everything smooth on top and on bottom. I followed behind him with two coats of bilgecoat, since this area is protected from UV rays unless the locker is open. Although I didn’t bother with a photo yet, the inside of the locker has a nice smooth ‘ceiling’ now. Our windlass will be much happier in her newly refurbished digs. And we have a locker that will see another 25 years in good shape. Stay tuned for part two, where Mike fills you in on the insides of the windlass. Or something like that.