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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?