Preparing for Winter

Nine days.  That’s how much time lies between our warm, dry, comfortable home in Lakewood and living aboard a big drafty blue sailboat in the winter. We are feathering our floating nest preparing to move aboard during what is predicted to be a very cold winter in the Pacific Northwest. Brrr. It makes me cold just thinking about it, but here I sit in our cozy cabin, warm as toast.

Indoor temp is 77F. Toasty!

Indoor temp is 77F. Toasty!

Many of our land based friends wonder how we will keep warm on the boat during the winter. I wondered that, too, especially as the weather turns colder. It’s not a secret that I have decidedly NOT envied those liveaboards in our marina who are there year round. Nope. I did not envy them as I sat snugly in my sturdy energy efficient 1960’s rambler with all the thick insulation, double glazed windows and easy-to-adjust forced-air heat. I did not begrudge them their trip to the marina showers, and the hike back with wet hair wicking heat from heads hunkered against bitter wind. I did not yearn for that life style. But it is certain I will be joining them. Nine days and counting.

Move aboard, we will. This may not be the most cunning part of our plan, but it will do and it moves the plan forward considerably. After all, we have less than 6 months before we leave the dock!  I’m looking at this as an opportunity to learn to stay warm in creative ways. Galapagos was built in Greece. She is a warm weather boat. But if I am successful in not freezing my ass off and can learn to enjoy being aboard even if it’s cold outside, then maybe we could sail someplace like Norway or around the UK someday. Or even Ireland. A girl can dream.

Before I go on, I want to make the point that Mike does not suffer from cold as I do. Mike is the very definition of a warm-blooded mammal. Even when I know good and well that he’s cold just by looking at him, he says he isn’t. I’m not sure if he has that good a denial system, or whether his metabolism is, indeed, that impeccable. All I know is that when we go to bed at night, I’m the one using an electric blanket and wishing for a nice hot flat rock somewhere to lay in the sun and soak in the warmth. I’m the one with feet like small icebergs. I’m the one who wears fingerless mittens to bed so I can hold my hands up to hold the Kindle in fleecy comfort. Make what you will of that, but I’d appreciate your avoiding the term ‘reptilian’ when referring to me.

No, Mike does not suffer from the cold. He suffers from ME being cold. Because the day that I stop complaining about being cold one of two things will have happened: We will either be in Mexico, or I will be dying of hypothermia and be unable to speak. We’re not in Mexico yet. You do the logic. I owe it to him to continue to be cold out loud lest he think I am dying.

Sometimes wearing a wool cap inside makes all the difference.

Sometimes wearing a wool cap inside makes all the difference.

No, Mike could be just fine living aboard in sub zero weather with only a hot water bottle to give him succor. So it’s up to me to consider my heating needs… All right, fine. Mike considers my need for heat, too, but I suspect much of that has to do with keeping my loud whinging down to a manageable level. Anyhoo, in anticipation of the longest and darkest night of the soul year, we’ve begun collecting our resources and putting plans into action in what we hope will not become “The Big Chill of 2017”.

Giving it some thought for this post, I realize it comes down to these things:

  1.  Keep the cold out.
  2. Create and keep warmth  inside.
  3. Wear a lot of clothing.
  4. Move around.

On Galapagos, keeping the cold out starts in the cockpit. We have that cockpit enclosure that, while on its last legs, is going to last us this one winter. That keeps the wind and water out of the cockpit very nicely and also creates a greenhouse effect, making that space warmer than the surrounding air.  It serves to keep the cold out, and it also serves to create heat.  So we start getting warmed up just by entering the cockpit.

Many of the things we are doing to keep the cold out serve the purpose of also keeping the warmth in. I’m referring to all the ways we are insulating the boat. Non skid bathroom rugs make fine insulation between feet and the cold cabin floor in the middle of the night. In the salon, I have cut a yoga mat to fit under the table and across to the starboard settee. It’s easy to sweep clean, colorful, and gives another layer of insulation against cold feet. You know, if the extremities of the body are cold, the rest of the body follows suit.


You can barely see the Frost King plastic around the edges here.

We lose a lot of heat through the ports and hatches because Galapagos has a ton of them. Some people block these with foam, but I do not want to block the life-giving rays of whatever weak and watery sun we get during the winter. To insulate the ports, I bought a cheap Frost King window insulation kit from Home Depot. It cost about 6$ and comes with plastic shrink wrap film and double sided tape. I taped all the ports after cleaning them well, then put up the window film, which is then shrunk tight using a hair dryer, effectively giving us double paned windows.  It’s a quick and satisfying project and will help reduce the amount of heat that escapes the ports.

For the clear overhead hatches, I’m planning to use big bubble wrap plastic, cut to fit the window, and secured with a little dab of caulk in each corner. We want to be able to open the hatches if necessary, and I’d like to preserve the light as much as possible.


That little fan on top of the stove is turning due to the heat. It works great.

As a source of heat we have a really nice diesel stove and a selection of small, efficient electric heaters. The diesel is our main source of heat. It actually works so well that it keeps most of the boat warm. If we close the forward and aft cabin doors, it really heats things up.  Mike says it’s so efficient that it must run on love because even leaving it going 24 hours makes barely a difference in the amount of fuel in the tank. The stove has its own 14 gallon tank that is connected by a series of valves and pipes to the main fuel tank. Right now we have 300 gallons of fuel aboard. We’ll be fine.

Even with the temperature hovering around 68 degrees in the cabin, the air can feel chilly when I’m just sitting around reading or seeing clients. So I keep our electic throws we bought at Costco spread on the settees in the salon. Turned on low, they create a little bubble of warm air, just enough to allow me to sit comfortably and write this post. On very cold nights, we can use them in the aft cabin for sleeping. At least I can. Mike probably won’t need one.

Sitting on the electric throw allows a bubble of warm air to surround you. Mmmm.

Sitting on the electric throw allows a bubble of warm air to surround you. Mmmm.

Even with plenty of insulation and heaters, it’s not like it’s summer inside the boat. We’re wearing clothing that we hope to mostly leave behind next spring. We’re talking wool. We’re talking layers. We’re talking entire polar fleece suits. We’re talking polypropylene long underwear. I’ve already mentioned my little fingerless mittens. Those are terrific. And there is no law against wearing a hat inside the boat. Keep the head warm, the feet warm, the hands warm. The rest is easy.

I think we have all these elements under control and we should be able to stay cozy during the cold winter months. The most challenging one will be ‘moving around’. That’s because unless I’m working on a project that requires it, being on the boat involves a lot of sitting. Mike’s daily routine won’t change that much because he still goes to work each day. I, however, work from the boat. Sitting around does not create much heat in the body. That’s bad on so many levels I don’t even know where to start.  I’m working on a plan for a new routine once we move aboard; a plan that involves getting off the boat every day; a plan that will keep my body moving around. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Post script: I’m adding a link to our brief discussion of our dehumidifier. I had a paragraph or two about this, but took it out because the post was too long. That led people to believe we didn’t have one. We love the Ecoseb unit. We moved it to the forward head where it drains its clean water directly overboard and is centrally located.

19 thoughts on “Preparing for Winter

  1. If you are an early riser; you could try “mall walking”. Walkers use the mall in the mornings for exercise. And, if you get out in the cold and walk; your boat will feel like a furnace when you get back on board. And you burn more calories when it’s cold.

    I’ve always felt that staying warm in winter is being prepared for it. It sounds like you are planning really well.

    • I sure hope so, Marie! I plan to walk the waterfront, and also I do hot yoga so going several times a week will help keep my internal furnace going! Thank you for being a regular reader and commenter. We appreciate it!

  2. Scott and I are the same way when it comes to feeling the cold. I’m always complaining about being cold, especially my feet, while Scott just rolls his eyes at my complaints. I think it has something to do with the fact that he’s from North Dakota. They breed them hardy up there.

    On an unrelated note, I love your Coast Guard registration number placard and how you colored the numbers. Very cute. And what’s even cuter is what looks like a little doorway on the galley counter. I assume a family of Borrowers lives behind that door. It’s probably not a doorway, but some sort of indispensable piece of boating equipment that just looks like a miniature doorway to people like me.

    • Oh no, it’s totally a doorway! That’s for the boat elf. It’s in the salon, actually. It’s one of the things that I brought onto the boat because it means a lot to me and reminds me of home. Andrew and I made these for Christmas presents many years ago when he was about 9. It lived in the garden at the base of a tree for about 15 years. This year I brought it inside and Mike refinished it and repaired it for me in preparation for moving the elves onto the boat. ( I sure hope the elves like water.) A woodworker friend made the CG number sign for us. I did get to choose the color, though.

  3. I’d add one thing to your list, though it may already be something you do: dehumidify! Keep that sucker going 24/7 if you can. The boat will feel a lot less chilly if the air is relatively dry.

    • Right you are. We have two dehumidifiers. One is a smaller dessicant technology unit by Ecoseb. We also have a large one that we used to run continuously, set to 45% humidity. When we got the Ecoseb unit it kept up with the humidity enough that the larger one never came on anymore. We still have them both, but only the smaller unit has been running. Notice the humidity in the cabin (in the first photo) is only 39%, which is actually way low. You are so right that dehumidifiers are a necessity in keeping a boat both dry and warm. Oh, and one thing we like about the little Ecoseb unit is that it puts out gently heated air. We now have that in the forward head, draining into the sink, which goes directly overboard. That door is always closed, so it keeps that room slightly warm.

      • The Ecoseb looks like the same basic design as the Eva Dry 4000 I have. They’re amazingly effective and quiet. Ours kept up with five people and a dog and never missed a beat.

        • I think it is the same unit. We compared them and found them to be identical. We’ve been extremely happy with the unit. I’m glad to know that yours kept up with that large a group. We’ve been amazed at how it has kept the humidity low all by its little self, allowing us to move the big dehumidifier up to the shed and reclaiming the space that took up. Maybe we won’t have to move that back to the boat when we are there full time. I don’t know how people do it without a dehumidifier.

  4. I have to admit, it was down-right cold on the boat last week (with more of the same to come, I see), but my real enemy is the heat. I’ve always been warm-blooded but the older I get, the more difficult it is to deal with it. In fact, in the summer it’s not uncommon to see me dressed in a tank top and shorts sweating while David’s still in layers.

    • It will be interesting to see how I fare in the heat. I’ve been going to hot yoga to get my body accustomed to working in 100+ degrees. I’m kind of surprised that I can do it. Anyway, yes, more of the same to come. You might want to extend your visit to Kansas until winter is over. At least you are in a house there.

  5. Moisture. Did I miss a discussion of what to do about amm the moisture that bodies give off into the air, and which then condenses on every hard boat surface inside and drips off onto you, your clothes, your pillow…
    Hoping your diesel heater dries the air as it heats the air! And use fans to blow the heat down to your feet. My whinging starts when my feet get cold…

    • The moisture holding capacity of air almost doubles between 50F and 68F. Heating things up will definitely help but you’ll still get condensation on cold surfaces. If you can run a dehumidifier too, it’ll really help minimize the problem.

    • You know, I had a paragraph about how we run dehumidifiers. But since I had written about that in the past and since this post was getting long, I took that out. We run a dehumidifier 24/7. It’s the best thing ever. Also, if you look at the photo showing the heater, you’ll see two fans. One on top of the stove, and another little 12 volt version we bought. We’ll be writing a post about that very cheap, very efficient fan. Also, partly because Galapagos is so big, it takes a lot of bodies to cause the moisture content of the air to go up that much. Even without the dehumidifier, we could stay on board and not have dripping on the walls. I figure that’s simply because we have very good ventilation and it’s a big, cavernous boat. Living aboard, we may end up running both dehumidifiers at the same time. I remember that dripping thing from our Cal 34. It was the worst.

  6. As I read this post, I couldn’t help thinking about haw ALL this shifts once you’re in Mexico:

    – we didn’t use any of our heating appliances for almost 2 years while away (when we returned to BC, our fingers were crossed as we de-mothballed the furnace etc)

    – in Mexico, it was all about air flow, fans and shade.

    Spent the past few days on Pelagia (at the dock in Vancouver)… brrrr at -2C at night. But our Dickinson Antarctic heater worked great.

    Now we’re back home at Whistler, and it’s -13C outside this morning and so snowy. Such a big (and for us, good) change from Mexico!

    Good luck moving aboard! (Brings back memories from our move aboard in 2013 — much easier in May.)


    • You are so right, David, and that reality is never far from our minds. We’ll be doing a post specifically on air flow and fans aboard Galapagos, but as a preview to that, take a look at the photo of the diesel heater. You’ll see a double fan mounted on the ceiling. That’s a new addition and it works just great! We’ll be installing more of those, and also taking a number of replacements with us. Moving aboard would be much better in May. I do agree.

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