living on a boat

Privacy Concerns

One of the things we take for granted living in a house is privacy. Doors lock, the walls are thick, there’s another room you can escape to if you need your own space. On a boat, sometimes that privacy is hard to come by. (Read about living on a boat here!)

There’s privacy and there’s alone time, and for the purposes of this blog I’m using the terms somewhat interchangeably. I think of privacy as, well, things you want to keep to yourself. These tend to be items of the bodily function type, but they can be emotions and reactions as well. Alone time is just that – solitude. Feel free to shift the vocabulary to suit.

Space and quiet and your own thing to do.

Space and quiet and your own thing to do.

When I’m living aboard, it’s on a really small boat. There’s not much inherent privacy in a space that’s 28 feet long from end to end (37 if you stretch from the tip of the bowsprit to the end of the boomkin), and one where there’s not a single door other than ones on cabinet fronts to be found. And I can promise you, as much as I love my husband and my children, there are times when I Just. Want. To. Be. Alone.


Granted, you are likely dealing with a larger boat than I am. What I’ve found, though, is that there are a lot of  similarities when you’re talking about boat living, no matter the size. Whatever boat you’ve got, there’s less privacy than in a house.


On land it’s easy. Different work and school schedules often result in at least some time where you’re alone in the house, no matter who you are in the family after about age 13. On a cruising boat, when your schedules are the same and there is little space that doesn’t serve multiple purposes, it’s a little harder. On land, you can escape easily by going for a walk or even just closing the door to your room. On a boat? Not so easy! Don’t fear! You can attain that much-desired level of privacy on board even a boat as small as Calypso, and though it takes a bit more work than it might on land, the trade-offs are well worth it. 

You might choose to solo sail.

You might choose to solo sail.

First of all is the “take yourself for a walk” option. On land, you strap on your shoes, open the door, and off you go. On a boat, it’s more involved. Unless you’re tied to a dock, you need to get into the dinghy (whatever that entails) and head off. Wow is it worth it for everyone! It provides alone time, recharge time, for the person staying on board as well as the person zipping off somewhere in the dinghy. There are some natural times when this happens. Dinghy expeditions with a fellow cruiser, walks on the beach. Going off to help another cruiser with a boat project, or heading into land to clear customs. Laundry or shopping! I’ve had times when I’ve volunteered to stay on board to “mind the watermaker”, content to pass up a shore activity; Jeremy has done the same when I’ve had some small errand to run.


This aspect of alone time requires transportation, unless you’re in a marina or all you’re doing is snorkeling off the boat (which is a very fine excuse!). If you’re traveling with a family, having a second dinghy of some sort is a really worthwhile indulgence. It can be a simple kayak or even a stand up paddle board*, but a way to get ashore or off the boat is so helpful to keep tempers in check. This means that if someone has the big dink, someone else can also escape. Even on Calypso, we carried a kayak (2 of them) as well as the inflatable, and though we grumbled at times at the space they took up we loved having them – the kids could go off on their own and often did. At anchor in the Abacos, our son wanted to go build a sand fort; having that kayak meant he could just go do it. Another memorable moment was in Eleuthera, when our daughter, age 8, took a kayak by herself and went to the library in Governor’s Harbour. Safety angles for those who are concerned? We’d gone in as a family earlier in the visit, so she knew exactly where she was going. We could see her all the way in, and she had a handheld VHF which she knew how to use. She felt such a sense of independence, plus she loved having her own thing to do. Her mood was so much improved when she returned from that expedition!

Kayaking (and swimming) in South Carolina.

Kayaking (and swimming) in South Carolina.

Even now, as we plan the next trip which will be just the 2 of us on board, we know we’ll have another transportation “device”, likely one which doubles as a water toy. They’re just good to have!


One thing worth mentioning – communication is key. Not only communicating where you’re going and when you’ll be back, but also respecting someone else’s need for alone time. If an invitation of a shore jaunt is passed up, don’t take it personally – it could well be that the other person just needs to chill on the boat without you there. And taking a handheld VHF is a very good idea.


What about times when you just can’t get off the boat? The high wind or nasty weather times. The passage times. The it’s almost dark and not safe to go off times. These times happen, and somehow it’s during those times when tempers run hot and privacy becomes critical. What then?

Good headphones are awesome!

Good headphones are awesome!


Where in a house you can head to your room and close the door, boats sometimes don’t have doors. They sometimes don’t have dedicated rooms either. Our v-berth is the workbench, the head, and the spare food storage area. The quarterberth, where Julian slept, was also where we tucked the watermaker and the batteries. Though your boat might have more defined use spaces, my guess it it’s still much closer quarters than even the smallest apartment.


What we found, both cruising before kids and with them, is that each of us gravitated to a certain space on board. If our daughter needed to feel like she was really on her own, she took herself to the foredeck or tucked herself into the v-berth and hid behind the bulkhead. I snuck to the cockpit, wrapped in a blanket if needed. Julian and Jeremy pulled out computers and lost themselves in a game or video. There were times when the kids (ah, when they were small!) cuddled together in the quarterberth, laughing at some episode of "Gilligan’s Island" or a Looney Tunes dvd. The visual break was the critical piece for us.


When we were on board Totem in Panama in February, with 9 people on board, the same idea of space held true. Behan had her desk in the aft cabin while Jamie worked at the chart table. Mairen and Siobhan each sprawled on a separate settee. Niall had his space in his cabin, and Julian found a spot on the foredeck to call his. Bee claimed the v-berth for painting; Jeremy and I pursued our own stuff in different parts of the cockpit. We might not have had a physical barrier separating us visually from each other, but our attitudes and respect made it all work.



To add to that visual separation, try some kind of audio blanketing. Good earphones or headphones, noise canceling ones, can be worth their weight in gold for keeping crew members happy. Fans in the head can help with the body noises we all would rather forget. Do they mean you don’t hear a thing? No. But it gives you the edge you may require to tune stuff out.


Privacy on a boat is mostly in the respect we afford each other. It’s about pretending you don’t hear the noises from the head. It’s staying in the cockpit while a modest crew member is changing clothing down below. It’s allowing your partner, or your kid, or your parent, who is deep in a project or book or something, the time and space to do that without interruption. It’s working to give people privacy instead of just assuming it’s there. And it’s communicating early and often about what you need to make it all work, including understanding that you might need an extra dinghy-like “thing” on board.


Still, in my opinion, it’s worth all the hassle.


See you out there.

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Southern Cross to starboard

Cruising is all about moments. There are the really nasty ones, the middle of the night wind shift and consequent move, or the scary almost-wreck-the-dinghy entrance into the anchorage near Dean's Blue Hole in the Bahamas. And there are the other ones, the ones we pull out when we try to describe this life.

As I think of the week we had on Totem, my mind fills with images. Sure, we’ve got a lot of pictures. Pictures of people, of landscapes, of sky and water and sails and ruins. I’ll share a bunch of those at the end of this post.

There are also flashes of our time inked in my head. The camera wasn’t out, or it doesn’t capture the scene, or maybe it was just enough to be in the moment and have it just for me.

Huge waves ahead and behind us as we steadily bashed our way from Linton east to the Guna Yala that first morning on a passage Jamie later told us ranked up there as one of the 10 worst they’ve had in their almost-completed circumnavigation. Totem handled it with aplomb. The crew of Calypso perched in the cockpit, smiled plastered on all of our faces. How many different moments is that?

Seeing the sail of a sailfish appear in front of us, then glide by on the starboard side like a weirdly pointed black plastic bag, on that same passage. Jamie said he’d never seen one.

Catching the glimpse of a pair of dolphins racing towards us then disappearing under the boat.

The Guna village on Isla Machina, with pole-perched solar panels at regular intervals along the narrow pathways that separated the thatch-roofed huts. Side panels of branches tied with twine. One little girl, another little one on her hip who was almost the same size as the one carrying her, peering at us and reappearing at corners. Walking through the huts with cross beams so low even I had to duck a few times. All the hammocks for sleeping, which made my back hurt just seeing them.

Christmas tree worms on the reef, and bright parrotfish pecking at coral.

The dinghy soldiering on under the weight of all 9 of us.

Bee, Mairen, and Siobhan putting away the bedding every morning, whooshing all the air out of the Thermarest* mattresses to turn the main salon back into a living room instead of a dormitory, then reversing the operation at night.

Seeing not one, not two, but three sea turtles on separate sails. Big ones, just hanging on the surface.

Watching the blue-purple sail of a Portuguese Man-O-War jellyfish float by on our last passage, from Portobello to Colon.

Waking up to pinpricks of rain hitting my face, rain that lasted about 5 minutes before scuttling away to reveal a sky bright with an endless carpet of stars.

Sitting in the cockpit in the morning while the coffee grounds settled in my owl mug, looking around at islands and water and sailboats and the sky. It seemed as if I were the only person awake in the world, though I knew that was not the case.

2 dolphins surfacing 10 feet from where I sat in the cockpit at anchor in Portobello.

And waking up at three in the morning and sticking my head out of the hatch, seeing the kite of the Southern Cross to starboard.

Capture your own moments of magic.

See you out there.

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Sailing Sunsets

A photo post. Taken in various places, over the years. 

Because sunsets are magic.

And so is cruising.

See you out there.

How Big a Boat do You Need?


The title of this blog really could be “why don’t you buy a bigger boat?” We’ve been sailing Calypso, our 28’ Bristol Channel Cutter, since we bought her in 1992 (okay, fine, we spent a few months actually getting her ready to go in the water . . .). She’s carried us, when it was just Jeremy and me and our beagle, Toby, from Texas to Florida, down the Eastern Caribbean all the way to Trinidad and west to Bonaire. Back up the East coast of the US to Virginia. She’s carried us, as a family of 4, from Virginia to the Bahamas and Dominican Republic and back again. And we’re getting her ready to take us, just the two of us, no kids or dog, on the next adventure, though where that adventure will be remains up in the air.


Yes, she’s cozy. The current set up down below has the head under our bunk. This was fine when we were in our 20s, but now, ahem, the bladder doesn’t last all night. There’s no way to take a shower down below. I don’t mind jumping over the side for the bulk of my bathing, but these days I’d like to make sure I can get clean even if it’s not the best weather outside or we’re on passage for longer than 4 days. Jeremy, who’s 6’2” tall, can stand up only under the hatches.


So why not buy a bigger boat? One that has, say, a dedicated space for a head and shower down below, with an actual door that closes? One that has, say, standing head room all through for my vertically-endowed husband? Why not spend the money, save the effort of an interior refit, and get something more comfortable?

                                   Under construction. Looking aft from the forward bulkhead.

                                   Under construction. Looking aft from the forward bulkhead.

Believe me, we’ve discussed this one to pieces. We’ve chased boats on Yachtworld, flirted with the idea of weekend trips to see some, and even exchanged emails with a builder. I send Jeremy links to interesting looking boats when they flit like fairies across my screen.


There aren’t a lot of boats that fit our criteria. Boats that look gorgeous (and unique) in our eyes as we dinghy away from them in an anchorage. Boats that sail well. Boats that can carry sufficient supplies for the passagemaking we plan to do. Boats that are simple, robust. Boats that offer substantially more of most of these items than we’ve already got with Calypso, which means we’re looking likely at boats in the 40’ range. Boats that won’t require a mortgage.


Here’s what it comes down to, for us. Comfort is in more than space. Comfort is in knowing the boat. I know where to store things, how to access them. Jeremy installed the engine, installed the watermaker, ran the wiring. I can hoist the main by hand, no need for a winch until that last bit of tightening. We’ve got our anchoring hand signals down, know the routine about how to tack, and can put a full coat of topsides paint on in an hour.


Comfort is in knowing the issues we face. Any boat that would fit our budget, the budget we’ve settled on that will enable us to sail for a long time, will have to be one that’s older. One that requires a lot of work, likely. We know the work Calypso needs. Any new-to-us-boat would come with challenges known and unknown – we might spend a lot of time and money on a different boat and realize that she doesn’t work for other reasons. 

                                               28'. 4 people. 4 jerry jugs. 2 kayaks. 

                                               28'. 4 people. 4 jerry jugs. 2 kayaks. 

We’ve had enough experience with cruising on Calypso to feel reasonably sure of our projected budget, though of course healthcare and health insurance is the hugest unknown factor out there. We are also practical enough to know that at some point, we’ll be no longer able to live on the boat. We want to have a cushion for that eventuality.


This isn’t to say we won’t get out cruising and decide we need a larger boat. We’re keeping that possibility in mind. But maybe, with the changes we’re making to the interior of the boat, we’ll find that cruising in her is as possible now as it’s been since 1992.


When we first bought Calypso, we were (and remain) heavily influenced by Lin and Larry Pardey, whose philosophy is “Go small, go simple, and go now.” Other boats on our short list included boats like the Beneteau 30. A Jeanneau 32. A NorSea 27. Even an F-27 trimaran. They were boats we could afford, not only to buy but to maintain and cruise on. The choice we made has stood the test of time.


I know that a lot of people reading this are thinking we’re nuts. I’m not sure, if I were making the decision as a boatless person right now, I’d choose something quite as cozy as Calypso. But there is deep value in changing the question from “how big a boat should I buy” to “how small a boat can I make work for me?”


Your boat may have a separate head and shower. But when we share an anchorage, we’ll still see the same sunset.


See you out there.

2010-12-15 192000 DSC_0002.JPG

Is Cruising Really Healthy?

                                                               Salad by the water

                                                               Salad by the water

I’m a member of Women Who Sail, a Facebook group for women only where topics related to boating are the name of the game. We have cruisers and racers, dreamers and planners and wistful rememberers. The subject of how to exercise on board comes up frequently, and there are often answers along the lines of, “Oh, it’s so healthy! You’ll get all the exercise you need! Just go swimming and walking and you’ll be fine!”


Sure. There are aspects of the “cruising is so healthy” which are true. There’s swimming to do – if you’re in a place with clear water. There’s walking to do – if you’re in a place where you want to explore, or the roads are good, or the hiking is fabulous.

                                         Yes, I sometimes wear shoes other than flip flops.

                                         Yes, I sometimes wear shoes other than flip flops.

And as to the general question of whether cruising is healthy or not, just as with the exercise part, there are aspects of it that rate high on the health scale.


For starters, you’ll likely spend a large part of your day outside. Even if you’re choosing to cruise at higher latitudes, where you think of clothing in terms of multiple layers and socks are standard, chances are you are in the cockpit or on deck a lot. I’ve seen some fabulous photos lately of people sailing their dinghies with icebergs in the background. Brr. But I digress. Being out in the fresh air, even if you spend a lot of that time sitting in the cockpit, has got to be better for you than breathing in the recycled air in most homes and office buildings.


Cruising is, in general, more physical an existence than land dwelling. The movement of the boat, even in a marina, is constant, and your body will be making small adjustments all the time just to stay stable. Lack of space makes for tetris-like storage challenges down below – and the number of times you need to move cushions or settee backs to access something critical has to be experienced to be believed. Laundry generally means either bucket washing (and wringing. Oh the wringing!) or schlepping to a laundromat. Bringing provisions on board usually involves at the very least a whole lot of walking, if you’re in a marina, or a combination of walking, back-pack hefting, dinghy loading and unloading, then storing it all away. Life is more physical on board, just with day to day activities. 

                                                            See the laundry hanging?

                                                            See the laundry hanging?

As far as the food aspect of health is concerned, this one can be a bit of a tossup. If you’re cruising in places where fresh food is scarce (say, the out islands of the Bahamas, many of which are uninhabited and prime places to tuck into an anchorage for a week at a time) or very expensive, you may find that you’re relying on your long-range provisions more than you’d like. The bonus, from a health standpoint, is that you’re likely cooking all your own food. There’s no pizza place on speed dial, no drive-thrus, which means you get very familiar with exactly what you’re eating. You can control the amount of salt and excess “stuff” all you want. As I’ve gotten accustomed to cruising and cooking as if I were cruising, I find that the “packaged” food I keep on hand tends toward things like tomatoes, beans, and pineapple, along with the occasional package of Thai curry mix. Sorry, Chef Boyardee canned ravioli  . . . Mostly, though, I prefer to create my own chili out of those ingredients rather than have endless cans of Hormel chili aboard.


For all of the aspects of cruising that rank high on the “healthy living” scale, there are those that tip it in the other direction.


Here's the thing, though. For all the movement you’re doing on a boat, you’re also doing a heck of a lot of sitting. It might be sitting outside, bracing yourself as you sit on the high side of a heeled sailboat. Sitting in the dinghy on the way to shore. Sitting on the beach with new friends, chatting away. Sure, it might be bursts of energy as you deal with a dragging anchor or digging out a can of tomatoes from under the bunk or diving in to check on the anchor, but there is a WHOLE. LOT. OF. SITTING.

There’s also a whole lot of socializing, at least in our experience, socializing that frequently involves food. Share an anchorage with just one other boat, and there’s likely to be at least one evening of shared sundowners. More boats? Maybe a beach potluck or a dinghy drift. You might get lucky and find your soul mate boat companions, with whom you loosely travel in company, popping back and forth for dinners and appetizers in the cockpit. A favorite memory of our last cruise, where we took the kids and went to the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic for 10 months, is sitting in Calypso’s cockpit with Wendy and Lizz, washing dishes from dinner under a star-studded sky. The 6 grownups had gathered on the smallest boat in the 3-boat flotilla for dinner while the kids whooped and hollered and settled down for a movie on Osprey. It was the 4th time we’d had dinner all together in the 2 weeks we’d cruised in company. Boat size is not an obstacle for entertaining . . .


Even if it’s just you and your partner on board, hanging in the cockpit with a nibble and a libation (alcoholic or not) at sunset every night is definitely a thing. It’s relaxed time, connection time, appreciation and gratitude time, all of which is great stress-relief, but it’s food intake time nonetheless.


Ahh, stress. Possibly the biggest health hazard of life in modern society, triggered by everything from terrorism and politics to unreasonable demands from a job to not enough sleep to eating junk food because you don’t have time to do anything else. Hop on a boat and sail away to the sunset and that all goes away, right?


Not so fast. The thing with living in “the world” is that a lot is taken care of. You flip a light switch, the power is there. Your toilet just flushes. Turn on the faucet and water gushes out. Need food? Hop in a car, drive to the store, and buy whatever you’ve decided you want. Your house doesn’t move, the weather is just an annoyance. On a boat, you’re responsible for so much of what we take for granted on land. Electricity. Waste. Water. Stability. 

                                                                Projects abound.

                                                                Projects abound.

And communication can be really, really tough. I’m not talking about communication with non-cruisers, or even other cruisers, but with your partner. The conversations you’ll have to have on board about things like safety, privacy, boat maintenance, anchoring, weather are different and deeper than any you’ve had to have on land, with more at stake. It’s an unexpected stress.


All of these “less healthy” aspects of cruising can be helped a lot by a regular, disciplined exercise routine. This can be spending 20 minutes a day on the foredeck doing yoga. It can mean anchoring somewhere where you can get in your run or walk every day, rain or shine. It can mean creating (or following!) a circuit routine that encompasses cardio and weights, all taking your special on-board circumstances into account.


Yes, cruising can be a healthy lifestyle. Being physically fit allows you to maximize the health aspects of it, and minimizes the challenges of the less healthy parts. Don’t diss the exercise routine just because you’re living on a boat!


                                                       Me, I like my  video workouts . 

                                                       Me, I like my video workouts

How do You Decide to Go Cruising?


There’s something magical about going cruising the first time. There’s so much loaded into that journey, so many nay-sayers and personal doubts. So many boats sitting on the dock, while owners spend weekend after weekend getting “ready to go” but never actually leaving the dock with the lines kept aboard.

When you head off (and I don’t care if it’s for a week, a month, a year, or “forever”), you’ve joined a special club.

How do you make a decision to go cruising anyway? The decision we made to go the second time, to take the kids and a year and head south, was made, at least on the surface, over the course of one very memorable dinner out.

Sometimes all it takes is a shift in how you ask a question to open it all up.


It was December 28, 2008, our 15th wedding anniversary. For once we got a babysitter to hang with the kids. We opted for eating outside, next to a loud propane heater thing on the patio covered with a plastic-looking canvas tent with plastic-looking “windows” designed to look, from the outside, like some floppy house. It was not the most auspicious beginning to dinner – we’d been counting on being indoors next to the Tulikivi fireplace on this cold December night, complete with freezing rain and a chilly breeze. But reservations are not normally a part of our vocabulary, so when offered the choice of waiting for 2 hours to sit inside or sitting outside, we shrugged back into our coats and went for the outside.

Drinks ordered, we settled back into conversation. When we did get to eat somewhere without the kids, the conversation was usually about the boat or about sailing. Our first wedding anniversary was spent on Bimini, after a really really awful Gulf Stream crossing, and the tradition of talking about “where do you see us in xxx years” and “what was the best part of the last xxx years” started even then.

“Best part, hands down, was going cruising.” That had been the standard answer since 1997.

                                             Sailing the offshore islands of Venezuela

                                             Sailing the offshore islands of Venezuela

“Why was it so good?” I asked. I had my own reasons, of course, and I’d heard Jeremy’s a few times before, but I love seeing him light up when he talks about sailing.

“Freedom. Being in charge of my own choices. Spearfishing. Sailing. Geez, I wish we could go cruising again.”

“Yeah, but that’s not happening again any time soon,” I responded. “We’ve got too much to do here.”

“You’re right.” Jeremy paused. “Let’s put an air conditioner on the boat. It’ll make it more comfortable for weekends aboard. This Chesapeake weather is rough for sleeping when it’s summer.”

We talked about the kind of air conditioner to get, how expensive it would be, what other projects we wanted to do.

I took a sip of wine, then blurted out. “Wait. Why NOT go cruising again? We’ve always talked about wanting to take the kids . . .”

“Why not? Umm, school.” He looked at me like I had 2 heads.

“Homeschool. I'm a teacher, remember?”

                                                                     Boat schooling.

                                                                     Boat schooling.


“We’ll rent it.”

“The boat needs a new engine.”

“Really? Does it?” I was getting into the argument of it. Tell me not to do something, and generally I get fired up about doing it. Contrary nature, I suppose.

“Hmm. Maybe not. And the economy stinks. You’ve already quit your job. I’ll just quit mine.” Jeremy was starting to warm up to this whole idea.

And the conversation continued, getting more and more animated as every objection we could mount became an exercise in figuring out ways around it. We’d stopped asking why we should go – instead we were asking why NOT. It was a challenge. A defiance.

Three little letters.

By the end of that dinner, which had begun in an almost mournful way on an outdoor patio with zero ambience that somehow seemed fitting for a discussion about how everything was better once upon a time, we were casting off our lines in the fall.

Yes, leaving the first time is unbelievable. It shows fortitude and adventure. Showcases a mentality of independence and a little bit of “I don’t really care what you think.” It’s a great dismissive gesture at a society that can’t understand anything different at all. It’s a time of unreal learning, abject fear and terror, and indescribable beauty.

Leaving the second time somehow feels even more momentous. Somehow it means, to me, that we’ve really proved we can do it. Not just once. Bring on the next time.

                                                         Sailing into Warderick Wells 

                                                         Sailing into Warderick Wells 

Books. I Have to Have Them!

Books. The lifeblood of any boat. Resource, entertainment, inspiration, education. Tall order for something that has to fit in limited space aboard.

I love my kindle and the numerous titles I can load onto it, but there are some books that just need to be on hand in hard form.

Here are some of ours.

What ones make the cut on your boat?