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.
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.
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!
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?
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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