Sunday, 29 March 2020

Rising with the Tide - What's it Really Like to Live on a Boat?



DOWN SIZING TO A COMPLETLY NEW LIFE AFLOAT

Would you move from a 3,000 square ft house to a 350 square ft boat?

In our former life we had a beautiful historic timber house - 280 square metres, (3,000 square feet) on nearly 2000m2 (half acre) of land. We raised our children there with one even getting married on the grounds. Once the kids all flew the coop, it was much more than two people could ever need and we also found ourselves spending a very large proportion of our very valuable non-working time keeping up the never ending house maintenance, lawns, gardens and pool.  We were spending at least one day of every weekend maintaining the home and the rest of the week going to work to pay for the chunk of it the bank still owned. We had loved our time living and raising our family in this beautiful home but it was time to change. We told family or friends we had decided to downsize, however none really understood just how down in size we were planning.

A beautiful family home that was keeping us working up 60 hours a week.
We weren't talking about a smaller house or apartment. We were selling up and quitting the office for a new life afloat.

We began sailing full time in 2011 crewing on other people boats to gain experience and cruised through South East Asia and then Europe. This lead us to teaming up with a crew mate to buy a yacht in Spain and sail the Mediterranean for a couple of years. In truth, it all felt like some sort of extended holiday after our decades in the workforce. You can read all about it in earlier chapters of our blog. With SV Alcheringa sold in Sicily, we then returned to Australia to find our forever boat which turned out to be a Whitby 42 cutter rigged ketch. 

We have now officially lived on Our Dreamtime for over 5 Years!! Can you believe it?  People ask us a lot of questions and now we feel at least a little qualified to speak about the live aboard lifestyle. First of all if you are one of those who thinks living on a boat is "roughing it" think again. Some boats out there have all the modern facilities including washing machines, driers, microwaves, air-conditioning, heating and even satellite TV.  A problem is that you cane way too much of your money buying the big boat with all the mod-cons then not really have the funds to go cruising. We do have a very comfortable boat but made sure we bought what we could afford. We chose to keep things more simple. The more gadgetry you have onboard, the more energy you need to supply and the more maintenance required. Good advice we read was to buy the smallest, simplest boat you will be comfortable on. On SV Our Dreamtime, the two of us can easily cruise for months at a time without needing to come into a land base to refuel, buy food or replenish water tanks.

Here’s some of the questions we’ve been asked about our lifestyle:

What's it REALLY like to live on a boat?
Our Dreamtime at anchor in the Whitsunday Islands
Do you feel cramped?
Usually no. We have plenty of room for the two of us. The old saying “cabin fever” is a well known saying for a reason. The only time we really feel a bit cramped is when we are trying to do “jobs” onboard. This can mean having the boat pulled apart trying to get to the repair or upgrade but also reaching tools and equipment that are often stored in awkward places to access. It’s not uncommon to have floors walls and furniture all pulled apart just to change a water pump.  Extended wet weather is another time “cabin fever” can set in. Being below when the whole boat closed up can be a little more claustrophobic than having the windows closed in a house. You can get a bit frustrated, especially when you are living on anchor and can't simply step off the boat. So yes, we can feel cramped sometimes but not normally. If you currently feel cramped during the COVID19 lockdown well maybe living on a boat is not for you.




How do you entertain?
So far the most people we’ve had on the boat at one time is 11, and it was a squeeze. Everyone sat with no real movement other than from Karen serving drinks and food from the galley below. Because we have a couch that seats 4 comfortable or 6 cozy at the dinner table we limit our entertaining to intimate groups for dinner or drinks in the cockpit. We love to BBQ on the aft deck and this also allows us to entertain quite well with a small group of guests. When we have guests stay aboard again it is really only 2 guests at a time. When we are sailing in groups we find that we congregate on the beach for drinks and nibbles watch the sun go down and then venture back to our own boats. We call it “Sundowners”.

Entertaining on the aft deck is really one of our favourite places to be on a glorious day sharing food and wine with friends.


We don't miss out on the opportunity to spend time with friends. It quite the opposite we gravitate to each other to enjoy each others company. You are always meeting new people from all walks of life.

Where do you eat?
We have three areas on the boat that we dine. Below we have a fold down table in the main salon that seats a cozy 6. In the cockpit we have added a removable table that seats a comfortable 4. And we have a small table that also doubles as a fish filleting table on the aft deck that we love to use for “Sundowners” and when we BBQ.
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Dinner whether it be for 2 or 6 is always an occasion on Our Dreamtime



What is the biggest problem with living on a boat?


Wet weather. Wet weather, Wet weather ...... when you are living on the hook you are constantly at the perils of the weather. So you will be forced to move anchorages to find a safer or more sheltered position when the weather changes. This can sometimes be a daily reality if the weather is not settled. Anchoring has its own worries, especially with the occasional storm front that comes through. This means we are awake for the storms duration, whatever time of night or day. You just can’t leave the boat and go off for days exploring unless you know the boat is well secured. If we are intending on leaving the boat for an extended period we need to find a secure swing mooring or put her in a marina. Both can be costly. Friends just don’t drop on by for a coffee, everything is pre planed and this sometimes is hard to coordinate. The only thing that is even remotely uncomfortable for us right now is we both have had some minor medical issues and coping with these onboard gives you a big appreciation for the good health we thankfully normally have. Fitness is something you do need on a boat. We are not saying you need to be a marathon runner, but we climb ladders constantly we hop on and off into a dinghy and jump onto docks etc ... so a level of fitness is required.

How is living on a boat different from apartment living?
Well, personally, we’ve only stayed in an apartment during holiday times. In terms of space, it really isn't that much different. But living on a boat is different than an apartment in the same way as owning or living in a single-family home: you don't have people on top of you, or right next door to you, or below you. Unless of course you are living in a marina which then it is similar to apartment living because of close proximity to neighbours. We are currently in a marina, and it took a little getting use to. If it weren’t for the fact that we needed to return to work for a short time to rebuild the cruising fund we would not live in a marina. One major difference between the two is, that when you're out cruising, if you don't like your neighbours you can just pick up the anchor and move. If you get sick of the scenery same thing just move.

What was the hardest adjustment?
It’s letting go of things. We had throughout our life together collected stuff. Some of that “stuff” has sentimental value like the painting we bought in Monmarte Paris, on our 13th wedding anniversary. Or the porcelain dinner service that we had so many great dinner parties with. The only thing that we really refused to give up when moving onboard was decent crockery and crystal glassware - everyone said you can only have plastic onboard. Well we have bucked the trend and eat on real plates. You find ways to bring sentimental with you. Most of it just isn’t in the form of “Stuff”. We also say where possible, everything onboard should have two uses to save on space. For example, Karen uses her crystal champagne flutes as scone cutters. 

Who would of thought that a scone cutter could be so classy

Did you also feel a bit of relief about getting rid of clutter?
Yes, and it is because, we Aussies especially, have so much stuff that we don't even usually know what we have. Like us in the past, we're sure you've had that feeling of cleaning out a cupboard and thinking, oh, my, I didn't even remember that I had that. Well, if you don't remember that you have it, you probably don't need it. There's some pain if it's something that's sentimental, but you find other ways to keep those things in your memories, despite having to purge your "stuff" and limit new purchases. Your memories really aren't tied up in the things but experiences. We admit we are not minimalists, and we do have material possessions that bring us joy. We have a collection of artwork onboard. We have “Nic-nacks”. Mainly through Karen wanting a homly feel to the boat. It’s really not about how many things but rather which things. It's really more about living than it is about counting your possessions or square meterage. 

Karen adds a homely touch with artwork and gifts from around the world.

So talking about size. How big is the boat in square meterage?
The boat is 12.3 meters long and at her widest she is 4 meters. We lose quite a bit of space at the pointy end “bow” and the blunt end “stern”. In this compact space we however fit two cabins with double beds each with their own en-suites, including toilet, shower and hand basin. Both cabins have hanging space and lockers for clothes.



The aft cabin is our's which features our own ensuite, plenty of storage but a bunk that gives Karen a yoga workout each morning just to make

The main living area has a dining table as previously mentioned, and a separate lounge that can also be a single bunk when required. We have plenty of storage in this area both under the seating but also 3 built in bookcases, a cocktail cabinet and a locker that hides away the pivotal TV/DVD/Blueray with surround sound. Rob has a navigational station which is really his desk for writing and vlogging, but it contains our important navigational equipment, radio, radar, AIS, Chartplotter, Satellite Phone, Internet services and computer, The galley “kitchen” is very compact, at 1.5m by 1.5m, but very user friendly. We have a four burner stove with oven and grill, 90lt Fridge and a separate freezer of 95lt. Double sink, built in rubbish bin, pantry, pots and pan cupboards and space for the all important “real” crockery. 
Karen has all her best cooking gear onboard

Plenty of room to cook up a feast




The dinette area has a fold down table which secures away for more living room.



The all important cocktail cabinet


We have plenty of areas to relax or make into extra sleeping quarters if required


Navigation Station.

Apart from all of this living stuff ... we have 3 water tanks with a total 800lt, 690lt of fuel, Engine room and tools and spares to fix just about everything.

The cockpit really serves two purposes, whilst underway it is our main work area to drive the boat, all lines (ropes) come back to this area for us to work the sails and this is where the wheel is. However once anchored this area really turns into our second living area and gives us the most joy with 360 degree sea views. 

The cockpit is really where all the sailing action happens
But when at anchor or in a marina we transform the cockpit into another living area.
Cheers Cocktails in the Cockpit

What are the challenges of living onboard together? 
You find out what really good relationships are. You start working as a team in every aspect of your daily life. When you live with somebody else on a boat, it’s obvious you don't have as much room to spread out. As mentioned, we had a good sized family home. Once the kids moved out, we found we spent most of our time in the same areas together and not using the majority of the home. Living small has taught us new things about each other and taught us to compromise, including on basic things such as TV watching. Karen gets to watch the Food Channel 24/7 .... lol ... not really, so now we take turns with choosing shows or finding shows we both like to watch together. We've kind of learned to like the same things while also having our own interests. You learn to let each other have space and down time. We will often be in the same space but enjoying totally different things. Privacy is limited, actually it's non existent. 

Were there any mistakes that you made that you think others could avoid?
We were a little hesitant in our first step, once we sold the family home we bought a smaller home and renovated it. We then took on another larger project house, in the hope of renovating and flipping it quickly to make some extra money. In hindsight, we should have bought the smaller house rented it without the renovation, bought the boat and gone. We would of been 2 years further down the track. And not have been caught up in the property market downturn. Also do not fall for the trap of putting lots of "stuff" in storage. Don't waste that money because you're probably never going to need it again, and if you do, when you go back for it, it's probably going to be damaged, not your taste anymore and technology has moved on. That TV you've been storing all these years can now be replaced by a much smarter version for a fraction of the price. The clothes don't fit and are out of fashion, as is the furniture which won't fit in the small apartment you moved to when you finally left the boat anyway. Each time we arrived back in Australia it was “garage sale” time again as we did another clean out of "stuff" we'll never need again. Seriously just get rid of the stuff from the outset

What have been the benefits of living on a boat?
Well, there have been many, many benefits to living on a boat for us and for a lot of people in the same situation. We get to travel by taking our home with us. You may say "So do grey nomads with caravans", but we are not limited by roads. The whole world is available to us. We experience the beauty of nature each day. Of course, we have no mortgage on the boat. Our utility costs are really low. We buy fewer things because we don't have places to put things. You waste less money and effort, and again, you have more time to concentrate on your life together rather than maintaining and paying for a big house and a yard. So aside from not having room for some things that we’d really like, it's great. We have always liked a clean space. So having a smaller space you are not “cleaning” as much. We like to be out on the water and outside having experiences and living life. A boat is really, good for people like us. It takes us less than two hours to clean, top to bottom.  No mowing lawns, weeding gardens, leaves in eves, cobwebs lots of floors to sweep and mop. 

A magical sunset to ourselves


We never get tired of these guys playing on our bow

Are you eco warriors?
We'd rather describe ourselves as Eco Aware. We’ve always been people who have tried to be considerate of the environment, and it makes us even more so now living on the boat because we feel so much closer of the delicate ecosystem we float on. Do we burn fossil fuels? With an 80hp diesel engine onboard of course we do, but not if we can sail. Do we have plastic on board? Yep, because doing things like cryovacing our food makes it last some much longer. However, we try to buy unpackaged foods as much as possible in the first place so the amount of plastics used in our cryovacing is actually  far less than you'll find in a normal trolley of supermarket goods. We are very conscientious of how much rubbish we produce and how we dispose of it responsibly to limit harm.  We tend to look for quality, sustainable products as we don’t want to be replacing them all the time creating more waste. We are careful not to over purchase produce only to throw it out uneaten. We try to be self sufficient in energy use and water as much as possible. We have solar panels that can handle our normal daily energy use. We have a reverse osmosis watermaker onboard that turns seawater into pure drinking water. We catch fish and other seafood to feed ourselves. Of course it's no sacrifice to enjoy a nice feed of crabs or the like but all these things help reduce our carbon footprint.  (Here is a story on us fitting our Solar Panels)

Solar Panels keep us powered up


Catching our own seafood is just another way of living healthy while decreasing our carbon foot print.
We try to be self sufficient. Traveling by wind, generating energy from the sun, making our own water and catching seafood.

What do you eat onboard? 
We eat really well .... everything that you eat at home we can prepare and eat on the boat. The difference is you have to plan well. We can be away from a land base for months at a time so you need to provision the boat with all that you will need in that time. If we run out of milk we can’t just duck down to the shop and buy a litre. It is an art form to get it right, but you will discover what you need pretty quickly when you run out. It’s also not all about canned food, lentils and dehydrated eggs. We actually think we eat healthier away from land as there is no temptation for a quick takeaway or packaged meal.

Fresh boat made Salads

Sri Lankan Fish Curry

Blue Cheese Mousse with Sandcrab and Figs

We stock the boat for long periods away from land
If you want to know more about how we eat onboard check out the section on Our Galley



Is it really the financial freedom that it's touted to be?
Yes, it can be if you select the right boat for your needs and maintain it rather than waiting for things to break. Once we're out cruising, we rarely pay rent, never pay for rates, power or water. We have learned to live on much, much less than before. We wish we learned a little faster and didn't waste so much early in our cruising but never the less, the lessons are learned. We left a life of a house and garden to maintain, 3 good cars, 2 motorcycles, cafes for lunch, restaurants with friends, city clothes and hairdressers on a monthly basis. Now we have a bike and a cheap car. We don't fill the boat with "stuff" like we did a house. Now to buy something it has to have a purpose and a place onboard to fit. We entertain onboard or socialise with other cruisers on the beach and easily enjoy it as much as any five star restaurant.  Karen hasn’t been to the hairdressers in over 12 months and we each own 3 pairs of shoes, not three wardrobes of shoes. You find out very quickly that it's not about building a "financial portfolio" but you are building a strong "experience portfolio" of incredible memories.  
If you think money is more important than life, try holding your breath while you count your money.

What about maintenance costs of a boat?
People have a saying B.O.A.T means “break out another thousand”.  If something is for a boat the retail price will be AT LEAST double that of a similar non-marine product. There is always ongoing maintenance costs on a boat but ,to a degree, how high those costs are depends on how you go about things. We would rather do preventative maintenance rather than wait to fix something once it has broken. That gives us the time to search out the best deals which can provide big savings.

One large unexpected expense for us was keeping our old school fridge and freezers going. We followed the route of getting the professionals in to replace component after component all with high labour costs because we didn't think we could do it ourselves. Well let’s just say in the end we pulled all the old systems out then replaced both with off the shelf "Do it yourself" kits for a fraction of what we had paid the experts and have never had a problem since. So we keep learning lot of new skills on the boat to be as self reliant as possible regarding repairs and installations. 

Out with the old. This was the refrigeration system we paid professionals big dollars to not make reliable.
This is the new system we fitted ourselves in one day for a 3rd of the price we had already paid the pros.
You may find our blog on learning to maintain your Sails of interest

What are the ongoing maintenance issues?
It costs far less than running a household and living on land. But in reality, this will very much depend on your type of boat and how much you do yourself. Timber older boats will cost more to maintain, not unlike timber older homes.  Insurance is on par with what we were paying annually on our home but for far less of a payout if we totally lose Our Dreamtime. Each year we need to lift the boat out in a boatyard to iservice all of her through hulls and to antifoul the hull, (special paint to stop weed and crustaceans growing on the hull). We do a basic service on the engine ourselves every 100 hours and maintain the sails and rigging. If these things are all done on a regular basis there should be no surprises. The more you learn to do on the boat yourself the more you will save. You do really need to learn to be, plumber, electrician, mechanic, sailmaker, painter, engineer, sailor, weather forecaster and navigator all rolled into one. If you are living in a marina your costs are going to be higher than if you are living on the "hook" (at anchor). You will be paying a monthly fee which will include a liveaboard component. For Our Dreamtime the average is about $1100 per month. If you are living on the hook, you will be faced with extra fuel costs for dinghy transportation and on the times you need to run the generator to supply charge to the batteries, if you have had no sun for days.

With equipment in all sorts of places, sometimes being very flexible on a boat is handy

Once a year we haul-out and do the antifoul and hull work
Here is a comprehensive list of our Boat Maintenance 

What do you say to the people that call you Grotty-Yachties?
Well, we say it's not for everybody. It’s a lifestyle we have chosen because it suits us and probably wear the title with pride.  A lot of people enjoy their big homes, flash cars and being able to entertain a lot of people at once It's quite ironic that most of the big houses that sit overlooking the marinas and bays where the grotty yachts live are mortgaged to the hilt. Their owners going to work every week to pay for them while we are out there cruising the reefs and islands.

If living with the elements, conserving water, conserving power and having limited things and space is not for you, that's cool. 

Many people enjoy the blog stories and pictures of our journeys and dream of the lifestyle. In fact 90% of our followers on FaceBook, Instagram and our Blogs do not live on a boat, nor do they ever plan to, but they still enjoy being part of our "Virtual Crew" and dreaming that, maybe someday, they could "do that". 

If you want to find out what it's actually like, there are plenty of ways to try before you buy like we did in the beginning documented in our book “Stuff it let’s go Sailing Anyway”.

We went crewing on other people's boats first to make sure we were in love with the cruising lifestyle and not just in love with the idea of cruising. Fortunately we both found we shared the love.

We do keep asking ourselves .... Why didn't we do this sooner?
We love to read your comments on our blog and will reply. If you have any questions that we did not cover in this blog please ask in the comment section below.

Cheers Rob and Karen.


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