Let’s Go. Are You Ready? Part 2

Aside from a daily view of the sea and a nightly view of every star in the sky, there are a few sailboat systems we have to think twice about. We cook with propane so there are buttons to push, a tank to refill, and a system to turn off when we’re finished.

Hot showers involve turning on the hot water heater and two different pumps, another system that also needs to be turned off. We check the lines that secure our home to the dock or the chain that secures our home to the anchor when we’re at sea.

We listen carefully for unexpected mechanical noises and we watch the weather for blue skies and gentle breezes that make mundane days into a long vacation or forecasts that predict wind, rain, waves, and battening down the hatches in real life.

This is part 2 of this story. Visit part 1 here.

There you have it, a few of the hassles of sailboat living. Drawbacks? Not at all. Instead, we call these details the give and take that allow us to go away for the weekend without packing, to bring our entire house on vacation, and ultimately, those details are the give and take that will allow us to explore the world, one port at a time.

I’m learning DIY sailboat maintenance, aforementioned queen of the toilet story coming right up. During our first summer aboard I replaced the toilet pump assembly after sending Charles off to the pool bar. Girl power! We can do it!

Pick your slogan and raise your fist, I was hell bent on replacing essential marine plumbing components with no prior knowledge save a few YouTube videos, while said husband enjoyed umbrella drinks and chatted up the pool bar neighbors about how his wife was up to her elbows in the toilet, and there he was drinking cocktails in the shade.

sailboat wrapped in plastic

Lesson learned: it’s always a good idea to flush a gallon of 50/50 vinegar water before removing the discharge hose unless you’d like to become reacquainted with everything that’s recently been flushed. Lesson learned, pump replaced, and a big high five because that was my the first major DIY project on any of our boats.

Sewing curtains for the catamaran doesn’t count when we’ve entered the realm of plumbing and minor sewage floods. DIY project number two (don’t judge) arose when I was sitting on the toilet, leaned over to pet Sylvie, and the seat broke.

entry into boat when inclosed in plastic

I don’t have a clever lesson learned quip to insert because I can’t be the only one who pets their dog all the time. We now proudly sit upon a solid wooden seat that compliments the mahogany trim in the bathroom, It’s instant fancy and I’m well deserving of the queen of the toilet title. journey, saving money, and making repairs as we go.

Charles has countless DIY projects under his belt, but I never get to escape to the pool bar to brag about my husband’s do it yourself prowess while he’s working. Instead I look over his shoulder, pass him tools, and secretly vow that I’ll complete the next replacement myself. Most recently he replaced the hot water heater anode and the shower pump, thereby giving us the gift of upgraded plumbing.

On land I never tinkered with anything more challenging than hanging plants from the ceiling but when we’re crossing the Atlantic our growing DIY skill set will mean the difference between turning back to hire a professional or continuing our journey, saving money, and making repairs as we go.

icy boats

Before the holidays we had Tara wrapped for the winter, a common cold weather practice using flexible plastic shrink wrap, zippered doors, and air vents. The wrap keeps winter precipitation out and creates an interior greenhouse effect, keeping us much warmer than those who choose to brave the elements and hedge their bets on how cold the low temps will be.

We’ve insulated our windows with custom-sized bubble wrap, placed our winter layers within easy reach, and kept the diesel tank full for our heating. When asked if we’re cold living on a boat in the winter because that’s pretty much the first question we hear, we ask if they’re cold in their house on land. Sure, walking down the dock is cold but I bet their driveway is just as cold.

icy water

I’m grateful to the friends and family who generously offered their spare bedrooms as we all watched the temperatures drop and read about the high local fines for leaving animals outside.

I suspect that our friends are spending their time at home in much the same manner as we are: sweaters, flannel sheets, heating our homes to cozy, and snuggling just a little bit more when we get into bed at night including spooning the dog because she’s a little chilly, too.

However, the difference between a land home and a floating home is that while the homes of our friends may not rock and sway when the winter winds are blowing, they don’t have a resident Great Blue Heron fishing for dinner in the shallows every evening or an icy cold view of open water, possibilities, and our future plans just at the end of the dock.

dog in icy cold boat

Our home port on the east coast was recently hit with the type of storm endearingly known as a bomb cyclone. Imagine a winter hell replete with bitterly cold temperatures, arctic gale force winds, snow in the deep south, blizzards in the far north, and record-breaking low tides.

We dealt with approximately every winter extreme you love or loathe depending upon your preferred status as beach bum or ski bunny. Our friends in the north are rolling their eyes and saying things like hello and welcome to my winter, you sissies but in the mid-Atlantic, arctic gear is generally optional for most of the winter.

This year’s glacial season at the marina arrived with ice five inches thick, daytime temperatures well below freezing, and tides so low that an almost 30-year record was broken.

For the two worst days of the bomb cyclone Charles and Sylvie were pursuing adventures on land while I was home alone. Don’t commence to wringing your hands and tossing me an extra scarf because regardless of how sensational the meteorologists made the storm, and regardless of the conditions that were actually pretty cold and crappy, I lived to tell about it and didn’t consider heading to land for even a moment as businesses and schools closed, the temperature dropped, and the snow fell.

Additional bomb cyclone highlights include the following: our boat sat so low in the water during the lowest of the low tides that the dock was level with my shoulders and getting off the boat safely became a legitimate concern for the few of us braving the storm together. Some inadvertently got stuck on their boats, one of our dock neighbors had to build a ladder, and another tied nautical equipment to the dock and climbed up like a rock climbing wall.

storage

Please take a moment to envision vision balancing on a milk crate and puppy ramp to shimmy up and down on your belly with a clearance of only 12” because the boat’s sitting many feet too low in the water and the height of the only exit is a mere six feet tall.

Also, the worst of the bomb cyclone happened to fall on laundry day. I had three loads of laundry to do, and weather be damned it was as good a day as any to venture out. Other highlights include knowing our solid Canadian sailboat is better insulated than every apartment

I lived in since the 1990’s, and dramatically retelling the worst details to the people who’ve asked if my boat is cold. Yes, it cold outside but I survived unscathed and I’ll do it again with no problem. Prior to the storm I may have been called a delicate flower once or twice and I had no idea I’m the type of person to weather a storm alone and come out on the other side with legitimate statements like I’ll do it again with no problem.

I recently connected with someone writing a paper on living small, minimalism, and the other ideas that generally go along for the ride because there are as many reasons for our lifestyle as there are others who share it. I was asked about the things I miss since downsizing and my immersion blender and creature comforts like long hot apartment showers immediately came to mind.

table lamp

Shortly thereafter I was folding laundry and listening to the Yacht Rock station on Pandora (how typical is it that I live on a yacht and know the words to every song on the Yacht Rock station?) and I realized that I should have asked the same thing.

Sure, there’s no immersion blender and the creatures have had to find new things to call their comforts but here’s what we have that non-tiny people may be missing out on: the weight of excess and often mundane possessions formerly occupying our space is missing, as is a 30-year mortgage, a retirement party, and a bit of travel in our golden years.

Those missing items, concepts and conventions have been replaced with the ability to travel at will and complimentary waterfront views. Instead I left my response at missing my immersion blender and hot showers in an apartment. Let’s not get all crazy with someone’s college writing assignment.

kitchen

Alternative housing arrangements like the tiny house movement, vanlife, liveaboard sailboats, whether the park model is really a tiny house, and all the other people who moved away from polite society attract curiosity, envy, and occasionally, disparaging questions such as, What happens when your partner farts and there’s no escape?

What happens when you argue? Where’s your personal space? Our lifestyle and choice of home admittedly isn’t for everyone but if you’re thinking of joining the Tiny club or even just about downsizing to within an inch of your life please send me a note, I’d love to chat!

When personal space is so reduced that sitting cheek to cheek becomes the norm you either acclimate, adjust perceptions and boundaries, and agree to live and thrive with less, or chalk it up to a phase like that one time in college get your stuff back, and move on. Bodily functions, privacy, and personal space can all coexist in small spaces and usually within petting distance of the dog.

living room

Consider how couples regularly spend their couple’s time at home. Like us, they’re often on the couch, in the kitchen, or in the bedroom. Unlike us, they may not be able to separately occupy those spaces while maintaining eye contact, holding a face-to-face conversation, and sitting cheek to cheek.

In the initial honeymoon phase of liveaboard life before our collective orbits shrunk to match our smaller size constraints, we were laboriously quiet while the other was sleeping, channeling a daily cartoon version of tiptoes and sneaking around.

Unnatural and unsustainable behaviors don’t bode well for long term marital bliss under the conceived duress of tiny and we gradually adjusted by tuning out the ambient noises other humans in close proximity make.

We’ve also become more aware of how we occupy the space in relation to each other, a courtesy that’s grown into a second nature when we’re home together. Occasionally we dance a bit of a tango when we need to occupy the same space at the same time and sometimes it’s maddeningly frustrating when we both urgently need kitchen space like the moments in the morning before coffee when every minute before the first sip passes like an hour and for the love of God why are you taking so long over there?

lamp

Our close quarters cohabitation works so well that from time to time one of us us will look around and say something like “look how much space we here.” However, this statement is not whispered by any party (including the dog) on laundry day, grocery day, while cooking extravagant meals, or during any boat project no matter how small.

When tiny folks make saccharine statements like “going small has really brought us closer together” it’s easy to vomit sugar cubes and roll your eyes because of course they’re closer, where can they even go to get away?

The big secret of how it happened is never revealed because maybe the couples just fell into it like we did and everyone else is left with an Instagram-worthy version of delusional people who collectively own three pairs of socks, poop in a composting bucket, and who built their micro home by hand using vintage materials reclaimed from elves and it’s brought them so much closer to nature.

bathroom

That’s BS. Tiny is hard, there are sacrifices, and it’s more often only Instagram-worthy when it’s going on Facebook or we know you’re looking than when you pop over unexpectedly on laundry day.

I’ll share a secret, when you hear “going small has really brought us closer together” spoken by people who live small, it’s by and large absolutely true and here’s why; Charles and I have closely aligned our life goals in order to make this work, we make sacrifices together and individually as necessary in order to meet our goals, and resulting from lots of hard work and an eye on the prize, we’re able to enjoy the benefits of the lifestyle we’ve chosen.

A similar bond may be difficult to duplicate in the nine-to-five workaday world when a couple’s life goals aren’t as closely aligned.

toilet

On land I was invariably planning our next vacation and when we’d return I’d need a new goal, I’d plan another vacation, and so it goes. Today, our collective planning and sacrifices connect what we do today with the rest of our lives rather than a series of finite events to be achieved and checked off a list.

Subtract the excitement of a huge winter storm or the upcoming adventure of sailing our home across an ocean and our normal routines like cooking, laundry, and paying bills become identical to everyone else’s.

Our perspective, on the other hand, is far from the herd. Our city life was filled with great big fireworks like season theater tickets and expensive dinners in an urban neighborhood awash in well dressed couples on date nights, glittery shop windows, wine bars, and charming historic buildings. Today, sailboat life is a bit less sparkly and the world outside the city has revealed itself in tiny quiet ways you’d never notice while hurrying along to your theater seat before the curtain call.

instruments

We’re still dining out but these days we take our dinghy to dog-friendly waterfront restaurants where shoes are occasionally optional and as many people arrive by water as by land. Wine bars and theater tickets are big and fast and wonderful when you’re in the thick of it but the bright and beautiful moments of our lives today involve things that happen a little more subtly.

We see the sun rise over the water every morning during Sylvie’s first potty walk, we’re learning the habits of the wildlife who make our marsh their home, we’re closer because day to day we’re living the beginnings of our mutual long-term goal, and we’re enjoying our perfectly sized floating household where everything we need is within sight and within reach.

One day soon, Charles and I will look at each other and one of us will say “let’s go, are you ready?” Both of us will nod and we’ll begin checking off the tasks on the let’s go list we’ve each been mentally keeping for years.

Us

When the final day arrives, we’ll take Sylvie out for one last long walk on land and when we finally turn the bow of our sailboat into the open water, neither of us will look back until our former port has become a low line on the horizon.

We haven’t yet said “let’s go, are you ready” but the let’s go lists are always in the forefront of our minds. Sometimes we do other stuff too. If you’d like to join us as we think about uttering those five words out loud, please visit our blog.

Written by: Tiffany Butler for Tiny House Magazine Issue 63

Photos By: Charles Butler

sailboat

The post Let’s Go. Are You Ready? Part 2 first appeared on Tiny House Blog.

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