Let’s Go. Are You Ready?

For most of my life i wasn’t comfortable with the idea of being tiny and i once passed up the perfect apartment because it didn’t have a walk-in closet the size of a small bedroom. I was a contented urban apartment dweller, working my way up the corporate ladder finding space for the stuff i bought to fill my apartment.

My floating home is a vintage 1986 Canadian-build sailboat named Tara, shared with my husband Charles and our 60 lb. Australian Cattle Dog, Sylvie. We’re on the smaller end of tiny but we know what they’re talking about when they say size doesn’t matter. We didn’t move aboard to go green, reduce our footprint, get out of debt, or any of the common themes other tiny dwellers share. Instead, we want to travel, eventually sailing around the world, and houses on land don’t quite fit the bill.

us

For most of my life I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of being tiny and I once passed up the perfect apartment because it didn’t have a walk-in closet the size of a small bedroom. I was a contented urban apartment dweller, working my way up the corporate ladder, finding space for the stuff I bought to fill my apartment.

When I met Charles he lived aboard an antique 32’ sailboat named Quiescent.

He’d previously walked out of the quintessential American Dream and built an extraordinary artist and media collective from the ground up while I was busy building my own version of the American Dream.

It only took a few overnight visits to Quiescent to convince me that there are plenty of beautiful dreams that don’t include buying stuff and renting big apartments to keep it in. Shortly thereafter, we traded Quiescent for a catamaran named Chiron and our first overnight stay became day one of a five year plan to cut the lines, leave land, and see the world.

As our five year plan progressed Charles continued to build his business and I continued to climb the corporate ladder, spending my days in a high rise office building and my evenings planning our next getaway. Together, we were back and forth between the catamaran and the apartment, often talking to others who’s sailing plans had come to fruition, and always ready for our next sail.

One hot Friday at 5:30 pm in the dead of summer I was unexpectedly downsized. During the talk where my boss broke the news to me in a manner suggesting she was prepared for tears, she received inappropriate giggling instead. My first words to Charles after the talk were something like we’re free! Here’s where all the life changing stuff happened. Cue the lightbulb moments, lots of take no prisoners packing, donating, selling, insomnia, wine, tears, and very many moments of consummate joy. We concurrently realized Chiron wasn’t the right boat to carry us across the ocean and we sold her in 16 days. On that 16th day I spent the better part of three hours chatting with an elderly gent who was willing to listen to all the beautiful times we’d spent aboard. I may have possibly also convinced him that this boat was where the magic happened, where our dreams began, and perhaps where his youthful dreams could begin again.

Sailboat shopping may be like house hunting in that we saw many boats, we were unfortunately late to every meeting with our broker, and we requested a showing of our current boat as lookie-loo’s because we were interested in shinier newer models in our original search. Tara’s vintage brand slogan is similar to yachts for two – to go anywhere, he unique configuration seemed more home than vessel to me, and she’s a bluewater cruiser meaning that she’s designed to cross oceans. That said, as we drove away from our lookie-loo viewing, my first words were this is the only boat we’ve seen that I can live on. Fast forward until the ink on the contract was dry, and she was ours. Shortly thereafter we moved aboard full time.

During the lightbulb moments, the packing, insomnia, wine, tears, etc., packing and downsizing became a ruthless and methodical affair. Parting with 14 boxes of books was a long sad goodbye to old friends but believe me they went into the boxes as fast as I could pack them. To my other things, I said a heartfelt but hasty goodbye to the fondue pot, to the theater dresses, throw pillows for my fabulous red couch (I miss you) and to all the furnishings of a business casual corporate existence.

Keeping in the spirit of methodical and calculated downsizing because to be successful, such a dramatic downsizing requires methodical, ruthless, and calculated thinking, I measured Tara’s closet and hung exactly that many items on my shower curtain bar. It fell off the wall. Thirty inches of clothing on hangers nested vertically five apiece leaves you with more than enough to wear and I’m petite so this story doesn’t end with a meager capsule wardrobe. Instead, using creative storage techniques like bins and skinny hangers, I have all my favorites but none of the old sentimental items that take up closet space that you never seem to get around to wearing. When many sailboats offer only a paltry wet locker or two as a closet, an actual closet on a sailboat seems like the luxe walk-in closet of my former apartment dreams.

sunrise and our boat

Our sailboat is 36 feet long and 12 feet wide. Considering the shape of a sailboat, square footage is best measured by hand with a tape measure and a few glasses of wine. We proceeded unscientifically and came up just shy of 188 square feet. Do you count the closet? This room is curved! Does the bed count? If anyone has a more scientific method than wine-and-a-tape-measure, please send it my way. While our living space is on the smaller side of the tiny spectrum, we’re blessed with ingenious storage in unexpected places, built-in furniture, a queen size bed, pocket doors, and interior walls that effortlessly unfold into windows.

Size and square footage becomes just a number when you occupy small spaces with others that you’re close to, when you can see every inch of your home, and when you’re likely to yell, Where it is?! This place is too small to lose anything! when you’ve misplaced something. It’s not about how little you can survive with before it’s probably just camping, it’s really about how to grow, thrive, and flourish with less objects and more adventures, more living, breathing, and more noticing the amazing things that our lives were much too cluttered with stuff to notice before.

living area

Tara’s go anywhere design allows us to be self-sufficient for extended periods of time and will eventually permit us to circumnavigate the globe. At marinas we plug into shore power, a 30 amp electrical connection that powers lights, outlets, our refrigerator, and our mechanical systems. At sea a bank of batteries charged by our diesel engine powers these systems and we conserve electricity by intermittently running the refrigerator, turning off lights, and being cognizant of our power consumption until the next diesel battery charge. We turned off the lights on land when we weren’t using them so this is just business as usual. We plan to install solar panels and a wind generator, increasing our self-sufficiency and decreasing our need for diesel fuel. Our engine will always use diesel however with the engine off and the wind in our sails, the costs of traveling from port to port are reduced to almost nothing.

We have hot and cold running water in an 80 gallon tank because come on, we’re not glamping and with common sense conservation habits we only fill up a few times a month. Watering a lawn takes more time and effort than filling our tank. Our toilet pumps into a 30 gallon holding tank, flushes with seawater, and operates with a hand pump. Keep scrolling, I’m pretty much the queen of this toilet. I’ll tell you why shortly. Like many alternative homes, marine plumbing is delicate but I won’t ration your toilet paper squares if you pop over for a cup of tea as long as you pump fifteen times, twist the knob and pump till the bowl is empty, do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight.

closet

A few thoughts on water conservation. At marinas fresh water is within arm’s reach and only as complicated as unfurling your hose and unscrewing a cap but at sea thoughtful water conservation habits make the difference between sailing or stopping in a port to fill the tank. We use a pressurized 1-quart sprayer and I’ve never met a sink full of dishes that couldn’t be tackled in a quart of water or less.

Old salts and sailing purists use nautical terms for the locations on a boat. The front door is a companionway, closets are lockers, the kitchen is the galley, the bedroom is a cabin, v-berth, or quarter berth depending on its size and location, the living room is a saloon with a settee as a couch and a dinette as a table, and the bathroom is the head. Aboard Tara we prefer to cook in the kitchen, lounge on the couch, sleep in the bedroom, and pump the toilet in the bathroom.

living area 2

Our interior space is constructed of Honduran mahogany with blonde wicker caning on every cabinet and we have solid wood floors, not laminate. Our kitchen and bathroom counters are Corian, our eight portholes are brass, and we have two large teak skylights known as butterfly hatches because they open upwards and outwards like wings. Our doorway, windows, and hatches are all equipped with built-in screens which is not commonly found on sailboats.

Our kitchen features a three burner propane stove and oven, a chest-style refrigerator with a small freezer, and a sink with hot and cold filtered water, as well as a brass hand pump that draws fresh or sea water. During open ocean sailing, sea water can be used for almost everything aboard including dishes, laundry, and bodies but sea water is always followed by a quick fresh water rinse.

We’re absolutely not lacking in cabinet space or counter space. While we no longer stock up at the big box stores we’re not rationing food by any means. We’re thoughtful about what we bring aboard; one bottle of salad dressing at a time instead of an army of half full bottles near expiry on the refrigerator door. We now enjoy lovely tapenades and sauces in small jars, finishing each before we restock. When space is precious and filled thoughtfully, every favorite finds a place. It’s about priorities; yes, you can bring your craft beer brewery to your new Tiny House if your partner leaves their ski boots behind.

With one caveat, our kitchen counter offers more space than our last apartment. Over 50 percent of the counter covers the stove and refrigerator when they’re not in use. However, during use those counters flip up and everything gets shifted to one side or another. We had approximately five minutes of head scratching about where to put the microwave and it quickly found a home underneath the table on top of our ottoman. When not stowed under the table, the ottoman serves as hidden storage and extra seating. In the extra seating department, on the occasional YouTube night when we watch sailing vloggers and the occasional sci-fi short we move the microwave and the ottoman allows us to stretch out. Hooray for convenient storage and after a while who even minds crouching under the table to use the science oven? Well, maybe you’d mind but there’s seriously no other place for it. I’ve also reevaluated my relationship with small kitchen implements.

living room 3

Today we have one favorite coffee mug each and a few smaller extras for unexpected guests. Boat people often bring their own mug or cocktail glass because none of us assumes the other has service for more than a few when we all have similar space constraints. See if you can find guests on land who bring their own wine glass to your next cocktail party.

plants

We have five large and five small plates, eight bowls in various sizes, and a disproportionate amount of silverware because I didn’t want to break up my grandmother’s set. Even in the spirit of a ruthless take no prisoners kind of downsizing it’s probably okay to keep the family forks and spoons together. Where else but people talking tiny do you get someone who can proudly list the exact number of plates they own? The remaining large utensils, ladle, and the rest of the stuff from that kitchen drawer everyone has fits into a sizable bin under our kitchen sink. Everything I wanted to keep fit into the bin so I didn’t have to store my favorite wooden spoon in the oven. Just kidding. Not really.

In keeping with an everything we need and nothing we don’t mindset, we’re not short on mixing bowls, cutting boards and the like as long as they nest, serve dual purposes, flatten, and store like a game of culinary Tetris. Pots, pans, and bakeware fit neatly into the oven and with the addition of a ¾ size cookie sheet and nesting silicone muffin cups instead of their full sized counterparts, I have no baking limitations unless you ask me to make your wedding cake. Sorry, you’re getting cupcakes and maybe only a dozen because I left my cooling racks on land. Priorities.

Storing dry food takes about a minute longer than putting boxes on cabinet shelves and closing the door. Cans are stacked and everything else is transferred to a labeled ziplock bag and stored in a bin. Cardboard packaging and canisters are recycled and I’ll wager a few spaghetti noodles that I can fit more bagged pasta, quinoa, and oatmeal into bins than you can shake a stick at. Produce, bread, and other squashable snacks are stored in three cute hammocks that swing freely when the wind and waves let us know we’re a small boat on a great big sea. Space saving tricks like hammocks, zip locks, and bins make it easy to provision for many weeks before we sail away with no immediate plans for the next grocery run.

important instruments

When you come home to a tiny space and forget the phrase a place for everything and everything in its place, you’re guaranteed to have just made a huge mess. The trappings of the average adult human include coats, bags, shoes, laptops, and who knows what else. Set these things down carelessly when you walk into a tiny home and suddenly there’s nowhere to sit and you’ve inadvertently also taken the dog’s seat. Alternately, if you spend five minutes tucking everything away, the dog’s happy and there’s plenty of room for everyone else. We’ve added a minute or two to the ritual of coming home which keeps the clutter down to a dull roar and turns weekly housekeeping into something like a 15 minute affair.

In the spirit of reducing clutter, space limitations, and not owning objects that can go flying across the boat while we’re sailing, we have one decorative tchotchke, a small pot of plastic grass. We keep four pens nestled between the blades and just like the items in our kitchen, it serves a dual purpose as decoration and pen holder so we can justify the space it occupies on the table. Also, when I have curious visitors who marvel at our small space and our few visible possessions, I can smugly point to the grass and say and this is where we keep our pens.

Regarding the aforementioned arduous 15 to 30 minutes that it now takes to clean our interior please read arduous with sarcasm because 30 minutes or less of weekly cleaning? Seriously, I’m over the moon about this. I don’t look back fondly on the many hours spent slaving over a hot vacuum cleaner when I lived on land. A weekly round of carpets, floors, kitchen, bathroom, dust, wipe scrub, ad nauseum feels effortless when I can lollygag, watch cat videos, and accomplish everything before the dryer’s done.

life

Sailboat living isn’t always sunsets and umbrella drinks. Oh no, there’s plenty to contend with like gentle sea breezes, nature putting on a show on all four sides, and a “neighborhood” of people who think they’re all on vacation the moment their feet touch the dock, i.e., smiling faces and regular “docktail” parties during high season. Docktail parties got their name from the regular gatherings of marina folks on the dock where drinks, finger food, and fish tales abound on a regular basis.

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. But I’ll save those stories for another day. In the meantime, join us for regular updates on our adventure blog.

Written By: Tiffany Butler for the Tiny House Magazine

All photos by: Charles Butler

(Part 1 of 2. To be continued in next week.)

Published in the Tiny House Magazine Issue 62

sunrise

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

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