Thursday, April 7, 2016

Blogging from A to Z: F is for F. A. Q.s, Flat-Surface Syndrome, and Favorite Things About Living Afloat

During the month of April last year, I participated in the A to Z Blogging Challenge - one alphabet-themed post per day (except Sundays).  I had such a good time with it that I'm doing it again this year.  I'm loosely organized on the theme of downsizing, minimalism, and small-home living that I've learned in 14 years of living on a small boat.  I'm starting with A is for Anchoring Out, Anger-ing Out, and ending with Z is for Zout and Zwarte Peper (Dutch for salt and black pepper). Click on the A to Z logo on the lower left sidebar for links to many other bloggers participating in the challenge. 

What kind of boat is Cinderella?
Cinderella is a 33-foot Caribbean Sailing Yacht (CSY).  Built in Tampa, FL in 1980 for the charter trade, they have a reputation for being both elegant for their day, and very sturdy.  We have owned the boat since July 2000 and lived aboard full time since November 2002.  We lived in a marina in Annapolis, Maryland, for six years where we did a complete refit before we took off to go fulltime cruising beginning in September 2009, and have put on over 10,000 miles since then.  We are the fourth owners.

Where have you traveled?
On this boat, Lake Michigan, the US East Coast, and the Bahamas.  On other people's boats, everywhere from Canada to Trinidad.

How do you live in such a small space?
Actually, we have everything that a land-based home has: a place to cook, a place to socialize, a place to sit and think, and a place to sleep.  As you can see in this tour of our boat, those places are all pretty compact, thanx to built-in and multipurpose furniture.

How has it affected your relationship? Do you drive each other crazy being together every minute?
If anything, it has made our relationship better.  Living in close quarters has put us more in sync with each other's moods.  We respect each other's virtual privacy (which I'll talk about when we get to letter "V.")

What about your stuff?
Living on a boat does force you to think carefully how much stuff you own because you have limited space to store it. We did a lot of downsizing, and our music, books, and photos are basically all digital. We've learned to be pretty selective about the rest, streamlining our clothing, cooking, and hobbies. Priorities are straightforward -- first you make room for safety equipment, then tools, then "everything else." Overall not a bad way to think about it, on water or on land. As a rough guideline, for every 10 of something we had on land - books, shoes, clothing, toys - only one came aboard.

Do you have electricity?
At the dock, there is a white pedestal at the head of the slip where we plug into the electrical supply with a fat yellow cord we nickname the umbilical cord. That gives us ordinary household electricity throughout the boat. Underway or at anchor, of course, it's not like we can plug in an extension cord from the middle of the Atlantic. We have solar panels and batteries to make our own energy and store it, and everything is 12-volt like your car.   We have a small inverter to make regular household-type (110-V) electricity but we rarely use it.

Do you have heat?
When we are at anchor and off the grid, we have a built-in heater that uses diesel fuel or kerosene and keeps us toasty.  It's so efficient that we've never needed to turn it up to more than halfway.  at the dock with electricity we can run an oil-filled space heater that looks like an old-fashioned radiator; quieter, simpler, and less expensive than the kerosene.  The best way we've found to heat the boat, though, is to sail south in winter!

What about air conditioning?
We've got that too, but again only when we're plugged in at the dock.

How do you get fresh water?
The white electric pedestal also has a faucet for a garden hose.  We uses that to fill a tank on board that holds about 120 gallons of fresh water.  If we're being careful that can last us 3-4 weeks.  Of course at the dock with a water supply nearby we don't have to be that conservative, and we go through that in about 2 weeks. Compared to water use on land, that's still a very small amount.  Some boats have desalinization systems to make water from sea water, or to catch rain water, but we haven't found them necessary.

Err, um, what about the bathroom, and what happens when you flush?
We have a bathroom, or "head" in boatspeak. When we flush the toilet, everything goes into a holding tank, where it is pumped out once a week or whenever we request, by the marina, and carried ashore for treatment.  It does not go overboard.  If we are underway, of course we can't use the holding tank indefinitely with no way to empty it.  When we are more than 3 miles offshore, then we can legally switch to overboard mode; our head has a special macerator pump that guarantees solids are ground up completely before dumping.  The kitchen sink does go overboard, and that is why we -- like most liveaboards -- are very careful to use biodegradable soaps and other environmentally friendly products.

Have you ever lost anything overboard?
We know so many boaters who've lost cellphones, car keys, purses.  Dan lost a pair of prescription sunglasses once when he was helping another boat dock and a tossed dockline hit him in the head, knocking the glasses into the sea.  Now all our glasses have safety straps around our necks and our keys have floats attached.  We never get on or off the boat while holding our phones, they are zipped into pockets or backpacks. And for all our care about the "gap," we did have to hire a diver once to recover an antique dagger, part of Dan's pirate garb, that slipped into the water.

What about storms?
We joke that floods are no problem, we'll just float higher, and the extra water will give us more places to explore.  But, seriously, there's a lot of preparation that we must take in to account for predicted hurricanes or big wind events.  And lightning is one of my biggest fears.

What about high tide? 
Our tides here in St Augustine have a range of about 6 feet from new moon high to low.  The docks are attached to sturdy concrete piers and they float up and down with the water level, so they always remain at the same comfortable level next to the boat.

What is Flat Surface Syndrome?
Well, that's my name for the accumulation of clutter that happens when we've been stationary for a while. Our boat has lots of ingenious storage solutions, all kinds of nooks and crannies and built-ins.  But when we've been at the dock for an extended period of time -- like now -- we tend to get casual about putting everything away; in fact some things don't even have designated homes just now.  Pretty soon almost every counter or tabletop or other flat surface has a few (or more than a few) items residing on it, thus the name flat surface syndrome. In a small space, even a little bit of clutter has an outsize impact on making it feel like we are out-of-control messy.  Worse, every single one of those things must be put away, "stowed" somewhere before we go sailing, or it will end up on the floor, likely broken.  Needless to say, looking at hours of cleaning up before sailing puts a crimp in our spontaneity!

And finally, what is your favorite thing about living on a boat?
You mean, I only get to pick one? I love living every day the way other people pay to live on vacation. I like the closeness to nature, really feeling the weather, the change of seasons, the water in all its moods. I love the view from the cockpit, things over, under, and on the water: sea gulls, ducks, dolphins, turtles, fish, manatees, herons and egrets, sunrise and sunset and how huge the sky is when you're not surrounded by concrete.  I like living intentionally; living on a boat you are so very aware of the environment and your impact on it (and conversely, it's impact on you!).  The small space forces us to be so much more thoughtful about our choices, aware of our ecological footprint, and our materialist, consumerist culture. And pumping our own fresh water, making our own power, being independent of the grid when we're underway or anchored out or in a storm,, gives us a whole different appreciation for the boat, our little bubble of light and warmth in a big and sometimes friendly, sometimes hostile, but always indifferent sea.  I love the boat community; individual members come and go but the vibe remains the same -- eclectic, tolerant, and supportive. Finally, if you get bored with your location, or want a change in the weather, or don't like your neighbors, you can just pick up your anchor or untie the docklines and ... leave!


  1. Very interesting learning the various aspects of living and dealing with a boat.

    Alex's Ninja Minion

    1. Thanx. That for me is one of the joys of the AtoZ - reading blogs about things I never would have thought of.

  2. "I like living intentionally", for me, sums it all up. It's a brilliant answer and an even better reason.

    1. Indeed, one of my favorite things about this, aside from the adventure itself, is how much you learn about yourself, other people, and how we make our place in the world.

  3. your joy shines through. I'm sure it's been quite a learning experience for flow of life and clearing those flat spaces. But you've got it down and the world is your oyster to explore. I'm enjoying this journey on A to Z

    1. Thanx Joanne! It certainly is. (Off to check out your blog as my sometimes sketchy internet permits)

  4. Wow what a learning experience and you seem to be making the most of it.
    I visited here from a-zchallenege, my theme is life lessons

    1. I have been LOVING your blog Pooja! So powerful to me to see that from the other side of the world, some truths about life remain constant.

  5. Great FAQ!!

    I especially liked the one about the toilet/holding tank because I have to replace my joker valve today. Not one of the more glamorous aspects of living on a boat.

    Cheers - Ellen

    1. The only thing less glamorous than replacing the joker valve ... is the dreadful result of NOT replacing it in its time!

  6. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Oooh, just got lost in your blog for the last half hour. Cool stuff! (also a Star Trek fan)