Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Rant: Generalizations About Liveaboards

May I vent, please?

So, someone has bought a boat, and rented a marina slip, and they’re limited in the number of nights they can sleep aboard their own boat in their own marina slip because the marina doesn’t allow living aboard?  Whazzup wi’ that?

Some marinas, like ours, welcome liveaboards.  Others forbid it.  I don’t mind if a marina wants to ban living aboard at their facility; they’re a private organization that can associate with whoever they choose, or not associate.  There are all sorts of completely logical and impartial reasons to restrict living aboard at a particular marina. For example, there may not be sufficient infrastructure (electricity or parking spaces, say, or accommodations for winter conditions) to support a fulltime population.  Or, more nebulous but still reasoned, the owners may be trying to create a particular ambiance welcoming to transient boats and cruising travelers.  These owners might be concerned about creating a vibe that long term liveaboards on a dock would perceive as a tight-knit community, but that transient newcomers would perceive as cliquishness.

But when marinas ban living aboard because of incorrect generalizations about what people who choose to live aboard are like, and what problems liveaboards may cause or avert, then I have issues. There are numerous myths and assumptions about liveaboards, that they are all dropouts and losers (far from it – our liveaboard neighbors have included a District Court judge, a retired physicist, nurses, pilots, IT  and telecom professionals, a jeweler, several artists, writers, and Washington bureaucrats); or that liveaboards use resources without paying property taxes (um, no, we pay property taxes the way any other renter would, by subsidizing the landlord’s taxes on his property incorporated into the rent of an apartment or marina slip); or that this is the best they could do and they are one step away from being homeless (no, I’m houseless, not homeless, and I’ve chosen this liveaboard lifestyle that relies less on material consumption and more on being in touch with nature); or the generalization that’s irritating me today, that liveaboards are slobs with derelict boats that will ruin the image of the marina.

 I don’t accept “We don’t want liveaboards because they are all messy and all their boats are ill-kept floating junk,” as a valid reason for banning liveaboards.  Liveaboards are no different than any other group of people.  Some are good citizens, and some are a bit sketchy.

Not all liveaboard boats are messy, and not all messy boats are lived aboard.  If a marina business is concerned about appearances, they can ban liveaboards, but there’s a problem with this solution.  Banning liveaboards will keep out the messy liveaboards, those whose boats are unable to travel under their own power and are just floating very small condos, and those whose clutter expands to the deck of their boat, and then the surrounding finger pier and dock.  But that ban will also eliminate some good folks, like the liveaboards who provide security for the entire marina by noticing potential problems with neighboring boats, or people who don’t belong.  In addition, if a marina implements the “ban liveaboards” solution, some messiness will remain, from people who only visit their boats on weekends, are not invested in the community, and have messy boats because they are not there to see the boat very often and the condition of their boat is out of sight and out of mind.  If a marina is concerned about clutter, they could simply make an objective rule that nothing is allowed on docks or common areas – simpler to explain, measure and enforce, and more likely to achieve the desired result, than counting or restricting the number of nights owners can visit their boats.  Similarly, if they’re concerned about boats rotting at the docks, they can require that the boat leave its slip at least [once a month/once a season/ whenever] to prove that it’s seaworthy.

So, a modest challenge: can you spot the liveaboard boats in these photos?  All the pix were taken 28 December 2012, on our dock at our marina.

[Were you able to guess just by looking?  Numbers 1, 3, and 5 are permanent full-time liveaboards; numbers 2, 4, and 6 are occasionally visited by their owners on weekends.  The owner of one of the neatest of these boats, a retired physicist in his 70s, has lived aboard for many years; the owner of one of the messiest is a very congenial local doctor who is too busy to get to the boat as often as he would like.  So much for assumptions.]

If you’re concerned about something, have the honesty and courage to address it directly.  Don’t make generalizations about a group of people and assume that all members of that group have the characteristic you’re concerned about.  Okay, vent over; thanx.  And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Update: Not Quite So Bad

Fixed the main bilge pump - yay!  Now we can wait for a warmer day to work on the backup pumps.

And speaking of warm day ... The weather today had howling wind, sleet, a bit of snow and lots of rain.  When I had to drive to work I dreaded this kind of day, knowing that my 1 hour commute could easily turn into 3.  But I had been curious for some time how I'd react to wintry weather if I *didn't* have to travel.  This is the first time I've been exposed to winter since 2008, and my first opportunity to find out.

When viewed from the warm, dry boat, and there's no need to be in it if I don't want to, winter isn't that bad after all.  We stayed aboard and worked on the bilge pump, had a second pot of coffee, and hunkered down with some library books and a pot of mushroom-barley soup.  Not as much fun perhaps as snorkeling in the Bahamas like we did 3 years ago; or as educational as studying history in St Augustine like last year.  But staying put instead of snowbirding has returned my sense of living in sync with the rhythm of the seasons, and that is a lovely unexpected benefit.  (Ask me again in about a month, I may get tired of ice by then.)

GRRR ... and the Water System Gremlins Continue!

Yesterday, a glorious long hot shower, courtesy of our new hot water heater.  Sink drain clogged with hair and soap scum - no problem cleaning it out now by running hot-hot-hot water down it.

Only to discover that there's a slow leak in the hot water system that needs to be fixed.  That led to a bit of fresh water in the bilge.  Which in turn led us to discover the main electric bilge pump isn't working.  No sweat, we have a backup.  Oops, the backup isn't working.  No sweat, we have a manual backup for the backup.  That's not working either!  WTF??

Guess I know what we'll be doing today.  Sigh.

(Not seawater coming in or danger of sinking.  Important, but not urgent.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Oh, No, Not ANOTHER Water System Problem!

Got up this morning to start coffee and stepped in a puddle near the galley sink.  NOT good!  We take leaks really, really seriously, at least until we determine the source.  Is the bilge full?  Is this something that can sink us?  Dipping a fingertip and tasting confirmed that it was fresh water, not salt, so that was encouraging.  With some of the immediacy relaxed, we looked for drips from the newly-installed pressure tank or hot water heater.   Fairly quickly we were able to isolate it to s slow drip coming from the hose at the bottom of the faucet.  A leaky faucet - this could happen in a house, too.  Compared to our previous couple of water system fixes, this one is minor and straightforward, a "fixlet" rather than a "fix," we called it.  Still, this working on the water system stuff is getting old!  At least this project could wait until after our coffee - caffeine would definitely make the job go easier.

This same morning, found a wonderful post by one of our fellow Raft-UP bloggers with the somewhat scary title Boats Break; Living on Them is Stupid. Fortunately, their story was not about a near-death escape from a collision or sinking; it was a humorous take on an accumulation of minor maintenance projects not too different from ours, and a reminder of why life afloat really is worth it.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Downsizing Tips for Moving Aboard (and everyone else)

As long as I’m on the general subject of downsizing – and I’ve got to tell you, I was utterly over-the-moon blown away by the feedback I got on “Take It or Leave It;” thanx everyone – I thought I’d mention a few more strategies that got us through the transition.  Of course keeping our possessions from accumulating, and keeping them organized is an ongoing project as we evolve, and things that once were useful or spoke to us are no longer relevant.  We take on new interests and let go of old ones, we learn what we needed to from books and pass them on, and technology changes.  And no matter how logical we are, those pesky emotions and sentimental attachments to items sometimes just have to be respected.  These downsizing strategies worked for us in the extreme constraints of moving to a small sailboat; a looser interpretation would apply to downsizers on land as well.

On land, decluttering days were guided by British craftsman William Morris’ dictum: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” The equivalent guidance for selecting things to move onto the sailboat was given us by friend and fellow cruiser Linda Glaser: “First safety, then tools, then ‘everything else.’” Okaaaay, that puts it into perspective … Given that overarching principle, here are the tips we used.

Go “shopping at our house.”  Take everything – Every. Single. Thing. out of your kitchen cabinets and put them in the basement.  Then, live your normal life.  When you need something, go to the “store” downstairs and get it, use it, then put it away in the cabinet.  At the end of a month or so, you’ll have a kitchen (sparsely) filled with things you actually use, and a basement full of things to give away.  Repeat with clothing, tools, etc.

Break up sets. I can’t figure out why people, me included, have so much angst over doing this.  Honest, the karmic balance of the Universe will not decrease if you don’t keep sets together.  When we had our kitchen design/remodel company, we once helped build an Indian restaurant.  The owners gave us a thali set with platters, cups, and various-sized small dishes and bowls that filled two large boxes.  The problem when moving aboard, though, is that the set is really not very useful for serving meals other than an Indian feast, and takes a lot of space.  So if we kept the set together, we would be able to bring … nothing.  Instead, only six small shallow bowls came with us.  They are used almost every day as ingredient prep bowls, and remind us of the clients-who-became-friends every time they are used.  That single piece is just as effective a reminder as the whole set can would be.  Similarly, when we lived on land we had dinnerware to serve 14.  Here, we only have room to seat 4 at our table, so the excess flatware is just that – excess – and stayed behind.

Reimagine uses for ordinary things. You are not bound to use things as the manufacturer intended. We don’t like to fish, but there are several tackle boxes aboard.  One keeps nuts and bolts sorted, another holds my earrings and keeps them paired up.  A medicine-cabinet organizer from CVS sits on our nav station and holds pens, scissors, and small electronics and their cords.  And even though we don’t drink beer aboard, a foam beer cozy makes a nifty cover to protect the blades of our immersion blender.

Technology is your ally.  We scanned photos, stored music on an iPod, and turned cookbooks into tidy computer files.  Some reference books are still paper, but our recreational reading is almost all on Nook, Kindle, and iPad.  Now I joke that my entire library and all our family photos fit in my pocket, and won’t ever get moldy.  We keep everything backed up to an external hard drive, with a second copy ashore.

Wherever possible, make your things do double duty.  That specialized multi-wire gizmo to slice hard-boiled eggs?  Mmm, no.  Good kitchen knife that slices hard-boiled eggs and many other things?  Yes.   The pillows and bolsters on our settees are really stuff sacks that hold guest linens and off-season clothing.  Every shirt goes with at least two different pairs of pants, and every pair of pants goes with at least two different shirts – so if one piece gets dirty you can still use the other.

Before it comes aboard, figure out where it’s going to live.  Everything needs to be stored somewhere where it won’t go flying when you’re underway, or drive you claustrophobic in port.  If it won’t fit in one of your lockers, you probably shouldn’t bring it.

Finally, pay attention to scale.  Things look smaller in the store than they do when you bring them on board.  A fair number of cute baskets ended up being given away as they totally dwarfed the space I had envisioned them in once I got them home.

Staying organized on a boat is a different issue. It’s not one that I plan to write about because, honestly, I’m not qualified – I’m not organized!  Things don’t necessarily end up in locations that land-based logic would dictate.  On land, you learn to store like things with like, and store things near the place they’re used.  On the boat, sure, it’s nice to put kitchen-y things in the galley, but other characteristics of lockers may triumph over location.  Some lockers are dry and others more subject to temperature swings and moisture.  So the dry lockers – wherever they’re located – are prioritized for sensitive electronics, papers that could grow moldy (passports and ships papers), medicine.  Lockers closer to the centerline of the boat and low down are good for heavy things like tools, to minimize their effect on the sailing characteristics of the boat.  (Heavy things, high up, could heel us over more).  Wine also loves to be below the water line where the temperature is relatively constant.  And there’s the matter of shape; we have relatively few big open lockers that could hold larger items, and lots of places to tuck smaller things.  The combination of shape and size and dryness can lead to some interesting organizational challenges.  So, some kitchen tools are in the galley and my bread bowl, too big for any of the lockers in the galley, is behind the settee on the other side of the boat, while a nice, very dry locker in the galley is full of screwdrivers and wire cutters and our handheld VHF radio and chartplotter, and a bit of prime storage real estate in what looks like it should be the top dresser drawer instead filled with first-aid equipment easily accessed in case of an emergency.   (This is why many cruisers keep lists and spreadsheets of where things are located.  Not me, though; I’m fine at making those lists, but not so good at keeping them updated.  I’ve tried a couple of times and failed, and came to the conclusion that that’s just a bit too anal for me.)

Monday, December 10, 2012

Ahhh ...

Just a quick update - we have hot water again, after a detour that for a while involved no pressure water at all.   This morning I was able to take a hot shower on the boat instead of walking to the bathhouse to shower.   I hate that.  Our marina bathhouse is really quite nice, but what I hate about showering there isn't the walking there carrying my soap and shampoo and towel and comb, or the shower itself, what I hate is walking back with chilly wet hair.  Ugh, doing that feels so much like camping out.  Such a simple thing, but when the comfort bar had been lowered by our recent weeks without, being able to shower aboard had all the relaxing effects of going to the spa.

Here's the story in photos:

For a while, we had no pressure water at all.  So we used this (new, clean) garden sprayer.  We took water from the dock faucet and heated it up on the stove.  The hassle factor inspired us to be conservative.

Dan showing off our slick new tank, about the size of an office water carboy 

He played varsity football in high school; here he is ready to "tackle" the project. 

Like many boat projects, installation involved squirming into tight spaces, like this spot under the nav station to access the back of the hot water heater and the locker it will reside in.

Then later in the project, Dan was in the cockpit locker connecting up the hoses at the front of the hot water heater  that allow the engine coolant to cycle through the tank, simultaneously cooling the engine and heating up our water underway when there's no shore power to plug into.  While he was in this locker, I was under the nav station like he was in the photo above, reinstalling the panel from the back.

Ahhh ... wonderful hot water!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Take It or Leave It

In an upscale suburb of Lansing, Michigan, a woman walked through her living room.  She picked up a perfectly shaped, intricately detailed red lacquer Chinese vase, and turned it over in her hands.  “Singapore,” she thought.  “1982. With my parents.  I spent almost a week’s wages for this thing; I’m not very good at bargaining.”  She sighed and replaced it on the shelf it shared with a stack of books, a crystal bowl from her wedding, and some oddly-textured cholla cactus wood from a vacation in New Mexico.    All of these things, these pieces of her history, were going to be left behind.  Who else could ever cherish these as she did, and understand their stories?

I half-recognize her, pensive and overwhelmed.  She’s me, 10 years ago, sorting through a houseful of possessions deciding what to let go of, what to pack into storage, and what to take along.  It was a very emotional transition, disengaging from the accumulated treasures of half a lifetime, keeping only the most basic, practical and durable of essentials to fit the limited space, moisture, and jostling of the sailboat she would move on to.  I remember her feeling of disorientation, of rootlessness, as the souvenirs and heirlooms were packed away.  I wish I could tell her that it was going to be okay, that the most important things in life aren’t, um, things at all.

Despite the moodiness, mostly what I remember of that time is excitement, a sense of looking forward.  So many people dream of chucking it all and sailing away to the tropics; we were doing it -- if we could just figure out what to bring, and what to do with the rest.  I had learned how to downsize and declutter and adapt to new living spaces from many previous moves courtesy of the U.S. government, but this was going to be qualitatively different.  Not only were we moving to a very small space, we were moving to a different kind of life.  At first, it had been like a game.  “Shopping at Our House,” I had called it, as visions of palm trees swayed in my mind.  The approach was not like the decluttering I had done prior to other moves – i.e., subtracting items from our house’s contents and bringing what remained.  It was more like packing for a voyage, selecting just a few critical items in each category and adding them to a box.  The lawn mower and the sofa went to a garage sale – we were moving onto a sailboat!  Winter scarves and cross-country skis went into the “donate” pile – we were headed for the tropics!  Those things that were just too wrenching to get rid of, including the red lacquer vase, went into the basement of close friends for long term storage. I’m convinced that there’s a special place in heaven for people like those friends, who help others achieve their dreams.

I imagined that life afloat would have wonderful amounts of leisure, reading and creative cooking and art that there had never been time for with two crazy-busy careers and a house to maintain.  I packed intriguing books that I had never gotten around to reading, a machine for making homemade pasta, a box of pastels I hadn’t really allowed myself to get lost with since college.

Much of that creative time never materialized, or maybe it’s more correct to say I never created it.  Under way, there was so much to look at! Along the shores as we traveled the ICW there were little towns and busy harbors and mazes of swamps, boats and bungalows and birds and bears.  Offshore, I was filled with the wonder of the open ocean experience, and the incredible shades of blue.  I spent hours just gazing, sometimes at the sky, sometimes at the horizon, sometimes at the glittering water just alongside our hull.  The books I thought I’d read on passage were mostly unopened, and grew moldy on their shelves.  In port, the pasta machine never came out when there were new local foods to be explored (which was, essentially, all the time) and those quiet evenings that I’d imagined sitting at anchor sketching a tropical sunset were replaced with hikes and explorations of new cities and happy hours with fellow cruisers.

They say that being at sea teaches you about yourself.  And what I learned is that I’m just not wired for introspection, contemplative peace and quiet.  I’m wired to seek new experiences and learning and if there aren’t any to be found, then I’m wired to create my own fun. I had packed well for the life I thought I was going to have … but because I wasn’t exactly the person I thought I was, I ended up making a life that was quite different from the one I thought, but that suited me better.  

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The "Take It or Leave It" article was written as part of this month’s Raft UP and I seem to have taken the story in somewhat of my own tangent.  To address this month’s questions more directly: What did you bring that you didn’t need? What did you leave behind that you wished you’d taken? What are your space splurges? What do you wish you’d known, that first year?  Here goes:

Despite the massive downsizing, there were things that we took with us that we didn’t need.  One was most first-aid supplies, but those are a different category because you take them along but don’t want to need them.  The others?   The books and the pasta machine and the pastels?  Once we settled a bit into our new lives, I did get back to reading; although many of the books now are not the ones I brought; many of them came from independent bookstores in the places we visit and are specific to the local areas we’re in. The pasta machine is rusting in a bag somewhere as our creative cooking instead has evolved to incorporate new foods and styles as we travel – West Indies pumpkin, Southern grits.  I’m holding out hope for the pastels, though. Still unused, they’re waiting on my special shelf along with some still-blank white paper.  Maybe I’ll yet find that inspiring harbor and sunset.  Oh yeah, and talent.  Not yet sure where to find that.

What did I leave behind that I wished I had brought?  Very little, but that winter scarf, for one.  The Caribbean is warm, but there’s the small matter of getting there.  There was one uncomfortably cold day in North Carolina on our first trip south.  I ended up wearing 3 layers of clothing and foul-weather gear, every single article of warm clothing I had, and a cute green sundress I had optimistically brought along was pressed into service as a neck wrap.

There’s a sort of Zen of getting excess out of your life to leave space for new things to come in when you’re open to the unexpected and unscripted.  This may be a philosophical truth, or maybe, less poetically, it’s just that Nature abhors a vacuum.  Our empty lockers didn’t stay empty as they were filled with collected sea shells and local art.   The practical items in our lazarettes, the sea boots and tools and life jackets and ever-so-space-efficient folding scooters we use for getting around when we don't own a car are now crammed to one side to allow room for the clear-bottomed inflatable kayak we found at the LL Bean outlet store in Maine.  I never would have predicted the ultimate space splurge once we discovered living history and maritime reenacting – almost 1/3 of our drastically limited clothing storage space is devoted to articles more suitable for the 17th century than the 21st.

Finally, what I wish I knew that first year?  That mold gets on everything.  That books, condiments, and t-shirts have a way of multiplying until they outgrow their assigned storage space, and then more.  That not everything made of glass has to stay ashore.  Crystal serving bowls, for a boat our size, maybe yes, but my plastic measuring cup just never did it for me and after almost 10 years I’m back to Pyrex.
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Sunday, December 2, 2012

We're In a Bit of Hot Water (I wish!)

English: Drop of water falling into a glass of...

Our hot water heater died.  Fairly dramatically, as in “spewed water all over the cabin sole while the pump ran every few minutes” died.   This might be tolerable for a while in July.  But in chilly late November, hot water at home is one of those things we take for granted that I definitely did not want to do without.  So while Dan twisted himself into an impossible shape to climb into the locker and remove it, I got busy on the internet shopping for a replacement.  He was successful.  I wasn’t.

Just a couple of weeks ago I had given a talk to a group of retired environmental scientists about our life on the boat and the science tidbits we encountered while cruising, and at one point talked about average water use in the U.S. and how we had to be careful of our use aboard; how we could make 120 gallons of fresh water for cooking, drinking, and bathing last 3-4 weeks when the average land-based person in the U.S. uses 35 gal per person per day for this.  That extravagant water use led to some complications for us.

When our boat was built it was tightly designed, every square inch was used and nothing wasted.  That included the locker that housed the water heater.  In its day the heater was quite ingenious: it could be heated either by electricity when we’re plugged into the dock or the heat of the running engine when we’re underway.  It was also compact and … small, a bit less than 4 gallons. Apparently in the 30 years since the boat was built and everything else domestic in the U.S. was upsized, the minimum size for hot water tanks was upsized also.  The statistics from my talk earlier in the month were very much on my mind.  Seems no manufacturer thinks people can live comfortably without massive amounts of hot water.  (Funny, we’ve been doing it comfortably for years, guess I never noticed.) I found lots of 6 gallon options, and 10, 15 and bigger, but nothing small enough to fit without major carpentry and bulkhead removal.  We looked at instant-hot tankless options, but decided that wouldn’t work in our situation.  Finally, we found one in Europe that was made of all stainless steel, so hopefully wouldn’t need replacement again any time soon.  And more important, that assumed people could in fact be comfortable and live well while conserving water; it was small enough to fit our locker.  Not sure why this seemed meaningful to me, maybe disappointed that once again, Europe was ahead of us in things “green?”

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