Top Twenty Tips for Living on Board – Fun, but with some gems!

The Beginning of the End Reality Reflections

(You can listen to this via podcast here)

I didn’t talk to my husband for two days because his peculiar answers to my, perhaps, naïve nautical questions left me bewildered.

Jackie ‘chillin’ in the dinghy, anchored within the atoll of Tahanea (Tuamotus in French Polynesia).
Jackie ‘chillin’ in the dinghy, anchored within the atoll of Tahanea (Tuamotus in French Polynesia).

Back then, as a mere fledgling to sailing, my raw researching met brutal honesty head-on. With travel and freedom gnawing at our vitals we searched for a sailboat and home. I tried to understand and calculate al the unknowns, like the financials and what, exactly, was I letting myself in for.

‘How much does it cost to buy and then maintain a boat?’ I asked. Coming from the corporate world I was gearing up to write in-depth budget plans. I was completely scuppered when Noel gave me a look that would have instantly staled a baguette, and he replied, ‘It’ll take every penny we have.’

‘Oh right, well, erm, so what’s so great about sailing?’ I asked, expecting to be assailed with vivid pictures of slicing splendidly through clear, flat water. Palm trees etched on the skyline and white sandy beaches supplying a dreamlike backdrop. This image shattered as Noel’s ruthless reply tore through my reverie: ‘Getting to port and the local bar,’ was his honest reply.

Eight years later and over 40,000 miles under our keel, I can now see the wisdom in his answers.

Enduring the Escapade

Long term cruising is an incredible adventure. It’s also hard work. Arriving in a new country or town, our thoughts steer to: How we check-in? Where do we get fuel and potable water? How much is it? We get together with other cruisers and the men talk amps and engines; the girls talk laundry and supermarkets.

So aside from reflecting on our magnificent voyage, I thought a few ludicrous ‘learnings’ deserve a mention.

First, let’s be positive. Our escapade divorces and insulates us from the world’s day-to-day problems. We are not ashamed to bury our heads in the sand and enjoy, while we can, the ‘ignorance is bliss’ scenario. While landlubbers we had found that the TV news never changed; it was sad and depressing today and tomorrow. While cruising we frequently meet like-minded people, of all nationalities, where age is no friendship barrier. Hooking up with similar sized boats and sharing the ocean brings the comfort of companionship and the joy in sharing the dolphins that play on our bow during those perfect sailing days.

Mostly, cruising provides the freedom to live simply. We have no letterbox where small bits of paper with large numbers intrude into our sanctuary, sucking dry the bank account to allow landlubber luxuries. And yes, there is the odd G & T (Vodka for me please) while watching spectacular sunsets, and performing an anchor pirouettes.

Secrets of the initiated

Over the years, advice, hints and tips have deluged our salt-saturated minds, but there is always more to learn. Here are some little gems that we learned along the way:

(1) Constipation – the most fluid of us struggle on long trips. That comfy cockpit seat will become well acquainted with your behind when you’re on watch, causing, what we refer to as, ‘the cork effect’.

(2) Seasickness – the toughest of us will become seasick. After corkscrewing down unrelenting waves for forty-eight hours, your tummy will give up all hope of hanging onto to anything. Most of us unwillingly feed the fish at some point. It’s a bit like puberty, you just have to get through it. Despite suicidal thoughts during the worst bouts of seasickness, once you have reached the sanctuary of a good anchorage and spent a few days in flat water and able to hug a tree, going back out into lumpy seas suddenly becomes a good idea again. On the plus side, it is a great diet!

(3) Toilet tantrums – at some point most marine toilets will block. If you have not been allocated the repair task – take this advice: leave the boat while it is being fixed. Build-up of pressure while trying to pump it clear will create the most spectacular explosion. Becoming AWOL at this time will help avoid a good dose of (5) arguments.
But let’s do number four first

(4) Landlubbers – your farewell from home will be tearful, exciting and filled with unfulfilled promises from friends and family, who assure you they will keep you up to date on home happenings. After two years you will be grateful for an email once every six months from your bestest buddies, all of which think you spend your entire life sitting on the aft deck sipping G & T.

(5) Arguments – the closest relationship will suffer at times. Falling out with your spouse is inevitable especially when you are woken three and a half minutes before you are due on watch at 3 a.m. Learn to talk about it and laugh, it can get damn lonely otherwise.

(6) Moon-fright – that moon is a crafty bugger. You know it is due up but as you next scan the horizon for boats there is a luminous light that assumes the shape of an approaching aircraft carrier. This will be the moon, strategically cloaked with black cloud to form heart-stopping shapes. However, the moon will become your buddy, especially if dealing with number (5) Arguments.

(7) Cravings – two days into a long haul sail you will desperately desire all those things you haven’t got: roast chicken, ice cream, . . . . .

(8) Spiders – having an abhorrence to the skittering critters my husband assured me that life on board meant no spiders. This seemed reasonable, after all we are away from land a lot of the time. The reality of the situation is that our skin-crawling friends love dark hidey holes on the boat. I am sure we have been responsible for inter-breeding crawly critters from different countries, probably creating a whole new weird and wonderful breed.

(9) Time – boat maintenance is a full time job in addition to washing, cleaning and sourcing supplies. If you are fortunate to momentarily catch up, item (3) which was toilet tantrums – will fill the gaps. At the end of each day you’ll just have time to read a page or two of that book you’ve always wanted to read, before you’re fast asleep.

(10) Fishing – you will fish once per trip. After you have battled and heaved the huge Dolphin fish on board and it has thrashed itself to death, splattering blood over the clean, white cockpit and your battle-weary body, the fishing gear will gather salt in the Lazarette for the rest of the journey. By the next trip, you will have forgotten all about this sticky mess and you will merrily break out the fishing lines once again.

(11) Sinking – on your watch, typically in the graveyard hours, you’ll do a routine check of the bilge for the last time before the welcome warmth of bed – and the bilge will be full of water. Instantaneously you are wide-awake and have no problem in screeching at your partner who is obviously having their best ever sleep. Turning the mains off is not an option and two hours later you will find the problem is something as simple as lack of grease in the stern gland. Finally, you’ll crawl into bed and the stampeding adrenaline will keep you awake until twenty minutes before you are due back on watch.

(12) Plip-plop – you will lose something overboard. Deal with it, it is gone.

(13) Fitness – sailing will not make you super fit. Although you do become trim, see (2) seasickness.

(14) Turning back – face facts that the storm you can no longer punch into has beaten you. It is not a failure to turn back, it is common sense and above all the boat’s and your safety.

(15) On a long passage – if you are like us (without a fridge), then once the fresh food has all gone you will need to resort to tinned food. After a week all tinned food will taste the same with that unmistakable metallic flavour.

(16) Dust will collect with intensity, especially in those tiny, ‘boat shape’, awkward places.

(17) Company – your partner is only ten feet away sleeping below, at that time when you are on watch, it is the same as single-handing. It can be lonely – maybe a good thing if dealing with seasickness, toilet tantrums, or arguments!

(18) Plunging – on moonless nights you plunge into thick darkness, with peripheral vision coming to a shocking end at the bow of your boat. It’s best not to dwell on this too much.

(19) Meteorites – the dark nights are abundant with shooting stars, but watch for the big ones. Without notice, a spotlight will beam down on you while you sit quietly in the cockpit minding your own business. You’ll imagine a huge ship bearing down on you before you realise it’s just an enormous, bright meteorite. This will cause you to lose another few million heartbeats.

(20) Advice – some will be good and some, well, let’s just say, will be totally fictitious. You will meet some gold medal-winning know-it-alls. For example this article: is it fact or fiction? The best way is to get out there and find out for yourself!

Leave a Reply