Life Onboard “What do you do all day?”

“What do you do all day?”

It’s one of those questions that’s hard to answer.

It’s tricky to know how to respond because no two days are the same, whether in port or at sea.

Eventful, is the only recurring theme. We are never bored. In fact, one boring day would be a nice balm for our busy boatie bodies. Wealthy landlubbers or, indeed, rich boat owners who have vast vaults of money to pay someone to take care of their vessel, may well ask.

“What do we do all day?”

 For the majority of us, living on a boat is a fulltime job.

Cruising is not a lazy lifestyle if you want to be successful at it.

Today, for example, I had no fixed plans; Noel was looking forward to working with the Aries wind vane. If I wake up in the mood, I usually spend the first hour or two writing. The related photo sourcing, crediting, and captioning takes a lot of time, too. I try to keep on top of the receipts, separating boat costs with writing costs for tax purposes. Preventing plagues of paperwork helps keep stress at bay and therefore a happy boat.

During the Aries work and writing work, a fellow cruiser rowed over to say ‘hi’ and could he borrow a tool. He sat with us for thirty minutes while we put the sailing world to rights. He noticed the pretty birds perched on our pulpit. I noticed the copious plops of poo they left.

After a cuppa, I dug out a bucket, tied it on to the stanchions, hauled up salty water, and washed the offending material away. The furled ropes left on the stanchions had also been selected as a preferred toilet by the birds, so after washing them with salty water, I then carefully rinsed the salt off with fresh.

I’ve seen wire ties sticking up on top of stanchions to keep birds at bay, but you need a lot. I thought I’d try Vaseline. Smearing a thin layer on the top bar, I caught more than the odd glance in my direction from others on anchor. Within half an hour a couple of my feathered friends slipped and slid on my trap, but still stayed and pooped. I added more Vaseline in little peaks. Two hours later, not a feather or dropping materialised. I must remember to wipe it off before we move tomorrow.

I had been contemplating a small job for a while and finally, it was time to do, and not think. In the saloon floor there is a small gap around the mast. This gap is a magnet for anything dropped. The deep cavern below the floorboards creates an interesting retrieval challenge. So, I found some old rope with appropriate diameter to fill the gap.

whipping the ends of a line
whipping the ends of a line

Rummaging through the f’ward storage locker took some time and effort. I found the ideal piece, messed around on my knees a while to achieve the right length, then cut the critter. I whipped the rope at the desired length prior to cutting it.

Our makeshift hot knife works well, it’s just a sharp paint scraper heated up with the flame from a small gas cylinder. Next, I sewed it in place, around the mast, which was far less demanding than I thought.

Throughout the morning, Noel merrily worked at adapting our emergency steering to connect up to the Aries. Between our jobs, Noel and I call on each other to have conversations such as ‘hold that’ ‘what do you think about this?’ and ‘how about that?’

Homemade hot knife for cutting line
Homemade hot knife for cutting line

Noel’s job was particularly complex; involving stairs, hydraulic bypasses, hatches, and life-rafts, above and beyond the fixtures and fittings of the equipment itself. While he was in the middle of a particularly gnarly head-scratcher, I came up with the idea of removing the pins from the hinges of the hatch to lift it over the emergency tiller stock, which simplified Noel’s original idea. Noel had already helped me prior to this by saying it was better to make something to stop stuff falling down the hole next to the mast in the first place, rather than catch the falling items, which was my initial idea.

We are both lucky that we can listen to each other, take different ideas on board, casting our own out or amending them without worrying. I think it’s called brainstorming; we are good at this, both not shy of outrageous ideas. They can be a bit quirky, though, but sometimes a real gem shines through. Either way, we are often giggling.

After grappling with the sewing job under the table, while perched on my knees, I needed an upright job.

Rope/line around the bottom of the mast
Rope/line around the bottom of the mast

In the galley, the large cardboard boxes of rice and powdered milk needed transferring into sturdy plastic containers.

I washed the containers thoroughly and dried them in the sun. A few drops of vanilla essence removes any lingering smells. Using an enormous and clumsy funnel, the dry ingredients were easily poured in. At sea, these foods are now easily accessible and free of moisture.

I am a messy person, if I use paint or sicoflex at the bow, I’ll find it on the stern later and often on my pillow. So playing with flour meant the galley looked like it has a light dusting of snow. Sweeping the floor is a daily event and I am constantly astonished at the dust collected in the dustpan. Fear of little doodads surreptitiously installing themselves in the bilge pumps motivates frequent use of the broom.

The last job for me today was some adjustments to the newly made dinghy cover. It required some touch-up stitching and relocation of Velcro. Taking it off and putting it back on takes longer than the job itself. Noel has called the Police Dock to give them twenty-four hours’ notice of our intended move tomorrow. There are strict limits to the length of stay at anchor in San Diego, and rules of notification.

Throughout the day we’ve monitored power levels and turned equipment on/off to maintain our battery levels at over 75%. It’s been sunny, so there is plenty of power via the panels. The small breeze wasn’t enough to turn wind generators. In between these tasks, Noel and I take pictures for this article. In the evening. I download the pictures and file them in appropriate files so they can be found easily. Noel is cooking dinner.

The day is stitched together with everyday chores, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, washing up (shared by us both, whoever feels the more inclined) cleaning, dusting, and putting things away – we’re always ready to move in an emergency.

Cleaning the trolley wheels will be a job for another day. The trolley works hard carrying water jerry jugs. It needs a spray of WD40.

On my list is fitting the metal grates in the bilges to stop debris falling into the very lowest and difficult to reach part of the bilge. The canvas shade needs some work. That may be for tomorrow. However, the anchorage we are moving to has Internet access. So some time will be spent on catching up with friends and family. Noel is keen to start on the deck wash pump, the latest piece of equipment to install onboard.

There is always something to fix, maintain, improve, or add on. Once the boat is running smoothly, we do one main job a day, around the day-to-day chores. Then occasionally we can have a day off for sightseeing or simply enjoying swinging on anchor.

Life on board is like occupational therapy; as long as you accept it as such it is mostly smooth sailing. You still have to live with your partner, and more pertinent but often not considered – you still have to live with yourself.

Additional note: the following day after writing this article (ie tomorrow) became filled with a joint effort at an electrical job and laundry; maybe I’ll get into that bilge job during the next tomorrow!

If you’d like to look at the pictures that accompany this article, (and read the story) go to and click on the blog tab.

What is your life like onboard?

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