Living On a Sailboat – Part 1

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Living on a sailboat is an absolute dream come true. It is an incredible way to travel and see new places...but it’s not always sunshine and rainbows.

“We choose to do these things not because they are easy…but because they are hard” – John F. Kennedy

I’ve lived on a sailboat for almost two and a half years as of today (February 5, 2020). My first sailboat home was my 30ft Newport, Permanent Waves (PW) which I lived on in Lake Union – Seattle. When I bought PW, I knew it would be a challenge living and staying organized in such a small confined space with my cat, but it was the challenge that excited me.

Before PW I was living in a one-bedroom apartment with a full bathroom and laundry on site (oh the convenience of living on land). I had multiple closets, and ample storage space for all of my outdoor equipment (camping, hiking, snowboarding, etc), numerous knickknacks, photos, and furniture. At that time in my life I really did consider myself to be pretty minimalist. I mean, I’m not a woman that really “enjoys” shopping so I didn’t think I had a ton of clothes. I’m much more of a sneaker/flip flops gal so shoes really weren’t big on my love list either. So in my mind, I was in pretty good shape to move onto a tiny boat without having to get rid of much…boy was I wrong!

Permanent Waves pictured from the cockpit looking below deck.

From the start, I knew all of the furniture had to go, so I sold most of it. Which, if you’ve ever sold anything on Craigslist or Offer Up, you know it can be more hassle than it’s worth in most cases. People try to talk you down in price, and you end up spending way more time than you wanted, to basically give away the things that you cared for. A frustrating, but necessary part of a sailors life, because dressers and area rugs don’t really fit well on sailboats…

One thing I knew I would need to do was get a storage unit for the things that I wasn’t ready to part with, and couldn’t bring on the boat. So I rented a very small storage unit and kept all of my outdoor equipment and other personal effects. The unit was about a mile from the marina so it was convenient to pop in and out of if I ever needed anything. I also used the storage unit as a way to rotate my clothing for the different seasons. This was a huge revelation once I actually got all of my clothing and shoes on the boat.

Actually “moving in” to the boat was an incredibly eye opening experience for me. I quickly realized that I had WAY too much and I needed to reevaluate my collection of “things”. The first thing I did was separate my clothing based on seasonal needs. For example, I moved on to the boat in August. August in Seattle is the hottest month so all of my winter clothes, rain jackets, snow boots and most of my sweatshirts, all went to the storage unit in well-organized storage bags. Next, I went through all of my clothing and made two piles, one for Goodwill and one for things I was keeping. At the end of this exercise, I had multiple garbage bags full of clothing, shoes, hats and knickknacks that I was willing to part with.

Over the course of the past two and a half years I have repeated this exercise multiple times, and every time I’m always so shocked as to how much “stuff” I have and how much of it I really don’t need. Becoming a “minimalist” is actually quite liberating. Of course, there are times that I start to look for that ONE T-shirt that would just feel right that day only to remember that I donated it months ago. There is always a little sadness to follow but it’s always short lived and nowadays, I usually grab one of my partners shirts to supplement…Guys shirts are always so comfy!

Permanent Waves pictured from below, looking at the galley, aft berth, couch and table.

Once my initial move in was complete, I started to really get into the flow of living on a boat. Cooking was the first big learning curve for me. I went from having a four-burner gas stove, full refrigerator, microwave, toaster, oven, freezer (oh how I miss that big freezer), multiple pots, pans, utensils, and a large pantry to…a two-burner denatured alcohol stove that I had to fill before every use, a very tiny top loading fridge with no freezer, and a tiny toaster oven. I had very little storage space for a pantry so I had to get creative and use stackable containers, and storage bags for food.

As I type this, I’m laughing because I remember myself at that time being completely intimidated by all of this and in all honesty, I ate out A LOT those first couple of months. But then I got my trusty MAGMA BBQ and started to feel empowered by my tiny situation. I am very proud to say that I have really learned to love cooking, especially on the boat, but I will admit, every meal is a puzzle. I think about meal prep ahead of cooking, strategize on how I’m going to cook, what steps I need to take, and the order in which I need to prepare things so that it all gets done at the right time. Things you can take for granted when you have more space. It’s definitely not easy and it does take time to learn but, in my experience, it has made me a more patient person and a much better cook!

My tiny denatured alcohol stove.

Another major issue that liveaboard sailors have to deal with is mold. Boats by nature are damp environments, without much circulation, and will always have the threat of mold. However, there are ways of getting ahead of mold and combating it. One of the biggest things that we’ve done was we put HyperVent under our bed cushions to allow air flow and prevent moisture buildup. It’s a bit pricey but in my opinion, it is 100% worth it. We have not had one spot of mold under our bed in over three years. For the bathrooms, I use a bleach gel pen on all of the molding. I put it on, leave it for about an hour and then go back over it with a wet paper towel. This will kill any mold bacteria and help to prevent it for a while. I keep an eye on it and repeat this process as often as needed.

Pro Tip: white vinegar is your best friend on a boat! We use it for so many things including mold clean up and prevention. You can put it in a spray bottle and spray it into smaller cubbies or areas you can’t really get to. I spray it and wipe down surfaces all over the boat. White vinegar can also be used to help with the bad smells in the head (aka toilette), sink drains, fish smells on cutting boards, and cleaning stainless steel!

HyperVent under our bed cushions.

Up next on Part 2 – Tools, toilets, water, solar, consumption, fishing, grocery shopping, and… dealing with bugs!

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