First and foremost I should say that I do not consider myself an Expert in sailing or long term cruising. In fact I would place myself on the Dreyfus Model between an Advanced Beginner and Competent with a personality for self-reflection. I use this blog as an outlet for that self-reflection and to share my thoughts, ideas and lessons learned. Bare with me on this first post as it may be longer than later Lessons from Cruising as I give some back story.
I'm setting out on a few months in the Caribbean with Captains Lars & Travis on Sea Vessel Bueller. These awesome guys dropped their corporate jobs and bought a boat they plan on traveling in from Miami to the Mediterranean. I’m joining for a few months of their year long trip to cut my teeth on long term cruising, practice my Spanish, explore islands, practice mindfulness, and of course kick it with the guys. After five days aboard, a few things have shaken me out of my routine and these experiences can be distilled down to useful thought nuggets.
At a high level, a boat is a small place, everything aboard needs a purpose & the crew must do their part to keep things in their place doing their task efficiently.
Moreover, this 38ft Beneteau is our home, vehicle, storm shelter, playground, power generator, fishing deck and storage unit all rolled into one. With so many jobs, systems interlock and interconnect in very creative ways to make room for each other. For that reason, there’s little room for waste on a boat. Of course, supplies and creature comforts make it on board, a few considerations come to mind when it comes to buying, using, and disposing:
Can it get to the boat? In a world of with Amazon Prime and fast internet downloads, we don’t need to think of all the magic involved in getting things to our doorstep or downloaded in one click. But, like any Miata driver shopping at Ikea can tell you, sometimes what you’re looking for just won’t fit in the trunk! Pulling the boat up to a dock is usually the easiest for large or hard to transport items like engine parts or filling up a full tank of diesel but it can be expensive being charged by the foot to sit at a plank of wood extending into the water. More often, we are anchored off shore with only a dingy or our own swimming strength to bring us ashore. If we’re on the dingy, items need to fit in a raft and be capable of getting a little wet or be stored in a dry bag. If I’m swimming, the most I can bring with me is a dry bag tied by a rope around my chest or ankle that’s a bit more at risk of water damage.
The digital age has made shopping habits even more on-demand. A whole world’s worth of goods are at your finger tips in the United States and even international companies are happy to ship across the ocean to fulfill your need for cat posters or vintage Bollywood VHS tapes. Not true for being on a boat in the Island Nation of the Bahamas where things are taxed 45% of their value to enter the country and everything comes in via small plane or freighter. So the terabyte hard drive I’m wishing I had brought for the go pro videos and the Sriracha sauce i’m craving will have to wait for now.
Even digital subscriptions change when overseas. The most obvious being that my cell phone is limping on a few megabytes of international roaming data or the occasional WiFi traded for the price of a beer at the Exumas Yacht Club. I cancelled most of my other subscriptions like Netflix, Hulu, and Audible since international copywrite laws change what content is available. One thing I didn’t expect was that my downloaded content from Spotify will expire after a month of not checking in with the app after one month from the US.
The big lesson learned here is considering where something is coming from, how it’s getting to where you need it, and once aboard assuring it has a place to do it’s designed task efficiently and has a safe storage place when not in use.
Now that I’m in a more utilitarian environment, I think of the tools around me as having an efficient way to use them and keep them working happy longer. The kitchen comes to mind as an example. Knives should stay sharp and clean since more injuries are caused by overworking a dull knife. Also they need to be stowed with a sheath on, there are enough places to get hurt while sailing and one of the lamest ones is cutting yourself while digging for a spoon for your cereal.
This concentration on details comes more from the complex systems on the boat such as the diesel motor, water and plumbing, sailing lines and sheets, and the electronics/radio which can need periodic supervision to assure they are in tip top shape.
Another thing I find myself thinking is “in what way can I use this item that will cause less waste”. Using battery powered electronics with rechargeable batteries is better than disposable, using the free sun baking our solar panels to recharge the power plant is better than firing up the motor or generator which use costly diesel. Use cloth towels to clean up rather than paper since they have less waste and can be reused. All these little things can add up to more self sufficiency on the water.
At a Point of Failure or Disposal
Creativity really soars when items are repurposed or repaired on board rather than throwing them out. Detaching from the disposable life style on land opens all sorts of imaginative juices when everyday items are viewed on what they could be instead of what that currently are.
Inevitably, some things can’t be repurposed and will need to be thrown out. Is there a low cost (or even beneficial) way to dispose of the waste that accumulates on the boat? Some places charge you to throw out a bag of trash, costing by weight or by size. containers and cans should be crushed down to pack more into less space. And food scraps can be used to chum the water for smaller fish to draw in larger and tastier predator fish which we can catch and eat!
Environmental impact of our waste is also considered. Releasing your sewage storage tanks is against the rules in most places unless miles off shore. We take careful consideration to limit any littering by securing our garbage until we are at port and can dispose of it. And if other people’s trash is in reach, we might as well pay it forward and collect it to keep the environment clean.
Wrapping Things Up
In contrast, a year ago, my life on land seems much less cognizant of the functionality of the possessions. I can remember a moment of clarity on my first night setting out on a two month trip in South America. I threw my pack down on my Bogata hostel bunk and realized that everything I needed for the next sixty days was contained within those 60 liters of space. Many of the extra possessions I had been dragging along with me along every move from Stillwater, OK to Austin, TX, to Mountain View, San Jose, then Berkeley, CA had mostly been a waste of space and money.
Living on a boat presents a special, and very fun, challenge of keeping only the necessary and discarding responsibly the useless. A lesson that can be applied to other areas such as finances, diet, and even daily distractions.