Here we are 3 months into living aboard a sailboat cruising the Bahamas and what have we learnt so far?
Aside from learning that Ben’s baseball hat flies off way too easily in the wind and that Abi has been using a can opener wrong her whole life, we’re actually learning some rather important things!
Lesson 1: You can’t always rely on electronics.
Our autopilot seems to have a bit of a wibble at times. We first discovered this on our voyage from Florida. After we’d found our way out of the channel and into the open Atlantic we set our course and popped on the autopilot. In theory Alan the Autopilot should have kept us on the same heading until we told him otherwise. Reality…the autopilots compass went from being accurate, to being out by about 180 degrees. As a result, and totally unexpected to us, it suddenly turned the boat sharply starboard to put us on what it thought was the correct course (facing the opposite way)! Not the kind of surprise we wanted when it was 5am, pitch black and we were on our first long voyage. Naughty Alan. Thankfully there were no other vessels nearby and we were within easy reach of the helm.
Lesson 2: Cruisers generosity knows no bounds.
All the cruisers we’ve met have been so generous. A couple of days before we were due to leave one area of islands for another we realised we’d overlooked the fact we didn’t have the correct maps/charts for our destination. We’d tried all the shops in Hope Town and no one had the correct charts in stock. This meant we were going to miss the weather window for the crossing as we would have to backtrack to a larger town to buy the charts. We put a request out on the VHF to local cruisers for a new or used chart and within an hour there was a knock at our hull and someone donated their old charts to us! Considering they cost $70 new we were extremely thankful.
This is just one of many examples of how great cruisers are. The people we’ve met have been so friendly, helpful and generous with their advice and their time also. It’s refreshing and greatly appreciated as we’re just starting out in this cruising world.
Lesson 3: Don’t always trust the weather forecast.
Although the forecasters do their best to predict the upcoming conditions sometimes Mother Nature has a trick up her sleeve. We’ve promptly learnt to take all eventualities into consideration, especially when anchoring. Even when the forecast says the wind will continue to blow from south, don’t take that as a fact. There’s a chance it could change direction and blow you onto the shore if you anchor too close. When this happened to us recently we were enjoying a relaxed evening prior to a 10 hour crossing from the Abacos to Eleuthera. We’d had dinner and went out on deck with our torches to have a look at the underwater world. At the bow the water was reasonably deep and the fish darted off as we shone our torches down. When we did the same at the stern we realised the water looked suspiciously shallow, switching on the depth sounder confirmed this. We were aground. The wind had unexpectedly spun our stern around onto the shallower water by the shore. The rudder was wedged in the sand and the steering wheel twisting and turning slightly with each light wave. It was night-time and we only had the light of the moon to see but we needed to act fast as the tide was still going down. We lifted the anchor and used the boats engine to try and get us off. No joy. In a final attempt we took the dinghy down off the davits, tied a line from the bow to the dinghy and used the power of the dinghy to help tow us. The combination of both engines was enough to slowly pull us off and into deeper water. Then we just had to re anchor…if only it was that simple. The deeper water’s seabed was covered in weeds so the anchor wouldn’t set. After about 2 hours and multiple attempts we finally managed to get the anchor to set, but it was in an area with less protection from the Atlantic waves so our nights sleep was rather disrupted. Thankfully our long sail the next day was far more successful.
Another prime example of not being able to trust the forecast was on our crossing from Florida to the Bahamas. You can read about it here, or watch our vlog here.
Lesson 4: Living on a yacht in paradise isn’t as relaxing as you might think.
Days spent in a hammock reading a novel from start to finish, sunbathing on the white beaches without a care in the world, learning a new skill, getting an all over tan. This is what Abi expected most of our time would be spent doing….wrong!
Whilst all of these things do happen, they’re for a very small amount of the day and only once the sailing/yachts needs have been met. A lot of our time is spent looking at our charts, deciding where to go, planning routes, checking the weather, preparing the boat and the most time consuming aspect, the never ending maintenance and repairs to on board systems.
Constant consideration has to be given to the simple facts that there’s not endless amounts of water from the taps, there’s a limited supply of electricity from the sockets, and the gas canister will run out when you’re midway through cooking dinner.
We also have to mention the general day to day tasks that take a lot longer when you’re on board a boat
Cooking for example – we’ve lost count of how many times we’ve got frustrated wondering why we can’t light the stove, only to remember we haven’t switched off the gas safety valve on the control panel.
Washing up – Move over Zanussi, we’re the dishwashers now! Washing up by hand is time consuming and with limited water on board it a case of using as little H2O as possible, whilst still managing to wash away the dirt. Tap on, tap off. Tap on, tap off…
Showering – Abi’s established it takes a good half an hour to have a proper head to toe shower including washing her hair. Let us explain, we have two handheld showers on board, one located in the bathroom, one located outside in the cockpit. In the small bathroom there’s not enough room to swing a cat, but you can just about have a shower whilst gaining a few bruises to your elbows. The one in the cockpit offers plenty of space, just not much privacy. Abi’s preference for a full shower is in the bathroom, not because of the privacy aspect, but because this one offers hot water (providing we’ve had the engine or generator running that day). Again we have to be super careful with how much water we use… Shower on, shower off. Shower on…you get the idea!
Freezer – we’re lucky enough to have a small freezer on board, but it must be defrosted every couple of weeks which takes around an hour.
Sometimes we wonder where the day’s gone and we realise we’ve just been “living” and doing daily chores and they just happen to take a long time.
Lesson 4: Patience is a virtue and flexibility a necessity.
Whether we’re waiting for the weather, waiting for the tide or waiting for a fish to bite our lure we have to practice the art of being patient. If we plan to be at a set location by a set date you can almost guarantee the weather won’t allow us to make the journey there. The same goes if we want to stay in a lovely anchorage for another day, the weather may just force us to move on.
If we’re relying on catching a fish for dinner, that day our lure just may not take the fishes fancy. We have to be flexible with our plans, both on a daily basis and longer term.
Lesson 5: Organisation is key.
Ultimately our life is being lived in a 42ft floating box. That’s a very small home and not a lot of space for our belongings. Organisation is definitely key.
Everything has it’s set place amongst the storage locations on the boat. The food in the fridge is sectioned into various tubs and containers depending on freshness, the wet weather gear is stored in an easily accessible location in case of a sudden squall and the spare parts and tools have been sorted into labelled bags and tubs.
We owe a lot of thanks to the previous owners who had set up most of this planning….without it we’d be extremely stressed at times!
Talking of organisation…. food and rationing plays a big part in this too. Some of the areas we sail in are uninhabited and therefore there are no facilities. We can’t pop to the local shop to pick up more food, drink or supplies. Before we head to the more remote places we stock up on food, both chilled and dry goods, and make sure we have enough supplies to see us through. Abi’s learnt to bake bread and cakes too in order to make us more self sufficient.
Our water maker is a fantastic feature and makes life a lot easier. It magically turns salty sea water into potable water! We just have to remember to fire it up every few days to fill our tanks.
All we need now is a cow and a few chickens on board and we’ll be sorted!
If you’re thinking about flipping your life around and living aboard a yacht I would make sure you do plenty of research and ask yourself a few questions.
- Can you manage without having a daily shower?
- Can you cope with your plans being ruled by the weather?
- Do you have the patience required?
- Does living in a very small and basic “home” appeal to you?
- Is your relationship with your crew mate strong enough?
And that’s just the absolute basics of the lifestyle, then you have the actual sailing aspect to consider.
- Are you competent enough?
- Do you have enough knowledge of the workings of a boat and it’s on board features?
- If you find yourself in a squall do you know what to do?
- Can you make the necessary repairs?
In our experience whilst this is the “sailing” life, only a small amount of time is actually spent sailing, but it’s very important for at least one of you on board to know what to do, how to do it and when to do it.
Ben is the skipper aboard our boat and has enough experience and training to keep us safe and make educated decisions. When we started out Abi had barely any experience sailing but has been learning as we go. She’s the first to put her hands up to the fact she could have done with more experience and has felt out of her depth, and continues to do so at times.
Whilst a lot of consideration needs to be given as to whether this lifestyle is for you and whether you’re ready for it, ultimately you’ll never be entirely ready. You’ll never know everything you need to know but as long as you’re prepared and realistic about what you’re going to face out there you’ll most likely be just fine.
Many people see the beautiful views enjoyed by liveaboards and are understandably drawn into it. What they don’t see is the effort that went into us getting here in the first place, and the continued efforts made to ensure this experience remains enjoyable for us.
This lifestyle can be stressful at times and it’s most certainly not for everyone. However it’s also fantastic fun, eye opening and incredibly rewarding.