So are you still here?
Now we come to the most important part of living afloat… The psychology.
If you are with someone else then it’ll be either make or break. You could even save years of codependent hell! However, if you are alone there can be a fine line between enlightened bliss and the lunatic asylum. I have teetered at both ends of the spectrum and somehow managed to stick out the hard times. My own worst was being impounded on Ithaca by the Greek Coast Guard after I managed to put my own boat on a reef due to a moment of negligence.
Laughing? Don’t get too cocky, at least I’m still alive…
I was stuck for three weeks in one of the hottest Greek summers for sixty years with the smell of human excrement from the harbour and the constant roaring and thudding of discos until five in the morning. The nightmare only ended when a compassionate English surveyor heard of my plight and produced a bogus letter from the Marine and Coastguard Agency. It’s too complicated to elaborate here, but it’s just a flavour of what can happen and we won’t even get to Somali Pirates!
At the other end of the spectrum, there was anchoring in a tiny sapphire blue bay in the Dodecanese Islands, alone for three days with the bliss of true silence and wearing clothes just a memory. Yes anything can happen and one must be receptive to both and learn to cultivate mental strength and a stoical inner toughness.
The biggest test for the potential live aboard sailor is Winter. I must admit to being completely unprepared for my first one, thinking that the Mediterranean would be easy compared with Northern Europe. Well it is warmer, but it is the time factor… five or six months of being stuck in the same place, usually surrounded by empty white plastic yachts with owners who visit them just for the summer months. There’s nothing more lonely than the sound a tinkling halyards and miles of empty boats. One must have some objective, if not employed in some capacity. A hobby, a local interest, and if you are fortunate either somewhere to escape from your partner, or meet other folk.
In Northern Europe, it is the cold that seeps into your soul and every sinew. The domestics in your boat are vital and selecting the correct heating is paramount. I prefer a solid fuel burner so you can forage for off cuts and waste. I once spent a winter in Colchester, heating and cooking on my wood burner from free wood provided by some wonderful Polish guys who ran a recycling factory near the quayside.
Diesel is okay but incredibly expensive; however, if you want to go down that path you have choices. A drip feed gravity type, for economic heating, i.e. a ‘Reflecks’ or ‘Heatpol’ (See my post on ‘Harry’) or the more expensive ‘Eberspacher’ which blows hot air around your boat, until it breaks down, which they do seem to do. Mine ended up in Marmaris Bay in five metres of water. They are complicated and have many working parts which always seem to wait until the coldest moment to let you down… and they are expensive to run, unless your boat is very well insulated and you can effectively use the thermostat. I’m not a fan!
There are other alternatives, too. Gas, if it’s a really good system, but remember that propane and butane are heavier than air and sink, so if you have a leak it will accumulate over time until one day a naked flame will blow you up. I kid you not.
Due to the horrendous cost of liquid fuels now, if I have shore power and it is normal domestic rates (unlikely in most marinas) it can be cheaper to run electric heaters. Cheap, clean and if your boat is well insulated, an oil-filled radiator with a thermostat is wonderful. Just remember though, when you are on the move, especially in Spring and Autumn, you must have an independent system because you can’t be guaranteed of shore power. You really don’t want to wake up damp and cold, trust me!
Well if you’re still here then I haven’t scared you away, which was never my intention then I can honestly say the life can be wonderful and a little foray back to the big city or a friend’s house for a short while, sometimes reminds you how satisfying it can be. It is strange how the life slowly absorbs you until realising that you would rather not be anywhere else.
I remember sailing south through the Ijsselmeer in October, towards Urk from Lemmer and thinking just how lucky I was to have the whole sky to myself. Not another boat in sight, just me and the sea, with the wind playing a sailor’s song…