I have written this for those who want to live afloat… not on a stationary boat, but in motion as an alternative lifestyle.
Firstly one has to weigh up the positives and negatives, but let’s start with the first question…
“Why would you want to?”
Many people have this idea of travelling on a bright blue sea with out a care in the world, where everybody they meet is honest and helpful. Well, it can be like that, but it’s very unlikely. Many people you meet will be out to make money from you in any way possible, especially the Marinas that are sprouting up like rotten mushrooms all over the so-called ‘civilised world’. Make no mistake about it, if you are inexperienced, this life could destroy your finances very quickly. I can’t tell you how close I came and how many people I have seen ruined and quickly returning back to the safety of the Welfare state and land based living.
I’m not trying to put a dampener on it, just preparing you for a tough baptism. You must learn the cheapest way to live and develop a savvy for dealing with the ‘money takers’ who make their living from gullible boat owners. An experienced good friend once told me… “Never, ever part with money.”
Of course, I thought he was being a little extreme, but now I know what he means. You will learn the short cuts if you survive the first few years/thousand nautical miles. But most folk will be back on the sofa by then, trust me. Oh yes, and then there are the winters…
So if you are still reading, I guess you will have decided to carry on with ‘the dream’. Maybe you think I’m full of shit. Well just carry on and see… you’ll learn! If you can develop some humility and learn from those who have done it without arguing and becoming resentful, this life can be incredibly rewarding with insights into a full type of living that few people in the modern world can even begin to understand. And I’m not talking about paper ‘Yachtmasters’ with all their certificates… I’m talking about sea miles, and wintering in cold European towns. I’m talking about knowing how to live off your anchor, to save money for food and heating. I’m talking about learning a language because you’ll starve if you don’t… In short I’m talking about becoming a truthful, humble, capable human being.
This life can either make you or break you.
So… let’s get positive. What kind of life afloat do you want? If you want to go to sea you have to make the choice between pure sailing boat, motor-sailer, or motor cruiser. I won’t go into this too much, but it is a crucially important factor, to select the correct type of vessel. My own boat ‘Free’ is a motorsailer with a big powerful diesel engine for rough weather, big tides and currents, and over all manoeuvrability. She is wide for seaworthiness and shallow enough to go far inland if I need to. Her mast can fold down so that I can go through Europe with great flexibility. She sails well enough with the wind from the side and behind but not brilliantly when beating to windward, hence the need for a powerful engine to lend a helping hand.
If you choose a thoroughbred sailing boat you will get a minute engine and very poor space to live (unless you are a millionaire of course). However, you will sail vast distances free from diesel costs. ‘Free’ has loads of good headroom down below and is easy to live on. Try living on a pure sailing boat in the winter…. Hmmm. Okay in the Caribbean maybe, but in the North… I don’t think so.
So choose your vessel carefully and don’t be afraid to ask for advice. If you are humble, folk will help you, but if you are arrogant you’ll end up with what you think you should have and will probably hate it after a few months.
There’s nothing wrong at all with a pure motor cruiser and they can be good value for money, but choose something with two engines, in case one breaks down, and remember the cost of diesel… horrendous!
And while discussing motor cruisers, there are all sorts of alternatives on this theme, including the old narrowboats on the canals. Great fun and wonderful live-aboards
BUT MAKE SURE YOU GET A SURVEY OR YOU COULD LOSE A LOT OF MONEY AND IT MAY RUIN YOUR LIFE!!!
There… I couldn’t be clearer! However, there are still people who are stupid enough not to bother.
Finally, what material should you choose? Most people have strong views on this. Steel is strong but rusts from the inside and is heavier under sail. It all depends on the type of steel and its construction. Wood is beautiful and lovely under sail, but you’ll probably spend longer with it out of the water than in… and be prepared to work hard! A well built Ferro-concrete hull is possibly the best and strongest material you can buy, but a bad one? Write your Will! Finally there is aluminium, which is almost maintenance free and won’t rust, unless you touch another steel boat or object. Then sit back and watch it dissolve in front of your eyes (anodic reaction). I jest you not.
My own choice is GRP (fibreglass) It requires far less maintenance, is lighter and easier to repair, but there is the dreaded osmosis, when the hull can become impregnated with moisture and it becomes locked into the cellular structure.
My advice on this matter would be, if a boat calls to you and the survey is good… go for it, regardless of the material.
That is the end of the first part of living afloat. Dealing with the more functional practical issues. The second part concerns the emotional trials, tribulations and joys of living afloat.