*This is my article for March’s issue of 48 North. You can check out the magazine version here (pg 36)*
For five years before cutting the lines to go cruising, we lived aboard our Valiant 40, Halcyon, in the Pacific Northwest. For five years, she served as our home while we lived life: working hard, sailing often and moving towards our cruising goal. In many ways, living aboard made leaving easier, because we already had a solid working relationship with our boat. We knew her idiosyncrasies, recognized her sounds of distress, and had at least a basic understanding of what lay in the depths of her lockers. As we started moving south, however, our relationship with Halcyon changed more than I thought it would. Cruising, it turns out, is not the same as living aboard.
Take our dishes, for example. When we “just” lived aboard, making dinner looked a lot like making dinner in a house. The olive oil was always where I left it in the cabinet. We kept our ceramic plates and glass wine glasses in the spacious cupboard above the stove (life is too short to drink wine out of plastic). Cruising, however, dinner is a different kind of affair. The olive oil is often hiding behind defensive bottles of soy sauce and vinegars that hurl themselves at me when I open the door. The ceramic plates refuse to stack and instead slide rhythmically from the back of the cupboard to the front. The wine glasses join the symphony with their clinks and clanks.
One reason I fell in love with this boat was for its abundance of storage space, especially in the galley. But as we cruise, I’m rethinking the value of this so-called benefit. I cannot stuff the cupboard full enough to restrict the plates and cups from their concert. Since it’s more feasible than chopping down cupboards, we’re now on the market for light stacking plates and cups, ready to ditch those breakable noisemakers we so valued as live aboards.
Cruising challenges our creativity and resourcefulness daily. Without Fred Meyer down the street or amazon in our pocket, items on board take on new responsibilities regularly. Need a fly swatter? I have a spatula. Don’t have fancy cleaning stuff? That’s what white vinegar is for. Looking for a creative way to hold yourself close to the hull while cleaning the bottom of the boat? How about a plunger. (You can thank Shilshole’s own Al Hughes for that gem.)
In addition to solving the immediate problem at hand, this creativity minimizes waste on board, a bonus when trash has to be schlepped to shore infrequently. We keep stacks of old yogurt containers for epoxy, paint and oil projects; old t-shirts for rags; plastic bags to transport recycling.
Chores take on a whole new meaning while cruising. When we lived aboard at Shilshole, I could accomplish an impressive number of tasks within a 7-minute walk of my boat. This included doing laundry; getting rid of trash, recycle and compost; buying a cup of coffee (hardly a chore); getting dinghy fuel; collecting and sending mail; and taking a shower. I recognize this last one may be a bit outside many definitions of “chores”, but when you don’t have a shower at home, it requires some advanced planning.
Now, bouncing from anchorage to anchorage, it would be a feat of impossible fortune to accomplish that much in a day, much less an hour. Laundry alone can be a day-long affair. In Mazatlan, feeling ambitious, we got rid of trash and filled two 5-gallon jugs with potable water in the same afternoon! Having adjusted expectations, though, on what constitutes a productive day, doing chores is a wonderful way to explore a new place. Instead of observing a seaside town only from its water-view palapas and sandy beaches, we learn what the hardware store carries, where you can buy stamps and which restaurants have fast Internet. We are constantly starting conversations with locals to get directions and ask for recommendations, which always offer new perspectives and fortify our experience.
While cruising is in many ways more complicated than life aboard in Seattle, in others it is much simpler. In Seattle, we maintained a city life that included day jobs in offices, dinners out with friends and weekend excursions. Keeping up required stuff. Stuff requires storage. Storage comes at a premium on a boat! Each day, different clothes were pulled out of lockers, wrinkles were shaken, and shoes piled under the nav station. It took a week for the boat to recover from a 2-day camping trip, damp sleeping bags and dirty travel mugs littering the cockpit. Access to stores ensured we continued to shove more items in the same sized spaces.
Cruising has rearranged our daily belongings. I’ve worn a single pair of shoes for 2 months, and most days I don’t put them on at all. If our cruising friends see me in the same stained shirt 3 days in a row, it doesn’t even register. The PFD’s have taken over the hook previously used for puffy jackets and rain shells. The fishing and snorkeling gear lives on deck almost all the time. Without the powers of amazon at our fingertips, there is no build up of oversized boxes in the companionway. We get creative; we do without.
Halcyon seems comfortable in her new cruising life. She is performing the way she was built to perform. The gear we
spent years researching, dollars buying and hours installing is coming to life and proving its value. The windvane was installed for a year before being engaged for more than an hour’s test. The SSB didn’t even get a true test until we were offshore and away from interference. Our dinghy floats proud, now responsible for our daily transportation instead of its previous life primarily as a rainfall measurement at the dock.
In Seattle, an evening sail required 30 minutes of stowing the week’s stuff, rigging the jib sheets, unplugging from the dock, maybe even making a run to storage to collect the spinnaker. Now, we put away the dishes, start the engine and haul the anchor. Halcyon always seems eager to move again.
Sometimes the constant shifting is a challenge. Our community shifts around us as cruisers follow their own paths; routines falter as we move in and out of towns with amenities; sometimes our boat itself moves more than we’d like in an unprotected anchorage. But curiosity and adventure keep us looking forward and new friends keep us grounded in the present. We tend to agree with Halcyon; this cruising life suits us well.