I never quite know how to respond when friends ask me: “What’s it like living on a sailboat for several months at a time?” I can either tell them what I think they want to hear – that we anchor off deserted islands, swim with sharks and turtles and have the odd lobster dinner eaten out under the stars, before spending an hour on the foredeck pointing out the twinkling constellations. But by telling them this I feel I’ve not painted a true picture by describing the cruising challenges as well.
My fiancée Andy believes that people only want to hear about the good times. But I want to give them the truth, like life can be hard living on a boat; especially our boat, which finds daily ways of frustrating us. I’ve taken up a new phrase: ‘Something Always Spoils Paradise’ (SASP).
Take for example our water tanks – having been unused for six months, upon refilling them they were foul-smelling. We put a little bleach in to try and eradicate the problem, but aside from it not smelling quite as bad, I now have bleach-flavoured ice in my drinks and my eyes burn when I wash my face.
Then there’s the shower – we can only use a very small amount of water at a time. Not just to save our water supply, but because the shower tray is only three centimetres deep and doesn’t pump out like it should. So, after each tiny shower we have to get the bucket and pump from the cockpit locker and empty it by hand. This is even more frustrating because there’s so much stuff stored in our locker that it’s an effort finding them while shifting the heavy gas cans in and out. Which gets us back to being hot and sweaty again.
… And it’s too hot on our boat – the weather is above 30°C every day and hardly drops at night. We have no shade and our air-conditioning only works when we can plug into shore power at a marina (not where we want to be). The heat makes us lethargic and irritable, so when the mosquitoes find us at night, we’ve hardly the energy to go swatting around after them.
Anchored half a mile from a beach, we ventured out on our kayaks, ready with our trekking sandals to go and explore the nearby island and climb its little hills. Andy had only stepped 100ft into the shrubbery when he came dashing back, arms flailing, and leapt into his kayak as a swarm of mosquitoes surrounded him. Then they came for me. We both frantically paddled away, in the opposite direction of our boat – we had to kill them all before we could get near the boat again for fear they’d follow us. (SASP).
The stars are amazing, however, venturing out to appreciate them without full-body armour can be a bad idea. Within minutes I have seven throbbing bites, all in the most annoying spots, the worst being in-between my toes, rubbing on my sandals.
We are motoring back to Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, some 45nm away, which means a little over seven hours at our top speed of 6kts. If there was wind, we’d be able to go a little faster, save money on fuel and have a peaceful journey, rather than listening to two outboard engines humming loudly from the stern.
These are just a few things we encounter most days, on top of our general cleaning and maintenance chores. When we’re out of gas we can’t just drive to the gas station – we have to sail there, slowly. Same applies to grocery shopping – which unfortunately is never next door to the gas station and usually means a mile or so walk lugging heavy drinks and food items in the mid-day sun.
Did I mention the nights of no sleep? Where the wind changes and either throws you around so much it’s impossible to sleep, or you’re too scared to sleep for fear the boat will drift away.
Then there’s the little things like not having internet, getting caught in a storm, rain lasting for days and a feeling of claustrophobia.
And now for the good version:
But of course there’s another side to the story. The past few days have been wonderful. We’ve spent six nights away from the mainland. Anchored in calm waters so shallow that we can walk waist-deep to the endless conch we can see just a few feet from our boat.
Blessed with sunshine and blue skies the entire week, we’ve been bottom-fishing for snapper, exploring on our kayaks and reading the entire contents of a small library. After a few days of total relaxation, in complete isolation, I feel as though my soul has been cleansed. The week ends on a high with a bright orange full-moon lighting the evening sky.
Why do I do it? Because I know how rewarding it can be. Because back home I’d be doing the same boring things almost every day, before going to bed without even thinking to gaze at the stars and planets – something I wouldn’t dream of doing on the boat.
It’s true – something will always spoil paradise, but I’ve come to realise that’s how it should be. If life was perfect we wouldn’t appreciate all the good times, and a life without its challenges would, quite frankly, be a dull one. So here’s to several more months of an ‘interesting’ life at sea.