The Floating Life

Seventy percent of the earth is covered with water, and yet, almost all of the 7+ billion of us here on earth live on the land.

I’ve always been curious about the floating life. So when the intensive 8-day sailing program in which I recently enrolled offered the option to sleep on one of their yachts at night, I jumped at the chance to do so.

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I was assigned to a 31-foot Beneteau named “Coup de Vent.” “Coup,” as the other folks in the harbor call her, has a small bow (forward) berth (sleeping compartment), a larger stern (rear) berth, a small saloon (sitting area), a head (toilet) and a counter, sink, and oven/stove that function as a galley (kitchen – in this case, a very small one). Coup is moored at the South Harbor in Santa Cruz, CA and taken out for sailing adventures a few times a week through Pacific Yachting and Sailing’s boat charter program.

Life aboard Coup was surprisingly comfortable for me. As someone who likes small living spaces, I enjoyed seeing the boundaries of my space all around me.  I slept like a baby in the cocoon-like stern berth, settling into the coziness of the space and the gentle rocking motion of the water. Each evening I did some reading out on the deck of the boat as the sun set, propped up by a pillow and situated where I could watch the comings and goings in the harbor.  Each morning I peeked up through the companionway (the passage between “above board” and “down below”) to see whether or not the fog was in. The harbor is close to a lot of urban amenities, and being able to access them on a bicycle was really convenient.

When you’re sleeping on a boat, your neighbors are pretty interesting – and very close by. Coup is moored quite close to a 70-foot commercial charter boat called the “Chardonnay” that takes tourists out for the quintessential “three-hour tour” (only unlike Gilligan’s, this one includes pizza and wine!) three to four times a day. Needless to say, the parade of Chardonnay’s passengers makes for good people watching. Even more interesting though are the non-human neighbors. A handful of semi-resident seals sunbathe and sleep on the dock in the next set of slips over, and more than once I awoke to the sound of an otter chomping on an urchin out in the main channel.

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I discovered that living on a floating piece of fiberglass requires great attention to detail. Boats have holes in them, such as the one that allows water to flow over and cool the engine and the one that guides water into the toilet to prime the bowl and assist in flushing it. These holes, called “through hulls,” need to be open to be operational, but they need to be closed any other time to avoid a flood in the house. Boats do have electrical systems.  At the dock they can be plugged into shore power in the same way an RV plugs into a campground, but that supply is limited and metered. The simple need to plug in every night and turn on a circuit board to be able to recharge the computer or switch on a reading light or a fresh water pump for the vanity sink made me much more aware of my power usage. Tying up to the dock requires a certain amount of care and finesse as well, and performing that task hastily results in a 2am adventure out to redo the dock lines. If there is slack in the lines, or the boat’s angle relative to the dock is less than ideal, a small amount of current or wind during the night can cause a cacophony of creaking noises guaranteed to wake you from all but the deepest sleep. Checking, and in most instances, retying those lines every night is critical to nocturnal peace.  Really, it’s never a bad idea to survey the site you lay down in for the night – no matter where you are.

Showers are communal at the harbor, with each resident receiving a key to the showerhouse building. There are bathrooms for both residents and the public to use, and in order to conserve space in the onboard heads, it’s best to try to use them whenever possible. Fresh water comes from hoses on the dock or the spigots in the bathroom, and all residents share the parking lot. Given most boats’ limited storage space, possessions aboard need to be kept to a minimum.  Lots of random things end up staying in the car – or eliminated over the long term, I imagine.

All of this sounds like a good recipe for low-impact living, doesn’t it? Plumbing, driveways, and common spaces that are shared. A high level of attention to resource use and organizational systems.  Limited accumulation of unnecessary items. Close living quarters requiring quiet and considerate behavior. With our burgeoning global population, it seems like we could use a little more of this style of living.

The irony, however, is that it’s not all that cheap. In the Santa Cruz Harbor, folks pay about $11/foot for their slip (so a 31’ boat pays $341/month in rental fees). “Liveaboards” have an additional surcharge on top of that, and keys and parking permits have a cost as well. And here’s the real kicker – there is a six to ten year waiting list to rent a slip in the Santa Cruz South Harbor, and to stay on that list you need to pay the harbor $100 per month. Hmm. We might need some more of this style of living, but at that price (which doesn’t even include the cost of the boat!), we may not see it very soon.

 

Still, I’d like to think that the lessons apply equally well to land living. The Tiny House Movement has adopted many of the tenets of the Liveaboard lifestyle without the dangers associated with on-the-water living, and I think they’re doing important work.  I must admit, there’s a little less romance in a tiny house for me, so I’m glad I got to live on water for a week.

 

And I’m wondering if I ought to get on that mailing list right now?  By the time I’m a skilled sailor my slip could be waiting for me….

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