One Month of Living Aboard

About a month ago, my husband and I moved full-time onto our sailboat on Back Creek in Annapolis, Maryland. I’m interested in chronicling what stands out to me now— at the very beginning of our time living aboard in the Chesapeake Bay — and comparing that with what will stand out in the following months, as our time lengthens and the seasons change.

This is our home — a 34' catamaran, a 2003 Gemini 105MC.

Here are things that stand out at the 1-month mark:

(1) Nature, Up Close and Personal.

  • Hello and good-bye, Sun. My new favorite part of the day is watching the sunset with my husband and often timing our dinner so that we eat out on the deck to see the nightly ‘show.’ It reliably generates a feeling of deep gratefulness in me, and I’ve fallen in love with that time of day.

Relatedly, I get up a bit earlier because the sun’s light intrudes. This is a less favorite part of my day. This guy also is invested in us getting up as early as possible to say hi to him:

The dog poking his head into our berth from the main salon.
  • Eyes glued to the weather. It’s great fun to watch storms come in and when they hit by finding a strategic location on the wrap-around porch on our marina. We keep our instrument panel on, so we can see the max windspeed recorded on the anemometer. It’s also important to track the forecast so we know whether we need to cover/close/open the windows from the sun’s heat or rain. Boats aren’t typically as well-insulated as a house — and ours is no exception — so, we’re definitely paying attention to the thermometer and hoping for cool weather (now, in the summer). And of course, if we want to go out on the water, we need the wind, tide and weather forecast. I’m actually an atmospheric scientist, so you’d think I had an advantage with this sort of stuff, but I hated meteorology in grad school and avoided any meteo classes. Big regrets now!
Storm incoming!
  • Duck, duck, bug. We’re docked in Annapolis, so I figured we wouldn’t see that much wildlife at the dock, given the population density. But I’ve been happily suprised. We’ve seen tons of ducks, a couple types of heron, deer, fish, and jellyfish. As it turns out, there’s a decent mosquito population, too. We’ve combatted that with screens in hatches, but I’ve still gotten a good number of bites at the marina or at an anchorage elsewhere in the Chesapeake Bay.
A great blue heron, checking out the situation on D Dock.

(2) A More Active, Adventurous Lifestyle.

There are running clubs in DC, where we are moving from, as well as countless yoga/barre/pilates classes. And hiking trails not too, too far from the city center. Excercise options abound. But those things just didn’t appeal to me greatly. And I knew it wouldn’t when we moved there. So I’m loving being able to stand-up paddleboard out my ‘front door,’ jogging on the little wooded-hiking trails nearby or at Quiet Waters Park, or biking around Chinks Point.

Can’t quite stand up paddleboard with the dog on board yet.

And of course, we go out sailing more, actually living on a boat. Being able to push off from the tee-dock on a Friday afternoon after work to sail up to the Magothy River, throw down the anchor and jump in the water for a swim is the most fun excercise I can get.

Okay, this really doesn’t relate to physical activity — kind of the opposite. This is “The Point Crab House” on the Magothy River. It’s delicious and the setting is beautiful. At least we rowed to it in our dinghy after a swim.

Then there’s the more practical stuff of hauling groceries from the parking lot to the dock, doing physically-demanding chores around the boat, or walking back and forth from the bathhouse to the dock for bathrooms, showers, and laundry. Sometimes I’m annoyed at any one of those things (especially when the weather is bad), but I also know it makes me a little more active than I normally would be. I wonder how I’ll feel in a few months when it is colder.

(3) Increased Self-Reliance

Learning to sail, in general, makes you learn more self-reliance. When you’re out on a boat, you, your crew, and what you brought with you are all you have to rely on, when an issue inevitably arises requiring a fast response. If an anchor drags, if a system breaks, if the weather shifts, if a boat bigger than yours isn’t following the navigational rules, you have to figure it out. If a line is looking sketchy or the engine is making a funny sound, it’s up to you to notice this before it becomes a potentially life-threatening problem. It’s exhilarating, mentally stimulating, and scary.

When something goes wrong, the solution has to be found somewhere on this boat.

Living on a boat, the additional ‘housekeeping’ tasks have also been building our capability to take care of ourselves. I assume this is probably akin to what most people go through when they first buy a house — we’re picking up our toolbox more, problem-shooting things that break, making our own additions. I’m taking a diesel engine class in the fall, so that we can do more work on the engine ourselves, as well as do better maintenance. I like ‘skilling up’ on something so tangible as making a diesel engine work.

We are also learning who we can call for which system when we can’t fix something ourselves. And that brings me to:

(4) Informality of Boat Culture

Ever since we started sailing just a couple of years ago, I’ve been struck at how informal the business built around boating is. Schedules are consistently loose, it’s typically hard to get solid estimates of when parts will come in and be installed. Phone calls work better than email or online systems. I’ve found that frustrating.

On the flip side, there’s a real positive side to the informal culture built up around the boat community in the area. When we were looking for a liveaboard sailboat to buy a few months ago, we had a boat broker show us a boat and then say, “Well, the key’s right here,” pointing to a locker on the boat. “If you want to come back and see it again, just go ahead.” I’m pretty sure he was only half-joking. In fact, I’m not really sure he was joking at all. Most boats have a spare key that is somewhere pretty easy to find. In Annapolis, a lot of people don’t lock up their dinghies when they tie up temporarily at a dock. There’s really not much point in locking your boat ‘door’ at night, and you don’t need to anyway. And boat folks tend to trust each other, and help each other out. As I am writing this very paragraph, someone just stopped by and asked if they could borrow a grappling hook that they happened to see hanging out in our dinghy (And just brought it back, telling me the backstory. Apparently, it was used to rescue a cart that jumped overboard on the dock). I like that that kind of thing is commonplace amongst people in this community.

(5) Perceptions and Reactions About Living Aboard

I’ve been told by folks at various turns that what we’re doing is impractical, economical, exciting, lonely, adventurous. People have tended to think we have way more or way less money than we actually do. Some launch into explaining why they aren’t able to live on a boat themselves. Some treat it like a test of willpower and want to know how long we think we’ll ‘last’ (or tell us how long they think we’ll last, lol). Most aspects of how any of us live our lives, from jobs to relationship trajectories to child-having+rearing decisions, tend to draw reactions that reflect the personality, anxieties, and hopes of the other individual more than offer true illumination for our own paths. We’re finding the manner in which you house yourself is no exception.

Also commonly, folks want to know the logistics of it all, which is what I found so mysterious a few years ago, when we were first thinking of doing it ourselves — or even a few months ago, when it finally started turning into a pending reality. If you have questions on this, don’t hesitate to ask below.

I find my own conception of living aboard has expanded. Other liveaboards in our marina are older couples and young families. I think one person is single. Some go out on the water frequently, some just like to be docked.

(6) Boats are wet.

Surprising news: Boats are constantly getting wet. And now so am I. Wet-butt dinghy rides after a storm, damp feet from sandals left on the dock, hatches closed too late. So many reasons, so much water. I am surprised at my own ability to acclimitize and acceptance to be wet. We’ll see how I feel about that one in the fall…

My water-hating dog, contemplating all the ways to be wet on this boat.

Interested in other aspects of living aboard? Let me know. Leave a question below.

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