Reflections on Living Aboard for Four Months

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Four months ago, on August 21, 2008, we moved aboard Seas the Day in Ft Lauderdale.  Today is four months later, December 21, 2008.  The journal entry below is long and probably boring to read, but something I wanted to record for future reference.  Since we began this lifestyle with virtually no boating experience, it might be of interest or informative to someone contemplating such a dramatic life change.  (We call it our “Second Adolescence.”)  Also, someone who wonders what it is like to live on a boat might find the notes below interesting.    So far, we have no regrets, although with hindsight, we would have done some things differently.

Chapter 1 - MIstakes We Don’t Want to Repeat

Friends Alice and Gavin have this quote on their website:  “The art of sailing is a series of mistakes you hope not to repeat.” We should probably have that engraved on something so we can read it every day when we make yet another mistake.

Early on, many of the mistakes made were out of our control. Seas the Day was delivered to Ft. Lauderdale and Florida has very specific rules regarding boats which are purchased there but not registered in Florida.  We always wondered about this, as in reality the boat was purchased in April while still in France. By the time it got to Florida, we had owned it for three months.  We heard lots of different opinions on whether the law applied to us, but in the end we didn’t want to take a chance and end up paying a 6% sales tax to Florida.  The big mistake made here was we should have had the boat delivered to Annapolis, where CatCo has another office.  Warranty work could have been done there, and it wouldn’t have cost us any more for the delivery crew to sail Seas the Day to Annapolis.  Another Lagoon 420,  Mirasol, did just that and they are now headed south to the Caribbean.  We had originally planned on going up the East Coast out of the hurricane zone shortly after we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale.  Unfortunately, none of the warranty work had begun when we arrived there, even though Seas the Day had been at the CatCo dock for one month at that time. So, we had to stay at marinas for two full months while crews came to work and then we were under the gun to get out of the state by November 4.  All of the warranty work was not finished by then so we’ll need to stop in Ft. Lauderdale in the spring on our way up the East Coast. 

It’s true that you can find just about anything you need for a boat in Ft. Lauderdale.  You also pay top dollar for that privilege.  So, we spent almost all of the money we had set aside to outfit Seas the Day in Ft. Lauderdale.  We listed most of those purchases on this website to help others who might wonder what they need and possibly where to get it.  That list is not finished, but let’s just say that West Marine recognized us when we entered the door and there were times when we pulled as many as four large carts to the checkout counters.  I guess the good part of that was we were able to find almost everything we needed in that city. 

One huge disappointment was that we wanted a sitting area in the master hull converted to a desk and bookshelves.  We got estimates from two Ft. Lauderdale carpenters and the prices were ridiculous.  One was over $10,000 and one estimate was over $9000.  This is not sold wood, but rather a composite “wood.”  Almost anyone who owns a boat can tell you that if the word “boat” is mentioned, the price goes up exponentially.  The first disappointment was that our broker did not follow through with our request when our boat was still in France.  We asked him to help us purchase the wood directly from the Lagoon suppliers, as it would match the wood in the boat.  The sheets could have been stored in one of the cabins when it was delivered to us.  But this didn’t happen and as a result we were forced to find a suitable material to match the wood already in the boat.  We did find some laminate which was a fairly close match at a store in Ft. Lauderdale, but didn’t purchase it there.  We found it again in Mobile and ordered it.  The cost of the materials and labor to laminate the wood was around $1000.  Those materials are now in one of the guest cabins. Mark will build the office shortly after we arrive in Corpus Christi.

We were in Ft. Lauderdale for two months, until October 23.  Then came the rush to get out of Florida by November 4.  We did that in a two week push.  Because we were under a tight schedule, we sailed in some conditions we will never knowingly repeat.  We experienced strong winds and high seas the first night going south to Miami with waves breaking over the top of the salon.  Again, leaving Key West we had to head directly into strong winds.  We got several days behind waiting for good weather out of Key West, so at that point we had to fly Mark’s son Eric down to Naples to help us crew going across the Gulf.  Luckily, the weather was good, and we took three days to get to Mobile.   We would have preferred to take it slower, hugging the shore and stopping each night. 

By the time we got to Mobile, we were tired, both physically and mentally.  The whole experience to that point seemed out of our control.  We spent two months waiting for people to show up to do work on Seas the Day.  We were on their time, not ours.  Finally, in Mobile we could make plans without being hindered by others’ schedules.  The plan thus far was to stay in Mobile a few days and then head toward Texas.  We were at a small marina which was very inexpensive, but many miles from anything else.  We used their courtesy car to get to grocery stores, but we started to feel a little claustrophobic.  Eventually, we rented a car and drove to Captiva for Thanksgiving. That was a great break, as we were gone almost a week and a half.  Daisy came with us and had her first experience running free on a beach.  We were able to stop and visit my brother Doug, north of Tampa.  We came back to the Grand Mariner Marina in Mobile refreshed.  Just before we left, we had ordered the materials for the office. When they arrived, we were ready to leave.  On December 18 we left Mobile and headed west eventually stopping in Corpus Christi.

Chapter 2 - Living on a Boat

Some people spend many years planning their eventual move to a boat.  They own numerous boats along the way, save their money and work their way up to something large enough to live comfortably aboard.  During that time, they master the art of sailing.  We took a different route.  Seas the Day is our first boat and we stepped aboard with no experience in sailing, or for that matter even motoring, unless you count small fishing boats.  We took a weeklong sailing class aboard Seas the Day shortly after we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale.  The process of sailing is fairly simple, basically learning to start the engines, leave the dock, raise the sails, steer, and return to the dock.  That, however, is a miniscule part of sailing.  Navigation was something which worried us, but while the learning curve is huge, it helps to have many instruments, backed up by paper charts.    Radar, a chart plotter, and an auto pilot simplifies this, but you still have to make educated decisions constantly.  It’s comparable to using a GPS in a car, but there is no lovely female voice telling you what to do.   Also, no one says “recalculating” every time you make a mistake.  There have been times where that would be a nice feature, especially since that GPS voice never gets upset when one makes a wrong turn. Then there’s the knots.  While there are perhaps six knots you HAVE to know, you also need to know when to use them.  Perhaps the most important skill someone on the boat must have is to know how to repair things when they break.  Mark is very good at that and what he didn’t know, he’s learned. It also helps to know how to install things, as everything marine is not only expensive to buy but expensive to have installed.  Mark has installed a washer/dryer, a watermaker, a propane gas line to our grill, and will soon install solar panels.  The difficult part is that this is a hybrid and thus the systems are totally foreign to him.  We got limited instruction from the crew in Ft. Lauderdale, so it has been a learn as you go experience.  This has been frustrating at times, but we have had help from other 420 owners through our Yahoo owners’ forum. 

Beyond the day to day work on a boat, there’s the actual living on it.  We brought a UHaul trailer with us to Florida.  When we moved aboard, we unpacked galley items, clothes, and whatever else we needed right away.  That left a LOT of boxes and nowhere to put them, so we immediately got a storage unit for a month.  We visited it every few days, and brought more and more aboard.  The Lagoon 420 has many storage areas, and it wasn’t a problem to get everything aboard, but organizing it all was a challenge.  Cabinets are deep, so if we need something out of one, it’s usually in the back, causing us to take items out to reach what we’re looking for, and then repacking the cabinet.  Wherever there is a free spot, we’ve filled it full.  Under the seats in the salon, there is ample storage, and they are filled with food and supplies.  We have four closets, two in the master hull and one in each of the guest cabins.  Those are full, as are the drawers under each bed.  Four months after moving aboard, we still have things in boxes.  There are lots of books waiting to get on shelves.  Also, we have files and various “office” supplies that need drawers in the office.  While  almost everything we brought with us now is stored, a few items just didn’t fit.  Most notably, a TV we brought with was too big.  We sent that back to Minnesota and purchased a perfect size for the saloon.  It’s a 23 inch flat scree Toshiba. Mark put a swinging arm on a cabinet over the stairs to the guest hull, so it can be adjusted and didn’t have to be placed on the cabinet.  We have an antenna going up the mast and get very good local channel reception.  We won’t be investing in any type of satellite system in the near future, but as long as we are in the States, we’ll be able to watch TV.  There is a sound system installed with speakers in the cabin and also in the cockpit area.  We can play the radio or CD’s.  Also, if we had an MP3 players, we could play it through the system. I have an iPod but was told that it only works if it is a Windows system installed on the iPod.  In addition, we have an XM radio receiver, and that plays well in the cabin.  It is hooked up to a small speaker system, and an antenna is placed in a window to receive the signal.  We have two computers onboard.  Mark’s PC is used mainly for navigation.  We have a Sprint card to receive an Internet signal, and that has worked all the time except when we were in the middle of the Gulf. 

Shortly after we moved aboard, I recall thinking how our dream to live on the water is now fulfilled with the added benefit that we can travel without even packing suitcases.  This was brought home when we rented a car and drove to Captiva for Thanksgiving.  The packing and unpacking and then repacking when we left there was a pain in the neck.  It’s much nicer to travel and have everything you need with you.  You don’t forget to bring something or need to pack for several seasons in case the weather changes.

Life is simple aboard a boat, but this is our home so we didn’t exactly deny ourselves.   While at the marina in Mobile, one evening a very small sailboat named Bika pulled in.  She was flying a Norwegian flag, and we wondered if the couple aboard had actually sailed on her from Norway.  We learned that they had done just that and planned to continue a circumnavigation.  The shocker was that they had no heat or air conditioning and only one small narrow bunk.  We think they perhaps had some type of hot plate.  I guess what you “need” is all relative.  They obviously didn’t need or probably even want what we have aboard.  Perhaps if we were their age, in their 20’s of early 30’s, we wouldn’t mind such a spartan existence either.

Living on a boat isn’t a vacation.  There is always work to do.  Since it’s a relatively small space, when something is used, it must be put away immediately.  The interior is not difficult to clean, but it does get dirty quickly.  We are saving a lot of money on cleaning supplies, as all we use inside is water and rags.  Outside, we use boat soap.  We have a compact wet vac for cleaning the floors inside as well as a mop. For washing the deck we have several different types of brushes.

The galley is equipped with a three burner gas stove and oven, a double sink, two refrigerators and one freezer, as well as a microwave, coffee maker, and the Magma Grill in the cockpit. We can eat in the saloon or the cockpit as the large table can be switched with the smaller coffee table size one.  We purchased Corelle dishes and polycarb drinking classes, which are working out well.  We also have pots and pans which stack inside each other, made specifically for boats or RV’s.

Water is always a concern when we are away from a marina.  Mark installed a watermaker which will be great once we are in water which isn’t polluted, ie out of the US.  We have mostly been in rivers and watermakers can’t be used.  While in the Gulf, coming across to Mobile, we could have used it, but had plenty stored in our tanks, which hold 106 gallons. We have an additional tank we will be able to use when Mark gets a part to connect it.  Water is free at docks when you get fuel, although one marina did charge us for water.  That was in Marathon, FL.  Marinas also have pumpout stations, to empty holding tanks from the heads.  Legally, we can dump our tanks when three miles offshore.  We have two holding tanks, and tend to only use the one from the master head.  In fact, one of the guest heads is used for storage at the moment. 

We have three queensize beds, and while they aren’t walkaround ones, climbing into them is easy.  Making the beds is not easy, however. 

Chapter 3 - Cruising With a Dog

It was with much trepidation that we took Daisy with us on this adventure.  From the first day I had her, she has been fearful of riding in cars.  It never seemed to be the motion, just the idea of being in a car which scared her.  She would literally shake and pant for the entire time she was in a car, even if it was many hours.  She’d often vomit just before we stopped.  We learned to always bring towels with for her to lie on and possibly absorb vomit.  When we first went aboard Seas the Day, there was no motor on and while it was in the water, it wasn’t moving.  We were very careful to slowly acclimate her to being onboard.  We found a great doggie daycare in Ft. Lauderdale and every time we were out of the boat, we left her there, even when we motored from the CatCo docks to the marina where we were going to stay.  The first time she actually went on a sail, we had friends Alice and Gavin with us.  She did throw up that time, but it was the first and last time.  When we left Ft. Lauderdale, of course she had to be with us, and that was a thirteen day trip.  She learned to crawl under the feet of whoever was at the helm station, but she seemed comfortable on the day sails.  The three day sail across the Gulf was probably scary for her, and again she rarely moved from under the feet of the helmsman.  By the second day, she relieved herself and then once again on the third day.  She learned to “go” on the trampoline, which is perfect as there is no clean-up, it just goes into the water.   Amazingly, she no longer hates riding in cars.   We can only assume that being on a boat in rough weather makes a smooth ride in a car almost enjoyable.

Daisy has turned into a great boat dog.  She actually seems to like it.  As soon as her lifejacket goes on, she’s ready to go, positioning herself on the forward deck.  She doesn’t shed, but if she did, it would still be worth the effort to have her aboard. Of course, while on the move, we do try to make overnight stops where we can take the dinghy ashore and walk her.  But, when that isn’t possible, she will take a walk up to the trampoline. 

I think she actually enjoys being on a boat more than living in a house.  Perhaps part of that is because she is always with us, and Daisy is very much a people dog.  In fact, she almost always craves attention. 

Chapter 4 - What We Miss

  1. -Family and friends - Of course we miss being close to family and good friends.  However, they know they are welcome to visit anytime, anyplace.  We will make regular trips back to Minnesota and our children will visit occasionally.

  2. -A Car - We had a car while we were in Ft. Lauderdale, but donated it to Disabled Vets when we left.  The car was in great condition but had a lot of miles on it.  We won’t miss one in some areas, but we REALLY missed having a car in Mobile, as it was a rural area.  We resorted to renting one a few times.  In Corpus Christi, there is a wonderful bus/trolley system.  It costs us 10 cents to get anywhere in the city with free transfers.’s not like having a car available every day.

  3. -Frappuccinos - Whenever we have a car, we do stop at Starbucks.  Out of desperation, I did try a recipe to make our own in a blender.  They were OK, but not as good as the real thing.

  4. -Money - We heard that BOAT stands for “Bring Out Another Thousand.”  It’s true.

  5. -Movies and NetFlix - Without a car we can’t go to movies.  Without an address, it’s difficult to get NetFlix DVD’s.  (In Corpus Christi, the bus system takes us to a movie theater and we have an address for  2-3 months so we started getting NetFlix again for awhile.)

  6. -Yoga classes - Yes, I could do yoga onboard, but I prefer to do it in a class.

  7. -Gadgets - We had to leave behind most of our kitchen “stuff.”  I do miss my Cuisinart, smoothie maker, cocoa maker, waffle maker, and many little kitchen gadgets.  However, we do have some multipurpose appliances onboard, so we can make just about anything. 

  8. -Pilates machine - I probably would have room to use it on the boat, but I had to draw the line somewhere.  I thought it would fit and it didn’t.

  9. -Washer and dryer - We do have a Spendide combo washer/dryer but it is small and slow.  Whenever we are at a marina, we use a lot of quarters because it’s quicker than using the Spendide.

Chapter 5 - Future Plans

We were somewhat forced to spend this winter in the States, as we are obligated to show proof to Florida that we have spent six months in other states before we can pass through or stay in Florida again.  It’s a bit frustrating as everyone we meet is headed south to the Caribbean.   We’ve met some good friends and hope to connect with them again in 2009.  However, to make lemonade out of this lemon (not the boat, but rather this year in the states), with our inexperience in everything related to cruising, perhaps it is better that we stay close to familiar things.  If we run into mechanical problems, we are probably better off in the States.  While provisioning the boat, it was good to be able to visit stores and suppliers in the states.  Of course, many items are probably less expensive outside of the States.

Our plans at the moment are to stay in Corpus Christi until April and then head back to Florida.  We will probably take a different route than we did getting to Texas and stay in the Gulf rather than in the Intracoastal.  We’ll stop in Ft. Lauderdale for some more warranty work and then head up the East Coast to get out of the hurricane zone.  Hopefully, we’ll meet up with our friends Gavin and Alice at that point.  Next winter, we’ll be in the Caribbean with much more confidence in our ability to cruise aboard Seas the Day.