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Reflections on Living Aboard, Year One


We are presently staying at a small marina in Charleston, South Carolina.  Last night, I walked outside and climbed up on the salon roof.  The stars were just beginning to poke out of the darkness and there was a bright quarter moon shining through the shrouds holding up the mast.  There was a slight breeze and it was pleasantly warm.  Seas the Day was slowly rocking as waves came across the water.  The only sound I could hear was the slap of the waves against the dock. I meditated for awhile and then just sat there staring out across the water at the bright lights on the opposite shore.  I felt totally relaxed and surrounded by peace. 


One year ago, on August 21, 2008, we moved aboard Seas the Day.  We were total newbies, having never owned a boat or sailed.  During the several months we spent in Ft. Lauderdale, we took a one week long ASA sailing class.  It was spread out over several weeks as Hurricane Ike was first threatening to make landfall near us, and then when it didn’t, the weather was affected keeping us off the ocean.  However, we did complete the class and in October we set off for Texas.  When we left Ft. Lauderdale on October 23, 2008, it was our first time sailing alone.  I’m sure there were a number of people who thought we were crazy, or at least very naive to think we could do this.  That day the winds and waves kicked up until they were crashing over the salon.  This was the first of many rough weather days and nights.  We made it to Key West and had to stay a few days waiting for a good weather window.  When we did leave on an overnight passage to Naples, the weather was still rough, but we were under a deadline to get out of the state.  Our 90 day Florida pass was quickly running out.  Mark’s son Eric met us in Naples and we made the trip across the Gulf to Mobile.  Planning to stay there just a few days, it stretched to several months. 

We left Mobile on December 17, 2008 and arrived in Corpus Christi on January 9, 2009.  That trip was also a huge learning experience.  We spent most of the time on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW).  It is not a route people take twice, especially when the days are short as they are in December and January.  Each day we had to make it to our next anchorage or marina by 5 pm, as you don’t travel on the GIWW in the dark.  The entire way, we only met a few other pleasure craft and all were going East.  However, our constant companions were large barges pushing “six packs,” two barges wide and three deep.  The GIWW is narrow with anchorages and marinas few and far between.  Anchorages had to be carefully chosen, as in the dark the barges pull to the side and ground themselves in the mud.  You wouldn’t want to be in their path.  We eventually made it to Corpus Christi and spent the winter there.

On April 19, 2009, we left Corpus Christi for Florida.  We made several stops, including Carrabelle, FL where we spent nine days waiting for a weather window to cross the Gulf to Tarpon Springs, FL.  We made short stops in Tarpon Springs, Captiva, and Ft. Lauderdale.  On June 24 we left Ft. Lauderdale to sail up the East Coast to Charleston, SC arriving here on July 15.

Leaving Ft. Lauderdale for the second time,  we felt we were finally able to make our own plans and travel at leisure.  We had left Florida the previous October because we were only allowed to stay in the state for 90 days without paying 6% of the purchase price in taxes.  We couldn’t re-enter the state until we had spent six months out of it.  After fulfilling those obligations, we can now legally pass through the state.  Our very first mistake was having Seas the Day delivered to Florida as we then had to jump through those hoops.  If we hadn’t done that, the year would have been very different.  We no doubt would have gone to the Bahamas from November until April or May.  That would have involved a one day trip from Florida to someplace in the Bahamas and then island hopping.  Most of our time would have been at anchor and our longest passages would be a few miles at a time.  While this would no doubt have been a more pleasurable Fall, Winter, and Spring, in retrospect we learned valuable lessons during our escape from Florida and our return to it.  Probably “Baptism by Fire” would be a description of our Ft. Lauderdale to Ft. Lauderdale cruise. 

After leaving Ft. Lauderdale we had no real timetable, other than getting out of the worst of the hurricane zone, ie Florida.  Once we did that, we took our time sailing up the coast.  There are two routes a boat can take going north on the East Coast.  One is the inside passage along the ICW.  This is a protected route where one can find many places to stop, where the water is fairly calm, and where one mostly motors with sails down.  There are numerous bridges and the height is rarely higher than 65’.  We can’t get under those bridges, thus our route was on the ocean for all but a few days.  Inlets we could safely enter were usually about 40-50 miles apart and several miles to land, which made for full days of sailing.  We can usually count on 6-7 kts, motorsailing if the winds are below 10 kts.  If the winds were higher, we went faster, but still motorsailed.  Seas the Day is a hybrid and in order to keep all systems charged, we have to use the genset and run the engines at a speed which regenerates those systems. 


There are all several different types of sailors.  We are classified as “liveaboards” as Seas the Day is our only home.  Prior to moving aboard, we sold most of our possessions.  Some liveaboards sell everything.  We couldn’t quite do that so we still have boxes of household goods and two cars stored in an outbuilding at the house we still own in Minnesota.  The house is rented and hopefully will sell in the not-to-distant future.  However, we do consider Seas the Day as our “home.”  She is a very roomy, comfortable home and not much different than living in an apartment or condo.  Shortly after moving aboard, I recall sitting on the deck thinking that this was just like living in a house on the water, except the particular water you are in changes from time to time.  Oh, and the house rocks. 

I read a lot of blogs and online forums written by cruisers.  Invariably, if someone asks advice about buying a boat, and if that person has little or no experience sailing, every word of advice cautions the person to take it slowly, perhaps taking classes, chartering for a few years, and then buying a small sailboat, working your way up to the size you really want over a number of years.  We started this process when we were 60 years old, therefore we didn’t want to end up in the boat we really wanted when we were 70.  We have never questioned our decision to buy a 42 foot catamaran with no sailing experience.  Learning to sail was fairly easy.  In fact, that’s the easiest part of cruising.  That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of difficult parts. 

We correctly assumed that we should not own a boat unless we could do the vast majority of the repairs ourselves.  Well, let’s say one of us has to be “handy.”  That would be Mark. He had to learn the mechanical systems of this hybrid boat, and that was a huge learning curve for him, but he did it.  While we have had few mechanical problems, when they do occur, Mark is fantastic at figuring out the problem and solving it.  Besides being able to fix just about anything on Seas the Day, Mark installed a washer/dryer, a watermaker, and built an office with numerous shelves and a desk.  He understands the electrical and plumbing systems and has fixed small problems as they happen.  Not only is it costly to hire someone else to do marine repairs, there are situations when no one is near and something needs to be repaired. Having Internet access is extremely helpful as we can request help from members of various cruising forums, including one made up of Lagoon 420 owners.

We knew that owning a boat would be expensive.  What we didn’t know was that if the item has the word “marine” associated with it, the price goes way up.  Early on we learned that BOAT is an acronym for “Bring Out Another Thousand.”  Buying a new boat was expensive to start, but at least everything was under warranty.  When our Raymarine VHF radio stopped working, it was replaced without charge.  When we moved aboard we had a several page long “fix list.”  Almost all items were fixed by the service crew at Catamaran Company, the Lagoon dealer that sold us Seas the Day.  However, there were numerous items we needed, and sometimes wanted, to add to our boat.  Many are listed on the “Outfitting Seas the Day” page of our website:  http://seasthedaynow.com/Seas_The_Day/Outfitting.html.  If the item was purchased from a marine store, the price was probably higher than a similar item used in a house.  First, the materials need to be unbreakable, rust resistant, waterproof, etc.  As mentioned, hiring someone to work on the boat is more expensive than hiring someone to do the identical thing in a house.  One example happened when we got several estimates to convert a sitting area in the master hull to an office.  Our two estimates were $9000+ and $10,000+.  That’s when Mark decided to build it himself.  He spent about $1000 on materials. 

While the physical act of sailing is easily learned, that is just one part of sailing.  Navigation is a vital skill.  We have radar, a chart plotter, paper charts, cruising guides and numerous electronics to help us find our way from Point A to Point B.  Before leaving Point A, many days are spent planning the trip from start to finish.  As we sail, we have to watch all of the above carefully as the ocean is not static.  Hurricanes and storms come through areas and move channel markers.  While the charts may say a particular area is 10 feet deep, the floor of the sea is constantly changing.   Some areas are prone to shoaling and then we know to watch for shallow areas which aren’t on the charts.  When channels are marked, we always stay in them.  Yes, we have a depth finder, but it is not uncommon to go from a 40 foot channel to 3 foot depths just outside the marked channel.  We rarely have “local knowledge,” therefore we are always very cautious.  Even sailing with care, everyone eventually goes aground.  We have done so several times, but were always able to work our way out.

Many cruisers limit what they have aboard.  One reason is weight.  Another reason is that storage is limited.  Catamarans have much more storage than similar size monohulls. The Lagoon 420 Hybrid starts off heavy as the batteries add additional weight.  I suppose if we had owned other boats and lived on them, we would have had a better idea of what this one would hold.  We saw the 420 at the Ft. Lauderdale boat show in October, 2008.  Ten months later we saw it again when we moved aboard.  We had a fairly good idea of the storage compartments we would have, but had little idea of how much they would hold.  We pulled a U-Haul trailer behind our Tahoe when we drove to Florida one year ago.  After unloading most of it into a storage unit,  we slowly started moving items aboard.  Everything didn’t fit, but we gave it a good try.  We have three cabins but only use one.  We also have three heads, but also only use one.  That leaves two cabins and two heads for “storage” along with numerous lockers and drawers inside and storage holds on the deck.  There is a LOT of storage room on this boat and we have used it.  We still have plenty of room in the outside areas, but most of the inside storage space is full, including one queen size bed in a guest cabin stacked with clear plastic boxes.  As time goes by, I suspect we will take more and more off the boat.  We did bring some items back to Minnesota last month and will bring more back in October, but no one will ever accuse us of living simply.


We’ve experienced a lot of good, a little bad, and a tiny bit of ugly over the past year.  While there have been scary times, they only make the peaceful and fun ones better.  The only reason we have ever sailed in stormy weather was because we were under a time schedule to get out of Florida, first to avoid a penalty for staying too long and later to escape before hurricane season started.  Once we completed those two chores, we never again left an anchorage or a marina if there was a reasonable chance of bad weather.  One time we did start off thinking the weather was going to clear.  When it didn’t within an hour of leaving our anchorage, we returned to that same anchorage.  This was an excellent decision as the storms continued off and on all day.  There is a saying that the most dangerous item on a boat is a schedule, and we certainly agree.

Perhaps the scariest event was one day while we were traveling on the GIWW last winter.  Each evening after we stopped for the day, we estimated how far we would sail the next day.  We had several cruising guides which suggested “good anchorages.”  We found a possible one on the Mermentau River in Louisiana.  We arrived there just before dark, followed the markers into a channel leading off the Intracoastal, and went hard aground.  We tried to back out, which usually works, but this time it didn’t.   The wind and waves were pushing us farther into shallow waters, so Mark decided to get into the dinghy and try to pull us out.  He lowered the dinghy and climbed in.  Then, he made two mistakes which almost resulted in a disaster.  First, he only undid one of the lines holding the dinghy to the davits on the aft deck.  Also, for the first time since we got the dinghy, he neglected to put the kill switch bracelet on his wrist.  He started the dinghy motor and put it in reverse.  Since the dinghy was still connected to one davit, it went straight up in the air.  If he had the kill switch bracelet on, the motor would have stopped, but since he didn’t, the dinghy began to go in circles, straight up in the air throwing Mark into the water.  I was standing at the top of the sugar scoop steps calling his name, picturing him being chopped to pieces by the motor.  Luckily, he did make a good choice and immediately went under the boat, between the two hulls.  I didn’t know this, and kept calling his name.  Eventually, the dinghy circled toward me, still vertical in the water.  I grabbed the end which was in the air and held it tightly.  The motor seized up and stopped.  Mark stepped out from under the hulls (the water was about three feet deep) and climbed back aboard wet but unharmed.  After we got the dinghy back up on the davits, we tried again to get into deeper water and that time we did.  Then we had another problem.  It was dark and starting to storm.  When this happens, the barge captains get in a caravan and follow each other.  A group of them came past us as we wondered what to do.  We called them on our VHF radio and asked if we could get “in line” with them.  They told us to fall in when we saw a break, which we did.  We followed their navigation lights, which were all we could see, until the captain ahead of us shined a light into an anchorage area off the GIWW and told us we could probably find a good spot there.  We turned out of the GIWW and promptly went aground again.  This time, however, we didn’t care and were just relieved to be safely out of the traffic.  In the morning, we got loose and continued on our way.  The only casualty was that Mark lost his favorite hat, a long brimmed one with “Seas the Day” embroidered on it.

It took us almost a year to realize that we had an inadequate anchor.   Many times our anchor held for hours and then dragged in the middle of the night.   We have an anchor alarm which frequently sounded early in the morning, waking us up to rush to the helm to start the engines and bow to raise the anchor and try to reset it.  When we were in Ft. Lauderdale this past June, we found out more about the anchor, realized it was not our fault that we were drifting whenever the wind or tide changed, but rather the weak Brittany anchor.  We purchased a new anchor (Rocna) and from then on felt much safer as we haven’t drifted again....yet.  Luckily, we never hit anything when Seas the Day started to move during the middle of the night or early hours of the morning.  However we had some very close calls.  We also rarely slept well while anchored.


Shortly, we will start planning for our next cruise.  So far we know that we will leave Charleston when the “hurricane season” ends, around the beginning of November.  We’ll sail south to Miami and from there we’ll cross to somewhere in the Bahamas.  The crossing must be timed well, waiting for close to ideal conditions of wind direction and speed, weather, etc.  Groups of sailers wait in various anchorages along the East Coast and often sail across together, staying with the slowest boat.  It is a crossing that can easily be done in about 12 hours if we start from Miami. 

That’s all we know for now.  We’ve followed blogs of other cruisers who have gone to the Bahamas and beyond and have some ideas about where we’d like to go.....and where we don’t want to go.  Now we need to purchase some cruising guides, read them, and make a loose plan for the season from November until May.  Another decision we’ll make is whether we’ll return to the States in the spring, or continue to go south out of the hurricane zone next summer/fall.  More than likely, however, we’ll be coming back to South Carolina next June to spend the summer and fall here.  In fact, we like it so much here that we are considering moving to Charleston once we stop cruising.