Living on board .
It strikes me that we write a lot about where we go and what we see but not about what it is like to actually live day to day in such a small space and sometimes difficult circumstances.
The boat has three modes, marina life, at anchor and at sea. Lets begin with the latter.
Prior to setting off on any voyage the first task is to ensure adequate a) food, b) water and c) fuel.
As the journey progresses I have to be more and more flexible in the ingredients I use, since local fare varies enormously, e.g. "lamb" can be goat, cheeses are unrecognisable, yam may have to be substituted for potatoes and vegetables are pot luck. Forget tomatoes! Tinned is the only option most of the time. Strangely fish is hard to come by unless you can catch it or barter with a local boat boy. But here in the Caribbean, as in most of Europe, there is always a form of dried salt fish, sold in unrefrigerated lumps in every shop. It keeps for months but requires a great deal of soaking and imagination to produce a palatable meal. (See recipes for fish cakes) The most unusual foods I have seen for sale so far is iguana (tastes like chicken!), chicken feet, pig's snouts and pig's ears.
Bread can be easily made onboard, in fact in the heat and humidity it rises like a dream. However the oven onboard is either on or off so one has to adjust all cooking to be done at full blast, moving things up and down the shelves to control temperature.
I like to cook as much as possible before the journey, so that even if the sea state is horrible we have one good meal pre-prepared per day. Cooking in a big sea, for all you non-sailors, is like juggling on ice skates, even though the cooker is on a gimbal to keep it level, the cook isn't!
This is only an issue for long voyages or when anchoring over several days/weeks. We can store 350 litres in the main tanks, 90 litres in a reserve flexible tank and 60 litres in containers on deck. In all the voyages so far we have never had to utilise either the flexible reserve or the on deck containers. The reasons for this are that we use sea water for washing dishes and boiling vegetables, baby wipes for most hygiene (no showers at sea!), toothbrushing techniques which are very sparing with water and we measure 1.5 litres per person per day for drinking.
Fuel lasts a long time since we only motor when there is no or adverse winds. Cooking gas is so far not a problem. We carry two 19 kg propane cylinders on the back of the boat each lasting approximately 6 months. One thing which greatly conserves gas is the use of a pressure cooker, a beast I was very reluctant to try but wouldn't be without now.
At sea we have to conserve the boat battery usage, so we have dual lighting, fluorescents for sea/anchorage and halogens for 'plugged in' mode in a marina. Our 5 solar panels provide 170 watts in good sunny conditions and this combined with the wind generator keep us 'live'.
While at sea you spend a lot of time sitting about, but the sheer energy required to move from anywhere to anywhere else on the boat, or just to remain uprightcan be very demanding. Often you find many cuts and bruises after a trip with no memory of how they were caused .
Personally I can't read at sea. If I try I quickly become nauseated, so staring into space and trying to spot anything out there (other boats, sea life, flying fish, birds, land etc) is my major pastime, since once sails are set there is little to do. Of course the odd squall adds variety!
Sleeping at sea is not always easy since a boat creaks and groans, rocks and pitches according to the wind and sea state. Eventually you drift into a kind of trance state, but its not sleep as you know it. This improves with longer voyages since you can't stay awake forever. We do have boards and canvas walls to put up around the beds(known as lee boards and lee cloths) to stop you falling out of bed.
If we are doing a day sail we both stay up, but for longer passages we sleep in turns in the saloon, so we are able to respond instantly in a crisis.
Ever since we reached St. Lucia we sail in swimwear. It is so hot that anything else is silly. It solves the problem of a boat full of wet clothing when it rains and as soon as it stops you are dry very quickly. It is advisable to dress before reaching the destination though or you could cause offence!
The routine of regular meals is extremely important and trying to develop a good set of 'boat standards' in terms of tidiness and cleanliness is essential for both good moral and health. So lots to do between sitting about.
It is absolutely wonderful after a long voyage to come into a sheltered bay and drop anchor. There is a real sense of peace and privacy if you can find a hidden enough spot. One big advantage of this mode is the ability to lower the ladder and swim off the back of the boat. The shallower bays and 'cays' are turquoise and clear and can give great snorkelling experiences.
The night skies in these out of the way places are breathtaking with no light pollution to spoil the 'view'. Shooting stars are not uncommon.
Sleeping at anchor is easy, since the boat automatically points into wind and simply bobs about gently (unless there is a high sea which can make things a bit rolly!). This is when you can really catch up on reading, blog writing, fishing etc since between that and swimming, life is simple.
One has to be vigilant at anchor though, since you are pretty vulnerable and unprotected. Dinghys must be locked up and we lock ourselves inside the boat at night.
The other thing I personally love about anchoring is not worrying about fenders and lines for tying up!
One thing I'm not so fond of is the gymnastics involved in getting on and off the dinghy. You see the dinghy never moves in synch with the boat. It sets up a bobbing motion exactly opposite to what the boats doing. That combined with the perilous leap of faith required to let go of the boat and plonk into this inflated piece of rubber is sometimes more than I can deal with. But I always do, especially if there's the prospect of a visit to a nice restaurant at the end.
OK I'll be honest, this is my favourite. The minute we tie up against a pontoon I feel 'rooted'. I can't wait for the signal that we are 'plugged in', which means on tap electricity and water. The whistling kettle goes in the locker and out comes the wee electric kettle. The non-slip table mats disappear and the tea candle holders come out. Lee boards and lee cloths disappear from couches and beds and clean linen is put on. Toiletries are tastefully displayed in the heads and then - oh bliss, unlimited showers and hair washing.
A quick exploration reveals where the nearest hostelry may be (the boat is always 'dry' at sea) and spruced up and feeling that great sense of survival, which any sailor will be happy to explain, we head off.
The impact of being in a noisy place is startling at first, but inevitably a conversation will begin and new acquaintances quickly made.
One aspect of marina life, which can be difficult at first, is the complete absence of privacy e.g. it would be considered strange at home to have someone knocking on your window at 8am for a chat. And you would be calling the police if a party kept you awake till 3am. These are common occurrences in marina life.
The other huge luxury is being able to have laundry done, although with mixed results. Some things are returned with stains not present before and some garment may appear which you have never seen before in exchange for something of yours. A small price to pay!
Often in these places you come across boats and sailors who have drifted in and never left. They suffer from what's known as 'marina rot'. They just can't seem to get it together to move on, and the boat and the sailor gets more and more dilapidated as time goes on.
Life settles into a pattern of shopping around for provisions, doing all the usual repairs and renewals always required on a boat, seeking out a chandlery to replace bits or amend things, socialising at the clubhouse, going to other people's boats for drinks and having them on yours and arranging a tour of whichever island you are on.
Eventually time comes to move on. I'm usually sad to leave every new place and the new friends we've made. Email addresses are exchanged, the cycle of preparation completed once more, and off we go in another 'at sea' mode.
My life on board is certainly a different one, my space is very small, but I realise how cluttered our lives are at home and how little we actually need to live well. There's a lot to be said for the simplicity of it all, but when it's over will I go back to all my little luxuries? Probably.
Fish Cakes (makes 8 good sized cakes)
14 oz any fish, pre-cooked (tinned tuna is also ok)
3 medium sized potatoes (cooked leftovers)
Thumb sized piece of fresh ginger finely chopped
1 finely chopped chilli (own taste)
2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoonfuls of 'hot sauce' (optional)
Salt and pepper
In a bowl mash potatoes down, add cooked fish and mix thoroughly. Stir in salt, ginger, pepper, chilli, garlic and mix well. Stir in beaten egg and mix until all ingredients are together. Using wet hands, form mixture into 'mandarin' sized balls and flatten slightly. Place on a plate in fridge for 1 hour. Fry in hot vegetable oil, turning once, until golden brown on both sides. Serve with dipping sauce, either sweet and sour or soya sauce, and with a crisp green salad.
Pressure Cooker Chicken
3 cloves garlic
1 whole (small) chicken
2 stalks celery
bunch of tarragon
1 glass white wine
1 cup water
salt and pepper
thickening flour for sauce
Heat oil in pan, add chopped garlic, onions, salt, pepper, celery and carrots. Cook until onion begins to soften but watch garlic does not burn. Add glass of wine and shake pan to emulsify oil and wine. Add 1 cup of water. Place chicken in pot. Tear tarragon and place in pot. Seal lid. Bringup to pressure (red) and simmer for 25 - 30 minutes. Allow to depressurise. Open lid, remove chicken carefully. Cut into portions. (It will fall apart so take care). Add 1 tblspn sauce flour/cornflour to a little cold water and mix. Stir into sauce until slightly thickened. This may not be necessary if sauce has reduced. Serve sauce over chicken. Serve with potatoes or rice.