Part 1: What’s it like to live on a boat?Whenever I send out a blog article a flurry of questions comes flying back my direction. I enjoy the questions and typically learn far more from the discussion than any knowledge I might convey.
There’s one question I get repeatedly that I’m never sure how to answer, “What’s it like living on a boat? What’s an average day like?” It’s one of the questions I tend to ignore because there really isn’t an answer.
We’ve certainly lived much of our life on a boat. I was just thinking about it today. Boats have been a part of our lives for most of Roberta’s and my forty-five years of marriage. After two decades of owning smaller boats we bought our first Nordhavn twenty-three years ago within a month of my retirement, and since that time we’ve spent an average of three to four months each year on a boat. Thus, you would think we’d be experts at living on a boat, but the truth is all we know is how we live on a boat, not what the proper way is, or how most people do it. I suspect fifty boaters would have fifty answers to this question.
First off I should summarize by saying that we are on the boat enough that we treat it like a portable home, or a vacation home. We move it from place to place, but in between moving the boat our lives are very similar to life at our condo in Seattle. All 0f the normal household tasks such as laundry, making the beds, vacuuming, dusting, all of those things are no different on a boat than they are in a land based home. There are a few extra tasks, such as changing the oil, or washing salt water spray off the boat, and some tasks such as “taking out the trash” can be a challenge at times, but generally life on a boat is not that different than life ashore.
When on the boat, a typical day is really not that different than what a day might be like at home. Roberta and I spend much of the day at our computers. She is working on a book (about the Irish Immigration) and spends several hours a day writing. Meanwhile, I have a small internet-based business which keeps me glued to my computer most days.
- At anchor,
- In port (including being anchored in front of a marina),
- And underway.
The least “fun” is being underway. Typically the dogs are behind Roberta and I on the settee while we both sit at the helm. Running the boat is never completely comfortable. There is trip planning to be done, constant monitoring of the engine room, looking out the window for logs, looking at the radar, scanning the instruments, looking at the chart plotter, etc. It’s a little like driving a car, although admittedly in slow motion. You can chat while driving, but you can never completely let your guard down.
|For the statistically minded amongst you:|
Typically in a season we will run around 2,500 miles. If you assume a season to be 120 days on average you can see we typically move around 20 miles a day. Using my estimate that we are underway about a third of the time, then this indicates we move 60 miles on a normal “underway” day – or, about an eight hour run. There are longer days and shorter days, and no typical days. Long overnight passages are rare. In 50,000+ miles of cruising we’ve only done perhaps thirty or forty nights at sea. Lots of attention gets paid to range on these boats and how they handle in open ocean, when in reality the major ocean passages and overnight runs are not something you do very often. It is nice to know the boat can handle them, and that we can handle them, but its not what day-in, day-out cruising is really like.
One side note about traveling internationally with dogs: When we walk down the street with the dogs it seems to help break the ice with the local people in whatever country we’re in. Very few tourists travel with their dogs. It puts us in a unique category and we tend to be perceived differently. Our goal with international travel is to feel like we are living in these countries, and not just “tourists” who usually see nothing more than the airport, a hotel, and a few tourist activities that the guide books point them to.
And, then there are the days at anchor. These are the ones we love most. We check the weather (wind direction and strength) several times a day while at anchor, but generally life at anchor is unbelievably relaxing. Civilization can’t reach us. We are isolated from the problems of the world. Tension melts away. We get quiet time on our computers, we have long discussions in the hot tub while drinking our morning coffee. Roberta likes to spend the days cooking, we play with the dogs, sometimes we drop the kayaks – swim if the water is warm — or explore in the tender. If I get really bored I change the oil in the generator. Days at anchor are mostly about relaxing and goofing off. After three days to a week anchored in one location we do tend to get bored and will be ready to head to the nearest city, but we’re never in a city for more than a few days before we want to go back to anchor.
Part 2: A week in picturesWe spent a few spectacular days at anchor in Montague Bay and then headed to the dock at Ganges. It’s a cute touristy town and we needed to provision.
We needed to load up on groceries in that we knew we were heading to anchor and weren’t sure when we’d see a town again. We wanted to be able to return to civilization when we finally decided we wanted to, and not because we ran out of something.
We planned on moving to an anchorage that was near where we were going to go through a narrow passage, but during the ride we hit a mechanical problem. I’ll talk about that during Part 3 of this blog entry. So…given the mechanical issue we decided it might be better to head to port, and phoned Nanaimo to ask if they had a space for us.
As I approached the dock I could see plenty of easily accessible space available, but the marina said they wanted to put me in a location impossible to reach and more impossible to depart from. The slip they assigned me was back a narrow passage with boats lined up on both sides. To exit I would need to back up the boat through a narrow gap over 100 yards long. I debated the topic with the marina but they held firm. As I made my way through the narrow passage we collected an audience of people on the dock who wondered how many boats I’d bump into. They seemed disappointed when I reached our destination safely. No worries, they get a second chance for excitement when I try to back out of here later today.
Part 3: And, a little something for the mechanically inclinedWithin minutes of leaving our anchorage at Hornby Island an alarm went off in the pilot house indicating that our hydraulic system was overheating.
At first I assumed it was an error. We have an oversize hydraulic tank and it’s just something I’ve never had a problem with. I had just been in the engine room and all looked good. I checked the temperature of the hydraulic fluid as 127 degrees. That seemed fine to me. I looked back at pictures I had taken of Maretron from our trip north and saw that the temperature had been 107 degrees, measured at the same point. Yes. Something was wrong. 127 wasn’t high, but was edging toward a level where there could be a problem. And, as I looked back at the screen, I saw that we were at 128 degrees.
Roberta took the helm and I headed to the engine room. All still looked good. I used my IR gun to verify the temperature at the tank. It was indeed high. Not good.
I looked under the floorboard at the spinners that show water flowing in the cooling lines. No luck. No cooling water was flowing.
The hydraulic system has been the most reliable system on Sans Souci. It’s the one system I’ve never had to mess with, and there really isn’t much I can do to repair it when underway, should it ever fail. The system operates under extremely high pressure and the hoses are not of a type where you can just tighten a hose clamp if there’s a leak.
The hydraulic system powers the thrusters, the stabilizers, and the windlass that raises and lowers our anchor. The first two I can live (not comfortably) without, but not being able to raise or lower the anchor would be no fun at all.
I shut down the system while Roberta kept us on our route.
I phoned my hydraulic mechanic, Doug James of Pacific Yacht Management in Seattle who was a very good sport about receiving a phone call at 7am on a Sunday morning. He said to try putting a wrench onto the hydraulic cooling pump and see if I could break it free. I did that and was only able to turn it a tiny amount. It was frozen solid.
The nearest marina was Nanaimo and space was available, so we headed there. I figured I could sort it out at the dock.
As I was closing the door to the engine room I glanced at the primary pump and the darn thing was spinning. I turned back on the hydraulics, and they were being cooled! Good! Somehow four hours had been spent crawling around the engine room. I was exhausted and we were approaching port.
That’s it for this issue of the blog! Thank you for reading!
Ken and Roberta Williams (and, Toundra and Keeley)
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