This trip is mostly about fun – sailing, swimming, meeting people, exploring. But regular day to day things still need to happen – shopping, eating, using water and electricity, communicating. Welcome to Part 1 of the strange and not so glamorous mysteries of everyday boat life explained.
One of the oddest things about living on a boat in the Caribbean is communicating with others nearby. Phone service is spotty on the water. Sometimes we have wifi, sometimes not. So the VHF is our main form of communication. (For non-boaters, VHF is a short range bi-directional radio.)
Different VHF channels are designated for different purposes. In many places 16 is Hailing and Distress monitored by the Coast Guard, etc. and 13 is Ship to Ship monitored by commercial ships. Many channels are left free for general use. And in some places, including the Western Caribbean, channel 68 is the pleasure boat Ship to Ship hailing channel, otherwise known as the largest party line ever! Here’s how it works…
I want to call my friends on the boat Lunisea (no, I don’t have friends with that boat name, but surprisingly, it’s a very popular boat name in the States!). I tune to channel 68 and call “Lunisea, Lunisea, this is Boundless, Boundless”. Most boats in the anchorage are tuned to channel 68, including Lunisea. They reply “Boundless, Boundless, this is Lunisea”. Then one of us calls out a “free” channel. Maybe I’ll say “Lunisea, go to 67”.
At this point is gets silly. Lunisea and I both change to channel to 67 on our VHF so we can chat. But so does everyone else so they can listen in. I’m not kidding – that’s how it works. In a large anchorage, there could be hundreds of people listening to your conversation. And if someone wants to comment on your discussion, they call “Break, Break”. If you want to hear their comment, you say “Come In”, but you don’t have to.
Maybe Lunisea and I arrange to get together for sundowners, maybe we discuss going ashore. Not an issue that others are listening, unless someone’s feelings are hurt that they weren’t invited! But sometimes people discuss more personal things – doctor visits, family issues and my favorite, a Mom and her teenager having a dragged out argument about coming home from a friend’s boat. The Mom eventually left the radio – the VHF version of hanging up the phone. And we were all there listening. The daughter yelling “Mom, are you there? Mom! Did you hang up on me? Mom!!”
Connecting via the Net
No, not the Internet, the Cruiser’s Net. In many popular cruising destinations, there’s a Cruiser’s Net. A regularly scheduled event (daily, M/W/F, etc.) on a specific VHF channel where boats close enough to hear tune in to find out what’s going on. The daily moderator, the Net Controller, introduces each topic and people call in to respond. The first topic is usually Priority Items, Safety and Security. If I had a Security Issue, I would call “Boundless, Boundless” after this topic was announced. The Net Controller would say, “Go ahead Boundless” and I would say my piece. Others call out their boat name to be acknowledged by the Controller to respond. Often it’s organized chaos.
Common Net topics also include arrivals and departures, vendor recommendations, buy/sell/swap items, and requests for boat repair help. But the best part of the Net is the Social Activities section. Anyone can organize an activity and announce it on the Net for other folks to join – yoga, hiking, potluck on the beach, etc. You don’t have to know the person organizing to attend, you just show up. It’s like an audio Community Bulletin Board. Given the transient boating lifestyle, it’s an efficient way to quickly meet people in each port and create a community. And you always end up meeting someone who knows someone from your last port. Friendships are fast and fluid.
Water, Water Everywhere, But Not a Drop to Drink
The average American uses 80 – 100 gallons of water per day (https://water.usgs.gov/edu/qa-home-percapita.html). And teenagers are way above average! Boundless’ water tanks hold 280 gallons. With 4 of us onboard, this math doesn’t work. Water conservation is a fact of life.
By liveaboard sailing standards, we’re water hogs. We use about 10 gallons per person per day (many sailors average 5 gallons or less per day and that’s for everything, drinking, cooking, cleaning, laundry…). There’s a long list of things that we do to limit our water usage. Some of the big ones:
- Hand washing dishes. Since I’m the cook, I don’t wash dishes. Everyone else shares the task. Doug does breakfast, Andy lunch, Erin dinner.
- Wearing clothes multiple days, particularly on days when we don’t go ashore. And yes, sometimes we smell when we don’t go ashore.
- Using a low-water washing machine.
- Not showering everyday. Again, yes, we sometimes smell! Truthfully, I generally shower everyday except when we’re offshore. I don’t like being stinky! And we often go swimming, so at least a rinse off is required. But not everyone aboard showers everyday. And some of the Boundless crew would be happy to never shower. Did I say Andy?
- Taking “navy showers” – wet yourself, turn off the water, soap up, rinse off.
- We generally wait for rain to wash the outside of the boat or wash with sea water.
We have a watermaker that desalinates saltwater into fresh. It makes about 18 gallons of water per hour and we need to run the generator or engine for the watermaker to work. We run the watermaker for a few hours every 2 days or so to keep up with our water usage. We also collect rainwater from time to time when there’s heavy rain and we’re at anchor. We don’t collect water when we’re underway since it would be salty with waves splashing on deck.
Really, I collect rainwater. The rest of the family thinks I’m nutty, but mostly entertains my nuttiness with only a few snickers as I tromp back into the boat soaking wet in the middle of a rain storm.
Like water, electricity is a bounding factor in our lives. We live off Boundless’ 1,020 amp-hour battery bank. Our batteries are topped up on sunny days via our four solar panels (you can read more about our solar panels in a previous blog post), but it doesn’t keep up. We run the generator to recharge the batteries for a few hours every two or so days when we’re at anchor, more when we’re on passages when we’re using radar, chart plotter, autopilot and running lights. This works well because we run the watermaker while the generator is charging and it all seems to work out. But we definitely have to be careful about our energy usage in a way that would be quite odd at home.
It helps that we go to sleep early and the adults rise early (the kids not so much), so we don’t use many lights. And during dinner we use solar powered cockpit lights. Our sparkly one can be set to one of many different colors for a little mood lighting. Most of our electricity goes to cooling the fridge and freezer, so closing the doors quickly was a new habit to learn. No standing in front of the fridge looking for a snack like at home.
Energy conservation was a bit of a challenge at first, but we’re all pretty good at it now. We know we’ve messed up when Doug notices our amp usage running high and hunts around the boat for the offending item – usually a light or fan left on. Hopefully our better habits will translate when we get home.
There’s No Jiffy Lube on the Water
A common saying goes that the cruising lifestyle is really “fixing boats in exotic places”. And that’s definitely true. There’s plenty of routine boat maintenance (oil changes, filter changes, etc.), and all the pounding and getting sprayed with salt water wrecks havoc on pretty much everything. Boat things break.
Luckily for me, boat maintenance is Doug’s perview – sometimes I help, but he’s in charge.
He keeps a log documenting when routine boat maintenance needs to be done. “Today I’m changing such-and-such” as he walks through the boat on a mission is a common occurrence. But if you know Doug, tinkering with the boat is a happy place for him. He keeps a separate list of things that need to be fixed. These are prioritized and range from “Do it Now” to “Do it Sometime”. He says the Sometimes items will get done when we get back home. I’m not convinced!
Coming soon, The Strange and Not So Glamorous Boat Life – Part 2!