This edition of The Strange and Not So Glamorous Boat Life reveals the reality of domestic life onboard.
Everyone’s Gotta Eat
Checking out local restaurants is definitely part of the fun of experiencing the local environment and we eat out a fair amount. But most days we eat onboard, preparing meals in Boundless’ galley. The galley is about the size of a small apartment kitchen with a fridge and freezer, a 3 burner stove top, small oven, microwave, coffee maker and toaster. Plus we have a grill outside on deck.
Breakfast and lunch are usually “make your own” – cereal, bread, eggs, sandwiches, leftovers, etc. But dinner is a family affair. We eat outside in the cockpit with an occasional movie night in the saloon (main cabin) when it rains.
I’m the main cook in the family and happily, I enjoy cooking again. I liked cooking before kids when it was mostly a leisurely weekend activity where I could try new recipes, shop for special ingredients, and cook with a glass of wine in hand. But I learned to dread cooking the last number of years when it become a race to fix something fast and good squished between getting home from work, kid activities, and bedtime. Ugh! On the boat it’s a no-rush affair again and I’m back to having a glass of wine at hand.
As strange as it sounds, grocery shopping is one of my favorite things to do in the islands. I get a chance to learn the culture and check out the local scene. There have been a few larger stores similar to home and we plan major shopping from those stores. The fun part is trying to figure out what’s what with different languages, brands and mystery items for sale. Some of the oddest items were cow testicles (they were so huge I called the family over to look at them), beef lungs (I bought them by mistake and later learned they’re banned from sale in the US as they may be poisonous) and many produce items that are still a mystery to me.
In a number of islands, most of our fresh produce came from farmers markets and roadside food stands. Roaming the stands with the locals, checking out what looks good, chatting with vendors, and figuring out pricing using metric weights and different currencies is all part of the fun. The farmers market in Le Marin, Martinique was a favorite. It’s packed with vendors and shoppers, everyone speaking French. There are a number of spice sellers, so the whole place smells amazing. There are vegetable, bakery and butcher stalls mixed among woodcarvers, t-shirt vendors, etc. Super fun!
In smaller towns, it can sometimes take stops at numerous small vendors to get what you want. One vendor has lettuce and melons, another down the way has cucumbers and tomatoes. And of course, in French Guadeloupe and Martinique, the boulangerie was an almost daily stop for fresh baked bread. We’ve eaten well!
Cooking and Moving at the Same Time
Cooking while on passage is more challenging than when we’re stopped. Imagine cooking while standing on the side of a steep hill during an earthquake! So I make most dinners before we leave and refrigerate/freeze them. I make “eat-from-one-bowl” type meals – fried rice, pasta, stews, etc.
And then there’s catching fish! Whenever we’re on passage, we throw a line off the back of the boat… literally. No rods or reels here. Just a big spool of heavy fishing line that we tie to the rail with a lure and hook at the end, and feed through a bungee cord to make it easier to see/hear when the line is tight from a fish.
And when we catch a fish, we pull it in hand over hand.
Shockingly, we usually catch a fish with this basic setup. I’m not super fond of the fish flopping around on deck bleeding until it dies, but I’m getting used to it. Doug is getting adept at filleting and grilling fresh fish and I’m trying out different marinades. We should be good at it just as the trip ends.
Drowning in a Sea of Dirty Clothes
Yes, we do wear our clothes multiple days without washing. And we mostly only wear shorts, t-shirts and bathing suits. But, with 4 of us, and adding in sheets and towels, keeping up with laundry still seems never-ending. We have three laundry options – the small machine aboard, laundromat/marina washing machines, or using a laundry service. We’ve done all three at different times.
In the US, laundromats or marina washing machines were pretty easy to find. Most marinas have washers and dryers, so we used those when we could. And most towns have laundromats, a fact I didn’t really know since I haven’t used a laundromat at home since I was 20. We fill our four big backpacks with laundry, load into the dinghy and head ashore where we backpack to the laundromat. You can imagine the looks we got with the four of us walking down the road with large backpacks in the US!
In the islands our laundry habits have changed. We’ve used a few laundromats, but there aren’t many. More often we use our onboard washer/dryer. When we bought the boat, I didn’t think we would use it, but it’s been great. The machine is small, so we often do laundry every few days at the same time that we’re making water and charging batteries. The same tub is a washer and dryer, but we hardly use the dryer. It takes too long and uses too much electricity. Instead we hang our laundry along the boat’s lifelines to dry. And yes, it looks tacky.
In Deshaies, Guadeloupe, there was a small cruise ship anchored off the town. After awhile I realized that the ship’s shuttle was driving folks by our boat and people were pointing and checking out our laundry operations. Apparently we were part of the local color display!
One challenge with boat laundry is rain. Some islands it hardly rains, and others it can rain numerous times per day for a few minutes each time. In the rainier islands we do the laundry shuffle – hang out the laundry, regularly check how dry things are, pull in dry items ASAP, watch the sky for rain and pull everything down when an ominous cloud comes by, hang it all back out after the rain ends, repeat. And there are the days when we do laundry early and hang it out, only to have a washout rainy day. On those days we string lines under Boundless’ bimini and hang the laundry in the cockpit. Again, a little tacky!
We’ve also learned to appreciate the lovely luxury of a laundry service, particularly services that pick-up/drop-off right from Boundless at anchor. We call on the VHF radio and ask for a pickup. They come by in a boat to pick it up in the morning and drop it back at the boat in the afternoon, all folded and smelling wonderful!
But, my favorite laundry service experience was at Jolly Harbour, Antigua. We had 5 huge bags of laundry (probably 15 loads). We dinghied to a place fairly close to the laundry service, a ramshackle room in the boatyard next to the outboard engine workshop. We schlepped our bags in and found the place already packed with dirty laundry. Not a good sign. Turns out, there was no water that day. They hoped to be back at it the next day, but weren’t sure. We came back in a couple of days and our laundry wasn’t done, but they were super nice and assured us that since the water was back, it would be done the next day. We came back and it was all washed, folded and sorted. Sweet!
For those of you who know me, you won’t be shocked to know that I have an inventory spreadsheet for non-perishables, meats, and household goods. Given the challenges of shopping, we stock up on nonperishable food, meat, and household goods when there’s a store close to a dinghy dock. These get squirreled away in large, open spaces under seats, behind cushions, and in a huge ice-box style freezer. Everything is stacked on top of each other and in bins. So knowing where things are stored is almost as important as knowing how much we have.
Our food inventory is about 3 pages long, and says how much of each item we have and more importantly, where it’s located. The inventory is printed and out on the counter. In theory, when food is pulled from storage, the inventory should be decremented. In reality, I mostly do the decrementing and the rest of the family humors me, except when they want to find something. Then all of a sudden, it’s “Mom, do we have any pickles?”, “Kristin, where’s the extra mustard?” In revenge, I respond “check the inventory”!
Looking Good, Billy Ray
Haircuts are a funny affair on Boundless. None of us are particularly good at cutting hair, but hair needs to be cut. And with the exceptions of Boston for Erin and the guys, and Antigua for Erin, we’ve done our own haircuts off the back of the boat. I cut Doug, Andy and Erin’s hair, Erin cuts mine. Doug’s the easiest – I just use the clippers.
Andy is a little harder with a mix of clippers and scissors. I was pretty nervous the first time I cut his hair. It turned out OK. Given the huge amount of hair Erin has and the complexity of her cut (it took 1.5 hours to get her hair cut by a very slow professional in Boston), I was most nervous to cut her hair. Happily it also turned out OK. And she did a great job on mine.
All in all, chores are more difficult in paradise, but its still paradise, so I can’t complain!