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My first seven months as a liveaboard

by Blogger Courtney Kirchoff

The author's 1972 Islander MK II, Libby, which she bought last summer. Photos courtesy of Courtney Kirchoff

Selling furniture, giving away clothes and pitching stuff in the garbage isn’t something most girls dream of.

But last August I did just that, all so I could move aboard a sailboat and leave land behind to search for adventure. My decision to live aboard a boat had nothing to do with my thoughts on materialism, consumerism or any other philosophical examination of our culture; living aboard a boat is a cool place to live at an even cooler price, and would allow my aspirations and experiences to grow.

It was August when I first moved aboard, warm, bright until 10 p.m., clear blue skies — you know, the reason we put up with the crappy weather for nine months. Who wouldn’t want to live aboard a boat in the summer? Seals would come close to the boat’s stern to have a conversation with Riley (my sheltie) as I enjoyed my French-pressed coffee.

Kirchoff's trusty boat dog, Riley.

Even getting into the dinghy and motoring to land in the morning was a pleasant jaunt. Since I was new to sailing, my sailing adventures were simple day trips, not long-distance cruising, but 2012 summer cruising was what I aimed and practiced for when the wind picked up. I solo-sailed all over, including a day trip to Seattle, and often burned the heck out of my skin — I tend to overdose on the sun. Gotta get when the gettin’s good!

Now it’s winter, and just a couple of weeks ago we got a dumping of snow. Do I still love living aboard? Yes. I like how cozy my boat feels, how even when I open my windows and companionway I’m greeted with scenes from postcards.

But there are some things I miss from my land-dwelling days, including:

  • A full-sized bathroom, where I could take a 10 minute-plus shower after coming in from the cold. I knew I would miss my long showers.
  • Drying space: There’s not a lot of room aboard my boat to let clothes dry out, and that’s a bit of a moist mess when it’s white outside.
  • Closet space! Even though I’m not a girly-girl, I still want to wear nice clothes and look my best, and that’s rather hard with such limited space for a decent wardrobe.

And here’s what I don’t miss:

  • A microwave. I have figured out how to reheat things without a microwave. Not having the nuker means it’s harder to eat quick food — a good thing.
  • My television.
  • Neighbors. Docking comes with more noise, but not from my neighbors, just the town I live in. Anchoring out, though, is peaceful!
  • Utility bills!

I’ve found myself searching for larger boats, especially beautiful ones like Baba 35s, Cape George Cutters, and other expensive boats I cannot afford. It would be lovely to have a tad more space than I have now, in addition to more of the creature comforts like built-in refrigeration, the adequate powering options to juice the fridge like solar panels and wind turbines, and a solid fuel heater, but my 30-foot Islander is working. Heating the cabin is quick and easy when I’m docked; I use two electric space heaters.

Libby en route to Seattle.

My boat is something I can take care of, without having to deal with a lawn and leaves. I hate yard work, so much so that when people discuss what they need to do outside and around their house, I feel claustrophobic. Living on a sailboat is like living in some kind of model toy, one I can learn how to use and customize.

I also like the sound of the howling wind when a storm comes through; it feels as if I’m surviving something, like I’m somehow living on the edge, when really I’m docked and safe. Best of all, it’s nice to own my home without having to make large payments for the next 30 years, especially one with a million-dollar water view that can change if I so chose.

A lot of people think that by making the decision to live aboard I’ve somehow rebuffed traditional land-living and all its trappings. That’s not the case. The S/V Libby is a part of my life, but not the entirety of it.

Before I bought my boat, I’d lay awake at night imagining my life aboard and the inspiring lifestyle it would bring me. I’d imagine myself sailing to Friday Harbor on a beautiful summer day, dolphins playing at my bow (I love dolphins), watching Orcas migrate and applying copious amounts of sunscreen so I wouldn’t bake myself before reaching my destination.

In this fantasy, when I’d dock at the harbor I’d stow my laptop in a waterproof backpack and hike up the hill to a coffee shop, plop myself down in a comfortable armchair and write. Sailing is an unconventional way of getting to where I want to go: destinations unknown.

I’m now in the process of making improvements to the interior of my boat. I’m trying to beautify it, girly it up a bit by making it a more comfortable place to live, though I should also be training my mind by learning navigation, about tides or how to reef my mainsail, which could save my life. I still have lots to do before cruising up to the San Juan Islands to fulfill that dream I had, maybe into Canada, but I’m excited about every aspect of getting there. Learning new things and testing limits makes me feel more alive.

Living aboard and sailing is a stimulating experience, an adventure I can afford to have as I wait for the next. Will I live aboard forever? Probably not. Sailing and cruising will be a part of my life for the rest of my existence, but it will be, like everything else I enjoy, just a part of it.

What I will take with me, wherever I finally end up, is the love of small spaces. Before buying my boat, I dreamt of building a small cob house somewhere on the peninsula, preferably with a water view, maybe even with a dock for my sailboat. I’m not yet 30, but I’m feeling the domestic pull, desiring a bigger kitchen filled with the scent of baking pumpkin bread and the sound of laughing children.

But that will come in time. For now, I’m loving my decision to move aboard and I’m eagerly awaiting the elusive summer, when I can raise sails and explore.