Life Afloat vs Ashore: 10 Ways Lifestyles Differ

The life of a cruiser is 'slightly' different from a landlubbers'

Sarah Steenland, the Cruising Cartoonist, just released a comic for Christmas that accentuates the differences between living on a boat and living in a house. It made me think back to the time when we took a year to sail the Atlantic circuit. While sailing, we missed our home in Ireland. When back in Ireland, we missed being aboard our boat. Which of course made me reminisce about the differences between cruising and land dwelling. They are such different lifestyles. Both have their merits. I now find it very compatible and satisfying to live half and half. Here are some differences to think about if you're thinking about heading out there.

1. Dinner Plans

Home: Make a reservation, get nicely dressed including high heels, put on some makeup, turn out the lights, lock the door, and drive your car to the restaurant.

Cruising: Put on a clean T-shirt, find your best flip-flops, tie up your hair, get your foul weather jacket in case it's a wet ride, close all hatches and critical ports in case it rains, pack your hand-held GPS with anchorage coordinates, your VHF radio, your mobile phone and some money in the right currency in a water proof bag, launch the dinghy from its davits or deck, mount the engine, load the dinghy with your paddles and life jackets, turn on the anchor lights and interior light so you can find your way back, make sure everything not critical is turned off so as not to drain the battery, lock the companionway hatch, get in the dinghy and start the engine, navigate to the dinghy dock if there is one, or haul up onto the beach or drop anchor beyond the surf depending on the circumstances, lock the dinghy and engine, put on your flip flops, walk down the road in search of a place to eat.

After dinner, do it all in reverse. Hope you can find your boat. Haul the dinghy out of the water.

2. Groceries

Home: Make a list, hop in the car, drive to the supermarket, load up your cart, pay with credit card, unload into the car, carry the groceries inside and stow in refrigerator and pantry.

Cruising: Catch the fishermen as they make their way to shore with their catch of the day or drop your own hook overboard.

If that doesn't work, follow all steps in #1 above. Then pack your cooler, reusable bags, and wheelie cart into the dinghy. Walk to the grocery store, if there is one, and buy whatever is available including ice and booze. If not, make sure you have enough cash, find the local fresh produce market and see what's left on the day. Find the butcher and the fisherman to buy meats and fish. Find the woman selling spices and juices to stock up. Search for a supply of beer and rum. Hopefully, there's still some wine in the bilge. Load up your bags onto the wheelie cart and secure with bungee cords. Lug the groceries back to the dinghy and unload into the dinghy. Navigate to the boat. Haul your bags from the dinghy up on deck, then down below to store. Forget about your list and think about how to prepare what's available. Don't forget to bake some fresh bread (allow half a day for rising & baking) and make yogurt and kefir (12+ hours to ferment & chill).

3. Garbage

Home: Separate the cans from the bottles and plastics into separate bins. Compost the vegetable matter. Dispose of the rest as garbage. Wheel your bins to the curb once a week.

Cruising:  Unpack as much as you can ashore and dispose of responsibly wherever possible - at least you hope it will be so. Separate the cans from the bottles and plastics into separate bins aboard. Store in the fore peak until you find a recycling station. Burn paper and soft plastics ashore. It's not ideal but it's better than having it end up in the ocean. Pick up trash wherever you come ashore and dispose of sensibly. If you don't find recycling, just keep stashing and sailing.

4. Laundry

Home: Wear something once and toss in the hamper. When the hamper is full, separate the light and dark colours, strip the bed and towels, push some buttons and process successive loads through washer and dryer while multitasking in between elsewhere. Fold and put away.

Cruising: Quick it's raining, let's do some laundry. Pour a little liquid detergent in the dinghy as it fills up with water, dump in all your dirtiest clothes, stomp around for a while, then rinse in a utility bin on deck. Hang on the boom and lifelines to dry when the rain stops.

Or start with a salt water wash. Fill a plastic tub with salt water and a little Fairy Liquid. Grab your stinkiest clothes and dunk them in the salt water until they don't stink so much anymore. Fill a couple of tote bags with the wet clothes, grab your plastic tub and head for shore. You noticed a a fresh water well a short walk down a dirt path. Fill tub awkwardly from the primitive well and rinse clothes. Repeat. Return to the boat to hang clothes on lifelines to dry.

Otherwise, if there's a a marina or civilization, follow all steps in #1 above. Load your laundry bags and detergents onto the wheelie cart. Pack your laptop in case there's WiFi and some books for reading and trading. Trudge to the laundromat if there is one. Get in line for the washer if there's a queue or get up very early to beat the rush. Bring along all the coins you have. Trade them for tokens if necessary. Figure out how much and how long and whether it needs detergent or not. Then settle in for the wait - 3 loads, 3 hours. If you're lucky, they'll have a good book exchange where you leave one and take one. When the wash is done, get in the queue for the dryer - 3 loads, 1.5 hours. Start again. Finally, fold all laundry neatly into the bags (hopefully it will fit) and secure the bags onto the the wheelie cart. Pack up your laptop and books. Pray that it doesn't rain before you get back to the boat. Load the laundry and cart into the dinghy and drive very carefully to avoid any splashing onto your clean, dry laundry. Haul onto the boat and back down below to store. After a total of about 6 hours, you have clean clothes and another book for the exchange.

If you're really lucky, there will be someone offering a laundry service. For about the same amount that the washers and dryers typically cost in a marina, you can have someone pick up your laundry, wash, dry and fold it and return it to you to pick up. It's worth the money.

And if you're really really lucky, you'll happen upon a space-age industrial computer-operated laundromat with over-sized washers that take only 30 minutes and hold 20 kg of laundry. The dryers take only 15 minutes. You're out before you can finish the glass of wine you ordered at the cafe next door that has high speed WiFi. Resist the urge to make love to the machines.

5. Grooming

Home: Make the appointment for routine visits to hairdresser/barber/manicure a week in advance. Part with a minimum of  €35 or $50 per visit. 

Cruising: Jump in the ocean for a swim with the fish. Use some salt water compatible soap if necessary. Rinse in fresh water for <1 minute. Nails are usually broken off anyway so just run a quick nail file to even them out. Grab scissors and a comb when heading ashore. On the way to the beach bar, walk barefoot to exfoliate your soles, then find a steady chair or wall and a beer, relax while your partner trims your locks.

6. Entertainment

Home: Hey, there's a good movie on, do you want to watch Netflix or go to a baseball game? Maybe a little WW III or zombie apocalypse online?

Cruising: Oh, wow, look at that sunset and the dolphins are back. Let's go for a swim with the fish. I think I'll just settle in with my sun downer and my book in the cockpit. You go ahead honey.

7. Connectivity

Home: Lightning fast communication with the world. Order anything online for delivery to your doorstep today.

Cruising:  Underway, get simple email via HF radio or a Sat device. Wait for the satellite to pass overhead to connect. Try to get BBC or Voice of America news on the HF radio. Hope someone will let you know if the world blows up, or not. (We were at sea when the markets collapsed in 2008. Oh well.) Read another book. In harbour, park as close to the hotel or bar ashore as possible to try to pick up their WiFi. If there's no bar or hotel, but there's a mobile signal tower, align closely with that to secure WiFi hotspot via mobile signal. Otherwise, follow instructions for number 1 above, pack your electronics into a waterproof bag and head ashore to the nearest cruisers' bar. Try to get banking done without timing out or having your credentials stolen. Remember to log out of every page lest someone intercepts and steals your identity.

8. Wardrobe

Home: What to wear today? Power suit? Leadership dress? You'd never wear the same thing two days in a row to the office. Not even twice in two weeks.

Cruising:  Grungy T-shirts and shorts by day. Aloha shirts and shorts or skimpy dresses after sundown. Flip flops in different colors. Subscribe to the philosophy: 'same shirt but different day'. Feel free to wear your favorite clothes every day. Hey, it's easy to identify new friends by their shirts.

9. Home Maintenance

Home: Honey, the sink is stopped up, call the plumber. Hey, _____ doesn't work, call the electrician, carpenter, phone company, cable company, handyman.  The lawn service also removes the snow in winter. The cleaning service takes care of the rest.

Cruising: Take apart the head so we can use the toilet again. Fix the alternator so we can have electricity and pump the fresh water out of the tank. Get the hookah ready to dive on the bottom and clean and scrape the growth off the hull and prop before a passage. Switch propane tanks when the first one runs dry so we can cook. Service the generator and engine - hope that you've still got spares for all the parts that need replacing. If not, order them for delivery to someone somewhere where you are likely to be in the foreseeable future. It's raining, let's scrub the deck. Okay, which one of us gets to climb the mast to check the electronics this time?

10. Socializing

Home:  It's Wednesday, we're half way there. What do you want to do this weekend? Yacht Club cocktail party or skiing in Vermont?

Cruising: Hey, there are people gathering on the beach. Head ashore to the ramshackle shack known as the 'yacht club' on the beach where fellow cruisers are congregating. Drink flows, snacks appear. Hi, we're Daria and Alex from Aleria. Oh, the Alerians. Everyone is known by their yacht name not surname. Sometimes you exchange boat cards and talk about fixing things in exotic places. You all watch the sun play with the sky and hope for the green flash while sipping beers and coconut drinks in the shade of the palms. You return to the boat before cruisers midnight - 8 pm. Other nights, a potluck BBQ is announced on the VHF and everyone brings their share - as long as the bugs and the rats are kept at bay. If you're even luckier, you head ashore and are invited by a local to share a meal with their family. To me, that's what it's mostly about. Not mingling with the cruisers with whom you have so much in common all the time, but meeting the real people whose world you've come to get to know as well. 


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