This feels a little like a school report. Hopefully it won’t say “must try harder” or “Adam would do much better at school if he spent less time looking out of the window watching the boys play football.”
We have now lived on board for two years and have experienced a wide variety of conditions. Having down-sized from a large six bedroom house, we were a little apprehensive about whether the reduced space would work for us. That said, even when we had the big house, when the kids weren’t there, 75% of it remained unused!
So we first moved on board in September 2015 and at the time I was in a role that required a lot of travel. Shortly after moving in, we had a lot of electrical work done (Electrical panel). This couldn’t be done with us on board and so Maria had to move from a 6 bedroom house to a small 3 bedroom apartment (the boat) to a one bedroom motorhome in the space of six weeks.
She must have wondered what she had done wrong as she sat on an autumn night alone in the motorhome with the wind and rain howling, having inadvertently joined the traveller community. All of this while I was stuck in a posh hotel overlooking the harbour bridge and opera house in the heat of an Australian summer !
It has been said that if you can survive the first winter on the boat, you will be fine, and this is how it proved for us. The wooden pontoons can be lethal when there is ice but the marina provide grit that you can use, if you remember. If you don’t remember, you certainly do next time! This is particularly a problem when you are wearing work shoes, which always have limited grip it seems, and this generally seems to mean that you perform some kind of duck-like walk in order to negotiate the treacherous pontoon. You can get some spikes that go around your shoes and offer more grip but where is the fun in that? And you know you would forget you had them on and walk on your beautiful teak decks 😦 .
The cold of the winter is not an issue on a modern fully equipped boat although I have lost track of the times I have been told that we must get cold in the winter. On Mariadz, we have reverse cycle air conditioning units, but had an eberspacher diesel heater on our last boat, and with extra electric heaters you can be toasty warm but you do need to keep an eye on your electricity/diesel usage which can result in an eye-watering bill. It can get worse with a diesel heater if you don’t realise how much fuel you are using and suck the “gunk” from the bottom of the tank and as one liveaboard near us did. This had the dual effect of killing the diesel heater and requiring a tank clean. Definitely something you don’t need. The key for us is not to let the cold in and this is helped by our cockpit tent which effectively gives us double glazing at the door. This insulates us from the outside very effectively, especially as we generally have to leave the companionway open (with a curtain to retain the heat) so that the cats can go for a wander if they want. It was that or another cat flap! We also have a backdrop, dropping down from the spray hood dividing the cockpit into three rooms, which gives us an entrance hall or porch. This stops a sharp Northerly wind coming straight into the boat when someone, or a cat, comes in.
Condensation and damp can also be a problem on a boat particularly in the winter when you don’t want to let the cold air in to ventilate the boat. We use a Meaco DD8L Dehumidifier which keeps the boat dry and stops that annoying drip on your head from condensation while you sleep 🙂 The dehumidifier is always in the fore heads, aka cat litter room, which also means this small room works as a clothes drying room when needed. The final piece in the jigsaw happens at bedtime. Who wants to get into a cold, wet-feeling bed? Certainly not Maria, and so we have heated blankets on the bed which are individually controlled on each side. This makes the bed nice and toasty when you get in rather than giving you a cold shock and then requiring a bed-warming wriggle. Although I may be missing a trick here around the bed-warming wriggle…. The other potential issue can be getting into the bed when the blankets have been on as the cats love a bit of warmth and with the size of Bonnie and Clyde, there sometimes isn’t room for the two of us as well.
As liveaboards, one of the other questions asked of us is how do you survive in such a small space (without throttling each other!). Recognising that Mariadz is quite big by boat standards for a couple, this has not been an issue (yet 😉 ). Like all couples, we will occasionally bicker but it generally doesn’t last long and we genuinely enjoy each other’s company so we were close together even in the house 99% of the time so there isn’t much difference in the smaller space. One regret is around the size of the galley, Maria and I have traditionally cooked our special meals at the weekend together but it is really only big enough for one at a time. At least it isn’t like you are locked away in a room somewhere though but you can’t fit in there together.
Entertainment is exactly as before, we have a QuickSAT QS65 Satellite System linked to our sky receiver and so have everything available that we used to have in the house – in fact the reception is better than the tree-blocked reception we used to get!
So despite all of the work on the boat and having to move out, we survived our first winter and then you get your reward because the summer was glorious. I was working locally and around a lot more, so we were able to enjoy lovely, balmy summer evenings on deck, enjoying the view and maybe a small glass of something chilled. Dinner can also be served on deck so you really get downtime in the evening, not even mentioning the difference in a sailing weekend which I have discussed before (Liveaboard vs Weekend sailing).
It was also wonderful when working from home to be able to sit up in the cockpit while you work although it can be a little distracting with the hustle and bustle of a busy marina. The background noise (“is that a seagull I can hear?”) can also be distracting for conference calls so outside working has to be done sparingly.
Of course the fact that we are both still in the U.K. and working, or at least looking for work, means we have to have storage for work clothes as well as our normal wear. Maria has assured me on numerous occasions that her clothes will “fold down to nothing”, particularly when a “Next” bag turns up or we are out and Maria sees some clothes she likes. :). So clearly we won’t have any problems when we eventually leave. However right now we also have a lot of work clothes. At the moment, Maria and I share the available wardrobe and drawer space on Mariadz. To the uninitiated this means I have one wardrobe (ish…) and Maria has the rest – and some space in our storage area too 🙂 . Clearly this will all change when we cast off to start our trip and we are both looking forward to that.
We found the second cycle of seasons relatively easy to cope with because we knew what to expect. In fact the summer has been particularly pleasant with Maria working from home (albeit working very hard) and me either job hunting or doing some maintenance on the boat which will be useful experience for when we start our travels and can’t afford or can’t find other people to do the work. The disadvantage has been that our plans have been delayed a little since I need to earn some money so we can finish everything we need on the boat and Italy as well as having some savings before we go.
So from our perspective, the move to a floating life has been easy and enjoyable and the only thing we really miss from having a house was the ability to have a bath or hot tub. Again that will be solved when we travel by going to places where the water is warm, and clearly with no sharks around! In the interim the occasional hotel stay should keep Maria happy.
We also forced this change on our two cats and it has been interesting to see how they have adjusted. Bonnie and Clyde have always been treated like any other (spoiled!) moggies. We were told by our first lovely vet that we should allow them to be cats rather than ornaments around the home that never ventured outside. When we had the house, they would both like to go out a lot and explore. There was many a night when I would be walking round the village at midnight trying to call quietly to find Bonnie, who was hiding in her usual haunt before trotting happily behind me, following me home. They have always acted more like dogs than cats!
When we moved to the boat we were happy for them to keep going out despite the risk that they could fall in the marina. And they have fallen in regularly! Despite what most people think, cats are very good swimmers and can swim around for ages as long as the water is not too cold. Thankfully, the cats are generally very good at getting themselves out of the water and back onto the pontoon. To help with this we have cloth covered fenders at water level so that they can climb back up if they fall in near to the boat. We have had a couple of occasions where they have been further away and have struggled to get out and this has meant some additional fenders being placed strategically around the marina to provide an exit. So far so good. Although it is quite a sight when you see one of the cats coming onto the boat like a drowned rat with their usually thick fur stuck to their bodies making them look really small. In these situations, the worst is yet to come because we generally take advantage of them being wet already and get them in the shower to clean them up and get them warm. So they get two soakings if they fall in which doesn’t make them happy. So unhappy in fact that the only way I can get them into the shower is to carry them in, which means wearing thick protective gear – namely a very thick bathrobe. Otherwise they would rip me to shreds to try and get out. The other key is to have the shower quite hot, I used to have it at a normal temperature but found a little warmer is more comfortable for the cats and I can’t feel the difference through the bathrobe anyway.
But apart from the risks of water, the cats have been very happy. In fact the smaller space means that they are closer and more affectionate than when we had a big house. They also don’t seem to struggle when we are at sea although if the weather isn’t great, they like to be in the cockpit sitting close to us. All in all though, we think the cats enjoy living on board.
So two years in and still a couple of years before we will be able to leave on our travels. But the good ship Mariadz is generally a happy place for all crew members all year round. Long may it continue.