If you’ve never lived on a sailboat, start here

August 24, 2013

I realize from the questions our friends ask, that many of you don’t know what living onboard a sailboat is like for us. So I have decided to start this season’s blog with some description of life for us on our Catalina 385 (which means 38  1/2 feet) sailboat, Sable. 029

I will be 79 when we begin our annual trek through the Bahamas.  Just the two of us for two or three months and we live on our sailboat during this time. Here she is, Sable.

We came down to Daytona Beach to begin our preparations. Our “good well-seasoned”  (Who recognizes this literary reference?)Passat diesel was loaded with supplies and my new toy, an electric outboard for Sable’s dinghy. We are doing everything we can to lengthen our sailing season. Not the calendar season, but our own life-season. Hence a new light-weight (17lbs) 044electric dinghy motor.

When I unlock the companionway door and climb down the stairs into our living space, known to sailors as the main salon, I inhale the smell. I don’t know how to describe it, its not like a house, not even a beach house. A boat has its own smell, something like a cross between salt water and sunshine. A feeling that is both calm and exciting comes over me.

051 Everything we need is here. Click on the layout to enlarge it and you will see how it is set up. Our cabin in the bow (front) has a comfortable center-line double berth that means we don’t have to climb over each other to get out and a toilet and separate shower. You don’t need that picture, but for a sailboat, it is quite roomy.

012In the main salon there is a table for meals but also where Jan sets up her lap-top and printer, and a desk where I write longhand at the same time. 015

This is critical to our life onboard because we are currently working on our third novel, Tear in the Curtain, set in post-war Germany, where I was a lieutenant in the late 1950s.  We will use this season’s sail to tweak our second novel, Night Watch, set on a sailboat (can you guess the name?) in the Bahamas.

There is a second sleeping cabin in the aft (back) of the boat, but don’t get too excited about joining us unless you’re willing to sleep in a Pullman berth which means one of you will have to climb over the other to get out. And there is only about 3 feet of space with standing head room. So your first morning exercise will be getting your clothes on.

013Our galley has a refrigerator with separate freezer, a most important luxury since Bahamian fare is often limited to fish, lobster, peas and rice and slaw which is good for the first few times but tiring after a month or two. We also have a propane stove with oven and microwave.

011The outside cockpit has a table for dinner and  a favorite place for morning coffee and early evening wine. Sunrise and sunset on a sailboat are really special and every time it is as different as the clouds. Only rain keeps us indoors at those times of day. So don’t call then because we won’t hear our cell phones purposefully left inside.

The cockpit also has the steering station (wheel) and all the instruments needed to watch wind speed, direction, depths, a chartplotter which is like a very smart GPS on which you plot your course and destination and an auto-pilot which steers the boat. The auto-pilot provides the same kind of relief a driver gets from cruise control in a car. It is particularly useful in the ocean since no one has to take the helm  That still means someone always must be on watch to keep up with other boating traffic. Our cockpit also has all the lines to raise and lower the sails so that neither of us has to go forward to do this. (a safety measure). Sable has roller furling for the main(sail) and the jib making these tasks much easier. We also have electric winches for the sails and the anchor and a bow thruster which moves the bow from side to side for easy maneuvering into and away from a dock. All labor-saving features. Of course, young crew along always helps. 100The other critical feature is air conditioning. Believe me when I say this definitely extends the sailing season. After a hot day of sailing it is a welcome relief to turn on the air, pop open a beer and sit inside to re-energize. It also makes sleeping more comfortable.

It takes us anywhere from 8 to 10 hours to cross the Gulf Stream to get from our jump-off point in southern Florida to the nearest port in the Bahamas. This can be the roughest part of the trip and we watch for a “weather window” before attempting this crossing. People who are inclined to seasickness definitely won’t enjoy this.

034Long distance sailing continues to give a good reason to be alive, and, I suspect, although I have no statistics, adds to longevity as long as we don’t stumble and fall overboard. There is plenty of exercise designed for flexibility and strength. Just try the calisthenics required for repairing a bilge pump in the space under the floor-boards or hauling up an anchor. You’ll see why most sailors are fit. I do all the maintenance myself, most of which I enjoy with the exception of repairing a toilet. Being able to repair most every system on a boat is a necessity for blue-water (ocean sailing) and there is always something to do on either a new or old boat.

The joy of sailing doesn’t fade much, although like most things except sex, the first cruise was the best. That takes me to the first time we sailed into Luperon in the Dominican Republic, but that will be the next blog.

Ask your questions about life onboard a sailboat. I am sure I’ve left out a lot about of how we spend our time. For me, living onboard is just the right level of inconvenience except when its not. 🙂


About ejhowle23

Authors and adventurers, participated in the World Race 2011, an automobile rally from New York to Paris, crossing three continents and 14,000 land miles. Following much the same route as the setting for our debut novel, The Long Road to Paris. This blog describes our own adventures and challenges. And now you can follow our Bahamas sailing adventure that provides the setting for our second novel, Night Watch. Our rally, the African Safari Challenge, crossed five countries in South Africa in May 2014 and in 2015 we participated in the second Trans-American rally this time from Nova Scotia to San Francisco. Spring of 2016 we travelled 28 days around Australia with friends from previous rallies and in the fall participated in our most exhausting rally through Argentina, Chili and Peru- the Rally of the Incas. We were awarded the Against All Odds award. We're still not sure if this was for us or our car. Stewball never broke down and we hardly did. We will soon take on Iceland as a self-drive tour and in the fall of 2017 we will participate in the Odyssey Italia and then back to Africa for a do-over (almost) of the Africa Safari Challenge.
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