We had some idea of what living onboard Erin Skye would be like before we jumped into it, because we’d spent a week or so aboard her several times already. Plus we’d spent time on other boats, have been perusing sailing and live-aboard forums for two years, and have read books and listened to podcasts on the topic. But since we moved aboard five weeks ago, we’ve learned so much more, and have run into a few surprises.

Cooking

Onboard, the more simple the food preparation the better, mainly because of working space limitations, but also because the cooking appliances, tools, and food are not all within reach, but are stored in a place determined by safety and logistics over convenience.

I enjoyed identifying where the food would go as we unpacked box after box, and for the most part the initial plan has held steady. Spices, a few sauces, coffee, and tea are the only food items that we keep in the cupboards of the galley (kitchen), while snacks, baking ingredients, and canned goods are housed close-by under the settee (couch). The challenge arose with those bulky food items that didn’t fit in the saloon (main living area), or are not used as frequently, such as rice, pasta, dried beans, and extras of anything, like peanut butter, homemade jam, soy sauce, and ramen. We now have food stored in 8 different places!

One of our pantries

The most significant restriction we have in the galley is the size of the refrigerator. Meal planning and rotation are so much more important when we have less space for fresh food, leftovers and condiments. We had to decide what will not have a dedicated refrigeration space anymore, like bottles of mustard. Mustard is needed on very few occasions, and we can de-prioritize those meals, or make mustard from what we have onboard if needed. We also don’t refrigerate the fresh veggies and fruit that lasts longer anymore, like carrots, potatoes, and apples.

I suspect that we’ll reduce the variety of meals we rotate through to maintain a smaller number of condiments and ingredients needed on hand. I’ll experiment more and determine whether that is a concept that really needs to be pursued or whether that level of meal variety really falls into the spice of life category.

Cleaning

It’s amazing how quickly any spot on the boat can get dirty. More accurately put, it’s amazing how quickly ALL the spots on the boat get dirty.

Daily we are wiping down floors, the deck, tables, counters, bathrooms, and often walls! Part of the reason is that we are tracking dirt into the boat with every trip from the parking lot, when we pick up groceries, mail and packages, laundry, or when we go on any errands. And it appears that another reason is that I’m shedding hair. Was I dropping the same amount of hair onto the carpet and other flooring when we lived on land, but the space was greater so we didn’t notice it collected together? Or did the environment (or my age progression!?) trigger a change?  

Shiny clean table with Ethan hiding behind his phone and snacks

We’ve also needed to clean solvent off the cupboards, replace the caulking in the heads (bathrooms), wash all the windows, and remove dust from the many infrequently accessed compartments we’ve opened. Soon we will have a cleaning regimen and document the cleaning rotation schedule, first draft, so we can get an accurate view of the extent of the recurring cleaning needs.

 

Unpacking

We planned to move aboard 20 boxes then pare it down afterward figuring out what was truly needed, but we ended up with about 42 instead. Our marina staff and neighbors certainly appreciate that we ended up moving way too much stuff, as they have been the recipients of several boxes of unneeded items each week. So have the local charities, but apparently the need is lesser in the East Bay than in Denver, evidenced by the donation hour reductions and accepted item restrictions. I’ve had a great opportunity to tour the local neighborhoods following the advice of donation center efforts to help me find a new home for my things.

As we go through all this, it’s becoming more clear what works well in this new environment and what we just don’t need to keep aboard. I’ve not once thought we brought too many cleaning or hand towels, but we do keep giving away pens, tools, fluffy bath towels, clothing, and books. It hasn’t taken long for us to break the habit of collecting mementos, as we can feel the expected pain of having to part with something else if we bring it aboard.

 

Exercise

I expected to have to identify a way to include exercise in our routine, thinking we’d be active with yoga at first, and to figure out where to do this so we could exercise together, or at least so the exerciser wouldn’t block the way of other family members. What I didn’t realize is that there is absolutely no reason to consider extra exercise at this point since the unpacking, cleaning, and boat maintenance/projects have us going to bed sore each night.

Even walking from the car to the boat adds to our just-living exercise as our slip is at the end of the dock. If we bought groceries or boat parts, or if we had a package arrive at the office, we can add carrying that weight to our exercise total.

Ethan appreciates high tide when he can reach the top of the pylons. We appreciate the seagull artwork too, as long as it’s dry.

One last thought on exercise I’d like to share is that I’ll need to work on my balance and muscle-confidence to make disembarking more seamless. I don’t feel comfortable just stepping off the deck and onto the wooden rail of the dock from so far away or so far up. For James and Ethan, disembarking is simply a long step out. Who would have thought that it’d be so difficult to disembark?! I find it easy to get onboard, but somehow I’m a bit intimidated by the movement in the other direction.

 

Smells

Until Eileen the purse seiner (fishing boat) moved upwind of us, we didn’t have any of the fishy, or even salty air smells in our marina. It was simply a clean air experience that we enjoyed but were taking for granted. When Eileen arrived, her captain let me know that she’s a short-term visitor and after his family trip to Hawaii he would be moving her along to her usual fishing grounds. With a tarp over the Spectra net, there’s really very little to be concerned about, at least there wasn’t for the first week. The second week caused our eyes to water and reduced our time outside.

 

Eileen leaning during low tide

Since our indoor space is so small, the activities done in one area tend to impact people in the rest of the boat. For example, when James is doing plumbing work, or anything with epoxy, it’s very clear to the whole family. In addition, with all the surface cleaning, and moisture in the air, the cleaning rags in the hamper smell like mildew quite quickly. And though vinegar is nicer smelling than many other cleaning substances, its scent can be pungent.

There are great aromas in the boat as well, especially when I’m cooking! Chocolate chip cookies, hash browns, enchiladas, and soups are some of my favorites so far. This isn’t different from land life, except that the kitchen, living room and dining room are the same room, so food smells stay in the living space much longer.

The best scent outside is from the pine trees in the marina park, as well as the fresh scent of no other smells.

 

Sounds

The sailboat chimes in the marina are typical and rather pleasant to hear. With the wind whipping around the sails, lines, halyards, and other hardware, the ringing and clanging are constant background sounds to all else. At 5am each day the fishing boats get their start, and we will often hear engines or radio communication as they motor past. Sometimes we even hear voices of those aboard. It’s actually really nice to wake up to the natural sounds of the marine environment, even if it’s a bit earlier than we’d choose to wake up otherwise.

Recently a friend mentioned that she imagined that “rocking to sleep with the movement of the boat” would be heavenly. I can say that often is the case, but not always. Sometimes the increased wind amplifies the aforementioned chimes into a cacophony of clanks, and the water slaps the hull around our ears. This was the case on the night of July 4th and was punctuated by the sound created by our accidentally leaving the flag in its holder just above deck from our cabin. After time I’m sure these unusual sounds will be filed under “common” in our minds, but for now they do tend to attract our attention a bit too much.

 

Nature

There is a large variety of birds in the area that produce all sorts of sounds as well. Our regular neighbors are pelicans, sea gulls, terns, cormorants, egrets, great egrets, blue herons, sandpipers, pigeons, ducks, crows, and many smaller birds that we’ve not yet identified. Seals come by often and we can see their cute little heads above the water for a minute or so before they fall back under. Near the Berkeley Marina there is a flock of turkeys that has graced us with their presence, parading down and along the road as if we weren’t there.

We’ve gone on several hikes since we got here, since the East Bay Regional Park District is so close and boasts many excellent preserves, and we were able to encounter Ethan’s favorite reptile to stalk: lizards. We also ran into California Bay trees (I chose not to take any bay leaves), and poison oak (we steered clear), plus, rosemary grows around here like a weed, so I did choose to harvest a bit to spice up some bread and soups.

Ethan pausing among the refrigerator trees (Madrone trees)

One of the reasons that I was eager to adopt this cruising lifestyle is that I’m enamored by nature. I feel better physically and mentally when I’m outside, and I love to observe and experience the natural elements of our world. Living on the water provides an immediate closeness to a world that was previously unfamiliar to us, under the sea, with nature in all her glory right beneath and around us. The park that abuts the marina is a destination in itself, for the beautiful view across the bay, and also for the remoteness it provides in the middle of an urban setting.

Though we’ve been focusing on working to make the boat more comfortable to live in, we also recognize that we need to balance that with the actual living. It’s been too easy to dive into the maintenance and projects, and just focus on the boat. Fortunately, we have kept in mind the reason we wanted to cruise in the first place: to explore, to meet new and interesting people, and to learn about and experience local culture and nature.

Each evening when the sun goes down, we have an amazing view of marine-influenced colors and cloud patterns, signifying the clear transition from day to night. The calming sunsets frame the experience, and remind us of how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to choose this lifestyle and to have the courage to pursue it.

Photo Gallery from our first month living aboard Erin Skye:

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If you’d like to be reminded of what we were thinking about a year ago when we purchased Erin Skye, check out that link below.

We Bought a Sailboat!

 

 

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Written by Deanna