Living on a boat, done right, can be the very essence of living the simple life. We make do with less of everything from food (fridge too small) to clothing (no closet space) to knick-knacks and frick-frack which we simply don’t have space to display/store. We also consume much less than the average four person family, simply because we don’t have an unlimited supply. For instance water; I have to haul all our water to the boat in jugs during the winter. Because of that, I keep a very close eye on every drop that comes out of our taps and can really turn into the soup-nazi if I think for a second that my water is being wasted. (NO WATER FOR YOU!!!) Our electricity is limited to 30amps during the summer and 60amps in the winter. With that limited supply, we run our boat – heating, hot water, lights, TV’s, computers, radio, etc. When we try to draw more than what we have purchased, we pop a breaker. At that point I know that if I really want to heat up that slice of pizza in the microwave, I’m going to have to turn something else off.
Last week, I was surfing around looking for other live aboard blogs and came across one that I had not seen before called Sailing, Simplicity and the Pursuit of Happiness. Teresa is the owner of the blog and what is outstanding about her is that she is one of the few single females that participate in our way of life. There are lots of single guys living on boats, lots of couples and many families like ours but a single woman living on a boat is a rarity. She is a teacher, so her blog is very well written and a real joy to read. Be sure to visit her blog and say hello.
Teresa’s various blog posts on Voluntary Simplicity sent me down the road of thinking about how we live our lives in an increasingly complex and connected world. As I described above, we are already living the simple life compared to most young families, but I still wonder and wish for simpler times. Is it possible that we could make do with less? Why is everything so complicated and convoluted? Do I really need …. (insert widget, commitment or stuff here)?
A couple of weeks ago the power went out in the middle of a dark and stormy night. (It really was a dark and stormy night!) I discovered one of the limitations of relying on shore power for our heat – when the power is out, there is no heat. The next morning I sat down and made a list of what I would need to do to become more independent and less at the mercy of the local power company. I came up with several options to make and store my own electricity, create my own heat and generally go ‘off grid.’ However, as I looked at that list, I very quickly saw two things.
1. Everything was going to cost money – and not just a little … a lot!
2. Each idea involved designing, installing and working with another ‘system’ on the boat.
Systems are, by nature, complex – that is why they are called systems. So, does adding new systems really make my life more simple or am I adding a level of complexity that in turn adds to the total load on my life? Does it make sense to become more independent by becoming more complex? I’m not sure the trade off is worth it. As it stands now, it is far easier for me to make my yearly donation to the power company and simply endure the occasional power failure than it is to set up alternative energy sources. So we remain plugged in.
Now lets get down to the basic question: What is Simplicity?
The simple life for me is a paradox. The less you have, the more you can do. Does that make sense? Let me ask this: if you didn’t have to take care of all the crap that you’ve accumulated in your life, would you have more time to do what you really want to do? Another way to state the paradox is: fewer possessions equal greater potential for a richer life. I don’t know who first said this, but it has been said many times before, “If you don’t control how much stuff you have, your stuff will control you.” Stuff, be it gadgets, or so called necessities will suck up your time and suck the life out of you. The converse of this is: it is the simple things in life that are often the most fulfilling. A simple meal with your family, a good book on a rainy day, a walk in the park, time with friends, playing with your kids; these are the things that are peaceful and fulfilling. These are the things that bring joy, or as the French say, “joie de vivre ” (joy of life.) If you are committed to your stuff, be they time commitments, toys, gadgets or other miscellaneous stuff, you lose the time to spend on the simple things that do bring you joy. It is your priorities that will control your actions, make your priority the simple things and leave the ‘stuff’ behind. So, for me, simplicity is concentrating on less. Less of everything, leaving time for the simple things that bring joy.
On the boat here we’ve tried many strategies to control the ‘stuff.’ Of course, as already mentioned, we are limited by our space constraints, but we still try to stop the boat from overflowing. One of our favorite policies is ‘one in, one out.’ That means whenever we want to bring something new on board, something else has to go. Now, I will be perfectly honest here, I am the worst culprit breaking this rule, but it is something that helps slow the flow.
A great book that I just finished about simplicity is called The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life by Leo Babauta. It is an easy read full of practical ideas and instruction on how to slow down and reduce the stuff and commitments in your life. He also shows that once you drop the non-essential stuff, you can get so much more done. See, there’s the paradox again, less stuff – get more done. My favorite question that he asks is, “What’s the alternative to information and task overload? Must we follow the example of Thoreau, and build a cabin in the woods, shutting ourselves off from society and modern technology? ” As much as I enjoy the thought of a Thoreauean life, I do enjoy being plugged into the web, running water, electricity and the horseless carriage. So he proposes a middle ground, one that reduces but does not eliminate everything. I really enjoyed the book and got a lot out of it. Highly recommended.
Well, that’s it – my litlle ‘self-help’ post. It works for me. Don’t forget to visit Sailing, Simplicity and the Pursuit of Happiness.
In the rarefied world of the ultra-ULTRA Rich, not having all ones toys within arms length (or at least within a couple of nautical miles) would simply not do. But how does one bring the Bentley or the Rolls or the Range Rover, or maybe even all three along on a little jaunt to Tahiti? Why, one would put them in the Shadow Yacht of course … what a silly question.
So that give us a little hint … a shadow yacht must be something like a garage – a big, floating garage. What’s next, a basement?
I’ve been listening to the audio version of Robert Frank’s book, Richistan, (a great read by the way) which tells the story of the New Rich in America and their ode to opulence which is basically a richmans version of the old school yard taunt, “Mine’s bigger than yours, na na, nana, na.” They seem to live their lives with the goal of “he who dies with the most toys, wins.” And they have introduced us to a whole new category of boat – the Shadow Yacht. Part boat, part garage but all extravagance, these boats carry the toys; the chopper, the cutter, the Rolls, assorted motorcycles, Jet Ski’s and whatever else the uber-Rich need to show that they are indeed … rich – as if the 500′ ocean liner would not give it away. Kind of a supply ship – with just the non-essential stuff.
To fill the demand for this new necessity, boat builders are accommodating their clients wishes and repurposing tugs, or building new Shadows Boats. Ranging from 150′ to almost 300′ these boats are the ultimate add-on feature. Where you and I might get a dinghy to support our boating experience – they get another yacht … just a big dinghy, so to speak. One company who’s sole purpose is to supply Shadow Yachts says, “Our goal is to provide our clients with the ultimate yachting experience, without limitations.” And that pretty much says it all.
Here is part 3 of 4 in our series Living on a Boat.
A number of people have commented to me that living on a boat is something that you can only do if you are single. If you have a family, it just does not make sense. Huh? We are a family of four living on a boat. Done deal! Say what you will, living aboard a boat with a family is not only doable, but I hope to convince you that it is actually preferable in many ways to conventional suburb living.
As I wrote on the weliveonaboat.com About page, we are a family – Ma, Pa, The Boy and now The Girl. The Boy is 3 1/2 years old and has lived aboard a boat since he was nine months old. The Girl has only ever lived on the boat – she is 9 months old. I clearly remember the day she was born. My wife was laying down in the aft cabin, heavy and uncomfortably pregnant, counting off the minutes between contractions to determine when it was time to head down to the hospital. That, my friends, is a boat wife!!
Many people imagine that living on a boat is all about boat parties, keggers and floating frivolous fun. Nothing could be further from the truth for most of us. Our community is just that – a community. There are some people who party on a regular basis, but most of us are just living our lives here. Our boat is our home. Our boat is a house first and a boat second. Now, that does not mean that we don’t have friends over for an evening on the boat – we do. This very afternoon we had two visitors, both came over in dingies and stopped in for a chat on their way to wherever to see whatever – just like a regular neighbourhood. In essence, my life is the same as yours just slightly more confined (we like to say cozy.) We are happy, relatively well adjusted people and as a family, we are close. My kids know where mommy and daddy are virtually all of the time – they are able to watch their parents working together and showing affection together; hopefully demonstrating to them how adults and spouses should interact with each other. The Boy is able to “play” with his sister any time he wants as they are both under the watchful eye of mom pretty much no matter where they are on the boat. After all, anywhere on the boat is still only a couple of quick strides away – so they can’t go far. In short, we are a close-knit family.
We have received a couple of veiled comments about how our life is effecting our kids. There seems to be a perception out there that kids somehow need all the trappings of a middle-income life to be happy.
They need their own room.
They need to have what all other kids have so they don’t get singled out … like a house.
They need to have their … own TV … cell phone?!?
Are you kidding me? I had a semi normal life growing up, but not only did I not have my own TV, but we did not have a TV in the house! And a cell phone – what’s that? I’m normal … I think.
The simple response to all this is: kids are adaptable – they adjust.
Kids don’t know what being happy is. They get their feedback from us as parents and adults. If they see that we are happy and enjoying life, so will they. If on the other hand they see that we are not satisfied and are generally unhappy with our lot in life, they too will develop that demeanor and attitude of discontent. Kids, generally speaking are molded by the adults around them. They model and mirror us. Want to know what you look like to others? Watch your kids.
Comparing growing up on a boat to the sterile modern suburb life is not even a fair fight. On a boat you have excitement, nature, a wealth of experiences and the joy of being, not just close-knit, but just plain close to your family. The suburb life has little of this. Now before you jump all over me, I acknowledge that there certainly can be, and are, exceptions to this generality. I am basing this on my own observations. The people in the suburbs are my customers. Every day, I get into my service truck and drive off the ‘burbs to service their appliances. Eventually, the houses all become the same, you can’t tell one street from another and things are so … clean. No, that is not the right word – boring. Cookie-cutter … everything is the same. Does that make sense? Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, but is “cookie-cutter” a requirement for a happy kid and happy family? No way! I am not concerned one bit about my kids growing up on a boat. I’m glad that I am able to provide something different; a stimulus that hopefully drives them to a life of continual exploration and an experience that makes them interesting and interested adults.
Ok, enough of the kids-philosophy lecture – each to their own.
Living on a boat is definitely possible with a family. It might be harder for you if your family is already accustomed and acclimatised to living in a larger space but it is still definitely doable. There is one thing you can do to mitigate the body-shock of moving into such confined quarters; that is to get away from the mind-numbing activities of “watching TV” and “playing on the computer.” This is a mistake that we made. We used the TV and computer as our entertainment and became addicted to the mush that these inputs made on our brains Watching TV and playing on the computer are not activities, as in doing something, but are really something used to pass time till we can get our next mind-mushing hit. Sucking on the cocaine teat of the TV is a fruitless and unproductive activity that, as far as I can tell, has no redeeming value and does little more than make you want more. Instead – do stuff! Build something, go fishing, learn about the weather with your barometer, watch the clouds and know what they mean, learn the mating rituals of the Lesser Greebe, collect insects, do some scrapbooking or if all else fails – read a book! Fill your life with activity and break the crack/dope addiction. Change can take time and there is always a learning curve with everything new, but believe me, a life of ‘doing’ is far more exciting and fulfilling than a life of ‘watching.’ Your family will thank you for it (maybe not now, but later.)
One final point about living on a boat with your family, and I’ve mentioned it before, is that there are trade offs. The main one (for me) being privacy – it is hard to get away. Sometimes, you just need time apart to think or breathe or just be. That is hard to do with 4 people inside of 300 square feet. Privacy for us is nothing but a distant memory … way back in time when we were living in a house .. with doors … and locks … and rooms! So I guess I’ve traded my privacy and space for an economical, stimulating and exciting life. For me it is worth it…
If you are a US politician and are in the middle of a bribery scandal or maybe a sex-solicitation investigation, you might just be a live-aboard.
This article in the N.Y. Times reveals how many US politicians who are in trouble for something live on boats. It is kind of uncanny but I suppose understandable. There certainly is a bit of a code among live-aboards – one that says you don’t broadcast around who owns the ‘gold platter’ down the dock or who you saw in the shower this morning. Many of us also guard the lifestyle by not granting interviews to reporters – we’ve been asked for an interview at least half a dozen times.
Capital Yacht Club might be a place to avoid if you are looking to keep your nose clean!
Just a quick note to thank those who have sent me emails and comments about our problems getting our boat ready for launch. I have chosen to not publish some of the comments as some are quite – shall we say – ‘expressive.’ I would however love to continue to hear about your experiences with not only this marina but others anywhere. It would seem that there might be some common themes that, if known ahead of time, could be recognized and avoided if possible.
At various times in life most normal people have to ask themselves, usually while shaking their head, “What is wrong with people?” This is the question that I currently find my self mumbling under my breath. (If you’ve never asked yourself this, you just might be part the subject upon which we are about to embark.)
You see, it is 12:30am – that’s middle of the night here – and the people in the boat across the dock from us are carrying on as if they were the only people within 100 miles. I assume, as they have been drinking since I first saw them this morning at about 10:15am, that they are now good and drunk. There are various loud male voices punctuated by fits of drunken female laughter – none restrained, none moderated. The first thing we had to do this evening as we got ready to go to bed, was close all the hatches and doors to somewhat muffle the carrying on. In the time it took for me to get the front hatch closed I was privy to the most degrading and disgusting conversation that was taking place over which all were laughing uncontrollably. Decorum and common decency being sadly wanted by these pitiful excuses for humans, and the self centered nature of their actions, lead me to believe that they were either brought up by farm animals or like the prodigal have descended to the level of the pigs who’s filth they seem to revel in.
In the past, I would have gone out, begging their forgiveness for my family’s bodily weakness in requiring sleep and to gently remind the farm animals that we, here in the civilized world, would very much like to retire in peace for the evening and would be much obliged if they would keep their grunting and snuffling to a minimum. My wife has denied me the joy of turning the hose on the floating pen as one member of the drunken troop is being rounded up tomorrow and shipped off to parts east of here – an occasion for which we too, by rights, should party and carouse all night long.
So, we wait, hoping beyond hope for the sweet sounds of silence that should result in a few unbroken hours of sleep till the morrow when those of us who have some purpose in life and who attempt to be productive members of society rise to go off to our places of employment (and try not to stumble over the dozens of crushed beer cans that the menagerie will have surely left behind.)
In my research for this very liberating post, I discovered that ungulates are known to eat their own young and often feed on their own excrement. I also found that pigs don’t sweat. And so, on that positive note, I shall end this post and go back to trying to tune out the nocturnal sounds of the swineherd 5 feet away from my bedroom window.
We normally try to get out of town for long weekends, but for this one (Canada Day) we decided to hang around and get some things done at home.
The weekenders are all here!
I just got back from the Marina showers – what a strange mix…
Old, young, skinny, fat, short, tall – all in various stages of undress – bumping into each other, laughing uncomfortably … all this to the cacophony of toots and hoots coming from the 8 toilet stalls. Blech!!
Next long weekend – it’s out of town for us!