The question I most received from colleagues when I announced that I was resigning to go sail around the world for a couple of years was, “But where will you live when you’re not sailing?” On my sailboat, of course.
We’ve been living on Blue Moon for a couple of years now, mostly at a dock in Chelsea Piers on the west side of Manhattan. It’s home to us. We have solar panels to make electricity, a desalinator to make water, and sails to get us from point a to b. What more do you need?
Blue Moon is a 40-foot cutter rigged sloop. She’s big and beamy, measuring nearly fourteen feet wide at her widest point. I figure we have almost 300 square feet of living space – about the size of a small NY studio apartment. It feels very spacious with just Jason and me, and feels comfortable with one other couple. The guys pack in up to 6 when they do long deliveries, and she held 80 for my birthday party. The use of space is uber-efficient.
Cabins and Berths:
Blue Moon sleeps seven downstairs, and potentially another handful upstairs. There is one cabin with a queen bed and one cabin with a double bed, the seats in the salon make out into another double bed and a single bed, the benches in the cockpit could sleep another two. Add to that three camping hammocks we can rig up on deck. (Yes, Ben and Kat, there is room for you!)
We sleep on an oddly shaped queen bed in the fore cabin. Our clothes are piled up and jammed in every inch of free space under the bed, along the walls and on the floor. There are two small hanging closets where we keep the dress clothes we never wear.
We affectionately call the aft cabin “the garage”, as it holds our folding bike, my golf clubs, our tennis rackets, our snorkeling and scuba gear, and anything else we can jam between the bed and the ceiling. There is a small hanging closet where we hang the foul weather gear we never wear. (James Lowden, I promise to clear out every inch of your aft cabin for you if you come visit.)
Sleeping onboard at anchor or in a rocky marina is an acquired taste. The boat moves, things make noise and there’s no air conditioning. I have acquired the taste. I love sleeping aboard. Even when we had two apartments and it might have been more convenient to stay there, I always voted for going back to the boat to sleep. Out at anchor, at night, all you hear is the water washing against the hull right next to your head, and that, to me, is the sweetest sound in the world. (Of course, if the anchorage is rolly, or you’re underway in big seas, the boat is my least favorite place to sleep (and I spent lots of nights sleeping at my desk or on my office floor – so that’s saying a lot). For that, there is a pillow over the head and a dose of Dramamine.)
Blue Moon’s galley is not much smaller than most Manhattan apartment kitchens. We have a propane stove, a large refrigerator box with a cold plate, and a sink with filtered drinking water. I bake pizzas, bread and brownies in the oven. The range top is small, the number of pans is limited, and there is no dishwasher, so I have learned to make entire meals all in a single pan. I can jam more food in the fridge than we could ever eat. I even make ice in Ziploc bags propped against the cold plate. We left the fancy coffee makers on land in favor of a bialetti on the stovetop. And when the engine is running, we make protein shakes in a nutri-bullet and toast bagels in the toaster.
The holds under seats in the salon (which Jason refers to as our nuclear bomb shelter) contain enough non-perishable food and drink to keep us alive for months: beans, pasta, prepared Indian food packets, sauces, veggies, fruit, soups, pb&j, snacks, chili, nuts, milk, juice, beer, wine, rum, soda, water, etc. Everything has to be sealed in plastic, or the weevils that come in flour and pasta could take over the holds. We hang a netted bag over the sink for produce, and swear by the green produce bags that keep produce fresh so much longer.
It’s not Michelin rated, and might not get an A rating from New York Department of Health, but it keeps us nourished.
There is a large table that folds down in the salon, where we eat when it is cold or raining outside (so basically, never). There is a table that folds down in the cockpit, where we eat dinner every night. All other meals are eaten standing up in the kitchen or over our laps in the cockpit. My table manners have completely deteriorated, but I am now a pro at balancing a plate between my knees while using both hands to cut food. We have several packs of fancy nautical cocktail napkins – gifts from friends and family before we left – which I aspire to using, but two halves of a paper towel is about as far as we get. All of our cups, plates and bowls are non-breakable. (Thank you Linda for the double insulated cups, Antonio for the purex wine glasses, and Rebecca for the plastic wine glasses with a spot for my pinky!)
At a Manhattan Yacht Club party last summer, as our plans were just coming to fruition and we were starting to tell our friends about our trip, a woman in our group turned to me and exclaimed, “But what about you hair?!” I wash it once a day, run a brush through it, and usually throw it up in a loose bun. Low maintenance is about all you can do in Blue Moon’s bathroom.
The shower door closes in a shower space over the toilet, about four by two feet – definitely not the smallest shower I’ve ever been in. The water is scalding hot (unless we haven’t run the engine in a couple of days and have forgotten to turn the water heater on), and the water pressure is better than in any apartment I’ve ever rented. When the weather is warm enough, I prefer to go for a swim and then shower using the hose on the back of the boat.
The head (i.e., toilet) uses seawater (and at Chelsea Piers, sludge from the cesspool otherwise known as the Hudson River) to flush. You alternate a dial between positions “dry”, which pumps the head dry, and “flush”, which fills the head with seawater. On most sailboats, the head is manually pumped using a small bar at the side of the toilet bowl. On Blue Moon, we have the very civilized black button that does the pumping for you. Honestly, when we make it back to land after a few days at sea, I flush the land toilet over and over again, delighted by the ease of it all.
We have electric hair dyers and buzzers, that all run when the boat is plugged into shore (rarely) or when we shower on land (whenever we get the chance). We have large stashes of all of our favorite cough medicines, antibiotics, first aid, etc. And I have a bag of makeup that collects dust (and probably mildew) in a deep corner of a dark cabinet behind the sink.
If you have a membership to Dry Bar and don’t leave the house without a face full of make up, living aboard a sailboat is probably not for you.
Some sailboats have a clothes washing machine on board. I’ve concluded that they either don’t leave the dock or run their generator a lot. We don’t have a generator or stay at marinas much, and thus have no washer. I tried washing our clothes in a hand-cranked laundry pod, but it took too much water to rinse out all of the suds. Instead we pack our dirty clothes into net bags in the “garage” and lug them to shore as soon as we hit land. Instead of using a dryer, we hang the clean wet clothes on the lifelines and let the sun do it’s work. It’s cheaper, more carbon neutral, and my clothes smell like sunshine.
Yes, I miss Maria. A lot.
We have a printer, a scanner, an ipad, and three laptops on board. We have a wifi booster on top of the mast, which grabs wifi signals from miles around, makes them stronger, and then connects them to our local wifi network. (Information technology is way beyond the first mate’s pay grade, so you’ll have to ask Jason about that one.)
Last winter, I spent 8 weeks working remotely on Blue Moon in the Bahamas. This year, I kicked the crackberry habit, we quit our jobs, and we now spend our internet time reading the Economist, writing this blog, skyping with family and emailing with friends. We have used the printer once in 3 months, to print Jason’s NJ tax return. We let the monthly plan on the sat phone expire, and cancelled our cel phone contracts. We’re off the grid, essentially.
There was a transition period – keeping two apartments until the summer before we left; living out of a penthouse hall-closet in my Midtown East high-rise office building after the boat went south in November; moving stuff to our parents’ houses; and showering at work (me) and the gym (Jason) while we were still working. And the transitions continue underway. It seems every time we go grocery shopping or pull things out of a hold, there is a massive reorganization that involves Jason threatening to throw out cans of garbanzo beans, shoes, books or towels. We’ll either figure it out or buy a bigger boat. No, we’ll figure it out. Blue Moon is all we need.