What’s it like being a liveaboard on a sailing boat for 21 years? This sailing journey chapter wraps up life as a liveaboard.
How it all began
Guess I should start this chapter with a little reminiscing on how becoming a liveaboard all began.
This little preamble is also for readers that are new to my Sailing Journey series. Maybe you haven’t read or followed my previous chapters?
You may be thinking that it’s a little unusual to spend half your life in a small, confined, perpetually moving floating vessel. Think that I adapted very quickly and quite easily – just love the lifestyle. Anyway, I digress, as usual.
It all started in Windsor, which is close to Sydney (Australia). During my early 20s. I became an integral part of building a Bruce Roberts 28′ Motor Sailor from plans. Yes, from scratch.
No, we weren’t boat builders and went into this project blind.
Instead, learning as we grew into the dream of owning our boat and sailing off into the distant sparkling horizon.
Australia holds a wonderfully expansive coastline to explore. Around 34,000 kilometres – that’s 21,126 miles – not including its islands. Many of the islands are uninhabited. All this on our doorstep – sound appealing?
Did you know Australia’s maritime borders include 8,222 islands? So, why not explore this coastline and thousands of islands in your private boat.
I guess when you’re young, you think you can conquer anything. Boatbuilding was just one tiny hurdle on the agenda. Not that we had an agenda.
Expanding the dream
Think building a boat isn’t hard or challenging enough?
After several years of sailing Naiad, we also went through the pain of extending her (boats are always female, sorry guys) in far north Queensland, Australia.
Of course, there are always unforeseen sagas when building or deciding to extend a sailing boat. I have to say, it was worth the pain in the end though as Naiad sailed and motored much better after the extension. The other bonus is that she gained a roomier cockpit, which is great for parties!
Enjoy life. Explore. Relax. Freedom.
Drop out of the social tightrope for a while and ‘Go bush’, as we say in Australia. Quite simple really.
Long-term sailing up and down Australia’s east coast, stopping to pick up work along the way and saving money to take off cruising again – a liveaboard lifestyle.
Would I build another boat?
Although the experience is challenging and you learn a ton of invaluable skills, I believe it’s too expensive and takes too long to build a boat.
Production boats are built to make money. So, materials are costed to only include a small percentage of wastage. When you build a boat, you tend to use a lot more materials with a lot more wastage. And of course, everything takes much longer.
You also need a decent-size place to build the boat in that is free or charges a minimal cost. You can’t always find such a paddock, shed, or space.
If you’re not in a hurry and have years to spare, then building a boat is a labour of love and passion.
One huge bonus is that at least you know every inch of your boat when you’ve built it from scratch.
Would I live on a boat again?
It’s a great nomadic, eclectic lifeblood that filters through your veins and never leaves in a hurry.
You need lots of time when you live on a boat. Everything you do takes longer than when you live on land. A boat teaches you patience, although nature teaches you even greater patience.
I’ve heard too many yachtie stories of running into trouble that spawn from time restrictions. Typically, forcing the skipper and crew to venture out in foul weather only to come unstuck.
The only time we ventured out with a deadline during the cruising years, caught us in a cyclone. This little Cat 3 baby wouldn’t make up its mind for a couple of weeks on where it wanted to cross the Australian coastline. Cyclone Justin caused us to anchor up in cyclone holes in north Queensland three times, waiting for the cyclone to hit or pass.
Don’t get me wrong, you inevitably hit bad weather at some point, during your years of sailing. It’s inevitable. Regardless of the App that you use or the Meteorology Bureau’s predictions, no one can predict nature 100% of the time. Why not minimise running into bad weather, by giving yourself some slack and taking more time to enjoy the cruising pace?
Unlike racing a boat, cruising is not about getting from A to B in the fastest possible way. This way of life is much more laid-back and meant for exploring at leisure, the plethora of fantastic destinations.
It’s easier to find an uninhabited island than to find an isolated spot on land. Although, I may be wrong or exaggerating, as in Australia there are many isolated spots on land.
What I like most about life as a liveaboard
Freedom. Discovering. Exploring. Meeting like-minded travellers.
I love the fact that you take your home – the boat – with you everywhere. There isn’t a need for booking hotels in advance. Sometimes you need to book a marina in advance, but typically, I prefer not to use marinas, so this isn’t such a big issue.
When you anchor, you have everything with you. Unlike backpacking or camping, you don’t have to unpack anything. You may need to tidy up a little if you sailed through rough weather, but that’s all.
Living on a boat is similar to motor homing as you have all of your creature comforts with you.
Once you own your boat, living is relatively inexpensive, depending on where you’re sailing. If you stay clear of marinas, then food and fuel are your biggest expense.
Drawbacks of living on a boat
Of course, nothing in life is ‘Utopia’. There are always drawbacks. Similar to drawbacks when living on land, living on a boat also festers drawbacks.
The main issue you can face as a liveaboard, especially if you’re not on a marina, is a shortage of power and water. If you own a desalination unit, then water shortage isn’t an issue. Otherwise, you need to pull into marinas to fill up. Depending on the country in which you’re sailing, this isn’t always free.
Typically, power on a sailboat is 12 volts. Unless you run a noisy generator to top up your batteries while your boat is on anchor, then you’ll experience power drainage. Especially, if you run a fridge/freezer.
A couple of ways to resolve this is by installing solar panels and/or a wind generator. Neither are cheap but necessary for cruising.
A drawback of installing solar panels is that you need the deck space. A wind generator usually is installed aft of a boat, but you still need space and clearance from the rigging wire. Also, if not installed correctly, it can be noisy when the turbine is turning, which can vibrate through the rigging wire and to the hull.
Regardless of what you use to communicate to the outside world, there’s always an issue. I’m speaking about internet connections, not VHF or HF radios.
Almost gone are the internet cafe days and now replaced with purchasing data cards around the world. These aren’t always optimal and typically, very expensive, especially when sailing around Cuba, the Caribbean, or Venezuela.
Depending on the size of the boat, of course, space can be an issue.
The walk-in robe that maybe you owned in a house is reduced to a small almost closet-like box on a boat, in many instances.
You need to organise everything, otherwise, you throw out loads of stuff. Call it a continual cleansing ritual. Buy something new, throw out something old.
Possibly the worst drawback (for me) of being a liveaboard is when you slip the boat.
Each year, the boat is hauled out so that the barnacles and slime can be scraped from the bottom, and to apply a couple of fresh coats of Antifoul paint. It’s also a great time to fully check the hull over below the waterline, to make sure that nothing’s gone amiss.
Not only is hauling out a little stressful, especially if you’re working the tides or whether it’s a ramp or travel lift, but this work is also hard and dirty.
Unless you have buckets of cash to employ someone to do the work, you do everything yourself. My hands still carry scars where barnacles ripped at my skin while scraping the bottom.
I could go on for much longer with the pros and cons of long-term liveaboard life but fear that I might bore you too much.
Although, if you’d like to read more about this transient lifestyle, then let me know and I’ll write more. It’s all swimming in my head, somewhere.
More chapters on life as a liveaboard
Check out a couple more chapters in this liveaboard series!