Our first Summer aboard: highs and lows

We lived aboard Bora Bora in the canal basin for a couple of months whilst looking for a mooring in the river.  It was difficult at times being on the boat as we were constantly living ‘under cover’…you’re technically not supposed to live there, only visiting boats that pay a higher premium are allowed to stay on board and that’s for a maximum of one month (as we didn’t have a mooring elsewhere to go to we couldn’t give a lock out date) so on paper the boat was ‘in storage’.  The canal guys were down there on an almost daily basis, operating the lock, moving boats around, doing maintenance etc and we were constantly on edge worried they would discover us living aboard and chuck us out!  We’d heard stories of other boats locking out for a weekend sail and not being allowed back in.  You’d think if everyone is paying the fee’s and not causing any trouble what is the problem with having a few liveaboards?  Another reality of modern times.  Anyhow, we had to keep the cockpit cover and screens on and make sure none of them were around when leaving for work every morning.  I lived in fear of being in the shower or something and them moving the boat with me inside, then the dog barking giving me away!  It made us feel a bit imprisoned and claustraphobic.  However, we had some fun times and in hindsight it was a good place to get used to living on the boat, where we were protected from bad weather and it was a matter of a few paces from the pub 😉 and my place of work.

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Canal walks with Mileydog and our home for the first couple of months (very empty here, the boats were packed in three deep by the time we left)

We took the tender up the canal a couple of times to the next lock where there’s another pub, for dinner, or cycled up to the quay in Exeter and to the Hour Glass pub.  You can see a theme here 🙂

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Heading up to Double Locks

During these couple of months we got ourselves sorted with much better sized tenders (one each) with bigger engines that would be more appropriate for using on the estuary, as and when we moved out there.  The time we took our old tiny tender down the river to the Exe Cafe (built on a floating pontoon in the middle of the Exe) for our anniversary, confirmed we needed them….it was choppier than expected and bloody cold for June, it took half an hour and a new spark plug to start the engine, we got soaked and then could only get a table outside in the icy wind.  Not the best evening.  If we were going to have to get to work and back regardless of the weather, we both needed bigger and better ribs, to be safe if nothing else.

Working in a pub on an estuary without car access means many come by boat and we got to meet a lot of other sailors and liveaboards.  Ben would meet me after work for a few beers and we’d spend many an evening talking boats and bullshit with people we met, and watching the sunset which never once failed to be amazing there.

It was on one of these evenings we were introduced to a couple who lived on their boat in the Exe, an old wooden Irish trawler they converted to a motor sailor 10 years ago.  They were heading off later in the summer for a year or more (pretty much the same route we hope to take) and said we could rent their mooring for a year…jackpot!  The mooring was perfect, fore and aft, deep water and well protected and a stones throw from the pontoon at the end of the pub garden, where I could leave my tender whilst at work.  Ben would park his van over in Topsham and go up river to get to work, keeping his tender at the quay there (hence the need for one each).

We locked out of the canal in July and took up their mooring the same morning they left for their travels, it was nice to see them off and share in their excitement 🙂

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Dave, Hazel, Katie & Reuben off on their travels

I had an entertaining couple of weeks learning how to use my tender, many an embarrassing moment was had bringing it up alongside the pontoon, or our boat, and I was lucky if I didn’t have an audience being the middle of summer.  I got the hang of it (mostly) after a few attempts, and enjoyed the fact mine was faster than Bens haha!

It was amazing to be out on the water and waking up to stunning sunrises over the estuary, having breakfast on deck, sundowners in the cockpit and going to sleep with the sound of  water all around.

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Our view across the estuary
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Breakfast
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Early morning haze

We managed to get some maintenance jobs done but mainly writing lists for all the big jobs that needed doing before we set sail in a years time.  I can tell you that list is two pages long and seems to keep on growing!

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Ben where he belongs 🙂 servicing the generator I think

One thing we learnt this summer is that living on a boat is hard work and sometimes not that enjoyable if you have full time jobs, or where the hours aren’t flexible.  We knew it would be tough and the reality proved it.  You have to leave the boat whatever the weather, which can be miserable at best and dangerous at its worst.  I myself often worked late shifts and would be coming back in the dark, and sometimes pissing rain, nackered and hardly thrilled about navigating my way back to the boat with a headtorch.  Ben would wait up to make sure I was safe, or come and get me if I chickened out…those first couple of months really tested me and I learnt a lot about how much I can tolerate.  Quite a lot as it turns out but I’ll be honest and say it tested our relationship for reasons we hadn’t foreseen.

The obvious things that people expect will be hard such as less living space didn’t bother us, one of the main reasons we decided to do this is to live a simpler life with less ‘stuff’, and downsizing means you can clear out and exist with what you really only need. But what isn’t so obvious is where you get your drinking water from, or washing water, or power, or where you wash your clothes and getting shopping to a place with minimal car access.  These things are what we found difficult mainly due to working many hours (and I had just started studying a Diploma in Nutrition) meant we didn’t get nearly as much time to do ‘boat stuff’ as we’d have liked, and ended up finding some things a real chore, which we felt if we had more time wouldn’t have been a problem.

The water thing was tough because to fill our tanks meant taking the boat up to Topsham quay, or down to Exmouth marina, and due to the above time thing and our working hours being incompatible, meant we hardly ever got the chance.  Hard to understand, but you wouldn’t believe how many things conspire against you when you only have small time slots to work with!  So Ben ended up filling up two 25 litre canisters from wherever he was working, or the pub tap, or family and friends houses, and lugging them to the rib, bringing them to the boat and hauling the bastard things up onto the boat to top up the tanks.  He probably did this two to three evenings a week.  You certainly become anal about every drop of water you have to use.  This was just our washing and kettle boiling water, we didn’t drink the tank water as it had been filled many times with water from marinas in Europe and even though it was emptied and filled with UK water hadn’t been cleaned out since (it was possibly fine but I know I drank tank water twice and both times had an upset stomach).  So drinking water we relied on filling bottles every few days from work or wherever, which wasn’t too much of a chore but annoying if you realised at bedtime you’d run out.

The other thing is hot water doesn’t just come out the tap or shower.  You have to run the generator for a good 45 minutes to enjoy that luxury, and then it just about lasts for two very quick showers.  Washing up from dinner usually coincided with a cup of tea so we could use the water from the kettle to do dishes.

On the shower subject I will always now appreciate how easy it is to shower in a house!  On the boat it goes something like this:

1. run generator for over half an hour, which means shouting to have a conversation (useful for things like charging phones or computers at the same time though)

2.get naked when it’s sometimes freezing (ok this only applies when you realise it’s no longer summer, but the memory sticks)

3.turn shower on but into the kettle as you don’t want to waste a single drop of water whilst it heats up

4.quick spray over hair and body to get wet but then turn shower off (for above reason)

5.lather up with shampoo/soap, try not to let body parts touch freezing cold and wet shower curtain or walls (see point no.2)

6.wash off with as little water as you can (point no.3)

7.try and get dry and dressed without either dripping water throughout the rest of the boat, or dropping clothes onto soaking floor

8.squeegee all walls down, and floor, into bilge, then towel dry to stop mould growing

9.turn on pump to pump out grey water, then inevitably have to lift floor grate and stick hand into dirty water to unblock hair/fluff/general slimy grossness from pump filter

10.dry floor again

11.realise the other person hasn’t had shower so you needn’t have bothered with the slimy grossness

12.get grumpy going to bed with cold wet hair

Okay, so I had a few issues with showering towards the end of the year!  Point being it’s easy to take small things like that for granted with living in a house, and I’m also sure looking forward to being in the sunshine and showering on deck on our travels…much less hassle 🙂

Power wise Ben fitted two massive solar panels (2 x 240w) which give us nice full batteries when the sun shines, and we use when the engine or generator to top them up if necessary.  We just have to be careful what appliances we use depending if we are on battery (nothing over 300w) or generator power (up to 3kw), no hairdryer or juicer on this boat!

Washing clothes proved interesting.  On my day off I’d chuck all our washing in a binliner or holdall and take it across to where I kept my bike near the pub, and cycle the half mile up to my car with it on the handlebars or my back, then either go to friends or family to use their washing machines.  Then I’d cycle back with sometimes heavier wet washing, and usually food shopping too, and hang it up on the rigging to dry.  It helped to keep fit though, and seeing as my bike maintenance is pretty shocking I’d usually have a couple of flat tyres to make things more interesting.

We’d take rubbish and recycling off the boat daily so that was ok, and use public bins and recycling points.

We only managed to take the boat out of the estuary a couple of times due to life and work commitments getting in the way 😦 obviously not the point of having a boat and not what we had planned at all…something which we are making sure doesn’t happen this year, more of which in the next post.  When we did get out we had an awesome time doing a bit of fishing and went down to Brixham another time.

So in general living on a boat is harder, as we fully expected.  But even though changing from a house and all the associated mundaneness that goes with it – bills, mortgage, feeling tied down, being in the hamster wheel society that is expected of you etc, to the freer lifestyle of a boat is great, but if your general life stays the same with work etc the impracticalities of being on a boat can out weigh the pleasures of what you are trying to acheive.  In short, you’ve just made life harder for yourself without reaping as many benefits.  Work less, live more, so the saying goes, and this past year has been exactly about how we can acheive that and what we have been working towards.

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Colder nights with winter on its way

It started to get really cold and quite miserable around late October and the geese all started to fly south.  The pontoon at the pub gets taken in for the winter storms, which made getting to land really hard for me (I’d have to tie my tender to the lock ladder and climb up with the dog in one hand and/or shopping, sometimes 15 ft or more at low tide, using the other hand to jump up the rungs and not lose my grip) so we made the decision to move off the boat at the end of November for a couple of months.

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Moving off the boat

We’ve bought a house locally which we will rent out as income for when we’re away, and we have been living in it this winter throughout the worst of the weather.  It needs quite a bit of work so when we move back aboard we’ll spend a month gutting the place.  Most weekends we have been going out to the boat and making sure everything’s okay, doing the few odd jobs that we can, and when we haven’t been out we’re worrying like hell through the many storms and strong winds we’ve had the last few months, sometimes gusting up to 100mph.  But its a good strong mooring and thankfully we’ve had no dramas.

It’s been a very grey uninspiring couple of months, we’ve been consoling ourselves with cosy pubs and early nights, wishing for summer to return!

So we reckon we’ll be moving back aboard in the next couple of weeks!  We’ve been waiting till they put the pontoon back in which I kind of rely on and we’re changing the bed in the aft cabin so we lie a different way, which will be more roomy and comfortable.

Really looking forward to being back out there, living simple and closer to nature.  Also actually doing some weekend trips away sailing which was a rarity last summer!

The boat still needs a lot if work and we plan to head south at the end of June…whether it all works out like we plan, or not, watch this space…

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