How to Make the Most of Liveaboard Life

Boat Journey

Last summer, I tied the knot with a Captain, and I don’t mean a clove hitch. We wed in one of his favorite places: on the bow of his Nordhavn 40, while docked in the urban marina of my hometown, Thunder Bay, Ontario, on Lake Superior. Needless to say, I married into a lifestyle— of which I was baptized by the cold spray of the largest freshwater lake in the world, as we cruised from early spring to late autumn while living aboard our motor vessel. Though it sounds romantic, in reality, residing on a boat full-time is more like camping than a stay at a luxury resort. Yachting requires a certain degree of roughing it. Over the course of our adventure, I learned making the most of full-time boat residency, like most things, takes practice. Here’s a handful of tips to ease your transition from land-dweller to sea creature, so you can reap the most out of live aboard life.  

1.     Hygiene’s Overrated: Prepare to give up meandering showers— you know, the kind you take to inspire the arrival of your next big idea or to practice your audition for The Voice? Water conservation is our top priority given our nineteen-year-old Nordhavn has developed quirks over the years. Our water maker is out of commission and a broken seal prohibits us from filling up our auxiliary tanks (fixing both issues is on our to-do list, ahem, husband). Ironically, though surrounded by endless water, we rationed our H20 by saving boat showers for the most desperate of circumstances. Marina amenities were like bountiful oases, as was the wood-burning sauna we found tucked in the bay of Thompson Island, about 30 nautical miles from Thunder Bay. Unfortunately, not every anchorage is blessed with a Finnish spa, but luckily, those you live with eventually adapt an immunity to your stench. Besides, my husband says you’re less likely to attract mosquitos when you’re dirty, which brings me to Tip #2…

2.     Avoid Offering Yourself as an Insect Buffet: It sometimes feels like a civic duty to feed our nations’ hungry mosquitos, but it doesn’t need to be that way. You can rebel with an arsenal of weapons: DEET, pic-coils, and streams of sticky paper. Save the natural concoctions for picnic parties— we’re dealing with the deep woods. Though I do wonder why no one’s invented a beer that makes your blood undesirable to insects?

Remember when anchored in the wilderness, there’s more bloodsuckers in the bush than in an Anne Ricenovel. Wear long pants and socks. Show affection to your significant other baboon-style, picking through your partner’s hair and nether-regions for ticks. At the risk of sounding like Bob Barker, have your pets treated with an over-the-counter or vet-prescribed tick and flea medicine! Speaking of pets…

3.     Don’t Forget Your Fur Friends: Boating with pets isn’t crazy! Or, so we thought. Cruising with our dog, Cadence, and cat, Onion, presented challenges yet non-stop entertainment. When given a chance, Onion would jump off our boat, run down the dock, and hide in the nearest sailboat. Onion’s first night aboard our vessel, she crawled into a crevice and became stuck in the galley walls. Her persistent meowing revealed her location, and we managed to excavate her through our narrow spice drawer. Take-aways: leash your cat at marinas, no matter how ridiculous it appears, and cover up any small wall openings.

A nautical natural, our dog, Cadence, was less eager to escape, though she still hasn’t figured out to relieve herself aboard. We set up a pad of fake grass on our aft deck, but Cadence knew the difference. She held “it” until we’d reach a shore or a dock, once going twenty-two hours without a bathroom break or whining, “Are we there yet?” As for other bodily fluids…

4.     Exercise: I need a daily sweat to stay sane. With our mountain bikes and paddle boards stored top deck, my running shoes tied, I was ready for Mission: Recreation Exploitation! I downloaded the free Nike Run Club app which maps your movement using GPS (no need for wi-fi or data). Later, you can scroll through your runs to remember the many paths you’ve pounded. Digital souvenirs are the new postcards and key chains, minus the paper and plastic waste. I also packed low-cost equipment— resistance bands, light weights, a kettle ball, and a yoga mat— to create my own mini-fitness studio on any dock. So, if you spotted a short, brunette seizing to Gloria Estefan’s Conga on a marina pier, it may have been me doing Zumba. Or perhaps it was a drunken sailor, or a newbie with a bout of…

5.     Seasickness: In choppy weather, my stomach churned like an ocean in a hurricane. Like with most ailments, I found medication works wonders. Sure, there’s natural alternatives like ginger and peppermint. I’ve stuck an earplug in my left canal on a wives’ tale it balances your equilibrium. Nothing beats the modern medical practice of taking pills for your problems. Though if you need an excuse to drink whiskey: mix honey, lemon, and raw ginger in hot water with a shot or two. Call it a seasickness remedy.

Avoid drinking alcohol the night before a voyage because a) your tummy may regret it, and b) when you’re hurling, your crew will actually believe you’re seasick rather than just hungover. 

We stored our boat at Drummond Island Yacht Haven on Lake Huron over the winter, where we are presently camping while preparing for another season of cruising. Yet again, I’m contending with mosquito bites, lack of showers, and chasing after my cat in foreign towns. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. 

This article originally appeared in Great Lakes Boating Magazine, October 2019

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