Commentary: Triloboats talks about Hermit Crabbing

I’ve been swamped lately, by my own choice to some extent, with selling a place, buying a place, moving, and travel for my two careers. If anyone ever questions a “normal” life with the typical U.S. dreams and aspirations… I’m a case study in why you should think otherwise. But as they say, happy wife, happy life.

I’ve had the opportunity to be over in Stavanger, Norway, and took the following photograph of the harbor near my hotel. Live aboards… they’re everywhere!

Always someone around

Always someone around

The following article, detailed with further correspondence by Dave Z over at Triloboat, was a fascinating read this week:

Hermit Crabbing: Another Way to Go

While the original author, Michaela Popperton, has a more finely tuned “system”, this was effectively how we changed over from a Cal28 that I originally lived aboard out of college for three years to a Tartan 37 in 2007, followed by a move back stateside in 2009. I was sad to leave Persephone behind in Guam, but at the same time I didn’t feel like I was completely starting over again; I simply had to find a new shell to put my sailing kit.

The interesting part of this article is the two-part nature: there is a piece of philosophy in how she chose, deliberately, to live this particular lifestyle, and a second piece that is practical in nature.

There’s no reason one would have to consider every purchase in light of moving from boat-to-boat over the years, but certainly there is something to be said for buying a few things of high quality, high usefulness, and high return-on-use, and saying “These are mine, and will continue with me wherever I go, no matter what.”

Some things I still have, effectively in my kit bag (so I can always take them sailing with whoever):
– Handheld GPS
– SPOT man-overboard personal beacon
– Onyx kayaking PFD
– Gill sailing gloves
– Prescription sunglasses w/ polarization and strap
– Wide bottom coffee cup
– Carabiner’d water bottle

I also have a galley kit which has changed boat-to-boat, as well as a pretty decent sailboat tool bag. No need to change what works.

I also took advantage of one of her points on trailer-sailors. The Ruby Doobie is actually a combination of two hulls: an original Aquarius 23 that I stripped down extensively to outfit a better condition Balboa 23 that came my way for free.

One could do worse than this philosophy on sailing. An intentional move, say for one-to-three years, with the idea of building a good usable kit and saying “Hey, I can punch at any time and still walk away with something for my time” is something to consider.


Here’s to hoping for a little bit of slack in my future. I have a few articles in the hopper about our Tartan 37 purchase, my galley kit, and some odds and ends. If you’re still reading, cheers! Hopefully there’s something valuable here, even if it’s not consistency!

The Zen of Arrival: Sailing for Mindfulness

Anchored out

One important concept in the practice of Zen (a school of Buddhism) is “mindfulness”.  This state of being can be described as an increased awareness of the activity at hand and the world around oneself.  So often in life we bustle through an activity without really thinking about what, exactly, it is we are accomplishing. That’s not always a bad thing; in his short book called Godliness Through Discipline, Jay E. Adams describes the ability of all humans to develop habits.  He uses an example of a man going through his morning routine to drive this point home. If you had to think through each and every action to accomplish your daily tasks, you’d hardly finish getting out the door before night fell. “First, I pick up the toothpaste tube. Then I reach up to grasp the cap. Now I turn it counter-clockwise…”

On the other hand, sometimes we rush through activities without giving them any thought. While I’m glad I don’t brush my teeth as just described, I am grateful I have teeth, that they are straight, that my parents ponied up no small amount of their income to get them that way, and that I can enjoy corn on the cob with them.

Certain boating skills can become this way, and one of my personal favorites is anchoring.  You will hopefully practice anchoring enough that many of the actions will be habit.  You will also train your mind to be constantly assessing any given anchoring situation, looking for danger, aware of your surroundings.  But hopefully you’ll be able to incorporate a sense of mindfulness in this activity.  It builds connection between yourself, the boat, the harbor, the ocean, and the world.  And that’s no small thing!

“I’ve spotted the entrance channel I intend to come in through. Track looks good, depth looks good.  Depth sounder is on and we’re safe.  How is that wind?  Ah… gentle breeze on the beam.  Feel the wind brush my cheek, rustle the sail, ripple the water.  Deep breath in, hold, slow exhale.  I grab the railing and get up from the cockpit, walking up the port side to the bow.  Feel the motion of the boat as we move together.  Feel her strength in my hands as I make my way forward.  Loving, diligent hands made her many years ago. Did they expect her to be sailing at this time?  Into this harbor?  I reach the foredeck and kneel down.  The anchor is lashed down with good strong rope.  I untie it, getting it ready to plunge into the darkness beneath us.  From some unknown mine, maybe in Asia, maybe here in the United States, we delved deep for the ore that birthed this instrument.  Who were they? What price did they pay to deliver the material to create this thing?  I look out at the surrounding water, seeing the small wavelets, listening to the sounds.  The image of the chart is in my mind, and I look around me to verify, yes, I’m still on course.  Some engineers created the magic that keeps my boat slowly moving forward, guided by a small electric motor, slowly left, slowly right.  I remember the number on the chart.  I need ten fathoms of line.  I reach down and pull out the anchor line stopper, unhooking the bitter end from the plug.  I stretch my arms out; one fathom, two fathoms… I feel the twisted strands brush across my hands as I pull more and more out.  This line has served me well.  How many anchorages has it kept me safely in? How many times has Zephyr or Boreas tried to blow us out to sea, or onto shore, and this line kept us safe? I check the markers on the line; yes, that will do.  I shackle the anchor and chain and line together.  I test each connection to make sure my mind and hands worked together, that each shackle is moused, that each connection is true.  I fake out the line on deck.  I see each length in my mind as it will slip over the bow and into the water, no bights, no kinks.  I look up again, see that I’m getting close.  I walk back to the cockpit.  I check my chart, and bump the throttle just a touch to get us in faster.  The electric motor hums a little louder, but still silent.  The ripples as Ruby cuts through the waves grow a touch louder.  We are close now, and I cut the throttle back altogether.  Now it is just the sound of the water around me, close, natural, real.  I realize this will be my home for tonight.  I will break my bread, rest my body, relieve my mind, here in this place.  One harbor among hundreds, among thousands, nay, tens of thousands.  Who has been here before me? I step lightly up onto the deck and make my way forward again.  I slow count in my head, one…two…three… and release that last pin holding the steel hook in its cradle. Splash goes the water, and the line is paying out. We drift past it all, and I watch the line slowly descend into the blackness.  At last the coils grow smaller, and I tie off the rest to the great cleat on the bow.  With a groan of protest, the line goes taunt, gripping the horns, transferring power to the ocean floor.  I am here.  For the moment.  For the night.  Forever.”

(photo credit: Richard Hurd)

7 Reasons Living Aboard in 2013 Rocks More Than A Decade Ago

Photo Credit: b316728 on Flickr

Loran-C circa 1970: Photo Credit: b316728

In the summer of 2002 I purchased, moved aboard, and sailed my new home, SeaWitch, to Charleston SC. A Cal 28 flat topper was certainly an interesting choice of living for a young naval officer, but it opened up some of the best years of my life. But that’s not to say it was all easy; far from it. The learning curve was sharp! I’ve thought about this often in the last few years, and what the differences might be in living aboard today vice then. Ten years doesn’t seem like a lot, but our society has made huge advances in some areas in that time. Let me preface this list with some context. This comparison is made against my live aboard lifestyle. I think it applies to other lifestyles as well, but maybe in different ways. It’s all perspective.

– Relatively small sailboat living (say under 35 feet in length)

– A working professional career (i.e. still going to work regularly)

– Desire to stay in contact with folks easily

– Staying on the U.S. East Coast conducting local cruising In not particular order….

1) Cell Phones Are More Advanced!

In 2003 I left Charleston for a short training program in Connecticut I knew I was moving farther south to Amelia Island at the end, so I was looking for a new cellular provider to support me down there. And provide service in CT. And a phone to possibly be a modem for my laptop while aboard. And be small. And do awesome things. I spent an unseemly amount of money for a Cingular candy bar style phone, that with a super-expensive cord (sold separately) could possibly tie my laptop to internet for an outrageous rate. And it didn’t work. Fast forward to 2013. How common are smart phones? Heck, they are computers. Bottom line. I can do more on my Motorola Droid2 Global than I could on my entire computing suite in 2003. And for about the same monthly price. The networks have changed since cellular became popular in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, which means better choices in providers and wider coverage. And there are several independent marketers trying to level the playing field, such as Ting. Better choices here would have meant better connectivity in more locations.

2) Tablet Computers

Sometime after moving down to Amelia Island, I left my laptop under a leaking hatch when it rained. Sure enough, my very enjoyable Sony Vaio laptop was a goner .. I found an auction for a View Sonic tablet, the V100. I think it cost me close to $500. Ran Windows XP. Had a huge 40gB hard drive and wifi. And needed a magic stylus to write on the screen (that also cost $50 to replace). It wasn’t bad, just…old. Again, fast forward to January 2012 when I decided to consolidate my electronic empire into one(ish) device: a Motorola Xoom tablet. No more portable DVD player, netbook., or Kindle. It was the closest to “the one thing” that I’ve gotten. I can’t describe all the ways a nice tablet like this (and the great apps running these days) would have benefited me living aboard. Entertainment station. Small-form computing with a bluetooth keyboard. Chart plotting. Inventory. Managing my finances on Mint. Photos on projects or memories. Everything stored, synced, and backed up in Evernote. Shelf space saved by having books on there. Sigh… And all for less than I paid for that V100, and no pen required.

3) The Internet Has Grown

One advantage folks have in 2013 over my old self is the vastness of the internet and its exponential growth. The availability of knowledge and information is substantial In 2003, I was spending several hundred dollars a year on books, both for reference material (how to do certain skills or activities) and motivation (what were other people doing.) Fast forward to 2013 and there’s plenty of both, online, and mostly free. That’s not to say we shouldn’t pay folks for their time and experiences. But, no one needs to go to Barnes & Noble and shell out significant sums just to learn whether this lifestyle is of interest. Instead, the avid reader can find numerous blogs of those already out there doing it. Many sailors keep well-maintained websites detailing improvement projects and repairs; YouTube videos exist for practically anything, and the variety of formats means there’s information available in some media for everyone. Are you interested in a particular design, or constrained to look for a new-to-you vessel in one geographic location? Great! Head onto Craigslist or eBay and set alerts for what you’re looking for. Read the numerous reviews many designs have received. Classifieds? If you want to, there are several online platforms selling boats, so paper is practically a thing of the past. Or shout out on Facebook and see who you know that knows a guy who knows a guy. The barrier to entry has never been lower.

4) Social Connect-ability

While not a game changer, social tools like Facebook and Twitter have changed the way we connect with others, and that is certainly applicable to the sailing sphere. If you’re a coastal sailor, it’s not unheard of to do check-ins with family via Twitter on your phone. Keep up with that couple you met on the docks in North Carolina via Facebook. Reach out to like-minded individuals on a topic or location via various forums and Facebook pages. Heck, one could even keep up a sailing resume via LinkedIn for potential clients. The danger of these tools is the enticing seat of the armchair sailor. It’s also never been easier for the critic to come home from work, sit at his or her desk, troll the forums for someone seeking inspiration or practical advice, and proceed to kill dreams. Sometimes knowingly, sometimes innocently. I’ve frankly avoided forums lately due to my hiatus from cruising. I don’t want to become that guy. Just keep in mind that there’s a place for everyone in this community. Some folks have earned their stripes; some are still earning them. And some will never earn them and sit on the side and spout ignorance.

5) Depreciated Boat Value

I purchased my first big boat, a 1970 Cal28 flat-top, in 2002 for the whooping price of $8500. Sailboats up to the lower 30’s were going for as low as $10-15K. What’s funny is these same boats haven’t really changed value too much. If anything, some prices have gone down due to the depressed economy. Bob, over at Boat Bits, described a reader’s story that if you find a good used boat it’s likely to be snapped up quickly, so come with cash in hand. That said, in my opinion the market has only gotten better for someone interested with getting in. A five digit budget of $10K to $30K will yield an amazing amount of quality used vessel. Even under $10K there’s lots of availability. And since inflation has theoretically reduced the value of my 2002 money, the deals are even better today.

6) Lifestyle Design Is In

I’d like to say that cruising sailors defined this term before the likes of Tim Ferriss got a hold of it. But, the increasingly visible segment of society who are shaping their careers and lives with flexibility, mobility, and freedom make this idea something important to incoming live aboard sailors. The perfect example of lifestyle design was my neighbor in Charleston, SC. He was an A/C repairman. He had the capacity to do much more (education, credentials, grit) but willingly chose to be content with his limited (by most social standards) role in society. He would find an employer, who provided tools, truck, and jobs, and work for a period of one year. In his spare time during the evening he free-lanced doing A/C repair on our marina’s boats. After that one-year period, he’d quit, sell off anything too bulky to carry around, and took his liveaboard sailboat, a well-maintained O’Day 25, down south to the Caribbean for one to two years. Then he’d come back to a new location in the U.S. and repeat. He’d even move around during the year if it suited him. While the fantasy of simply writing about your adventures in a blog and earning a six-figure income is highly unlikely, there’s plenty of opportunity for folks to take advantage of the changing face of business to combine sailboat living with a career, or leverage existing technology to make traditional cruising careers more efficient and effective.

7) Digitized Media

Not that it was debilitating, but in 2002 the collection of stuff aboard SeaWitch was pretty substantial. I had a hearty set of VHS tapes, a growing DVD selection in both cases and CD sleeves, the music family of your typical college student, and an appetite for reading. Space was a big problem. In 2013, I’m on a mission to downsize our media footprint, which is helpful in our home but makes me feel confident we could shift to the boat easily without a lose of lifestyle. Many of my books are purchased via Kindle, and I have plans for a digitizer in the near future to keep all of my favorites near at hand. Most all of our music is in mp3 format and on our computers and phones. Even our DVD collection is largely backed up on an external hard drive in mobile format. With little effort, my laptop and two hard drives could find their home easily aboard (and I tend to keep accessories aboard so I need not think of them.) and we’d be 90-95% established. With a handheld scanner and small-form printer, we have a tiny office ready to go! So much different than my set of four file boxes aboard a 28′ sailboat…

Convenience In Line With Simplification

Not that one needs all of these things to live aboard. Hardly. But, for those who enjoy some of the conveniences and comforts of modern living, the shift to a water-based lifestyle is much easier these days. Consider your options and feel fortunate we’re living in a Golden Era of life!