On Living Aboard
This winter, so far, has been a mix of nasty weather interposed with some very nice days. In fact, we have gotten under way for two very pleasant day trips. And wonder of wonders, the winter cover has remained in place despite some very blustery days. Before I go into detail about modifications that were made to the cover, I want to make sure they have done the job.
It’s also holiday party time, and there are a couple we go to and several that we do not. The one at the firm where the Blonde, my wife, works is a given. It reminds me of why I do not miss all the corporate nonsense I had to endure when I had a ‘real’ job. A few years ago, we were invited to a holiday party by a couple we hardly knew. They kept their boat at the same yard as us, one dock over. He was in sales, and from what I could see, was pretty good at it too. They seemed intrigued by our lifestyle and wanted to know all about it, which is something we have no problem sharing. At the party, it soon became obvious that we were to be the entertainment. We were asked endless questions, some of them quite personal. It was a very unpleasant experience and we were the first to leave.
The Blonde’s family has a gathering the week between Christmas and New Years that we no longer attend. Some of her relatives feel that I am a lazy bum who lost his job and lives off her income. Little do they realize that my ‘golden parachute’ included two years pay and a substantial buy out. They also fail to notice that I do some consulting work from time to time, for which I am paid quite well. We are far from eating grass. At the last function we attended, one of her cousins asked why she was still with that ‘loser’. There were tears in her eyes when she told me the story on the way home. Needless to say, we have written that event off our list. Comparing notes with other couples who live aboard their boats, we are not alone in suffering this sort of prejudice. I am sure that those who travel the highways in their recreational vehicles full time experience the same thing.
There are, of course, those who live aboard who’s lifestyle no one would envy. We have seen live aboard boats that haven’t moved in years, and if they had to move it certainly wouldn’t be under their own power. Most of these boats are so full of clutter that it’s hard to see the helm never mind sitting at it. As I’ve said before, that’s not for us.
Living aboard in the northeast does have its challenges. First and foremost, there is the matter of heat in winter. When we first bought Patty O’ she was equipped with a small coal stove. This was quite adequate for late fall and early spring, but totally inadequate for those windy days in winter when the temperature remains below freezing for days at a time. Our current coal stove is the third generation and works quite well. The only time we have had a problem is when one of those so-called ‘polar vortex’ systems drops down from the north, bringing sub-zero temperatures and high winds. When that happens, the temperature in Patty O’ at night drops to the high forties despite the best efforts of the coal stove. I can deal with that but the Blonde, who has to look the part at her job, cannot. When this happens, she is ensconced in a motel until the temperature moderates. It’s hard to make yourself look good when you can see your breath.
There are other ways to generate heat, including electric space heaters as well as propane or kerosene fueled units, which are totally unsuitable for boats due to their propensity to tip when a boat responds to a wave. This is, however, not the only reason. By their very nature boats in winter are damp. The main reason we use coal is that it is a very dry source of heat.
Before we moved aboard we lived in a two-bedroom condo and stored our boat on the hard in winter, tightly covered to keep snow and ice off. I would visit once a month or so just to make sure things were all ok. Climbing the ladder and going below, I would be met with the pungent odor of mildew we all know. I tried many ways to deal with that including keeping two drop lights burning all the time, something I’m sure the yard would have frowned upon had they known. The main reason I did this was to keep from having to deal with the mildew mess at fitting out time. There are some excellent passive methods these days to deal with this, which are available at most good hardware stores. However, the most important reason for controlling dampness is mold.
Mold comes in many forms and if allowed to grow, will spew spores into the air. Some of these can be quite toxic. There are kits available that can be had to check for the presence of mold. Small trays called petri dishes are set out containing a liquid growth medium. If mold is present it will be obvious. You then send a sample to the kit manufacturer and for a fee, they will analyze the sample and tell you the kind of mold and if it is dangerous. In my opinion, all mold is dangerous. The best way to deal with mold is to prevent it in the first place.
Aboard Patty O’ , as well as the coal stove we have a high capacity dehumidifier. Between the two of them, the humidity stays around 45% measured. I do, however, still employ mold checking kits. One in the head, one at the lower helm station in the salon, one each in the engine room and in the lazarette. The two latter are checked weekly; the others whenever I walk by.
If mold is detected it isn’t hard to remove. The easiest and probably least expensive method is a spray mixture of bleach and water. This works quite well, but does have disadvantages. First, it smells bad. I would rather not stink up the house, and if you get bleach on fabric it discolors it instantly. There are products that do just as well and are quite transparent, available at the same stores that sell the mold detection kits. If I do find evidence of mold, I spray liberally and after it dries, scrub the area thoroughly. While some might think I overdo it when it comes to things like this, my philosophy is that old saying by Benjamin Franklin, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’
There are times, of course, when living in around three hundred square feet in winter months seems like the walls are closing in. When that happens, the usual cure is to take a long day trip in the car. If the forecast is good for a few days, we might just pack an overnight bag and check out the sights in one of the big cities and enjoy a play or some other cultural event. When we do that, I always let the yard foreman know. In the off season, we are the unofficial watch people, and I know it’s a comfort to the owners that they have someone they can trust on site. There have been several occasions over the years when we have caught small problems before they could become large ones. I also call my friend Ritchie too, and he drops by Patty O’ just because.
When cabin fever becomes obviously a larger problem, we have taken the singer Jimmy Buffett’s advice; “I’ve got to go to Saint Somewhere.”
And this might just be one of those years.