On a sunny summer day a visitor gazing around the marina might think: how pleasant to live on board one of those beautiful boats. What would it be like to sit out in the cockpit or up on the flybridge, drink in hand, barbecue going, gazing at the watery world around me? Even better – what if I never had to go back to my house (or apartment) where the walls close me in and there is always work to be done? What if I lived here?
It looks ideal. Of course, at some level everyone realizes those beautiful sunny days are only part of the picture, but not many people come to the marina when the winds are blowing hard and the rain is falling sideways, when the waves are rolling round the breakwater and setting the boats and docks rocking, when snow blankets the docks and boats or when ice makes the walking slippery underfoot.
So, if you are one of those dreamers, why don’t I paint you a picture or two of those kind of days? I’ll start with this, written a few weeks ago as one of the storms of late summer rolled through:
“The wind has been blowing for three days now, harder and harder. The waves are breaking through the entrance to the marina, and there is swell inside. Close to the entrance it is much worse, and the wind and waves are pushing the boats on one of the docks so hard that the dock is moving out of line.
“Boats have been moving off that dock and down to our end of the marina. When the sailors on board are more accustomed to living on their boats than moving them they find coming into a new slip in these conditions very difficult. The wind takes the boats as they slow down and turn, and even with many willing hands waiting to take the ropes thing happen. There are scrapes and scratches and even a broken window.
“Where we are the docks are rocking (but not moving), and we can feel and hear our boat tugging hard on its lines. The fenders are groaning, squeezed between dock and boat. In the worst of the gusts the rigging lines we have tied off manage to move enough to slap against the mast. We are rocking and rolling and keeping an eye on the boat beside us.
“In this weather I ask for help getting off the boat and walking along the dock. The high winds make it difficult for me to keep my balance and I must stop completely if I do not have someone else’s arm to steady me in the gusts.”
As you can tell, we feel the effects of the weather very directly – the winds that blow around a home built on the land move ours. Since we arrived here at the end of summer 2013 we’ve lived aboard through the tail ends of passing hurricanes and the turbulence of fall storms, through the ice storm of 2013, through much of the deep cold and snow of early 2015 and through some very hot days this past summer.
The ice storm was one of those memorable experiences better enjoyed in the telling than the living. The most difficult thing for us, as for most people, was the loss of electricity and consequent loss of heating. For a while our alcohol heater kept at least part of the boat liveably warm and we could use our alcohol stove to cook, but fuel soon ran out and then proved hard to get. When we left the boat we walked on ice-covered docks, liberally sprinkled with grit by the marina in an effort to help everyone keep their footing. Without power to run our bubblers ice moved in and ground noisily against our hull. Around us the storm created a deadly beauty, sun sparkling off the ice that covered trees and almost everything else that did not move. There were good things: friends and family reached out to help, each in their own way; people came together to trade stories and help each other.
We have no idea what the coming winter will bring – hopefully not another ice storm. The day I’m writing this is beautiful, cool and sunny, a few cotton wool clouds in the sky, but the weather yesterday was windy enough to keep the boats rocking at the docks and lift our not-quite-finished winter cover. Richard is now outside working on finishing it while he can.
We seem to redesign our winter shelter every year. We need one that stays together through the rigors of winter, that remains whole through strong winds, heavy snow and ice. Over the past couple of winters we’ve learned some things about what works and more about what doesn’t, hence the continued redesigning. Grey plastic pipe, wooden strapping, plastic vapour barrier, tape and lots of staples are our raw materials – a curved frame, a taut cover and everything well held together is the goal. When it’s done it will let the sunlight in and accumulate some warmth on sunny days.
The next thing to figure out is how to hold that warmth…
All in the interests of learning how to live comfortably aboard when the weather outside is frightful.