Cruising Life, TIPS & IDEAS

Cruising is not camping

Use of quilts as bunk dividers

My husband was pretty sure I was serious about selling up and going cruising when I returned the gold watch he had given me for our anniversary (“She’s even too crazy to be a cruiser,” I hear you gasp). However, what really convinced him was when I parted with my (shamefully vast) collection of “Cottage Living” and “Victoria” Magazines.

Yet, for a while after moving aboard, it was I who found myself questioning my own commitment, as I still continued to yearn for those cozy cottagey images. Was I really a closet landlubber masquerading in fowlies?


But then I found it. Lined up on the cruisers’ book swap shelf in a Mexican marina was a copy of “Cottage living”!! Could it be that a fellow yearner lurked among the masts and fenders? It was my epiphany. If another boater shared my love of the quaint and cozy, then there must be some link between boats and cottages.

Now, after years of living aboard and cruising I have come to see that there is such a link and that it is, in fact, vital to our emotional well-being to make our boats into homes we love and not just to regard them as floating tool sheds.

Esthetics is not something that comes up very often in conjunction with talk of cruising. The lines of the boat and the upkeep of the bright-work and varnishing seem to be the limit of the discussion. However, one spends an awful lot of time not only inside the boat, but in very intimate contact with everything inside the boat.

I think the physical appearance of the interior and of the furnishings play an enormous role in how happy you are on your boat. I am not advocating aspirations to the sleek homogenized interiors of the vessels hawked in the magazines; I am talking about a personalized, pleasant space that gives you joy to look at and live in. However, if sleek and homogenized is what you need then the lack of it may be just what will dampen your cruising spirit.

One of the joys of being around other boaters is that house-pride goes very quickly out the back hatch. Everyone knows that everyone’s boat is always a workshop, galley, school room and living room in a constant state of occupation and use (and usually in that order). That is a given, and everyone is always welcome and drop-ins are what makes this life so rich. So I am not advocating the adoption of landlubber sensitivities to domesticity but rather a reminder that the space around us does affect our mood. Whether you are a Martha Stewart or a Rachel Ashwell you need to enjoy your diminutive domain and make it somewhere you want to live.

While I do believe esthetics plays a big part, I am also talking about making a home that works. That means minimizing clutter and only having equipment that serves useful purposes. The safety and weight reasons for this are obvious but the aggravation caused by constantly heaving things out of the way to get access to other things can make tempers flare.

Visual decluttering created by identical storage bags

Not only beauty but the ability to organize and access your belongings does have an impact on your psyche. I have not been so successful with my cabin and it becomes very dispiriting. Storage on our boat is very rudimentary, making use of plastic crates on shelves. Many is the time I have been unable to access clothes because I have stacked too much or hung too many bags in front of them to allow me to get further than the top layer. Consequently I feel frustrated when an occasion calls for a slightly dressier look and I settle for my daily uniform instead. I curse the boat but it is actually my cluttered living style.

With space at a premium, we all have bizarre stashes of supplies in odd corners, so it is not just important for the psyche to have some system of order in your personal belongings. When you are freezing cold or fainting from heat and need to find that item of clothing in a hurry, you don’t want to be heaving at boxes of confused possessions. Develop a system whereby you can reliably locate items. It might be those drawer dividers or sets of hanging drawstring bags you make yourself.

While I am the last to advocate what can be the characterless look of matchy décor, there is a visual decluttering that can be achieved with identical containers or bags and it certainly makes stacking easier. I had a series of nautical bags embroidered with family members’ names so that they could be hung for storage and ready access to hats, gloves and other gear. I am still working on an effective solution to the lost shoe partner, and the pretty outfit that remains so buried that it never sees the light of day. Part of that problem lies in my own failing of still having just too much to store.

Cruising is certainly about the enjoyment of making do and living simply but we have to remember that in order to be self-reliant we need reliable tools. This, too is important to the psyche. When we tour the boat shows we can become entranced by the ingenious sets of saucepans that nest into a space the size of a tea cup with light little handles that unclip to store. But when it comes to actually cooking rather than storing, what you really want is one of those exquisite sets you saw in Williams Sonoma on your last trip to visit the family.

Rather than selling off all your good quality household effects for pennies at a garage sale (mea culpa, mea maxima culpa) establish which of them you use all the time and take them aboard instead.

Clare’s Birthday in Puerto Vallarta – Hungarian Jerbo Slice, with coffee made in her new French press.

The saucepan you always used because it was the perfect size for pasta or the frypan that never burned or the trusty sharp knives that you invariably reach for will continue to serve you and make your boat a home.

The same goes for equipment like can and bottle openers. They must not simply work well, I would add that they should be a pleasure to use. When the sole is up and the contents of all the cupboards are ranged on every surface and all you can prepare for lunch is a can of beans, that can opener had better roll smoothly or it will be the last thing your crewmate sees flying past his head.

Think long and hard about those appliances or heavier pieces like Dutch Ovens, too. If you have always started your day with a smoothy, you are always going to miss that blender. If you had mastered the art of artisanal crusty loaves in your Dutch Oven (teach the rest of us) and try to find a corner to stow it.

The same is true of your crockery and silverware. Tin spoons and eating out of the can are part of the adventure of camping or weekend sailing, but for long term living they can get you down. We started out with a mismatched collection of utilitarian mugs and plastic cups that, frankly, got rather depressing and could never be stored in an orderly fashion.

Now, whenever we find dinnerware or mixing bowls of similar colors to our settees (see below) we add them to the galley, with the result that we have created a mood lifting medley of co-ordinating equipment that I just love to see in my dish drainer or stacked neatly in the cupboard. It is quite remarkable (and, frankly, ridiculous) what an uplifting impact it has on me. Do not think of it as self- indulgent to have utensils that make you happy to use them. Think of it as the mental health insurance policy that keeps you sailing; Mood enhancing mugs.

Mood altering mugs

If you are an avid quilter or yarn artist there is still room for your craft aboard your craft. Hanging quilts make great dividers and draft insulators when you have no real cabins. Even without a full makeover you can spruce up the décor you have.

The settees in our former racing boat are covered in the fabric used on London’s buses and Underground system because it can stand the abuse of thousands of commuters (or a few kids) and still look bright. It is extremely practical, if somewhat garish. Rather than try to beat it I have embraced it by slowly knitting cushions with even more garish stripes.

Knitting cushion covers to match the décor

Crochet lends itself to all manner of truly useful boat items as well. A narrow hanging tube can be made to fit a range of jar sizes for flowers or sprouts and will stay level as the boat heels or bobs. Covers for pans or tea pots are useful for stopping clanging and ware. There is no end to the practical or whimsical that can add to your floating life and the lives of those you meet.

My daughter fashioned a crocheted fender cover out of rope core, made mistletoe to hang at Christmas, created a parrot for her pirate costume and endless outfits for fellow cruising kids’ toys.

The Christmas stockings my daughter knitted.

A discussion of décor and happiness aboard a boat would not be complete without a discussion of sleeping quarters. If cruising is to avoid resembling camping, the place you lay your head must be more than make do. On our boat we had to convert racing pipe berths into wooden bunks and we have made them so supremely comfortable that we cannot wait to get back to them if we have had a period of staying in hotels.

In setting them up we adopted the “Princess and the Pea” model of sleep comfort. First we laid down a sheet of anti- fungal carpet underlay an inch thick. We chose it because it could be cut to fit all the odd curves of each bunk. On top of that we placed an air filled ground mat (OK camping kudos there) followed by a layer of memory foam. Since standard sheets will neither fit nor stay put I made a sheet mat for each bunk using sheet fabric and pre-quilted fabric bound around the edges with wide bias binding. This has enough body and inertia to stay in place and does not end up bunched into a wrinkled sodden ball in sweatier climes. It has even become the top sheet of choice in the hotter latitudes because it stays clear of the body and allows for air circulation. We use sleeping bags as duvets because they fit the bunk width better and can be converted from double to single layer as the temperature requires. Like food, good sleep is the key to good morale, health and safety.

None of this is to advocate any particular style of décor or living, but rather to make you sensitive to what makes you happy. I want to encourage cruising women and potential cruisers to understand how such apparently insignificant features of life aboard can actually make the difference between miserable sufferance and joyful fulfillment, especially when the motivation for cruising comes more from the other partner or when you (or he ) have been just a little bit too gung ho in the abandonment of your previous life.

I have an Irish friend who emigrated to Australia with her husband after years of dreaming and planning. Her husband had built a shipping crate in which to transport all their possessions, including all the tools he would need to set himself up as a mechanic in Australia. In the final packing of all the tools there was no room for any of her things or the baby equipment they had been given as gifts. I sat with her looking out over the stunning white sand and turquoise water of Coral Bay in Western Australia as she wept, “If all we came for was this,” she sobbed, “ it would have been worth it, but I am just so home sick.” After giving it her best shot, they returned to Ireland. I truly believe that she would have been able to cope so much better with the transition if she had had just some of her familiar links to home. Cruising is like a permanent state of emigration. A free lifestyle and exquisite locales make it seem so irrational that we should need to cling to such material anchors but paying attention to that need may be more important than you realize.

About Clare Collins

Clare and her family have made their home on a 72 foot steel race boat.

Clare homeschools her children, studies online and tries to find time to knit, sew and work on refining galley friendly recipes. She is still a sucker for Country Living and crafting magazines.

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1 comment to Cruising is not camping

  • Gwen Hamlin

    Clare! Love this! Individual decor, whether coordinated or wildly eclectic, is truly what makes a boat home. And for me, that went for outside as well as inside!

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