Liesbet's blog

The Cruising Life: Self-Contained and Self- Sufficient

  • One of the greatest things about owning your own sailing catamaran, while living and cruising on it - whether it is in an exotic place or closer to home - is that you can be “away from it all” for an extended period of time. You don’t even have to get off your boat for days or weeks on end, if you choose to and if you prepared well enough. Cruising sailboats are set up and equipped to be self-contained and what a joy that is, to just have your house with you wherever you go and be comfortable without external help.

     A little piece of paradise in the Grenadines                                                                    © Liesbet Collaert

    The next greatest thing while living on the water is to be one with nature. Isn’t it just awesome to accept, collect and use what Mother Nature provides? Sometimes your dependence on the environment is a bit risky and tricky and totally unreliable and many times, you are just a puppet of what the elements have in store for you. You stand by and watch; you have to take it as it comes and base all your decisions on the present and the predictions. You have to let go of all the plans, hopes and expectations. You have to be able to not get what you want (anymore). But, the days when nature does provide some perfect wind, well-needed sunshine or useful water, are the happiest in a sailor’s life!

     A wonderful sail to remote Barbuda                                                                               © Liesbet Collaert

    The amount of gadgets and appliances on a cruising boat depends greatly on its owners’ budget or comfort level. In recent years, more and more boat interiors come to represent their shore life’s equivalents with freezers, washing machines and air conditioning. I have not heard of another sailboat in the cruising community having a dishwasher yet, but that is probably not far out. The amount of boats equipped with a water maker keeps rising as well and we’ve had it happen a few times now that when another cruiser learns or sees that we are hauling our jugs to shore to purchase water, the baffled reaction is “You guys don’t have a water maker?? ?“ The more appliances on board, the easier one’s life and the more self-contained one’s boat becomes. Naturally, the more appliances on board, the more expensive equipping the boat is and the more stuff that can break. This in turn leads to more money spent on repairs, more time spent in harbors waiting for spare parts and more frustration, because something you have gotten used to is now not operating anymore…

     Irie's interior and appliances                                                                                         © Liesbet Collaert

    For most cruisers, their sailboat is their floating home and therefore it has to be comfortable enough to live in. While there are still an interesting amount of boats around without a fridge or sometimes even an ice box, refrigeration is by the majority not seen as a luxury anymore, but as a needed commodity. Having a fridge helps tremendously when planning a longer voyage or a sail to more remote areas. A two or three-burner stove and an oven, as well as cooking gas in the form of propane or butane, are also part of the typical sailboat. A toilet and shower, whether it is a bag, bottle, or a conventional one (outside or inside), take care of your personal hygiene and a comfortable bunk helps to obtain necessary rest and sleep. A radio and computer provide entertainment (or work), a VHF radio offers communication and announcements and navigational aids assist in reaching harbors, plotting routes and generating safety.

     Irie's battery bank                                                                © Liesbet Collaert

    Of course, all these appliances and conveniences require power, one of the two most precious things on board. The fridge is a big energy chewer, followed by computers and other electronics. LED lights are a good investment to assure a lit boat at night, 12-volt plugs for the computers are a worthwhile investment and figuring out how to save electricity (loss) for the fridge brings a positive change in the draw of the battery bank. Still, when you are not the marina type person (or when marinas are not available/too expensive), you will rarely ever plug into shore power and therefore, you need the means to produce that very much needed and welcome electricity. And, here’s where nature gives us a hand. Irie has solar panels that can be tilted and a wind generator that purrs from the moment it blows 8 knots out. With these two additions, and under “normal” Caribbean circumstances (wind speeds around 15 knots and sunny skies), we are all right with power, even while using our computers every day. When the wind dies and/or the sky turns grey for a day or two, we are in “trouble”. At that point, you run the engines (not recommended) or start the inboard or portable generator (not enjoyable).

     Alternative energy: wind generator and solar panels              © Liesbet Collaert

    People living on land, don’t give it a lot of thought when they take a shower or run the tap. On a sailboat, however, water has to be conserved (unless you have a water maker). On Irie, the contents of the smallish fresh water tank are mostly used for drinking, cooking and rinsing the dishes. We save water by using the sea around us for as many things as possible, like doing the dishes, showering and cleaning the deck. A final rinse of the body and the dishes create the same effect as doing the whole process with fresh water, but makes a huge difference in water consumption. A full water tank offers us about three weeks of self-sufficiency, before we have to transport water from shore, somewhere, who knows where yet.

     Irie's water collecting system                                               © Liesbet Collaert

    A great improvement in our cooperation with Mother Nature was our rainwater collecting system. The catamaran’s cabin top came with a gutter around it and by installing a few hoses and plugging a few drain holes, we now collect from the skies, straight into our tank, and we are excited when a big rainstorm passes through. The first five minutes or so, the heavy rainfall takes care of remaining salt and dirt on the roof (ideally) and after that, it goes in Irie’s belly. A filter improves the water quality in our glasses (well, plastic cups). A cloth rain catcher on our port side (when hooked up) provides water for the sun shower. During the summer months, we manage OK, but during the winter, trips to shore and sore backs are still part of the course.

     The "extra" rain catcher                                                                                               © Liesbet Collaert

    Other offerings from nature are the wind for sailing and the wind for cooling off, the fish for dinner (when we are capable enough to catch any), the sun for drying laundry, the expansive night sky for star gazing, spectacular sunsets for romance and the beautiful sea creatures and coral for snorkeling. Even though we still rely on the land for many a thing (mostly food, fuel and gas), it is possible, exciting, and so enjoyable to anchor in a little slice of paradise, without having to worry about a thing for up to a month. THAT is why we are living on the water!

     Beautiful coral garden in Carriacou (Grenada)                                                               © Liesbet Collaert