Monday, May 1, 2017

Braley House Elevation : Life on a Sailboat

So this post is all about how we live while our house is under construction. While we were in the planning stage, we researched many places to stay; apartments, relatives, tenting, campers, etc..., but none really seemed to work for us. Apartments might have worked, but there were none close enough that would allow us to stay from month to month. So our solution? Stay on our sailboat!

Getting ready to drop our '69 Snapdragon into the water. 

We bought an old  1969 Snapdragon. 26-foot, double hull last year. Although this boat was designed and built in England for the waterways between the hundreds of islands around the British Isles, we find the boat perfect for the shallow waters of the Upper Chesapeake Bay. Because of the double keel, we don't tip when the tide drops super low and the boat can sit level in the mud. 

Our drinking water

Inside our boat, we have a cute little table which I redid with an epoxy coating to be a little brighter and user friendly. We have a manual pump sink and a stove compartment where we have an electric induction burner. Our berths are about 6 feet 4 inches deep, just okay for Eric with his 6'3" frame. I tend to be a little claustrophobic so I have to consciously choose to not to think about our close quarters. We have a forward room that many boats use as a v-berth but in ours it serves as our bathroom where we have a bucket that serves as our composting toilet.

My berth

Since we can plug into electricity on our dock, we have a super-efficient LED thin television mounted for watching Netflix, YouTube or anything else we might fancy. Rainy nights are extra cozy when we are snuggled into our berths with a glass of wine and a fun tv series to watch. Mornings are pretty nice too, after we boil some water in our electric kettle, make coffee in our convenient Aeropress, step up to our cockpit area, sip our coffee looking out at the water while checking our emails on our smartphones. I even baked bread a couple of days ago in our little Breville oven. We enjoy a cool mix of old fashioned goodness with the comforts of technology.

This little Breville Oven works great onboard

The tougher side is the tininess of our boat. We have lots of storage compartments but they tend to be under seats or counters and so we have to work hard to stay organized. Thankfully, we are docked just off our own property where we have a trailer filled with Eric's work products as well as our clothing. We don't have a shower but we retrofitted a regular garden weed sprayer with a shower head and painted the canister black. After sitting outside all day, the water has warmed enough to take a decently warm shower by evening. Our cockpit is self draining so we can stay on the boat while showering. However, the biggest problem is the height of the boat. I can stand up straight in the main compartment but Eric can't stand up at all. I think our ceiling is 5'6" which is just super short for Eric. 

Eric working from home on board the sailboat

We can't complain yet, though. The weather has been beautiful for living aboard a boat. We have enjoyed chilly nights where the blankets feel good and warm days for sitting outside. Eric can fish anytime he feels like it and sunsets are part of every day. We hear some traffic from the road and just a couple of boats from fishermen that live on our part of the river. During the day, I find it amusing to see sport fishermen working the waters around our boat, unaware that I am sitting inside working on my computer looking through our windows at them. 

Eric catching a catfish

So, like most things in life, there is a real idyllic side to this temporary living arrangement of being liveaboards and there is the grunge of tight quarters, the fight with dampness, never knowing if I can actually get on or off the boat because of the tides...

Tides so high the docks are underwater

I was going to finish this post, but remembered a couple interesting experiences...

Eric is a Regional Territory Manager for his company and that requires some overnights during most weeks. I don't have a problem being alone - in fact I kind of enjoy it sometimes. So of course, after a few days on board, he told me he was going to be out of town and after reviewing the timing and distance of his trip, I decided I would stay home to stay on top of our house lift.

Our supporting walls are getting higher!

During the day, I worked on the yard and then went out shopping to get a few groceries. Eric called me just as I finished to check on me. I was cheerful - having a great day and told him I was about to get back out to do a little mowing. Assured that all was well, we agreed to talk again once he arrived at his destination. I picked up all the grocery bags and my purse and headed for the boat. The tide was going out which meant I had to stretch my legs a little to step onto the boat but I was confident and reached out to pull a back rope for support. I realized I wasn't going to reach the step but since I was already leaning in towards the boat, there was no way for me to pull myself back on the dock. I grabbed the side of the boat with my one hand, still clutching all the groceries and my leather bag and of course, the boat pushed further away from the dock and I just fell into the water - all the way in, groceries and all!

As I came back up to the surface of the water, I grabbed a cleat on the dock and tried to throw the groceries up over my head. It worked and so I tried throwing my leather bag up as well, but of course, it flopped and ended up upside down on the water. Quickly I righted it and successfully tossed it on the dock. Mind you, this is April and the water temperature was about 50 degrees. I knew I didn't have the strength to lift myself out of the water so I swam over to a floating dock chained to a piling. I used the piling as leverage to push myself up onto the dock, yes, to emerge safely but looking like a drowned rat.

My confidence was badly damaged but I managed to carefully lower myself onto our boat and grab a towel. All the groceries were safe, except a new small hand vacuum cleaner I could see still floating in its box under the dock. Once I fished it out, only a few drops of water had permeated the plastic bag protecting the machine. Next, I emptied everything out of my leather bag and began laying my credit cards and the other contents out to dry on our cockpit area seats. Panic hit me as I realized my cell phone and car keys were missing. As my mind played through the flashback of my fall into the river, I realized when my bag flipped upside down, my phone and keys in an outer shallow pocket must have fallen out. I peered down into the murky depths beside the boat and knew that I had no way of finding them just then.

This little Duxtop induction burner works very efficiently as our stove.

What to do next? No phone, no keys, no internet, no television, and a storm on the way. Just my lucky day to be home alone. I thought about my options and although I would be fine overnight, no one would know and without an ability to communicate, my family would certainly be worried for my safety. I remembered that I had a spare set of car keys, but they were safe and sound hanging on a key hook inside our home sitting on cribbing piles, now eleven feet above the ground, above mud and construction rubble. I had to get in the house. A twelve-foot ladder was left in our yard, so I was able to work it into position under our laundry room door.

You can see how high our house was lifted

With much trepidation, I entered my home, knowing the steel beams and cribbing piles were totally safe, but still terrified I would cause the floors to somehow cave in. I gingerly stepped my way through the familiar rooms to the spare set of keys hanging inside the front door. Once back in the laundry room, I ignored my fear of falling again and carefully climbed onto the steel beams and then down the ladder.

Next problem, find a phone. I tried using my laptop to access a hotspot from local businesses but their signals were too weak. Next, Walmart. I walked into the tech department and told the associate I wanted to buy a phone. She explained that they only carried phones for certain carriers but was kind enough to do a little research on her personal phone to tell me where I could locate my carrier's storefront.

Armed with my new information, I headed the few miles down the road, determined to be back at home on the sailboat before dark. Within about an hour, I had an upgrade from my old phone and all my contacts, pictures and information loaded for only a few dollars more a month on my bill. Thankfully, everything I do is backed up on Google so only texts were gone. On my way out to the parking lot, my new Samsung Galaxy S7 rang. Eric was calling to ask me if I had bought a new phone since he was my security contact. I was all too happy to relive the experiences of the last few hours and get a little sympathy and compassion from him. 

A super efficient LED Samsung TV entertains us

I made it home in plenty of time before sunset and set about making my dinner and relaxing as I explored my new phone. Overall, I had a calm evening and settled into my berth after setting up the television using my phone as my hotspot. And then I heard the thunder. Normally, I love thunderstorms and their excitement. That night, my nerves were still jumpy and I quickly started researching the safety of  staying on a sailboat during a storm. The stories that popped up were terrifying and since the rain was already pouring down on the boat, I knew I wasn't going anywhere. I decided our boat was a good stable boat that had survived over the decades without being struck by lightning and so I was probably safe. I will say that was a long night as the storm lasted for what seemed like forever.

So, yes, sailboat life is awesome and awful. We pick and choose how much we can handle by staying at friends or checking into a hotel room.

Tonight, Noaa is predicting strong winds and thunderstorms so guess what? We are securing the hatches and spending the night with my brother!