Published Sept/Oct 2002 issue
Floating in Comfort
Nisus, a 36′ Bayfield, could have been named “dream boat.” She has all the style and comfort of a good liveaboard home.
Have you ever had an idea that you decided to act on, no matter how crazy your family and friends thought you were? After a life of raising a child, taking care of a big house, and working 9 to 5 for someone else, I decided I wanted to experience living on a boat while supporting myself as a freelance writer.
I learned that my new husband of two years, while gung-ho about living aboard, didn’t care for houseboats, and most of the trawlers we saw for sale were out of our price range. We looked at a couple of sailboats but weren’t impressed until the day we saw Nisus. Sitting on the hard in a Charleston, South Carolina boatyard, Nisus, a 36′ Bayfield sailboat, was everything we wanted in a boat. Lots of rich teak, a separate tub in the head, actual staterooms with doors that close, a boat built for long-range cruising–she was our dreamboat. The only problem was that I had never even been on a sailboat, and Marc’s sailing experience was limited to 16′ HobieCats. But we figured that we had learned a lot of other things in life, so we could also learn to sail. Before we knew it, the house was sold, 99 percent of our possessions either sold or donated to Goodwill, and a 5’x5′ storage room rented for personal papers and a few treasured family heirlooms. The Nisus was launched, and we moved on board with our four cats and two dogs.
That was in the middle of October and we had mild weather for approximately six weeks. A 6″ desk fan placed in our forward berth helps with air circulation on those nights when we can sleep with the hatches and portholes open. An added plus of the fan is the white noise it provides, blocking out the noise of the animals, pumps starting up, boat creaks and groans, and marina sounds in general.
The first cold night hit on a windy Saturday and since I wasn’t comfortable with the factory-installed Force10 diesel heater, we purchased an electric ceramic heater the next day from Walmart. While it did warm things up, I didn’t feel safe using it around all the animals–plus we were having increasing problems with condensation.
When we first decided to move onto a boat we agreed that we would commit to a year of boat life before making any major changes to the vessel. After six weeks aboard, we had already adjusted so well that we knew we could do this long term and we started checking into Cruise-Air heating and cooling systems. We had already planned on living in a marina the majority of the time, so being tied to shore power for the system to operate was no problem. We hired a local installer, and less than two days later Nisus was toasty warm. Plus that annoying drip drip drip from the porthole onto Marc’s face when he was asleep on his side of the berth was gone. The Cruise-Air system wasn’t inexpensive, but it was money well spent. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I think installing this system was the first step in making our boat a real home.
One of the things we definitely wanted was a custom mattress. We are in our mid-40’s and accustomed to the creature comforts of life. Sleeping on a big piece of foam wasn’t for us. An ad in Living Aboard caught my eye and I contacted Bob Walters, owner of Your Design Mattress Factory in Cleveland, Ohio. After a series of phone calls and e-mails, we had a custom mattress complete with inner-springs and a wonderful pillow-top–just as good, if not better, than our queen-sized Sealy at home. While it wasn’t cheap, it was worth every dime. Plus, working with Bob was a pleasant experience–he was able from our rough template to construct a mattress that fit perfectly.
In one of those liveaboard tip books I had seen a suggestion about using a two-person sleeping bag with sheets that zipped in for berths that were unusually shaped. It did the trick, but it really wasn’t comfortable, and after a while had too much of that “camping out” feeling. When the spring cleaning/redecorating bug bit me, I started experimenting with different sizes of sheets and mattress pads. After some trial and error, I found that a queen-size mattress pad worked. Since it was wider than the actual mattress, I could stretch it enough to get it to fit length-wise. For bed linens, I purchased two full-size flat sheets and used one as a bottom sheet–there is enough extra material on the sides to stay tucked in. For the winter I used a dark red, green and blue plaid comforter on our berth. It looked great with all the dark wood, but come spring I wanted something cheerier. A bright yellow and blue comforter with matching pillow shams was perfect. Since the comforter was one of those “bed in a bag” deals, complete with a set of sheets, I purchased an additional flat sheet and used the fitted sheet to make a shade for the hatch over the berth and to cover the stateroom’s seat cushion.
The salon cushions were all original and looked dated, so at a fabric store I found a Sunbrella fabric in a tropical print. It brightened up the entire salon and is durable enough to withstand the dogs and cats. I plan on using the same fabric to cover the interior part of the mast. With discount-store pillows and a couple of inexpensive chenille throws, the salon is now the perfect place to curl up and enjoy a good book or take a mid-afternoon nap!
Our head is a bit different from that found on most sailboats. We have a bathtub, which eliminates having to get the entire room wet when showering. While the tub isn’t full sized, it is large enough to sit in comfortably, and the two-tiered ledge inside the tub is perfect for storing shampoos and soaps. A colorful shower curtain, toilet-seat cover and small rug, along with matching bath accessories such as a soap dish, lotion dispenser and toothbrush holder, make the head feel as inviting and comfortable as the oversized master bath in my last home. These few accessories were inexpensive and have considerably brightened up that area of the boat.
I gave away the majority of my plants when we sold our house. I have started accumulating inside plants again, only this time they are smaller and don’t require a great deal of maintenance. Sitting outside on the transom are two plastic pots full of salmon-colored geraniums and an assortment of colorful spring flowers. In the cockpit are baskets of Swedish ivy and a Christmas cactus that I had brought from our house. It bloomed for the first time in years during our first Christmas on the boat. I took that as a good omen! These plants require little care and add a “homey” touch.
Marc and I are big fans of a North Carolina potter and have quite of a collection of his work. I was adamant about being able to use these handcrafted serving bowls and coffee mugs on board. I also decided that, since Nisus was going to be our home, I did not want to feel as though we were camping out. We use real china and good silverware. While we do use insulated plastic tumblers for drinks, they are the same glasses we used in our last house.
I must admit, cooking in such a small space on a propane stove has taken some getting used to, although I have now become quite the boat chef. I found a small crock-pot that is just large enough to cook soups or stews for two people with a minimum of leftovers. Shopping at the mall one day, Marc discovered a wonderful appliance made by Westbend. It is a removable four-quart slow-cooker heated by a Teflon-coated base that can be used to grill two sandwiches or fry a couple of eggs. The glass lid can be turned over and used as a steamer for fresh vegetables or as a serving bowl. It also came with a handy insulated cover complete with handles, perfect for those casual marina potlucks. All pieces fit together and take up less space than my electric frying pan. It’s a very useful and versatile appliance to have on a boat.
Pictures, family photos, books, candles and my collection of miniature pigs are found all over the main salon and our stateroom. Even though nothing is velcroed or siliconed down, it still takes less than half an hour to secure everything in order to go sailing. By the time Marc gets things ready to go topside, I can have everything down below put up, tied down and secured.
Finally, we try to remember that what really turns any place into a home–whether boat, apartment, or 20-room mansion–are the people who live there and their attitudes. Marc and I take extra care to respect our limited amount of personal space. While living aboard is something we both wanted to do, it was, and at times still is, stressful. We try to keep a positive mind-set and a ready sense of humor. We may not live on a boat for the rest of our lives, but we are going to enjoy it for as long as we can. If and when it ends, we will move on to something else. Living aboard is another life experience–one that I am thankful to have.
After full-time boat living for almost a year now, life only keeps getting better and better. I hope these inexpensive and easy tips will help to make your boat comfortable and feel more like a home.