Living Aboard Magazine Floating in Comfort!

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.

Our Stateroom                                                                                                                                                                                                             

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

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! 

The Head

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.

The Galley

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.

Other Gear

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.



Living Aboard Magazine Nine to Five

Published March/April 2003 issue

Work: it’s a fact of life. Since graduating from college I have always been employed by someone else – then, a couple of years ago, I was “downsized” due to the economy. After getting over the initial shock, I took losing my job as a sign to finally fulfill my dream of becoming a freelance writer.

It was also during this time that my husband, Marc and I decided to sell our home, buy a boat, a 36′ Bayfield sailboat named Nisus, and become, along with our four cats and two dogs, full-time liveaboards. Being self employed helped tremendously with the transition from land-based home to boat. As a writer my schedule was flexible enough that if we had a boat emergency I could handle it without having to explain bilges or pumps or 12-volt electrical systems to a landlubber boss.

While I wasn’t making the kind of money I had in the past by reducing living expenses we were doing OK. Until Marc, lured by tales of sailing the seven seas, came home one day to announce that he was tired of sailing the Charleston Harbor and surrounding lntracoastal Waterways and wanted to get started on our plan of sailing to Cadiz, Spain where we had friends. While that was our original plan I had become content living at the dock with all those modern conveniences shore power provides. Plus, leaving Charleston would mean that while I would still be self-employed (a writer can write anywhere), Marc would be unemployed, putting a crimp in our lifestyle. After much discussion I agreed to go back to work full-time for someone else in order to finance our voyage.

Now came the hard part – not actually finding a job-that was a snap – but the logistics of returning to a set schedule and looking presentable while doing so.

While Nisus has an almost full-sized bathtub I still use the marina shower every couple of days to wash my hair. A six-gallon hot-water heater and hand-held shower nozzle just doesn’t work well on thick, shoulder-length curly hair. Our marina has very limited facilities, and while there aren’t many liveaboards, one shower still isn’t enough when you have a couple of people trying to get to work at the same time. In the past it wasn’t a problem since I set my own hours. But now I had to be on time and professionally dressed, since I come into contact with other employees as well as the general public. I finally learned everyone’s schedule, and as long as everyone sticks to their routine things are fine. God forbid if we get a transient docked at the marina for a couple of days, especially an early riser!

When I lost my job and then moved onto the boat I donated the majority of my professional wardrobe to a local organization that helps dress low-income women transitioning from welfare to the workplace. Being self employed, my normal office attire was shorts and t-shirts when it was hot and jeans and sweatshirts when it was cold. Now I had not only to purchase a working wardrobe, I also had to find some place on the boat to store it and a way of maintaining it.

Nisus has two hanging lockers, one in each stateroom. The locker in the aft stateroom was built to fit from the underside of the side deck to the floor, but when we had a Cruise-Air heating and cooling system installed, the duct-work into the main salon was run throught the bottom of that locker. Now the inside height is approximately the same as the one in our stateroom, which was built from the underside of the top deck down to a nice and convenient built-in bench.  Great for sitting down to tie your sneakers, but it doesn’t do much in the way of keeping dresses from becoming wrinkled.

And speaking of shoes, where does one keep shoes on a boat? When not on my feet, my boat shoes are in plain view in the stateroom, while the rest are stored under one of the salon seats. Since the majority are leather, they have to be checked periodically for mold and mildew, cleaned, and then repacked. Plus, you haven’t really lived until there you are, all dressed up, hair and make-up perfect, clothes neatly pressed, crouched down on all fours with two dogs and four cats wanting to help while you search in a space 8 inches high for a shoe to match the one in your hand.

I finally purchased several pairs of lightweight knit pants with matching tops and a couple of dresses in a rayon-poly blend. All are easy to care for, machine washable and basically wrinkle-free; though l did invest in a small compact iron for those quick touch-ups. The hanging locker in our stateroom is spacious (wide) enough to accommodate my new wardrobe. After hanging the dresses, using clothes pins, I take the hems and pin them even with the shoulders to minimize wrinkling.

Then there was the lighting issue. Nisus has two lights in the head – one over the bathtub, and one next to the sink. Unfortunately, even with both turned on they don’t provide the necessary light needed for things like applying eye makeup or shaping eyebrows.

One day at Wal-Mart I discovered a small round lighted make-up mirror that can run off either batteries or shore power. It’s compact size is perfect for the boat, plus the wattage provides more than enough light needed for applying mascara or blush.

Six weeks passed and things had been going pretty well when I had to face what I had been dreading. I woke to the sound of rain. Not just a drizzle, a pounding, gully-washing downpour! Thank goodness it wasn’t hair washing day, but I still had problems since it’s a 1,200-foot walk down an uncovered dock to my car. I lay there in my nice, warm, dry berth weighing my options; (a) I could call in sick. No, hadn’t been on the job long enough for that. (b) I could just go in late. See a. (c) I could quit. No, then I would have to face the husband. (d) I could get up, get dressed, and make a run for it. Being responsible, I chose d. Even with foul- weather gear, I was still pretty damp by the time I reached my car. But worse was yet to come: it rained the following 10 days in a row. By about day five I was beginning to believe going to work looking half drown was normal!

So far I have dwelled on the practical aspects of working full time and living on a boat. While sometimes the logistics have been difficult, the hardest transition for me has been the loss of personal time and the freedom to set my own schedule. I used to think nothing of starting my daily writing before the sun rose in order to have the afternoon off for a leisurely sail. Or, if I didn’t have time to make my weekly trip to the Laundromat, no problem, I would just dig out another t-shirt. That’s no longer an option. I have also lost that special time sitting in the cockpit with a steaming cup of coffee watching the sun rise.

I know it will all be worth it in the long run. The closer we get to our goal of a long voyage, the more excited Marc becomes, and his exuberance is contagious. I am beginning to look forward to casting off the bowlines and sailing into the sunset, if for no other reason than I will again be my own boss and waking to the pitter-patter of raindrops will be nothing more than an invitation to roll over and go back to sleep – unless, of course, it’s my turn on watch.

Lee Ann Carter has recently been published in South Carolina Homes and Gardens, Southwinds Sailing, Charleston Home Design and The Charleston City Paper.