The other day I was walking down the dock when I noticed the forward hatch of a sailboat pop open. The opening hatch was soon followed by a parcel of supplies ejected onto the deck, shortly thereafter a head popped out and looked around, a bit like a prairie dog coming out of his burrow I thought. Struggling to pull more of his body out of the small opening a middle aged man appeared.  He grunted as he lifted himself up onto the deck, I, in my infinite wisdom, had to point out that he was getting out of the boat the hard way.  Not looking pleased he informed me it was easier to exit this way than to climb over the AC unit, as he gestured towards the stern. Although I could not see the companionway of the boat, I knew immediately he was talking about a window type air conditioning unit sitting in the companionway entrance. “At least you get some exercise like that” I replied with my normal sarcastic wit. Not really seeing the humor he just replied “yeah you could call it that.” as he pulled the remainder of his body through the opening with a crescendo of grunts.

                This got me to thinking (No good ever comes of that) as a live aboard I know only too well the things we have to endure for our lifestyle. And it really is a lifestyle and not just a place to live, isn’t it? Whenever I tell people I live on a sailboat the first reaction is always “oh how kewl” followed by a slightly awkward pause. I am not sure what they really think but I do know they have no clue as to what life in a small fiberglass container is truly like and what we put up with to enjoy this lifestyle. Like my prairie dog friend, things like the simple act of getting on and off of our homes can turn into an act of funambulism (it’s a real word I swear!) the Flying Wallendas would be proud of.  And of course grocery day can truly be a challenge not for the weak of heart. I’d like to see one of those Wallenda’s do what we do with an arm full of fresh eggs and milk!

                For whatever reason we chose to live on our boats, we do have to suffer some indignities in our daily lives aboard. Not the least of which can be the bumps and bruises we incur just moving around in our cramped capsules. (At least astronauts have the advantage of no gravity!)

                 I had a live aboard friend once tell about when he had to take his wife to the hospital due to an appendix that no longer wanted to have his wife as a host. She confided to her husband that the hospital staff had asked her if she needed help and was she living with any threats at home? She thought this rather odd as she and her husband had never behaved in a manner that would suggest any abuse on his part. One of the nurses explained that they thought perhaps she was in an abusive relationship due to the unusual number of bruises and abrasions on her body and limbs. She just laughed of course and tried to explain to the concerned staff that the wounds were in fact a result of living on a boat! Somehow she never felt she was fully believed and always worried social services would show up on the dock one day!

                Our floating homes are full of challenges to our bodies unlike any other modern home. The low overheads and uneven floors of many boats are more like the caves our Neanderthal ancestors lived in than a modern house. (Hmmm come to think of it I have met some Neanderthal like boat dwellers, but I will not get into that now!) We clamber down through small openings into our homes like cave explorers dropping into a new cave. Once in hazards to our body exist in all directions. I am convinced that after numerous years working on and living in boats my skull is now thicker than that of a normal person.  Did I say “normal person” I really meant “land dweller!”Ok watch it here I know damn well what you are thinking! But I swear, just  like the martial artist who practices breaking bricks with their heads the amount of impacts I have had to endure have had an effect on the bone structure of my skull. (I know what you’re thinking!) Why else, after all these years would I still be living this lifestyle? It’s got to be either brain damage from repeated concussions or a thick skull! I know what some of my friends would say but that is not something I care to discuss here!  Besides what do they know with their normal skulls and all. The point being those of us who live onboard put up with a fair amount of physical abuse for this life. Bruised heads, stubbed toes, battered elbows and knees these are all part of the price we pay for living the way we do.

                Daily life can be challenging to say the least. Normal things such as just getting into and out of bed often requires maneuvers you would not want witnessed by anyone other than your spouse and even they will often laugh at you. (Of course you can laugh back at them in return when they climb in, but that of course carries its own special risks.) Getting up to use the head at night is a challenge only to be under taken in extreme emergencies.  Maneuvering in a cramped quarters barefoot in the dark, half asleep, can often be near fatal to a small toe or elbow. And then there is the challenge of trying not to kick your partner in the head while climbing in and out of bed. Of course you do have the added advantage that if you sit up suddenly for any reason during the night you will immediately be knocked unconscious by the low overhead thereby giving you a good night’s rest! Once having survived the night the morning chore of making the bed can turn into feat of contortionism a Russian gymnast would envy.  The land dwellers do not know how easy they have it!

                With the new day brings new challenges starting with the morning shower. Taking a shower onboard has its own opportunities for obtaining bruises. Trying to get clean in a room half the size of the phone booth Superman changed in often requires some of his super powers. Protection for the limbs would help but somehow the image of me naked wearing only elbow and knees pads is not a place I care to go. But then again it is sort of like skateboarding a half pipe naked in the pouring rain! (Not that I would know what that is like mind you.) Dropped the soap? Better make sure nobody is around before you open the door to bend over to pick it up. The sight of your naked butt sticking out of the door might come back to haunt you. (Way too many cell phone cameras around these days trust me on this one!)


                Once up and about, our daily lives are filled with hazards to our bodies as well as our dignity. Things hanging down from above high enough to avoid peripheral vision yet low enough to leave dents in our scalps. Narrow steep steps can have us looking more like John Ritter than graceful sailors. Set all this in motion at sea and it can be like living in a rock tumbler as we bounce and fall across our cabins. Even after having lived onboard for two years now I still find myself occasionally hitting my head on that door frame that I know damn well is too low for me! And for some reason I have not been able to train myself to take a shower without knocking the soap out of its tray with my elbow while drying off. Even the surfaces such as out decks that are designed to walk on are filled with small incredibly hard and unyielding objects just waiting remove a toe or two.

                Despite all the risks and challenges to our bodies living onboard has many advantages that can make the challenges to our bodies more than worthwhile. Having survived and endured all these obstacles we get to sit down in the cockpit watching the sun rise over the harbor while drinking our morning coffee. In the evening we can trade the coffee for wine while the sun sets. We have a near instant bond with other live a boarders that few land dwellers share with even their closest next door neighbors. We enjoy a lifestyle most only dream of. We have the freedom to change our location or take our homes on far away adventures.  We live in the ultimate water front home being closer to nature than almost any other home can provide. The price we pay is a few bumps and bruises in the night, but the rewards are clearly worth the pain. Jus t have to watch out for well meaning Social Service agents and cell phone cameras!

As published in Latitudes & Attitudes

By Capt. Wayne Canning


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