Transitioning to Living Aboard the Sailboat: The Hard Parts

Transitions. Part 1
The hard part(s) for me (Byn)

The other day I posted that, in addition to the good things, I was struggling with some of the ‘hard parts’ of this transition. I didn’t expect going from living on land to living on a boat to be a seamless change, of course, but I was surprised by some of the things that bothered me.

Someone commented and said, “What are the hard parts? I want to be prepared.”

I think I asked that same question myself before we moved. I desperately wanted to be prepared for everything, even the bad stuff. I don’t like surprises, so I thought that if I could just get enough information, I would be prepared and ready for most of the challenges.

When I saw that comment, I realized that all of the ‘challenges’ that I had prepared myself for weren’t the challenging things for me. I had read about so many of the things that other people found challenging, thinking that I wasn’t going to have *that* hard of a time, because those things didn’t sound challenging to me. I even wrote a couple of blog posts before we left about the 10 Things I’ll Miss and 10 Things I Won’t Miss. I was right on the money with some of those things, but I think the odd part is that the things no one mentioned, the things I didn’t even think about being an issue… THOSE were the challenging things for ME.
So, that being said, here is my answer to the question, “What are the hard parts?”
Other than the obvious, leaving my kids behind, I read about the lack of showers, closet space, clean clothes, having to use a pump toilet/pumping out the toilets, etc and wasn’t phased. I’m far from a germaphobe, so having only cold water to wash clothes, hands and dishes with (until our hot water heater is in) didn’t bother me. I don’t worry terribly much about eating mayo that hasn’t been dutifully refrigerated (or eggs, cheese, whatever). I don’t care that ironing my clothes/sheets isn’t an option (I’m not sure I’ve ever ironed sheets in my life anyway) and I don’t really mind doing laundry by hand or having to have the dinghy be our main form of transportation outside of the boat.
You may or may not be bothered by any of those things, you may not be bothered by any of the things I’m going to list as part of ‘my’ hard parts. It is just such a personal thing.


Accidents/falls/etc. I hadn’t realized how much I would miss my chiropractor. I had a few days where I considered begging my son to go to chiropractic school and then come back to live with us. There was (is???) a huge learning curve for living on our boat. Every doorway seems to be different. The steps all seem to be just slightly past the normal range of steps, either shorter or longer. I felt like I was a constant step away from breaking my ankle. I never really felt short until we moved onto the boat and yet I was always slamming my head or shoulder into the short doorways into our cabin or into the forward cabin.

One day Patrick was working in the galley on the electrical compartment under the floor. He obviously had the floor panel removed from the floor and had left the galley to go get something from one of the forward storage hatches, not realizing that I had come back from the bathrooms. I was all determined and motivated to get some organizational things started, so I had my trusty measuring tape and was measuring all of the spaces I wanted to buy/make organizer-things for. I stepped down into the kitchen and reached up to the ceiling, stretching the measuring tape out to my right as high as I could reach when I stepped over… to no floor. My entire self slammed down onto the corner of the counter on my ribs before it had even registered that I had fallen. In the process, I also knocked several things off of the counter and made quite the racket. Patrick came running… my motivated mood was ruined and I felt like a clutz. Patrick felt awful for not telling me the floor was missing… basically, we both felt like shit, I just had a nice big bruise to show for it.

I fell in this hole, slammed against this counter… and knocked that basket of stuff all down IN the hole.


Then, the wind generator accident. That was awful and could have been so much worse. I think I’ll leave that story for later. Suffice it to say, the area is now roped off AND we always remember to turn the generator off when we’re having any sort of need for maneuvering on board!


HARD PART #2: Fix Its. We were prepared to have to work on the boat a lot when we got to it. Our plan was to motor to the boat yard in Key West, haul out and do a couple of weeks of work. We weren’t prepared for the boat to break down a few hours in. We ended up being stuck in the middle of a very snazzy neighborhood with nowhere to take the dogs/the dinghy, etc. Then 4-5 hours of being towed to a marina where we couldn’t even haul out to do the majority of the repairs AND engine repairs that were constantly delayed by ‘one more thing’ through Christmas… that was a bit of a stress. The kids held it together incredibly well. Probably better than Patrick and I did!

Bonus hard part: There was the first few days before we could figure out just where the forward head was overflowing into… *that* was a bit of a challenge, especially since I thought it was just the smell that came with the boat. I thought it was just the smell we’d have to live with all the time! I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to hear that it was just an overflow that could (and was) easily fixed!

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HARD PART #3: For me, the most surprising ‘hard part’ was the humid, hot and especially rainy weather. I have dealt with all kinds of weather and would have thought that hot weather was the least of my worries, but I was absolutely not prepared for how absolutely emotionally draining it would be to be having hot flashes in the midst of changing from 50 degree weather to 80 degree, 90% humidity weather. I didn’t just GET hot, I STAYED hot. ALL. THE. TIME. I went to bed covered in sweat, I woke up damp, I had cold showers and by the time I was dressed, I was sweating again.
I wasn’t prepared for the hormonal mood swings that came with being so sticky, sweaty and uncomfortable all the time. ALL THE TIME. I was starting to feel like my nether regions were going to start mildewing. It rained so much and that meant that we had to keep the hatches (aka windows) all shut tight with no air movement and no A/C. It was gross and seriously, I cried more in those first three weeks than I think I have in years. For whatever reason, for ME, the heat and humidity just destroyed my ability to feel… sane.

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HARD PART #4: The MESS. The chaos of trying to find a place for everything and then the chaos of trying to find the thing you put away somewhere. Everything just seems to take so much more work when it comes to organizing stuff and putting it away because so much of the storage space is difficult to get to and that makes it harder to decide where things need to go. I feel like we’re STILL trying to figure this out. As well as trying to figure out where to put things where they won’t get wet or fly away. I know its a work in progress, but man, being able to know where I should put things is going to be amazing someday! I think I have a good portion of the galley organized properly, but sheesh, this part is so much more difficult than I thought it would be!


All in all, those first few weeks often left me feeling overwhelmed and emotional and then add to it feeling like a clumsy dolt far too often, banging my head, shoulders, covered with bruises and bashing my toes… it just felt overwhelming at times. I often felt pissed off and cussed out a doorway or two, but mostly, it was just depressing and I let it get to me far too much.

There were, of course, other hard things. Engine breakdowns, extended repairs that took longer than we thought. Costs going through the roof. All of those things were difficult, yet, but they were expected to some extent, so it was more tolerable. Still very stressful on top of everything else, for sure, but I wouldn’t say those were the things that brought me down as much.
So I guess my advice is, don’t try to have it all figured out. Expect the unexpected and don’t give yourself a hard time if it takes you longer to adjust than you think it will. Don’t beat yourself up, even if you feel like you’re getting upset over ‘silly’ things. Just go with the flow as much as you can and remember that you’re here for a reason.
For me, all it took to look ahead was remembering how absolutely frustrated and depressed I was back on land at the lack of change in my life. I had wanted an adventure and something DIFFERENT. I can’t imagine giving up that easily.