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We’ve now been onboard Mirounga for two weeks, and it’s been over 6 weeks since we left the UK.
Thats longer than we’ve ever been on board, and for me, twice as long as any trip abroad I’ve ever taken.
It’s been an odd two weeks. The things we thought we’d find hard have been fine, and the things we assumed wouldn’t bother us have. We’re definitely feeling conflicted about exactly what our future will hold.
On Saturday 24 April, after 2 weeks at Mangwana, we went out for breakfast. It was a rather special breakfast.
We ate at Gingerbread, and as we were enjoying our eggs we saw our first glimpse of Mirounga rounding the headland and coming into Admiralty Bay. It felt surreal to see the boat we decided to buy back in September for the first time. We watched as Richard and Suzanna ably handled her under sail, and then, sails down, brought her onto her mooring ball. And then, we finally got to say hello to the people whose home we’d been living in.
We didn’t go on board that day. Instead, we helped R&S bring their luggage up to the house. We packed our things while they finished moving off Mirounga and preparing her for our arrival. We cooked them a meal, and we briefly coexisted. I was excited and nervous. The fear that we wouldn’t get on was unfounded, but we were heading straight in to boat life the next day.
That Sunday morning after a good breakfast, we went out for our first sail. We stuck to a triangle out of the bay, across it, and back in. We were focusing on learning how to sail a catamaran with three sails – one more hull and sail than we were familiar with. It meant we didn’t take in much else. But we could absorb just how huge, comfortable and stable Mirounga is.
After lunch back on land at De Reef, we gathered our belongings, and moved on board. Suddenly, our home was a boat.
I’m disappointed to say I was useless that afternoon. I’m hypermobile and my joints get out of whack easily. At some point, I managed to pinch my sciatic nerve, so I could barely bend over. Not exactly the best state to move your whole life on to a boat by dinghy!
Colin and Richard picked up the slack and somehow got everything across on two dinghy runs. I stretched out my back the best way I know – by jumping in the water and swimming out to Mirounga. It’s a good way to arrive at your new home.
I have always been that person that will fully unpack a case just for a night if I can. I like to have everything neatly away. It’s my equivalent of John McClaine making fists with his toes.
Unfortunately, Mirounga wasn’t ready for that. There was some unexpected water in the bilge, and the starboard tank clearly had volcanic ash in it. So, as Richard and Colin worked on pumping and cleaning, I tried my best to squirrel away some things. Every so often, I’d come and help with a hose, or wringing out a mop. I’m very grateful to Richard for the help, but at the same time, it was kind of like trying to move into a house with the owner still cleaning the oven.
By the time night fell and we had our first sunset beer on deck, we were truly exhausted.
Practicalities of boat life
There are certain things you worry about when you’re planning to live on a boat. These are the things aside from the actual sailing that seasoned sailors will tell you to forget about. But this was our home, and we had given up almost everything to move on board. It’s about far more than just sailing for us.
The things I’d worried about? Obtaining water. Cooking with gas. Dealing with manual pump marine toilets. Stowing everything. Getting ashore easily. Staying cool on hot days. Sleeping soundly. Grocery shopping. Trash disposal. Staying clean. Laundry. Charging everything. Staying connected.
Some of those things had been fun challenges on our short sailing trips, but how would they feel when part of everyday life? Would I love life on the water enough to put these niggles aside?
In the end, many of these things aren’t as bad as I’d expected.
Mirounga’s size means that storage and space just aren’t an issue, at all. Once we rigged up wind scoops to a couple of hatches, staying cool in the saloon isn’t a problem. Our cabin is large and comfortable, stays cool, and we’re sleeping better than we have in years. Our owner’s head with a separate shower is fantastic.
The loo is fine, at least it is after I removed the weird shelf that covers it up and dug so badly into my leg it bruised me. Cooking has also been fine – we have a really well-proportioned galley, and the most effective gas oven I’ve ever used. I’m not sure I’ve ever taken such evenly baked banana bread out of an oven.
I bought a large wide bucket and a sink plunger which I cut holes into. This is my washing machine. It takes me around an hour for a small wash from filling the bucket to hanging out the clean garments to dry. But water use is a concern.
We’ve called Daffodil out twice for water, and to take a load of sheets and towels for washing. This isn’t cheap – we think we’re spending around £30 a week on water. We will get a water maker and fit it ASAP. In the meantime, we’ve got our decks clean enough to start collecting rainwater.
Colin has already fitted extra 12v sockets, including in two cabins. Combined with the solar panels, wind generators and 900Ah battery bank power hasn’t been an issue at all. Nor has getting access to the internet.
We’ve fallen into something of a routine. Colin still works 5am-1pm Monday to Friday. After 5 days onboard, my leaving date at The Scottish Parliament came around, so I’m no longer working. I get up a little later, then watch a little iPad TV. The rest of the morning I spend on chores, writing, researching boat jobs, or job hunting.
We head ashore for lunch a couple of times a week, and most days we’re in Port Elizabeth. It’s good to get on land every day, and shopping is easier if we buy only a few things at a time. And there’s always something new we think of that we need from the chandlery. Grocery shopping isn’t costing us the earth, which I was worried about. We eat far less than we used to. Twice a week I visit Dr. Gregory Thomas for chiropractic treatment – it’s working,
Getting the dinghy on and off its davits is now second nature, and I’m getting better at not popping my hip when I climb back on board. I’ve started to learn to drive the dinghy, but it will probably be a little time before I’m ready to go ashore alone.
As we did on land, we still watch the sunset every day. Usually, this is from our cockpit or hammock, but once or twice a week we head to The Bequia Marina or Jacks Bar. We’ve been lucky to usually see a friendly face for a chat, and we try to meet our friends Chris and Louise once a week if they’re around.
I thought I would swim every day, at least once. In reality, when there’s an offshore wind blowing the water into my face I don’t love it. I also hate getting my long curly hair wet as washing it daily would be such an effort.
I also thought we’d be in the sun more, but aside from eating outside, we tend to avoid the outdoors. Wearing sunscreen daily becomes irritating, so we stay covered or inside instead. I can’t even comprehend sunbathing. Living in the tropics is very different than taking a short sunshine holiday.
We’re now Mirounga’s owners, in every sense. The Thursday after we moved onboard we signed the registration papers, and a few days ago we went into the customs office to register as Mirounga’s crew. We’ve insured her. We’ve replaced her old SVG flag with a new one (and added a fun Bequia flag). We just need to FedEx some papers to Jersey to update her registration now.
We’ve had two sails around the bay with Richard, and two alone. We feel we’ve got the hang of her fine, though I’m less confident about trimming the sails well than I was on a monohull. We’re settling into our roles and who is best at what – as always, I’m happier with the physical work over steering. Unlike on a monohull though, I’m more comfortable taking the helm. We’re getting used to electric winches and being able to drop the anchor from the helm – such luxury.
We had the fun of being becalmed and having to stop ourselves drifting onto the dive boats around us, and experimenting with a second anchor.
I’ll admit, that as much as I enjoy sailing it’s not a passion for me in the way it is for others. I’ve always seen it more as a means to travel sustainably and save money over a hobby or an activity I get excited about. I don’t care for dinghy racing, and we have a catamaran because I hate heeling over. My favorite part of a day sailing is dropping the hook and opening a beer at sunset. I’m nonplussed about going out just to sail.
Mirounga is never going to be the fastest boat in our hands, but she’s comfortable and gets us around, which was what we really wanted. No thrill rides here.
We’re making small tweaks to Mirounga where we can. As well as the three extra 12v sockets, Colin has fitted a fan at the nav station.
I’ve cleaned, a lot. The galley is sparkling. In the bathroom, we’ve done our best but ultimately the gelcoat has staining that won’t go away. It’s been frustrating working at it with no luck, trying all sorts of fancy products, only to see little change. We won’t paint it, as paint jobs rarely last onboard. We’re just going to have to accept it.
We took a trip to Kingstown with Richard and Suzanna and managed to get a lot of the small household things we needed. There are still plenty of things that we missed or will have to buy in the UK or the French islands. We’re hoping that by the time we head north for Christmas we’ll have her looking more like our home.
We have a shortlist of small jobs that came up in the survey that need doing to satisfy the insurer. One is replacing the waste hoses on the heads. We’re trying to see the positive in that we’ll get familiar with the pipework before we’re forced to do so in an emergency. We’re also thinking of getting some carpentry done to tidy up around hatches, and maybe replace the companionway door and cockpit table.
We’ve waterproofed the bimini – when it rains we find it very hard to stay dry. We’d love to fit a hardtop but they might run in the region of £9000, so we’re going to investigate if the bimini can be extended.
On paper, it’s all good.
We have a boat we love. We’ve adjusted to living onboard. We can sail her. We can moor and anchor her. And we’re gradually figuring out how to work on her. We have friends and a social life. Our outgoings mean we can not only eat but eat out regularly. We live on a beautiful island, with friendly people, and have many more islands to explore.
To the untrained eye, we are finally living our dream.
Except, to me, so far, it’s not a dream. It’s hard to tell why, but I’m struggling. I’ve suffered from depression and mental health problems since I was a teenager and those have come to the fore since moving on board. For the first week, I could barely get out of bed at times. I started to question everything – my mind, my relationship, my decisions. Whether I will ever be happy, truly happy, anywhere.
I feel painfully disconnected from land. I’ve never craved independence and we’re a couple that has always been happily joined at the hip, but now I want to be alone.
Not alone. With my friends and family back home. I want to be enjoying a wet weekend camping with our university friends. A couple of cocktails with some ex-coworkers. A Starbucks with my favourite lunch buddy. Sitting in the garden with my dad. A drive with my brother. Cards Against Humanity with our American family. Dinner with my inlaws.
And not here.
A tropical paradise?
I’ve always loved the Caribbean, but I’ve always known I’d be back in the chilly UK soon. After 6 weeks, I’m utterly sick of the heat. Thankfully we can get cool at night, but some days are just relentlessly hot. The forecast this past week has been for rain, but the rain hasn’t come. It’s just become more and more humid. It sucks all of my energy. On days where I’ve planned to do tasks, I’ve just had to lie down between every burst of activity. I should have done so much more by now. I’m irritable and apathetic. At times I’m downright miserable. I’m nervous about taking on a new job because I’m scared I just don’t have the spoons. The only time I’m truly happy is when I sit down to write.
It’s been 17 years since we first thought about moving to the Caribbean and now we’re here, I wish I wasn’t.
Dreaming of home
Now I’m finally here, all I can think of is home. How much I miss putting on my favourite PJs and curling up to watch TV with the cat. How nice it was to take a coffee down to the river. The comfortable familiarity of pubs and people. The accents of my colleagues. How I knew where I stood, and what I was doing – if I wanted to work on my house, I knew how. I knew where to go for things. How to cook them. Where I fit.
And then there’s our cat. Schrodinger. We both miss her so much it hurts. So much that we’re both wondering out loud if we should go home to her. She is our world and being apart from her is so much harder than we imagined.
Some days, knowing I’ll be home with friends and family in August, or seeing our American family at Christmas, is all that keeps me going.
But beyond that, I keep thinking about the world.
We can travel a lot of it on Mirounga, but she will always keep us tethered. Suddenly, that US road trip I’d always wanted to take springs to mind. And taking the train across Canada. Walking more of the Camino del Santiago with friends. Bagging more Munros. Visiting southern Italy, and Norway, and Sweden. Camping in the Cairngorms. Exploring New Zealand and South Africa. Seeing Tokyo. Going back to New York, or Paris, or Chicago.
Suddenly Mirounga feels cloying, like a prison. I’ve lost my independence, and the world.
The weight of expectation
The hardest thing, in admitting all of this, is knowing what it sounds like out loud. I gave up everything for a dream, and now I’m saying that dream isn’t what I thought it would be.
We have friends and family back home who are dealing with a wet, cold spring. Who haven’t travelled for so long. Not everyone will sympathise with me feeling too hot, fed up, and trapped on my boat.
We know people who have dreamed of doing what we’re doing, or similar, and may never do it. The guilt I feel for not enjoying it is immense.
And then we’ve met so many people here who have done what we’ve done or similar. Who have moved out to the Caribbean for a new life, and love it. It feels insensitive to reject the change that has made them so happy.
Talking to old friends has helped, so much, but at the same time, it makes me miss them so much. I know the advice is sound. Let myself feel this way, don’t put too much pressure on myself. Know that I’ve made a huge life change, and see that it’s early days. Remember that things will feel different when we start to sail to different islands. Take one day at a time.
A life? Or not
So here we are. Two weeks on board, six in the Caribbean.
We moved out with no fixed plan – we didn’t know if we’d do this for 5 years, or forever. There was no way of knowing if we’d stay in the Caribbean, or if we’d one day cross the Pacific. We told ourselves we’d just do this for as long as we felt like it. But we probably, realistically, assumed that we’d feel like it for longer. That excitement would carry us through, and the years would fly by. It’s why we’ve kept working – so we can afford to do this long term.
Decisions, one day
We’re at a crossroads.
At this point, we both have a big part of us that feels like we could do this for a year, or two, then go home to Schrodinger and see Scotland with a new appreciation.
We know we have a good boat that will sell on fine. If we made a decision to cap our time, we could also decide to live off our savings. It would mean far more time for fun and exploration and for being off-grid. But what if that was what made us want to stay on board forever and suddenly we had to find an income again?
For Colin, it really is just missing Schrodinger that makes him miss home, as he feels fulfilled by connecting with humans online.
For me, she’s what I miss most but it’s so much more… And there’s the realisation that I take so much enjoyment out of planning and booking travel. I love the anticipation, counting down for weeks and months. I like to live every moment of a trip, and it amazes me how a few days can feel far longer. And then ultimately, there’s the joy of coming home with a fresh set of memories to share.
All we can do really is take each day as it comes. We’ll keep working, at least until Autumn, then we’ll take a break as we sail north to the BVIs for Christmas. Then? We’ll just have to see…