A Day in the Life Aboard sv NIRVANA

August 27, 2021

“I get all the news I need on the weather report.”
–Simon & Garfunkel

Most of the memories we’ve shared about our life aboard NIRVANA are striking. However, you may wonder about the day-to-day life aboard a sailboat, which is different, because it’s a sailboat, because it’s a tiny house, and because weather is our most important source of news. For those unfamiliar, I wanted to share some of the details about our “home” (see diagram) and our daily routines.

Daybreak finds us asleep. We have yet to see the sunrise; however, depending on the harbor, we are often rocked awake by lobster boat wake as they head out early to fish. We love our v-berth, which is a great memory foam mattress shaped in a V so our feet mingle by the anchor locker at the bow, but we have king-sized width at the top. We rouse by mid-morning, choose some clothes from the shelves on either side of the V, head back to the breaker panel above the navigation station. We flick on the water pressure pump, turn off the anchor light, and take a look at the solar charger to check if the battery charge is healthy, above 13 volts. Tasha flicks on the newly repaired propane safety solenoid breaker switch, fills the red tea kettle from our 60 gallon water tank, and drops a Bengal Spice tea bag in her white tin cup. Will usually finishes his trade of the day and heads to the galley looking for food.

We eat very well. Tasha may make cottage cheese pancakes or a savory omelet with fresh foraged mushrooms. Otherwise, Will’s contribution might be soft boiled eggs and bacon with toast made with our handy stovetop “toaster” device. We pass plates and drinks through the companionway to the cockpit. We are often greeted by chattering birds, flopping seals, and sometimes strippers surrounding mackerel in a noisy feeding frenzy. Though Will has thrown a line overboard with chicken bits as bait, he has yet to catch anything. Our breakfast complete, Will usually washes the dishes in our double sink with an adjacent drying pad above our storage locker for pots and pans. Next in line in our galley is a three-burner propane stove with oven. Closest to the companionway is our fridge/freezer. Yes, we can keep ice cream! Like the locker for pots and pans, the fridge is a deep cavern under the countertop making organization critical to being able to find things. The fridge is our main energy hog and the reason we added solar panels. Most days, by 10 AM, the solar is already cranking more than 13 volts into our bank of five batteries. If we’ve had two cloudy days in a row, Will fishes out the Honda generator from the lazarette and runs it for 45 minutes to recharge the batteries. We’ve only needed to run it a handful of times. The generator might also come in handy to run an electric heater in the shoulder season.

We look on our phones at the weather reports from various sources for information on wind speed, direction, tides, rain, etc. and decide whether we have favorable wind for a new destination that day. Our sailing passages have been in the range of 10 – 20 miles, which we can do in a handful of hours. However, the wind forecasts have been so erratic that plans B, C, D, and so on are often accommodated half-way through a passage. While we can sail upwind, it’s much less efficient than all the other points of sail if we really care to get somewhere, which most of the time we don’t. Our boat is very easy to sail given its self-tacking jib and all lines leading back to the cockpit. This means that while sailing, unlike mooring, anchoring, or docking, the boat can easily be virtually single-handed. That said, there are definitely times when having two is much easier. We begin our sail by starting the engine, pulling up the anchor or letting go of the mooring line, and while one of us is steering out of the anchorage, the other is removing sail ties and loosening our halyard and reefing lines, which we tie up for the night so as not to keep us awake with their clanging above our heads on the mast. Because the jib is so small, this means the mainsail is very large and heavy, so Will usually hauls up the sails while Tasha steers into the wind, then we shut off the engine and sail away.

The boat performs well in 5 knots of wind or above. If we fall below 2 – 3 knots of boat speed, we start the engine with our sails up and motor until we find the wind again, which may or may not happen. Tasha is our intrepid navigator and has always managed to get us to our next anchorage before dusk. We’re aware that others are used to spending BOAT-bucks (Break Out Another Thousand), but we are cost-conscious boaters so tend to anchor or pick up a free mooring, rather than reserve a mooring or slip at a marina. We’ve only had to pay for overnight anchorage a handful of times. We’re also thrilled that for the price of a tablet and a $15/year subscription, we’ve upgraded our navigation system to a touchscreen, which makes it much easier to use. Typically, Tasha will plot a course, which appears as a line on the electronic chart that avoids low water, rocks, and ledges, but we always note where the red and green navigation buoys are and what they’re indicating. It’s amazing to think that massive schooners plied these waters before the rocks were known, the navigations aids were installed, and the charts were created, because there are many, many rocks and shallow areas. With the water rising and falling 11 feet every day, a boat like ours that draws four and a half feet may be able to sail a course at high tide when rocks are submerged but hit bottom at low tide.

Another major hazard of sailing in Maine waters is the ubiquitous lobster pot, a colorful floating buoy attached to a four-foot lobster trap on the bottom. Because they’re easy to snag on the rudder or propeller, we make every effort to steer around them, which means we have to be super vigilant. Depending on wind and tide and despite you best efforts, you can slide into them and get snagged. Not only that but many lobster pots are attached to another buoy with a toggle line between them that may only be several feet below the surface, so identifying pairs of connected pots is also a required skill. Alas, while we’ve avoided thousands of pots so far, we have in facts snagged and unfortunately had to cut the line of one pot and one toggle while underway, which is quite a trick. While we feel somewhat badly for the lobsterman whose trap is now lost on the bottom, we know that lobstering has been the most lucrative in 40 years, so we carry on. We’ve also learned that there’s an escape hatch on the traps so lobsters can pretty much leave when they choose.

While underway, we’ve encountered the wind changing direction and faltering as well as strong currents coming right at us that have made us change our mind mid-course about our next anchorage. Some of these have been wonderfully fortuitous as the cove we ducked into was much nicer than we expected or the guidebook might have commented on. Navigating on-the-fly requires an appreciation of which land masses will best block the wind that night so that our anchorage is not only secure but as calm as possible for sleeping. As much as we admire people like Bill Cheney and his engineless boat Penelope whose book we’ve been reading, we don’t sail up to our anchorage. Rather, with plenty of room to spare, we start the engine, drop sails, and motor until we find the best spot. One thing we learned from Belfast Harbor is that if you are not on route of lobstermen leaving early in the morning, you get to sleep much later in the morning!

Once arrived, we often row ashore in our Puffin dinghy that is tethered to the stern that we tow behind us when we sail. We pull the dinghy up alongside the boat, bail it out, if necessary, put our day pack aboard, and climb down with the assistance of a single rigid step suspended from the toe rail. No, Will has yet to install the pully system to hoist the dinghy up on the davits at the stern. We both love to row and have easily rowed a mile a more at a stretch. The Maine Island Trail Association has created beautiful trails on many uninhabited islands. We prefer the islands with the least man-made impact and love the nature and variety such that no two islands seem alike. We’ve bathed at, danced on, and photographed many of these islands and have been awestruck by both the large-scale vistas and the up-close view of the wide variety of fauna we’ve encountered. Tasha has likely prepared snacks and water, and we often carry extra clothing, which we end up not needing since it’s usually about 10 degrees hotter on land with fewer breezes. We’ve also especially enjoyed the more remote island folk that we’ve met, and we might spend the day chatting up locals who are more friendly the more remote the island is.

Lunch is often a fresh green salad with smoked salmon, tuna, chicken, and/or homemade hummus, made fresh onboard. To run the food processor, we turn on our 1000 watt inverter, which converts 12 volt power to 120 volts. We also use it to charge our laptops, razor, electric toothbrush, the Mighty, and Tasha’s electric keyboard. The main benefit of the fridge is to store fresh vegetables, which we love. We have been lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time to procure extremely fresh veggies at a couple of farmer’s markets. On a bi-weekly basis, we need to find a place to provision, refill our water tank, pump out the waste from the head (marine toilet), and top off our diesel tank, if necessary. If we’re lucky, we can do all these things in the same place. If not, we focus on our highest priority. Unlike most days when we anchor or pick up a mooring, these trips require that we pull up to a dock. We’ve gotten better at creeping up to a dock and tying up the three lines that hold our boat, and most times we don’t require a dock hand to help. However, there are tricky wind and current situations where the extra hands sure have been welcome. Some of our most challenging moments have been avoiding the unforgiving docks and other boats with strong currents not in our favor.

We have also gotten very good at anchoring and have only had to relocate once due to our anchor dragging. At least half the time, we’re able to pick up mooring balls that we find empty, as long as the mooring pennant (rope) is big enough for our boat. Most moorings are private and if not in use by the end of the day are fair game. But we avoid anything that looks remotely like a fisherman’s mooring, as that tempts serious consequences. Twice we’ve rigged up our own pennant to a mooring ball, including one that announced that it was Available July – August.

Settled in, thoughts turn to cocktail/vape hour and supper. Tasha is a very imaginative chef. Most nights she prepares something she has not made before, and it always comes out amazing! Last year’s nine-day cruise saw us sitting outside every evening for supper and a gorgeous sunset light show. Whether due to heavy rains this year or something else, the mosquitos have largely shut down that option. Instead, we take in our solar LED lights from up on deck to our fold-down table in the salon and enjoy a candlelit supper. We benefit from having a heat exchanger in our engine such that often we get to wash dinner dishes in hot water, unless we’ve already used it for hot showers. We’ve also used our camping sun shower—a black plastic bag and spray nozzle that heats up in the sun—both on deck and in our head for less luxurious but still hot showers. Sometimes we augment the hot water in the solar shower by heating some on the stove. These hot showers have been deliciously satisfying, only exceeded by the three lengthy ones we’ve had ashore. Another shower alternative is a quick saltwater dip in the ice cold Maine ocean followed by a warm water rinse from the hose in the cockpit. The outdoor showers are heavenly, especially when we have privacy from other boats. Sailing done for the day, we often play music, dance, sing, read out loud to each other from our small library, do the New Yorker crossword puzzles with some success, play Boggle, write in our journals, play keyboard and guitar, or just plain veg! Even on cold, rainy days when we’re sitting at anchor, we’re never bored.

We have two grand living spaces: the salon and the cockpit. The salon includes two luxurious couches surrounding “the dance floor,” with a fold-down table for eating. Visually, the salon includes the galley and the navigation station so feels even larger. The warm wood interior with high windows makes it feel super cozy and like a luxurious lodge at sea. The cockpit, on the other hand, is out in the elements, which include sun, wind, and rain, as well as long vistas even when we’re anchored in a cove. Because the boat is only tethered at the bow, it spins so the view changes from moment to moment. Between the salon and the cockpit is the dodger (ghosted in the diagram), which is a protective wind and sun screen that can be thought of as a covered porch between the interior and exterior. When one of is sailing, the other is most likely out of the sun and wind under the dodger. Unlike most dodgers, ours has plastic glass all the way around, which means we have full visibility from the cockpit. We have a second dining table in the cockpit that folds up from the steering pedestal where we eat al fresco as often as possible. We’ve also rigged up an extension to the dodger (see Will’s watercolor painting) that shelters the entire cockpit from sun or rain. With today’s high 80-degree temperatures, this is where we’re lounging right now.

Though it feels like a whole different world out here, we’re still only a couple of hours from Portland by car. While we’ve visited over 40 harbors and seen an astonishing variety of landscape, what’s constant is the green water beneath us. Yet with 4000 islands in Maine, we still have a lot to explore, and the boat has provided us with everything we need—we long for nothing.

Will & Tasha

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