Rowing back from shore one evening, I was struck by the intense personality that emanated from our boat. In addition to all the usual liveaboard paraphernalia, we had a plastic wagon residing on the foredeck, a variety of objects dangling from lines off the stern (a favorite game with our children), dish towels fluttering from the lifelines, a reading book and cushion abandoned on the cabin top, bananas lashed to the boom, and what looked like an entire playhouse constructed under the bimini. No one, I thought, would ever mistake us for weekend cruisers or charterers. Instead, our sailboat was a true reflection of us as a family. She had become, through no deliberate action on our part, a true family home.
When first attempting to turn a sailboat into a home, the primary goal should be to assess realistically your needs and determine your priorities. Ask yourself why you have chosen to move the family aboard a boat. If, like most families, your goal is to not only travel, (after all, there are plenty of other easier ways to travel), but also to implement a change in lifestyle, then keep this firmly in mind as you outfit your boat/home. Too often, people seek the sailing lifestyle to break away from the materialistic, stressful, fast-paced lifestyle that prevails on shore, only to find themselves bringing it all with them. Twenty years ago, when we first moved aboard a boat with our young children, practically the only other families out there doing this were on small, frequently home-built, reduced-needs boats. Electronic gadgetry was at a minimum, self-sufficiency was high, and sailing families were committed to a sort of pioneering afloat policy. This didn't mean that our lives were grueling compared to life on shore—simply different.
Don't be afraid to leave these things behind. A solar shower can be just as refreshing as a pressurized one—all you need to do is heat the water. Refrigeration and freezers can easily be lived without, a hand water pump works as well as a pressurized one, and laundromats abound in anchorages around the world. Most importantly, leave the television and the VCR, the video and the computer games behind. Without these entertainment devices, sailing children become creative, imaginative, energetic individuals, capable of entertaining themselves in even the most remote anchorages or on the longest ocean passages.
After you have determined your reasons for moving aboard a sailboat and assessed your needs, you are ready to create a home.Try to keep possessions to a minimum on your initial move. This way you will have room to add things as you see the need, rather than having to give them away to remove the clutter.With young children, I initially focused on bringing enough toys and activities to keep them happy on rainy days or long passages, although I quickly discovered that they preferred playing with boat equipment when at all possible. The galley was a particularly popular spot with all its cooking equipment, as were the foredeck (all those lines, sail bags, and anchoring equipment) and the dinghy. With older children, we learned that books were of primary importance and far more important than any of the expensive things that teenagers seem to require these days.
Probably the most noticeable transformation on board your boat will be above decks where most of your time will be spent. Not only does your sailboat become your house, but also, to a certain extent, your yard as well. Children, I find, love to collect things, many of which seem to have an intrinsic value to them which largely escapes the adult world. Sticks, buoys, shells, rocks, and other assorted souvenirs all find their way aboard, all to be seemingly permanently lodged topsides. Surreptitious efforts to eliminate them tend to meet with anything from mild resistance to mass hysteria. It's possessions like these that make your boat look and feel like a home. Instead of sandboxes and swings, your children will have a continually evolving collection of items gleaned from their travels, things that make them feel like the boat is their home too.
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