Life on a Boat - 08° 01' 47" N 98° 46' 58" E

Today marks the start of our second month without sleeping on dry land.  A 47 foot yacht - it is quite different than anything that I've ever called 'home'' before.  I have about another half-year occupying this lovely vessel, along with its marvelous advantages and its detriments.  I’m starting to be pretty comfortable around here and feel I now know quite a bit about Popeye.

A few days ago, I put out a call on Facebook for any questions that people had about living on a yacht.  Go ahead - ask me anything.


Question: I’ve heard you call it a yacht.  Really?  Do you know how pretentious that sounds?

This is me now, but with a different hat.
Answer: Yes, embarrassingly, this prairie boy reacted the same way the first time the ‘yacht’ word started flying around my life.  I’ve since learned that referring to a power boat as a yacht is a North Americanism.  Every Australian will tell you, "a yacht has sails."  All people that live on personal pleasure marine vessels with sails, refer to their boats as yachts.  Those that travel around from place to place on their yachts are known as ‘yachties’ or ‘cruisers’.  Even the dirtbag cruisers that look like they spent their last dollar ten years ago on the swimsuit they are presently wearing ALSO refer to their boat as a yacht, so any fancy connotations of the word have completely worn off.  There is no fighting it, so I’m just using the vernacular that I’ve been immersed in.  I draw the line at wearing one of those captain's caps, though.

Question: Can you show us around the boat?

A: Sure.

Click for a closer view

To start with, you should know a little bit about the boat.  Popeye is a 47.7 foot (14.5m) Beneteau First.  The hull (and therefore its sailing and handling characteristics) is a racing design.  It has a deep, narrow keel, meaning it has very responsive handling but also means that it cannot access places that are not at least 2.85m deep at all times - and we like to have 3-4 extra metres of water under the keel just in case a rock or coral head appears where it is not expected.  Although the hull was designed with racing in mind, the innards are very luxurious compared to pure racing boats.

The Galley - where you prepare your meals really is the heart of any dwelling.  Popeye's is no exception.  It is well equipped, with a two-basin sink, two-burner stove, microwave and (when we are connected to shore power) electric kettle and toaster.  The food prep area is compact due to the cook needing to be able to brace themselves when the boat is rolling and pitching.  Big differences from an apartment kitchen are that the counters have high edges all around to stop things from sliding off; there is a seawater tap (operated by a foot pump) as there is a finite fresh water supply aboard; all drawers and cupboards clip shut for security in a big sea.

The Salon – This space is not as heavily used as you’d think, as it can be quite hot during the day and the evenings.  It is a great retreat when it is raining.  The salon has the largest work surface, so much of the chart work and card playing goes on here.

The Nav Station – electric control centre and storage spot for navigational aids (binoculars, warning lights, spotlights, flags and handtools in the nav seat) for Popeye.  We don’t frequent this spot unless we have to manage power, charge up something electronic, use the chartplotter or radio.

In the picture, at the foot of the nav bench, is our yellow grab bag.  On the very slim chance that we have to leave Popeye in a bad situation, that is the one thing that comes with us, packed and ready to go at all times.  It has flares, water, food, a VHF radio, sound signal, survival gear and a DVD of Tom Hanks' movie, Castaway.

The Forward Cabin – home to all of Kate and my personal stuff.  All our clothes are tucked away in the drawers and cabinets not being used for boat parts.  My guitar has a spot of honour above the starboard cabinets.

Aft Cabins -When guests show up, this is where they live.  It holds a (roughly) queen size bed, wardrobe for hanging clothes, three drawers, under-bed storage (for luggage or rarely-used items), a room light, two reading lights, a USB charger, a good-sized shelf for watches/rings/hats/etc., a tiny sitting spot, two hatches for ventilation and an electric fan for circulation.  They look snug but feel quite roomy once you are lying down.  From experience, it is best to turn around and climb in feet-first.

Heads – A better name for the bathroom in the boat as there is no bath in either one. We have one head all the way forward in the bow of the boat (you need to go through the forward cabin to get to it) and one just across from the galley – the aft head.  If we are bouncing through a rough sea, don’t use the forward head.  If we are rolling side-to-side, don’t use the aft head.  Both have a toilet, sink and tap that lifts out of the sink, on a hose, to become a handheld shower.  There is an electric floor drain for getting your shower (or spill) water out of the room.  If you are at anchor in a calm spot, you can stand for your shower.  If you have any movement, it is better to lower the toilet seat and cover and sit for your shower.  There is also a shower on the stern swim platform, which is where I do all my showering.

Engine Compartment – located under the companionway (the stairs going from the cockpit down to the galley), it allows more working room around the engine than you’d think.  It contains the 85 hp Yanmar diesel engine, a seawater cooling system for the engine and the batteries that run all the house systems (lights, refrigerator, freezer, fans, anchor lights) when we are not running the engine.

Cockpit – at least half of the time that we are on the boat, we are in the cockpit.  It is a safe spot when underway; all the lines can be worked from here when sailing; we can all hear each other here; there is a sun/raincover that we can put up that shades us when at anchor or when underway.  There are lockers here for storage of damp gear and two lazarettes (over two meters deep – I climb right in and vanish when I need to go down there) under the helm seat.

Foredeck – This is the quiet end of the boat.  The anchor gets deployed from here and there is a huge storage locker right behind the chain locker.  If you are feeling contemplative, either underway or at anchor, head on up to the foredeck.  If we are in a quiet anchorage, the foredeck isn’t all salty from a rough passage and the weather is nice, it makes for a nice change of scenery from the cockpit.

Q: What has been hard to get used to?

A: The salty-sticky feeling everything gets that spends time above deck (including your skin); you never quite shake the feeling that you are going to break, damage or sink the boat (or all three) with every action or decision you make while on board.

Q: What has been easy to get used to?

A: Following the sun’s rhythm (getting up at sunrise and being unbelievably tired at sunset); not having personal items around that you don’t use every day; my morning shower and/or swim off the stern every morning; views like this,

... and this,

... and this,

... and this,

... and this,

... and this.

Q. What about your exercise regimen on a boat? How does one keep fit?

A: You'd be surprised at how that takes care of itself.  I sleep around 10 hours a day and feel better for it.  I am climbing around, lifting things, swimming, carrying things and being quite active all day.  I snack less, eat better, fresher food (despite being in a developing country) and spend most of my time out in the elements – sometimes sun, sometimes rain and wind.  I’ve learn to embrace sunscreening myself every morning (a big step for a Canadian) and don’t normally wear much more than board shorts.  Oh, and I'm about 20 pounds lighter than I was four months ago.

Q. Are you living on a boat at a yacht club or out in the ocean?

Most of our time is spent at anchor (as this is free) and we very seldom are in marinas or yacht clubs.  Currently we are coastal cruising around Southern Thailand.  We leave Phuket at the end of February to sail south through Malaysia to Singapore, then across to Nongsa, the Beiltung Islands, Bawean, Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, Komodo, Flores, Roti, Timor in Indonesia then Darwin, Gove, Thursday Island and down the coast to the Whitsundays.  On the whole five months it will take us to sail through Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, we are planning only two stops at marinas/yacht clubs.

After Hamilton Island Race Week in August, we will continue down the coast to Sydney.

We are crossing seas rather than oceans but not living in marinas.

Q. How do you prepare for a trip following the trade winds?

Read Jimmy Cornell's 'World Cruising Routes' and 'World Voyage Planner', Beth Leonard's 'The Voyager's Handbook, check out and talk, talk, talk to people...

Note that we are not doing a trade wind passage, instead, we are going 'uphill' against the prevailing winds and currents.  This is not by choice but the only way to get from Thailand to Australia unless you go three quarters of the way around the world.

Q. How much cash and money does one carry on a boat?

Why ... are you a pirate?  :-)  

In Thailand and Malaysia, we tend to pay for things in cash but ATMs are everywhere so we do not carry significant amount, just enough for a week or so. 

Q. Are you worried about pirates (the real kind)?

Yes, and that's why there are certain areas that we will not go. It is similar to not going into certain districts in certain cities, which holds a similar or lower risk.  And no, we won't carry a gun on board.

Q. Are there particular waters you do or don't want to go to?

Sulu Sea in southern Philippines is a big no-go due to aforementioned pirates and anything with a latitude greater than 25° because, hey!  Swimming off the stern in bathtub-temperature water!  How great is that?!?

We are delivering Popeye from Thailand to Australia for the owner.  She is a racer-cruiser which means she is quite fast to race but comfortable enough to cruise on.  She is not a blue-water cruiser set up to sail across oceans.

When we buy our own boat, we will look at doing a circumnavigation crossing Indian Ocean to Durban, Cape Town, Southern Atlantic via St Helena, Brazil, then Caribbean, Panama Canal, Galapagos, through the South Pacific to Australia. We will spend a minimum of three years to do this properly.

Q. Does washing ones clothes get the sea salt out of them?

Yep, good luck with this one.  We wash in salt water and rinse in fresh - then hang the clothes on the life lines to dry.  The wind is salty so you never completely remove the salt...

Lifeline or clothesline?

Q. What's in your emergency supply?

We carry a through first aid kit and can handle most burns, cuts, abrasions, rashes, tummy troubles and even some of the nastier things.  We have almost everything to meet Cat1 Offshore Racing standards (follow the link to see a list).

Q. How do you go at ports where English is the second language?

It is like traveling anywhere where you do not speak the language.  There is plenty of English and we do have a few Thai and Bahasa Malay words.  Google Translate on a smartphone is fabulous. If we get really stuck, particularly in Thailand with the different alphabet, this works a charm.

Q. Are you catching/collecting fresh water on your boat?

No, but we are fortunate to have a water-maker.  More correctly, we have a system that removes the salt from the sea water by reverse osmosis to make it potable.  The water we drink has less stuff in it than the water that comes out of city-dwellers' faucets.  We store the water we make in the 750 litre of tank capacity we have for fresh water. That is plenty for for two people and about five day's supply for four adults, including washing and showers.

Q. What are the food supplies you can't live without and why?

Tinned tuna and UHT milk.  They last forever and do not need refrigeration...

Q. What's your internet service like?

Kate has a local SIM card in her cell phone so has cell coverage when we are in 2-3 nautical miles of shore.  We carry an Iridium Go to pick up internet via satelite.  it is quite slow but allows us to access weather forecasts.

Q.  Are you carrying a Sat Nav telephone?


Q. Did you do any first aid update pre-trip departure? If so why?

Both of us have Wilderness First Aid training. We carry a full first aid kit but without any narcotics as possession of narcotics make it more challenging to move through different countries.  The most serious injuries on board thus far have been a dislocated shoulder (neither Kate nor myself) and a couple of gashes.  All manageable with standard first aid, athletic tape, steri-strips and a decent pain killer.

Q. Have you taught yourself morse code?

No.  We are learning flags of other countries, though.  Most boats fly a flag off the stern that indicates where the boat is registered, so it makes for a good game to guess where they are from.

Q. Where did you buy your maps from? Website? And do you have any of these maps in water proof pockets?

"Maps" of marine areas are actually called charts.  We have paper charts for all waters we are going through (bought from Boat Books in Sydney/Melbourne) but generally use Navionics on our iPads (in waterproof cases) for moment-by-moment navigation.  We also use cruising guides - "South-East Asia Pilot', 'Southeast Asia Cruising Guide',  Cruising the Coral Coast' and '101 Anchorages in the Indonesian Archipelago'.

Q. How big is your boat?

"Popeye' is a Beneteau First 47.7 - her length is 14.5m, beam 4.5m and draft 2.85m.

Q. What are the essential spares you have on board? Rigger gloves?

We carry spares:
For the engine such as fuel/oil filters, oil, fan belt, impeller....
For the water-maker - filters, o-rings...
Sail repair materials and tools
Large containers of spare bits and pieces such as shackles, split pins etc..
bits of rope and line for making/repairing rigging
Tapes of all sorts

... along with a very well-equipped tool kit, saw, cable cutters.  We wear sailing gloves when we expect to have the sails up.  The gloves are kept within easy reach whenever we are underway.

Q. What's your booze supply like?

Limited.  We don't drink as if we are on holidays because we aren't.  We enjoy the occasional tipple, though.  Alcohol (except beer) tends to be expensive in Thailand, so the occasional beer or rum and coke on board is a treat, not the evening (or afternoon) norm.

Q. If the family want to drop in for a visit can they sleep in the boat too?

Yes.  Popeye has three double cabins, the salon table converts into a queen size bed, the settee a single berth and there are two pipe berths we can rig.  During the Raja Muda Regatta in November, the crew of 10 slept aboard.  A little tight for cruising but possible.

Q. Do you practice life saving drills on the boat?

Not as much as we should.  Of the many things that could happen on board (fire, life-threatening injury, man overboard), we have talked through the actions for everything and do so with each new visitor.

Q. Do both of you know how to take apart and rebuild the radio?

No, but we have two spare VHF radios.  And our iPhones.  And a satellite phone.  And the panic SOS button on the Iridium Go.  And an EPIRB for when we need emergency assistance.

Q. Where is the best place to sleep?

When you are at a good anchorage on a calm, clear night, sleeping on top of the cabin (under the boom) can be awesome.  Being tucked into your quiet, dark cabin - to avoid mosquitoes, rain, morning dew, lights and noise coming from shore or just that gentle, tickly wind that is blowing across your legs - is a very close second.

Q. Do you have a solar electrical system or another natural energy source on your boat?

As it is a coastal racing boat, we don't have the luxury of outfitting it with these systems.


These were some great questions.  Watch for more as they roll in and we answer them in future blog posts!


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