My first seven months as a liveaboard

The author's 1972 Islander MK II, Libby, which she bought last summer. Photos courtesy of Courtney Kirchoff

Selling furniture, giving away clothes and pitching stuff in the garbage isn’t something most girls dream of.

But last August I did just that, all so I could move aboard a sailboat and leave land behind to search for adventure. My decision to live aboard a boat had nothing to do with my thoughts on materialism, consumerism or any other philosophical examination of our culture; living aboard a boat is a cool place to live at an even cooler price, and would allow my aspirations and experiences to grow.

It was August when I first moved aboard, warm, bright until 10 p.m., clear blue skies — you know, the reason we put up with the crappy weather for nine months. Who wouldn’t want to live aboard a boat in the summer? Seals would come close to the boat’s stern to have a conversation with Riley (my sheltie) as I enjoyed my French-pressed coffee.

Kirchoff's trusty boat dog, Riley.

Even getting into the dinghy and motoring to land in the morning was a pleasant jaunt. Since I was new to sailing, my sailing adventures were simple day trips, not long-distance cruising, but 2012 summer cruising was what I aimed and practiced for when the wind picked up. I solo-sailed all over, including a day trip to Seattle, and often burned the heck out of my skin — I tend to overdose on the sun. Gotta get when the gettin’s good!

Now it’s winter, and just a couple of weeks ago we got a dumping of snow. Do I still love living aboard? Yes. I like how cozy my boat feels, how even when I open my windows and companionway I’m greeted with scenes from postcards.

But there are some things I miss from my land-dwelling days, including:

  • A full-sized bathroom, where I could take a 10 minute-plus shower after coming in from the cold. I knew I would miss my long showers.
  • Drying space: There’s not a lot of room aboard my boat to let clothes dry out, and that’s a bit of a moist mess when it’s white outside.
  • Closet space! Even though I’m not a girly-girl, I still want to wear nice clothes and look my best, and that’s rather hard with such limited space for a decent wardrobe.

And here’s what I don’t miss:

  • A microwave. I have figured out how to reheat things without a microwave. Not having the nuker means it’s harder to eat quick food — a good thing.
  • My television.
  • Neighbors. Docking comes with more noise, but not from my neighbors, just the town I live in. Anchoring out, though, is peaceful!
  • Utility bills!

I’ve found myself searching Yachtworld.com for larger boats, especially beautiful ones like Baba 35s, Cape George Cutters, and other expensive boats I cannot afford. It would be lovely to have a tad more space than I have now, in addition to more of the creature comforts like built-in refrigeration, the adequate powering options to juice the fridge like solar panels and wind turbines, and a solid fuel heater, but my 30-foot Islander is working. Heating the cabin is quick and easy when I’m docked; I use two electric space heaters.

Libby en route to Seattle.

My boat is something I can take care of, without having to deal with a lawn and leaves. I hate yard work, so much so that when people discuss what they need to do outside and around their house, I feel claustrophobic. Living on a sailboat is like living in some kind of model toy, one I can learn how to use and customize.

I also like the sound of the howling wind when a storm comes through; it feels as if I’m surviving something, like I’m somehow living on the edge, when really I’m docked and safe. Best of all, it’s nice to own my home without having to make large payments for the next 30 years, especially one with a million-dollar water view that can change if I so chose.

A lot of people think that by making the decision to live aboard I’ve somehow rebuffed traditional land-living and all its trappings. That’s not the case. The S/V Libby is a part of my life, but not the entirety of it.

Before I bought my boat, I’d lay awake at night imagining my life aboard and the inspiring lifestyle it would bring me. I’d imagine myself sailing to Friday Harbor on a beautiful summer day, dolphins playing at my bow (I love dolphins), watching Orcas migrate and applying copious amounts of sunscreen so I wouldn’t bake myself before reaching my destination.

In this fantasy, when I’d dock at the harbor I’d stow my laptop in a waterproof backpack and hike up the hill to a coffee shop, plop myself down in a comfortable armchair and write. Sailing is an unconventional way of getting to where I want to go: destinations unknown.

I’m now in the process of making improvements to the interior of my boat. I’m trying to beautify it, girly it up a bit by making it a more comfortable place to live, though I should also be training my mind by learning navigation, about tides or how to reef my mainsail, which could save my life. I still have lots to do before cruising up to the San Juan Islands to fulfill that dream I had, maybe into Canada, but I’m excited about every aspect of getting there. Learning new things and testing limits makes me feel more alive.

Living aboard and sailing is a stimulating experience, an adventure I can afford to have as I wait for the next. Will I live aboard forever? Probably not. Sailing and cruising will be a part of my life for the rest of my existence, but it will be, like everything else I enjoy, just a part of it.

What I will take with me, wherever I finally end up, is the love of small spaces. Before buying my boat, I dreamt of building a small cob house somewhere on the peninsula, preferably with a water view, maybe even with a dock for my sailboat. I’m not yet 30, but I’m feeling the domestic pull, desiring a bigger kitchen filled with the scent of baking pumpkin bread and the sound of laughing children.

But that will come in time. For now, I’m loving my decision to move aboard and I’m eagerly awaiting the elusive summer, when I can raise sails and explore.

23 Responses to My first seven months as a liveaboard

  1. Joe October 8, 2014 at 8:11 pm #

    Ahoy Captain Courtney, Just wanted to know what precautions you have made for Pirates. They are not just in the history books ya know! As a boyscout I believe in being prepaired and not just calling for help on the VHF. Don’t want to rain on your parade but this needs to be addressed. Thanks, R.S. Joe

  2. Mike July 10, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

    Nicely written. I’m glad to hear your liking the live aboard lifestyle. I did it for a few years back in the late eightys, and now I’m 50 and the call of the ocean becons me. I am retired, I’m not rich but I am a little disabled but still I’m going back. I’ve purchased a formosa 41 ( a boat of my dreams ) and plan to live on her tied to the dock at first and then to live off the grid. I’m going to hide out in bc waters like desalution sound and eventually I want to circumnavigate vancouver island, then when I feel comfortable I’d like to sail to Hawaii. Yes I’m going to do this alone well with my two cats.
    Maybe we will bump into each other someday at Friday harbour till then happy sailings.

  3. jessey May 15, 2014 at 4:56 pm #

    Ooh how lovely! Looking forward to reading (and watching) more from you!

  4. Mark Roope May 6, 2014 at 5:41 am #

    We have been living aboard and sailing to new destinations for the last four years although we try to do it in the sun. There is no better life and like you said your boat becomes part of you.
    I think you would get a kick from our last two blogs about live aboard boats and practising to liveaboard in a house. They should bring a smile to your face.
    http://www.cygnus3.com

    • Courtney June 4, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

      Hello ,

      I am a development TV producer always on the hunt for new shows and
      larger than life characters. Currently, I am working for a large cable
      network and developing a show called, Life on the Hook – which would
      follower sea-steaders and boatmen alike who live self sufficient lives
      at sea for extended periods of time. Now we just need to find our
      larger than life characters who live life on the hook! Think Life
      Below or Zero or Mountain Men but on a boat.

      So if catching rain water and filtering it, fishing and growing
      vegetables on your boat, using composting toilets is your thing – I
      would love to speak with you and hear more! IF this isn’t you, but you
      know who would be perfect – please send them to me as well. Thanks and
      look forward to hearing from you.

      ———————————
      Courtney Kolinsky
      Producer
      severancetv1@gmail.com
      c:561.389.1278

  5. Capt Conrad September 29, 2013 at 11:14 am #

    You are living the life. Be sure to leave the dock and see the world.

  6. Chris Troutner July 20, 2013 at 11:20 pm #

    Great article! You’re a kindred soul. I’ll keep an eye out for your boat as I cruise the San Juans. Maybe one day we’ll run into one another (figuratively, not literally ;-)

  7. krista mead June 11, 2013 at 11:06 pm #

    Thought you might get a kick out of this!
    https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/324126
    Description
    Nyx is a spirited girl who moves with her sister and parents to a Caribbean island. They move onto a boat at a marina where she meets a wild group of guys who also live on boats, though none of them have ever sailed one. Life at the marina is like being dropped down the rabbit hole, nothing makes sense. The biggest mysteries surround the luminescence where the boys give tours with their kayaks.

  8. Ruthe May 15, 2013 at 8:53 am #

    Hi.
    My husband, two dogs and I are preparing to move aboard our 48 year old, 38 foot Chris Craft. I’m happy to hear that you’re enjoying what we’ll be doing in two short weeks. We’re trying to help our dogs get used to the boat and are having a little trouble with one. How did your dog do?

    • Courtney Kirchoff June 17, 2013 at 10:05 am #

      Riley did great on board, and I always take him sailing with me on other people’s boats. He’s a natural boat-dog so long as I’m always in site and he’s free to climb in my lap any time he pleases. Aside from midnight emergencies, though, Riley never took care of business routinely onboard. I think it would’ve been easier to train him to get things done as a puppy with a pad on the boat, but I trained him too well and he’d grown accustomed to leaving his essence on genuine grass. It meant I couldn’t just go to any anchorage, there had to be a public park where I could take him for a wee. Hope that answers your questions!?

      • Bobo August 13, 2013 at 8:56 am #

        maybe a small piece of astro turf on deck? just a thought

    • Theresa November 19, 2013 at 9:42 am #

      My husband and i moved aboard our 38 ft Chris craft in July 2013 0 still LOVE IT!!!

  9. Patrick April 21, 2013 at 8:49 pm #

    It is a beautiful balmy evening in Hollywood Florida, and I am sitting under palm trees that are full of coconuts and enjoying my favorite pipe.

    I have been aware for weeks that I am entering one of life’s special dispensations when the cosmic tumblers are resetting. I have been allowing my mind to be open to changes that I have previously never considered. At 55 years of age I have just begun to explore the idea of a live aboard sailboat. I have been reading as much information as I can get my hands on; and that is what led me to searches which caused me to find your website.

    Everything that you wrote rang true and good to me. Thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts. I enjoyed every word.

    I grew up in the Pacific Northwest; but I have resided in the San Francisco Bay Area since I left the Navy in the late 70s.

    I am in Florida for a project; one of the many that I have been on here in the last decade. I am considering a move to here.

    I was rather shocked to see that you are residing Poulsbo. My dear sister resided there for decades. I may have just heard another tumbler click.

  10. Doug Higbee December 30, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

    1) get a Mr. Heater heater, for safety too. Your electric goes out you’ve got standy propane that’s portable too. In a vented/closed V-forward it doubles as a clothes dryer, kinda.

    2)long shower-join a health club close to a commercial area and not expensive downtown/office space. Cheaper AND storage facilities make roots there so you may pick up a small climate controlled unit for seasonal changes vs. creating mold from jammed/un-vented closet storage.

    3)hire crew (I’m cheap.

    Happy sailing. This, your doing, is still ahead of me in time.

  11. Russ Davis December 15, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

    Courtney, Well I’m just beginning my trip into what it appears you are involved in… I knew back in the 80’s when I sold yachts on a fluke that I liked the life.. Now just finishing an amicable divorce and with the ability to fund a boat of my own… “I’m gona do it”!! I have been searching and have with the the help of a director of the Annapolis boat show organization decided on the Sailboat of my live aboard dreams. I am fortunate enough that in 2013 I can retire and with the proceeds from the sales of my business’s afford a real nice boat… Plan on likely purchase in Maine or MD and on down to Fla to dock and just get my feet wet. Then with a buddy trip down to the Bahamas, and if he has time Virgin Islands, I may stay he’ll have to go back. That said I can’t wait to be free of all of this “stuff”, and only have to feed, fuel, water, myself for the fore seeable couple years, all the while hopefully meeting folks such as ourselves. Good Luck to you / Russ

  12. Mark DuPriest November 23, 2012 at 9:35 pm #

    Write when you have time, please.
    Never sailed before. I think I want to buy a sailboat, live aboard and travel, perhaps. otherwise live between Angra dos Reis-Ubatuba, Brazil.
    30’ft min?

  13. Bill Williams August 30, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    Courtney,

    Hooray for you… just hooray!
    I am 50 now, and never quite sowed those oats I now want so desperately to sow. (living in Japan via the U.S. Marines wasn’t bad though, but it just gave me “the taste”). As a kid, I was land-locked, and raised on Jaques Cousteau and the novel “Kon-Tiki”, by Thor Hyerdahl. Adventure was always an expectation for me. Post-divorce, and staring at a country with a 68% divorce rate, and an over-populating world, I would beg you to reconsider children… not to pull guilt into any picture, but there ARE children who have no one at all. I think about that a good deal. So you have options… lots of them. I do have 3 kids, and it is charred into my soul at this point, just how much my world has changed… I used to see hundreds of thousands of birds each fall… it was expected. Now, there are literally none: I had to tell my kids what that was like, and they didn’t understand. The ocean ~ though resilient ~ is thought of by Marine Biologists to be contaminated. If you are eating ocean fish, word to the wise is that 100% of ocean-going salmon are infected with roundworm parasites, and in general, small fish eat small toxins, medium fish eat smaller fish (and ingest {more} toxins), and big fish eat the medium fish and are becoming very toxic… Japanese Biologists have said to be careful of fish that are between 10 and 20 pounds. There are 600 barrels of nuclear waste that were dumped off the coast of California, and are considered “too hazardous to move”… radioactive half-life is 250,000 years. a steel drum is substantially less than that. I believe the question is not “whether the earth will survive”… it will likely be close to eternal in the heavens, but we may struggle mightly against ourselves in order to survive ~ especially at the present rate: Wars are fought, most often, over resources… and as our world overpopulates (Population doubles every 42-50 years), resources will mean real survival. Nature, as Darwin said, “is red in tooth and claw”, and when one species dominates, there is nearly always a “correction”… enough to say Courtney, be at least a little thoughtful of offering the wonderful children you want to bring into the world, a real crack at survival after you are gone (by a piece of land, and never give it up ~ teach them how to grow things {agroponics is a great idea}). Give them hands-on training, and it will feel normal. A girl with a Gucci handbag, stilleto heels, and OMG! sunglasses, won’t consider getting her hands dirty a good life… Getting your hands dirty can be a wonderful life!!! In my childhood I was POSITIVE, the world was infinite in it’s bounty… certainly, it is always exquisitely beautiful, but it’s certainly a smaller world than when I was a kid watching Disney movies.
    Yes, yes, yes… I was… and AM very idealistic… I still lust for that very good life, filled with rich vibrant gowing earth, and adventure to spare! Love your life NOW. And figure out how to give THAT to your children: it’s so much harder when you become an adult.
    Anyway…. your putting wind in the sails of my dreams too Courtney…
    you get older, but your dreams really never fade. Sow your oats now, and enjoy them thoroughly because tomorrow is for your children… and they will be depending on you to “get it right”.
    Bill

  14. Ted and Dawn Portmann June 9, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

    Hi kid

  15. Avatar of Teresa Bresee
    Teresa Bresee February 11, 2012 at 9:28 pm #

    Courtney, love your postings and blog!

    I’m moving back aboard our 33′ Ranger in Seattle next month!

    -Teresa

  16. Mike Matthews February 9, 2012 at 8:24 pm #

    closing in fast on 3 years aboard, left behind 4500sq ft for 450 sq ft and can’t imagine going back

  17. Avatar of Dylan Lippert
    Dylan Lippert February 9, 2012 at 6:58 pm #

    Great story Courtney! I am sitting at the end of my first 8 months aboard as well. Its certainly the life for me!

  18. Avatar of Herb Stark
    Herb Stark February 9, 2012 at 4:32 am #

    Two foot itus, it strikes us all. Continue having fun, enjoy,

    • jeff sullivan February 9, 2012 at 8:22 am #

      Living onboard is the best. I love it im up in la conner. Im on a 30 ft tahiti katch all wood real cozy.

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