Mod Cons We Live Without

Part of the reason I tagged along with Steve during his last work contract was that shore side accommodation was provided, AKA: I had a free place to sleep. We spent 7 weeks living in an apartment right in the heart of the city, surrounded by high rises and busy construction sites – I watched them building the new Waldorf Astoria from our 22nd floor balcony.

The apartment seemed palatial, a perspective I think would be shared by most dirt dwellers, not just those of us used to living in the confines of a sailboat.

Morning Views Downtown

The 3-bedroom, 4 bath unit included a large open plan living room/dining room space that held 2 sofas, 4 side tables, a huge flat screen TV and a glass topped dining table that comfortably sat 6 without anyone rubbing elbows. There was 12-foot ceilings and a coffee table as big as our dinghy.

The kitchen was bigger than my first apartment and had all the latest gadgets; beside the ceramic cooktop, oven and microwave sat the toaster and juicer and blender. The dishwasher buddied up beside the clothes washer and across the room sat the full-sized fridge, which included a special blue UV light to inhibit food decay and a freezer that made ice in under an hour.

Each room had its own climate control. There was a doorbell. There should have been an intercom system or at least a set of walkie talkies because it was impossible to converse after you turned the corner.

You would think this would have been a welcome change.

And, I guess for a few weeks it was. But I couldn’t shake my uneasy feeling. Not only was the space maddeningly ill-designed in many respects (the door leading into our bathroom nearly hit the toilet), but all those modern amenities felt more wasteful than convenient.

Steve, on the other hand, was left trying to explain to his millennial co-worker what life was like for us on board Kate. She wondered how we ran the dishwasher without plug-in power and was appalled to find out we didn’t have unlimited, free flowing water. (This is the same girl I would later see climbing into an Uber in her designer ripped jeans to travel 2 blocks to the mall because at 9pm it was “too hot to walk.” So really, I am not sure how much about mindful living and wastefulness she would really be able to absorb.)

In the end I was happy to be heading home to our little (supposed to be) floating abode, where life is simple, and excess is in short supply. However, the whole thing got me thinking that many people would probably just as stunned to learn about our life on board and

The Mod Cons that we Happily Live Without


You cannot just turn on the tap and wash your hands or the dishes under an endless, free-flowing stream of water on board Kate. Yes, we have fresh water but to make it come out of the tap you must pump a small peddle on the floor with your toes. This simple, human powered gadget is not only electricity free but cuts down dramatically on how much water we use for everyday tasks, or perhaps I should say how much water we waste.

(We did have an electric pump that provided free flowing water, but we’ve exclusively used our manual pumps for so long that when we flicked the switch and discovered that the electric pump died we decided not to bother replacing it.)


This one surprises most people and I have to admit that we are a bit of an anomaly. For the first few years we did have hot water, provided by an engine heated hot water unit. This meant two things; that we had to be running the engine to make hot water, and that the water was often ridiculously and dangerously hot.

When the water heater rusted through in Panama and we discovered our departure across the Pacific would be delayed by 2 weeks and several hundred dollars we decided the space would be better served as storage. We promptly loaded on 12 cases of $10 a slab Panamanian beer. It is a choice neither of us have ever regretted.

For hot showers we either boil the kettle or use our solar shower bags…in the bathroom, no showering out on deck.

Solar Shower Bag = Hot Water


The clothes type I mean. Washing machines consume A LOT of water and power, so even if we had space for an inexpensive, small one (and many sailboats do) we couldn’t afford to install one. We do our laundry by hand, in a bucket. Even the sheets and towels and jeans. When laundry services ashore are available and cost effective we happily use them. Of course, we hang clothes on the lines to dry.

Laundry, Bucket Method


See above. Also, I have never lived in a house with a dish washer, even growing up, so I don’t know what I am missing, let alone how to use them.


Aside from the fridge we have no big electrial applicances. No toaster, no drip coffee maker, no food processor or egg beater in my galley. How do we make toast? In a frying pan. Coffee? A bodem. Cut ingredients into small bits? A knife. Make a meringue? Use a whisk. You get the idea. I do have a small immersion blender that comes out a few times a year to make soup, and a vacuum packer that I dread to live without.

Coffee Press and Hand Mixer


Things like hairdryers, flat irons and clothes irons that heat up require an immense amount of power to run, so we don’t use them. The few garments we have that should be ironed are spritzed with water and hung out to dry just before wearing. Ta da! Naturally, perfectly pressed clothes.

I admit that I did enjoy drying and styling my hair almost every day when we were away. It made me feel pretty. On board I aim for “kinda tamed and not in my eyes” hair, and as long as it doesn’t look like a windblown tangled rats’ nest when I get to shore I also feel pretty.


Can you believe we live in the tropics and don’t want to live in an artificially controlled climate bubble?

Actually, for the first 6 years we didn’t even have fans on board to relieve the heat, a statement that has caused looks of amazement from fellow sailors.

A good anchorage is one that is protected from the weather but has enough wind to keep the boat pointed and stationary. A few well propped hatches and there is usually a nice breeze running through the cabin.

Otherwise we do what most cultures located close to the equator do; try and get the hard and heavy work done early in the day or late in the afternoon. The siesta is a very practical invention.


This wasn’t an issue, or even an option, when we first started out. These days it seems fewer sailors are willing to be disconnected while at sea.

Personally, I relish the time offline, and recently wish we had a lot more of it. When we are coastal sailing we stay connected via the local mobile phone network, which in Asia is affordable, perhaps too much so. Hello internet cat videos.

TV –

No TV for us. Back in my university days the only TV I had was a black white set with rabbit ears, so don’t bother asking if we’ve seen the latest episode of any TV series unless it was released before Y2K. We do watch movies on the laptop, sailors are pretty good about file swapping, but we consider “new releases” anything less than 4 years old.


Since we left Mexico in 2009 we have been living “off the grid.” We depend on solar panels and a wind generator to make enough power daily to keep a small fridge, and sometimes smaller freezer, running, to charge laptops, phones and a few other USB gadgets. A few times a year, when have had one too many grey and windless days, we have to break out the petrol generator to charge the batteries. When we occasionally motor somewhere we charge that way.

Sometimes we have to turn off the fridge or the lights because we didn’t make enough power that day to keep us going after the sun goes down. We navigate downstairs with a small solar charged light and sit on the cabin top and stargaze.

It doesn’t feel like we are missing out on anything.



One Comment Add yours

  1. Em says:

    Love this post – great glimpse into your life. I remember your TV! I’m with you on the AC at home. When it’s too hot- we sleep downstairs.
    Love picturing you in that luxury (albeit, poorly designed) condo!

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