Living on a Sailboat: 1.5 Crazy Years in Retrospect

We’re back in Switzerland for a 3.5 month summer break. We’re visiting family and friends, and go back to work to fill the cruising kitty. It’s an escape from the Mexican heat, but also a bit from life on the boat. I look back on the last 1.5 years and reflect about living on a sailboat full time.

Living on a boat can mean coffee with a beautiful view

Our journey back to Switzerland was probably one of the smoothest intercontinental journeys I have ever experienced. One bus ride, two taxi rides and three flights without any waiting time or delays. In the blink of an eye we were back home. And David’s parents were already waiting for us at Zurich airport. The joy of reunion was great – after all, a year had passed since our last, rather short visit home. It was mid-July and Switzerland had just been overrun by a heat wave. It was still less hot than in Mexico tough. Since were already used to these kind of temperatures, that was very pleasant for us.

We are privileged

What we were no longer used to was the sight of lush greenery of nature (which had also turned brown over time due to the drought of the heatwave), the immaculate roads and the luxury that surrounded us. Shortly after our arrival, we floated down river Rhine in our hometown of Basel. This is a popular thing to do in our hometown. You enter the river with a floating device and swim/float down the river marvelling at the beauty of Basel. Upon leaving the cool waters, there are lots of little pop-up restaurants waiting for you with their cold drinks for sale. I watched the various residential districts pass me by and realised that even a district that was rough from a Swiss point of view was actually not bad at all. It became clear to me all over again how privileged we actually are coming from Switzerland.

What are you doing here?

We were born in a country with an insanely high standard of living, a strong currency and secure structures that allow us to just quit our jobs and buy a boat because we know we can always find a job again. Even in Mexico, we were occasionally asked by locals what we were doing there; after all, we were from one of the (supposedly) best countries in the world.

Mexican time

I admire how Mexicans make the best of what they have. And how they take life easy and are always friendly and helpful. They don’t get rattled, and the more pressure or stress you put on them, the more time they take. And they don’t take punctuality too seriously either, but I don’t think many of us would wish on our deathbeds that we had been more punctual in our lives. David and I have already adapted the Mexican concept: We no longer set a fixed time, but “Mexican time”. For example, we meet for a beer at Mexican 7, so 7pm stands only as a guideline with an occasional plus of about 10-20 minutes.

Mhhh Raclette

The welcome dinner back in Switzerland was Raclette, David’s favourite. Oh, how we missed good cheese! And we were glad to spend a few months away from the boat. Towards the end of our first season, we had enough of life on the boat. Everything on Milagros is somehow cumbersome and sometimes annoying.

Living on a sailboat can be a bit inconvenient

Just take the example of “showering” while living on a sailboat. We don’t currently have a suction pump installed below deck by the shower, that would remove all the water, so we shower outside in the cockpit. Hence, if you want to take a shower, you first must check if there are any of the infamous Sea of Cortez bees. They are attracted to fresh water, and if a scout finds some, a short time later you are swarmed by them. So, if there are bees, you have to wait until after sunset. You also have to check if you have enough fresh water. If not, you must make water. But for that you need electricity. Thus, you have to check if the batteries are topped up enough and how much electricity is flowing through the solar panels.

Showering without thinking

Before you can make any water at all, you have to check whether the water quality outside is okay or whether you have to wait for the change of tides for water of better quality (at least that’s the theory). And if you want the shower water to be warm, you have to fill it into the solar shower bag in the morning and put it in the sun or run the motor of the water heater. When it’s cloudy, of course, the bag doesn’t work so well. And running the engine also means diesel consumption and extra engine hours. So, you see: just taking a quick shower is not so easy. And that’s just one small example of many in life on the boat. I was glad that I could take a shower at home without having to think about all that stuff.

Unhealthy life?

It was also nice not to have to be constantly aware and weigh everything up. What are the wind and the waves doing? When and where can we go shopping next? Where should we go next? Where can we get the spare part we need? What is the longer-term plan anyway? In general, I find it interesting that I always thought living on a sailboat was much healthier and more relaxed than on land. How wrong I was! Freedom has its price: I have more stress, unhealthier food, less sleep, more beer, less exercise, and more UV radiation. But on the other hand, I have adventures and countless stories to tell.

Summer hibernation

I think back to San Carlos, Milagros was back on stands and we were sweating – even inside with air conditioning. Outside it was unbearably hot and we tried not to do anything outside of the boat during the day. We put Milagros into summer hibernation as we were happy to do without another whole summer in Mexico.

Thinking back

As we stowed the dinghy, we thought back to the last few months on the water. How we anchored in what must have been one of the most beautiful anchorages in the Sea of Cortez and explored the caves on the rocky shore with the dinghy. How we glided through the clear turquoise water and sat on the bow watching the sea creatures below us. And how we were annoyed that on the last day we had filled our dinghy with seaweed, sand and water because we hadn’t pulled it far enough out of the water.

The life of a sailor

While we were washing the deck, we remembered the moments when dolphins swam along the bow with us. And how we sailed through the fog on an early morning crossing, enjoying the fresh, cool feeling of the water droplets in the air. The fenders reminded us of the first time we entered a marina in Santa Rosalia with Milagros and were totally stressed out because we had to go to a different slip than planned at the last minute and all the lines and fenders had to be hastily attached to the other side of the boat.

1.5 years!

The kayak reminded us of the time when we paddled after two humpback whales in an anchorage and met acquaintances from Puerto Peñasco. And when they invited us for a beer, David noticed that he had only got into the kayak dressed in his underwear. And we remembered the many experiences with all the strangers who became sailing friends. It’s crazy what we have experienced and learned in the last 1.5 years living on a sailboat! 1000 new skills, great friendships, new insights about life, personal growth and of course dolphins at the bow.

Living on a sailboat is a whole lot of work

A neighbour on the boatyard once described it very aptly: “Life on the boat is a hell of a lot of work to have a hell of a lot of fun.” I can confirm that 100%! I didn’t think life on a boat would be so much work and so much hassle! The highs are higher, and the lows are lower. But it’s still fun, and I’m already looking forward to the second season living on board our sailboat Milagros. But first I’m enjoying family and friends and all the comforts here in Switzerland.

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