Jim and I are going to have to agree to disagree on that second bit. While I agree wholeheartedly that the live aboard lifestyle differs dramatically from the cruising life, I am convinced that our time aboard Don Quixote prior to departure was key to our transition to cruising.
Before I explain why a popular author with one of the better cruising books out there is wrong and I -- a complete novice and dilettante -- am right, it might help to elucidate some of the key differences between these two, superficially identical ways of life. A live aboard is someone who lives on a boat but who otherwise lives an essentially “normal” mainstream life. Her boat is probably tied to a dock near a large town or city. He goes to work five days a week, probably commuting via bus or car. Liveaboards shop at the grocery, go to the movies, and check out the opposite sex at the local bar just like folks who live in houses.
A key to being a liveaboard is that the boat is tied up, often semi-permanently. Many liveaboard craft are directly plugged into power, water, and sewer systems. Showers are readily available on the boat or at shore-side facilities, and the trash is regularly picked up from the shared shore-side dumpsters.
The Pacific Northwest is a haven for liveaboards. Other locations with many live aboards include Florida, the Great Lakes, and any place where good marinas, high land prices, and a love of boating exist.
Cruisers, on the other hand, do not hold regular jobs. They may make money, but it’s definitely in a more ill-defined, contract sort of way. The boat is rarely tied to anything for more than a month. Their homeport is a distant memory. They have no regular phone service, Internet access, power, water, or trash. They definitely do not own a car. Cruisers are highly independent drifters who have managed to drift with their homes. Entertainment comes in the form of the company of fellow cruisers, books, saved movies, and contemplation of the navel.
And when you write it all out like that, you can understand where John is coming from. Basically, he’s pointing out the obvious. Liveaboards are regular folk with weird houses. I’ve lived in weird places before -- big houses converted into 15 “student apartments”, a remodeled backyard shed, the basement. Arguably, living on a boat does not prepare you to cruise. The car and job alone make the liveaboard life completely different from cruising.
However, John is in my opinion discounting the utter weirdness of living on a boat -- what distinguishes it from any other form of odd housing. This is probably because he’s done it for nearly two decades. I think he’s forgotten just how difficult it is to move on to a boat.
A boat is small. It’s wet. It smells a lot. The stove sucks, the oven is worse, and for some damn reason the entire marine industry hasn’t come up with a way to make a comfortable bed that doesn’t rot. The refrigerator is 4 feet tall, 2.5 ft wide and 15 feet deep. Sounds carry in the water, on the water, through the hull. You can hear your children breathe at night from 20 feet away, inspiring the invention of an entirely new form of sexual pleasure based on the principle of absolute and utter silence.
Most of all, the boat -- she moves! Even at a dock, your boat home moves. Little moves add up to chafe. You hear stories all the time of liveaboards pulling out their “best wear” which had hung for a year in a hanging locker only to find that those small movements added up to literally wearing the shoulders out of their jackets. It takes awhile to learn how to pack so things won’t chafe, filter out all the little sounds of water on hull and items clanking to identify those you really need to hear, and sleep even when the boat is rocking back and forth and the mast is singing in the wind.
So Wannabe Cruisers, go ahead and live on your boat at the dock for a few months or even a year before you head out. You will learn a great deal about what you can do and what you like about living on the boat while you still have an opportunity to change it up. You’ll get a chance to hit up Ikea for floor mats and storage boxes, Costco for bedding, and Target for bathroom accessories. Then by the time you cut the lines, all you’ll need to sort is how to live on only 400 amps of power for a week.