Ten Rules to Live By That I Learned from Living on a Sailboat

On land as well as on the sea, the shit will hit the fan. In a rush to get to work, the coffee maker breaks, your pants zipper malfunctions, and the car tire is flat. In my ten years of living on a sailboat, a typical bad day was a dragging anchor, a ripped sail, and our toddler throwing a vital tool overboard. At sea as on land, it always happened in three's. Those ten years impressed certain truths upon me, and although many of them were elicited from a sea or boat-related experience, the underlying moral of the story applies equally well to my life on land today. I now find these truths to be self-evident:

  1. Know that the shit will hit the fan—not maybe, but yes—it will.

Murphy's Law is unavoidable, etched in stone. What can go wrong will go wrong. Murphy's law will seek you out and it will usually compound as a threesome. The boat engine will die as you enter a narrow channel, a vital navigation part will break for no apparent reason, the fuel tank will spring a leak and slosh diesel fuel all around the boat's interior. And if it can happen on a boat, it most certainly will happen on land. We all know that the washing machine and refrigerator will break down the same week the car does, and that water heaters flood garages and laundry rooms.

  1. Plan B is your friend, so be ready!

On a boat, one always has a Plan B. There are spare parts in triplicate along with many sorts of tools for the myriad of equipment that will eventually succumb to the salt air and seawater elements. Nothing lasts forever. But sometime a quick repair isn't the magical cure-all, and a broken part can cause a major shift in plans: a delay in departure, a change of course, or simply doing without for a while. I eventually learned not to cry over spilled milk, realizing that there can be other solutions. Above all, be flexible! Plans change due to no desire or fault of your own, and it's uncanny how something even better comes from veering off course.

  1. Clutter is not your friend.

I don't understand hoarding and I don't understand knick-knack overload. Living on a boat, I became an anti-clutter fiend. Boats have no room for knick-knacks and free standing stuffed shelves. When the weather turns bad, or just obnoxious, you don't want to get bonked in the head by a flying object. Besides, they are dust collectors. Sailing into a harbor, items did come out of their storage spots (especially the kids' toys), and hang around the cabin for a few days while we stayed put. However, everything would go back into its proper slot once we set sail again. This same habit has served me well on land, and proven to be the secret to a clean and pared down house.

  1. There are two or three sailing knots to use for anything and everything—on a boat or on land.

I have just two or three, simple, nautical knots that have stuck with me, and they function well in a variety of circumstances and everyday life. Whether it be for camping (tying a laundry line to a tree), attaching something to the top or back of the car, on a stroller, or at the playground with your kids, these knots have become handy and second nature to me.

  1. Live frugally, avoid debt.

One can live frugally and be quite satisfied. True, in modern society one does need credit cards, but we have learned to be disciplined and incur minimum monthly charges that can be paid off each month. Having once had no monthly rent, mortgage, or electric or water bills, living solely on a cash basis, I do realize that life on land is not that simple. However, by keeping things structured, disciplined, and as simple as possible (only one or two major credit cards, no individual store cards; paying bills immediately; not purchasing unnecessary stuff), you keep your obligations under control, and can better handle life when the shit does hit the fan!

  1. It will be calm before the storm and there will be a storm.

A sister truth to Murphy's Law and Rule #1, know that once the storm unleashes, whatever can go wrong will. But then you must try to stay calm. Easier said than done, of course, but with small children either on a boat, or in a household, sometimes you just have to keep your cool, and not let on that you are worried or panicked.

  1. I learned I didn't like eating or drinking, out of or off, plastic plates.

This is where I am an avowed hypocrite, because even though I just talked about being an anti-clutter fiend, I can't resist dishes, and most especially bowls! It's a fetish. Maybe this is in direct revolt to my only having had limited space and plastic options for so many years while sea bound. At one point, I did throw out our plastic eating ware and invested in some Corelle, so I could pretend to have real dishes on board. Corelle was the most sturdy that I dared have on a boat. In my current landlocked kitchen cupboard, I possess six sets of table settings in different sizes, colors, motifs, and textures, because strange as it may sound, the way a dish, coffee cup, and/or silverware feels in my hand is important to me. I'm not sure why, but it changes how I enjoy my food. If somebody can explain that to me, I would be most appreciative.

  1. Take a leap of faith and cross that ocean, or whatever that great divide is.

It changed my life; it still affects me today, 30 years later. It can change yours.

  1. Cooking with a pressure cooker!

Oh my goodness, this one is magical! I have never quite understood the lure of cooking with a microwave when one can concoct a whole meal-in-a-pot in under 15 minutes with a pressure cooker!

  1. Conserve water.

Always a mantra in California where I live now, honed by my years with such limited access to fresh water, conserving water where we live today in "droughtful" California is a no brainer. We couldn't let water run from the faucet while brushing our teeth on the boat, so why do it on land?

No matter where and how we live, our life experiences form a good part of who we are, and why we react the way we do to people and situations. Ten years of a life on the sea are my excuse. That's what I tell my grandkids.