A Week in the Life of a Winter Liveaboard Sailor

What Does a Liveaboard Sailor Do in Winter?

When you visit your sailboat in the winter, it’s probably to check the lines or make sure she’s not covered in snow and ice. You may have spent the winter dreaming about the anchorages and destinations you’ll visit next summer. Maybe you’ve made a list of the things you want to do when you haul out in the spring. Same for us, only we never went home to land when they turned the dock water off in November.

Winter liveaboard sailor dock chesapeake
Laundry day for a liveaboard sailor on the Chesapeake Bay.

This is our fourth winter as year-round liveaboards on the Bay on a Gozzard 36. Every winter has been different. Some years we’ve had nor’easters and thick ice. Other years, it’s been mild without much bad weather. During the off-season, the solitude feels like a gift when I’m the only one around to see a heron hunting in the shallows next to the dock. No two weeks are alike, but it’s never dull, especially when I can’t get off the boat because the wind’s too strong, or the tide’s too low. Here’s a typical week on the dock when you’re tucked in at home:

Sunday: I check the weather to see if we need to put the bubbler in this week. It’s installed on the dock, but not in the water right now because it’s been above freezing recently. Some of our dock neighbors leave theirs on all the time, but we take ours out when we don’t need it. Today is cleaning day and it only takes about 30 minutes. I don’t miss that it used to take half a day when we had a place on land. We wrap the boat in the winter, and the cockpit becomes like a garage. During the coldest months, we store drinks and extra food out there. Our Espar diesel forced-air heater keeps it at around 70 degrees inside.

Monday: It’s really windy today! Winter brings northwesterly winds that blow the water out of the creek and into the Bay, which means especially low tides. In this wind, it may be difficult to pull the boat close enough to the dock to get on and off. I adjust the lines for the lowest of low tides, check the wind speed, and check the depth sounder for fun. We’ve bottomed out a few times, and it always makes a good story.

Tuesday: We run a large dehumidifier 24 hours a day during the winter. Before we got one, our first winter was wet and a little moldy. I learned that packets of Damp Rid and a cute table-top dehumidifier don’t cut it on a wrapped boat. I’m making a big pot of crab soup this evening, but I don’t have to worry about extra moisture in the air. Aside from the Espar, if I had to pick one thing that makes winter liveaboard life bearable, the dehumidifier would win. We keep it in the head, and it drains into the shower drain.

Wednesday: The weekend weather doesn’t look good, but it’s above freezing today so I’m going to fill the tank. With the dock water off, it takes 400 feet of hose to reach our slip from the frost-free spigot at the end of the dock. It’s cumbersome to lay it out, drain it, and put it away. However, with only an 80-gallon tank, I choose to fill up weekly.

Thursday: One of my creature comforts is showering aboard. Our “navy shower” switch conserves water by stopping the flow at the showerhead until you’re ready to rinse. I love living aboard, but I really miss long, hot showers when I didn’t have to worry about where the water came from.

Friday: It’s snowing. They’re calling for a few inches today. It’s also laundry day. Getting on and off the boat with two loads of laundry can be tricky when the finger pier is slick. I’m going to wait for my laundry in the clubhouse and see if there are any new books in the free library.

Saturday: We haven’t been to any restaurants in many months, but we get take-out once a week. Our favorite Mexican place sells to-go margaritas, so I order a large for us to split. It’s snowing again. The marina keeps the docks salted and shoveled, so I don’t mind the walk down the dock when it’s time to pick up the food. The parking lot is almost empty. Blanketed in snow and silent as a ghost town, the marina looks so much prettier than our old neighborhood on land ever did.

~By TJ Butler

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