Less is the sea: living sustainably on a sailing boat
Ina Hiester has been living as a freelance journalist and digital nomad on a sailing boat in the Mediterranean since 2017. In this guest post she tells how it came about and what she is doing to make everyday life on her floating home as sustainable as possible.
"Why don't you come sailing with me? Just for two weeks? " That was three and a half years ago. Mike and I met in 2017 on the Camino de Santiago, which we ended up on for very different reasons. Experiences of loss and disappointments, search for meaning, career and relationship crises - there was something of everything. A few weeks later I visited him in Greece, where his 12,5 meter long and four meter wide sailboat “Quench” was to change my life.
When I first got the wheel myself, I didn't let go for 50 miles. I sailed from Serifos Island to mainland Greece, where we anchored at sunset in front of the majestic Temple of Poseidon in Sounion. I had tasted blood - or rather: tasted sea salt. Felt the wind, the waves, the elements and a new energy. And so I stayed. On the boat and with Mike.
Experience climate change up close
Since living on a sailboat, I have gained a new awareness of nature in all its glory and mightiness. In the last three years there have been two Medicane in the Mediterranean - these are hurricane-like storms that make the sea, the coasts and the mainland unsafe like roaring tops and leave a trail of devastation behind them. We escaped one of these tornadoes by a hair's breadth, other storms caught us completely unexpectedly and made us fear not only for our boat but also for our lives.
For us there is no doubt: climate change is real and we are right in the middle of it. Not only the air temperatures, but also the temperature of the world's oceans rise inexorably, which exacerbates weather extremes around the globe. We experience all of this first hand, and it regularly pushes us to our limits. While for most people a quick glance at their smartphone is enough to assess whether they should pack an umbrella or not, we often spend hours checking and comparing various weather apps - a necessary routine to be safe on the go . And of course to be able to sail efficiently.
Sailing means traveling with a low carbon footprint
As threatening as the sea and the wind can be, we are grateful that they enable us to to explore this wonderful world with a minimal carbon footprint. We mostly only use our engine to “park in and out”, that is, when we lift anchor or drop anchor. To get ashore, we have a dinghy with an outboard motor, but we only use both when we have guests. For two, the kayak is enough for us, with which we also paddle our purchases on board. Our batteries, which supply navigation instruments, refrigerators, lighting and various other devices with electricity, are fed directly from the sun of southern Europe thanks to solar collectors.
Awareness of your own resource consumption
On our travels, the nearest supermarket and gas station are not always around the corner. It is not a given that water flows from the tap and electricity flows from the socket. Our largely self-sufficient, sustainable lifestyle is the result of economy, good planning and constant awareness of your own resource consumption. For example, we always know exactly how much energy we are producing, how our batteries are being charged and how much electricity we are currently using. On a cloudy day, some devices have to be switched off. When a new laptop was due last year, my most important purchase criterion was therefore: a long battery life, at least 8 hours. What I didn't take into account, however, was how much electricity the device needs to charge: more than our fridge! Since then I have been careful to charge the laptop especially when the blazing sun is shining, which luckily is rarely a problem during our sailing months - from April to October. And in the winter?
Overwinter in a community: socializing, swap meet and repair café
In the winter months, the storms in the Mediterranean are particularly nasty, and the temperatures on board can also cool down significantly. That is why many permanent sailors - including us - spend this time permanently in a port where there are also electricity and water connections. Over the years, some of these ports have developed into lively winter communities. Here, in a very small space, bow to bow, the most diverse people come together, and they all have at least one common denominator: they love the sea, the wind and sailing.
From young to old, from poor to rich, from newbies to genuine fur seals, everything can be found here. And that's a good thing, because wintertime is the time to go through the endless list of renovations and repairs that lacked leisure and material during the sailing season. What could be more appropriate than to surround yourself with many skilled, creative minds, for whom it is perfectly natural to support each other with advice and action? And those who discard something while mucking out in the winter will usually find someone within a very short time who will accept it for free or for a small donation - whether clothing, books, electrical appliances, ropes, tools or spare parts. Occasional car sharing is just as common as the lively exchange to the most beautiful sailing destinations and the best anchorages. Joint sporting activities and making music, game evenings and excursions round off the whole thing. And the best thing about it: everything goes - nothing has to.
Less space, more freedom: minimalism on board
My last permanent apartment in Düsseldorf was 120 square meters. Anything that found no place here or was annoying was stowed in the cellar. My wardrobe stretched over the entire bedroom wall, and in my teenage room with my parents there was an additional inventory of countless clothes to be on the safe side - you never know when the textile industry will next collapse. My clothes storage space on board (no, the word “wardrobe” doesn't do it justice) is 80 cm wide, 90 cm high and 60 cm deep.
Place settings and dishes for a maximum of six people fit in my kitchen cupboard. Durable food can be found under the floorboards, perishable items in the refrigerator with a mini-freezer that doubles as a work surface. Whatever is superfluous or not stowed away well will fly around our ears on the next sailing trip. Therefore, a different item has to leave the boat for each new purchase. I remember going to IKEA with friends two years ago in the winter. We came home with four wooden coat hooks and a satisfied grin. Because we know: less is the sea.
On the go with little money
Although our boat - a Jeanneau 42 DS, built in 2010 - is a very modern sailing boat, in many ways we do not fit into the cliché image of typical "yacht owners". Our savings stretched out pretty much just as long until I started to earn enough with writing and Mike doing odd jobs on other boats to "stay afloat".
In XNUMX, when Low budget travelers we are almost never to be found in harbors, except in winter. Because port prices in some places, especially in the summer months in Italy, are downright absurd. 120 € per night for two lines, mediocre fresh water, decent sanitary facilities and a power connection that we don't need? No thanks.
However, fresh water is one of the most precious goods on board. Our water tanks hold 320 liters - less than two bathtubs full. In order not to be constantly dependent on expensive ports where we can fill our tanks, we have our “Powersurvivor”, a water desalinator that uses our solar power to generate up to 40 liters of fresh water every day. Enough for drinking, cooking, washing up and showering - provided the sun provides us with enough energy.
Reduce plastic waste and remove it from stands
Our water desalinator also helps us avoid waste. Because the tap water here is often of such poor quality that it is unsuitable for drinking. On the other hand, we can drink our own water without hesitation and thus save a lot of plastic bottles. Because there is definitely enough of them in the sea, as we repeatedly notice.
Countless times we have apparently anchored in paradise and then when walking on the beach over whole mountains of rubbish to stumble that was washed up by the sea. In three years I have freed countless beaches and bays of plastic waste and reaped everything: from angry shaking of the head to the stretched thumb to enthusiastic participation.
I was often asked if I didn’t realize that in a week it’s going to look like it did before. Do I not know how little four garbage bags are compared to the vast amounts of plastic that is just waiting to be washed up? Of course I am aware of that. One answer, however, has proven its worth in amicably bringing the discussions about the obvious futility of my actions to an end. "I love your country and would like to give something back to it by cleaning up a bit here". Somehow everyone can come to terms with that.
Use local infrastructures
We do not have a fixed postal address during the sailing months. For us, this means that we can only buy what is available locally. Online shopping is only possible in the winter months, and is then based on our “less is sea” strategy: We only order what we really need. Of course, even in summer we sometimes long for the convenience of the digital shopping trolley that brings us what we want right in front of the boat plank. In fact, we keep finding that the only thing we really need to buy is food. And we get that at the mini market in the village.
There is always better: an outlook for even more sustainability
We have certainly not reinvented the wheel with our lifestyle, and of course there are aspects that can be improved in terms of sustainability. Recently, over dinner, a friend told us enthusiastically about his composting toilet - a thought that admittedly hadn't occurred to us before. On the other hand, we have long been toying with a wind generator that generates electricity at night or when the sky is cloudy. In addition, better insulation of the boat against heat and cold would not be wrong.
The biggest construction site, however, is the subject of "antifouling". This is a protective coating that prevents the submerged part of the boat from becoming overgrown with mussels and barnacles within a few days, which slows down the speed and increases fuel consumption. Unfortunately, most antifouling paints contain toxic substances that are harmful to the environment. However, there are now alternatives, for example sensors that are attached to the inside of the fuselage and that use ultrasound waves to prevent organisms from colonizing. In any case, we won't get bored.
Stay on the move despite Corona
Corona has shown many people how precious freedom is. Last year we sailed around Sicily, albeit a little later than planned. Have climbed volcanoes, enjoyed countless sunrises and sunsets, counted dolphins and celebrated life. Since we almost exclusively anchor, keeping our distance is a matter of course for us. And so Corona has hardly restricted us - apart from the mandatory face mask in the supermarket. All those who want to travel sustainably and are looking for peace and relaxation, can endure themselves and want to learn to relieve real stress (help, 60 knots, we're going to die soon!) From fake stress (I think I won't make the article deadline !), I can warmly recommend a break on board. But caution is advised. Two weeks quickly become three and a half years.