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Life on the Sailboat

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.

View from the sailing boat
Ina is writing in her notebook on the sailing boat

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.

The weather in the Mediterranean can change at any time

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?

Office with a difference: This picture was taken in Kardamili, Greece

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.

Sunrise in winter
Free masks for the winter community

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.

The bedchamber of the sailboat
Insight into the saloon of the sailing boat Quench

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".

As the 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.

Impressions from a beach cleanup in Greece

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.

Ina on the jetty
At anchor in Greece

8 Comments

  • Axel

    Very nice report. We also lived on a sailing boat in the Mediterranean for 5 years. Greece in summer, Sicily or Spain in winter. We have been looking for a good blue water sailor since 2019. What are the supply options at the moment in the wake of Corona? What are the authorities doing? Can you still take guests with you or is the business dead? So many questions. If you want, feel free to contact us via email. We would be glad. LG, Axel & Chris

    • Ina Hiester

      Dear Axel, thank you for your comment. We are in a similar situation to you and have been looking for a more stable blue water sailor for some time, ideally a ketch (i.e. with 2 masts, for the non-sailors here). This would give us more flexible sailing options, would be better equipped for the desert weather and, due to the long keel, would be better in the water overall. In addition, ultrasonic antifouling is probably best suited for steel, and it always seems better than plastic to us. However, Corona is currently making all boat tours difficult. Last year we had no problems with “supply options”. Only once, in Trapani, did we have to fill out forms and measure the temperature before docking, otherwise we did not experience any restrictions. However, this could also be due to the fact that we almost always anchor. In Greece, according to friends of ours, the conditions were a bit stricter, but still within limits. What will 2021 be like? Can guests come at all? I'm curious. Let us keep in touch: mail [at] organic-matters.com

  • Udo

    Hello ina and Mike, thanks for sharing; very motivating. On the subject of water: take a look online for Showerloop this is a self-cleaning shower (open source project) that cleans the water back to drinking water quality. Thus, a circulation system would be possible for the shower, the dishes and the washing machine with a certain amount of water. Kind regards udo

    • Ina Hiester

      Hello Udo, Mike got in a tinkering mood when I showed him the shower loop. That would be ideal for us - a great tip, thank you very much! Kind regards to you too, Ina

  • Roberto and Roswitha

    Hello Ina and Mike,
    We met in Galaxidis Greece in the summer of 2019, when we moored next to you with our sailor in the harbor.
    You wrote a very nice report.
    We hope to see you again :-) maybe this summer, we will be on the road in and around Sicily.
    Greetings to both of you
    R&R:

    • Ina Hiester

      Hello you two, we remember the great time with you in Galaxidi very well! At that time our boat cat, which we had found in the garbage a few weeks earlier, was still very tiny, now it is well fed and lovingly crazy. Greetings to you both and your velvet paws, we would be very happy to see you again soon!

  • Gil

    Hello Ina

    A very successful contribution. I have a few questions. Can you somehow be reached by email?
    LG
    Gil

    • Ina

      Hello Gil, thank you! Please write to me at mail [at] organic-matters.de. Many greetings, Ina

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