We live on an express cruiser that has two gas engines and all the comforts of home. We used to live on our boat part-time on Lake Travis outside of Austin, TX. That was for rookies. We decided to trade in our 3300 sf, two-car garage home for a more simple life on the water. We moved aboard our boat nine weeks ago and had it moved to Galveston Bay where we started the tiny house living journey of a lifetime.
We knew that living aboard was going to be different and we used to watch the show: Tiny House Living, with interest when we had a TV. “We could do that,” we thought and started to say aloud until our thoughts became reality and we boarded our 37-foot boat with our two kids and 90 lb. service dog named Onyx.
We’ve travelled over twelve hundred and fifty miles to reach the Florida Keys, where we will remain through November when the hurricane season is officially over. We are officially living the dream! I brought out the tape measure today and took the official measurement. 128 square feet of living space, down below. It should be noted that we don’t live on a small sailboat and we have as much air conditioning as we want. (as long as we are hooked up to electric or running the generator)
It should also be noted that the above number reflects the area of the two beds that we sleep on. The “master” v-berth where we sleep sits our wonderful new memory foam mattress, which was the best purchase of our cruising career. It is 42 sq. ft. The kids sleep in the aft cabin, which used to be a nice u shaped couch. It is now a full-sized bed, affectionately known as their cave. It is 35 sq. ft. Strangely, the sleeping spaces are both ample and comfortable. There is storage and shelving around each of the compartments and believe me, we use it all!
Aubrey cooks in a two-stove burner kitchen. The princess stove, as it is called, isn’t very efficient. It takes forever to heat up and it once took her forty-five minutes to brown sausage. A friend gave us a BergHoff induction cooktop, which we use in lieu of the built in model. It boils water in a minute and it can be moved outside. I would highly recommend it to anyone considering living aboard any type of vessel. We got rid of the microwave to add cabinet space and we never used it. We hand wash all of our dishes in a single sink that has a spray nozzle. Our refrigerator is 1.6 cubic feet and it has three very small shelves and two door hangers. It has a tiny freezer. Storage is limited to four; strangely shaped cabinets and one large pull out drawer. Somehow we fit everything we need to feed a family of four.
We have a dinette that sits us all and will fit our plates as long as we arrange them differently, like a Tetris game. It is re-upholstered and it looks good but it isn’t very comfortable to sit for long periods.
The bathroom (or head) has exactly six feet of floor space, not counting behind the toilet. It features a sit down or stand-up shower with a wrap around shower curtain. It has a small sink and two cabinets. The toilet is tiny but everything works. It smells reasonable as long as the waste tank isn’t full (30 gallon capacity).
The living space sits partially below the water line and it is reasonably well lit. It has two hatches and 8 portholes. We enter our tiny home through something called a companionway with three large steps heading down.
Storage hatches abound and they are in all sorts of inconvenient places, such as under the mattress or under the floor (which is covered by a snap on carpet cover). Aubrey likes to keep many of the extra cooking items, spices or things that she can’t fit in other places. The space under the bed is two by three feet, which is huge but inaccessible unless both of us hold up the mattress. We store other things under the dinette seats, two clothes lockers or the cabinet under the bed that Aubrey claimed for herself. The kids stash some of their toys under the fold out portion of their bed or on shelves that are tucked away beside where they sleep.
I know that my description didn’t make our tiny house sound very homey, but that is actually not the case. We love our super-tiny home and it feels more comfortable than our big house in suburbia. Aubrey has decorated our tiny house vey well and it is cute inside. We’ve found a lot of seashells that adorn many of our baskets or accent items.
If you live on a boat you have to get creative with how you use your space. We are pretty proud of or wine bottle organization system. Our v-berth leans to the side away from our bed and we learned that we fit 24 bottles in this spot. It looks cute and it saves us money because we buy our wine at the commissary on the Navy base. We keep a couple months’ worth of wine aboard and that saves us expensive trips to the local stores.
It is hard to keep a family liveaboard boat clean. It feels like that is one of our obsessions. There is no space for anything that is out of its place. Laundry has to be put away after it is done because there is nowhere to leave even a bag with one load in it. Dishes have to be washed immediately after dinner because it would make the boat stink. The table must be clear before doing dishes because here is nowhere else to put them to dry. Our beds have to be clear of mess otherwise there is nowhere to sleep. The dog takes up too much room on the floor but she doesn’t complaint too much when we step on her for late night bathroom trips. We all make allowances for our new life.
The above deck of our boat is really nice. It is late summer here in Florida and we can’t use it around noon or sometimes late in the day because it is too hot. We love to be anchored out (on the hook), offshore a few miles, because the breeze blows and cools everything off. Our dock is on the bayside of the Keys and it can get a little stagnant. Mosquitos chase us inside most nights unless we are anchored out.
Above deck has ample seating for at least twelve people in one of the different seating areas. We purchased an icemaker, which is one of the best amenities on the boat. It makes fifteen pounds of ice per day. There is a small sink and a hand shower on the back of the boat. I remember thinking that it was nice that it had both hot and cold water but the truth is; we don’t use hot water on a boat for showers. I find the temperature strait out of the hose is just fine. There is a large table outside and we eat dinner on it most nights. It is also better to have the kids eat outside because I can just wash away their mess with a bucket I dip in salt water.
Aubrey and I take some time to ourselves on the bow of the boat whenever we can. It feels like our own special spot, far away from the kids (about 20 feet). Aubrey and the kids love riding on the bow when we are underway because it is such a great vantage point for all that is underwater.
I think the best advantage about our tiny house is that we can take it anywhere it wind blows! We are not sailing, mind you, but we can go far. Our fuel tanks hold two hundred and forty gallons of gas and or water tank holds seventy gallons. Our capacity is much smaller than some of the bigger boats but it seems like a lot to us. We have a 6.5 kW. generator on board that will power all that we have. It burns about one half of a gallon per hour or $2.30. We use shore power and water when we are at the dock. Our lights, refrigerator and water runs from the house battery banks without the need for the generator and the power would last for a day if we used it reasonably. We’ve stayed out for about a week before, without needing for more water, gas or waste storage. I think that is about the limits of our potential cruising time on this particular boat. Cruisers can pump out their waste into the ocean past three miles from shore but this boat isn’t equipped with one. Some people have de-salinators that support their use but this boat doesn’t have one.
We have been aboard many types of other vessels since we started our journey and met a lot of other liveaboard families. There is a family of three that lives aboard their twenty-two foot sailboat next to us at our marina. They live in much less space than we do. There is a woman who lives aboard her forty-eight foot trawler that have an unbelievable amount of space and even some real chairs! Two women have small thirty-five to forty foot houseboats at the dock. I was surprised that many people live in houseboats on the ocean because the boats reminded me of something that I’d seen on lakes. Other people live on larger yachts, catamarans or sailboats. We couldn’t afford anything like larger than the boat we call our tiny home.
The draw back to our express cruiser is its living space and fuel consumption, while underway. The positive of our boat is the fact that the cruising speed is 25-27 knots. This boat goes fast and we can average one hundred miles per day in four hours. Small sail boats under power or sail might average only five knots per hour. Trawlers average about eight to twelve knots per hour but their diesel engines are very efficient and only use three to eight gallons per hour. Sailboats burn the least amount of fuel, with only one to two gallons of diesel to make about five knows. They have the best potential upside because the wind is always free!
We decided to liveaboard for many different reasons. Chief among these was to save money. We have definitely proved that was possible and we are finally putting money away. We wanted to spend more time together and have quality experiences. We are definitely seeing and experiencing more than we ever thought possible from the comfort of a house inland. We wanted to be more self-sufficient and use less. We consume a lot less of everything and we conserve much more than we ever thought possible. I think of the days when I would let the kids play in the hose water at our house. That would never happen on a dock or at sea! The best part about our new life is living on the ocean. It astounds us everyday and we love to jump in and play. We see so much more life than we ever did on our trips to the city aquarium. We’ve seen manatees, sharks, dolphins, rays and too many fish to count- just at our dock! We’ve swum with a pod of twenty-five dolphins just four miles off shore! Our tiny home doesn’t feel that tiny from a remote anchorage in the ocean.
How much does it cost to cruise? This is a question that I’m asked often. We paid $65,000 for our boat and I think that was a good deal. It surveyed for more. It was in good shape and had low hours on the engines. I bought it, not knowing about the costs of maintenance or how to do most repairs myself. I think I paid five thousand dollars to maintain and do some needed repairs for it while it was still a lake boat. We were in a hailstorm on the lake and the boat was damaged. Insurance paid $37,000 to make the necessary repairs before we set off on our voyage. I’ve made some modest upgrades myself, such as switching out all of the lights for LED. That was a good improvement that would’ve cost a whole lot more if I had it done at a boat repair shop. Thankfully, our boat hasn’t needed anything major but it is a good idea to set aside money for the day that it needs repair. Many cruisers learn how to do most maintenance and repairs themselves, which is sensible and cost effective. I want to become independent and learn how to do everything to my boat.
Liveaboard and cruising are different. Cruising is moving from one place to another. Fuel is the biggest expense and it varies depending on your boat type. Slip fees are expensive if you decide to opt for that luxury and “transient” slip fees are horrendously priced in most cases, around here. The cost and availability of groceries varies when you cruise. You also don’t have a car to fetch items when you are moving with your boat from place to place. We enjoyed being without a car for a month but not everyone feels that way.
People who liveaboard at a marina have slip fees that are set on lower monthly costs. We pay $800 per month plus electric. The annual rate for our boat would be about $600 if we stayed here all the time. Some liveaboards stay on a mooring ball and without electric and water. The cost for that is about $300 per month. You would have to use your dinghy to get to and from the boat. Some people stay on the hook and out by themselves. This is a really economical way to live and there is no cost except that of the generator, when and if it is run. People who live on the hook often have solar-power, water makers and can stay out for a very long time. We would really love to do that eventually.
We know a lot of people who liveaboard their boats for different reasons. I meet a lot of families who have become disenchanted with what has become the “standard” American life. They yearn for the freedom of living and cruising their own boat. Many people purchased a boat for less then $30,0000 and suddenly own their home outright, for the first time. No taxes or mortgage payments are a really good thing in today’s society. We’ve met a lot of people who retired early like ourselves. Some work extremely part-time just to earn enough to meet the monthly budget. I’m sure that the view off the back of my boat is better than the best million dollar home listing on the beach.
We have met several retired couples who liveaboard and they seem to enjoy life more. We see that there are ways to meet like-minded people and far greater opportunities to socialize than when we live in a neighborhood. We already have more friends than when we lived in Austin. We are much more in tune with what is going on in our community and we don’t get stuck doing what tourists pay a lot of money to do. It is true that some people look down their noses at people whom liveaboard. I thought it would be the opposite, coming from dry land. The people who live on their boats aren’t lucky?
I think people see our lifestyle as so drastically different from theirs and have a hard time relating. I may go more days between showers than most people, but it is by choice. I certainly know that my kid smells like fish more than any child I’ve ever sniffed. If my wife is missing I don’t have to look far. I just find the nearest species and it is probably in her hands. I don’t see many other women exploring like she does everyday. My daughter has more adult friends than most children and she learns so much from her friends everyday. Our dog even has more fun than most of her four legged pals. Living on a boat is definitely god for us and we plan to do it for many years to come.
Thanks for reading and please share your cruising/liveaboard plans or experiences with us! We are always meeting up with people who read our blog so drop us a line if you are close to Islamorada, FL anytime until the first part of December.