Friday, January 4, 2013

Off the Beaten Track: The Owl and the Pussycat at Home – Living and Loving Aboard


Today at Novel Adventurers we welcome the talented Sarah Brabazon who writes romance novels and lives aboard her wooden boat in Tasmania, Australia. She is a Maritime Engineer by profession, and worked as a shore-based design engineer and project manager in Australia and the United States of America. She frequently enjoys chatting to complete strangers, online and in person.

Whenever I mention that I live aboard a yacht, I see people’s eyes gleam with imagined romance. They picture Captain Haddock and me sipping sundowners on the aft deck; romantic evenings watching the moonrise as we feed each other grapes (or oysters); Flotsam and Jetsam (our children), neatly dressed in stripey tops and navy sailor pants leap to co-operate if we suggest a recreational sail. Our crew takes care of any mundane chores that would otherwise interrupt this idyll.

Celebration at the launch of a dream. Photo: Zakimimula


Some days living aboard is exactly like this; I’m anticipating one or two in the coming year. The rest of life however, is much less... and more.
The first boat that Captain Haddock and I owned was simply a means to get out of rental accommodation while living in Seattle. Her name was Lady Love and if she had been a person, she would have spent her days in bed, recovering from late nights swilling gin and smoking cigarettes through one of those long filters that you see in pictures of film stars of the twenties and thirties.

The Lady just home from a wine bar. Photo: Zakimimula

Lady Love was a tri-cabin cruiser built from mahogany ply in an age when craftsmanship mattered and fuel was cheap. Her engines were twin 5 litre V8’s but they barely ran and we couldn’t afford a competent mechanic, so one or other nearly always needed attention. When we opened them up in the middle of Lake Washington, the resulting bow wave was big enough to surf. Lady Love was the ideal boat to take us to lakeside restaurants, to anchor in lake Union on Fourth of July and watch the fireworks, and she provided some of our most treasured memories of living in Seattle, but we hankered after a real yacht; one with masts. We had seen one, years before, gleaming in the Lake Union Wooden Boat Show, far far out of our touch. Her name was Elixir, and she was beautiful.

Schooner Elixer on Portage Bay with the author at the helm. Photo: Zakimimula  
  Elixir was a proper yacht; a gaff-rigged schooner (two masts, smaller one at the front) built entirely of teak in Taipei in the nineteen-fifties. She had been a cargo boat in the Pacific, delivering diesel and other goods in the days when a small island’s only link with civilisation was the monthly supply vessel. She had sunk during a storm while on a  mooring in Hawaii, and the previous owner to us had salvaged her and rebuilt her entirely, replacing just about everything on board except for the teak planking. He spent years labouring over her. After completion, he sailed with wife and son directly to the Oregon Coast from Hawaii. The trip took months (so long that the boy carved scenes of cows and oak trees into the timbers of his cabin in the bow) and the wife filed for divorce on arrival. We first saw Elixir at her gleaming best but over the years neglect began to take its toll and the varnish deteriorated, along with the asking price. Our rule of thumb these days is that maintenance costs ten to fifteen percent of the value of the boat per year, and if we aren’t spending it now, we are banking it for later. Elixir hadn’t had that for several years and the price drop made the broker weep. Inside, she was a study in simplicity and thoughtful design. For a tropical climate, she was perfect. 

At the time, I worked in a ‘white boat’ yard. We built the kind of boats that if you had to ask how much they cost, you couldn’t afford one. When a prospective client called, some discreet enquiries followed and if they weren’t worth upwards of four-hundred million dollars, they didn’t get a call-back. I was a project manager on their smallest vessels, the 124-footers. By day, I would supervise the installation of custom joinery, platinum leafing, sound systems that cost more than the average house, and enough ‘lightweight’ Italian marble to sink a small ship. To make lightweight Italian marble, glue aluminium honeycomb sheet to each side of normal thickness marble (for stiffness), then slice it down the centre; this is half the weight and twice the price of normal Italian marble.

At night, I would go home to my forty-two foot yacht that had no hot water and kerosene lanterns for light. It was the middle of the dot-com bubble. Haddock and I lived like two-bob millionaires. We earned piles but spent every cent. When the bubble burst, we came home to Australia a little older and much, much wiser. 

It took four years to find another suitable boat. Jetsam our oldest son, born in America, gained a little brother, Flotsam. When Flotsam was two, we found Hagar, a thirty-two foot double-ended wooden ketch (two pointy ends and two masts—shortest at the back).

Sailing on the River Derwent. Photo: Richard Phillips
If Hagar were a person, she (yes boats are always she, even when they have a masculine name) would spend her days in flannelette shirts swinging an axe and singing lustily. Nights, she would frequent dockside bars trying to find a bloke who could outdrink her with big enough arms to span her ample bosom. Hagar is a nurturer, but she does it with a gruff voice and a meaty fist. For six years, she has been our home. She has weathered storms and kept us dry, shouldered the Tasman Sea and kept us upright, and consistently rewarded our maintenance efforts with eye-catching lines and an easy motion. For all the discomforts of living aboard, we have a home that promotes the important things in life: family, friends, community and daily random encounters with the public that sometimes turn into long-term friendships... in other words, the relationships that nurture our souls. 

Have you ever lived in a place with a personality? Have random acquaintances enriched your life? Do you know how to scull a dinghy? I would love to hear from you. Come and join the silliness at https://www.facebook.com/SarahBrabazonAuthor

Captain Haddock, Flotsam and Jetsam win the sculling race in the Australian Wooden Boat Show. Photo Dave Plumley

17 comments:

  1. What a fascinating way to live (and wow, it sounds challenging, too! But I guess that is how the fun stuff is, fun and painful!) Very much enjoyed your post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I like challenges, Pauline. I have learned to be very flexible in this lifestyle, and think outside the box. But shore-based people have challenges too: finding time for the important things in life, for instance, don't you think?

      Delete
  2. Sarah, what a fabulous life you lead! And how fabulous that your sons will have an unforgettable childhood. No doubt their experience will live with them forever and they may be the captains of their own boat one day. Thank you for sharing with us!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Alli. Living aboard has altered the boys in many ways. They happily talk to the public about the boat (accuracy not guaranteed) and they occasionally introduce me to random people they have struck up a friendship with who go on to be friends of mine.

      Delete
  3. Hi Sarah,
    Sensational post. Love the personification of your various boats and enjoyed hearing more about how you live.

    ReplyDelete
  4. What a wonderful post, Sarah, and I'm green with envy!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Helene, you'll be there soon enough yourself!

      Delete
  5. What wonderful adventures you must have on the water, and how lovely to live on a yacht in Tasmania. I'm wondering, though, where to you find a peaceful corner to write your romance novels?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha, you caught me! I usually write in a nearby cafe. I have trained myself to ignore other people's children, but I cannot ignore my own. Plus, in a cafe, I can people watch and somebody else does the dishes.

      Delete
  6. What an adventurous ride your life is, and what a delicious story! Thanks so much for sharing this with us, Sarah. You're a terrific writer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why thank you, Supriya :-) life aboard is many things, but never boring.

      Delete
  7. Having been aboard Hagar I can tell you that she is indeed a much loved home and a true beauty. I envy Sarah her lifestyle and adventures and couldn't see her living any other way LOL.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lol! Natasha, all compliments gratefully received. It was lovely having you aboard.

      Delete
  8. Fabulous post, Sarah! What a great way to live. And it must be lovely to be able to 'take off' whenever the mood strikes - with no packing needed. :) Such an interesting, healthy lifestyle for your boys too.

    Having recently sold our boat, I know how to scull a dinghy. ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Cheryl. We do like the romantic thought of being able to cast off at a moment's notice. Sometimes, sailing down the Derwent, Haddock will look at me with a glint in his eye and say: 'it's only ten days to Bluff (NZ)'
      Strangely, to date we have resisted crossing the Tasman Sea on a whim.

      Delete
  9. Sorry I'm late responding, Sarah. I love the way you've told this story and wish you even more success with your manuscripts. It was a real pleasure getting to know you while working with you organising the Tassie RWA Roadshow last year.

    ReplyDelete