How cruisers live differently

9 Jun

We’’re in our third week at the remote Chagos archipelago. It’’s hard not to compare what living in an uninhabited tropical island paradise is like in comparison to our prior land-based home life…it’s very, very different.


Home: last minute ingredients needed for dinner? Jump in the car, the store is only minutes away!

Cruiser style: Grab the fishing gear and get to it. The problem isn’’t catching a fish; it’’s landing one before the sharks eat it off your line. Otherwise, if you didn’’t bring it with you (you know, a few weeks ago) or the sharks win, you’’ll have to make it: fresh bread (allow half a day for rising + baking), yogurt (8+ hours to ferment, then chilling time), sprouts (2-5 days, depending on the seeds), turtle soup (kidding!). Fantasize about fruit trees that allegedly used to grow on the islands and wish your bananas had lasted longer.


Home: separate trash from recycling and blithely roll bins to the street on the appointed day, wanting to believe that it will be handled responsibly.

Cruiser style: if you can’’t safely burn it in the beach (e.g., pretty much just paper products), take it with you. The good news is you only need to save three more weeks of trash!


Home: that shirt was worn once so it gets tossed in the hamper; push some buttons on the front loader (oh, you want WARM water?), swap to a dryer before it gets smelly, and hey presto! Fabulously clean clothes.

Cruiser style: fill a couple of tote bags with clothes too stinky to wear again and head for shore. A well with fresh water is just short walk down the dirt path; nearby are two large plastic tubs and a washboard. Fill tubs awkwardly from the narrow well, then discover your soap doesn’t work well with the ground water. Feel resigned, as it’’s all you have, and employ the grape-stomping method of washtub agitation. Hope that the afternoon squalls hold off long enough for laundry to dry. Clothes are still pretty dingy, but hey, they don’’t smell any more!

Home maintenance

Home: call the lawn service, hire the neighbor kid, mow it yourself if you must.

Cruiser style : the hull needs pre-passage cleaning: wait for good water clarity (the better to see patrolling sharks) before spending hours in the water to clean the waterline “’hula skirt”’ of algae and barnacles. Try not to worry about blood in the water when you cut your knuckles against growth on the propeller.

Personal care

Home: note that appointment for routine (barber / mani+pedi / stylist) is in a few days.

Cruiser style: Hey, you get pretty clean just from swimming in the ocean! A thirty second freshwater rinse is all you need. Feet feeling rough? A leisurely walk at low tide will gently exfoliate. Discover that the Swedish singlehander in the anchorage is a former salon artiste, and get an impromptu trim on the beach.

Staying in touch

Home: a world of connectivity at my fingertips.

Cruiser style: get simple email via thin pipe connection, whether that’’s HF radio or a sat device. Curse the satellite constellations for failing to load text versions of a website as promised in your sat device brochure. Hope someone will send a message if the world is going to pieces. Try to get BBC or VOA news on the HF radio. Read another book instead.

Kid wrangling

Home: family calendar is on fridge with magnets. Playdates are organized in advance; schedule for local functions, Enrichment Activities and the soccer schedule are inked in weeks or months ahead.

Cruiser style: Send kids ashore to make their own fun. Leave them without a dinghy, they’’ve got a handheld VHF radio to contact you in the event that someone is bleeding.

Adult socializing

Home: how many days until the weekend?

Cruiser style: head ashore in the late afternoon to meet up with fellow cruisers under the coconut palms in front of a leaky beachfront shack dubbed “the yacht club. If someone in the anchorage has a particularly productive day of fishing, have a potluck barbecue. Watch the sky turn shades of pink as the sun sets, then hustle back to your boat before fading light gives false bravado to the rats and coconut crabs.


Home: You would never wear the same thing to work two days in a row. Ever.

Cruiser style: Pretend not to notice that everyone else at the sundowner gathering is wearing the same aloha shirt as the last three nights (or has it been a week?), because you are too- they’’re reserved for evening-wear only, so it’’s OK.

Leisure time

Home: unstructured, unplanned time to do whatever I want? Must be my birthday!

Chagos style: should we go fishing today (tired of beans and rice)? or bushwhack to try and ferret out an old path in the island? or walk the beach at low tide (callouses need some sanding), when you can get around the littoral coconut palms? or just start another book (whoops, it’’s nearly 5, time for drinks on the beach!)?

This is cruising. And this, especially, is what the last weeks have been like in the mid-Indian Ocean cruiser’s paradise of Chagos.

[We’’re in Chagos! Although I can post to the blog and twitter/FB, I’’m unable to see comments until we reach Seychelles in another couple of weeks. I look forward to reading and responding once we hit the land of high bandwidth again.]

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  1. Helen Kevan

    Can’t wait to do some of this but starting out by sailing to the Med and hopefully the Caribbean after that :-)

  2. Ade

    What An inspirational insight.
    What are we waiting for?….

    Good luck with what ever comes next.

  3. Cassie

    We only cruise The Sounds around Southern New England, but we try to get out for as long as we can and as far away from shore as possible. And we get halfway to your lifestyle because that is what’s possible for us, at our ages and with our means. Beyond that, we LOVE reading blogs like yours to fill in the rest! “-D Thanks for the dreams while we look out the window at the cold, white stuff! Fair winds and following seas….God bless, too….

  4. Pingback: How cruisers live differently | Sailing Totem

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