Wednesday, February 3, 2010

more on self sufficiency

Self sufficiency is a way of life. It is sometimes habit, sometimes obsession. I'm always interested in finding new ways of living as off-grid as possible. If I could, I'd have a garden growing up on deck, (And really, I suppose in these winter months when we're all bubbled up, it might work just fine), I'd make all of our food from scratch, I'd sew all of our clothing, hand wash the laundry, etc. etc.

We try to think of self sufficiency as a whole - you can't forget about water, food, warmth (or cooling off, which is hard to think of at this point in the winter). And then there are the little things - showering, hair cutting, sewing, etc.

In many ways, we are practicing self sufficiency on a daily basis. When the boat breaks, we fix it. We've never hired anyone to come in to figure out what's going on. When the problem requires some obscure tool, he walks the docks looking for one, unless it is something that we'll need many times in the future.

With our small icebox, it's hard to keep fresh vegetables. The fresh spinach touches the ice plate and gets slimy before we know it. As an alternative, we grow sprouts. It's fun and easy, and they are so delicious. I use a very small jar and a special lid that helps with rinsing them but really I don't think the lid is necessary. Mind you, we do still buy veggies, but these are great when we're running out.

Two days after our wedding, I discovered a very sad thing - I am allergic to hops. It is my belief that I have always been, but on that particular day, things decided to go full force against me and I haven't been able to drink beer since. We've searched the city high and low for hops-free beer and (until last week) it was nowhere to be found. (Last week, we discovered that Boston Beer Works often brews their own hops-free beer!!) As it is, Boston Beer Works will not always be close at hand, and really it would be quite fun attempting to make our own. That's where the Alaskan Bootlegger's Bible comes in. Thus far we have not attempted to make anything from it, but it's a darn amusing read in the meantime.

Oh and I almost forgot! A couple of years back, I bought my dad a cheese making kit. I made mozzarella with him and it was wonderful. Apparently I just keep talking about it to Justin, because he bought me a kit for Christmas! He bought me the "hard cheese" kit and it'll take two months for our cheese to cure. I'm sure I'll blog about it when it's ready.

Justin and I have been together five years, and in those five years, I've only gotten a professional haircut once. I think it was about 6 months into our relationship and when he saw it (and found out how much I paid) he said "well, I could do that!" I chose to believe him at the time and it was definitely no mistake. This boy could make a killing at cutting hair!

For some reason, he also trusts me with the task of cutting his hair. I really keep trying to tell him that this is a bad idea, but every so often he asks for my help. Other times he just does it himself which really is probably a much better option.

For Christmas, I asked for, and received Don Casey's Canvaswork and Sail Repair book (Thanks mom and dad!) This is a fantastic resource for us because anything relating to canvas or sails is very expensive and we'd rather just do this stuff ourselves too. The year before, my parents bought this sewing machine for me for Christmas:

It has been a great tool to have on the boat, even though the beast is 50 lbs. We store it behind the companionway stairs, so when I want to sew it's kind of an ordeal. It's also difficult for me to hoist this thing up on the table, but somehow I do it. Last year when our sail had a tear, we were able to get a great deal on sailcloth from Bacon Sails and I went to work repairing it. It was an easy repair until I got to the fourth side, and then it took me probably an hour to stitch a little less than two feet of material. Otherwise this is such a great (old) machine and I love how it just powers through every project I work on with it. I also fixed our friend Mark's canvas, as he had quite a few holes that needed patching. That also went well, but I learned the hard way that you have to just put your foot down with the pedal and don't try to do things slow. The needle broke in half and flew into my eye and I had a chunk of metal in it for a few minutes. In the end I decided to not go to the doctor, but it definitely crossed my mind!

Ok ok, back on track with self sufficiency. A major component to self sufficiency is creating your own power, but these are also generally the most expensive components! We don't use a lot of power (we don't have many fancy electronics, we rarely use our GPS, we don't have wind speed controls or a depth sounder or anything like that) but we do have our fridge system and Justin enjoys having the lights on regardless of where we are (I wouldn't care one way or another - I think headlamping it is pretty fun!)

We do have a small solar panel, and are looking into buying a couple more. We were actually given the solar panel we have now (for free!) but will probably have to throw down a few hundred bucks when we decide to get some more. We're looking into "solar panel kits" in which you build your own panel, therefore saving a bit of change. It'd be neat to see how they really work anyway, so we may end up doing that.

The other component is wind power, and we'd like to get a kiss generator (or two). Again, these are expensive but between the solar and the wind, we'd be able to live on anchor if we chose without really having to worry about running out of power.

Another thing we'd like to do is install more water tanks in the boat. We currently hold around 18 gallons of water and we have the space to probably hold close to 50 or so. We'd also make a rain catching system so we'd be able to fill the tanks with rain water for dishes, shower, etc. The neat thing about this is that we'd be able to keep the rain water tanks separate from our current tank, so we'd still have one full of fresh, acid free rain.

And then, there's one last thing that I'd love to try next winter to try and save some money on electricity. In searching for solar powered gadgets, I came across a "solar space heater". What?! Really?! I think that's fantastic. The best thing about this one is that it costs next to nothing to build. I really just found out about this yesterday so I haven't read about any real life accounts of how they work. Guess I'll just have to try it out myself!

All in all, we're certainly not self sufficient. We're tied to a dock with an endless supply of power. We use the boathouse for showers, laundry, etc... but if I had the time, (and if we were cruising) I'd definitely want to hand wash our clothes. We definitely don't have the self sufficiency we want yet, but it does cost money to buy some of the things we'd like to have, and we're certainly on our way to being able to afford to get these things.

Hopefully by this time next year our list of things we want will be much smaller and we'll be much closer to being self sufficient. Hopefully we'll be enjoying the sunset with homemade crackers, cheese and hops-free beer.


  1. What a great article. I can only hope to be that self sufficient in the future sailing on Skylark. I am very sorry to hear about your allergies to beer. Thats a tough one. But as a sailor, I know the importance of space, or lack of really on the boat, and had kept an article a ways back about an apartment sized beer brewing kit. Here is the link, They are cheap and would be great size for the boat. Enjoy. -Jim

  2. Jim,

    Thanks so much for the link! The neat thing about the book we have is that it tells you how to make all of your own brewing stuff from practically nothing (have you ever seen the TV show Macgyver?)

    The allergy isn't that big of a deal really. I've heard of people having allergies to soy and soy is in EVERYTHING. At least hops is really only encountered in beer!

    Happy sailing.

  3. Hey, I just read this article and I have just realized we must be a "breed" of people, as I cut Cate's hair fairly frequently and I cut my own as well! Funny how we gravitate towards the same types of things in life (l/a, self sufficiency, etc).

    Also read about your hops allergies and taking a stab at home-brewing. I have a bunch of home-brewing experience, I used to make beer frequently. It's fun and pretty easy. Have you tried it yet? Keep me posted, I'd love to read about that adventure when you go for it!


  4. we also try to live with a minimal footprint and my wife Cindy just learned to make Yogurt in a small cloth cooler wrapped in towels. Check Youtube for recipes. I like it better than the storebought stuff!... Darren and Cindy SV ORION

  5. Homemade yogurt sounds fantastic! We'll definitely have to give that a try.