Based on some checklist I ran across on the Internet recently, I am a certifiable survivalist eco-freak. Solar panels - check. Composting toilet - check. Rainwater collection - check. Efficient light bulbs - check. Doing all my own maintenance - check. Three months of food - check. So I thought I'd check in with my readers, and see how eco-freaky they are, and whether they aspire to greater eco-freakiness.
My eco-freak leanings are all motivated by the fact that I live on a boat. And the top reasons I live on a boat are:
1. It's a cheap way to live
2. It's a cheap way to travel
3. I like sailing
You see, the eco-freak survivalist motivation doesn't make the short list. Even looking at the specific components, their choice is motivated by something other than the eco-survivalist ethos. The solar panels are cheaper to run and quieter than a generator set. The efficient light bulbs are a must because the solar panels are not that powerful. The composting toilet is more convenient because it doesn't require regular pump-outs while living at anchor or at the dock. The food stockpile is because it is cheaper to buy in bulk. Doing my own maintenance is, again, cheaper than paying for labor. The rainwater collection system? Well, the cockpit awning drains onto the cabin top, and the cabin top scupper is right next to the water tank fill.
"So what's it like living on a boat?" people inevitably ask. Well, it's cozy, if not to say cramped, but really quite comfortable. Everything is within easy reach, and there is never any wandering from room to room in search of things. On the other hand, to cut down on clutter, everything has to be stored in lockers, and getting at any given item often requires extensive disassembly and reassembly of locker contents: it's sequential access, not random access. It is also a lot of work, because the combination of salty, moist air and constant motion causes everything on a boat to wear out faster than it would normally.
"But what's it really like?" Well, I could spin a yarn or two, in which I battle gales and fog single-handed, but let's skip that for now. There is excitement to be had, without even leaving the dock. A few nights ago was one such exciting episode. It had been blowing off the ocean quite hard all day, straight into the harbor. Eventually, a swell built up, which bounced off a shore on the other side of the river from our marina, right into the marina, and straight off our dock. By sunset we were bouncing up and down and doing figure-eights, snubbing at the dock lines. By 3 a.m. the wind clocked around (winds tend to shift clockwise in the northern hemisphere) and started pushing us onto the dock. I was awakened by the jolt. The boat was hitting the dock, so got up, got dressed, and went outside to take a look.
The boat was still bouncing around on the swell, but now it was also rubbing up against the dock. Once in a while, some combination of wind gusts from one side and wave action from the other would cause the boat to miss both of the fenders that were hanging off its side, and hit the dock. Thump! Since on the other side of our dock lies a stretch of open water, I did not have the choice of running lines to windward. The remaining good choice was having the boat chew away at the fenders. I stood on the dock for quite some time, observing and gradually repositioning the fenders for optimum protection. (It never ceases to amaze me that I can push seven tons of boat away from the dock, against the wind, with one foot.) It worked. I went back to bed, and slept through until dawn.
The next day dawned mild, windless and calm, with this annoyingly innocent way Nature often has immediately following a storm, as if looking at you and saying: "My goodness! What did you do last night?" There is probably a new spot of "dock rash" on the side of the boat, but I haven't even bothered to look for it yet. I try not to worry about cosmetics - to a point. I am not about to repaint the topsides flat black and start using old tires for fenders, because the neighbors at the marina might take an exception to that. It might label me as some additional sort of freak.
As far as being a survivalist sort of eco-freak, I might yet join their ranks some day. I have thoughts of hauling the boat out, putting it up on a couple of acres of land, and farming that land while continuing to live on the boat. (It has a flat bottom, and sits nice and level on some pressure-treated 4x4's.) But until that happens, I would prefer to be considered just someone living on a boat.