One of the best things about sailing is the feeling of getting away from it all. If that’s what you’re looking for, then you need to set your boat up for being independent from shore. Although you might spend a little more on gear to start with, you’ll find that once you set off, living off the grid on the sea is way cheaper and more satisfying than sailing from marina to marina in the long run.
Here are some of the reasons why we don’t use marinas when we cruise:
- We don’t want to spend money on the fees, as we can anchor for free (often right outside a marina),
- We don’t like the noisy clinging of haliards at night,
- We prefer to have a great view than the extra amenities,
- When it’s hot, marinas can be stinky and suffocating – we want to be able to swim,
- We don’t have experience docking and our boat isn’t very manoevrable,
- We can still make friends in an anchorage, but if we’re tired after a long day sail or passage, we can just go down below and not worry about looking antisocial.
So you want to live on the hook most of the time too? Here are some suggestions on how to set your boat up for anchoring out a lot.
1) Figure out how to get water
Depending on your budget and the size of your boat, you might want to invest in a water maker, so you can produce your own water, when you need to. The alternative is using a combination of jerrycans and the Open Sea Map app on your phone to find water sources, which is what we sea gypsies do.
We live on a small boat and a tight budget, so we simply bought four jerrycans, which we keep on deck at all times. Our water capacity is 150L total (50L in a hard plastic tank and 100L in the jerrycans), so we use mainly saltwater and rinse in fresh. We can make our water last a whole month, as we shower in 1L of water each and use a sprayer to rinse our dishes (less than half a litre of fresh water per washing up). This means we only need to find a public fountain or water tap on a fuel pontoon every now and then to get water.
Open Sea Map is very handy, as it shows water sources available all over the world on a map. Open it up on your phone, browse the map, and search for the water tap symbol in your area. It’s a good idea to look at maps for the next few anchorages on your way, so you have a rough idea of where you’ll be able to get water next and how frugal you need to be with it.
In some countries, you might be charged for water. So far we only had to pay once, in Northern Spain – 5 Euros for half an hour of hose usage.
2) Use natural energy
To be truly independent from shore, you need to reliably generate a good amount of energy. If you get most of your energy from solar panels or a wind turbine, then you can confidently stay away from marinas most of the time, as you don’t even need diesel to run a generator. The more natural energy you can produce, the more self-reliant you will be.
We have four big semi-flexible solar panels on board, which generate over 500watts of power. They can keep our self-steering and fridge on all night long on passages and they charge our batteries in a matter of hours each morning. This means we never need to go to marinas and use shore power. Actually, we can’t even use shore power to charge our batteries, as they aren’t connected, which makes it easier for us not to be tempted to go into a marina.
3) Install easy to maintain systems
Having complicated systems, such as pressurised a water, water heater, and more, might feel like a great convenience at first, but when you realise you can’t fix them and need a marine specialist to look at them, you can appreciate the real value of simple systems. Each time a complicated bit of gear breaks or needs maintenance, you need to go to shore and stay in a marina to see a specialist. If instead you can easily fix it yourself on the go, or even just buy a replacement fitting in a chandlery or DYI store, you won’t need to stay on shore for long or spend much money.
4) Avoid gadgets that aren’t 12V
Using land power appliances and gadgets is quite an ineffective use of energy. To make your batteries, power, and inverter last longer, avoid using electronics that aren’t 12V.
The only things we use the inverter for are our drone batteries (which we never use, as the drone is pretty crap) and the drill battery. This means we use the inverter once a month or less.
5) Get a good 4G contract
We’ve met a lot of people who complained they needed to pay an expensive marina fee (50Euros per night or more) just because they needed wifi. The funny thing? A good 4G contract that covers all of Europe can be as cheap as 25 Euros per month. If you want to be independent, make an investment and get yourself a good 4G contract, so you can get Internet anywhere, any time. A lot of marina wifi’s have weak connections, don’t have the visitors pontoon in reach, or are very slow. Are they really worth the money?
When we first started making videos for our sailing channel we thought it would be more effective to upload them through a wifi, so we went to cafes and bars and spent 20 Euros on drinks, out of embarrassment for staying for hours. Once, we were desperate and decided to try and upload a video through our phone’s hotspot. It took 15 minutes, versus the 4 to 6 hours it usually took in a cafe. So now we buy more data if we need to, which is way cheaper than spending hours in cafes.
6) Use laundrettes
The other reason people go to marinas is to do laundry. Doing laundry by hand on board is boring, time consuming, and it isn’t even great for your clothes, as they dry in the sun and the fabric gets thinner and thinner until you get wholes in them. It’s much easier to go to a laundrette on shore once a month. Realistically, you will probably want to go to shore, into civilisation, at least once a month, so just make sure to stop somewhere with a laundrette.
7) Invest in an oversized anchor
Sleeping comfortably is very important. A lot of sailors feel the need to go to marinas or on mooring balls to feel safe and be able to sleep well. We’ve been there – we’ve been in over 60 knots of wind and had to be towed onto a mooring ball once. But those were extreme circumstances.
After a bit of adjustment and a lot of learning, we’ve become pretty confident at anchoring and can now get a great sleep at anchor, unless conditions are bad. Our trick? Having a good, oversized anchor, and dig it in very well each time. If you plan to anchor out a lot, invest in a big anchor, and you’ll sleep soundly.
8) Have visible anchor lights
When you anchor, you need to put on an anchor light at night. It can feel a little scary to be anchored in busy harbours or anchorages at times. Stay safe by having a good, bright anchor light on top of your mast and some other sort of light in your cockpit (we use a Luci light). This is a great way to make sure other vessels see you, both from far away and from close up. No one will crash into you, unless they’re completely drunk.
9) Lock up!
Leaving your boat at anchor by a big city or moored on a town quay wall can make you feel a little nervous; you can’t help but wondering – will someone try to break in? Kittiwake is (and contains) everything we own in the world, so her safety is very important to us. We have good locks for all our cabin doors and we ensure we never leave the boat without locking up. It probably also helps that Kittiwake is usually the smallest, least luxurious boat in each anchorage we visit.
10) Get a good dinghy
When anchoring out, you will need to use your dinghy a lot, and there is no escape from that. Get yourself a good, reliable dinghy that you can row comfortably and easily. It’ll never let you down and will keep you fit. If you hate pumping up an inflatable, get yourself some davits or a hard dinghy. Basically, make it as easy and comfortable as possible to use your dinghy, so you won’t be stuck on your boat because of the dinghy ride that separates you from shore.
We make sure to lock our dinghy on shore, where possible, and at night. We’d be lost (and broke) without it.
11) Plan your food shopping
You might think that going food shopping is more difficult if you’re at anchor. The reality is that the only complication is the dinghy ride. However, marinas are often far from grocery stores, so dinghying to shore can be an advantage, as you can tie up closer to the shops.
We usually look for a supermarket on Google maps, anchor in the closest recognised anchorage, then dinghy ashore. We take two big backpacking backpacks with us and stock up for 10 days or more, where we can. Fruit and vegetables can last longer than a week, while other canned or dry foods can last for months, so for us, eating mainly vegetarian food, it’s not a problem. If you can’t do without meat, make sure you invest in a good and energy-efficient fridge/freezer, and you’re good to go. Getting a small fridge as a present from Elena’s parents revolutionised our lives, allowing us to eat yummy cheese and drink cold beer!
12) Enjoy showers on board
The other big draw of marinas is the hot, pressurised water showers. Nothing beats a hot shower after a long, wet sail. If your shower facilities on board aren’t great, of course you’ll fancy going to marinas a lot. So it’s important you find a way to comfortably shower on board.
We started off installing a 5L water bottle in the bathroom as a shower tank, but soon realised our heads is too cramped to shower comfortably. Then we bought solar showers for the cockpit, but we found them annoying, as they swung around a lot. Now we have cockpit (or bows) showers using 1L bottles. If it’s chilly, we warm up some water on the kettle for a minute or two, then pour it onto each other in turns. It’s so simple and you have both hands free for the soap or shampoo. This is now our favourite showering method. Experiment, find your own way to enjoy showers on board. It’ll keep you away from marinas.
13) Spend time anchored
Well, the easiest way to get used to anchoring out most of the time is… to go anchor! Start off easy, spending a lunch or an afternoon at anchor first. Then try a whole day and go to shore for a few hours. Finally, start anchoring out at night too. You’ll get used to it soon enough, but not without paying the price of a bit of effort and a few sleepless, worrisome nights. Don’t fall into the habit of going to marinas all the time, or you’ll end up sailing from marina to marina.
When we first moved on board, we took it slow and started anchoring out for a few hours, then slowly built up our confidence. Initially, we were so worried we’d drag, we couldn’t sleep. Six months later, after leaving our trusty mooring ball in England, we spent 99% of our nights at anchor and have only paid for one marina (when there was no other option) along the way.
Whilst it’s definitely possible to spend most of your time at anchor in a lot of cruising grounds, it’s important to have some cash set aside in case you get caught out in bad weather or get stuck somewhere where you can’t anchor. This happened to us this summer once, in Portugal. We planned a two-day passage, but the forecast was completely wrong – there was no wind. We had to motor a lot and used most of our fuel on day 1, so at 6pm we had to decide whether to drift through the night or go to Figuera da Foz, the only port on that stretch of coast, which has no anchorages.
Before choosing your cruising grounds, make sure to check for anchorages, as some places, such as the Canary Islands and Hawaii, have limited anchoring options.
Did we miss anything? Is there anything else you do to make sure you spend most of your time at anchor? We’d love to hear about it!