Off The Grid
by Mira Nencheva
This article has been published in OffGridQuest.com
The English word ‘free’ has two meanings. The goal of our adventures around the world by sailboat are to prove that if you are determined and crazy enough you can enjoy life, learn, and travel free.
Such unusual goal is achievable only by unusual means. In order to imagine how it is possible for a family to live and travel for an extended period of time across long distances on a very minimal budget and almost without participating in the so called ‘system’ you really have to forget about all those things which until now you considered ‘normal’ or ‘mandatory’ because they are neither. Some of these things for which you have to imagine alternatives are: school, permanent job, fixed income, monthly expenses, insurance and retirement. Today’s system is organized around these and other imposed conditions. But humanity existed long before they were forced upon us. Our quest is to defy borders, physical and metaphorical, to be independent, self-sufficient and free.
One day we decided to buy a boat and sail around the world.
We left work, we left school, we sold our car, our house in Canada and everything in it, and in April 2013 we bought a 2001, 38-foot Leopard catamaran which we named Fata Morgana. She became our home, school, and vehicle.
Of all means of long distance travel and transportation, sailing is the only one that doesn’t require fuel, only wind, and thus doesn’t pollute. We thought: „Тhe idea to travel between continents, to cross oceans and see the world using only nature’s elements is fantastic!“ And even though our boat has not one but two engines, we decided right at the start that we would only use them in emergency situations. Since then, we learned to sail tacking against the wind, lifting and dropping anchor on sail, and even pulling the boat with our kayak (we don’t have a dinghy anymore) with 0.5 knots per hour when the wind dies. But no engines.
Once, when we were sailing along the remote shores of Lake Izabal, Guatemala’s biggest lake, the wind died completely and Ivo deployed the kayak and started pulling the boat, as he always does. An old indigenous fisherman saw us and with his dugout cayuco came to the rescue. “Do you have problem with the engine? Did you finish the fuel? Do you need help” he asked worried. “No, the engines are fine, we have plenty of fuel, and you can’t help a crazy person. Loco…”, I told him and pointed in the direction of Ivo, paddling, Fata Morgana looming behind him.
It’s not just a question to save on fuel; it’s a sort of a principal enforced by law aboard Fata Morgana: not to turn the engines on, which sometimes drives everyone crazy. But it’s a fact: last time we fueled was 14 months ago, in November 2013 in Florida. Since then we sailed for many nautical miles, south to the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and all of the Caribbean Islands down to Trinidad and Tobago, and back to Puerto Rico with our fuel tanks still full.
And we not only travel for free, but we liveaboard comfortably with no monthly bills. Before we left Florida we transformed Fata Morgana in a unique off-the-grid vessel.
Two of the main problems cruisers have are electricity and fresh water. We solved these problems by investing in solar panels and a reverse osmosis desalinating machine (or a ‘watermaker’) which we installed and service ourselves. We built a fiberglass hard top above the cockpit and there we placed a field of Kyocera solar panels producing a total of 1 500 Watts pure solar electricity, which we store in 4 lithium batteries total of 700 A. By 9 a.m. our battery bank is usually full. We have more power than we can use. (We don’t have a generator aboard and we don’t turn on the engines to produce electricity.)
The biggest electricity consumer aboard is the fridge and freezer using 12-15 A/h 24/7. When sailing, all the navigational electronics: the GPS, radar, VHF radio, AIS etc. use 15-20 A/h. All lights aboard are LED and consume very little electricity. The two electrical toilets take 16 A/h only while in use. The watermaker sucks 16 A/h and produces 16 gallons of pure drinkable freshwater per hour. We keep the 800-litters water tanks full at all times by turning on the watermaker for a few hours every 3-4 days. When it’s raining, we collect rainwater with a very efficient system of hoses coming down the sides of the hard top. We use the rainwater for laundry, which we do in buckets, by hand. Good thing in the Tropics we don’t wear too many clothes.
Thus, we can drop anchor in the most remote lagoon for a week or a month or a year or two without having to visit the docks for fuel or water. We have never been more independent, enjoying some of the most pristine beautiful places of the world, spending money mostly for beer and ice cream.
We never go to marinas, as anchorages everywhere are free. We have a sewing machine to mend the sails and all sorts of tools for all sorts of repairs. When visiting places, we walk sometimes great distances, as unfortunately we don’t have space for bicycles on the boat. Sometimes we hitchhike or take the bus. We catch and eat lots of fish and we cook aboard and make our own bread. We still have to spend money when something on the boat breaks and needs to be fixed or replaced, when a line snaps or the hulls need painting. Maintaining a boat can be very expensive, especially the first year, but we try to do even this as cheaply as possible, fixing everything we can ourselves. But besides this we don’t have much of the daily, weekly and monthly bills and expenses we used to have on land.
But this way of life took some adjustment. We had to learn to do without a dishwasher, a washing machine, AC, TV, and Wi-Fi here and there now and then. The fridge is a box and in order to get to the stuff on the bottom, you first have to take out everything on the top. Ice is luxury, so is hot water. We take very quick cold water showers, unless we use one of those black plastic bags heated by the sun, which are great. We have reduced our consumption of everything, and we have cut most ties to the grid. We don’t even have a phone or a permanent address. Once, someone in an institution who tried unsuccessfully to fill up a form for us, told us: “It looks like you don’t exist!”
But we like it like this and we wouldn’t have it any other way.