We recently celebrated one year of living at anchor. It was a lifestyle we were both eager to try out, though we certainly weren’t without concern. This lifestyle transition was made partly by choice, but mostly by necessity. Marinas down in Central America (Costa Rica in particular) are far too costly. They tend to prefer the sports fishing crowd whose money reverberates even in their absence. If you listen closely, very closely, you might be able to hear the ever so subtle ping of our money dispersing into the community.
Life is undeniably different on the hook. We feel more self-reliant at anchor, which at times I would say actually resembles the truth. We are a free floating molecule, momentarily tethered to the ocean floor. The motion reminds us that we do live on a boat on the sea, not just a tiny apartment attached to the outskirts of land. I like to to swing with the currents and the tides, to move as the water moves, to point into the wind as it flits and charges about. Wind. That’s another great thing, it’s usually a bit more breezy at anchor.
I’ve come to feel safe at anchor. The one time we sidled up next to a dock in the past year we regretted the decision: the current had us suctioned to the dock, rubbing back and forth and up and down against the splintered wood, nearly popping our fenders, counting down the minutes until we could finally push Serenity free. We’ve always regretted the decision to take a mooring ball (they always seem like such a good idea…but I think that’s just the lazy talking). Through trial and error (and occasional embarrassment) we have learned how our boat sits at anchor and we trust our ground tackle.
Mostly I like the privacy and freedom. Or atleast the perception of privacy and freedom. We are in this tiny floating castle and the sea is our moat. We can count on a certain amount of quiet and solitude. At a marina, hanging around outside is a near guarantee for some kind of social interaction. Not so at anchor. Guests are usually announced by the din of a motor or the splash of oars. We can untether and move if it’s privacy we seek. We can untether and move if we seek something else entirely.
Anchoring out, for me, is like showing up to a great concert and carving out your own dance floor territory where you can jump, spin, shake and dip. The marina is more mosh pit. You can do some pretty vigorous head banging, but very little dancing. I will say, however, that it can be a supremely comfortable and convenient mosh pit depending on your desires. And some concerts just aren’t meant for dancing.
The biggest challenge that accompanies life on the hook is procuring all the services that marinas generally provide in a neat little bundle – water, power, access to land, showers, internet, laundry and garbage. Everywhere we’ve gone in Central America we’ve had to piece together these services, which has been challenging in some places, a relative ease in others.
Of the places we stopped, Bahia del Sol, El Salvador and Golfito, Costa Rica had the most “cruiser friendly” amenities. The “cruiser’s club” at Land and Sea in Golfito was especially welcome after an entire coast line full of surf landings. It turns out accessing land is the clincher. If you can get to and from land without having to ride on top of or push out through breaking waves, life becomes infinitely easier and more enjoyable. If you have a dock to tie your dinghy to? Even better.
How is life different on the hook? We live with less. We use less water because it’s never a given. We fill our water tanks with jerry jugs during dry season and delight in the rainstorms that fill our tanks during rainy season. We do most of our own laundry, by hand…usually after a good rainstorm. We primarily bathe in the ocean, though we are lucky to have friends that offer us use of their showers. We use less electricity. Unless we go grab a beer at one of the local hotels (the ulterior motive being to charge our computers), we are limited by what our solar panels and alternator produce. Internet is limited and oftentimes slow. We are more inclined to eat what’s in the cupboards. We are more conscious of how much trash we produce and try to minimize it as much as possible knowing that we’ll probably have to put it in a “staging area” until we make it to land. We are always trying to figure out the best (i.e., quickest, easiest, with the least amount of hassle) way to get to shore. We are more enthusiastic about making our own fun on the boat rather than trying to find it on land. We wear fewer articles of clothing. We sing loudly and don’t worry about someone peering into the portholes. I don’t know…it just feels different.
One lesson I’ve learned for certain since living on the hook is that there’s no such thing as a “quick trip” anymore and life has slowed down considerably. Living at anchor adds a degree of difficulty to most tasks. The rewards, however, can be sweet…if also somewhat intangible.
We’ll be making our way back up through the land of cheap(er) marinas and I’m not sure how anxious we will be to snuggle up to a dock. There is the undeniable lure of unlimited access to electricity, water and land.