So goodbye, life as we’ve known it. And hello, Meander.
Meander, our new sailboat, is a 1990 Pacific Seacraft 34. And one reason a Pacific Seacraft 34 appeared on our shopping list is the model’s reputation as a good performance cruiser.
By design, performance cruisers take a middle road between two extremes. Under sail, their performance splits the difference between light, speedy, tippy, living-on-the-edge racing craft on one hand, and, on the other hand, stout, solid cruisers that will right themselves in every storm and never go anywhere very fast.
Likewise, in terms of daily life aboard, their aim is ease without excess. Meander’s designer captures this nicely when he tells us that “the 34’s interior provides a neat functional arrangement with efficient quarters for the cook, for the navigator and for all who demand comfortable living as well as excellent sailing.”
That statement will get no argument from me. But to fully embrace it, Pam and I, as wannabe-former landlubbers, will have to subscribe to a new idea of “comfortable living.” Because when our stuff was finally moved aboard Meander and we started stowing it, she quickly showed us what she isn’t.
To put a point on it, she is not a house.
If sailboats could sail uphill, this would make our first-ever stowage exercise on our first-ever sailboat an uphill battle.
A sailboat is not a house.
How is a sailboat not a house? Let me count the ways.
According to CNN, houses built in America last year had an average size approaching 2,600 square feet.
In contrast, an educated guess at Meander’s total living area might go as high as 250 square feet. This includes a 50-square-foot outdoor patio, known as the “cockpit,” in which the helmsperson mans her helm and the watchperson keeps his watch. It also includes the 8-square-foot bathroom known as the “head.”
With so little space to stow the essentials, it’s probably a good thing I never developed the inclination to compile the world’s largest collection of comic books.
House generally come with closets. The newer yours is, the more it probably has. And you may even have one or two closets big enough to walk in.
They ought to have a name for that kind of closet.
In contrast, sailboats have “lockers,” which are much more like cabinets than closets. And Meander’s largest locker is not large enough to fit one working woman’s wardrobe, much less the world-class comic book collection I don’t own.
Houses are generally filled with oblong spaces constructed of flat walls and floors, all meeting at right angles.
Along with being structurally obvious, this is a helpful arrangement both for showing off that suite of brightly colored sectional furniture you impulse-bought at last year’s Levitz clearance sale and, more to my purpose here, for storing rectangular boxes of all sizes.
In contrast, Meander is not square. In fact, she’s sort of boat-shaped.
And this shape reveals itself in many of her lockers, the depths and dimensions of whose various arcs and angles taper along their entire lengths.
This makes stowing the rectangular boxes in which we brought our things a bad bet. Rather, the things must be pulled out and custom-fit, one item at a time, both against each other and against her curvy bottom. (Fortunately, I’m a big fan of curvy bottoms.)
Houses. . . well, let’s just say that if any of your home’s closets feature routinely occurring humidity and occasional standing water, you need to talk with a home inspector and a contractor. Fast.
In contrast, some of Meander’s largest storage areas are open to her bilge, which, being the lowest point inside the boat, is the place all the water that enters her ends up. Only a few items are suited to withstand the constant moisture in these spaces. Paper files, clothing, institutional-sized tubs of Ovaltine and my as-yet-non-existent comic book collection are not good candidates.
The utilities in a house are, largely, a completely concealed affair. Electrical and plumbing lines are buried in walls and a sink cabinet or two, with an occasional section of heat pipe appearing along a baseboard or in a corner.
And where they do show themselves, these lines are generally made of rigid materials not easily disturbed by an occasional brush with that sectional furniture you’re now beginning to regret.
In contrast, Meander’s utilities and special systems are partially exposed. In her lockers. A few of them feature a wide array of thin wires that serve her electronic navigational instruments, and that could get torn out if some heavy object were to be thrown against them in a seaway.
Others hide seacocks, special fittings that penetrate the hull below the waterline to take in seawater for special purposes such as engine cooling or let out waste water from sinks, drains and other fixtures. Each seacock is attached to a hose leading to or from its service location, and each features a valve that can be shut off if its hose were to fail—or if some heavy object someone was dumb enough to stow near it were to shift into it and pop that hose loose.
Needless to say, we want to be able to reach any seacock on Meander in a hurry. So whatever goes in around or on top of one had better be light and easy to move.
Of course, sailboats are filled with gadgets for which homes with foundations have no counterpart at all.
For instance, Meander is equipped with an autopilot. This is an electromechanical assembly that will self-steer a pre-selected course while the helmsperson catches his beauty nap in the cockpit for ten minutes or goes below to attempt contortionist maneuvers in the 8-square-foot head for forty.
This system receives its course-holding inputs from an electronic compass. Unlike the compass that sits on a binnacle in the cockpit under the helmsperson’s watchful eye, this one does not require interpretration by a human being to do its job. So on Meander, ours is set in a partition between two amply sized lockers located near the kitchen area known as the “galley.”
But, entirely like the cockpit compass (and every other compass on the planet), an autopilot compass is a magnetic instrument. And to do its job, the polar magnetic fields it reads must be clear and undistorted by local influences.
On the downside, this means that those two lockers so convenient to the galley are completely lost to us for the storage of anything enclosed in metal—such as a can of baked beans.
On the upside, these lockers are natural candidates for my pending collection of. . . well, you know.
Sailboat stowage in summary.
In theory, we can capture all these observations in, I think, two broad principles that govern stowage on a sailboat the size of Meander.
- You can’t have everything.
- You can’t stow just anything anywhere.
In practice, these means that at the end of our fourth day of getting stowed aboard our new boat, we were still:
- Unpacking our boxes.
- Breaking down our boxes.
- Disposing of our boxes.
- Evaluating our lockers.
- Cursing our lockers.
- Evaluating our contents.
- Reducing our contents.
- Fitting our contents.
- Removing our contents.
- Relocating our contents elsewhere.
- Refitting our contents.
And, finally, resisting the urge to throw half our contents overboard.
And at the end of last Saturday, Meander’s interior still looked like this.
And that’s one half of why we have retreated, after five nights on the boat, to the relative order of the motel from where I’m writing this. (The other half deserves its own post.)
No matter. Once we’ve rested up a bit, we’re going back. And we’re going to keep at this until we are finally and completely aboard our “comfortable living” Meander. Because while we don’t ever expect her to be a house, we do certainly expect her to become a home.
Preferably, one filled with lots of comic books to pass what I understand will be some very long night watches.
Meander interior: Mike Webster.