Frugality / Tiny Living

In the Winter, the days are shorter…

Sun goes to bed early, in the cold sky… And by the fire, we warm our toes, and go to bed early, in our warm clothes.

Holly Throsby – The Seasons

Four days ago, after much prevarication, we decided to remain in Tasmania. The weather, over the past week, has become increasingly…um… seasonal? Beautiful days, bloody cold mornings. I started waking up early, my breath steaming like a dragon, and decided we needed to sail to Queensland. STAT.* Sit out the current situation via daily swims and reading books in the sun.

But. On further reflection a decision was made to remain in Franklin, where:

  • we are amongst people that we know
  • we have Della Delica to get us to and from the supermarket instead of having to find somewhere to get ashore and having to get on buses or walk long distances
  • Tasmania, in comparison to the other eastern states, has a low infection rate, and – at the time of writing – has had no detected community based infections. Therefore it is (currently) safer than our proposed destination – although I haven’t extrapolated for size/population etc
  • we are 87% certain we have a block of land, though there is nothing official about it; thus we are going to spend time trying to tame it.

In relation to the last point – this was my original pre-pandemic plan, one that I was talked out of both by M and Linda (owner of the land). I wanted to use the winter to get rid of all the blackberries and weeds, rather than return in warmer weather to a freshly sprouting outcrop. Despite the cold, I was certain we could use the winter to make paths, chop down the various skanky non-native trees that block a lot of the light and particularly clear weeds from the creek.

Now it seems that it is all going to happen. The Smalls and I may even decamp from the boat and spend some time in Linda’s van and annexe, where there is a tiny old fashioned wood stove.

[…the following is written two days after the above.]

Yesterday – a balmy 25 degrees, was a tonic for the soul. Again we worked our butts off on the block, coated in mozzie spray, bits of mud and sweat. It was yesterday when M and I realised that the Smalls have spent their last four years or so living on a boat, so busting their arses land-clearing was a whole new world. They did remarkably well.

A blackberry root. Hard won.

Blackberry root.

There were, of course, sporadic verbal punch-ups. We were pulling out blackberries that are choking the man ferns and the creek as M used the chainsaw to clear the trees that had fallen across it. He’s handy with the new brush cutter – it almost melts away impenetrable massive clumps of the evil blackberry weed – then we come and rake it out. The roots are still there – and they are e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y hard to dig out. I have started dreaming wistfully of a rotary hoe.

Chainsaw man.

Chainsaw Man.

*From the Latin word status, meaning ‘immediately. ‘

I’ll fly away…

Olal, on the island of Abrym.

Being overly hot is something I strive to avoid. I spent many years pondering which was worse – sweating or freezing? I decided it was sweating. It’s easier to throw on another coat when you’re cold, but when you’re hot? If you’ve ripped all your clothes off and you’re still melting, there’s not really anywhere to go, except underwater.

However, where we are right now, the water temperature is 28 degrees – not a temperature that has been seen in Melbourne since about March. While it is refreshing to submerge, you can’t flollop around in the water forever with toes questing for the cool lower currents.

Small DB and I went to shore before 7am this morning to make a little fire. Rubbish is an ongoing almost unsolvable mystery of liveaboard life. At present we are washing out all our empty tins and milk containers and keeping them in one of the front lockers until we get to a place with waste disposal.

Although, realistically, it’s just going to be taken to a hole somewhere and end up as landfill.

Based on this premise, we have begun throwing our glass jars and bottles overboard, with instructions to become seaglass. We’ve never done this before, and would never do it if there was a possibility that we might be able to get to somewhere with glass/paper recycling; but it seems to make more sense to give the glass to the ocean, where eventually it will return to sand / sea-glass, than bung it into landfill, where it will remain, taking up space, indefinitely.

An ecological compromise.

And so we scoop out a depression in the fine black volcanic sand and build a fire, using pandanus leaves and dry twigs liberated from under the greenery fringing the beach. Into it we feed scraps of crafting paper, a Port Vila newspaper, Weet-Bix boxes, milk containers, a Frankie magazine that Small Z has deemed inappropriate – page by page all the cutesy, samey illustrations crinkle into smoking ash.

Paama. Vanuatu.
Early morning. Ambrym. Crazy with clouds of flies. About to build a little fire. 

The smoke, unfortunately, does not deter the clouds of flies that have surrounded us since leaving the screened confines of the boat. Ugh. I do pretty well at roughing it, but within certain strict parameters: no heat, no flies. Small DB and I, on our paper erradication mission, have both. I will never be a desert dweller. I will probably never be a desert visitor. But yes, I will have dessert.

After an hour or so, we’d burnt all our paper and took turns using an empty tin to slosh seawater over the ash and embers; lots of hiss and steam. We covered the evidence with sand and then marked out where the fire had been with a ring of driftwood, on the small chance that someone might stand on it while it was still warm.

Back to the boat, over the water – translucent British racing green – the seabed 20 feet down as black as the shore, but with white shells glowing here and there. I took the dinghy past Bella Luna and tried to capture it all. It would have been better if I’d taken it while floating in the sea – which is what I had to do once I got back, because there was a cup of tea waiting for me that could not be imbibed unless I cooled down.

Paama. Vanuatu.
Anchored near Olal on Ambrym.

After hours and hours of hot bloody sun beating on to the boat, after the Smalls had torn each other new orifi (singular?), after trying to read under the fan with only my undies on and failing because flies kept landing on me, I was about to completely do my noodle. M had tried to cajole me out of the boat a few times, but outside was H-O-T.

Eventually I went with him in the dinghy around into a different bay. The salesman that he is, he had spruiked a wonderland of shadiness in a little bay fed by an underground hot river. Some part of me thought it sounded idyllic. And if it had been a cold day, that’s exactly what it would have been.

But I was still hot. And I got out of the dinghy into hot bathwater, which got hotter and hotter the closer I got to the cliff at the end of the bay. There was a black sand bank at that point, and then a pool around the area where the hot water emerged. You could poach eggs in it.

I wandered, sweating, unappreciative of the Hobbit-like landscape, back into the water, and felt my way like a blind person walking out to sea – following the cooler currents that had not yet been invaded by hot volcano water. There I stayed, cooled from the hips down. Hot air is not the only thing that rises.

Morning narrative

Awoken too early by BoatCat scratching at the bedroom door. I stay on my back and put my feet on the roof – to try to do some stretching. It has been raining 🌧 – the hatch above me has leaked precisely in between Small DB’s head and my own. I congratulate myself on the three woollen blankets I have on under the fitted sheet – both as protection and a form of storage.

Up. Spots of water on the floor at the end of the bed. Close the ceiling hatch properly. Spots of water on the kitchen floor. Close that ceiling hatch properly. Steel self to go out into the light rain, balance on the back step and start the generator. * I look about – our friends on Pandion, where we spent the evening before – have disappeared. Odd.

I start the stove. It doesn’t sound like it should, but it co-operates. Kettle on. Small DB asks, for the third morning in a row, if she can make gummies with frozen berries. I can’t bear the thought of sharing space in the kitchen, but nor can I cope with the fury of a seven-year-old. I put the berries in a saucepan and tell her to take care of the rest.

M appears. “Pandion are gone,” I tell him. He goes up, takes a look, sniffs the largely non-existent wind. “We should go too. If we leave now we’ll be able use the tide to get there. There’s no wind now so I’ll get us going.” Meaning he doesn’t need me to help with the anchor. I stay below.

Dirty dishes are all over the sink. Grey mornings have a way of making everything feel clammy, dirty and covered in hair. My hair, Smalls hair and cat hair. Ugh. The rubbish is full – we were too impatient to depart Baie des Citrons to take it ashore. So now I tie up the bag and put it in the locker at the front of the boat.

New bin bag. Put bin back in place. Kettle off. Put the pressure cooker that I used to cook the butter beans last night in its place – heating seawater to do the washing up. Small DB is stirring her berries on the other side of the stove. I make M coffee in the plunger/French press. Tea in the teapot for me. Both are left to steep.

I rinse all the manky dishes under the seawater tap – the strainer in the plughole clogs and I empty the crud out the window. Tuna, green bean, coffee grounds and butter bean bits for the fish. The anchor is up, motors on. We are moving. The water is wonderfully calm. “Break the berries apart with the spoon,” I tell Small DB. “OK,” she says. “Then I’ll do the gelatine.”

She arranges her bits and bobs on the stairs. I say nothing, although it drives me banana. There is no other place for her to do it. All surfaces are covered. I press the coffee down, fill M’s cup, add milk and pass it up to him. The pot full of hot seawater is put in the sink – some detergent added. I throw in all the cutlery, wash the big knife, and then use it to chop up two apples.

They go into a saucepan with cinnamon and a bit of hot water – on to the stove. I add in four tablespoons of milk powder, coconut flakes, rice flakes, more water… Pivot. Washing up gloves on. Do the dishes, rinsing each one quickly in precious fresh water. Pivot. Stir the porridge with the wooden spoon. Pivot. The cutlery gets put into a cup of fresh water and then into the holder to dry alongside the bigger things – the spatula, egg flipper, slotted spoons…

Small DB has her berries on a trivet on the stairs. The porridge starts sticking to the bottom of the pot. I take it off the stove. Rinse out the pressure cooker, upend it on to a teatowel on the cutting board. The berries and the gelatine mixture have been combined. I turn and see Small DB down the front of the hull, trying to wrestle a container from a bag I’ve contrived to hang up in such a way that it takes up minimum space but renders it inaccessible.

I get the container out for her. The mixture goes in and the container is bunged in the fridge. I notice that I haven’t put the fan on – I use it to blow the hot stove air away from the fridge. I turn on the fan. Rinse the berry saucepan. Load bowls with porridge. Add the remaining yoghurt to each one. Give BoatCat her morning spoonful into her little bowl.

Yoghurt! I forgot to get out the yoghurt I made yesterday. Get the yoghurt maker down, transfer the yogurt to the fridge, empty the water out of the flask and put it upside down next to the other clean dishes. I go back down to the front of the hull where I hide the roasted almonds. These are super-precious. I bought a 5kg bag before leaving Australia – we’ve gone through half of them. I have to hide them so M, who does not afford them proper reverence, doesn’t use them for snacking.

Half a handful of almonds on top of the adult breakfasts. I expel the air out of the bag and the aroma is heady. I inhale, stashing them back out of sight. Wipe down the stove and bench. Muscle Small DB to wipe away the berry juice she got on the wall. I deliver the breakfasts to Small DB and M. Organise myself a cup of tea (again thankful that I bought myself my wonder-double-walled teapot) and take it, with my porridge out into the cockpit.

Mop the rainwater from the seat and the table. Sit on an old towel. Start writing amid the sound of one engine propelling us along and the sound of the generator – it’s so flat, we are able to make water as we go. Our watermaker is such a magical and awesome entity. Alchemic. It, and the autopilot are such valued players in our floating life. We have been without either of them, so our appreciation is of the highest level. Game changers.


*Our intention was never to be a generator-reliant boat, but as our stove requires servicing, it requires more power than our batteries hold of a morning to start up. Woes. At least there was no one nearby.

The Boating Annual 01.

It is 27th September 2017 – exactly one year since we set sail from Hastings, Victoria. We have lived aboard a catamaran on the sea for 12 whole months. How completely mad!

Dour archway. Old Road. Franklin.

We’ve been in four different Australian states, and further up the east coast than I’ve ever been in a car or an aeroplane. It is entirely a different kind of life to the one we had been immersed in for many years.

Although we remain on a learning curve, it’s not quite as steep as it was at the beginning. Despite the fact that he built her in entirety, M had never sailed Bella Luna before – and they spent a few months getting to know one another. Now? They are enmeshed and in tune. Together they sing.

From Recherche Bay to Strahan, Tasmania

Me? I’m better at this stuff than I was (it would be quite horrendous if no progress had been made) – I have not, however, ascended the heights of sailing prowess that I, one year ago, hoped I might.

I continue to find it tricky – M has years and years of sailing experience on me, in addition to being immersed in the boat build for nine years – his sailing knowledge is e
ingrained in his being. Mine? I acquire further bits and pieces as we go, but remain the first mate and cook, rather than co-captain. Living aboard is a world away from day-sailing.

In attempt to rationalise this, I call upon the Theory of Mental Load. Bear with my tangent…. the term ‘mental load’ was crystallised by a French artist earlier this year when she produced a cartoon that illustrated exactly why it took a woman (and it usually is a woman) two hours to clear a table – because of all the extra tasks she encounters and completes as she puts things where they belong.

This cartoon resonated with me – big time. Nothing has described the time-suck and brain-snap I struggle with so well. So to draw this into the boat musing, I suggest that M – as captain – is probably struggling with the mental load that goes with that position.

To simplify – if I ask M to clear the table, he will Clear. The. Table. He won’t walk into the bedroom to put something away, spy the esky and think “Oh, I must change the ice-blocks in there or the carrots will rot,” which then leads to opening the fridge, realising there’s not much yoghurt, and putting on the stove to heat up some water to make some, and so on, and so on. The table will be clear. Fini.

If M asks me to go on watch, or check what the Bureau of Meteorology BoM site and relay what the wind is supposedly doing. I don’t then go outside and check which way and how strong it’s actually blowing. Nor do I check the tide where we are and where we intend to arrive. I usually forget to extrapolate all the things that need to be extrapolated in order for us to make a safe, sick-free journey.

Just as some of the domestic grind that constantly bangs around inside my head doesn’t occur to M, a large percentage of the many things that need to be assessed and combined to ensure a good…tolerable…safe… passage don’t occur to me. Depth, tide, obstacles, wind, wave height, swell…

Sisters in sunset. Franklin. Huon River. Tasmania.

The problem is – in both scenarios – is that because I’m good at what I do (all the cook-y provisiony bloggy stuff) and he’s good at what he does (exhaustive passage planning weather watchy navigational stuff), it’s easier to stick with what we’re best at. Lazy, but true.

But. And of course there is a but. I am USED to this mental load thing. Occasionally resentful of it (as the person who pays the bills, organises birthday presents, sorts out the mobile phone situation, manages the money), but nonetheless dealing with it as a given.

M, however, has gone from the autonomous boat builder whose partner is primary carer for five days a week – to CAPTAIN! The person who is responsible for all our safety onboard, for the navigation, forecast interpretation and the SAILINGZ – he can’t rely on me as an equal back up – I can provide the muscle, the intuition, the opinion – but no way can I provide the forward thinking and nautical knowledge.

He glances at the esky and doesn’t change the ice-blocks. I glance at the chart to check out our intended destination, but don’t check what the tides will be doing at the scheduled time of arrival.

Horses for courses, right? But it’s only sustainable if nothing goes wrong – if one of us is out of action, the other one HAS to know how to successfully plan a passage, anchor single-handed and feed the Smalls at the same time – NOT on rotten carrots.

142/365 • the Smalls - revelling on the gorgeous Lady Musgrave Island two weeks ago - we have been out of mobile range since then, so I have some photo-catchups to do! • #sisters #swimming #sunshine #sailing #queensland #bliss #wwsa #abcmyphoto #bellaluna

The difference between us does not fall in my favour. Should I hurt my back/crack a rib/break a leg – he will be able to sail confidently onward, while throwing freshly charged iPads and bits of cheese and apple to the Smalls – napping briefly courtesy of Hoo-Ray the Autopilot.

Should he hurt his back/crack a rib/break a leg – I would be able to sail – or motor, onward – but not as confidently or as well. If the weather remained benign, I would get us to where we needed to be. If it did not, I would struggle, the Smalls would have to fend for themselves and there would be a great deal of stress involved.

Both of us need to upskill. Both of us hold knowledge in our respective areas as a result of social conditioning – and also because we both pursue what interests us. And we both need to realise our gaps and try to fill them. Learning and remembering.

M is not interested in remembering that the Mothership doesn’t have a lot of milk in her tea, that everyone but him likes their cheese sliced thin and that the fridge needs defrosting.

143/365 • #M and his big idea ☁️ • . #swimming #sunshine #sailing #queensland #abcmyphoto #bellalunaboat #cruising #Winter2017 #latergram #eastcoastaustralia #ladymusgraveisland #9yo

I am not interested in remembering to check the levels in the fuel tanks, change the oil in the generator or examine the direction of the current in relation to our progress.

155/365 • a picture #M just sent me of what the Smalls are up to ashore...• . #gloucesterpassage #sailing #queensland #abcmyphoto #bellalunaboat #cruising #Winter2017 #eastcoastaustralia #OutdoorFamilies

The obvious issue is that while we will (and do) survive quite well if our cheese slices are too thick, the generator we rely on will not survive unless it’s given regular maintenance. Then again, the food will rot and the fridge won’t work properly unless those things are also looked after.

Like most things, life aboard is a complex intertwining of systems that all rely upon each other to function properly. Probably what I need to do is focus on improving one of the gaps in my knowledge, rather than being overwhelmed by All I Do Not Know. May I remind you how hard it is to know what you don’t know?! This article has some pertinent points.

A general band-aid in the meantime is that we both need to delegate more in our own areas. We need to slow down and remember that this is a lifestyle – not a holiday that we need to cram in as much as possible before we get back to the office.

May the explorations, innovations, and tiny living aboard Bella Luna continue onward, enhanced by what we’ve learnt over the past year. Fair winds…

The crew of Bella Luna.
Photo by Keiran

Farewell Hobart, for a while…

On the way to Kettering

Sailed into Hobart on Friday evening to spend our last $100 on tinned food, long life milk, spuds, carrots, apples and a few other bits and pieces. While it would be lovely to buy organic, our budget (and the fact we have to buy in bulk) renders this impossible.

We’re also a little hampered by transport – I knew that a 10kg bag of rice was on special for $8 at Coles, but it was over in Sandy Bay – which was a bit further than I wanted to walk. Anyway – shopping was done with Small DB in tow – we were both tired and stroppy and knocked over a display of Easter Eggs ? which two women immediately helped us to reassemble…

38/365 . • the last morning at #salamancamarket for a while - mostly the fruit and veg are a bit ? but four kg of new apples for $10 isn't bad... • . #hobart #goodmorning #tasmania #discovertasmania #tassiestyle #bellalunaboat #Summer2017 #cruising

On Saturday morning I sneaked off to the market – and felt despondent about the price of fruit and veg. I bought 4kg of apples and a bunch of basil – had to return to the supermarket for my bulk spuds and carrots ($3.50 per bunch of carrots was not going to get me far).

[I do not know why the following photo is SO SMALL…]

Bella Luna and Apache. Photo by M. Grant detangling Daisy.

Meanwhile, M took the Smalls busking for what will be their last assault on Salamanca Market for a while. Small DB raked it in… I had to reassure Small Z that ‘small and cute’ doesn’t last forever…

Small DB playing to her devoted fanbase

After Grant had helpfully boiled us some water, made M a coffee, filled our thermos and washed our floor – we eventually got underway. M was itching to try out ‘Hoo-Ray’ – the latest addition to our crew. Sadly it is not a boat-cat. It is an autopilot – the one that M fitted when we were in Prince of Wales Bay Marina.

The backstory relates to the trailer sailer that M and I bought for my dad after he had given us so much help with our house in Hervey Bay. He came up and helped M paint the house, caught mud crabs with us, drank a lot of Coopers Sparkling Ale and drove the Humber back to Melbourne when we sold up…

M & Dad in Hoo-Ray!

The point of this is that he gave Hoo-Ray back to us a few years ago and told us to get what we could for her. Serendipitously, she sold just as we needed to buy an autopilot – a much needed accessory for long journeys when you are combining sailing with parenting… So the money we got for Hoo-Ray (named for my dad) was immediately converted into autopilot, on which we have bestowed the same name.

I like to think of the connection between all these things – that my dad has a hand in steering Bella Luna toward further adventures.

Goodbye Manny

A family goodbye to Manny, our gallant steed...

Many years ago I bought my car on ebay for $1100 from a guy called Manfred in Kilsyth. He was a very nice man and had looked after the car beautifully. He gifted us $50 for the baby that I was very obviously going to be soon having. We named the car in his honour; ‘Manny’.

I would buy the same car again in a heartbeat. Manny saw us through almost nine years – pulled my caravan with aplomb, witnessed countless difficult journeys with two babies who hated being in the car for more than 20 minutes and one of those babies was born on the front passenger seat.

I had thought I would never be able to sell Manny, until our friend – an uber-practical Englishman (who had incidentally lost pretty much everything in the Black Saturday bushfires) asked why on earth we would go to the trouble of keeping a car somewhere when we wouldn’t be using it for who knew how long…. It made a sad sort of sense.

As it turned out, both our diesel Mercedes (1980 and 1981 respectively) were sold to the same guy. Not a wrecker who wanted them for parts (although a few had contacted us) but someone who had family back in Lebanon and regularly shipped vehicles there to be used as taxis. It felt appropriate, that after serving us faithfully, our cars should continue to purr onwards elsewhere…

Their new owner said they would both be fixed up and that old diesel Mercedes’ were in demand in Lebanon, because they never die. A reassuring conclusion 🙂 So we are now a carfree family, with a boat for a home and a dinghy instead of a road vehicle. But I’m sure there’s another 300D in my future…