Sailboat Living in Newport

Rhode Island Monthly editorial intern Chelsea Drake reveals what it's like living on a sailboat for the summer.

I abandoned my 2,200 square foot family home, cable TV and a roomy yard of manicured grass for the summer; I won’t need any of that here. All I need are a pair of flip-flops, sunglasses and one suitcase. I had just accepted a summer internship at Rhode Island Monthly and my mother Kathleen and I decided to make the move from Orange County, New York, to Newport.

My mother and my step dad Andrew own a thirty-foot Catalina Sailboat named “Heaven” that stays in Newport year round. Previous summers, I’d come up every other weekend to visit, but this summer we’re calling it home.

As a Fredonia State University student, I’m appreciative of space, due to my lack of it within four cement walls. When I’m not in class, my time is spent working, motorcycling with my boyfriend, Christopher, or traveling with friends and my horse to riding competitions and camping. I have packing and unpacking down to a science and I can live out of a suitcase and a backpack for months.

It isn’t long before my mother and I figure out how to make our sailboat more livable. All of our groceries fit into a two-by-three foot kitchen area, cold food and drinks are kept in a refrigerator the size of a large cooler that is built into the boat. Showering takes place in a public restroom at the marina. The couch becomes a seat for dinner at the kitchen table and then the table becomes a bed at the end of the day. Another bed is found in the hollow bow of the vessel. The water pump needs to be filled after about three days of water use and whatever we do, we try not to stand up too quickly when we’re near the seaman’s bell.

I wouldn’t be surprised if our marina neighbors keep tabs on how many times they hear that bell ring. Despite having such close neighbors, my mother and I are thankful they are there. There is always someone around to help us pull into our slip at the dock and invite us to go sailing on their boat. Or to help in a time of crisis.

One night we have all of our appliances plugged into every outlet. When we crawl back into the cabin after filling the water tanks, there’s a blackout. It’s after ten at night. An hour later, our handyman Charlie finds “two damsels in distress” signaling him with a single flashlight. Within ten minutes he has the cabin lights glowing again.

Even though we didn’t blow a fuse that night, my mother and I are still paranoid about leaving things plugged in. On one forty-five-degree night we leave our small space heater plugged in and wake up nearly drowning in our own sweat. We discover blanket layering is best.

As for food, I won’t lie, we cheat with a frozen meal here and there. Our oven and stove run on alcohol so for safety reasons we try not to use them. We don’t dine out much either, which makes our occasional splurge on a seafood dinner totally worth the wait, especially when we go to Benjamin’s. Most days we eat precooked chicken from the market, lobster bisque by microwave, fresh vegetables and lots of fruit. Soon we will have a grill for burgers and more!

One day when I was at work with our shared car, my mother walked to the market and came back with a plant and a toaster. Thanks to her voyage, we can now have toasted English muffins with melted butter, something I’ll never take for granted again.

Did I mention we don’t have cable? Books and DVD’s have become our new entertainment. We do have internet access which has fortunately kept us in contact with family and friends, and helped us keep up with the news. But who needs TV when there’s a nautical Animal Planet outside our boat? It’s a little disturbing how quickly seagulls pick apart a whole crab with their beaks.

One afternoon, we are reading our books and getting some sun when we hear a loud commotion. One seagull catches a crab and another seagull arrives to call the meal his own. Before the two fighting birds come up with a winner, the victim crab finds his way back into the water. Both seagulls stop fighting and watch the crab disappear beneath the glassy surface of the salty sea.

The obvious best part of living on a sailboat is the ocean. The air has this pleasant salty smell, not fishy, just clean. I’m not much of an ocean swimmer, but I love sailing in our home. Batten down the hatches and we’re off. Taking the dinghy into Newport is a necessity for someone living in a marina aboard their vessel. Ours floats in front of our boat and when we want to go for ice cream or dinner, we board the small motorized craft and zoom to town in fifteen minutes. It’s easier than taking the car, and the parking? Impeccable, and free of charge. It’s picturesque, calming and exciting all at the same time. For a fast paced kind of girl, I’m enjoying the slow speed of a life at sea, especially in the company of my mother.