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  • Writer's pictureSailing Koinonia

6 months living aboard a sailboat: visitors, projects, and essential gear

Updated: Nov 5, 2021

Date: 4/14/2021

Location: Gloucester Point, VA

Temps Hi/Low: 62/ 50 F

Weather: Partly cloudy with a light breeze; a few sprinkles in the afternoon

Springtime on the Chesapeake Bay

Hello spring! The Osprey are back, speckled trout are chasing bait in the creeks, and boaters are out cleaning the winter grime and gearing up for the season. Speaking of grime, can we all agree that tree pollen is the worst? It’s EVERYWHERE — all over the dock, the deck, finding its way inside the cabin, and swirling around on the surface of the water like some kind of toxic waste. The good news is warmer weather and sailing season have arrived and Koinonia is tugging at her dock lines with anticipation.

It’s hard to believe 6 months have gone by since we sold the dirt house and moved our family aboard a sailboat full time. We managed to survive our first winter on the boat, and I can truthfully say, it wasn't half as bad as we imagined. We rarely developed cabin fever because there was always plenty to do and we did get out to explore quite a bit. On bad weather days, we kept cozy, thanks to our trusty diesel heater and a steady supply of comfort food from the galley.

Despite plans to post more frequent updates here on the blog, we’ve been preoccupied with a busy work schedule, homeschooling, and ticking off items on our must-do projects list before starting the journey north. If there is anything we underestimated about boat life, it was how long it would take us to get the boat ready for serious cruising. But the end is finally in sight and we hope to escape the impending heat and suffocating humidity of the Mid-Atlantic summer, which is saying a lot for people who were both born and raised in middle Georgia!

We’ve been blessed with wonderful friendships here in Yorktown and Gloucester Point, and we‘ll miss seeing our friends and dock neighbors, but the crew is eager to get underway and begin this highly anticipated chapter of this family adventure. I have no doubt we’ll be back to the area when we migrate south in the fall.

The Ship’s Log (Visitors)

Besides staying warm and well fed, we rarely wanted for company over the last few months. We‘ve hosted family, entertained boat friends, and welcomed quite a few visitors from nearby Richmond. I sometimes call this “the circus.” While we don’t do any acrobatics (beyond occasionally climbing the mast), there are curious and unfamiliar sights that draw in visitors as they encounter our life afloat.

- John Sparrow & Lizzy Swan - yacht brokers and fellow cruising sailors - Carl Lawler & Kim Denerstein - good friends and marine industry professionals - The Cunningham Family - church family

- The Youngblood Family - church family

- The Wards - Ben’s parents

- The McGowans - Amber’s parents

- The McGowans - Amber’s oldest brother & sister-in-law

- Sara Moreland & Laura Simonson - Aunts

- Keith & Suzie Kramer - church family and fellow sailors

- The Winter Family - long time friends

- Jamie Robinson - the girls big sister and church friend

- The Russell Family - good friends from our old neighborhood

We thoroughly enjoy having family and friends come to visit us! Our girls especially love the company. I hope we’ve inspired a few of you to pursue God’s unique call on your life, even if that means doing something really different and outside of your comfort zone.

Big Boat, Big Projects

As I mentioned, we’ve completed a number of projects, some really big projects with dozens of smaller projects, as we prepare to cast off the dock lines and start our trip north to Maine. Here is a run-down of some of the bigger projects we’ve completed (or nearly completed):

  • Dinghy Davits - installed custom fit davits by Kato Marine to allow us to easily hoist our dinghy and store it on the stern of our boat. The people at Kato were wonderful to work with and the installation was relatively straightforward. We are very pleased with this upgrade!!

  • Standing Rigging - we’ve nearly completed the install of our new standing rigging. Aside from cold weather, this project is to blame for our lack of mobility but it’s a crucial upgrade. We used to source all of our rigging and have been very happy with the quality, pricing, and turn-around time. We also had our Navtec backstay adjuster rebuilt. Finally, we added heavy duty 316 stainless spacers between the chainplates and turnbuckle toggle jaws to eliminate the large 3/8 inch gap and ensure the pressure of each stay is centered over each chainplate (see images below).

  • Full Cockpit Enclosure - having a full cockpit enclosure will give us not only greater protection from wind, weather, and cold temperatures, it also means about 20% more all-weather space on the boat, which is like adding another room to your house. We used Signature Canvas in Hampton Roads; their work and professionalism have been fantastic. Highly recommended.

  • Varnish - like everyone else, we have a love/ hate relationship with teak. It’s a massive pain in the rear to maintain but it looks amazing when it's been done properly. We realize a lot of serious voyagers might say, “let it go grey”, or “just apply Semco,” or even ”paint it.” This is all practical advice but we decided to try Awlgrip Awlwood on our exterior teak caprail and eyebrow. It just seems like a shame not to keep it looking it’s best. Supposedly, Awlwood is the top performing multi-season varnish on the market (and it’s priced accordingly). I admit the product was relatively easy to work with and the initial results are hard to deny but we’re anxious to see how it holds up in the long run.

  • Refrigerator - after our old compressor bit the dust, we installed a brand new Dometic Super Cold Machine with an XL evaporator plate in the refrigerator. I also installed a large brushless computer fan to circulate the air and maintain a more even temperature. We couldn‘t be happier about having reliable and energy efficient refrigerator again! Huge thanks to our good friend, Rob Long, for helping us out with this unit.

  • Plumbing - we installed a Whale Gulper, which replaced our old sump box for grey water discharge from the shower. This is a nice upgrade that should last many years and requires very little maintenance. We also replaced a bunch of our fuel line vent hose and installed two nuisance water bilge pumps, one of which required installing a new thru-hull above the waterline.

  • Rig a secondary anchor - our primary anchor is a Rocna Vulcan 33k/73lb, but our secondary anchor is a Fortress, which is a Danforth-type anchor that is especially well suited for holding in soft mud and sandy bottoms. This anchor had previously been stored disassembled (aka useless) at the bottom of the anchor locker, so we bought a new length of 6ft, 5/16 galvanized chain and Crosby Class B shackles to attach to a dedicated rhode. Now, we just need to figure out a way to install some protective anchor guards on either side of our bow stem to prevent damage from anchor strikes in choppy seas.

As you can see, there is a never-ending list of projects and expenses related to outfitting and maintaining a liveaboard vessel. We do most of this work ourselves, which saves us money but costs more in time. We like knowing the job is being done right and we consult or hire experts when absolutely necessary or when time is at a premium.

Essential gear we’ve come to depend on while living on a sailboat

We like gear that works and we’re constantly finding creative solutions to new-to-us problems. The longer we live on a boat, the more we learn about what works and what doesn’t, so I thought I would share a few of the items we‘ve come to depend on:

  • Expandable Garden Hoses - we have three 100ft hoses which shrink to about 25ft. These have been invaluable for getting water to the boat from long distances in the winter. They never kink, are lightweight, and amazingly easy to stow. They are so compact, all three hoses fit under a single floorboard with room to spare!

  • Rechargeable Ryobi Chordless Vacuum - small but mighty, this is easily the most used tool on the boat. With three kids on board, it gets a lot of use. We mounted it to the wall in the aft head. I don’t know what we would do without this gem.

  • Rechargeable LED, magnetic, motion sensing cabinet lights - we have installed these in the refrigerator, the freezer, inside cabinets, closets, and even over the stove. Basically anywhere we wanted to add light but didn’t want the hassle of running wiring or having concern over increasing our DC amp draw on our house batteries, we installed these. The remote isn’t really necessary but useful for some installations.

  • Pour-over Coffee Dripper - much easier to store than a coffee pot, uses no energy, and quick to clean. We have several of these and they stack together taking up about the same space as a coffee cup.

  • Coconut Coir - since we have all composting heads on Koinonia, we use coconut coir as our composting medium. Why would we post about this? What we’ve learned is not all coconut coir is created equal. This is the best we’ve found because it stores away very compactly, hydrates evenly and quickly, and comes individually packaged in a water tight heavy duty bag to rehydrate.

  • Starbrite inflatable boat cleaner - this stuff works miracles on stains and grime on your inflatable boat. Just spray it on, a section wait about a minute, and wipe with a microfiber cloth. It works better than any other product we’ve used. It literally makes our dinghy look like new.

Pray for our Crew

We’re excited about getting underway and sailing up the coast to Maine, but we’re also a little nervous. This will be our longest trip to date and the furthest north we’ve ever been. We will need to learn to adapt to the larger tidal fluctuations, rock vs soft mud bottom, more frequent fog, and LOTS of lobster pots.

If that sounds a little scary, keep in mind we will break up the trip into short legs, helping us prepare our route more carefully at each step and minimizing the risks of running into bad weather. We also have an AIS receiver and transponder and 4G radar. Our plan is to pick up moorings in Maine at first until we can learn more about the anchoring practices. Everyone we meet who has sailed to Maine says it’s beautiful and definitely worth the trip. We‘ve kept a running list of suggested anchorages and places to visit. Some have even shared their route logs with us.

Please pray for safety as we travel. We would really like to connect with other families with kids, and we hope we will have the opportunity to share the best news ever: that Jesus Christ came into the world to forgive imperfect people of their sins and bring them into a restored relationship with God.

We look forward to sharing updates about our travels very soon!

Ben Ward

S/V Koinonia

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1 Comment

Glenn Ward
Glenn Ward
Apr 15, 2021

There’s been a lot of love and labor put into your new adventure. We hope you all have a safe voyage and enjoy yourselves. It should be a trip of a lifetime. New adventures almost every day. We love all of you, Dad, Pop Pop, Mom & G

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