Small Footprints – At Home on the Sea

Amazing sunrises and sunsets are just one of the benefits of a life at sea. Photo: Courtesy Linda and Rick Clayton

In the first part of our discussion with Linda and Rick Clayton, Linda talked about being “able to go where the wind goes.” Despite the tight quarters on a sailboat, there are loads of personal advantages to this lifestyle, as she and Rick point out.

This is part two of our two-part conversation with the Claytons. Get ready to relax, put on your deck shoes, and take a virtual sail on Sojourner. —Julia Wasson and Joe Hennager


BPGL: Where is your favorite place to drop anchor and just stay awhile?

The Claytons enjoy a relaxed lifestyle sailing between the Bahamas and the East Coast of the U.S. Photo: Courtesy Rick and Linda Clayton

LINDA: I like the beaches in the Bahamas, but every time we get to a new anchorage, we say, “Wow! This is so beautiful!” And it has so many wonderful features that maybe the other ones don’t have. It’s hard to say there’s any one place; each place is a wonderful place because of its uniqueness.

BPGL: Between weather problems, no wind, running out of fuel, pirates, and things like that — do you feel there’s risk to your lives?

LINDA: Oh, yes. There’s risk. But I think you take more risk than we do hopping on the freeway. Unless we’re leaving the boat for days at a time, we never lock it. We never lock our dinghy onto the boat. We’ve never lost anything off the boat. And a lot of that is because, when you get to an anchorage, you’re anchoring with other cruisers. Everyone watches everyone else’s boats. It’s a very safe community.

There’s safety in numbers, and for that same reason, when we make a big crossing, like sailing across the Gulf Stream from Florida to the Bahamas, we more than likely will go with a number of other boats. If there’s any kind of a problem, we all help each other.

BPGL: So you don’t feel alone.

LINDA: We’re never alone. We kind of travel together in groups. We may go to Point A, and someone else may go to Point B, and then we leave and all go to Point C. So we wind up meeting other people who have very similar goals and aspirations. We all sit in the same anchorage, and we all enjoy the same sunset. And we all enjoy the same happy hour together in the cockpit of a boat, whether it’s a $20,000 boat or a $2 million boat.

BPGL: I remember seeing a boating ad that said boaters are a much friendlier group than you would find on a highway.

LINDA: That’s true. For instance, we were up in Long Island Sound. The people are not known to be particularly friendly up there, especially to Texans, and we have Texas as our hailing port on the back of our boat. A lobsterman came by one morning and said, “Hey. Youse guys really from Texas?”

Rick Clayton waves from high atop the mast of Sojourner, which flies the Texas flag. Photo: Linda and Rick Clayton

I said, “You bet your bootiestompers.”

He said, “I’m gonna bring youse guys some lobsta.” And he brought us fresh lobster and gave it to us. Boaters are very friendly to other boaters most of the time.

Another time, we were in our little, tiny dinghy going up to a dinghy dock. Usually, if you are coming in a big boat or a small boat, whoever happens to be walking by catches your line to make sure you get there safely. And a guy from a mega-boat was walking past. He took our line and hooked us up. He had probably a $5 million boat. By golly, we were coming up in our little dinghy, and he was walking past, and he was the one who tied us off.

This is the way people are. It doesn’t matter to them whether you’re a retired trash collector or a retired GM executive. Everybody looks at everyone else the exact same.

Safety Concerns

BPGL: What do you do when you have an illness or an injury?

LINDA: Actually, because we’re out in the fresh air all the time, the only time we ever get sick is when we go on land and visit people. I’m just getting over a cold from visiting our daughter. She was graduating in Cleveland, and it was minus five degrees. We’re used to somewhere between 60 and 85 degrees.

Sojourner under full sail. Photo: Courtesy Linda and Rick Clayton

We go to the out islands in the Bahamas, but there are doctors there. On the out islands, there are mostly beaches — and grocery stores if we’re lucky.

There is a divers’ alert network that a family can join for something like $50 a year. It’s not just for divers; it’s for anyone who has a medical emergency and needs to be transported to the nearest hospital. And if anything were to happen to us while we were out in the Bahamas or halfway across, they would transport us by whatever means necessary, via helicopter or whatever, to the nearest hospital. It’s a very good thing to have.

BPGL: If you had an emergency, let’s say a mast broke, or you’re out on the seas, and it gets rough, and something happens, are you in touch with the Coast Guard? Or, what if you are too far away from the U.S. Coast Guard, what do you do?

RICK: We have been enjoying our time in the Bahamas in the winter, and then we go up the East Coast to New England in the summers. We aren’t world travelers like some people. We have what’s called an EPIRB, which is an Emergency Position Indicating Radiobeacon. An EPIRB sends an immediate satellite message to the Coast Guard, and Coast Guard immediately responds to the latitude and longitude of that distress call. Most sailboats have an EPIRB on them, and you activate it if you feel like you’re in danger or you’re sinking.

The EPIRB is a small, hand-held device no bigger than one of those old-fashioned “brick” telephones, when they first came out with cellular telephones. We keep our EPIRB in our ditch bag in case we have to ditch the boat at sea. If we have to get in the dinghy, we grab the ditch bag, throw it in, and then jump in. The ditch bag has an emergency food supply, water for a couple days, the EPRIB, cold-weather gear, sunglasses, hats, and things like that. A ditch bag is an essential for cruising. Most cruisers have that.

And, so we can see at night or in the fog, we have a radar that picks targets out for us. Then we can avoid running into things.

Sleep 2, Eat 4, Drink 6

BPGL: Tell us about your boat.

Cruisers gather for a party below deck. Rick is at the far left. Photo: Courtesy Linda and Rick Clayton

RICK: It’s a Catalina, model 387. On deck, it’s 38.7 feet. The length overall, including the stem and everything, is about 39 feet 10 inches, so we’re real close to 40 feet.

BPGL: How many people does Sojourner sleep?

RICK: We like to say, “We sleep 2, eat 4, and drink 6.” But if we want to cram people on, it can sleep seven. We have a stateroom in back, which is like the master bedroom. We have a V berth in front, which sleeps two more; it’s like a forward cabin up in the bow. In the salon area, the table drops down and makes a double bed. And on the other side of the salon area, the cabin is like a sofa that you can sleep one person on.

We’ve had six overnight on the boat. Four is okay. If one of the kids comes with their husband or fiancé or whatever, we can very comfortably enjoy four on the boat. But we’ve had as many at dinner as 8 or 10 people in the cockpit.

And just for drinks, cocktails, or sundowners, we’ve had as many as 14 people up in the cockpit. We have one of the roomier cockpits, and that’s why, for purposes of gathering in the evening, our boat tends to be the party boat. It’s not because we are party animals, but because our boat has a very large cockpit. We got it that way because we knew we would be traveling in temperate climates, living mostly outdoors.

Electronic Communications

Cruisers catch up on their email at a WiFi location in the Bahamas. Photo: Courtesy Linda and Rick Clayton

BPGL: Do you pretty much have email access all the time?

LINDA: We don’t really. There are some WiFi spots in the Bahamas, but sometimes they’re far and few between. We’re not in Nassau or some of the most populous areas. A lot of the islands we go to, there are only like 100 people or fewer that live on the island. There aren’t many WiFi spots available, but there are beautiful beaches! And the people are delightful.

BPGL: How do you locate reefs? Are you concerned about grounding?

RICK: That’s what we call the draft. We have about a 5 1/2 foot draft on this boat. That’s the depth of the keel. In the Bahamian waters, you’re sailing in anywhere between 8 and 20 feet of water when you’re up on the Bahama banks. We have nautical charts downloaded to our laptop, and we have all of the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) charts that any seaman would have on his boat, all on computer.

Up at the helm station on the sailboat, where the wheel is, we also have a chart plotter that gives us graphic detail of where the boat is in relationship to other islands. It shows the nautical marks, your aids to navigation, the red buoy or the green buoy that allows you to safely enter a harbor. All of these things are charted and plotted very well on a chart plotter, and it shows the GPS satellite where our boat is. The underlying clutter on a chart always has depth.

Sojourner is equipped with electronic navigation aids such as this one. Photo: Courtesy Linda and Rick Clayton

BPGL: Do you let someone know if you go off on your own — like a flight plan for a pilot?

RICK: Yes. That’s called a float plan for a boat. We have something called a SPOT. It’s not an EPIRB, but it does work with satellites. It sets up an account with us. We pay an annual fee, something like $100, and it allows us to establish an account that we can load up to 10 emails into. So, when we either up anchor or go anywhere, or when we get to a place and we drop the anchor, we send a SPOT signal out and it lets everybody know where we are, and lets people know our progress on a trip.

Let’s say, for instance, we can hit the SPOT satellite messenger system every 12 hours when we’re on a three-day passing from the Bahamas to South Carolina. We’ve left the Bahamas and landed in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s about a three-day offshore trip. Every 12 hours or so, we’ll hit the SPOT messenger service, and it will send a satellite signal to the company, and they send a message to all 10 of the emails that we’ve preselected. Those are family.

They get an email which also has a Google link that shows exactly on Google Earth where we are in relationship to the islands or out in the ocean or whatever. That’s one of the ways we keep in touch. Of course, before we leave anywhere more than a 6 or 8 hour day journey, we always email our friends and family and let them know, “We’re in route here. This is where we are going.” Everybody kind of keeps up with everybody else. Especially our family does. They know what to expect and when to expect to hear from us again.

BPGL: What kind of cell phones do you use?

RICK: We just have the normal cell phones. We have good coverage along the coastline. And we buy and use an air card in our laptop computer. So it gives us Internet basically anywhere on the boat wherever we have cell phone coverage. Our company lets us suspend service up to three months a year. So we don’t pay a communication bill while we’re in the Bahamas. However, we will hit a WiFi spot every day or two at least, so we can keep in touch with our family and get online. We’ve been as long as a week between WiFi spots in the Bahamas.

Severe Weather


BPGL: What do you do when the weather turns bad, like a hurricane? Where do you go?

LINDA: Our insurance prevents us from doing stupid things. We have to be north during the hurricane season. However, we are still exposed. For instance, in Cape May, New Jersey, this last September, there was an unexpected storm that came up. We were at anchor, fortunately right off the Coast Guard station.

They had six inches of blowing rain and 80 mile per hour wind. The expected winds were supposed to be 20 to 35 miles per hour. We clocked 80. Once the wind reached a certain speed, we turned on the brake on the wind generator.

And we had a lightning strike that knocked out all of our electronics. We had those replaced, which the insurance paid for. There are times that we’re exposed. The good news is, we’re exposed, and the bad news is, we’re exposed. We say, “Hey, we made it through that. What’s next?”

Trash and Recycling


BPGL: How do you get rid of your trash on the boat?

RICK: You go to the store and they ask you, “Paper or plastic?” and you get one of these plastic bags. We fill a little less than one a day. When we’re in the ocean or doing a crossing, Coast Guard regulations prohibit dumping trash and certain kinds of trash unless you are a certain distance offshore.

Sea glass decorates a candle on the Clayton's sailboat. Photo: Courtesy Linda and Rick Clayton

When we go across the Bahamas and are 20 to 25 miles offshore, we can pretty much dump anything we want in the ocean, but we don’t do it. A lot of things are just flat prohibited. Anything metal or glass, you can throw over at 25 miles out because it sinks to the bottom. We break our glass up and dump it over. When you get rid of your cans and bottles, that’s a big space that we save on the boat. And that’s what cruisers do. Everything else, we carry back to land and put in trash receptacles. We have a minimum amount of trash.

BPGL: Why can you dump metal and glass? Is that because they will decay?

RICK: You might say there’s all kinds of trash on the bottom of the ocean. Probably more metal on the bottom of the ocean from sunken ships than anything else. The Titanic has taken 100 years to deteriorate. Metal rusts at a given rate, depending on what kind it is. The bottom of the ocean is five, six, seven miles deep.

LINDA: Glass that goes overboard eventually washes up on the beach, and the sea glass is real pretty. When we hit the beaches over in the Bahamas, cruisers — especially the women — are always looking for sea glass. We find quite a bit. When people are breaking glass, sometimes they are creating [art] for 100 years from now. We have a light for our cockpit that looks like a mosaic. It’s made of sea glass. There are a lot of people who have pretty jewelry made from sea glass.

BPGL: Are there recycling places where you dock?

RICK: Some marinas have recycling bins. They’ll be real adamant. They’ll say, ‘We don’t mind you dumping your trash, but we want you to use our recycling bins.

Volunteering


LINDA: Here’s one thing that I didn’t mention. Most of the cruisers are retired. They find volunteer opportunities in the Bahamas. Quite a few of them got together last year and built a school for the Bahamian children.

All along the way in the Bahamas as well as in the Chesapeake Bay, we have cruisers getting together and organizing cleanups along the waterways and the beaches. These are just a couple of examples. There are many ways that they volunteer.

We have some people who are traveling with us right now are gathering supplies. They’ve gone to Costco and Sam’s and Wal-Mart. They’re going to islands where they know that the school children and the teachers need supplies. And they’re taking supplies to drop off. That’s what cruisers do when they go further south in the Bahamas. The cruisers are doing a lot of volunteer work not only along the East Coast but down in the Bahamas as well as some of the other Caribbean Islands.

The Vegan and the Carnivore

Linda Lacy Clayton at home on Sojourner. Photo: Courtesy Linda and Rick Clayton

BPGL: Do you fish?

RICK: I’m going to let Linda answer that one, because we have a difference of opinion on this.

LINDA: Many cruisers do fish. We don’t. Number one, we have an oversized bimini, or sun shade. You can probably see that in the photos. It’s hard to fish from this boat. But I’m not crazy about fish, and Rick doesn’t really care about it. So we don’t fish. But a lot of cruisers do. During the lobster and conch seasons, they will supply themselves with fresh conch and lobster and fish. They don’t eat meat, they eat that.

I have a good friend who is a cruiser. I hadn’t seen her in many months, and when I saw her, she looked very healthy. I said, “Wow! You look great! What are you doing?” She said, “Well, we quit drinking, and we became vegans.”

She passed a book along to me called Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. It is a compilation of a lot of different studies that support the reason for becoming a vegan. I had been attempting to lower my cholesterol and began to eat that way just for that purpose. And I feel a whole lot better. It did accomplish that purpose for me. But Rick, is a big-time carnivore.

BPGL: Is it hard to keep enough fresh produce on board in a small refrigerator?

LINDA: Not really. A lot of cruisers do go into parts of the Bahamas and the Caribbean where there are no grocery stores at all. They, of course, cannot eat fresh produce. They eat a lot of canned food. We hang out in places where there are grocery stores, so I can get fresh produce just about every two or three days.

BPGL: In one of your photos, I saw Rick on a bicycle. Do you have bikes for your time on land?

Rick and Linda Lacy Clayton, relaxing on shore. Photo: Courtesy Linda and Rick Clayton

RICK: We don’t have bikes on this boat. But when we go on land, there are always people who offer us bikes. Our boat isn’t large, and we don’t have the space for it. But if you want to Google something called the folding bicycle, you’re going to pop up with all kinds of products that sailors use. A bicycle can fold down no bigger than a suitcase and people will store it in their boat and pull it out.

A folding bicycle would be a better option for us if we went into marinas where we could actually take the bicycle and set it right on the dock. But since we anchor so much, we would wind up being in a position of having to unload the bicycle into the dinghy, dinghy ashore with two bicycles, and then unload the bicycles on a beach. The juice ain’t worth the squeeze.

“We’re Home”


BPGL: Have you considered sailing anywhere else?

LINDA: We’ve considered that. But we’re so happy with what we’re doing. And it’s the people that we know that we see on the way — it’s like we have our neighbors with us at all times. We may not see them for a week or even a half a year, or maybe even a year, but they’re on this same path that we are between the Bahamas and the Long Island Sound.

It’s not so much the seeing new things. We’re seeing the same things over and over and over, but we’re very familiar with lots of places and lots of people. And we enjoy the people that we see. It’s like we’re home. The whole East Coast and the Bahamas is our home.

End of part two.

Joe Hennager and Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Part 1: Small Footprints – Cruising with the Claytons

Part 2: Small Footprints – At Home on the Sea (Top of Page)

Small Footprints – Cruising with the Claytons

Rick and Linda Lacy Clayton relax on a typical day in their life as cruisers. Photo: Courtesy Rick and Linda Clayton

When Rick and Linda Lacy Clayton decided four years ago to retire on a sailboat, they didn’t do it with the intention of becoming environmentalists. But what they’ve learned since is that their very survival — and their finances — depend on their ability to sustain themselves with minimal fuel, power, and water.

Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) spoke with the Claytons to learn how the experience of living on their sailboat, Sojourner, has changed their daily habits and taught them to keep a small (wet) footprint. The Claytons hail from Dallas, Texas, where Rick retired as a policeman, then spent eight years as a truck driver, and Linda retired from a career in marketing. This is part one of a two-part conversation. — Julia Wasson and Joe Hennager


BPGL: What a life you have! How did you decide to live on a sailboat?

Rick and Linda Clayton relax on Sojourner's deck. Photo: Courtesy Rick and Linda Clayton

RICK: We both had some experience sailing. The first vacation after we got married, we chartered a sailboat down in the British Virgin Islands for a week — the two of us on a 35-foot boat. Of course, I knew I was going to love it. On the way back, Linda said, “How soon can we sell everything, buy a boat, and take off?”

That was music to my ears. We were both in our 50s, and love doesn’t always come that great that late in life. So we sold our house and sold our cars and had a big garage sale. We just took off from Galveston where we had the boat and began cruising in December of that year. We live on the boat full time and anchor in various places just about every night.

BPGL: Did you think about trying to reduce your carbon footprint by selling your house and cars and living on a sailboat?

RICK: We did this just to enjoy life and have fun. Leaving a small footprint is kind of the result or the by-product of our lives; it wasn’t really the motivation for what we’re doing. But we know that cruisers out here make a much smaller footprint on the environment than people who have homes and cars and jobs.

Putting the Sun and Wind to Work


BPGL: How do you power your lights, your laptop, and so on when you’re at sea?

Cruising on a sailboat takes advantage of the power of the sun and the wind. Photo: Courtesy Rick and Linda Clayton

RICK: We have both a solar panel and a wind generator to charge our batteries. The boat is a 12-volt system, like the current in a car, so we have to constantly keep our batteries filled. If we can do that by wind and solar, we don’t have to run our engine to produce the electricity.

If there is no wind, or we have real cloudy skies, and we’re dead in the water for a couple days, we have a small, gasoline-powered Honda generator, which uses about a quart of gasoline an hour. While that’s running for a few hours, we can heat our water and recharge our batteries. We use the bare minimum of fuel. We actually use less fuel than the average person who is just riding to work and back. We try to use as little fossil fuel as we can, just because it costs money.

BPGL: What kind of wind generator do you use?

RICK: The brand name of our wind generator is AirX Marine. Three years ago, when we did some research and bought the unit, that seemed to have one of the highest outputs. With 15 knots of steady wind, we get 3 amps per hour in our batteries. The wind blows quite a bit in the Bahamas. As the Trade Winds pick up late in the season, they keep our batteries at a level that we don’t have to run our engine.

BPGL: What about your solar panels?

RICK: Our solar panel is called a Sunsei. It’s a 100-Watt solar panel. On a sunny day, we get about 3 amps per hour. When we have no clouds and 20 knots of wind blowing, we have a nice input of amps into the battery, and it compensates for what we use on the boat on a daily basis.

BPGL: How do you store fresh foods on Sojourner?

RICK: We have what’s called an Adler Barber refrigeration system, which is our refrigerator freezer. And while it’s fairly small, in comparison to a standard household refrigerator-freezer, we can store a couple of weeks’ worth of meat in the freezer and a week full of fresh vegetables and milk and things in the refrigerator. The nice thing is it runs on a 12-volt system.

A cruising lifestyle provides travel opportunities for the Claytons. Photo: Courtesy Rick and Linda Clayton

Some sailboats have a refrigeration system that runs on a household current — 110 volts. And that type of a refrigeration system would need a generator, which would mean you’re running a generator to cool your food; you’re using more fossil fuel than a 12-volt system that can cool your refrigeration needs with the battery.

The whole concept of this is just keeping the batteries charged. We have about 500 amp hours in the three batteries we have, and we use probably anywhere between 70 and 90 amps per day.

BPGL: So you have to keep regenerating.

RICK: Yes. It’s a continual process, and of course the refrigeration runs about 5 amps per hour. It cycles on and off, about half the time. It’s running about 12 hours a day. You’re looking at 60 amps just in keeping our food fresh and cold. And we need to keep our water frozen for those ice cubes for the sundowners. [He laughs.]

BPGL: Do you also have a TV and other electrical draws?

RICK: Yes. As far as a TV and VCR, we have a 12-volt TV that has a built-in DVD player. The entire unit is 12 volts. We can turn the TV on and watch a DVD, and it will only use a little over 1 amp per hour.

And we have an inverter, which converts battery power to 110-volt household current. But the only time we run the inverter is to charge our small appliances. We have everything hooked up in the boat’s electrical system and plugged in. I charge my electric shaver. We have a little rechargeable dust buster. We have a laptop computer. They all stay plugged in, so anytime we turn the inverter on, everything gets charged at once.

As night falls, each sailboat will turn on a light at the top of its mast. Photo: Courtesy Rick and Linda Clayton

We run the inverter for maybe an hour or two every day. It might draw a few amps out of the batteries, but it keeps all of our 110-volt necessities charged. Those sorts of things take very little amp draw. Lights and fans take very little amp draw. And, when we’re done using a light, we turn it off.

The only real draw we have overnight is that we have an anchor light that’s required by Coast Guard regulations. Our anchor light is at the top of the mast, and it uses about 8 hours overnight at about 1 amp per hour. We run it in the dark 8 or 10 hours.

BPGL: So no big boat runs over you.

RICK: Yeah. We want to be seen out there! If we’re in a crowded anchorage, everyone has an anchor light on, so we feel a little safer. But if we’re out there by ourselves, we want to make sure that somebody sees us.

BPGL: You’re using renewable energy, like everybody should be doing here on dry land.

RICK: If people went to wind and solar, even personally, it would help the environment and reduce the use of fossil fuel. But it’s still an industry that’s in an expensive stage. There’s a company, Ferris, that makes wind and solar products for boats and homes. You look at our wind generator. It was over $1,000 for that unit. The solar panels were about $900. And that’s just to put a few amps in. So, if you were going to power a full-size house, with full-size needs, with wind and solar, buying the small product that I bought for the boat would not be cost-effective.

Fueling Up


RICK: We do also have a small Honda generator on the boat. It’s portable and has a one-gallon fuel tank. You can run it for five hours. It takes about a fifth of a gallon per hour in gasoline. That is one thing that supplements us. When we do that, we don’t have to run our boat’s main engine to produce power. The main engine does consume about three-quarters of a gallon per hour. It’s a diesel engine.

Even though we have sails, all sailboats have a small auxiliary engine to supplement their speed or to propel them when there’s no wind. In fact, we’re very careful about running that, and we don’t run it unless we’re moving. We don’t run that just to charge our batteries, because it is more costly. If I’m going to wear an engine out by running it, I’m going to wear out an $800 engine rather than a $50,000 engine.

Much of the time, the wind powers Sojourner, and fuel isn't needed. Photo: Courtesy Linda and Rick Clayton

LINDA: Are you interested in how much fuel consumption we’ve used?

BPGL: Definitely.

LINDA: I always keep a running tally so I know from one year to the next what we’re doing and keep up with our budget. From December ’08 to November ’09, for gas (the only thing we use gas for is our Honda generator and our dinghy), diesel (the engine on our big boat is a diesel), and propane (we cook with propane on our stove and oven, and we also have a propane grill) — all of those items, all of our gas, diesel, and propane use — averaged out $28 per week.

BPGL: What is the price of diesel at a dock?

RICK: Actually, the diesel costs are more expensive in Florida, because Florida has a state sales tax of an additional 7 cents per gallon on diesel. But even with that, we have a 36-gallon fuel tank in our sailboat, which is about the size of an SUV, a large Expedition or a large Escalade. We’re going to spend probably $3 per gallon for diesel most places.

We’ll spend $120 to fill the tank, but when you think about it, somebody will burn through a tank of diesel going to work in less than a week. A tank of diesel lasts us a month to sometimes two months, because we sail, and we may come into anchorage and sit for two or three days.

The cost per diesel might be a little more, because the marinas will charge you more than you pay on the highway. A marina is considered a resort facility, and you always pay more in a resort. But we probably use $1 a day for fuel, where most people would probably use several dollars a day for fuel in their lifestyle.

Of course, that doesn’t even count the money that they’re spending on their electric bill, their water bill, their gas bill. We spend well less than $2,000 a year for our entire energy costs and transportation and everything. That’s where the advantage comes in environmentally for a sailing lifestyle versus having a home, two cars, maybe even jobs you’ve got to transport yourself to everyday. We’re fortunate that we’re able to go where the wind goes.

Precious Water


BPGL: What do you do for a toilet and shower on the boat? Do you use fresh water?

The Claytons use their dinghy to motor in from Sojourner to shore. Photo: Courtsey Rick and Linda Clayton

LINDA: Our particular toilet system operates with seawater. We have a holding tank, and there are places to pump out the waste. Our shower is about 2 foot by 2 foot. It’s a gymnastics endeavor just to take a shower. [She laughs.]

RICK: We have solar shower bags, like campers have. We can fill them with three to four gallons of fresh water, seal it up, and the sun heats it. A shower bag is clear plastic on one side and black on the other side. You lay it clear side up, and it’ll heat your water to gosh-darn hot.

We take the bag and hang it up on the boom and run the nozzle down into the head — the bathroom — and gravity feeds us the hot water. After we get wet, we stop the water supply and lather up. Then we turn the water back on and rinse off.

On a sailboat, you never really stand under running water, because running water is such a precious commodity. It’s like your lights: You turn them off when you’re done using them. We use about a gallon and a half, maybe two gallons at the most when we shower.

BPGL: Do you capture rainwater?

RICK: After we’ve had an inch or so of rain, when the decks are all clean, and the salt film has been washed off, we’ll open the scuppers, which are the fill holes for our water tanks. We lay a clean towel across the deck like a little dam, so water will run down in the water tanks, but won’t run past the towel. We collect rainwater for fresh water every chance we get.

When they need to gather supplies or water, the Claytons dinghy into shore, where each stop is another adventure. Photo: Courtesy Rick and Linda Clayton

BPGL: Do you use the same water for drinking water?

LINDA: We have a PUR water filter. And we filter all the water through that before we drink with it or cook with it. We’ve always felt like the water’s safe. Also, because we do have these tanks, we will put a tiny bit of chlorine every once in a while, in each one of our three water tanks, to kill whatever’s in there.

RICK: Everything that is pumped out of our tanks is pumped through a water pressure pump from the sink. Our boat capacity for water is about 100 gallons. And we have about a 20-gallon water heater on the boat. We also have four 5-gallon jerry cans that we keep lashed down on deck. If the boat runs out of water, I can put the jerry cans in the dinghy, then dinghy ashore and get 20 gallons of water. Our water consumption averages about 7 gallons a day, and that’s fairly consistent. That includes showers, cleaning, cooking, everything — just 6 to 7 gallons per day for the two of us.

BPGL: How much can you use seawater? Can you capture and filter out the salt?

LINDA: Once we get to the Bahamas, primarily what they have there is a reverse osmosis system. Typically, when we get hot water in the Bahamas, that’s what we’re using. Many cruisers do have a saline conversion system on their boats. The larger ones, those that are 40 feet and up, have what’s called Water Makers. We do not. It takes up quite a bit of space, and we’re a smaller boat compared to the ones that typically have it.

A Real Sense of Community


BPGL: I’m amazed at your boldness in completely changing your lifestyle and leaving everything and everybody behind.

The Rick (3rd from left) and Linda (not shown) gather with other cruisers on Sojourner's deck. Photo: Courtesy Linda and Rick Clayton

RICK: One thing we learned after we began was the real sense of community with other cruisers. There’s a whole community of people out here that are doing the same thing because they enjoy sailing and traveling. This is a level of travel we would not be able to afford if we lived on land and had to buy plane tickets and rent cars. We would definitely be back in Texas.

BPGL: Don’t take this wrong, but you probably don’t want a lot of people to learn how inexpensive it is to do this, or everybody will be doing it.

RICK: Quite the contrary. We always enjoy the company. Besides, there are some drawbacks to this that would keep a lot of people who want to save money from doing it. The lifestyle is more primitive than all the modern conveniences of the 21st century.

I’ve often likened it to living in a home in the 1950s in Middle America. You don’t have a dishwasher. You don’t have a garbage disposal. You don’t have a washer and drier. Sometimes you don’t have cellular telephone service. There are $20,000 boats, and there are $2 million boats with all the conveniences of the 21st century. Everybody manages to find a lifestyle and a level of convenience that they can live with within their budget.

End of part one.

Julia Wasson and Joe Hennager

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Part 1: Small Footprints – Cruising with the Claytons (Top of Page)

Part 2: Small Footprints – At Home on the Sea