Our personal conservation challenge

In April 2014, after Steve retired from the Army, we set sail from our home in Tampa, Florida with a final destination of Tantallon Marina on the Potomac River in Fort Washington, MD. As we said our farewells to my parents at the dock in Tampa, they were still befuddled as to why, but especially how I was going to survive living on a boat full-time. “Don’t worry,” I assured them repeatedly, “It will be just like camping in a trailer, kind of.” Then my mother reminded me, “But you HATE camping!” Hmmmm…. maybe she had a point that I should have considered more carefully before agreeing to this adventure. (Well, it wasn’t really that I AGREED to this living arrangement, I was the one who actually suggested it. But that’s a story for another post!)

Since 2014, when we moved aboard, we have always enjoyed all the comforts of home since we have been at a dock at a marina, not on a mooring ball or on the hook. My favorite two things have become SHORE POWER and SHORE WATER. Being hooked up to these two things have enabled me to enjoy our electric heat in the winter, air conditioning in the sweltering heat of the summer, a long hot shower, blow-drying my hair, microwaving leftovers, using our onboard washer/dryer, and basically powering up anything I want, whenever I want (as long as I ensure I am not exceeding the capacity of our 50amp circuit. Camping? Not quite. The last 3 years have really been closer to the newest fad of tiny living rather than camping.

Now let’s fast forward to July 16, 2017 when Steve announced that in preparation for heading to the Caribbean, we would be disconnecting from shore power and shore water to identify if the generator, batteries, and water tanks would meet our needs when we are away from the dock. “OK. No Problem!” was my immediate response (spoken by someone who has only been connected to shore power and shore water for the last three years.) We unplugged on Sunday night and the first thing to adjust to was that we would not be able to run the air conditioner. That would have been fine if it were springtime and a balmy 70 degrees. But not in July when the highs have approached 100 degrees and the lows at night have been in the 80s. Other things that required some adjustment included: No hairdryer, no microwave, no television playing in the background while I worked, no keurig coffee whenever I wanted, and did I mention no air conditioning?! Now let me point out that we did turn on the generator for a few hours in the morning in order to fully charge the batteries for the day. While the generator was running, we were able to turn on the hot water heater, do a load of laundry, make coffee for the day and put it in a thermos, and use the microwave for breakfast. But once the generator was turned off for the day, we relied exclusively on power generated by the sun and wind to charge the batteries and get us through the night until the next morning when we would crank the generator for a few hours. In addition to changing our power usage habits, we would also need to be conscious of how much water were using- and that included showers, drinking and cooking, flushing the toilet, washing dishes, and running the washing machine. Wait! No long showers?? UGH!!

What did I learn from this experiment?
1. It’s hot (REALLY HOT) without the comforts of an air conditioner, but as long as the breeze is blowing and we were outside, it was tolerable (most of the time).
2.  It takes between 3-4 hours of generator run time each day to fully charge the batteries for the next 24 hours and I wanted to use every second of generator time to do things that took high power usage.
3. I really can survive without blow drying my hair every morning.
4. I like having the convenience of a microwave, but my Dutch oven heats up leftover burgers and turkey just great- and I think it tasted better than microwaved leftovers.
5. In four days, the three of us consumed just a bit more than 100 gallons of water. That’s an average of 25 gallons per day for us as a family or an average of less 9 gallons of water per person per day. Considering that the average American consumes between 80-100 gallons of water per day, I feel awesome about how great we did with water conservation.
6. Television is overrated. I enjoyed reading and just sitting outside.
7. Natural lighting, rather than simply flipping a light switch, usually provides more than enough light to see what is worth seeing.
8. Ice is not a luxury when it is excruciatingly hot outside.
9. Cool showers are invigorating and its not necessary to have hot water all the time.
10. Living at the dock is not like camping, but being disconnected from shore power and shore water would be comparable to camping.
11. I think I like camping!
12. It was very advantageous to run this test and do our own personal conservation challenge, and I am so thankful that Steve thinks of everything so that we can be as prepared as possible for what this cruising life has in store for us.