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Waste Not . . .

Life aboard a boat can teach you a lot more than just how to sail.

July 29, 2011

water

I often think that the world would be a much better place if everyone had the opportunity to go sailing, the longer the better. After my husband and I returned from our own cruising adventure when we were in our 20s, I came home with a new set of eyes through which to see the world. If you’ve done any long-distance cruising, particularly to countries that are less developed than the U.S., you know what I’m talking about. My first trip to a grocery store in Florida after being away for a while was overwhelming. I believe I actually choked up—we just have so much. Of everything.

Over the weekend, I read an article about how much water Americans use each day. The scope of the piece was actually much larger than that, but what I took away from it is that, in general, we consider unlimited, clean, running water to be a given, so much so that basically it’s become invisible in our lives. We take it so for granted, that we don’t even think about it. The article states that on average, Americans use 100 gallons per person per day, and that this rate of consumption is unsustainable.

Between this story and news about the famine in East Africa, water consumption has been on my mind. Being a liveaboard sailor, consumption is on my mind frequently, but this article really made me think. Cruising sailors are, in general, a conscientious bunch. When your lifestyle is contained in a small floating home that is more or less off the grid, you tend to notice how much electricity you use, how long your water tanks last between fill ups, how much diesel you burn through. This awareness is something that I feel sets cruising sailors apart.

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On Lyra, we spend the summer months away from the dock. So no shore power, and filling up the water and diesel tanks requires a trip across the harbor—definitely not a hardship, but more inconvenient than, say, having a hose right there at the slip. This inconvenience (not to mention the astronomical price of diesel) helps keep us from being too wasteful, especially with our water, and since we rely mostly on wind and solar to charge the batteries, we try not to be wasteful there either. Our boat holds 200 gallons of water, which is a nice amount for a family of four and actually lasts us about two to three weeks without really trying. And that’s for everything (showers, drinking, cooking, cleaning) except laundry.

Overall, when we (cruisers) are not tethered to a dock, we are responsible for our water, electricity, and waste. We know where it comes from and where it goes. We know how much we use and are always looking for ways to use less. Long before green was the “in” thing, cruisers were catching water from passing thunderstorms and making electricity from the wind and sun. Conservation, awareness, making do with what you have, saving money, respect for others and the environment, self-sufficiency and accountability—these are all things that are a daily part of the cruising life. I’ll even admit that I get a little bit of a thrill when my older daughter asks (on a day when the wind or sun weren’t enough to help out the batteries) if she can watch a movie on the laptop, and I have to say no because we don’t have enough electricity to charge the laptop right now. Sure, I could turn on the engine and put some juice in, but what would that teach her? Besides, playing with toys, reading a book, or even swimming off the boat are way better. Whether they like it or not, conservation will be part of my kids’ genetic makeup. They live it.

What if, for most people, conservation was more than just rhetoric, but was part of daily living with direct, immediate consequences for waste? Wouldn’t the world be a better place?

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Thoughts? What ways have you found to save your resources aboard (or ashore)?

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