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Homesteading ... on a boat!

They set sad with an eight-month supply of food ... and a lot of beer for bartering

As I sit here on our little farm in Alabama I thought you might like to hear about a different type of homesteading that we did for over ten years. We lived and cruised on our boat, which was our only home.

I won't go into the details of how we acquired the boat, but it was a 65 foot wooden motorsailer built in 1940. My husband left his excellent job as an engineering manager and we took the three kids and moved aboard. It took us a year to restore the boat to yacht shape. That story alone could be a book!

Two-and-a-half years later we sold the boat, the kids moved on to different lifestyles and we had a modest profit which we converted into our true home, a 32 foot fiberglass, double-ended (sloop) sailboat. Built in Sweden and sailed over by the owner, she was well-made, lovely, and we were able to pay for her outright. (That was the secret to where we were then and where we are today: we had no payments.)

For the next two years we worked at decent jobs, saved as much as possible, lived on the boat and made lists and outfitted her for cruising. My husband, Don, is over-cautious, so everything was top quality and extra right.

Talk about homesteading... we had to be our own water, fire, sewer, electric and gas departments! My kitchen was tiny and we had very little space for clothes. Our bed was forward with queen size at the head, crib size at the feet... cozy! We had only 12V lights but had 110V and a shore line if we needed it. We pumped our head and took salt-water showers, but had a pump-up pressure sprayer that was filled with fresh water from our tanks for rinse off. We carried only 50 gallons of fresh water and yes, you can brush your teeth using only half a cup of water.

The stove was two-burner kerosene so I used a pressure cooker with a rack as an oven. Our refrigeration was 12V but only worked when the motor was running so we didn't use it much. I canned 90 jars of meat and chicken and we took along eight months' worth of food at one time. Since we were going to the Bahamas, I didn't bring what I could buy cheaply there, such as flour. I made one loaf of beer bread every day and we used beer (which we don't drink but was cheap in the States) for trading and cooking. At that time $1.25 for one can in the islands made it like gold. We took a lot of beer.

We bought fresh vegetables and eggs when we could get them but I took ten dozen eggs myself. I dipped each room temp egg in boiling water for six seconds to seal the shell and they were fine. I tested them in water (the floating trick) before cracking though.

Once over there we caught our own fish, lots of conch, and went diving every day.

We took 200 paperback books with us and traded with other boaters whenever we could. We also had a 12V car tape player and 200 tapes to listen to. We spent a lot of time in isolated places walking the beaches, swimming, shell gathering, reading, crafting and catching rain water to drink and wash clothes in. We were never bored.

It goes without saying you need a great relationship to spend 24 hours a day together, seven days a week, in a 32 foot boat of which less than fifteen was usable living space ... and it was only 10' 8" wide!

The Bahamas are beautiful and the water crystal clear, we made friends that we still see and were in the best physical shape ever. Meals were simple and because we had so much time and no schedule to stick to I could experiment with different dishes.

However, though it cost us under $100 a month (mainly for fuel, fresh water or fresh food) to live there we soon ran out of money and came back.

Do you know you can smell land from 15 miles out at sea?

The day we left Ft. Lauderdale we put down white carpet. Ten months later it was just as white. Two days after being back it was gray!

We got jobs again and did this one more time for many more months but we were down to zilch and had to make some real money. We came back to Florida, bought Don a tie and he got a "real" job and so did I and we planned to do it again. Funny how the lure of what money can buy can trap you - the car, the things ... though we never had a tv.

Then Don was approached with a job offer in Huntsville, Alabama, that was too good to pass up. That was 11 years ago.

We left the boat in Florida and moved into an apartment. We had nothing, but the toilet didn't have to be pumped, and it was exciting and we felt like people from another planet. We did our share of acquiring, making money and spending money until one day we looked around and saw we were like everyone else (except we still had no tv) but with a story to tell. We also listened, and it was noisy and the neighbors laughed at TWO A.M. and the other neighbors did other things and we missed the quiet and the aloneness and knew it wouldn't work in the city any more. By now two years had passed and our boat was being neglected in Florida so we were forced to sell her...again another whole story. Then we went looking for a place in the country.

There is some pretty, rolling land in this part of North Alabama, and we found a 36 acre farm with an old tenant house (no plumbing), a good 12 x 60 mobile home on a concrete slab, a small barn, chicken coop and yard, fenced fields and orchard, garden space, the home area (2.5 acres) fenced, and it was all nestled in a little valley at the foot of two mountains. The best part was that it cost what we were able to sell our boat for.

This area, Jackson County, is poor, so the taxes are very low... $23 a year for the whole place. The schools are not good but the people are friendly, though reserved. Like anyplace else, if you just do your thing, don't put on airs, don't throw around a lot of money, keep quiet and show that you're trying, the old timers come around. Don joined the volunteer fire department but it took a whole year until they said "howdy" to me in the feed store.

Our beginning years were gung ho. We could have fed all of China from our garden, and fed India with our eggs. We jumped in too big, too fast and worked full-time in the city, 45 minutes away.

Now we have settled down. We raised registered cattle for five years, and while it wasn't very profitable, we did make some money... and the calves are so sweet. We have two burros. I don't know why, but they're no trouble and they are really good guys. We don't work with them at all and they were with the cows but now they just wander the fields. Something got the chickens and ducks one by one, and though we replaced some, after awhile we just bought the eggs. Don grows some tomatoes and cukes each year and put in thornless blackberries which we never seem to have time to do anything with but they are prolific, as are the grapes. We've neglected the orchard and feel guilty. To be honest, we really don't like too many fruits or vegetables. Our two Dobies guard the place and it's comforting to have them here even though there is relatively little crime in this area.

Five years ago I started a craft business. I do clay sculpture and have just started selling well at shows and fairs, and best of all I really love it. In the busy season I'll work all day and night, but I never get tired of making things with clay. I have a kiln and Don promises a studio this year.

The bottom fell out in Don's field so he helps me and keeps adding rooms to the trailer so it's more like a house or double wide. We are away a lot because of the shows and have turned part of the property into a trailer lot but can't seem to find someone to put their trailer here and help watch the place in exchange for a tiny bit of rent.

I guess my only advice to everyone who wants to homestead and get away is work your backsides off and save everything you can. Harry Brown wrote in How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, "Look at everything as a box, and if you want to get out of the box you are in you must be prepared to pay the price.

Knock yourself out, do without, keep your goal in front of you and you can do it. The only real freedom is to own (as much as they let you own) your own place, have the money for the taxes, and find something you like doing that brings in a few bucks for extras.
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Author:Horowitz, Carole
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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