Monthly Archives: May 2016
For years I did the tiny house swoon. Now I finally live in one! For me, living tiny means more time and resources for the best stuff of life: adventure, exploration and growth. And let’s not forget FUN.
Our tiny house floats and has four bedrooms. It makes its own power and water like a little off-grid cabin, but is a 39 foot long sailboat; a catamaran with two hulls. Sailors around the world know the tiny house movement began centuries ago at sea. Boats are designed to be as small as possible and to utilize every nook for storage.
We split our time between living in a sprinter van in the U.S. and cruising aboard our catamaran in Mexico. I never really liked van life in winter anyway. Winter is the perfect time to go to Mexico. Plus, these two unconventional “tiny houses” provide unprecedented flexibility. These homes are doing something for us, not just sitting there sucking up a paycheck!
Our boat is named Magic. She is designed with miniature, dollhouse-like rooms. She is rectangular in shape with dimensions of 39’ by 21’. Several hundred square feet is taken up by boat stuff (mast, anchor lockers and trampolines), leaving about 500 square feet of living space.
The designers found a way to squeeze four bedrooms and two baths into 500 square feet without sacrificing a full kitchen, spacious pantry or dining table for 8. What I like most is that every room offers plenty of storage to reduce clutter. We keep an extensive inventory list of the items in each cabinet, a must when there are this many!
We enjoy spending a lot of time in the salon, which is similar to a living room. Our LED television and stereo system provide for our entertainment needs. There is plenty of room for both of us to stretch out.
The four bedrooms each feature a full sized bed, a sink and storage. Skylights help these rooms feel bigger. My husband and I live on the boat with occasional visitors, so we turned one of the bedrooms into a storage room.
The bathrooms are meager, with only a toilet, shower and single cabinet. Our toilets pump the waste directly overboard, which is typical in Mexico. That’s a dirty little secret I’ll bet you didn’t know about boats.
One of our bathrooms houses our magical watermaker, which turns salty seawater into high quality drinking water. This intricate machine uses a high pressure pump to force salt water through multiple filters and membranes until it emerges salt-free and delicious on the other side. The watermaker’s guts are on full display in this video.
Unlimited water is wonderful. It opens up all sorts of possibilities…like taking regular showers and washing dishes. We also have a diesel water heater made by Webasto, which sips a small amount of diesel and heats water in a tank in the engine room. This means HOT SHOWERS. Now, that is luxury. We also have a total of 630 watts divided between four solar panels. There are two 215-watt panels on the back and two 100-watt panels on top. Free utilities galore!
The pantry includes shelves and drawers from IKEA. We stock up on food and then enjoy remote places for weeks at a time. Our grocery trips are often dramatic events where we purchase hundreds of pounds of provisions and it is great to have a place to put all that food. It is easy to find food when cooking, too. No more digging through cabinets looking for ingredients!
Magic’s outside decks are the best place to spend time, where sails fly and the sky lights up with gorgeous sunsets. Each whale splash, dolphin jump and manta ray flop reinforces the feeling that this present moment, and making the most of it, is what matters. There are beanbags and pillows in the cockpit and trampolines at the front of the boat. This is our front yard, only without a lawn to mow (thank goodness, I never liked mowing the lawn anyway.)
There is always room for a garden, though. Here is our herb garden which is mounted on the back of the boat. Brian found a teak box and built a custom plexiglass box to fit inside. The plexiglass box can be removed if big waves threaten the plants.
I love gardening and it is great to have fresh food. Some boats have complex hydroponic gardening systems to grow more food, but we are keeping it simple for now.
There are many places to live at marinas around Mexico, but we prefer to drop our anchor in the white sand of a secluded turquoise bay. These dreamy places are the stuff of fantasies, and I feel grateful to be living tiny.
Want to see our boat, Magic? Check out my video tour below and you’ll feel just like you’re aboard!
Getting there wasn’t mellow, though. We went into the wind and the motion was pretty unpleasant. Brian went below to work and I watched the boat as she slammed up and down on small waves. Several hours later we were stoked to see the island with pretty orange walls rising high in a pyramid shape above a pebbly gray beach.
This was a secure place to stay; we anchored in 50 feet of water well away from shore. We settled in and soon went for a dive. It turned out to be beyond dreamy and one of our favorite dives in Mexico. Every now and then one of those peak experiences in life sneaks up on you when you least expect it. This was one of those times.
This dive site looks like nothing special from the topside. It’s a small, flat rock with sea lions lounging on top. Underwater treasures await below the surface. My friend Leanne told me about a beautiful, coral encrusted cave here, and now we were about to find it. There were no words that could do this cave justice. It needed to be seen and felt. We dropped into the water and descended.
The cave had three openings large enough for a person to swim through. The cave entrances were at depths of 20-30 feet. One curved entrance was decorated with orange and purple sea fans, a foot wide, lined up in what seemed to be a somewhat organized fashion. Small orange cup coral, puffy and soft, was sprinkled liberally on the walls.
I swam slowly into the entrance lined with sea fans, the largest one, and smiled as I saw lobsters poking shyly out of a hole in the floor. Small fish peered at me from holes in the wall. This cave was like a giant block of swiss cheese with many holes to offer sanctuary to small creatures. Now there were two big black diver fish in the cave! Light filtered in from the openings, providing enough light to see as I moved further inside the cave.
The coral was in good condition and we were careful with our movements in the confined areas. I drifted toward a colorful wall and found it completely encrusted with many corals competing for space. Everything was orange, yellow and purple, twisting together in the most grotesque and beautiful shapes.
I’ve never been diving in a cave or a cavern. Swimming through this lovely cavern was an exhilarating moment. A first. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
This was a fascinating place which felt safe to enjoy. I felt pretty hesitant about the large sea lions lounging on the rocks above the cave. Sea lions and caves seem to go together, and encountering those beasts in the small cave was not my idea of a good time.
The sea lions did not appear while we explored the cave, but we saw one swooping through a school of fish later on in the dive. He wasn’t interested in us.
This island adventure, along with Las Animas, has turned us on to some new and stunning diving in Mexico. We’ve spent a lot of time exploring during our last two winters of cruising in Mexico, and this winter we are finding the most incredible places!
Mostly we’ve been curious about Las Animas, which was described as one of the best dive sites in the entire Sea of Cortez by the book “Under the Sea”.
First we visited Isla San Jose and explored a mangrove lined river. It cut across the entire island, with gorgeous turquoise water and fascinating birds. This island was nice but busy. We decided to move on to Las Animas the next day, where we hoped to find solitude.
We had a good-enough weather forecast and departed early. Soon our next island was visible on the horizon. It was merely a chunk of rock jutting out of the ocean far offshore. Our guidebook described the other small islands in that area but was silent on Las Animas, merely marking it on the map. Was it an unknown treasure waiting to be discovered, or a place boats don’t typically go?
We arrived to find a dramatic coast. No sandy beaches here. How will we anchor? We approached the island carefully and Brian guided Magic into a spot with a small amount of meager protection – two rocks jutting out of the ocean.
We lowered the anchor in 90-100 feet of water. Our entire chain was out, all 225 feet. Magic was being pulled away from the rocks by the wind and current, so the rocks felt a safe distance away. Later on, in the middle of the night, the wind would shift and start blowing Magic toward the rocks instead of away from them. Not good.
Never mind that for now. It was one of those golden days where conditions were perfect and anything seemed possible. We were loving the exceptional visibility in the water, too. The 70 foot visibility was the best we’d ever seen in the Sea of Cortez and the marine life was fantastic.
We saw impressive schools of fish and I will always remember the turtle we met. He was trusting and friendly, and allowed us to follow him around for a long time as he fed. We swam around a small pinnacle together, fast friends, this turtle and we.
Usually turtles are shy and the ones I’ve met fled the moment they saw me. This was my first time observing a turtle doing “turtle things”. Feeding, diving, breathing, existing. Fantastic.
The turtle sliced through the schools of fish, surfaced for a quick breath of air and then swiftly dove down 30 feet or so, scooping up prey items along the way. We guessed his prey items were small jellyfish. We saw a lot of them at Las Animas; luckily they were not the stinging variety.
What a fun day! We enjoyed a calm evening and went paddle boarding around the bay. It was like we were the only ones in the world out there. We felt the special-ness of being able to stay overnight in such calm conditions.
At 11:45 PM we heard the wind start. It was easy to ignore at first, hopefully it will just go away. But then our wind generator started up and big waves were beginning to rock the boat. I got up to take a look at conditions and found a disturbing sight.
The moon was full, and the white waves crashing on the rock wall behind Magic were illuminated brightly. And the wall was much closer than before. The wind had changed direction and was now blowing us toward the rocks instead of away. I wanted to have faith in our anchor. I really did. But the rocks were uncomfortably close and this was the deepest overnight anchorage we had ever used. I started to think of the “what ifs”.
There I was, at one o’clock in the morning searching for my PFD which I haven’t worn in months. Liveaboards are notoriously bad about PFD use. Yes, I know, I need to be better! Found it. Then there was nothing else to do but sit in the cockpit with my PFD close at hand and watch frothy waves pass under Magic and roll on toward the wall. First they would crash into the bottom of the boat with a loud thud, then a minute later crash into the nearby rocks with a big splash, and then finally a shower of little white moonlit streamers shot up from the base of the rock.
How did we get into this predicament? We should have been choosier about the weather forecast. There were winds in the teens predicted for tomorrow and they came early. We should have only come here when there was no wind predicted at all. And spending the night at such a marginal anchorage was not a good idea. We could have gone diving here for a day and then gone somewhere else for the night. Could have, should have. Will next time.
After an hour conditions stabilized and the wind speed decreased. When ocean drama is threatening, I sit around fantasizing about a decrease in wind speed. I hope for it, watch for it, anticipate it. When it happened my relief was great.
I tried to go back to sleep. In the morning we rejoiced over the calmer conditions and prepared for a scuba dive, but the wind built and little whitecaps formed out on the sea. We were both nervous and decided to move on to our next destination. We left the anchorage swiftly and traveled a few hours to Isla San Diego.
I felt victorious, energized and humbled. We visited a dreamy place, pushed the envelope and tasted risk. My entire body was buzzing.