I'd had it. I was overheated, exhausted, sick and nothing was working right. What do you do when cruising is going badly?

That Time I Wanted Off the Boat

This was me last week. 

I’m hot. Beyond overheated. Exhausted. Sick. We just had to repair the watermaker, and then we discovered that there is a defective fitting on our spare tank of propane so it’s useless . . . and we’re virtually out of propane in our primary tank. As I put the boat into gear to pull the anchor so we can get a refill, the engine overheat alarm shrieks. Egads, now what?

Dave’s as tired and hot as I am and we’re not exactly polite to each other as he asks me why the hell I shut the engine down as he was raising the anchor, and I inform him of the alarm that he somehow failed to hear.

Right then, all I really wanted was off the boat and into a motel with air conditioning. Were we nuts to be out cruising? Too old? Wrong to go to the Bahamas in summer?

When I told a cruising friend about that day, she encouraged me to write about it. “You and I know those days happen to everyone. There are times when we all hate cruising and long for the comforts of shore life. New cruisers need to know that they’re normal to have those feelings . . . and how you deal with those times.”

Okay. Here’s the story of how things were going badly and how we got back on track . . .

The last couple weeks have been hot here in the Bahamas — hot and extremely humid. Dave and I are pretty heat tolerant, cruising six summers in the Sea of Cortez and doing numerous summer tent camping trips when temps have been over 100° F. But those times, we were always able to swim multiple times a day. Now, Dave had a mildly infected cut on his leg from a branch across a trail he’d been hiking on, and was staying out of the water while it healed. I didn’t want to jump in when he couldn’t.

Sweat poured off both of us and t-shirts soaked through within 15 minutes of putting them on. We were drinking water faster than the refrigerator could cool it down.

A week before, I’d come down with a nasty cold that had me feeling crappy in general and kept me up coughing at night. My symptoms didn’t warrant a trip to a clinic, but I wasn’t improving either.

Add in the heat and an anchorage with significant swell from various directions over the course of a day (so a stern anchor or swell bridle didn’t really help when things changed at 3 AM), and I wasn’t getting much sleep. I’m sure that the lack of sleep was a big part on why I wasn’t getting over the cold, as well as contributing to my overall rotten feeling.

There were some back of the mind things. It’s hurricane season. We’d heard from two friends with serious health problems. We still hadn’t decided what we wanted to do in the next two months in the Bahamas.

We’d had to do various unexpected repairs. And then discovered the propane problem.

Individually small things, but it felt like everything was going wrong and I was in no shape to cope.

I’d had it.

Luckily, I have a pretty perceptive husband. Two minutes after I shut the engine down for overheating, he knew the cause was nothing serious: a broken alternator belt. More importantly, he recognized that I was at my limit. He was close himself, but not quite there. He was still functioning. Before starting on even the first bit of repair, he sat me down and gave me the coldest drink we had. And then we talked.

No, I didn’t really hate cruising.

The biggest thing I needed was sleep, both to kick the cold and to feel better in general. To sleep better, I needed to be cooler and I needed a less rolly anchorage.

Dave declared his leg healed enough that we could go swimming a couple times a day. We could run the watermaker longer so that we could spray ourselves down after swims and at other times. I rearranged things in the freezer so that we could put a couple of bottles of water in to get really cold and swap them out as we drank them. A couple of bottles of rehydration drink each day also did wonders. That all helped with the being cooler problem.

After replacing the alternator belt, we moved about 12 miles to a much less rolly anchorage. I normally hate to take much in the way of OTC meds, but taking cold meds and cough syrup around the clock for a couple days let me sleep much better and feel better when I was awake.

Being virtually out of propane? While our initial reaction had been to head immediately to the one town nearby where we could get the tank refilled, we quickly came to the conclusion that propane was a much lower priority than getting me feeling better. Town would be a series of errands and the anchorage likely to have swell . . . plus just the general stress of being a much more crowded place than many other nearby anchorages.

We had enough propane for morning coffee (and could even boil water on the grill if need be) and plenty of “no cook” food we could have for meals (thank you to Liz who left a comment recently that you could prepare couscous by just letting it sit for 20 minutes, no cooking needed).

Staying in a calm, quiet anchorage for a few days was a much better choice. Pretty quickly, things weren’t so overwhelming. After the first day, in fact, I even felt up to doing a little hiking each day . . . followed by a swim and then a nap.

I feel much better — I’m still hot, but not to the point of overheating. I’m not exhausted. I’m pretty well over the cold. The watermaker and the alternator belt were both easy fixes. We got propane before we totally ran out. We’ve dealt with hurricane season as long as we’ve been cruising. We made a rough plan for the next two months.

A total reset on my attitude.

We’re right to be out here cruising. We’re not too old. Our friends’ health problems are a reminder to do what we can as long as we can. Summer is a great time in the Bahamas. It’s gorgeous, the water is crystal clear and the perfect temperature for swimming. I love my life!

I'd had it. I was overheated, exhausted, sick and nothing was working right. What do you do when cruising is going badly?

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80 Comments
  • Toni Borrett
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    O yes, have had those days when I’m suffering for HIS dream + swear I’m getting off at the next port. But then you see dolphins, whales, turtles, sunsets..

  • Mike Muscara
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Tequila?

  • Sylvia Williams Boehmer
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Thank you for posting this. I think your dose of reality will be eye-opening for those who view the cruising life as one idyllic day after another. You are an amazing couple and I really admire what you are doing!

  • Rebecca Frana-Guthrie
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Carolyn thank you for sharing with us the thoughts and actions you and your husband took; what an excellent approach to solving a set of overwhelming problems. The method is.basic and foundational and can apply to life’s sistuations no matter on land or at sea. Bottom line; closer relationship and more meaningful life. Thank you again!

  • Mary Kopecky
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Thank you for sharing! Good info

  • Lori Steinbrunner
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    As they say, it’s not all sunsets and rum drinks. Kudos to you for writing about the rest of the story. Glad you’re feeling better.

  • Susan Dunham
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Great post!! Thank you for sharing!

  • Paula Richard
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Soooo been there, but still counting the days until we get our new boat and are ready to head out again.

  • Darcy Soeters
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    I too have those days of, “wth am I doing on a boat!?” You are not alone!!! For me tho the good always out weigh the bad!

  • Sally Weeks
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Yes been there. Almost bought a plane ticket home twice!

  • Bonnie Gibson-Cunningham
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Thanks for sharing, Carolyn. Living on a boat is hard work, but worth it. It’s hard to explain to friends without feeling like I’m whining. That was perfect. Glad you’re feeling better. (I couldn’t survive without a swim over 85F!)

  • tami
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    I have to admire your moxie in putting it all out there. Great lesson about coping with what is one of my fears. Thank you

  • Le Ann Thurman
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    I am so glad you were able to rest and feel much better now. You described a situation that I wondered, how would I handle this when we start cruising? As always, you are an inspiration to me. Stay well

  • Wendy McCoy
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Great story, thanks for sharing the good with the bad. We all need to hear that, especially from an experienced cruiser. ⛵⚓

  • Sailing Goodvibes
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Thanks for an honest insight in what sailing life can also be like. We are only just starting on our journey but it’s very good to know it’s not all going to be easy – but you get over it!

  • Candy Ann Williams
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Glad you are better. This is such a good article for newbies….and us ‘oldies’ too. It’s great for newbies to see its not all roeses…and good for everyone to know we aren’t the only ones that can feel this way!! Take care!

  • Debra Turner
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    OH MY GOSH!! Just two days ago, I felt exactly the same! I actually said that I would give my right arm to be cooking in a “real kitchen” with room to work!!

  • Georgie Moon
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Oh I feel your pain. I don’t have as much patience as you, though! We have been sailing in Greece for the past five summers, and it is hot, hot, hot. Sometimes I’m desperate to escape the boat, I just don’t want anything more to do with it. This year my husband knows how much I crave going back to UK, so that’s where I am at the moment, with my luscious grandchildren. I’m not missing the boat at all. I’ve left the husband on board, in Corfu. When I’ve had enough of showers with unlimited water, a washing machine, retail therapy, I’ll go back again to join him…….

  • Beth Nencetti
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Carolyn, thank you so much for writing this. My husband and I are about 1-2 years from liveaboard and I have these fears. I thought it was because we were so green to sailing and living aboard. It is good to know that even the experienced live aboards have challenging days. There are similar frustrations on land and they can become just as overwhelming. Yet, we persevere. It is all about perspective. Thank you again and hope you and Dave are 100% again soon.

  • Samm Souvigny
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Julie Rachelle bahaha like this couples page they always have good info,;)

  • Drena Jacinta Galarza
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    These posts are so important! Thank you for sharing!

  • Tony Passafiume Jr.
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Great story. Thanks for sharing and the inspiration. Miss you guys!

  • Barbara Adams Lienhard
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Thanks for sharing. I felt that just last night. When it’s too hot I really don’t think straight. And it’s been very humid and very hot in Florida this summer. And no AC and we’re at a dock sandwiched between other boats !! Glad to hear it’s not just me! Happy you’re better and I am too, don’t want to give up this lifestyle and the heat isn’t going to beat this lady either !!!

  • Barbara Garter
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Thank you. I appreciate the encouragement you always give

  • Lily Soileau
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    I think every serious boater has had a love/hate moment with their boats. Those few hate moments make the love moments better! Wishing you calm seas and cool breezes!!

  • Chris Morton
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Tracie Turner Joiner

  • Jacki B
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Great article, thanks for sharing!! My husband and I have been livingaboard for 2 months now. It makes me feel better that it not just a newbie feeling.

  • Diane
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Hi Carolyn, what a great dose of reality. I am a newbie to the liveaboard/ cruising. We start our journey in September. You have given us so many many helpful tips and I thank you. I know it’s not going to be all butterflies,roses and challenges beyond my dreams but I am looking forward to it all. Still in dream land but ready for what comes our way. Again thank you for your insight, blogs and helpful tips

  • CJ Grabenstein
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    I feel ya! We’ve had some rough days just getting started on this adventure but yesterday was one of my best days full of love and gratitude and I ended the day with a wonderful loaf of bread (my first success!) thanks to your wonderful guidance!

  • Susan Geelmuyden
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Glad you’re both doing well-I enjoyed this “side” of the Boat Galley-shows vulnerability and keeps writing style fresh. Enjoy your summer!!

  • Christine Dumaine Springfield
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Thank you for sharing your frustrations. After many months with no generator, very little power and then a broken fresh water pump, I about lost it too. Sometimes it seems crap is breaking faster than it can be fixed. It’s so comforting to find that others have survived through it as well.

  • Martin Henry
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Chin up!

  • Sara Burns
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Love your process for prioritizing amongst many disparate and upsetting factors. And grilled coffee!

  • Kristi Cilles
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Sometimes, focusing on what is going well, or being grateful is what it takes to turn those awful times around. But I know, it is always easier said than done!! I’m happy you were able to get through your rough patch.

  • Shawna
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    So happy you’re back to realizing you are where you’re supposed to be and feeling better in general. I don’t live on a boat, I don’t even own a boat (kayaks don’t count, I assume! LOL) but I have gotten so much good information on living in a small space in general that I have applied to my conversion van which I have fixed up to hopefully next year begin my travels around the USA. Take care and hope you are entirely over that cold real soon.

  • Rex Edward Taylor
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Let’s make a list of all the things that will go wrong and compare notes. We might add a chapter on canoeing!

  • Shirley Merrell Long
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Great read! We all have those days.

  • Rosalind Franks
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Thank you for sharing this story.

  • Karen Casley
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    This was great to read thank you!

  • Liz Andrews
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Great article…. We’ve all felt this way!!
    Most recently last November…. 3 days of gales with constant thunder and lightening in Black Point…. Too rough to leave the boat….
    Oh the thoughts that roll through your mind…
    Then the wind goes down the sun comes out and life is so good again…

  • carey moluchi
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Just brilliant! Should be required reading for any cruiser. Glad you are feeling better and enjoying the trip.

  • Dee
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Thanks so much for sharing! We are weekenders to date and I have been ready to put up a “free boat, husband included” sign on numerous occasions. It’s nice to know we aren’t alone. End of the day, a bad day on our cruiser is better than any common day at the office. We love our cruising life!

  • Cheryl Bular
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    I think this is one reason your blog is so popular. You honestly say it like it is. It gets hot, cold, rough sailing, beautiful waters, breakdowns. Its the boating life. Stuff happens just like living on land. “Attitude – the difference between ordeal and adventure”. Glad your feeling better. Don’t give up the ship. 🙂

  • Ann Easterling Alston
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    I needed that, thanks for posting some hard truths and reality about full time cruising!

  • Teresa Vaughn
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Sweet Lady, know that feeling. Hug Dave from us. Fair wind’s !

  • Shirley Martenson
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Radio for a new crew & a promise for a stress free vacation next time.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

      It’s not a vacation . . . this is our home. And I’m normally not a reluctant cruiser. But just like living ashore, there are some days . . .

  • MaryBelle - OverTheRainbow (ex)
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Thanks Carolyn! Sleep helps mega. Also getting in the water and scrubbing the bottom. Somehow getting off the boat yet nearby and cooler helped. We didn’t have much fresh water for showers but did have fans for sleeping. Hope you get up to the Abacos, especially Green Turtle.

  • Barbara Hart
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Great post. Glad you worked thru it together. Nice to remember that no matter where you are, life happens.

  • Kirsi Uotila
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    In addition to couscous, keep some ramen aboard. It is actually a good snack dry. But you soak it and it become noodles. No boiling needed. Depends on temperature, but it does not take too long. Add veg, tuna, and makes a hearty meal.

    Been there with the hating cruising.

  • LaDonna Thomas
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    We all have those days! I thank my lucky stars that Denis and I don’t “lose it” on the same day/time! We each can calm the other. It does seem to run in periods where things break quicker than they can be fixed. Happy you are feeling better. Hugs to you and Dave and pats to Paz!!!

  • Sherry Day
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    i use a single burner electric hot plate as a back up. Also a 12v hot pot. And I have had a few meltdown moments in some of the most beautiful places in the world.

  • Donna Blagg
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Thank you so much for this post. While I have never wanted to absolutely call it quits in our cruising, after a day or two of reflection, there have been a few days over many years when I thought I might just. Your post gives me inspiration to see the bad periods through to the almost always good days. We’ve cruised the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Jamaica, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and southwest Florida over a five year period of continual living aboard. On one our most recent trips to the Tortugas, we blew out our furling head sail in a sudden squall, lost our self steering, got our mainsail hung-up on a slide that would not slide, hooked onto a defunct mooring when we thought we had just anchored in a safe spot, had a catamaran drag anchor and come down on us during a storm causing damage to our hull and lifeline stations, etc. What a trip! It was so hot and humid my short hair did not ever dry out from the heat and humidity during our two week stay in the Tortugas. I had thought I had maybe given up cruising from that trip. I even ended up with a torn rotator cuff and subsequent surgery from some heavy weather events. But we are back at it. Since then we have taken a two month trip to the Abacos and will be headed up the intra-coastal by mid October with NC as an interim destination, but eventually to Maine. This week we are adding AC/heat to our small boat. I think that is the only way I can live aboard comfortably given our future cruising destinations (east coast of US.). I just can’t take the heat and humidity anymore, especially since we will not be in the beautiful clear waters of the Bahamas with a quick refreshing swim at hand.

    Thank you, Carolyn, for all of your helpful posts, but especially this one to let me know that I am not alone in my occasional “want to get off this boat.”

  • Crich Mac
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Love this! And it totally spoke to me and I am not boat bound! I think it’s true for all of us whether cruising or not, and I needed a reminder! when it all piles up and feels overwhelming. Stop breathe, (pray if so inclined) and start on one item at a time together in order of urgency.

    • Teresa Vaughn
      Posted at 17 August 2016 Reply

      She is the most wonderful person. Only a couple of balls away this past winter. Dave is sweet as honey too.

  • Boni Rothmann
    Posted at 17 August 2016 Reply

    Thanks for sharing! At least you have a partner!!

  • April Spiller
    Posted at 17 August 2016 Reply

    I’m glad to read the post, and also glad that you worked through it. I love reading your blog!!

  • Florian Wolf
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Well, this even happens when you’re not on a boat – we live on a small tropical island in the Great Barrier Reef, and while everyone may think ‘paradise’ it sometimes can be just plain shite. What then is important is to take things easy, be compassionate with each other (as the two of you are), take a step back and have a look at why you initially came to the place / did what you did. Having a chat over a sundowner most of the time helps – and if not why not take a break from taking a break ? Cheers, Florian

  • Teresa Vaughn
    Posted at 17 August 2016 Reply

    She is the most wonderful person. Only a couple of balls away this past winter. Dave is sweet as honey too.

  • Barb Fonner
    Posted at 16 August 2016 Reply

    Wow…did this ever resonate with me. As first year cruisers at age 73, I’ve already been there more than a few times! Your post gave me such great perspective on this “syndrome”. Now I get it….O.K to feel overwhelmed… Cope, deal…and then move on! Thanks for the post!!!!

  • Tricia
    Posted at 17 August 2016 Reply

    A great writing about your experience right now on your boat. I am very impressed with your ability to write this article and not sound like you are feeling sorry for yourself. I have a blog and hesitate to say how it “really” is in the event that I will sound whiney and that people will not want to continue reading about our travels. I am figuring it out and like how you have done it.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 17 August 2016 Reply

      Thanks! I was really unsure about writing it, not wanting to sound as though I don’t enjoy cruising, but it’s true — there ARE bad days!

      • Florian Wolf
        Posted at 17 August 2016 Reply

        Well, I think it is important to be realistic in your expectations when you go cruising, but the funny thing is that no-one really talks about the ‘dark side of the moon’, as we don’t wanna be perceived as pussies or whingers. Like Barb mentioned earlier the best is to admit, cope, deal with it, and move on enjoying your journey.

        Carolyn, hats off for the ‘coming out’ !

  • Claire Ford
    Posted at 17 August 2016 Reply

    Such a great post. We had docked at a fuel dock once, and we had to be gone by 7:30 AM. I’m a late sleeper, so when I took the dog up for her morning walk, and a lady said, “What a wonderful lifestyle!” I looked at her and said, “Here I am at 6:30 in the morning getting ready to take off for an 8 hour day of travel. Not feeling it right now.” I’ve gotten over the same feelings of, “Get me off this boat!” but Jack and I have just bought a 40 footer, and we’ll be off again very soon!

  • Teddy Strickland
    Posted at 18 August 2016 Reply

    Ah, Love.

  • Gail Buck
    Posted at 18 August 2016 Reply

    Thank you Carolyn for sharing your story. I admire you so much! Don , my husband and I are just starting the cruising life and I already have had a few BAD days. Talking with your partner is so important. Feel better and I hope Dave’s injury is healed.

  • Susan Parker
    Posted at 18 August 2016 Reply

    Since we started cruising, I have kept a daily journal. I write about the good and the bad. It is not only therapeutic, it’s a great resource for future trips. When I say write, I mean with a pen and paper. I feel that it makes it more personal to me.

  • Nancy Tackis
    Posted at 18 August 2016 Reply

    Loved this post, Carolyn, and all these fun comments! We solved the too-hot summer situation in Georgetown, Bahamas by buying a second boat in Louisiana at a dock! It’s WAY hotter here and you can’t jump over the side (alligators!) but we have AC, more space (36′ trawler compared to our 36′ sailboat) incredible food, wonderful locals, and feel very blessed, indeed! Canadian mooring neighbors in Georgerown gave us the idea…they fly back and forth to homes up north! We hope to always live on boats and are on our 3rd and 4th, 27 years total! The bad days are very few, but people on land have them, too! : )

  • Ron
    Posted at 18 August 2016 Reply

    Home remedy, actually learned in Caribbean where I enjoy vacationing (Canadian winters being gentle & all). Take thumb size piece of ginger, either grate or slice thinly (skin on), add honey to taste dash of black pepper & chew. First off its delicious second it has a great way of dealing with bugs, ailments & nausea. I take this a least once a week all year long…no worries. Cheers

  • Jane Young
    Posted at 25 August 2016 Reply

    Thank you for showing us what happens when things *don’t* go well! It’s not all lock n locks and stovetop bread :)) And for reminding us, whether we’re on land or sea, to take a moment, back away from the broken ______, breathe, talk, AND have everything you might need on hand and the skills to use them! This could still have been a sad story if you didn’t have medicines, spare alternator belts, and the skill to apply all correctly. Thanks again!

  • Cathy Berry
    Posted at 16 February 2017 Reply

    So important to recognize that sometimes stopping and resting solves it all! As a newbie with a new experienced husband I sometimes feel completely overwhelmed but, would never give it up. We are not live aboard, but after the first year bringing her up from FL to New England and being up and down the coast, having her in the shop most of this year, makes me really miss her.
    I think this lesson applies off the boats too! We’re just able to ignore it better. Love your advice, I have learned so much reading the Boat Galley!

  • Lindsay Reetz
    Posted at 26 August 2017 Reply

    We are weekenders but are planning on going full time at some point in the future. We have a 2 year old and a 6 year old and had one of “those days” recently. After a rough day on the water in a storm, our children cried the rest of the day and night. They were only content being held on deck- and never slept until 7:00 am. I cried and said I will never move full time. My husband reminded me of our plan- to get a hotel or camp when I just can’t take it anymore. We don’t plan on going anywhere that a hotel overnight would be impossible, so that is our plan. For now. We are just waiting until the children grow up now.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 28 August 2017 Reply

      Sorry to hear about the bad day. Yes, sometimes a night off really helps. Another thing to try is if the weather is getting a little hairy, try to play with the kids to get their minds off what’s happening — they feed off your emotions, so keeping them calm and having fun will help you. I know, much easier said than done!

      • Cathy Berry
        Posted at 28 August 2017 Reply

        In addition to what Carolyn said, do you know why they cried. Did they feel sick, scared, tired, tired of the restriction of not being able to move around, if their first rough seas, the noise of the ocean on the hull ? Responses would be different to each. You didnt say how rough, but, storms are intimidating and they would pick up your response to all of the above too. Good luck!

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