EveryDay Life: Dirt Home vs Boat Home

People often ask us, “How can you possibly live on a 31-foot boat for extended periods of time?” We decided to set up a new section, titled “EveryDay Life” to record the knowledge and experiences that we have had, after a year living on a 31-foot-long, 10-foot-wide, 3-foot draft Ranger Tug.

Disclaimer: A lot of what we initially knew came from our experience with a 3-week trip down the Snake and Columbia Rivers (Clarkston, WA to Portland, OR) in May of 2016 on our Ranger 25, also named Then Again. That adventure showed us how much we liked river cruising, so The Great Loop was a feasible option for us. It also showed us that we needed more room than what we had, especially since Chip and Dayle Anderson (“the boys” or “the dogs”) would be along for future adventures. Although they are only 15 lbs each, that makes for an energetic 30 lbs and a whole new class of supplies to be stowed.

We will add other sections of this blog that document choosing a date and a boat, so we will not recap them here.

“Dirt Home” vs “Boat Home”

Almost everyone has a “Dirt Home,” defined by us and many others as a land-based dwelling that sits on a piece of Earth and is not easily portable. For us, that is our home in Vancouver, WA, on the northwest side of the Columbia River, just across from Portland OR.

Boat owners may also have a “Boat Home.” We say “may” because not a lot of people spend more than day trips or maybe a weekend on the small, go-fast boats that are used for fishing, water skiing, wake boarding or day trips. Most people with pontoon boats don’t consider them a “boat home.” Boats that are not “boat homes” are often thought of by their owners as “portable fishing platforms,” with the goal to get to/from the fishing areas in record time.

Then Again is considered a trawler/tug, a form of power boat that usually travels at 6-8 mph. Many sailboats are “boat homes.” What all “boat homes” have in common is that people live on them for extended periods of time.

Living Space

Dirt Home

This would be the interior square footage of your home. In our case, it’s a little over 1550 square feet, with three bedrooms, two baths, living room, family room, kitchen/dining area and two car garage that is used to store stuff while the vehicles sit in the driveway. When we misplace something, it can be a chore to try to find it, especially if it’s not in the usual list of suspect locales.

Boat Home

If you multiply length times beam, we have around 275 square feet, with the widest part being 10 feet wide. We have an outside seating area (the cockpit) which is about 5’ x 10’, and is the most spacious space on the boat. Inside, we have a space called the salon/dining area/kitchen/navigator’s seat and captain’s seat. Finally, we have a space called the V berth (because it is at the front of the boat, where it narrows). That is where we sleep and also where our head (toilet/shower combo) is located. When we misplace something, we mutter, “It’s got to be within 31 feet…”

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The V berth – our sleeping area and storage spot.


Dirt Home

Besides the various drawers and closets on the inside of the house, we have the aforementioned garage, a backyard shed, and two storage units. It’s a lot of “stuff,” and we had already downsized from a 2300 sq. foot house in southern California when we retired to Vancouver. We can accumulate a lot of specialized stuff without really thinking it through as to where it will go. Christmas decorations are a good example of this. We have large crates for the boys, as well as their own food and water area. We each have our own offices where we keep our laptops, the printer and wireless router set up, along with files and other things we just couldn’t live without.

Boat Home

There is more storage than you would think on a boat of this size. The downside is that it’s not usually contiguous. For example, there are at least 5 places on our boat where we store clothes: a small cupboard with shelves, underneath the V berth in bins, rolled up on the shelves that surround the bed, hanging up in the mid-berth (affectionately called “The Cave” by Ranger Tug owners) and in two large bins in the front end of the cave. These same locations also store towels, sheets, and pillows.

I initially labeled one of the big bins as “Cold Weather Clothes.” More realistically, it should be labeled “Other Weather Clothes.” We have experienced lows in the mid 20’s and highs in the upper 90’s, but not on the same day, so there is time to unload the cave to switch out clothes.

There are three spaces to store dry food: Cupboards in the galley (kitchen) area, which are shared with plates, bowls, pots, pans, and a crock pot. Plus, a small spice rack. Most glasses are stored along a ledge that runs the length of the galley area. Other dry food is stored in open topped sea grass baskets that sit on the lid to the cave. Dog food is stored in the cave.

The cave is also home for the spare parts bin, the documentation and manuals bin, a bin of paper goods, folding chairs, folding cockpit table, a portable wireless printer/scanner, and various lines hanging on a closet rail. A 3’ x 4’ area serves as the kennel, with two dog beds and their blankets. Tools, spare parts, and the USCG required flares also share the cave.

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The “cave,” which serves as storage and a dog sleeping spot.

Underneath our dining table is the large computer bag that serves as the portable office and file location, two fans, the trash bin, trash bags, and occasionally, 12-packs of soda. (Soda has become a special treat for us, since it takes up a lot of space.)

The small cupboard in the bathroom has space for laundry supplies, spare toilet tissue, and toilet chemicals. There is a shelf where we store our toiletries. The medicine cabinet is just about useless because of the spacing of the shelves.

One important thing to contemplate is what will happen when you run into rough weather and your boat is being tossed around. The trip across the Gulf of Mexico gave us the opportunity to re-think where some things were stored, since they ended up crashing onto the floor (deck). We have lived in earthquake country for most of our lives and thought we knew how to secure things. After that trip, we are much more proficient.

Bottom line is that Louise uses a lot of various sized bins to store just about everything. Bins keep the damp out and are easy to handle and stack. Louise has a PhD in “Bin-er-izing.”


Dirt Home

Two full size fridges (the house fridge and the garage fridge, used for beverages). Both fridges have deep freezer compartments. The house fridge has an ice maker, water dispenser, well, you get the picture. Easy to stock up on frozen food when there’s a sale. Ice cream everyday if we wanted to buy it, in multiple flavors.

Boat Home

Think back to when you were in college or had your first apartment. You probably had one of those “dorm-size” fridges. Or, if you travel a lot, think of the fridge in the typical hotel room. Yep, that is our main fridge, with a 6” freezer compartment. We use open topped bins to store edibles like cheese, cold cuts, eggs, pre-cooked bacon, milk, and an occasional vegetable. It’s not that we are anti-veggie. The boat came with a wine cooler across from the fridge, but I like chilled whites and this cooler doesn’t get that cold.

However, it is PERFECT for storing fresh produce. There is a very small cockpit fridge that is suitable as a beer and cider fridge. We also have an ice chest for other beverages, like sodas, water, and wine. We have to manage the ice in the ice chest, so we are often frequent customers of the marina store. Again, more storage than you think, just not contiguous.

Grocery Shopping

Dirt Home

The nearest grocery is about a mile away, less than a 10-minute drive, from our home. We know the layout so we can be in and out quickly. Multiple trips in a week are not uncommon, especially if we run out of something or need to grab that last ingredient for a particular recipe. No problem to stock up on sale items, especially paper goods (which can be stored in the garage, for example). It’s usually a quick few steps into the house with multiple bags and lots of counter space for unloading.

Boat Home

No stocking up on sale items because there is no place to put them. The steward’s department (Louise) now plans meals ingredient by ingredient, including the amounts of spices and condiments. If we are running low on something like olive oil, whoever is cooking needs to tell the steward, so it can be added to the list. Ah yes, the list. A vital document when shopping. Very little room for impulse buys – they need to be vetted as to where they will be stored. Although we have a microwave, we don’t use it very much – mostly popcorn and only when on shore power. There is no freezer room for prepared meals.

We spend more money for pre-packaged food than at the dirt home because there is no place to store a bunch of lettuce, full stalks of celery or other bulky vegetables. Pre-cut celery, peeled carrots and mini cukes are the ideal size for the produce fridge. Potatoes and onions are bought in the quantity that will be used quickly, since they are stored in some of the sea grass baskets. Found out that bananas don’t do well and that apples are a much better fresh fruit choice. No boxes of cereal for us. We pay for the individual servings of Cheerios because they are self-contained and can be eaten underway. Luna bars and bagels are also popular prepared breakfast foods.

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Afternoon munchies and drinks in the cockpit.

If we run out of something and it’s not the weekly provisioning day, then we substitute. Potatoes too soft for mashing? Well, rice sounds good, for example. Pasta sauce in a jar has become a staple in our kitchen. Boxed dinners such as Velveeta Cheese Beef Stroganoff (one pan, only needs milk and hamburger) are favorites of ours.

Any meats that are going into the freezing compartment are re-wrapped in zip locks with identifying info on the outside, with the date, what it is, and weight. It’s all about the space to put things in.

What started out as a convenience has become highly sought after by us: online ordering and delivery to the boat. With online ordering, we can physically inventory all the ingredients with the recipes in front of us and minimize the “Oh, yeah, I forgot that we had to toss out the salt because it had clumped up.” Most of the chains remember your orders, so that is another good way to check what you might be running out of. Most of the Kroger brands have this service and some others like Publix use Instacart.

Getting groceries to the boat usually involves the following steps: Find a place to park in the marina. Find a dock cart (usually looks like a wheelbarrow with squared off sides). Hope that you can get everything into one dock cart. Push the dock cart down the ramp (sometimes at a 20-degree angle depending on the tide). Take a long time to get to your boat, since it’s usually tied up at the far end of the marina. One person gets on the boat and the other person carefully wheels the dock cart onto the pier to which the boat is tied up. One by one carefully transfer the bags to the boat. Pile up all the bags inside so they can be unloaded and their contents stored. Louise usually puts things away, while Lenny does the reverse journey with the dock cart. Note: It’s exceedingly rude not to return the dock cart to the entrance of the marina.


Dirt Home

We both cook. Breakfast is separate and usual choices are quick bread, bagels, salmon and cream cheese from Seize the Bagel, microwave breakfast pastries, fruit, and occasionally eggs and bacon or sausage. We often eat lunch out. Otherwise meat and cheese platters, cottage cheese and fruit, or soup or salad. We also eat dinner out at least a couple of times a week. Otherwise, since we both cook, it could be anything from Chinese food, barbecued meat or fish, roasted poultry or meat, or something from the crockpot. We have five burners, plus a large oven and a microwave. Plenty of pots, pans, bowls, plates, glasses, silverware, and utensils. For special occasions, a set of Noritake china and two complete sets of sterling silver. Plenty of space for spices and sauces, even if used infrequently.

Boat Home

We both cook. Most days breakfast is something cold, like bagels, homemade quick bread, Luna bars or the prepackaged cups of Cheerios (Lenny) or Honey Nut Cheerios (Louise). Only room to store about six of the prepackaged cereals. Just like at our dirt home, eggs are special occasion items, and only with the pre-cooked bacon. We pretty much do the same for lunch as at the dirt home, without the soup if we are on the move. We have aqua plastic bowls that contain our lunches. Food slides off plates when we are underway. Bowls are plastic so they can be re-used. For dinner, we will usually eat out at least once per marina to enjoy the local cuisine. Otherwise, we favor one pot meals, crock pot meals, or something cooked in the Omnia Stove Top Oven.

The Omnia is one of the best purchases we made for the boat (originally had it on the R25, which had no oven). We bake quick breads in it, roast potatoes and onions in it, and roast chicken and vegetables in it. It takes up very little space and we have adapted our recipes to take advantage of its specific characteristics. Although there is an oven on our boat, it barely contains a 1.5 qt casserole with the lid on it. We have maybe used it five or six times since we began the Loop in 2018. No room to roast a chicken or pork ribs.

We thought we would barbecue out more, but it is a pain to get the grill out from its storage location and a hot grill cannot be put away in the evening. It has to wait to be cleaned until morning when it has cooled. Usually, we are in the process of getting underway, so it’s a very inconvenient task to add to the usual checklist.

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The Galley, or Kitchen.

Other excellent kitchen buys include the 10-piece Kuuma nesting pot set with removable handles. When stored, it takes up about 10” h x 10” w space. We treated ourselves to a Calphalon knife set, with a sharpening block that sits underneath one of our windows on a ledge. We had to carefully measure the available space to make sure it would fit. We have a very sharp set of knives at home and did not want to deprive ourselves on the boat. (It’s not camping, after all.) We also have real flatware, not plastic, and use very few paper plates.

We have collapsible colanders in assorted sizes, silicone spatulas and cooking utensils, so none of them will rust. We ordered extra place settings of our everyday shatterproof dinnerware pattern with coordinating beer glasses, soup bowls with handles on them, three nesting sizes of mixing bowls, four coffee cups that take up minimal room, and four high grade plastic stemless wine glasses. Hopefully, you have seen the pattern: Everything serves multiple purposes, takes up minimal space, and is non-breakable.


Dirt Home

We have a large capacity washer and dryer set. We have a dedicated hamper. We have two laundry baskets. We can do laundry whenever we like, usually once a week, since we have lots of clothes and underwear and won’t run out. Our laundry room is clean. We can take the laundry baskets into the bedroom and fold clothes on the bed and put in our 10-drawer dresser or hang them on individual hangers in our closets.

Boat Home

Quarters are the most precious currency, followed by small bills. We have to carefully count our underwear because not all marinas have laundry facilities. If the marina has a laundry room, there are usually only one or two washer/dryer sets that are shared with all the boaters. Some marinas have limited hours on the laundry rooms. We have one laundry basket to catch dirty clothes, which is stored under the V berth. We put all our dirty clothes in black trash bags when we are ready to transport them.

We have taken Uber to laundromats, or, if we have a rental car, have gone a-hunting for a clean, safe place. We figure laundry can be a 2- to 3-hour chunk of time, depending on how much there is to do and the quality of the machines.


Dirt Home

Scrape plates into disposer and run it. Load the dishwasher after a meal, or the next meal, or the next day. Run it on rinse and hold. Run it on wash with heated dry once a day. Unload whenever someone needs something that is in the dishwasher. Do pots and pans by hand. Let air dry on ample counter space.

Boat Home

Carefully scrape and wipe plates into trash bag, making sure no food particles are left on plates. Make sure there is enough water on board to wash dishes; if not, ask Lenny to fill up the 80-gallon water tank. Make sure that there is hot water, either from having run the engine that day or by turning on the water heater breaker on the electrical panel. Wash dishes by hand, making sure not to use too much water. If getting underway, dry all dishes and put away securely. Otherwise, let them air dry in the dish rack. For those not in the dish rack and that are on the counter, dry and then put away.

Personal Hygiene

Dirt Home

We each have our own bathroom, with lots of cupboard and drawer space. We can take hot showers as long as we want, with continuously running water. You can flush the toilet as many times as you want and can use the nice two-ply toilet paper. Got a clog? No problem. Just use the plunger or else call a plumber.

Boat Home

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The Head (toilet).

There are also two toilets on this boat: one in the main head, and one in the cave area. The cave one is advertised as the “day head”, which assumes that if you have guests on board, you will not want them going into the main head, which is located next to the v berth sleeping quarters. Both heads use fresh water and a button to flush. We don’t use the day head at all, since the padded shelf that covers it is handy to store dog food, beer or other items. Toilet paper needs to be one ply and marked “Septic Safe.” Scotts 1000 sheet is found in almost every grocery store and we have not had any clogs.

When using the head, you need to make sure of two things: is there enough fresh water in the tank to flush it and is there enough room in the black water (aka sewage) tank to hold what you are flushing? Fresh water is easy to determine – just look at the (mostly) reliable analog gauge next to the cockpit door. It’s questionable if you only appear to have a quarter of a tank. However, refilling the tank can be done wherever we are tied up. Much more crucial is the color of the tank level indicator. Green means basically empty, yellow ranges from 1/3 full to 3/4s full and red means you have 6 flushes until the flushing mechanism locks out and nothing more can go into the tank until it’s pumped out. (My brother Larry calls that the “No Shit” indicator.) Pump outs are only available at certain marinas, often during certain times only. Managing the black water and the fuel are two of Lenny’s important considerations when planning our stops. Sometimes, we have to go to the pump out station, sometimes the portable pump out can be done at our berth.

Lenny and I do different things about showers. Lenny likes to use the marina showers since they have unlimited hot water and more space. He just takes a towel, a bar of soap and some shampoo and he is good to go. I much prefer to shower on board, since I have a lot more things to take with me if I am going to the marina shower. Again, water conservation is key. Get wet, turn off shower. Wash hair and face turn on shower, rinse quickly, turn off shower. Wash the rest of me. Turn on shower, rinse quickly, turn off shower. We have hot water on board, so that is not an issue. The determining factor is how much water do we have on board.

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The on-board shower with the anti-splash panels.

The Bottom Line

Everyday Life on Then Again has the same challenges as everyday life in Vancouver, WA. You just deal with them as creatively as possible, wherever you are.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Carla says:

    If I’d thought about it we’d have invited you to do your laundry at our house when you were in New Smyrna Beach! And I’d have brought you bananas for breakfast!

  2. Jim McKinlock says:

    Your everyday life blog brought me here and I ended up binge-reading all your past blogs. I really enjoyed reading of your travels. I hope to do a similar cruise when we retire in a couple years. Wishing you Happy, safe travels.

  3. judith k allen says:

    I’ve wondered how you manage the travel and live for so long. We did a trip in a motor home during Cliff’s sabbatical. And no one showered in it, it was for storage. Love the boat home vs dirt home!
    Judi Allen

  4. Bill Dupont says:

    Lenny, There is a Ranger get together here in Charlevoix. Must be at least 30 Ranger tugs at the local marina. Nice to see all the folks here at the dock from various ports around the midwest.

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