Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: how cruising kills your Stuff

Snorkeling the Surins- Iona
rich in experiences, poor in Stuff

Standing in the dinghy and holding the toe rail of the Canadian boat, Gromit, we quickly moved from introductions to bon voyage wishes for our newest cruising friends. Totem had recently arrived in the anchorage, and these twenty minutes were all the time we’d have before Gromit and crew departed for Thailand. Would we like their Malaysian internet SIM card? How about the mobile SIM? We open up our various devices, remove the Thai cards that we won’t need any more, and make the obvious trade with a quick swap over the water.

We had reached this anchorage with just enough time for a brief overlap with the ketch Rutea. Our prior meeting with Neal and Ruthie was a flyby in 2009, as they motored out of a small bay in the Sea of Cortez while we motored in and loitered with the boats adjacent for a few minutes of greetings and anchorage tips. A touch over 20,000 cruising miles later, we finally intersected for a night in an anchorage and shared a few hours in Rutea’s cockpit that afternoon. The priority was a chance to get to know each other better, but it’s impossible to pass up the obvious swap. Before they left the next day, we did an informal exchange- our remaining Thai baht for their Malaysian ringgit. Their daughter had recently left the boat, and left behind art supplies she wouldn’t reclaim- would we like them? (Yes!)

Time for a swim!

The lovely Tenaya arrived a few weeks later for yet another anticipated (and brief) meeting. Katie, Tenaya’s co-captain, had contacted us a year or so ago for information about cruising in Papua New Guinea. I took one look at their Facebook cover page with a dinghy packed full of happy kids in Vanuatu, and knew these were my people! Another brief but sweet encounter. Some swaps naturally occurred. Tenaya is being shipped to the North Sea, and isn’t allowed to have jerry cans: would we like their deck jugs? How about the stack of travel guides for Borneo, where we’ll be headed this year? We had another Thai internet SIM left by our friend Frank, still loaded with data- would they like it?

Actively sharing from what you have happens naturally with cruisers who are far from home. As soon as something isn’t needed, we try to pass it along.

Cards in the cockpit

The relatively minimalist lifestyle makes this easier. Moving aboard means getting rid of the overwhelming majority of your Stuff: today, we live with just a small fraction of our belongings from prior land-life. The less we have, the lighter and happier we feel, and perhaps ironically, the easier it is to give away.

Back at home, our garage held storage boxes with contents we no longer remembered. Other people have storage units – multiples even – that have been filled for years, with a considerable sum as the ransom for fear they might be needed, someday. On a boat, there’s no room to keep things you don’t need, and that in itself is a gift. Getting rid of those things that you don’t need (and if you have it packed away in a box, or a storage unit, there’s not much of a case for “need”) is liberating.

Gunung Agung - Totem- Sunset

So when Kathy came back to Love Song from a trip home to the USA last week and stopped by to bring us a stack of magazines, I understood perfectly. She divided them between us and another boat; we’ll read them, trade, then move them along. When we got to Telaga, we brought a bag of clothes we no longer needed that Kathey’s boys might fit into. She had a t-shirts that were perfect for our girls.

Being adept at reusing what you have is a good skill for cruising remotely, and even not so remotely. Most cruisers have reduced dramatically in the transition to living aboard a boat. Recycling by passing along to others whatever has become excess, whether it’s a spare piece of teak or a good book, is natural.

Liberated minimalists know we feel the love when you read this on the Sailfeed website.

6 Responses

  1. I have what could be an ultimate story in passing the unwanted/un-needed along. Our son had been backpacking Europe for 6 weeks. Neither he nor his friend were in shape to backpack for 6 weeks when they started. A week into the adventure they bought a car. Their reasoning was, “we could drive the Chunnel and end up with a lot more stamps in the Passport. After 6 weeks as they parked the car in the parking lot of the airport planning on leaving the keys inside, they met two backpackers, fresh off the plane from the US. They struck up a conversation with them and then suggested they take the car and then handed them the keys, telling them just to pass it on when they didn’t want it anymore.

  2. I’ve never fussed about stuff, 12 years travelling and living in a small cabin on big boats meant that I didn’t have a lot of bric a brac to store anyway. The problems always started when we tried to go back to normal life and live on the shore. Then we would slowly start to accumulate. Now we are living aboard our own boat full time the best part of that transition was the sorting, selling, gifting and donating that we did prior. We did also indeed put a lot in storage, which has now been whittled down to one small car trailer, which is only half full. I love having little and look forward to cruising in the future where I have already started a small bag of leftover clothes to trade with locals.

  3. Behan
    Thanks for the blog… I’m enjoying browsing through it and reminding myself all the things I love about the cruising life, while spending a quiet and chilly winter in Holland preparing the boat for the next adventure. I do particularly love the escape from the acquisitiveness of modern life that you speak about so eloquently, but the generosity given and taken is also a delight. While cruising in Maine on our last boat, our engine gave up the struggle. I was sold a very serviceable low hours Volvo Penta diesel for $1 which got us on our way again. It must have been worth several thousand. Hope you’re having a good passage over to Sri Lanka.

    1. Peter- what a great story about your diesel engine! Truly the opportunity to be in that circle of generosity is beautiful, whatever your part in it. We had a fabulous passage, thank you!

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