Happy Campers: Boat Styles

Artist and general “maker” Tim Clark and his wife Jackie have been living on a boat for about a year because the end of the world may be looming. We came across their story on the blog, Radio Silence, and had to get in touch for more details. Here, Clark explains how The Walking Dead encouraged this decision, what it took to get the boat and make it ready to live on, the skills they’ve learned along the way and how to tell the haters to kick rocks. 

Sailboat living

What were you doing before you decided to live on a boat?

This may sound crazy, as a we typically get a raised brow when we tell it like it is, but this whole thing started with The Walking Dead. Really, there’s nothing like the thought of a zombie apocalypse to get you to take stock of your life and your stuff. At least, that was the case with us. Perhaps a joke at first, we started to seriously ask ourselves questions about what was important. What would we take? What do we really need? What’s this dusty thing in this box we’ve never used?

Meanwhile, we resolved that buying an old sailboat to fix up and sail away was the adventure we were longing for. Not to mention, sailboats are perfect zombie getaway vehicles. We were renting a tiny apartment three blocks from the water in Long Beach, Calif., and paying a stupid amount for rent. Everything that wouldn’t fit on a boat had to go. Getting rid of our “stuff” was difficult at first — we had some really, really cool stuff. But after ridding ourselves of the first few unnecessary items, the overall purge became invigorating. It was a great relief not having to worry about it. Moreover, we raised around $3,000 selling off our worldly junk to help finance the boat purchase. By the time we found our boat and put in our offer, all we had was a bed, the record collection, clothes, two cats and some pots and pans. We never did get rid of the cats or the vinyl.

Sailboat living

What is the make and model of the boat?

Our sexy girl is a 1978 Downeaster 32 Cutter (a cutter rig has three sails: headsail, staysail and mainsail). Good lookin’ with nice boaty lines and the right amount of teak. She was the 98th of 300 hulls to come from the mold made right here in Southern California. Back in those days, fiberglass was CHEAP so boats made then are considered over-built by modern production boat standards. She’s twice as thick as the floating RVs they make nowadays, albeit heavier and slower, but we’re in no hurry. We leave racing for the yacht-club peeps. Several DE 32’s have crossed oceans or circumnavigated and they have an excellent reputation as comfortable blue water cruising boats. My wife likes the fact that they’re nearly impossible to capsize. Knock-knock.

Modifying Boat Engine Panel

What kind of work are you doing to it? Describe the materials and tools you’re using.

I’ll spare you the typing it will take to recite “the list” but know that an older boat like ours requires constant attention just to maintain. Add to that the work and investment to outfit a boat for offshore cruising…all the cliché boat-isms start to ring true.

So far, we’ve re-powered with a new Diesel engine ($$$$$$) and addressed all of the safety concerns of the original survey. We addressed the contaminated fuel problem by cutting access ports into the top of the tank and scrubbing all the gunk out of the cavernous 75-gallon tank. I’ve completely replaced and upgraded the sanitation system and waste holding tank (not fun). We’ve installed new batteries along with upgrading the original 70’s electrical system. At the last haul-out we stripped the hull and applied an epoxy barrier coat and new bottom paint — I painted a new top stripe too. Then there’s all the little fixes we’ve made just to have ice, pressurized water and a working stove. Needless to say, I never find myself without a task — big or small.

Tools? Nothing exotic comes to mind. I love my oscillating multi-tool with interchangeable blades and tips for cutting/grinding in tight places. A Dremel is a nice thing to have too. I have most of the tools I need aboard and tend to keep screwdrivers and an adjustable wrench handy.

DIY Hatch Fan

What skills have you learned in the process?

Given that we don’t have huge outlays of cash, I’ve had to learn how to do most everything myself. We’ve learned the hard way that paying a marine expert $100/hr does not guarantee the job is done right. In fact, the opposite is likely true. I had some mechanical training in the Army, but not nearly to the level I’ve acquainted myself with to install our new engine and exhaust. That’s the sound of me patting my own back. I was confident with household plumbing pre-boat, but marine plumbing required learning entirely new principles. I’ve become rather knowledgable in fiberglass repair and fabrication, woodworking and DC/AC marine wiring too. Add to all of that learning how to be an adequate sailor; an undertaking requiring many a whole lifetime.

Working on boat

What are you going to do about food? Are you building a special kitchen?

Our boat has a fair amount of storage for provisions. We are limited by our small refrigerator space as to what we can keep cold but we can store plenty of canned and dry goods for a long crossing. Additionally, we have a 100-gallon fresh water tank below and plan to carry several five-gallon water cans on deck. Although it will be difficult to pull right up to a supermarket, we can drag a few baited lines underway for some fresh seafood to supplement our supplies.

The “galley” is what us salty boat-folk call a kitchen. Indeed, it is small and can only accommodate one cook, but it is designed to be practical and safe to use underway at sea. Our three-burner stovetop and oven are gimbaled — meaning with the slide of a latch the unit rocks in unison with the boat and keeps the cooking surface relatively level. Pretty neat actually. Instead of paying the gas company every month as we did on land, we fill up a few small LPG tanks every five months or so for all of our cooking/grilling needs. The grill mounted on the stern railing supplements our galley and we use it more frequently than the oven.

Painting boat

Where do you go in your floating home? Will you be working from the sea?

While we’re refitting/outfitting the boat we’ll be making several crossings to Santa Catalina and practice harbor, hopping up and down the coast. We’ve given ourselves a few years to do all the work needed and to save up a little money before shoving off for a year or so. There’re so many routes to consider. We like the idea of sailing South, either all the way around Cape Horn or cut through Panama to the Bahamas. Once we get to Mexico, we’ll make up our minds and consider the weather/season. Some cruisers leave with plans to circumnavigate and never get farther than Mexico because they find everything they’re looking for there. This could very well happen with us as much as we love Mexico — and we’d be fine with that.

Theoretically, I could work from sea. If it becomes necessary, we could extend some time at an anchorage to freelance some artwork or take up employment ashore somewhere. Honestly, I’d like to avoid that scenario and just live life simply on the water for a while. It doesn’t take a lot of money unless you’re pulling into posh marinas and washing down fancy dinners with top shelf booze every night. I’m 36. I think 40 is a good retirement age.

Sailboat living

What tips do you have for others who may be wanting to make the switch to mobile living or endeavor on a construction project like this?

If you’re lucky enough to have dreamed it up, you owe it to yourself to make it happen. Make the sacrifices needed, not the excuses not to do it. Bring somebody to love and somebody to love you. Remember that even the worst day of boat-work is better than the best day at work-work. Be careful who you tell your dream to. The best reaction is, “That’s awesome! I wanna do that too!” But most of the time you hear, “Are you crazy? Why the hell would you want to do that? What will you do about_______?” Most people are so despondent in their lives that they will actively try to persuade you to abandoned your goals so they feel better about wasting their lives. Remember, your dream and ambition to achieve a less ordinary life threatens the fragile realities of many around you who are scared to take risks and live life to the fullest.

Follow their journey here: https://sailingthesanpatricio.wordpress.com


  • Kevin

    Your boat looks great! Have fun on your journey!