Surviving Winter on a Boat Without Electricity

For nearly three years, I hadn’t seen that white, fluffy substance that takes the northern hemisphere by storm every January. I had thought for a long time that I was totally over the powdery cold, but last week, I found myself watching flakes fall from the sky with wonder. All the while, we had already been without power for 2 days. *gasp*

Days before Washington D.C. was projected to get hit with 6 inches of snow (which is a lot, for here), the transformer for our dock blew. And you could not have pictured a more ecstatic version of me – no power, for the foreseeable future, and facing the winter season? Hell yes! I had been craving some “unplug” time, and this offered the perfect opportunity to do it to some degree.

The Honeymoon Phase

The one, the only… FLINGO BINGO!

Ah, the sweet first days of any novel situation are filled with childish joy. This has been our first year of living on a boat, our first winter while living on a boat, AND our first North American winter in almost 3 years. On top of all that, this was our first time experiencing a power outage while on a dock.

We still had access to the basics – many of our boat systems are off the grid. We cook with an alcohol stove, we use an ice box style fridge, and we have a wood stove for heat. For running water, our toilet flushes manually with a pump, and our faucets and lights can run on residual battery power from the boat. Honestly, we were set, aside from charging laptops and phones.

Unfortunately, many of our neighbors had to move. Power boats are especially reliant on electricity, because of how they are built and typically being much bigger vessels. About 10 boats had to be moved to other docks so that they could prevent issues with freezing temperatures (hello, cracked engines).

The New Norm

Icey docks #liveontheedge

On Day 3 of no power, we were getting into the swing of the new situation. We found out that the new transformer wouldn’t arrive for another few days, and installing it could take longer. The only thing about this situation that I didn’t like was having to trudge my way across the icy dock to the marina library on land.

At this point, we had gotten good at staying warm – we slept with a little hot water bottle (praise the boat neighbors who lent us theirs), and braved the cold in the mornings to start the fire. It was basically camping while at home? I was loving it! It reminded me of my time overseas, when there was a strong focus on simply surviving. There was also quite a sense of camaraderie among the other liveaboards, and we shared whiskey and bourbon to keep extra warm one night.

How Much Smoke is Too Much for my Lungs?

Our little stove doing what it can to keep us warm

By Day 5 of no power, we were beginning to lose our enthusiasm for the situation. The weather was continually at freezing temperatures, give or take a couple of degrees. Our stove, which hadn’t gotten a break from burning wood, coal, and Duraflame composite lots, was beginning to clog. On top of that, the wind had picked up, and was shooting down our chimney. Every few minutes, we would open all our hatches because the smoke filled the cabin.

Every time I blew my nose, soot would come out (enjoy that visual), and morale was dropping. We were low on water, with no water access on the docks due to frozen pipes. Trying to schedule work meetings while in the marina library with others doing the same was becoming tiresome. We still found some humor in our situation, but the humor was beginning to fall flat.

Finally, the news broke out – the new transformer had arrived and would be installed the next day! On that glorious sixth day, we reveled in the return of wi-fi, use of our heated blanket, and overall relief that the camping was over. Of course, this all happened just in time for the weather to become warm and sunny, but hey, we survived a tough week and deserved the sunshine!


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