Going Off Grid?

A blogging friend Kay commented on one of our recent posts “So you’re going to live on a boat? Off the grid? Wandering? Wow!” Apart from her wonderful way with words reflected in her use back to us of “wandering”, the words that really caught my eye were “off the grid” (OTG). To me a rather hippy, new -age phrase but it got me wondering what being OTG means for a cruising yachtie….

It’s a rather US-centric term that primarily implies enforced surviving without mains electricity often in a rural area. However it can also encompass voluntarily living without all mains utilities like water, sewerage, gas etc even in the city as a way of reducing reliance on profiteering corporations and reducing costs. In other words a perhaps trendy lifestyle choice.

For liveaboards cruising on a limited budget being OTG is a necessity from the moment they decide to set sail. Likewise for Temptress’ crew, we won’t be able to afford to spend many nights in marina’s at thirty pounds sterling per night, meaning plugging in to a 240v supply or using a hose to top up the tanks with fresh water will simply not be possible most of the time. So yes we will in that sense be OTG, our supplies of electricity and water being generated by gadgets carried with us. Our sea toilets flush directly into the ocean and our cooking is done with bottled gas.

But a yachtie isn’t entirely disconnected – needing diesel to power the engine and hence charge the batteries which in turn power the water maker. And another essential, those bottles of gas need to be topped up from time to time. It’s more that the umbilical chord that ties your house to the utility companies becomes for us a dotted line and we join the dots on an as needed basis.

However in trawling the internet on OTG living I came across a few interesting articles on the sort of lifestyle OTG-ers seem to aspire to. Plus some thought provoking comments on the pollution caused by diesel generators (greenhouse gas emissions, transportation etc) in remote wilderness areas vs arguably cleaner mains electricity brought in by a cable. The well prepared cruising yacht has other means to generate power apart from the boat’s diesel engine; Temptress has a wind generator which provides 4 amps in a good breeze. This might seem a tiny amount but is sufficient to run the fridge all day every day. And we will shortly install a couple of solar panels for those days when there is no wind (or when we are sailing down wind) but plenty of sun to provide an additional battery top-up.

From Carolyn Shearlock’s wonderful
Boat Galley Blog

We recently mentioned the high price of bottled gas in the UK  and that we are endeavouring to make our gas supply more convenient and cheaper to replenish. Over several years we’ve investigated ways of reducing gas consumption. The first of these was a pressure cooker, great for quickly knocking up stew and dumplings but still requiring a fair amount of gas. The second investment was the excellent thermal cooker from Mr D which we’ve been experimenting with since 2011 and has now become an essential bit of galley kit. Get the meal started then leave it to cook in the galley sink whilst we tack back and forth up the race course or make a bumpy cross Channel trip. And Dave (Mr D himself) publishes new recipes weekly which I save up to try on the Skipper the next time we are onboard. So far a brilliant success, including a wonderfully flavoursome Makboos. I fully intend to experiment with thermal bread baking next month.
Another couple of items I’ve recently come across are the Omnia Stovetop Oven (see picture above) which enables baking on a gas hob rather than in the oven again reducing gas consumption and the use of a pizza stone to ensure a more even and hence efficient spread of heat within a boat oven. Not certain yet whether Temptress will be equipped with either however both are worth considering in the pursuit of reducing the gas bill.

But what interested me most was that landbased OTG-ers face a very similar lifestyle issue to cruisers – that of needing to be more conservative in their use of resources. When it no longer comes from a mains supply landlubbers and boat crew alike find themselves in a world where you:

  • Don’t clean your teeth with tap running
  • Turn the shower off whilst applying shampoo/soap (our push button shower heads enforce this)
  • Install LED bulbs because they consume less power 
  • Figure out ways to cook that reduces the amount of gas you burn

This article on Living Off The Grid neatly sums up the small changes a cruising lifestyle requires simply to conserve power, water and gas, though washing machines, chickens and growing your own veg (apart from beansprouts & herbs) are not so easy on a boat!