Rhumb Lines: Beating the Heat at Anchor


This month’s article on ventilation got me thinking about how the current situation will impact living aboard in marinas.

During 10 years of living aboard, two of those years were in a marina in Guam, where my partner Theresa and I worked at the local newspaper to replenish our cruising kitty. Hardier souls lived at anchor in Apra Harbor, but the typhoon routine, the mosquitos, and tropical heat finally drove us to a cheap dock in “Gerberville,” the old sub base and typhoon refuge. Though dockside living was convenient for working, I missed the steady breeze blowing through the boat at anchor. The portable AC unit we bought was a poor substitute for salt air.

When people hear that we spent nearly all of our 10 years weaving along the equator, they often wonder how we managed the heat. Our 30-foot William Atkin ketch Tosca had just two hatches—a butterfly hatch over the main saloon, and the companionway. Three small ports in the cabin trunk (two aft, one forward), a mushroom vent over the stove, and a cowl vent at the bow rounded out our ventilation system.

Despite this shortcoming, we were able to live quite comfortably in some of the most hot and humid corners of the planet. The trick was to steer clear of marinas and anchor out—something we did to save money anyway. The few times we were tempted into a marina, we found ourselves sweltering.

At anchor, though, even on a still night (and truly still nights were rare), the Windscoop at the companionway, and a 12-volt fan over the bunk kept us cool enough for sleeping. On warm nights we’d jump in the water, rinse with a jug of fresh water and washcloth, and pat dry before going to bed. Underway, a bucket of seawater over the head with a wet towel wipe-down helped of lower body surface temperature.

Some topography creates alluring natural marinas, with steep-to shores and handy coconut palms, trees, or rocks that allow for shore tying. From the Straits of Magellan to fjords of Norway, there is no shortage of picturesque, protected spots where you can run a line ashore.

Soufriere Bay in St. Lucia, where you can shore-tie in the shadow of an ancient volcano, is one of the most familiar of these natural “marinas.” My personal favorite such spot was the island of Moorea’s Opunohu Bay in French Polynesia, but even in that idyllic spot, we decided that the striking photo of Tosca tied under the shadow of the island peaks was barely worth the stuffy nights.

On the rare occasions when we did tie to the shore, we used a spare anchor rode. Today, many cruising boats—particularly in higher latitudes— have more permanent setups that make it easier to run a line to the nearest rock, pole, or tree. Beginning page 20 of this issue, contributing writer Jonathan Neeves, whose catamaran Josepheline roams widely around Australia, discusses the many creative ways that cruising gear has been adapted to these unconventional anchoring situations.

Although I can understand the appeal of hopping from marina to marina as one cruises a country or coast, it’s not my thing. With experts recommending that we minimize our close contacts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the idea of marina life holds even less appeal to me today. At anchor, we have everything we need on our good little ship, and the world’s marvelous ventilation system is ours to enjoy.


Darrell Nicholson
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him at darrellnicholson.com.


  1. Many of my favorite mid-summer anchorages on the Chesapeake Bay are only semi-protected, with waves blocked by a sand spit or low lying farmer’s fields, but open to the breeze. A protected creek can be sultry. Whether thunderstorms are likely and the risk acceptable requires a judgment call. Open to the southerly breeze and protected from the west (the most probable thunderstorm gust direction) is ideal but not always achievable. Darn.