Behind the Scenes
August 19, 2004
One of the most common questions we're asked is, "Where onboard do you store all of your music equipment?" This innocent inquiry is usually made when we're packing up at the end of a performance and David is stumbling under the weight of a couple of speakers, a stray instrument cable wrapped around his ankle. He's likely to snarl, "In the bathtub". That's the short answer. Here's the longer version.
When we started living aboard full time Eileen had a rather large "dreadnought" style guitar. David asked whether she would consider taking up the harmonica instead. She countered by suggesting he replace his mountain bike with a skateboard. We packed both the guitar and the bike and set sail.
For the first couple of years we were out cruising, we mixed music with socializing at potlucks, beach bonfires, and sundowner parties. We'd swathe Eileen's guitar in multiple plastic trash bags, jump into the dinghy, and head out. No big deal. Then we encountered a Tayana 37 sailboat named "GumboYaYa" in the San Blas islands of Panama. The father and two teen aged sons onboard were enthusiastic musicians: a keyboardist, bass player, and percussionist. Only the mother was normal sized; the shortest of the three males was six foot four. They lugged all their music equipment with them -- including a combo amp and complete drum kit -- and gave impromptu concerts wherever they happened to be. We were cruising in the same general direction and Eileen ended up performing with them in Panama, Isla Providencia, and the Bay Islands of Honduras. They inspired Eileen not only to pursue her music more seriously, but to acquire more equipment.
"Look," she said, "if those three giants and all their stuff can fit onboard the same sized boat as ours, surely we can squeeze a few more things into 'Little Gidding'."
"They probably sleep standing upright," David surmised.
In fairly short order, we acquired a combo amp, microphone and mic stand, guitar stand, and a bunch of cables. The boat hadn't increased in size and David wasn't about to give up his bike or scuba equipment or other important belongings. That was when our personal hygiene took a nosedive: the bathtub became the PA equipment repository.
Ironically, it was this very bathtub that was one of "Little Gidding's" winning features when we were comparative boat shopping. Most 36 foot sailboats have space for only a cramped shower stall. A bathtub, even a tiny one, gave us delusions of grandeur: we now owned a YACHT. On a chilly day, if we noticed a less fortunate sailor filling his or her solar shower at a public water tap, we'd casually remark, "Why don't we go home and soak in our bathtub for a while?" Of course, a bathtub on a cruising boat is of questionable merit if you don't have an unlimited supply of freshwater with which to fill it. For this reason, we actually didn't use it very often. It was mostly for show, sort of like the swimming pools you often see collecting leaves in people's backyards. On special occasions like her birthday, Eileen used to enjoy splashing around in an inch of tepid bath water. It was, admittedly, pretty pathetic. Nonetheless, David knew she was truly committed to her music when she gave up the tub and we lost our status as a yacht.
Within a couple of years, we replaced the combo amp with a powered mixer, two speakers, and two speaker stands. We bought a powered monitor, more cables, and -- for night-time extravaganzas -- a couple of work lights. The stack of equipment in the bathtub grew higher and our list to port worsened. By this time, the harsh marine environment was exacting a toll on Eileen's treasured wooden acoustic guitar (despite the plastic trash bags); she reluctantly exchanged it for an acoustic/electric guitar with a composite body and lifetime guarantee against warpage.
Storing Eileen's music equipment turned out to be only half of the problem. The other half was transporting it to shore. By happy coincidence, the capacity of our bathtub almost exactly matches the capacity of our nine foot inflatable dinghy. With careful balancing, we found we could pile the contents of the bathtub into the dinghy and still have standing room for the two of us at the stern. Eileen sewed a canvas cover to protect the equipment from waves and spray. We bought several cans of corrosion inhibitor. David developed beach landing and launching techniques that generally involved him getting soaked and the equipment staying dry. It was at this point that David decided enough was enough. "There's no more room in the bathtub OR the dinghy; if we get any more music stuff I might drown somewhere between the beach and the boat," he declared.
Eileen concluded a drum kit was definitely out of the question. She found a technological alternative to acquiring additional instruments. She bought some fancy computer software and learned how to programme an electronic accompaniment to her songs. Her back-up band now lives in our laptop computer. Drums, bass, keyboards, horns, strings -- they're all contained in a little black box. Eileen is quite pleased with her band because they do exactly what she tells them to do. David is thankful that they don't drink his beer and don't take up any space on the boat.
On rare occasions Eileen speaks wistfully of lounging in a warm bath, but most of the time we don't miss our tub. Realistically, if it wasn't full of music equipment, we probably would have found something else to store in it. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, most cruisers feel compelled to cram stuff into every nook and cranny on their boats. With a finite amount of space available, it comes down to setting priorities. We know a few cruisers who have loaded their shower stalls with cases of duty free liquor. We figure the music equipment might be saving our livers.