Aren’t Cruisers Always in Shape?

I always thought that just by living and cruising aboard a boat, we’d be in tip-top shape.  All the cruising books I read spouted on & on about how in shape they were just from cruising alone.  And it does make sense – the boat’s always moving, never still, so your body is never still and it’s a far more physical lifestyle than most – not much just sitting around … unless you’re on night watch.   🙂

But at least for me, it’s just not so.  Our six months on land results in being in much better shape overall than cruising.  But certain things, like grinding the winch to bring the dinghy aboard, is the direct opposite.  Every year, the first month aboard sees me struggle to grind that winch the 45 plus revolutions it takes to get the dinghy on deck and  we never tow it, so if we’re moving, it’s on deck.  By the end of the six months aboard, getting the dinghy aboard is a snap.  But when we return the following fall, it’ll be the same old routine!

I wouldn’t call us fanatics when it comes to being in shape … but we are well aware that as we get older, the harder it is to keep extra pounds off and be able to enjoy running with the grandkids … and all the other things on our bucket list that make it impossible for us to get out of shape this late in life!    So here’s what we do while aboard….

Does it get better than a 3 mile beach walk?

1.  We walk anywhere and everywhere we can.  While we were cruising Belize, this was a problem because the offshore islands are almost all mangroves, literally nowhere to walk.   We found some of this same challenge in the 10,000 Islands/Everglades and the Florida Keys.   We like to anchor in out of the way places, but that means there’s not always land access to walk the 2-3 plus miles a day that is optimal.   But we find, if we walk wherever and whenever we can, it helps.

Snorkeling MIGHT be better than a beach walk!

2.  We swim, at least when we’re in clear water.  While cruising the Western Caribbean, we literally spent 3 hours a day snorkeling.  David loves to spearfish and I love taking underwater photos.  After doing it for a few years, it was starting to get old until I decided to make it a challenge to find one new thing underwater every day – and take it’s picture.  Then I’d go back to the boat and identify it with my Reef Fish, Coral or Creature books by Paul Humann books – note, I bought these books one at a time starting with the reef fish because I didn’t think I’d ever be interested in coral or creature identification – how wrong I was!

It might seem corny, but it works!

3.  Aboard the boat, I discovered early on, we have an onboard gym.  The biggest feature of the gym is the stairmaster.  Every morning while cruising the Western Caribbean (except those mornings I was net controller), we listened to the NW Caribbean Net or the Panama Connection Net.  Taking 10 minutes and walking up and down the stairs while listening was sometimes tedious, but effective.   🙂

4.  Kayaking – we both love kayaking and although a leisurely exploration of wherever we happen to be anchored isn’t top notch exercise, I’m a big believer that MOVING … anything that keeps us moving is important.  And when we’re kayaking, we’re not being settee potatoes reading…. or writing.

5.  Yoga aboard.  OK, so I admit, I love the IDEA of doing yoga aboard, but the only move I ever really use is the Pilates “Hundreds” for core strengthening.  Years ago I had trouble with what was suspected to be a bulging disc while in the Rio Dulce.  The docs there counseled me not to move – YIKES, sort of difficult when you’re on a cruising sailboat.  Getting in the dinghy was all but impossible and I literally had to lay down flat on my back while in the dinghy or pass out from the pain.  I resolved if I EVER lived through it, that I was never going to let my core strength deteriorate enough to let it happen again.  I believe that if all the muscles around the spine are strong, that the potential for hurting my back again is less.  Who knows if that’s true or not, but I haven’t had another debilitating back problem since – although it took several months to recover from that one.  🙁

Back to “Hundreds” – this one is easy for me to do aboard from a space constraint standpoint.  There are many variations of this one “exercise” I do aboard, just google online for “hundreds” yoga pilates for a beginner or intermediate variation, both of which usually entail either not lifting your head & shoulders, keeping your knees bent or both.  But here’s the way I do it.

Here’s a sideways view showing both back & legs off and arms out straight. And no my feet are not propped up on the settee as it appears! 🙂

Lay flat on my back, lift my head/shoulders barely off the floor then lift my legs to somewhere around a 45 degree angle or less to the floor.  At this point, I’m sort of balancing on my sit bones.   Hands and arms are straight out and parallel to the floor.  Now comes the “hundreds” part — I try to take breaths slowly in & out while pulsing my hands up and down and counting to 10.  The goal is to do 100 or 10 sets of 10 – it’s easier for me to keep count if I start 1 – 10, then 2, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 …. “3”,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 …. and so on until I’ve done 100 pulses (little controlled up & down movements of my arms).  At this point my abs are burning & my back muscles are telling me it’s time to quit.

NOTE:  NEVER EVER EVER do this if it hurts anywhere — except the burn in your abdominal muscles because that’s the entire point!

Kim Hess Stone, me & Kim’s book, “Yoga Aboard”. I got the very first copy signed after Kim & Eric Stone (of Bob Bitchin fame) were married – hence Kim Hess STONE! 🙂

Click the photo to go to Amazon to see Kim’s book!

Then, entirely by accident, I found a new book – “Yoga Aboard” – by Kim Hess Stone.  I’ve seen it before in the sailing magazines, and had always intended on getting a copy.  When we saw Eric Stone play at Nav-a-Gator, Kim was there selling Eric’s CD’s and her book or DVD.   It’s simple and straightforward, and written by a cruiser for cruisers!  Too bad I found it only a few days before we left the boat for the summer, but I brought it back to the lake and really like the approach – can’t wait to try it aboard!

So what do you do to stay fit aboard?  Please leave a comment and share!  Everyone’s “routine” could benefit from new ideas!

Cheers!  Jan & David, sv Winterlude



  1. Love this. I had a similar experience: assuming that the cruising life would mean I’d be in better shape. Our first year, down in Mexico, my husband had a mean six pack going- but I was just getting love handles. No fair! I found the right mix, but it took some time. I suppose it is a little different for everyone. I’m going to try those ‘hundreds’ – did you know the yoga pose similar to this is generically referred to as ‘boat pose’? Ironic isn’t it?!

  2. Gretchen says:

    ROWING is great exercise, saves fuel, and can be a full body workout if you put your legs into it. Roaring ashore via outboard motor to work out on the beach is kinda like driving to the gym….. Inflatables don’t row particularly well, which just means it’s MORE exercise to row them. As with all exercise, start in increments–motor most of the way in, or into a sheltered part of the anchorage, then row the rest. Plus it’s a great skill to have for the inevitable day when the motor conks out–uh oh!

    • What a GREAT idea Gretchen! We kayak, but it’s not “real” exercise for me. I hadn’t thought to actually USE those oars on our RIB! Thanks for the input! Cheers — Jan

  3. Donna Kirkpatrick s/v Anemone says:

    Regarding yoga, I find that I can do the sun salutation series quite well next to the starboard settee (we have a Morgan 384). In fact, the confined quarters helps me with alignment and I am more daring with stretches because of the ability to lean onto the settee if I lose my balance. I always add several pushups to each movement between downward facing dog and upward dog and integrate long-hold planks. I am only 5’4″ tall so some taler folk would be more challenged with this arrangement. Aerobic exercise is more of a challenge bur I’m thinking Kundalini yoga with breath of fire exercises could help alot because Kundalini is more strenuous.


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