Sailboat Feng Shui

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Sailboat Feng Shui

This article is written by Bonniesea, a Familly living and traveling on Sailboat

Feng shui (wind water) is a Chinese concept that many people in the west associate with home organization (although there’s a bit more to it than that). It is also a concept that should, in my opinion, be very closely tied with sailboats, especially those belonging to liveaboards.

Feng shui isn’t exactly what we think of today as a science, but it makes more sense than pure mystical nonsense. Feng shui is the study of the interaction of energy within systems and the practice of changing an environment to better harness those energies.

Instead of studying one system (say, light) or another (say, retail stores), feng shui looks at the interaction of the two and notes that buildings facing south get more light on their fronts during the day which in turn draws the eyes of consumers and thus makes them more profitable. Except generally feng shui expressed in terms of “south-facing businesses are more profitable.”

People use feng shui to “increase their luck,” but I think it is more appropriately stated that a positive atmosphere will create positive results, similar to the concept that success breeds success or the concept that a person will mirror their friends, so hang out with successful people to be successful, etc. These aren’t, of course, completely true, the idea is more to give yourself every advantage possible.

This page isn’t going to teach you feng shui – you need to find someone else to do that (although I’ll try to include some resources). Rather, I’m taking feng shui concepts and applying them to liveaboard sailboats, the ultimate immersion of a lifestyle in the powers of wind and water.

Energy / Ch’i

Wind and water are the two primary elements of feng shui because they are both said to carry ch’i (energy) around with them. While applying to people and every aspect of life, this concept gets somewhat obvious for sailboats in a strong current or a windy day, but is still true of a gentle current and a gentle breeze. It also seems obvious that, as a sailboat, just because you can survive the tropical storm with it’s high energy wind and waves doesn’t mean its a good idea to seek it out, thus calmer wind and water is better ch’i, but still days with no energy won’t propel the sailboat at all. A steady ocean breeze and a gentle current are ideal for sailing, while a cove that calms both the breeze and the waves is better for sleeping.

The people on the sailboat also have ch’i, the air we breathe and the water we are composed of are two important parts of our energy system. Both, after all, are required elements of life. Tai chi is an excellent practice, both mental and physical, that teaches you very specifically how to accumulate and use the ch’i in your body. Yoga is very similar, though its more focused on internal use of energy than external applications.

I developed a life theory that is very similar to this concept of energy flow shortly after we moved onto the sailboat. We were on the standard life track, we’d graduated, we had an apartment, it was time to move on to house and kids. Except neither one of us really wanted to buy a house in a volatile job marketplace. So we moved onto a boat, loved it, and stayed. People thought we were crazy, how could we survive, how would we know what to do? But once we made the move, we also found other people who lived on sailboats who provided know-how and support while we made the transition, support which we now provide to others. It was hard to make that switch, but once we made it, we were in a different stream and staying in that stream became easy. The same goes for making the jump from docked liveaboard to cruiser. Once you start making the move, you find a whole wealth of support and momentum behind you helping you stay in that stream. This is a fairly taoist philosophy, with the exception that you can make changes. It’s hard to make a change, but once you start with the change, it becomes easier and easier to stick with the pattern.

So, back to ch’i. It is the energy that interacts between different systems to create effects. It is, for example, the life force that results for the interaction of all the energy and matter and chemicals in our bodies, but is still something different. Like any forms of energy, ch’i can be seen as too little (say a stagnant pond), just right (say a nice ocean), or too strong (say, an angry ocean).

So, feng shui is concerned with accumulating the right kinds of ch’i, in this case in your sailboat. This doesn’t mean you’re controlling the wind and weather, but rather the energy feel within your environment. A sailboat at anchor, for example, will naturally turn its nose into the wind, thus deflecting the direct impact of the wind, causing it to swirl around the boat and not blow directly though unless you have your bow hatch open, which causes the boat to be drafty (great it its hot and you need more air flow, but otherwise less desirable, a ch’i adjustment you probably make naturally).

There are a couple kinds of ch’i. Heaven ch’i, which is for example, solar activity that causes your electronics to go haywire and that affects the weather. Weather ch’i, the effects of which should be fairly obvious, both on the sailboat and the person, which is to some degree knowable thanks to weather reporting and predicting (thus people’s tendency to sail to hurricane holes during the fall and ability to avoid or prepare for bad weather systems). And of course earth ch’i, an example of which you probably use to navigate (hint: compass).

At this point, I have the compelling urge to digress and wonder how the laws of physics apply to ch’i. For example, is ch’i an object in motion that must be stopped/slowed by other forces or with otherwise continue forcibly onward? That would make sense considering that uninterrupted ch’i is considered bad or “cutting” and thus why its better to cause ch’i to flow in a snaking path to keep it calm. But then what about thermodynamics? If entropy (chaos) is always increasing, is ch’i getting more and more chaotic? I imagine ch’i like water, it can flow together or apart as its environment causes. I asked a professor of fluid flow how he thought that modern theories of fluid flow related to the flow of ch’i and, after giving him a few examples, he suggested that the inside curve of a river would have a more laminar flow, which the outside curve would have a turbulent flow, and thus good ch’i was probably ch’i that was moving, but in a very organized way that is less likely to cause chaos.

In feng shui, you want ch’i to meander, not to get flowing to fast in a straight line, but to take its time moving around a home or an area. This means long halls are not good feng shui. In a boat, this means you want a floorplan that allows you to move around with the ability to always touch the boat, to always have something to grab onto. A long, narrow hallway could leave you pitching around dangerously long stretches. If in a rough sea, every distance, including the height and beam of the boat, is a dimension you could fall.

Similarly, good feng shui locations for a home are in the inside curve of a river or road (probably because, when going around a curve, your energy is headed outwards and away from the inside of the curve, which thus gets calmer energy and less cars running off the road). A very large, overwhelming boat parked next to you would also be bad feng shui because of the danger it represents to your boat in any sort of weather.

Spiked-shaped features are also bad feng shui, which is interesting since a sailboat generally contains one or more spike-shaped masts. A spike is pointed directly at the sky and so is accosting the heavens. But I think the answer to this for sailboat is similar to the answer in understanding a sailboat in a lightening storm. A little boat, all alone on the ocean will rarely get struck because while it has a nice, tall mast available, the mast isn’t grounded, so the lightening still has to go through so many feet of water to reach the ground (you can ground your mast to the keel, which would save your boat but not your electronics in the event of a lightening strike) but the point still stands that, which the mast of a sailboat is a spike pointing to the sky, it is not connecting to the energy from the earth and directing it upwards.

Applying Feng Shui to Sailboats

The mechanics of how feng shui works are a bit beyond what I’m trying to do here. A few notes, however, to help with your feng shui on the sailboat. Compass directions refer to magnetic rather than true directions and so can vary depending on where you are located. This is because its the magnetic pull or energy that directs and effects ch’i. This magnetic pull effects animalsas well as compasses, meaning whether you realize it or not, your body is effected by the magnetic field of the earth (thus, but earth ch’i).

People living in the southern hemisphere debate whether everything should be rotated for them. While I don’t believe this is necessary, I will update this section after spending more time below the equator.

A feng shui compass, including each directions associated strengths, trigrams, etc can be arrange in two sequences: the former heaven sequencefor outdoor use (heavenly use) and the later heaven sequence for indoor use (earthly use). These also reflect the grid on the lo shu (a nine grid square layout version similar to the octagon arrangement).

Inside the Cruising Sailboat

So keep in mind for this we’re using the later heaven sequence of symbols and compass directions. There’s one school of thought that says everything should be organized from the door of the house rather than from magnetic south, which would certainly make sense in an ever turning sailboat, but negates the effects of magnetism and outdoor forces on the body. So I’m going to stick with the theory that its better to organize everything from magnetic south. And yes, I know the sailboat is either at a marina slip with only two (or one) option for direction or is on an anchor which is completely subject to the wind direction. We’re going to work with this.

In a home, you have important rooms, meaning the rooms you spend the most time in – your bedroom, your living room, etc. You also have negative wet rooms – bathroom, kitchen, etc which drain good ch’i. In a sailboat (and I’m talking here about small cruising sailboats, not a mega-yacht), you’re generally dealing with a more open floor plan. You have a wet kitchen mixed with an important salon, at the very least. The main cabin may or may not have a door and most larger boats have a door to the head, or at least some covering of the head. And of course, if your sailboat is anything like ours, the whole interior is wet periodically!

Basic good indoor feng shui, regardless of how the sailboat is laid out (which is next to impossible to change without completely gutting the boat!), stipulate that ch’i should be easily able to flow in the door. This does NOT mean a large, gaping companionway hatch like our Catalina has but rather a clear path into the hatch and then down without having to worry about tripping. This makes complete sense in a house and a sailboat – you hardly want to trip over your own junk when you first enter, so keep the entryway clear of obstacles with steps or ladder that are straight and easy to use. Since our boat has you entering into the kitchen, this applies to the counter-top directly in front of the hatch, which I try to keep clear of clutter. Not only does this help the boat visually (clear spaces generate the illusion of more space), but it means I’m not crashing into something as I’m coming down the ladder and that I have a space to put what’s in my hand down as I come in.

Ch’i should flow through the space in a meandering pattern. We covered this earlier. In a house, a meandering pattern through slows people down (whether its kids sock-skating down the hall or guests mingling at a party). On a sailboat, a meandering path means you probably are dealing with smaller (and thus safer) spaces, a U-shaped galley that you can bounce around in at sea, etc.

You also want to try and encourage ch’i to gather in beneficial places and discourage ch’i from gathering in negative places. In a fixed-direction home, you would do much of this by using the trigrams, etc, to color and organize certain items in your home. On a sailboat, this might be as simple a fix as keeping the door closed to the head to negate the wet room (and the smell, perhaps?), keeping the table folded out of the way to allow ch’i to meander, etc. In a land home, you may have skylights (or even a courtyard home) to gather ch’i from the heavens. In a sailboat, you not only have an outside living space in the cockpit, you often have hatches in the roof to allow sun and wind into the interior living space.

Next question. Which direction does your sailboat face? On a boat, I generally assume the bow is the front, but in traditional feng shui, the direction of the front door is the front of the house (though this can be changed by which door your regularly use as this becomes the direction ch’i flows into the home). So by using the companionway, we make the stern of the boat the front for feng shui purposes.While on a boat, you cannot erect a screen to stop bad energies from flowing into the boat (although a bug screen is a good idea practically), entering a small cruising sailboat generally requires a step down and so forces the ch’i to flow down rather than just straight in.

For land-based homes, the direction a house faces determines the beginning considerations of which rooms should be located where. For example, in a south facing home, you want the rooms you spend the most time in (bedrooms and living rooms, remember) to face either south, north, south east, or east. This is where you’ll get the most sun throughout the day, allowing you to wake and operate in largely natural light (not sure why NE isn’t also on this list while N is, this may be a winter-related shadow thing). This leaves your darker rooms to be your negative wet rooms and your storage. The principle, then, is waking and operating in natural light rather than in dimness or artificial light. This applies to sailboats, whatever direction the wind points them, by encouraging use of the cockpit and main salon throughout the day, encouraging portals that let light into any cabins from both sides of the boat, and discouraging the use of the vberth as a bedroom unless it too has access to natural light. (On west-facing land homes, rooms are primarily placed in the front and back of the house, likely where there are larger windows and less visual restrictions.)

As your boat moves around on anchor, it will have various types of ch’i flow in from various directions rather than always having the same ch’i flow. (This also means you don’t want your head directly in front of your door, not only because you don’t want the good ch’i to flow directly back out, but also its a bad visual. This is the biggest problem with the Cape Dory 25D layout, you look right on the boat towards the head. I insist that we keep that door shut at all times and hope that requiring the ch’i to first pass through the salon and galley puts the beneficial ch’i where it needs to be before it passes into the head. On the Cal 21, I made Geoff install the port-a-potty hatch to one side, which also made it easier to use.)

Similarly, what your entrance hatch directly faces effects the ch’i, meaning that nice serene views are good ch’i while busy dock bars with late night bands and much traffic is bad (less calming ch’i). When we stop at a marina, I often prefer to be on the furthest-out dock, away from the majority of the traffic.

Your front door should also have a clear area in front of it where beneficial ch’i can accumulate while waiting on you to open the door and let it in. This means a clear, uncluttered cockpit (ahem, no tools laying out, no dirty dishes or trash) which helps not only with the visual appeal of the boat, but allows the cockpit to remain a positive, usable space.

On the subject of windows, just like in a house, you don’t want windows on a sailboat to be too small or muddy as the natural light they provide is important, but you also don’t want them to be too large (or so large and poorly placed where one rouge wave can crash them in and sink the boat). We also have hatches we can (and do) open when we’re at anchor or at a marina to allow in additional light but that we shut as soon as we’re at sea. Similarly, you want to keep your windows as clear as possible (a loosing battle on our Catalina), but have the ability to shield the view, and protect your privacy.

Swim platforms and rear-entry boats allow negative ch’i to potentially fly straight onto the boat (as well as give the boat more of a sled appearance and less of a classic double-ender appearance, but that’s personal preference talking).

Furniture placement – not something you can do a lot about if you’ve already bought a boat, but worth considering if you’re looking at a new one. In addition to the layout of “rooms”, how the furniture flows within those spaces is also important. You don’t want any stagnant ch’i – meaning you don’t want any spaces that are dead ends, or aren’t being well used (a bit of a no-brainer on a space-limited sailboat). You also don’t want bad ch’i coming from hallways or edges (the one place I bruise myself constantly on the Catalina is on the edge of the kitchen counter that I have to pass to get from the galley and quarterberth into the salon. Shelf edges also generate this same bad ch’i, and are also sources of things flying off mid-sail, and so it’s best to either have doors in front of the shelves or fill them with books and use a bar or rope to keep them from flying around.

Like any room, you don’t want to sit with your back to a doorway (in this case, generally meaning the entry hatch). This is why I’m not a huge fan of open floorplan offices and why the ch’i in my office is so bad (a door on three walls makes it difficult to face the right way). In our Catalina, our U-shaped galley creates the back of some cushions facing the table which means if you sit there, you have your back to the hatch. Less ideal than flipping the seating to create more of a U-shape with a gentle curve against the side of the boat that doesn’t jut out into the center. Many boats only have a bench on each side (eg. our Cape Dory) and so do not have this problem.

Also, we don’t have a TV on the sailboat. Good feng shui doesn’t have a problem with a TV, but it shouldn’t be the focus of the room. When we want to watch a show, we pull out a tablet. A large TV is overwhelming in a small sailboat living space. And, I think, defeats the purpose of being on the sailboat in the first place.

Finally, beware ribs on the ceiling. Beautiful, yes, but make sure they’re high enough that not even your tallest guest will hit their head.

On our sailboats, the salon or living space doubles as the dining space by folding down our our a table with rounded corners, of course. (I much prefer this to fixed tables that limit the usable space of the floor of the boat and create more corners to run into.) In a home, you often use a mirror to reflect the table and thus visually increase the space and size of the bounty, but on a sailboat, that’s hardly practical. You also want to avoid large centerpieces that you can’t see around and could go flying at any minute and light fixtures that intrude into the space (no lanterns hanging directly over the table….actually, as pretty as lanterns are, they need to be kept to the side where no one’s head is likely to come in contact with them).

Bedroom placement, especially on a boat at anchor, is a particularly interesting problem. In a fix-direction situation, you generally want your head pointing in a direction from which you will derive rest or strength – this direction varies from person to person and is calculated using your kuanumber. Note that its calculated differently for males and females – Geoff and I are both 8’s even though we were born ten years apart. When at dock, we have some control over the direction we sleep, but at anchor, with a boat floating around 360-degrees, there’s really no way to control it, but just to know that some nights sleep will be better than others.

This is the point where, to some extent, the logic of feng shui breaks apart for me. I can handle the idea that someone’s body is more restful aligned a certain direction to the environmental factors (magnetism, etc), and I’m ok with the idea that this direction varies for different people. I’m a bit more unsure, however, about tying what direction is best to the year of birth. While there is no doubt that environmental and cultural factors will generally affect people born in the same year similarly, I’m not sure that any of these are strong enough to say all females born in 1984 are 8s and thus need to sleep with their heads pointing SW. We are currently at dock with our heads facing Northwest when we sleep (supposedly our Health direction) but I can’t say we’re any healthier because of that than because of other lifestyle factors (although we tried sleeping the other way, pointing SE, which didn’t work well at all). That said, knowing what your best directions are and experimenting with them can hardly hurt.

I had an interesting discussion with the professor on this topic. I asked him if he could think of any reason a person’s year of birth would be important. Sun cycles or something. He couldn’t, but he suggested something else. What if we ran an experiment with 100 children every year, and each year’s children showed a propensity for sleeping a different direction. If 40% preferred one of the four cardinal directions, then there was clearly something tugging them to sleep in a certain direction (rather than if only 25% preferred one of four directions). Even though we didn’t know the cause of the propensity, we could clearly demonstrate it was there. Now, I don’t have access to hundreds of children, but the argument is that Feng Shui masters, making and documenting these observations over thousands of years, have reached the current system of directions for different years we have today. It may seem a bit arbitrary, but the argument is that observation-based evidence would bear it out.

Since there’s been no massive study with strict control, however, I think the kua number directional rules are very useful as a guideline to start figuring out what direction might work best for you.

Other bedroom pointers I think are important for the boat. It’s supposed to be a yin room, very relaxing. No TVs to keep you up late, no water fountains to make you get up in the middle of the night, your head against a wall to provide mental support, don’t have anything hanging over your head (this is not only bad feng shui, in our Catalina the combing box hangs down into the bed and I’ve hit my head on it countless times).

For children’s bedrooms (in our case, this will be in the forward part of the sailboat), you have similar feng shui considerations as for an adults, except that you want enough light and brightness in the room that the children can see to work and play in their own spaces, but the ability to mute the light so they can sleep. Like any room on the sailboat, you want to make especially sure that the children’s room’s storage (be it shelves or drawers) can be properly secured for a rough sea. A flying teddy bear is less dangerous than flying books or toy cars. In addition to the child being able to see their whole space and the door (thus leaving less unknown space), you also want to be wary of mirrors and pictures that could potentially fall or create startling reflections.

Then there are the so-called “wet” rooms, head, galley, etc. (Although I would argue that there are times when all rooms on a sailboat are wet, these are the rooms that regularly have water flowing in and out of them. Which makes me wonder if the vberth which contains the water-cooled air conditioner would also count as a “wet” room although that process doesn’t “soil” the water the way a head or galley does.) Anywhere water leaves the house, so exits ch’i, causing the good energy you’ve so dutifully gathered to flow away and exit. This is necessary because you don’t want the ch’i to stagnate, so there must be some flow, but you don’t want it rushing out. You also don’t want to see the water pipes, like everything on the boat, they need to be neatly tucked away. Seeing the pipes is bad ch’i, as is smelling the pipes. And you want to keep the door to the head closed.

In the galley of the boat, the ideal location is as closest to the center as possible so when cooking at sea, the cook experiences as little motion as possible. But in either case, because this is another location where the cook “works,” you want to stand where you can still see what’s going on. That’s somewhat difficult in a boat, but I like the hallway galleys that allow you to work on one side while being able to view both entrances. On the other hand, a U-shaped galley allows the stove and sink to be at right angles rather than next door to each other or directly across from each other. Even on a boat that’s constantly changing direction, you don’t want both the good of the oven and the bad of the drain lining up in the same direction and canceling each other out. I also think that its easier to go from oven to sink and vice versa if they’re at a 90-degree angle to each other – the whole kitchen triangle efficiency thing.

Outside Cruising Sailboats

If you lived in a land based home, you’d worry not only about the direction your house was facing and the different layouts within the house and within rooms, you’d also apply feng shui principles to the surrounding environment. You’d want a hill to your back, smaller hills to your sides, and a small hill in front a ways, to surround you safely. This makes sense, at anchor, you want to be protected by a cove or seawall from the worst of the waves and by surrounding hills from the worst of the winds.

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