Paradise Below Deck: Turning a sportboat bunk into a five-star chillin’ chamber for the ride home

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THE DAIWA D-VEC BOAT BAG is ideally suited for packing a lot of all this stuff with room for plenty more, and it’s built for life on the water. PHOTO COURTESY DAIWA.US
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Master class on ‘Racking out’ from a self-proclaimed mastermind

BY MIKE STEVENS

SAN CLEMENTE – I’m never the best angler on the boat, but when it comes to racking out on a Southern California sportboat, I’m a first-ballot hall-of-famer. I admit it’s pretty absurd how much I look forward to bunk time on an upcoming trip. Of course, I’m as fired up about fishing as the next guy, but that’s not where it ends for me. Hitting the rack on the way to the fishing grounds is one thing. I just sleep like everyone else. But on the way back from the outer banks or the Channel Islands, with five-plus hours of straight-line motoring home ahead, that’s when I shine down below.

The problem with the post-trip run home is, it might be early afternoon when it’s time to “wind ‘em up guys” and head back to the barn. Even after a long day of fishing, it’s too early to fall into any level of legit sleep that makes the run back to the barn seem shorter. So, you guys can keep your poker and cribbage in the galley, I’m going to be livin’ large in my bunk.

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 Big freakin’ towel:

SAND CLOUD towels can cover a lot of space, but they pack down to almost nothing when not in use. They can fill many roles when it comes to life on a SoCal sportboat. PHOTO COURTESY SANDCOUD.COM

It’s kind of amazing how many bases you can cover with a big freakin’ towel (BFT). One thing that is an almost universal truth about sportboat bunkrooms is, they’re either too hot or too cold. They’re never just right. If it’s too hot, the BFT can provide a barrier that keeps you from sticking to the ubiquitous vinyl pad. It being a towel, it’s made to deal with moisture unlike those boat-provided blankets, so it’s a better option for that. Naturally, a BFT can be a blanket when it’s cold down there, or an extra layer when combined with the boat blanket when it’s really cold down there. I’m also a fan of the privacy curtain the bunks that some boats feature. If they don’t, the boat blanket becomes one (as long as there’s a bunk above you to stuff it under) while the BFT does the real work. Also, considering a boat is a wet environment, it could come in handy as, you know, a towel.

Veteran Moves: My first BFT was one of those double-wides you can get at Costco, and it was great in that you can kill two birds with one stone by folding it in half and folding yourself into the middle. Vinyl blockage and blanket mode at the same time, baby. The problem was, that monster wasn’t exactly compact when folded or rolled up and stuffed into my duffle bag (mine is the Daiwa D-Vec Boat Bag which is perfect for this). Eventually, I replaced it with a Sand Cloud towel (Sandcloud.com) which I saw on Shark Tank, and they couldn’t take my money fast enough (it’s also a San Diego company, which I dig). The Sand Cloud has the same dimensions as its predecessor, but it packs down to a bundle the size of a calzone, so it doesn’t take up much real estate in the Daiwa bag.

Camp Pillow

I’m an Eastern Sierra guy, but I’m no hardcore, multi-day backcountry explorer, however, I am borderline obsessed with the gear for it.  That goes for mountain climbing stuff, too. Everything that goes in their packs is well built, light and takes up minimal space.

Now, I admit, this should be further down the list (but it also made sense for it to appear right after the big freakin’ towel) or even left off these days. But, there was a time when more boats were coming back online after the worst of the pandemic regulations as far as they were concerned, and among the rules there for a while was a requirement to bring your own bedding.

CAMP PILLOWS came into play when boats were not providing bedding for boats when landings were minding watching their step when running trips with pandemic-related safeguards in place. But, they don’t take up much space and are worth having around just in case. PHOTO COURTESY wiseowloutfitters.com

For the longest time, my bunk pillow was simply my hoodie folded up into one, but that all came to a screeching halt the time I wore it well into the afternoon on an unseasonably chilly June trip to SCI on the Fury. By the end of the day, a damp, slime and sardine-scale covered sweatshirt was unfit for pillow duty, and I went without.

The mountain-stuff shops have a dizzying array of mini camp pillows at various price points, but I found a great one on Amazon from a company called Wise Owl Outfitters that packs in a small cinch sack and runs a little over 20 bucks. Or, you can just skip this one since boats are back to providing them. I still bring it along, and it gets used for plenty of on-shore – and in-flight for that matter – situations, too. But it falls well below the BFT on the game-changer scale.

 

Tablet

This is where I may lose some of you, especially anyone who’s ascended to the rank of “Old Salt.” In relatively recent years, I’ve taken to bringing a tablet on trips overnight and longer. Yes, the same technology we are escaping is being smuggled aboard in my beloved Daiwa bag, but hear me out.

I used to bring a paperback book on every trip, but it always seemed like I never picked it up for reasons including but not limited to: not feeling like reading that particular book when it was go time, or, there wasn’t enough light in the bunkroom. So I started bringing a tablet, but in an ironic twist, I haven’t been using it to read books at all.

Movies, man. I’d been doing it on flights for years, so it’s kind of alarming how long it took me to mix it in on boats. Obviously, you don’t have WiFi out there, but in this cable-cutting world we live in, it’s become increasingly more efficient to come up on digital programming that can be viewed anywhere. Netflix subscribers can download any of its stuff for offline viewing, and you can buy or even rent (it’s something like, you have 30 days to watch a rental and 24 to 48 hours to finish one once you’ve hit “play”) movies and shows on YouTube. There are a lot of options for this type of deal out there, those are just the two that I use.

While I have a bunch of books on my tablet, I’ve still never read one that way but I imagine that won’t always be the case. But building a stockpile of movies to watch on future trips is fun in and of itself.

Yes, all of this can be accomplished with the smartphone you already have in your pocket, but I don’t like watching the small screen and I’d rather save the battery on the phone. If you listen to podcasts, whatever pod app is on your phone can also be added to your tablet, so you can really check off three boxes (video, reading, podcast) with a tablet.

 

There’s an app for this

            I said I don’t read books on a tablet, but I will read articles. I’m one of those dudes who very easily gets trapped in media rabbit holes on a handful of subjects including and outside of hook-and-bullet content. What that results in is me running across long-form articles I don’t have to read that day, but I do want to read them eventually. My old move was to email myself the link and find it later, but I still needed internet access to get to it (in most cases), so that was caveman stuff.

My long-time amigo Tim Durbin runs into the same issue due to his busy schedule as the GM of Fish House Vera Cruz in San Marcos. He tipped me off to an app called Pocket that stands as the perfect remedy for it. The way Pocket works is as simple as it is genius. Once the app is added to your device (it can also be added to the browser on your computer), you can add any online article you come across to Pocket. Once it’s in there, you not only can easily find it, but they’re available to read offline. That’s right, no Internet connection needed to read whatever you have in Pocket. Sometimes you won’t see all the images that ran with the original, but the words are all there in an easy-to-read format.

I’m to the point I’m adding stuff way faster than I’m reading it, but it’s sure cool to have all that content at my fingertips on the boat or during a cross-country flight.

 

Fancy headphones

This is where I really toe the line of unnecessary luxury and practical comfort. When I started with the tablet thing, I just brought regular ol’ earbuds along. I stored them in an Altoids tin which was about as convenient and space-saving as it gets. Then I discovered noise-canceling headphones and I was ruined for life.

I remember being on a flight (clearly there is a lot of airline/sport boat crossover here) and being blown away by how much it reduced the engine noise, we’re talking like, 85 percent. With earbuds, I had to crank the volume way up just to hear what I was watching, it did nothing for the engine noise.

Well, it has the same effect on a boat motor cranked up to go-home speed. Somehow, the sloshing water sound still sneaks in, so you still have that going for you, but other than that, as soon as you put those on and fire them up, you’re in your own little world. Sometimes when a movie ends, I’ll just leave the headphones on playing nothing (with the noise-canceling feature still engaged) and fall asleep in my own below-deck sensory deprivation chamber. I mean, play your cards right, and your relaxation options are almost endless.

Anyway, fancy headphones are expensive, and they take up way more space than the Altoids tin (but less than the pillow and BFT). I have a Sony pair my brother got me from Costco for around $120, but there are plenty of off-brand options out there that I’m sure will do the job, so you don’t have to go to the Bose store and burn a car payment on headphones. I mean, they’re going on a boat.

So there you have it. It’s great to be on deck, but it’s also a long jog home from say, San Clemente Island. Hanging out up top with some beers, burgers and banter is all good. I do it myself to a point, but when you want to turn your entire time on the water into a multi-faceted mini vacation, next-level bunk-room chillin’ is the icing on the cake.

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