Transition to Winter: Slowing Down, and Finding Balance between Sailing or Not

It’s been a bit over a month now since we stopped full-time cruising (after being at anchor 95% of the time for 6 months!) and holed up in a marina for a break. I know there are some sailors that spend northwest winters at anchor, hopping around, but honestly that seems really really tough.

Fall seemed to arrive fast and furious this year, bringing surprisingly strong early southeasterlies and pretty regular rain. Some people are saying that fall lasted only one week, because by early October we already had lows of 36 F in the coastal areas and snow in the mountains. A tough time to live on a boat at anchor, even with a diesel heater.

The rainy weeks are tougher than the cold ones – when it rains for 7 days straight we rely pretty heavily on our AC powered dehumidifier to dry out wet clothes and keep the boat from growing mildew. At times the pounding on the deck seemed unrelenting.

So in the fall and winter we turn to marinas more for power and also for a break from cruising. Marina life is way easier than being on the hook. We have luxuries like unlimited power, water, and laundry machines on shore. Plus there are restaurants, so occasionally we can get a break from home cooking all our meals. Of course, these luxuries are something most people take for granted, but as sailors you learn to appreciate them a lot more.

Finding Balance – A Bit of Normal Life

As fall moved in this September we realized we were very much ready for a change of pace. We’d been cruising for nearly 6 months, but in actuality we’ve been traveling nearly continuously for the last year and a half – two 6 month stretches of cruising plus 5 months of travel in the southern hemisphere and Mexico. There was only 5 weeks in the middle where we stayed in any single place longer than a month.

It’s been awesome, but also a very unusual lifestyle. Eventually you crave a bit of normal life – a home base, friends, routines, work, local knowledge. The choice to go cruising also means sacrificing a lot of other options – biking, road trips, normal jobs, attending events/parties, etc. So this winter we’re doing a bit more of that and I think our cruising batteries will be well rejuvenated by next spring.

Sailing Down to Seattle

We’re still doing some sailing too though, and the fall / winter can have some great sailing conditions – you just need the patience (and luck) to wait for it. At the end of October, it was time to move down to Seattle and we lucked out with a string of 8 days of sunshine! Very nice and really rare to get that many days in a row.

Sunshine also meant that a typical winter-time northerly wind pattern was in place, with cold air blowing from the north (BC’s Fraser River outflow possibly). This was very nice for sailing, downwind pretty much every day over the 5 days it took us to cruise down to Seattle. We motored less than 5% of the miles covered.

Sailing downwind approaching Point Wilson with some major tidal rip action going on

Relocating a boat in the winter isn’t a trivial challenge though – we knew with the risk of big southerlies coming in we might need to be flexible (which is why we had an 8 day window). The daylight hours are also much shorter now, with only about 10 1/2 hours of daylight (7:30am-6pm). Within that window we have to consider when the favorable current push is flowing, which only lasts for 6 hours. On top of that, in this clear skies weather pattern it gets very cold at night – down to 30F with frost and ice on deck/dock!

After a month and a half without sailing, it was really fun to get back on the water and see how quickly we slipped back into the cruising lifestyle. The water, anchorages and marinas are pretty much deserted this time of year but the sailing was great – with beautiful clear views of distant snow capped mountain ranges.

Whether sailing or not, we’re often reminded of how lucky we are to enjoy such a beautiful area of the world and live a lifestyle where we can spend a lot of time in it.

Sunset at 6pm approaching Port Madison on waning light and wind

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