Category Archives: dreams

Making the Leap to Liveaboards: Hopes and Fears

In about a month, we’re making the leap to become liveaboards at Shilshole. We haven’t decided for how long, but will re-evaluate at one year – it’ll come down to how well we survive the difficult winter months when it’s rainy, cold and dark every day.

There are some big reasons making it worth trying the liveaboard lifestyle, and an equal number of fears / worries we have about it. It’s not right for everyone, but everyone we talk to who has made the jump to being liveaboards loves it and recommends it.

To me “liveaboard” means living on a boat while being tethered to one home port most of the time – either because you have to work a job on land, or perhaps you’re retired but just don’t want to go anywhere. Although last summer we lived on the boat for 3 months, that was cruising – which is living aboard while traveling, an entirely different matter.

Moving aboard involves lots of full carloads – to both the boat and storage

The storage locker already getting pretty full – we need to start stacking higher

The benefits to liveaboard life are clear:

  • Waterfront real estate. Living in a marina, your home is in a beautiful waterfront location with views of the snow-capped Olympic mountains and wildlife (sea birds, seals) passing by your back porch (cockpit).
  • Money. Not many people discuss this, but I think the biggest advantage of living aboard is how much money you can save. With Seattle’s surging real estate market, a nice 1-bedroom apartment in the city can run about $1500-2000. Liveaboard moorage for a 38-foot boat runs about $680. That’s a savings of up to $15,000 per year, which can be put towards cruising, vacations, or paying off debt.
  • Living life in a more Minimalist way – less consumerism, less stuff, less distraction.
  • Efficiency. We’ll no longer need to commute between an apartment and the boat to do project work or go sailing. This saves time and may make certain types of projects easier. We’ll no more have a “boat pile” at home and a “home pile” at the boat.
  • Carbon Impact. Living on a boat is a very earth friendly way to live. On the boat, we use a fraction of the electricity we use at home, a tiny fraction of the amount of water, and produce less consumerist discards (trash/recycling) due to the forcing function of having to live in a minimalist way.

There are also a few fears we have about living aboard:

  • Will it make us end up sailing less? When your boat is your home, it’s more work to get it shipshape for sailing. Not only that, since it’s our only home, we can’t easily go sailing separately – if I want to go out sailing while Natalie is at work, a happy hour, or just doesn’t feel like sailing that day, she won’t have anywhere to return to after the event.
  • Storage – will having massively less space to store stuff be a considerable burden?
  • Will the wet, rainy weather we get for weeks on end (before the summer starts) be tiresome? Will heating be a problem?
  • Commute – my commute gets slightly better (biking between Ballard + Fremont rather than Capitol Hill + Fremont) but Natalie’s gets worse. Getting to downtown from Ballard isn’t easy. She can drive in 20-25 minutes on an early schedule, but then has to pay $30/day for parking. Public transit involves a 1 mile walk followed by 2 buses, totaling about a 1 hour commute. Biking is an option but also takes close to an hour. Any Ballard-Downtown commuters know of better options?
  • When we go cruising now, being on the boat in anchorages is truly special. Will that experience lose its magic when being on the boat is a more routine, everyday occurrence?

As with any change in life, there are some scary aspects, and some exciting aspects.

We’re currently working on massively downsizing – selling possessions on Craigslist and giving carloads full to Goodwill – much like we did last spring before renting our place for 3 months. But this time we’re also selling our condo, which means getting rid of all our furniture too. We have a small storage locker we’re using for keepsakes, winter clothes, ski gear, etc.

When you can’t agree on whether something that hasn’t been used in a long time is worth keeping, put a note on it marking a discard date – if you still haven’t used it in X amount of time, then clearly it wasn’t really needed

It’s strangely liberating to get rid of so much stuff. You don’t realize how much you have until you do it. Further, you don’t realize how much of a disposable purchasing society we live in. People buy so much stuff they don’t really need that it means possessions are not treasured, and Goodwill gets piles of barely used stuff every single day. Some things are impossible to sell on Craigslist because they’re not valued.

Despite a lot of work, we’re still getting out sailing about twice a month!

Summarizing 3 Months of Cruising (Part 1 of 2)

How do you describe three months of sailing? The truth is you can’t – no words can really sum up that amount of time in a short blog post. We had such an amazing time that to say it was life changing wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration.

Some areas of remote BC were more beautiful than I could adequately put into words. We had surprise visits from humpback whales, seals and bears, reminding us we were not the only life out there. We encountered high winds and strong currents, situations that tested our boat’s strength, and our abilities as sailors.

My relationship with wind changed – I can’t look at water now without seeing wind – the ripples and the tidal interactions. A flag blowing on a hill side, or a gentle breeze on your arm. So many signals we used to read wind; wind started to become a kind of three dimensional map on the water, or a 6th dimension to our senses.

Wind was our motive force, our fuel – for this reason it reached a greater importance than ever before. We had a lot of mileage to cover, and most of it was wind powered.

All the stress of packing up our condo, selling or donating excess possessions, finishing last minute boat projects, and moving onto the boat had long since been forgotten – erased by the single minded focus you get while cruising. The only thing that mattered was keeping the boat moving and keeping us safe. Fun was a secondary goal, and as long as we were safe, it usually came easily.

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Anchored in front of the waterfall in Princess Louisa Inlet.

Route

Our route took us over 1300 nautical miles, starting June 10 from Seattle at Elliot Bay Marina, and ending September 3 back in Seattle at Shilshole.

We first headed north to the San Juans, and spent a week or two there (meeting up with family), then traveled through the southern Gulf Islands before hopping over to the Sunshine Coast and visiting Princess Louisa Inlet.

From there we headed north for some sunshine and warm water in Desolation Sound. Next we traveled through the back route to the Broughtons, bypassing most of Johnstone Strait but still dealing with the high currents of the tidal passes and some high winds once we reached Johnstone.

After reprovisioning at Port McNeil, we skipped past the Broughtons because we had southerly wind, and explored Queen Charlotte Strait. Miles Inlet was our furthest point north, almost to Cape Caution, at which point we headed back south and spent over a week in the Broughtons. The highlight of that area was sailing into MacKenzie Sound and visiting Nimmo Bay Resort.

We were a little tired of all the powerboats in the Broughtons and the mostly overcast, chilly days, so we headed south back through Johnstone Strait (all the way this time) and returned to Desolation Sound. Desolation Sound was hot and sunny by this time (late July), but also very crowded – we found a wonderful, more secluded spot in Pendrell Sound.

As we continued south, we visited Lasqueti Island, and went across the Strait of Georgia to Nanaimo and the northern Gulfs. Later we went across the Strait again to visit Vancouver for several days, and then crossed the Strait back westward (encountering high winds this time), to visit the Gulf Islands some more. We enjoyed the Gulfs, but before long it was time to move on – back to the U.S. through the San Juans.

We stopped in Port Townsend and then sailed south, past Seattle, to southern Puget Sound. Despite a complete lack of wind most of the time, we had fun visiting Natalie’s family in Olympia. From there we headed back to anchorages around Seattle and Bainbridge for a few nights, before it was time to truly end our trip and return to work.

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Looking west, on the way to Desolation Sound.

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It’s Official – 3 Months Off Work!

If we haven’t posted in awhile, it’s because we’ve been super busy! In the last month, we got married (in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico), both negotiated 3 months leave from work, rented our condo for the summer, and hauled out the boat.

We now have three months unpaid vacation from June thru August, three times longer than our 1-month cruise last summer. This shifts things into a whole new ballgame. Although it seems short compared to other cruisers who take 1 year sabbaticals (or longer), it’ll be the longest time we’ve ever been away from work, since starting work over 10 years ago. Isn’t that crazy? We know people who have been working 20 or 30 years or more who have never had more than 2 weeks away from work.

We both have great jobs, and are lucky they’re understanding of this – but we’ve also been surprised more people don’t do this. We’ve talked to other cruisers who couldn’t even contemplate taking 3 months off work – they simply assumed it wasn’t possible (when sometimes all it takes is to ask).

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When Dreams Don’t Match Reality

For over a year now I’ve had the dream of sailing down to Mexico, cruising the Sea of Cortez for a while, then sailing out into the Pacific to Hawaii and then back to Seattle. Living the adventure everyone talks about.

It was an ambitious goal, born from a desire for freedom, adventure, and breaking out of the standard pattern of life – one of working oneself into the grave. We work and work all our life, and for what? To buy a bigger house and fill it with more possessions that we hardly ever use? To have more money in retirement to spend in the bingo hall?

World cruising had all the attributes of the perfect escape from normalcy – adventure, vagabonding on the cheap, and a connection with a simpler natural world where burying your nose in your phone as you walk around isn’t the norm.

I read all the cruising books. “The Voyager’s Handbook by Beth Leonard was my bible. Capn Fatty Goodlander, and Joshua Slocum’s “Sailing Around the World Alone. Larry and Lin Pardey’s “Storm Tactics.” All of these books made cruising sound simply awesome! Sailing seemed like the perfect way to travel the world – cheaper than a hotel room, and you get to bring your stuff with you too (rather than just what you can fit in a backpack).

More Adventure Than We Really Needed

I thought ocean sailing would be an adventure – big long rolling waves, steady consistent winds, beautiful ocean expanses, and peaceful nights under a blanket of stars. That’s not what I found. During our 2 weeks on the west coast of Vancouver Island we had two days of zero wind in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, requiring many hours of motoring, short and steep cross waves off the coast of Van Isle, and winds that were anything but consistent (lasting usually just 1pm – 6pm, and either not enough – less than 5 knots – or a bit too much – greater than 25 knots).

The ocean for most of 2 weeks was a somber gray expanse, with gray featureless clouds right down to the horizon, looking exactly the same in almost every direction. The star filled nights I had hoped for were missing 12 days out of 14, since cloud cover usually blocked out the sky.

And sailing long distances was exhausting – even just 25 miles left us dead tired and spent for the day. We hand steered most of the time because the wheel autopilot isn’t strong enough to handle 5 foot waves coming from all different directions – a wave from the port quarter would push us starboard followed by a wave from starboard later pushing us to port, requiring strong, quick ¼ turns of the wheel to keep us on course.

Yes, it’s true we were really still doing coastal sailing – coastal sailing that just happened to be in the ocean, but not true ocean sailing with no land in sight. And the land – with its shallows, points and currents – was what caused the cross waves and wind changes oftentimes. And the fields of crab pots to dodge.

But I realized the ocean 100 miles offshore wouldn’t be any easier. And the mechanical problems we had this trip (When You Motor Can’t Go Forward, Drive in Reverse, Engine Problems in the Strait of Juan de Fuca) made me realize how quickly it could get miserable if the engine failed ten days out from shore.

The saying goes amongst cruisers that cruising is “fixing your boat in exotic places.” But this started to sound like a mere coping mechanism for a sucky situation – I didn’t want to be fixing the boat in exotic places. I’d much rather be fixing it at home, safely on dock and within access of Internet references. Replacing fuel filters and bleeding the engine at anchor in Neah Bay was not fun, and it’s quite a stretch to even begin to consider Neah Bay an exotic location.

I began to think long distance cruisers just have really bad memories – they forget the bad parts so quickly that they’ve erased the trials and tribulations of offshore voyaging by the time they’re due to do it again.

“Cruising Sailboats are Like Really Slow Motorboats”

But the #1 reason I realized long distance sailing might not be for me was due to how often it actually consisted of motoring!

Motoring a sailboat really kills me – call me a traditionalist, but motoring a sailboat makes me imagine the boat crying tiny tears of sorrow into the ocean. Sailboats are beautiful, amazing works of engineering, and it’s truly a privilege to own one. Burning diesel is not what sailboats were meant to do.

We’re not ones to shy away from sailing in light wind. We’re good at trimming for light air, have a boat that sails well in light air, and often we’ll be sailing in 5 knots of wind while most of the other sailboats around us are motoring someplace. But at the same time we’re not impractical motor-hating tyrants – we aren’t going to sail 4 hours at 1 knot. Covering 4 miles in half a normal work day is just really frustrating.

Cruising long distances pretty much requires motoring long distances. I thought the ocean would have at least some wind most of the time, or at least in the afternoon. But that’s not the case. We motored for 8 hours between Bamfield and Port Renfrew, crossing the western Strait of Juan de Fuca around 2pm over glassy calm waters. Neah Bay buoy was reading 2 kts I believe. We motored out the Strait of Juan de Fuca for two days as well, with no wind for most of each day. The 2nd day we had enough wind in only the last hour (4-5pm) to sail into Ucluelet.

This is not just a Northwest phenomenon. A survey of other cruisers in the Puget Sound Cruising Club who had cruised around the Pacific Ocean said they motored 50 to 85% of the time (it varied between couples). Motoring for over 24 hours is not uncommon.

A Model for Actually Sailing

The one beacon of hope I saw in this disappointing awakening was the realization that you don’t have to be a motoring sailor. Who decided you had to go 50 miles today? You did. When you decided to make a passage that has no safe anchorages for 50 miles. Or when you decided to run ahead of a storm. We get to choose whether we are motoring sailors or sailing sailors.

And the best way to avoid having your sailboat be a slow motorboat is to keep your passages short – really short, like 20 miles. That way if the day has 8 kts wind from 2-4pm and calm wind the rest of the day, you can wait for the wind and do some light air sailing and get to your destination in 3 or 4 hours. If you were trying to cover 50 miles with no motoring, 2 hours of 8 kt wind simply wouldn’t do it.

And this is the sad, roundabout way I came to the conclusion that the best way to avoid my #1 problem with long distance cruising was to not do long distance cruising.

What Now?

It’s heartbreaking having to dismantle a dream. Especially a dream you’ve spent years building up in your mind. It took years to build up and mere days to realize it might not really be what I want.

Deciding not to cross oceans feels like a defeat. Like I’m wimping out because it’s scary. The truth is it is scary, but also not as fun as the books I read made it sound. When people write books about cruising they don’t write in detail about all the bad parts or boring parts. That’s not what sells books. Cruising bloggers don’t usually write about the long boring passages they had motoring either. They just show the amazing photos of fish swimming in coral reefs from when they got there.

Now I’m learning to read between the lines. Laura Dekker’s book is one of the more honest ones I’ve read. She mentions the times she was becalmed, sometimes for days at a time, the hours spent motoring with one of the two diesel engines onboard, the big waves and cross waves that tossed her boat around making life rather uncomfortable, and the birds that turned the boat into a carpet of bird poop.

The Upside

A couple months ago if I read someone else writing the very words I’m writing now, I’d be silently judging and thinking of all the reasons they couldn’t hack it because they weren’t prepared enough, or experienced enough. Now I realize if you haven’t been in the ocean you really have no idea of knowing whether you’d like it or not. I can still change my mind. Maybe I could go offshore, and could prepare the boat for it – but maybe I don’t want to.

I do know it’s very easy to feel brave when sitting at a computer in the safety and comfort of home reading CruisersForum. It’s entirely different actually being out there in a tough situation, alone and cut off from any outside assistance.

But at least I have clarity now – I like cruising sounds, not oceans. Comfortable sailing on relatively smooth water in 10 – 25 knots of wind, with great anchorages every 10 to 20 miles so we can sail all afternoon without motoring and then drop the anchor for happy hour beers and snacks.

There’s plenty of fun to be had in Puget Sound and the Inner Passage, and more than enough adventure to last a while.