Category Archives: marinas

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!

Ghost Boats: The Surprising Truth of Most Boats in Marinas

When you spend a lot of time around boats, you get to noticing some peculiar things about marinas. They’re like parking lots for boats – but imagine if the cars in the parking lot never moved!

Since I got my start in boating from the Seattle Sailing Club (SSC), I figured most boats get used every week – after all, all the SSC boats did (for the most part). Or if not weekly, at least monthly right?  No? Hmm. The surprising truth I eventually discovered is that most boats get used not at all, in the 8 months between September and June. And even in the 2-4 months of summer (the definition of summer depends on who you talk to), most get used weekly or monthly, but a few still don’t get used at all.

Sunset at Fisherman's Terminal.

So for a while now I’ve struggled to make sense of this. We’re so fortunate to live in an area where it’s possible to cruise year-round – we don’t have to haul out and winterize our boats like people do on the northern east coast and Great Lakes.


There are two big reasons people don’t sail much in the PNW winter:

  • Rain, cold, and challenging wind storms.
  • Short daylight hours. At its worst, it gets dark at about 4pm (before true sunset, due to the dark, heavy cloud cover we have much of the winter). This rules out weekday sails for people who work during the day.

A NOAA marine forecast in December

These are big reasons, and I totally understand why it deters many people. Some years we have powerful weather systems moving through as frequently as every two days, and some of them you really don’t want to risk being out in – 40+ knot winds with short steep waves and cold sideways rain.

Last winter we had a 40 day period without a single rain-free day. Typical weather forecasts show a chance of rain every day of the next 10 days, every week. Yet, it usually doesn’t rain all day, and there are often short windows of nice weather in between each front.

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A Review of Elliott Bay Marina

We’ve been at Elliott Bay Marina (EBM) for six months now. EBM is well known for being beautiful, peaceful, and, to me, a bit pricey (it’s 11% more expensive than Shilshole, making it the most expensive major marina in the Seattle area). We’ve had a great experience here, yet at times I’ve been torn by a calling towards Shilshole. We’ve been on the Shilshole wait list for a year with no word, so we might just give up on that.

A year ago when I needed to find a home for our new boat, I had assumed Shilshole would be it – Shilshole is where we had always sailed with the Seattle Sailing Club, and it was the hub of all sailing activity as I knew it. But when I found out Shilshole had a 1+ year waitlist it was a scramble to find an alternative option; and I found there are surprisingly few reviews of marinas – even though lots of little details can make all the difference.

We enjoyed our stay at Fisherman’s Terminal, but wanted to get outside the Locks for better sailing.

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A Review of Fishermen’s Terminal Marina

With our departure for Vancouver Island coming up in 2 weeks, we likely won’t be returning to Fishermen’s Terminal marina, our boat’s home for the last 4 months. When we get back in August it’ll be to Elliott Bay marina, and eventually Shilshole. Shilshole has a 10 month wait list, so we’ll be waiting till the winter for that.

But Fishermen’s Terminal has treated us well, and we will miss it.


Here’s what we liked about Fishermen’s Terminal:

  • Great location in Ballard that is a quicker commute from work+home than Elliott Bay marina or Shilshole. Easily bikeable.
  • A great pub – the Highliner – at the marina. Shilshole doesn’t have anything like that – the nearest is Ray’s a half mile away. Highliner has at least 10 good beers on tap all the time and some really good food (try the black cod, fish tacos, mussels, clams, nachos, pulled pork mac+cheese). We enjoyed many happy hours and dinners there after a sail or a project day.

The special this week at the Highliner – salmon cooked to a perfect medium rare, with a pesto sauce and pasta in a cream sauce.

  • Big wide slips with nice concrete docks, and very sheltered from wind and waves.
  • Fresh water, so your hull bottom stays super clean! When we hauled out in June, the bottom was cleaner than it was in January in Vancouver.
  • Cheaper moorage than Shilshole or Elliott Bay.

What we didn’t like:

  • Going through the Locks to get out to the Sound. This took longer and was more stressful than expected, enough so that it deterred us from sailing in the Sound more frequently and going to Lake Union instead.
  • Being disconnected from the sailing community. There are only about a dozen sailboats at Fishermen’s Terminal, and about 40 recreational powerboats. Compared to the probably 1000+ sailboats at Shilshole, this isn’t much. The few sailboats that are at Fishermen’s Terminal are mostly inactive – their owners are just storing them there, or working on them. In the 4 months we were there, I never once saw a sailboat enter or leave the marina. There was one trimaran I saw go out. Because there’s not much sailing activity, we missed out on some of the impromptu dock chats and learning that can happen with other sailors.
  • Not many marina amenities. No storage bins, no WiFi, the bathrooms get locked at 9pm, and we never did figure out how we would get into the showers + laundry, given the marina office changes the code daily (but we didn’t end up needing them).

What we worried about but wasn’t an issue:

  • No gates for the docks, so not as secure as other marinas.

Overall Fishermen’s Terminal is a great marina and we might return someday – it would be ideal for a few months in the winter when we won’t be sailing as much.