Trading average for adventure: How one couple ditched it all to live aboard in Puget Sound

I always felt slightly out of place sitting at a desk from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. every day, returning home to a beige house in the suburbs, crammed into a tree-lined street elbow to elbow with all the other houses, all looking just about the same. I had a hard time finding a place I loved to eat, to shop, to spend my time and my hard-earned money because, for me, nothing in the town where we lived had any sense of originality, no character, nothing whatsoever to develop a connection with. That’s what I craved: connection. To my community, to the people with whom I shared this collective space.

I’ve found that nothing worthwhile ever comes as a result of a carefully laid plan. God (or the universe or whatever you believe in) laughs at plans. Plans are simply our way of attempting to gain control over our lives. So it came as no surprise to me that the end to this way of life came hurdling at me like a fastball to a newbie batter. To put it simply: I lost my job. My husband, Jim, had lost his almost a year earlier, and the time had come to make some big decisions. Fast.

Should we get new jobs we didn’t love simply to keep the house? Did we even need the house? Were we willing to continue putting our dreams of being full time wedding photographers on hold simply to maintain possession of the structure that housed our things? And if not, what else were we going to do?

A visit to friends in Seattle, less than a week later, provided all the answers we needed. We loved the area, the thought of being closer to our friends sounded like so much fun, and over lunch on the last day of our visit, Jim threw out a wild idea he only half meant at the time: “Maybe we should buy a boat and move up here and live in a marina.”

The idea was crazy, wasn’t it? Who just up and sells everything they own to move onto a boat in a new state? Well, apparently, we do. We had fifteen hours’ worth of driving  home to find a reason we shouldn’t make this crazy plan a reality. We never found one.

It was easier than we thought to part with the “things” we’d amassed over the course of our lives and our relationship. When the options were to hold onto wedding gifts we’d barely used and a library full of books (which, by the way, were my pride and joy) or to go off and live a life of adventure, a life that truly felt like “me,” the decision was simple. Suddenly, those things that once felt so important, so critical to survival became just “things,” items that stood between us and the life of our dreams.

Don’t get me wrong. It was an emotional time. We had spent almost five years building a home together. The house we sold was our first, and we had created a space that we loved, that was our sanctuary, and it was not something we parted with lightly. Fat tears rolled down my cheeks as I said goodbye for the last time, to our garden, to the shelves Jim had built into our library, to the kitchen I’d prepared so many meals in. It was a sacrifice for the life we live now. But it was worth it.

With Jim’s truck packed to the brim with all the items we would need for our first several weeks in Seattle, we pulled out of his parents’ driveway before the sun was up. We drove north fueled by Dutch Bros coffee and an adrenaline like none I had ever felt. This was a new kind of adventure for me. It was terrifying…and it was amazing.

We’d decided (after 12 hours of sailing lessons on a practically windless lake and one tour of a Pearson 30 on the Sacramento River) that we were going to live on a sailboat. Jim called on every listing he could find on Yacht World and within the first 48 hours we had a whole two boat tours lined up. The first was a Catalina 34 that was just a tad over our budget…and needed far too many tads’ worth of work for our beginning comfort level. The second was a custom Endurance 37 that ended up being the best boat we looked at by far. Not because she was our boat, but because she brought us to our broker.

Sue at Capital City Yacht Sales was a godsend in our boat-buying process. She did more than show us boats and help us find the right one for us, she took us under her wing and helped us figure out exactly what we wanted and what we didn’t, she drove all over the Puget Sound to show us boats and pulled me off the ledge when the trawler we fell in love with and made an offer on (yes, I said trawler) ended up not being the boat for us. She started this process as our broker, and I am so happy to report that to this day, we call her our friend.

Finding Sue was our first bit of luck in the boat-buying process, but it wasn’t our last. Seattle area marinas are notoriously hard to get into. Every single one we visited had a waiting list at least a year long just to get a permanent slip. And in order to join the waiting list for live aboard status, you had to have a permanent slip. It was starting to look hopeless.

While visiting the Port of Poulsbo, we fell in love with the quaint little town and decided it was time to actually put our names on one of these lists. It was the only list we joined, and we were number twelve. But here we had the option of winter moorage at their guest docks while we waited for a permanent spot. It was the best opportunity we’d come across.

Port of Poulsbo.

Meanwhile, the deal for the trawler had fallen through and we were madly running around looking at boats. We had to find one before we returned to California to photograph a wedding at the end of the month, and time was rapidly running out.

We knew Willow was the boat for us the second we stepped into her cabin. We even had a secret signal, and Jim and I stifled a laugh as we both signaled at the same time. Her owner, Peter, spent almost two hours showing us every inch of the well-maintained Islander Freeport 36, including all the little quirks and potential problems he was aware of. We called Sue the moment we left the boat and told her we were in love. Again. I hadn’t been sure it would happen a second time. That trawler had seemed perfect, but next to Willow, it was just another boat that wasn’t our boat.

We made an offer and hit the road for California, cutting our trip shorter than we’d planned in order to get back in time for our survey. As we were packing our bags the afternoon before our drive back north, the Port of Poulsbo called and offered us a permanent slip. Everything was falling into place.

Signing the papers for Willow.

At the end of October, we will celebrate our first year living aboard Willow. Only a month after being put on the live aboard list in Poulsbo, our names came up and we became official.

This past year has been like living a dream I never knew I had. Tiny living definitely suits us and we’ve found our tribe in our fellow liveaboards (and lots of non-liveaboards!) in our marina and in the community around us. Our friends and family ask us how long we plan to live on the boat, and our answer is always “as long as it still feels right.” At this point, I can’t imagine it not feeling right.

Sure, it is an inconvenience to walk up to the marina bathrooms to take a shower in the winter when the introduction of additional moisture into the boat can cause problems, but it is a small price to pay for the kind of life we live. Other small prices to pay: lugging groceries down the dock at low tide. Having to shop twice a week because our fridge is small. Pumping our waste tank. Walking the dog in the rain. Dealing with leaks. Refilling water tanks mid-shower (we do shower in the boat in the summer). Parking half a mile away from our front door. Lying awake in a wind storm as our lazy jacks slap against the mast. Losing a can of pumpkin at the bottom of the pantry that is about half as deep as I am tall.

But if those things are the price of waking up every morning on the water, of having the freedom to cast off our lines and be on an adventure at a moment’s notice, of watching the sun rise over Mount Rainier with a steaming cup of coffee and my best friend in the whole world, the lovely sounds of bells from the church up the hill ringing through the air, of living a simple life free of clutter and “things” that don’t bring me joy, in a community that I feel a deep connection to, then that is a price I am gladly willing to pay.  

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4 Responses to Trading average for adventure: How one couple ditched it all to live aboard in Puget Sound

  1. Patti Mustain October 7, 2017 at 6:25 pm #

    Beautifully written Stephanie! Love hearing about it all over again.

  2. Julia Hamon September 26, 2017 at 6:17 am #

    Beautifully written!

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