Reflecting on a year of full-time cruising in the Pacific Northwest

Our home base for two years, Shilshole Bay Marina in Ballard
Our home base for two years, Shilshole Bay Marina in Ballard

On August 30, 2014 we casted off our dock lines at Shilshole Bay Marina in Seattle for the last time as permanent residents and pointed the bow north. Our plan was simple: live and cruise aboard in the Pacific Northwest full-time.

The decision to embark on a full-time cruising lifestyle in the PNW grew from the realization that we didn’t have to sail thousands of miles down coasts or across oceans to “go cruising.” Many may think you do, but you don’t.

When we first bought Yahtzee, we thought we did. Getting swept up in the excitement of owning an offshore quality boat that was well outfitted for long distance sailing got the better of us. We thought we’d leave in two years, turn left and head south. How wrong we were … thankfully.

During our two years living at Shilshole, we took every opportunity we could to get out cruising and racing. Our rule was that Yahtzee had to be kept ready to sail in 15-minutes or less at all times. Whether it was a simple overnight, a long weekend, or a 10-day trip, we’d go, rain or shine. But it wasn’t enough. The more we were out exploring the Pacific Northwest, the more we wanted to be out and the farther we wanted to go. So that’s what we did.

What we learned during that time was though we dream of sailing far and wide someday, we want to sail the Inside Passage just as much. Ultimately, we figured that with one of the world’s most amazing cruising destinations right in our own backyard — one that we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of — why leave? Why not get out and discover everything it has to offer before going farther?

At the time of our departure from Seattle our philosophy was, lets get out and try year-round cruising in the PNW and see how it goes. If we love it we’ll keep doing it, if we don’t, we’ll reassess and move forward. Fortunately, we’ve absolutely loved our year of full-time cruising in the Salish Sea and are excited to keep going. Here’s a look at how we make it work and a glance forward towards the horizon.

Doe Bay on Orcas Island was one of our first stops after leaving Seattle
Doe Bay on Orcas Island was one of our first stops after leaving Seattle

Reliance on the net

The Internet is how I make the living that keeps us going aboard Yahtzee. Before we left Shilshole we’d done enough cruising around the area for me to figure out how much access I needed and when. Basically what our Internet comes down to now is data usage. We have a Verizon SIM card for our iPad that turns it into a hotspot while we’re in the States, and a T-Mobile/Telus card that gives us coverage throughout British Columbia. In Canada, I also have a 4G LTE mobile hotspot through Telus.

To supplement our data usage, I stop by coffee shops to write and work when I get a chance. I don’t do this too often, but it’s always a fun change of pace to work from somewhere besides the boat. And it often provides an opportunity to meet locals and explore new places.

While obtaining the Internet in these ways allows me to get all my work done, it has also had a positive yet unforeseen effect as well. Because data is a pay as you go system, I’ve cut down drastically on the unnecessary web surfing that once cluttered up my life. I do my job, use Facebook and keep this blog, but I no longer get sucked into the machine of generally useless information that permeates the net — news, sports, streaming videos, etc — which leaves more time to actually live life.

The boys grow everyday

We often get the question, “How do the boys do aboard the boat?” And the only answer is, “Great! They don’t know it any other way.” After all, Yahtzee is the only home they’ve ever known.

Sweet Magnus
Sweet Magnus

When Magnus was born in Bellingham in late December he came home to Yahtzee within a few hours and just days later we set sail and headed west back for the San Juan Islands (read more here). Watching him grow into our family over the past nine months has been one of the most special and memorable parts of life aboard. Porter immediately embraced his presence and the two have a connection that is truly fun to experience.

Porter watches and helps as I change the engine oil
Porter watches and helps as I change the engine oil

Porter, meanwhile, has flourished over the past year and is quite a kid. Whether it’s scrubbing the deck, changing the engine oil, doing dishes, tying knots, climbing the rig, steering, navigating, counting boats on the horizon or trimming the sails, he wants to be there doing it too. But it’s not just the boat stuff. He’s a curious, intelligent and energetic two-year-old who loves to explore the world around him — and that’s really all we can hope for.

P & M

“What a wonderful way to raise your boys!” is a statement that we regularly get from boaters we’ve met over the past year, especially older ones, and we can’t agree more.

Dodging the punch of Old Man Winter

Before embarking on our full-time cruising journey, many inquired about how we would fare during the darker, colder, wetter, windier months of winter. For us, dealing with the hurdles of the season is all about attitude. We see whining about the weather as a ridiculous waste of time, so we choose to embrace the positives instead, and generally don’t let the weather stop us from doing much.

The weather last winter in the Pacific Northwest was relatively dry and mild, meaning there really wasn’t all that much to complain about. And while boats sat shuttered and unused collecting mold and mildew in marinas, we were out exploring empty parks and anchorages.

For heat, we have a bulkhead mounted diesel heater that keeps the boat warm and dry. On the coldest night last winter it was 17 degrees outside and the boat was a toasty 65 inside. But it was rarely even close to that cold. With an average daytime temperature in the mid-40s, the heater keeps Yahtzee quite warm day and night, while using very little fuel. We also have an electric heater and dehumidifier for when we are plugged into shore power, and the latter is great for drying the boat out.

Cloudy, windy and rainy days like this are not uncommon in the winter...
Cloudy, windy and rainy days like this are not uncommon in the winter…
...but the many sunny winter days like this more than make up for the clouds and rain.
…but the many sunny winter days like this more than make up for the clouds and rain.

As for the rain, wind and short days, well, that’s just a part of living in the Pacific Northwest. The majority of our winter was spent around the San Juan Islands, which get less rain and more sun than we had in Seattle. Sure, it was windy at times, but because we didn’t have to keep on a tight cruising schedule, we were able to make our sails small and use the wind to our advantage, or just wait it out. Overall, winter was probably a lot worse for those who stayed inside.

As I’ve told many people who inquire as to why we don’t move to the tropics to avoid winters: we’d take a cool PNW winter living-aboard over a humid tropical summer any day. Plus, sailing from here to the tropics and back every year to stay in an ideal climate isn’t practical, and we lived and sailed in Florida and Caribbean for seven years, so know both sides quite well.

Living a self-sufficient life

Living a nomadic cruising life in the Pacific Northwest means that we are on the move a lot and anchor out a good portion of the time, especially in the spring, summer and fall. The many beautiful state parks in the area have become an extension of our home, and our state parks moorage permit gets a lot of use in the offseason. We are also strategic about where we stop to get food, do laundry, top up on water and fuel, take showers, etc. (read more here). Suffice it to say, we spend far less on living expenses than we did paying a marina every month and by being tethered to the pricey trappings of city life.

We were the only boat in Active Cove at Patos Island state park for three days in January
We were the only boat in Active Cove at Patos Island marine state park for three days in January

Over the past year, we’ve learned to become more self-sufficient in how we go about our daily lives. Jill is an excellent baker who whips up everything from pizza dough and pretzels to bread, rolls, tortillas, pancakes, muffins and more. We eat at home far more than we used to when living at a dock and have become quite good at provisioning and planning many days of meals in advance.

Jill's delicious bread is always a treat
Jill’s delicious bread is always a treat

Our wind generator and solar panels keep our batteries topped up like we’re on shore power (read more here). And instead of a car, which we sold before we left, our kayak and new rowing and sailing dinghy are what get us from Yahtzee to shore. The challenges presented by living like this have become quite a bit easier with each passing month and we tend to embrace them as adventures rather than obstacles.

Slowdown everyone, you’re moving too fast

One of the biggest things that we’ve come to realize throughout our year plus of cruising is that hurrying and trying to check off as many places as possible from a list of potential stops just isn’t enjoyable. We took our time picking around the San Juans all winter, around the Gulf Islands in the spring and farther north in the summer — and we’ll be back in the San Juans again this winter to do it all over again.

We found this spot, and many others, by just slowing down and being willing to change plans on a whim
We found this spot, and many others, by just slowing down and being willing to change plans on a whim

When we slow down and take it one day and night at a time, we end up relaxing more, and relishing the experience because our minds aren’t constantly shifting towards what’s next. In essence, we can live in the moment just a bit longer. And when we pull in somewhere that we like, we stay a day or three, which has been a fun habit to get into.

Cherishing friends, family & community

Whether it’s making new friends or meeting up with old ones as we cruise, having family aboard or plugging into a small community along the way, we’ve come to love the camaraderie of cruising just as much as we enjoy the solitude of an empty anchorage.

SVs Shearwater, Cambria and Yahtzee rafted up in Isabel Bay, Desolation Sound, BC
SVs Shearwater, Cambria and Yahtzee rafted up in Isabel Bay, Desolation Sound, BC

We love rafting-up with friends any chance we get, and over the past year we’ve met up and cruised with many “buddy boats” in the Puget Sound, San Juan Islands, Gulf Islands and Desolation Sound. Having family aboard at various times is also a treat, as we get great help from grandparents and also have the opportunity to show them a little slice of our cruising lives. Being able to share the lifestyle that we love so much with friends and loved ones is truly special, and is something we look forward to continuing for years to come.

Porter and Josea clowning around during a sail on Lake Union in Seattle last February
Porter and Josea clowning around during a sail on Lake Union in Seattle last February

Also, taking time to delve deeper into some of the communities we’ve stopped at has been good for the boys and us. We were warmly accepted in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, Eastsound on Orcas Island and in Ganges on Salt Spring Island, BC, to name a few, which provides a sense of place that can be missing in our nomadic life. It’s also nice to come back through Seattle from time to time to see all of our boat- and land-based friends. Spending time in the city again provides contrast between being out in the relative seclusion of the islands that makes us really appreciate both.

Quick highlights from the past year…

  • Bringing Magnus home to a warm, cozy boat in late December was one of the best moments of the year for our family.
  • And successfully getting Porter out of diapers before Magnus was born was extremely helpful for a variety of reasons.
  • Racing Yahtzee in Swiftsure, the Shipwrights’ Regatta and the Round Saltspring Island Race was awesome, challenging and showed us we still love a good race!
  • We built Yahtzee’s dodger right before we left and it has held up exceptionally well. I’m really glad we didn’t go with a cloth dodger and in retrospect, I wouldn’t do much different. I give it an A+.
  • Hiking through numerous parks and exploring countless beaches has been one of our favorite family activities, rain or shine.
  • After years of indifference, Jill finally realized her love for Mount Gay Rum and refreshing rum and tonics:)
  • Deciding to buy a double kayak with a kids seat to use as our main form of transportation to and from the boat was a tough decision, but it has worked out immensely well as our “car.”
  • Blogging our adventure has been a lot of fun. Thank you for reading!

Looking towards the horizon

We've got many more places in the PNW to explore aboard Yahtzee
We’ve got many more places in the PNW to explore aboard Yahtzee

It’s been an incredible year living, cruising and racing aboard Yahtzee in the Pacific Northwest without a permanent slip, and as we enter year number two, there isn’t much we’ll change.

After cruising the South and Central Puget Sound during September and October, we’ll head back for the San Juan Islands and surrounding areas for the remainder of the fall and winter. And since the Gulf Islands are so close, we plan to pop across the border a few times as well.

One of the biggest things we’ve come to understand about living around the area without permanent moorage is that it works best to plan things one season at a time. For the upcoming spring and summer, Alaska, around Vancouver Island, and the Broughtons are all possibilities, so you’ll just have to follow along here to see where Yahtzee rolls next.

9 thoughts on “Reflecting on a year of full-time cruising in the Pacific Northwest

  1. Wow what a wonderful read and great pictures of the kids and what an awesome life style – we envy you and wish you lots of great sailing days!

  2. So very lucky to live in an Incredible, beautiful, free world. So enjoy veiwing your family’s growth and adventures. Safe sailing.

  3. We are so proud of you, Andy and Jill, for following your dream! This is beautifully written and perfectly captures how special the last year has been for you and your family. We know how happy, content, joyful and peaceful you all are as you discover amazing new places, and reconnect with the familiar spots you love. Porter and Magnus are thriving on the sunshine, fresh air, uncomplicated lifestyle and love of family. Love to you all!

  4. Andy, what a great article about your travels with our grandsons. Enjoyed it all and loved the pictures. Stay safe and hugs and love from GMA

  5. I agree with using the boat year round. Linda is still working but we get out 1 or 2 weekends each month and 3 weeks in the summer. Used to keep our prior boat in Bellingham and know how open the San Juans are in the off season. Headed out this weekend to Wollochet and the TYC outstation regardless of the rain.

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