Category Archives: Boating Life

Headliner Tetris won, it’s on to more projects

After fitting the final piece of Yahtzee’s new headliner on Saturday morning, I stood back and looked at the finished product with a discerning eye. Something was amiss. One of the pine slats didn’t look right and, while it worked in theory, I couldn’t live with it.

So, I went about crafting a new piece to complete the large Tetris game that I have slowly installed on Yahtzee’s ceiling over the past two-and-a-half months. During that time there have been numerous starts and stops, a postponement for materials, and a two week foray to the lower 48.

When the final piece was cut, painted and fit on Sunday, though, I was a happy craftsman. I’m glad to have this enormous undertaking completed and am incredibly satisfied with the results. But a funny thing happened when I started cleaning up the cabin underneath it all — I moved forward to what’s next rather quickly.

Headliner complete, lots of cleanup needed.

I guess it’s no surprise for me. I’ve never been one to dwell on past projects; when one is complete, I’m already moving towards what’s next. And though we’ve accomplished a lot since moving on to terra firma in late September, there is more to do before we sling our stuff back aboard in early May.

Of course, one project leads to another and our next is paint. Jill and I ended up liking the Pettit Satin EZ Cabin Coat so much on the headliner that we ordered another quart and are going to paint all the yellowed fiberglass around the various cabins to give it a fresh face. It’s easy to work with, provides a finish that is mildew-free and has already brightened up Yahtzee’s 34 year-old interior — so we might as well keep going.

With the paint will come our new Dickinson Alaska heater, which is a much appreciated Christmas gift and will make the perfect replacement for our failing Sigmar. After that we’re looking forward to tackling some projects that have been in the works but, as happens, have taken a backseat while I’ve been playing Tetris on the ceiling. Onward we go.

With racing on the horizon, it’s time to pull out the safety card

Looking out the window on the plane home to Alaska, Porter catches my eye while thumbing through the contents in the seat pocket in front of him. I don’t say a word, yet I’m curious as to what he finds interesting. Within seconds he pulls the safety card out onto his lap, holds it up and says, “I’ve gotta read this, Dad. You know how much I love safety.” Shaking my head in laughter, I can only agree. What a sailor.

Alaska, just wow.

A bit later he turns to me again and, still on the safety thing, starts up a conversation about PFDs. He tells me that he wears his all the time on the dock and on the boat, and that I wear mine in the dark or in bad weather. True enough.

Then, when our chat extends into harnesses, tethers and night sailing, I slowly realize he’s recalling a discussion he listened to my dad and I have the day before in Seattle. I tell ya, the boy doesn’t let anything get by, and he knows safety is always a priority on our boat and others. Lately, it has been about others.

Being in Seattle last weekend for the boat show was a whirlwind of presentations, work meetings and catching up with many dear friends. (Sorry to those I missed!) But it was also a chance for me to work on issues related to two big sailing events I’m participating in this summer: the 750-mile Race to Alaska (R2AK), and the 333-mile freshwater classic, Chicago to Mackinac Race.

Each race presents a unique set of challenges with navigation, weather, crew and the boat, yet the principles of seamanship and safety remain the same — keep the water out of the boat, keep the people in the boat, and don’t hit anything.

Skippering the Mac with my dad alongside, and Jill and my siblings also aboard, means that I’ve got a crew of seven to account for and a boat to equip with adequate gear, knowledge and experience. With my dad in town for the show, we sat down and went through a number of items that we need to get done, made lists and even got to cross some things off those lists. Safety was given top priority and we made some key decisions at Fisheries Supply. The first of which was easy — buy the Standard Horizon HX870 as a supplement to our onboard radios.

Continue reading With racing on the horizon, it’s time to pull out the safety card

Fond memories from winter on the Salish Sea

This article was originally posted on Three Sheets Northwest, but I want to share it here too because the tips brought up some great family memories of our time cruising the Salish Sea…

Winter hidey-holes of the Salish Sea | Chuckanut Bay

In our years spent cruising Puget Sound and the San Juan and Gulf islands throughout the short, cooler days of winter, we always had a lot of anchorages or docks in mind to escape and hide in the event of a big blow. That being the case, I’ll share a few of those for boaters who are out taking advantage of the amazing winter cruising in the Pacific Northwest.

Our first was Blind Baysecond was Manzanita Baythird was Portland IslandHere’s the fourth:

Chuckanut Bay

In the late fall and early spring of 2014, we cruised the San Juan Islands and Anacortes/Bellingham area in anticipation of the arrival of a new crewmember. With Jill quite pregnant at this point, and with our midwife located in Bellingham, we needed to stop in town for appointments every two weeks until Magnus joined our family on December 27th. During that time there was A LOT of wind out of the north and south, with one storm bringing southerlies in the upper 60s.

Born in Bellingham on a windy night, and at home aboard Yahtzee hours later to meet his brother.

Always safe and undeterred, our routine was to head out in the islands for about a week to 10 days and then sail back for Bellingham. In doing so we found a number of great anchorages to hideout near Bellingham Bay, and Chuckanut Bay was perfect because it has spots that are protected from the north and south.

Mariners from Bellingham are well aware of these beautiful anchorages that sit below Chuckanut Mountain, but I’m not sure that many other folks are. After all, the nearby San Juan Islands seem to collect most cruisers that are on a schedule, which leaves other off-the-beaten-path locales a bit more open. No matter what time of year it is, Chuckanut Bay is a lovely spot to stop for a night or two and you’ve got several options when deciding where to drop the hook.

South Chuckanut Bay

If you’re looking to take cover from a big southerly, the southwest corner of the bay is absolutely perfect. Here, pint-sized Pleasant Bay is flanked by a nearly shear shoreline with private homes nestled amongst the trees. Depths are moderate and we anchored here numerous times in about 30 feet. Prevailing winds are typically out of the southwest and we sat through a blow of about 35 to 40 knots one night without noticing it much. One thing to note is that all shoreline is private. But even though you can’t stretch your legs ashore, we had fun paddling around the perimeter of the coves. To go ashore, head north…

Continue reading Fond memories from winter on the Salish Sea

Party time at the Seattle Boat Show!

Friends of Yahtzee, you’re invited to join me (Andy) and others for a party in Seattle. Hope to see you there!

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Three Sheets Northwest and Race to Alaska (R2AK) are joining forces for a boat show party — and you’re invited! That’s right, we’re renting some parking spaces outside the Seattle Boat Show, throwing a keg of Fremont in the back of a truck, firing up a grill and having some friends over for a good old fashioned tailgate party. All you need to do is show up on Saturday, February 3rd anytime after 4 pm.

See you outside the show!

AIS for the win

I recently received an email with a host of questions about outfitting a boat for offshore sailing and my opinions on a wide variety of related topics. While I’m mostly reluctant to give hard-and-fast “this is what you should do or have” type answers, the last question on the list piqued my interest because it didn’t ask whether something was needed or not (which isn’t at all for me to decide). It simply asked what my practical knowledge was.

The question: “What is your experience with AIS systems?”

Yahtzee’s AIS system.

The reason the query drew my attention is because it immediately brought to mind several poignant experiences I’ve had with AIS (Automatic Identification System) aboard. While I’m certainly not the tech guru or authority on AIS systems, I do have a large number of sea stories to share about using the system and what I’ve found to be the benefits associated with it. Off the top of my head popped multiple experiences I’ve had using AIS just in the past year or two alone. Here is one from a delivery Jill and I did. 

Collision Course in the North Atlantic

It’s the middle of the night in the stormy North Atlantic Ocean. Scanning the horizon, all I see is black — probably the darkest night I’ve experienced at sea. Wind howls from the northeast at 30 to 33 knots, gusting to 40. Rain is pouring down in sheets. Wave heights — at their smallest — are in the low teens. Some of the waves seem monstrous, others are breaking on our stern and we’re sailing the well-suited Garcia Exploration 45 at a “conservative” 9 to 11 knots with surfs up to 15. Woohoo! 

When Jill relieves me from watch, I show her a commercial fishing trawler on AIS running at a similar speed a little over 2 miles off our port side. Though we can barely make it out on the horizon, we know it’s there. In the moment, we seem to be parallel to one another and staying clear, but are actually angling towards a collision course. I express to Jill that my hope is for the vessel to alter course just enough to pass behind us, and we talk about our options before I hit my bunk for some much needed sleep.

There were a couple problems that we identified during our brief chat. First and foremost was that the seas were so large and rain so heavy that, even though the trawler was relatively close, it was nearly impossible to keep a visual on. Its running lights were virtually useless, making AIS and radar key assets.

The second problem was that we were sailing on a deep broad reach with a triple reefed mainsail on a preventer. In order to avoid a collision, if one became imminent, we’d have to jibe. Rounding up in these seas is not an option. And the issue with jibing is that the maneuver will take a long time to execute and, in the conditions given, would have been hazardous to the boat and us. Plus, we would then need to jibe back onto our original course once we cleared the trawler. Basically, we are pinned down and virtually blind — save for the AIS and radar. 

With the AIS, we know the vessel’s name, course and speed, among other things, and are constantly monitoring its movements relative to ours. Plus, it has the same information about us. In a sort of a dazed half state of sleep from my bunk, I eventually hear Jill call the trawler by name on the radio, briefly explain our situation and arrange for it to pass behind us. Easy as that. I fell asleep.

After the situation was resolved, and many times since, I was extremely glad to have had the benefit of AIS. Yes, without it there is a chance we still would have seen the fishing boat. But in my estimation, there is also a good chance that we wouldn’t have. And the fact that we could both “see” each other and knew, at the very least, boatspeed, course and range, meant that we could monitor the situation accurately and then make a call to avoid colliding or having to do a difficult course change hundreds of miles offshore in a fall gale.

AIS for the win!

This same scenario actually occurred numerous other times on that delivery in similar conditions. 

Come say hi at the Seattle Boat Show!

I’m happy to announce that I will once again be presenting seminars at the Seattle Boat Show, which runs from January 26 to February 3. If you’re planning to be at this year’s show, come on by for a listen or to say hi!

Here are the topics I’ll be presenting:

An Unconventional Route to SE Alaska and Beyond

Friday, February 2nd, 6:00 p.m. Stage #2 North Hall 

When we set out for Southeast Alaska in 2017, it was with a unique route in mind — and with an open-ended schedule to explore as we saw fit. What transpired was a 700-mile sail up the west coast of Vancouver Island in early spring, followed by two months in SE Alaska before jumping 500-miles across the Gulf of Alaska to explore Kodiak Island, the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound. In this informative and entertaining seminar, I’ll take you along on the voyage and offer tips on how to do Alaska a bit different than straight up the Inside Passage and back.

Living the Dream: How to Get Your Boating and Cruising Stories Published

Saturday, February 3rd, 2:15 p.m. Stage #5 Club Level

I’ll delve into how I became a maritime writer and editor and will offer tips and guidance for aspiring writers. Topics will include realities of the industry, what magazine editors are looking for, everyday steps to achieving the larger goal of publishing, creating polished content, turning your passion into stories, pitching ideas and what to expect when submitting your work.

For more information on the Seattle Boat Show visit seattleboatshow.com.

Cruising truths, Part 2: Plotting a course for 2018 and beyond

With a fresh blanket of snow covering our cozy cabin in the woods, Jill and I sat inside crunching numbers. Plotting a course to set sail.

She rattled off expenses, I typed them into a calculator and then read her back the totals. On we went through our financials from the past three months living in Seward. It felt like a good thing to be doing on the last day of the year. Sure, it wasn’t nearly the wildest New Year’s Eve we’ve ever had, but it was by far the most focused.

After an amazing 2017, we’re determined to do everything we can in 2018 to get our family back out cruising … whenever that may be.

The overarching goal of the exercise was to obtain an idea of where we’re at and to set ourselves onto a smooth course for the new year. We need to know what it will realistically take to get us going again, and doing a thorough assessment of our finances is the only way to put our feet on solid ground.

The good news? We’re on the right track. The not so good? We’ve got a long way to go. 

Stopping cruising and moving back ashore obviously wasn’t what we’d hoped to do in 2017. Not at all. (See part 1). But we knew we had to if we wanted to keep going, which we definitely do. The thing is, moving ashore to “save” money isn’t — as we knew — all that easy. That’s not how the world works.

Even though we’re a dual income family, and Jill’s position is granting her valuable work experience, we now have bills that we haven’t had in many years including moorage, a car and all its associated fees, rent and utilities, and other incidentals that come from living on land for part of the year. What we figured out on New Year’s Eve, though, is that after all of our monthly expenses are covered, we don’t actually have very much extra left over. It wasn’t a comforting realization.

Our current situation is that the goal in stopping is to work on Yahtzee and to pay off a sizable amount of debt in the process. And while we’re doing both, we now know that we need to focus more on the debt in 2018 and less on the boat and other expenditures. In the interest of being straight up here, the debt we accrued while fixing Yahtzee’s skeg and rudder late in 2016 is like a massive anchor that continues to not only weigh us down but is in jeopardy of dragging us farther under water if we don’t cast it free. That’s what we’re going to do.

We’re comforted in the fact that Yahtzee was ready to cross oceans when we pulled into Seward in August — heck, we were even planning to sail to California that very month! She just needed a few tweaks and if we could lavish some gifts on her such as new sails in the process, great. Well, once we’re done with the projects that we’ve started, this round of gift giving is over. Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves tied to the dock for years spending money on the boat and putting a little bit here and there towards our debt. That won’t cut it.

We’re not the type of sailors to comfortably sit at the dock and ramble on about someday getting out there while constantly working to sail away on a boat that never will be perfect. Never have been, never will be. Our family has been out there before and we all want it back in the worst way. So we’ll work to make it happen.

And while we love Seward and Alaska immensely, it isn’t time to settle somewhere yet and it may never be. That is reality for us. Wandering this big old world under sail is what we’re after — and life’s too short not to do what we love with the people we love.

Memorable moments | Saying goodbye to an incredible year of cruising

Crouching at the water’s edge, I picked up a smooth black stone and gripped it in my palm. Magnus stood next to me — clad in his wetsuit with boogie board in hand — and I talked him through his latest attempt at setting out into the cold water of Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Then he went for it and I smiled watching him splash his way into the clear blue water before launching the rock far beyond him.

Later, sitting next to a fire and fresh caught salmon roasting over hot coals, I thought aloud to Jill while watching Yahtzee bob just offshore: “Does life get any better than this? I don’t think it does.”

In many ways, that’s how 2017 went. By any and every measure we can think of, it was an amazing year of cruising aboard Yahtzee. Here are a few of our most memorable moments:

Fish On!

Continue reading Memorable moments | Saying goodbye to an incredible year of cruising

Just go sailing and forget the rest

Every weekday, I sit with Porter and Magnus to tackle some schoolwork. Porter has a workbook that teaches him to read and write letters and numbers, and identify shapes and colors. Today’s shape was an octagon and the instructions were to trace the shape and then be creative and draw any picture inside it. He couldn’t wait to draw the picture.

Peering over his shoulder, I watched him diligently craft a sailboat in the middle. He then turned to me and proudly pointed to each part of his new vessel and labeled the parts aloud: “Mainsail, jib, hull, mast, keel and rudder.”

It was a simple yet elegant sloop. Beaming with pride, I congratulated him on a nice boat and we turned the page.

I love that Porter draws sailboats. Without prompting and without pointing out what parts need to go where, he has been using shapes to create these simple designs for a while now. Whether on the chalkboard at the local aquarium, on a blank sheet of paper or on his schoolwork, it’s his go-to doodle. Funny enough, I used to do the exact same thing.

His drawing today, though, got me thinking about all shapes, sizes and designs of sailboats I’ve been fortunate to sail on over the years. And out of all of them, I truly couldn’t think of a single one that I didn’t like. The reason is that I just flat out love to sail. And I love sailboats.

Whether gunkholing on a 20-odd-foot sloop, testing a full keel cruiser, steering an ocean racer, teaching aboard a roomy catamaran or ripping around an anchorage in a Laser with one sail, I’m on it. Basically, if it has sails and can be steered, count me in. Nothing else matters.

But to some sailors, it does matter — A LOT. And if you’ve sailed long enough you’ve certainly met those in the sailing community that will vehemently argue boat design and equipment until they are red in the face. Try asking a group of sailors what boat you should buy and wait for the reactions. It’s exhausting.

Rather than falling into the trap of being fanatical about one type of boat over another, or one style of sailing over another, I’ve always tried to find strengths in them all. Because the truth is that sailboats, like their owners, are moving targets that carry a variety of characteristics. And, certainly, no two boats or owners are ever alike.

In many cases, what is considered the right boat or the right way to outfit it depends solely on what the owner plans to do with it and what their personal tastes are. Will the vessel sit at a dock and on the hard most of the time? Will it cruise coastal or offshore waters continuously? Will it hit the race course? Or, will it do a bit of everything?

The overarching reality is that it doesn’t matter what boat you or someone else owns, whether you have one mast or two, a Yeti cooler or a refrigerator, freezer and ice maker. Oftentimes, the right boat is the one you have right now. And as long as you’re safe, it probably doesn’t matter if it is a boat as simple as Porter’s drawing or one with every possible piece of gear aboard. Most of us just need to go sailing more often and forget the rest.

Struggles of a stationary sailor

I can’t wait to be sailing out here again.

It’s no secret that I’m absolutely infatuated with Alaska. The place is truly amazing. But I’m also not going to mince words in that I’m finding it increasingly difficult to be the sailor and writer who can contentedly sit by and write about sailing while not actually being on the water. I know some folks can pull off the tired shtick of writing about their boats and telling years-old sea stories while rarely, if ever, leaving the dock. To me, all that bluster is for the birds.

I want to be sailing and writing about it!

Maybe I need to get Hornpipe out for some winter sailing.

I guess I’m having a hard time with it because the dock- and desk-bound sailor isn’t really my style. Never has been, never will be. And after the past three years and thousands of miles spent as a sailing nomad in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, I’m finding it’s not so natural for me.

With winter rapidly approaching here at 60 degrees north, I’m reminiscing more and more about past winters spent on the water. This will be the first in a long time that I won’t be out cruising or sailing on a regular basis, and coming to that realization is painful. Especially because wandering under sail has been such an integral part of my, and our family’s, life. Up until this point, it’s literally all we know together.

Faithful readers are well aware that we’ve spent the last three winters continuously cruising the Pacific Northwest and loved almost every minute of it. Sure, the days were short, cold and sometimes windy, but we found fun, adventure and some magic in discovering the bountiful Salish Sea cruising grounds in the offseason. The Gulf and San Juan islands, in particular, were true gems when the crowds of summer sailed for home and the parks, anchorages and coastal communities were left for the few willing to explore them in the din of winter.

A winter sail in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia.

Continue reading Struggles of a stationary sailor

Reflections on a favorite part of summer cruising

From sociable friends made at the grocery store to folks walking the dock and new neighbors at the marina, we’ve fielded quite a few questions about our lives under sail and our journey through Alaska while getting settled here in Seward. And one query that Jill and I fielded separately yet agreed upon instantly went something like this: “What was your favorite?”

Meaning, what was your top moment from your spring and summer sailing north?

It’s a good question. Given that we left Puget Sound in late February, cruised the San Juan Islands and then sailed up the west coast of Vancouver Island to Haida Gwaii and Southeast Alaska before hopping across the Gulf of Alaska to Kodiak, the Kenai Peninsula and then Prince William Sound, you’d think the answer would warrant a long pause. It didn’t.

Our unanimous and unequivocal answer was given without hesitation — it was our 500-mile passage across the Gulf of Alaska.

Sunset on the Gulf of Alaska

Of course, with that answer came a slew of other questions about weather conditions, timing, life aboard, watch-keeping and the big one, “how did they boys do?”

Now that winter is knocking firmly on our door, and boat projects are mounting, it’s fun to take a look back at our summer to recount our favorite moment and answer the questions that came our way. Here are a few:

Why did you love it so much? 

While we realize that the gorgeous sailing weather was part of why our Gulf of Alaska crossing was so memorable, that’s not solely why it was our favorite. If that was the case it would have been easy to pick Glacier Bay or the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound. The reason we both chose this particular moment is because it was our most indelible as a family — we absolutely loved sailing overnight for multiple days and nights in a row, together. It was awesome, and at the end of that big hop we truly felt like we could have kept going and going.

An idyllic day at sea

There are people who hate passagemaking, those who tolerate it and those who love it. Jill and I can firmly be put in the latter category. And after our passage across the Gulf we were ready to do more and go farther. When we thought about sailing south to California from Alaska, part of the reason we wanted to go was because we’re excited about doing it non-stop from Seward to San Francisco. We were thrilled at the notion of sailing offshore for what would have been 10 to 14 days. Actually, we still are. Continue reading Reflections on a favorite part of summer cruising

Salt life to cabin life, and the projects begin

Freshly cleaned lines dangle from the railing in our little cabin nestled amongst woods and mountains. Sails are neatly folded and stowed under our beds. The windlass motor has been removed, cleaned, sanded and re-painted. A pesky leak has been fixed. And more projects are underway on a long yet doable list.

Along with the boat stuff, firewood has been split and stacked. Our freezer is stocked with salmon. The cold morning air has become increasingly more crisp, causing us to pull on warmer clothes. Fresh blankets of snow have covered the many surrounding peaks and any day now we’ll get some of the white stuff down here, too.

We’re ready for winter and to keep working on Yahtzee.

Moving Off

With glorious sunshine and warm-ish weather, we moved off of Yahtzee and got her ready for the seasons ahead. It was bittersweet, to be sure. It’s the only home the boys have ever known and Jill and I haven’t lived in a house together in a long time. The adjustment period into a temporary land life has been understandably up and down, but mostly up.

Continue reading Salt life to cabin life, and the projects begin

The tangled twists, turns and pitfalls of cruising plans

Mt. Alice is a always a sight to behold.

While driving south down two-lane Seward Highway towards Yahtzee, the sun broke through dense clouds in front of me, shooting a beam of bright light onto a blue glacier hanging high in a valley. I couldn’t help but crack a wry, happy smile.

The reason for the grin wasn’t just about the scene, though, it was about my next thought, which was, “Boy am I glad we’re here instead of California.”

Aside from family and a handful of good friends, not many people know how close we came to sailing straight from Alaska to California in early to mid August. If you’d talked with us candidly in May, June or July, California was the plan. We were set to go.

Yahtzee was ready. Our crew was ready. Then it all changed over a two or three week period in Prince William Sound. Plans have a way of doing that, which should teach us to make them less often. In that time, we wore the pros and cons of Alaska versus California and eventually Mexico. One morning we’d wake up and say, “California it is!” And then the next day it would be Alaska. We were literally teeter-tottering back and forth like never before. Eventually, the more we thought about it, the more the scales decisively tipped towards Alaska — and we’re glad they did.

Yes, a small part of the decision was financial. But in reality, we didn’t want to leave. We’d only been in Alaska for one summer, and though we’d seen and done more than most, we weren’t finished with its stunning, incomparable wilderness, secluded anchorages, towering mountains, friendly locals and pristine yet humbling waters. Not by a long shot.

For now, Yahtzee’s pin on the map at Dockside Solutions (our awesome mail service in Seattle) is staying in Alaska.

Also, the more we thought about California the less it appealed to us when compared to living in the small town of Seward and cruising Alaska. Too many people. Too many boats. Too expensive. Too little real wilderness.

That’s not to say we won’t ever sail there. It’s just that we weren’t ready to leave here yet — which surely came as a surprise to some, and even to us. When I was back in the Puget Sound area for the Wooden Boat Festival in early September, I talked to a lot of folks about our summer, our plans and cruising in Alaska. Friends and other sailors were overwhelmingly supportive and excited about our latest endeavor. But I also got a few comments and questions about why we didn’t follow the very well worn path south down the coast. In essence, what we were doing was unusual compared to most cruisers from the Pacific Northwest who literally cannot wait to make the “big left turn”. To them, our decision was utterly baffling.

“Why?” they asked. “The sun, sand and better weather are all south!”

In the grand scheme of things, our decision to stay north wasn’t that much of a surprise. What we shouldn’t have done was tried to plan so far ahead. We know that never works — for us at least.

By looking too far ahead to the future, we risk living outside the moment instead of in it. Fortunately, we caught ourselves, which comes with the experience of doing this time and again. In our years of cruising, we’ve learned that we shouldn’t get caught up in wishing away time to be somewhere else and over-planning an adventure. Because very few real adventures are planned to every detail years or months in advance. What’s the fun in that?

The reality is that every cruiser has a varied set of goals and plans, and a different way of making them work. No one set of plans is right or wrong or good or bad, they’re just different. That’s part of what makes living and cruising on a sailboat so amazing. And it doesn’t matter where in the world you are. For new or less experienced cruisers, my one piece of advice from this would be: Don’t overdo the planning. Just get out and start sailing and let the plans come later.

Cruising to us has never been a planned endeavor of, “We’re leaving for 1 year or 2 years or 5 and going along this exact route.” It’s a lifelong thing. And it’s a big old world out there. We figure, why put time and place limits on it? Instead, let’s take the time to enjoy life and the places we’re in now, and see what happens next.

Sure, staying in Alaska wasn’t “the plan” a few moths ago. But hey, who needs those plans anyway? Not us.

This must be the place

A steady rain pitter-patters on the deck above the nav station while I type. Magnus naps in the V-berth and Porter is taking some time to himself after we finished working on reading, writing and making a map of Seward. Jill, well, she’s off at work earning that cheddar to keep everything afloat and to improve our sailing home.

After visiting friends and family in various locales throughout the lower 48, we arrived back in Seward on Monday night. When we dropped down the companionway for the first time in many weeks, we were struck by a couple things. The first for me was that it was great to be home — great to be back in Alaska and on the boat again. I love this place and this boat. And the other feeling was that we couldn’t wait to get going with our life here.

Sure, the air down below was cold and clammy upon our return and a musty odor was pervasive. But the bilge and most of the boat was was dry, and we all couldn’t wait to climb into our bunks after weeks of sometimes restless slumber in foreign beds. We always sleep best at home on the boat.

Jill was off to work the following morning under a brilliant sunshine that illuminated the mountains encircling Seward. For the boys and me, the start to daddy preschool was to move Yahtzee to her assigned slip for the winter, and they stepped right back into boat work and life like the old habit that it is. Watching them on deck brought a smile to my face.

Porter on Yahtzee’s stern in her new slip.

Tucked into her new spot, we plugged into shore power and got the battery charger going. I flung all the hatches and ports open, and with a perfectly crisp breeze the boat was soon aired out. Yahtzee seemed like she was breathing a sigh of relief, happy to have us home too.

D-Dock, Seward Harbor.

Throughout the rest of the week, we fell into our new routine. While Jill was off at work, I took the boys to play time, story time, playgrounds and walks on the beach and waterfront. But I also want them to keep learning by getting their hands dirty and feet wet exploring the incredible natural world around them. So, one day’s lesson was to catch, fillet and freeze salmon for the winter, and the teaching included parts of the fish and how to safely use a filet knife. Also, they got to spray the hose a lot.

My pupils showing off their fresh catch.
Play time at the library.
Historic Mile O of the first Iditarod Race.

The next step for our crew is to start unloading the boat into our winter cabin in the woods. We’ve never felt like we have a lot of things aboard Yahtzee until now. But while taking stock of what we have and need to move off, I’m amazed at what a 40-foot boat can accumulate throughout five years of living aboard and cruising.

Overall, we’re excited for our new chapter and to start in on boat projects — stripping Yahtzee from the inside out, cleaning and working on her. After all the years and thousands of miles she’s safely carried us, she surely deserves the love that we’ve got to give. And we’ve got a lot.

Tip of the cap to The Talking Heads for the title inspiration. 

Upgrades that make our boat go

In a quest to make life aboard a little easier, safer, more efficient and comfortable, sailors and boat owners are always looking to make upgrades to their vessels. We’re no different.

And even though Yahtzee was well kitted out for blue water cruising when we bought her five years ago, she always needs work and upgrades, and we’re happy to do them. From the moment she became ours, we’ve constantly worked to improve our home and adventure mobile in big and small ways.

Here are five upgrades that we’ve made in the past year that have made life aboard easier, safer or just a bit more comfortable. (Beware, some of this is very heavy in sailor jargon.)

Reef Snap Shackle – This first one derived from a tip I got from my friend Carol Hasse from Port Townsend Sails and it has made reefing the mainsail quicker and a bit safer.

Amazing the difference one piece of metal can make.

It’s no secret that we like to sail downwind in heavy weather and we’ve done our fair share of it over the years — especially while cruising during the winter in the Pacific Northwest. With Yahtzee’s sails reefed to an appropriate size, she does well in a blow and can be easily handled by Jill and me. But one thing that long frustrated us was how the new tack gets attached to the reefing (rams) horn at the gooseneck when we’re reefing the mainsail. Enter Carol’s tip.

I don’t have good images of our setup, but what I did was attach a stainless steel snap shackle to a Dyneema strop at the gooseneck. When it’s time to reef the main, instead of putting the dog bone that runs through the sail at the new tack around the reefing horn — which can slip off if the sail is flogging or looses tension — we simply snap the shackle to it and we’re done. We can then tension the halyard and reef lines from the safety of the cockpit. With this setup, we no longer have to stand and tend the tack at the mast while reefing, and we know the new tack will be secured firmly while finishing the reef. One clip and it’s set! 

Ram Mount iPad holders  Though we have charts and a chartplotter at Yahtzee’s nav station down below, we bought an iPad and Navionics (plus a LifeProof case) for easy navigation and piloting in the cockpit. The problem was, fumbling with an iPad in the cockpit is not fun. Add rain, a heeling boat and strong wind, and it can get downright tricky to navigate safely.

The iPad on its Ram Mount is well protected  by the dodger.

Looking for a way to mount the iPad for easier use, we found Ram Mounts (a Seattle company!) to be the perfect solution. The spider-looking mounts are simple to attach to stainless rails, and we put one at the helm and another under the dodger. We can now use the iPad while steering or keep it protected and out of the elements.  Continue reading Upgrades that make our boat go