Living on a Boat in the Winter

When I tell people that I live on a boat, they invariably ask me if I've lived on it over winter yet. And so far I've just shrugged and told them that no, I bought the boat in July and I'm still waiting to experience my first winter. Until now. "Looks like it decided to be winter," said the woman at the bus stop on Thursday morning. It was true. The sun no longer reaches it's zenith. Instead, it gets above the tree tops around noon and then immediately decides it's time to head back down. The wooden dock ices over in the morning and I have to be careful not to slip off as I wheel my bike to the gate.

Waking up in the morning has been getting harder and harder as it gets darker and rainier and colder. Going to bed is also difficult. I have two space heaters, but for safety reasons I don't leave them on while I'm gone. When I get home from work (and other evening activities - so usually I get home pretty late) the first thing I do is turn the heaters on and close the boat up as I jog to the marina bathrooms for a hot shower. By the time I've run the hundred feet along the icy dock to keep my wet hair from freezing the boat is warm. But when I crawl into bed, the covers are still chilly.

Last Sunday I went to lunch with some friends of my friend Shayne, a couple name Alex and Christine. They have lived on a boat for a while and they gave me some expert advice. "Buy an electric blanket and a dehumidifier." Christine also suggested opening storage areas when I'm not there to let them air out.

I took their sage advice (they're both world class sailors and know a thing or two about boats) and bought an electric blanket. I also ordered some dehumidifiers from amazon to place in my storage compartment. Although my boat doesn't leak (it did have two very tiny leaks on the deck but I filled them with epoxy and that seems to have done the trick) it does condense on the inside in the winter, which can lead to mold or mildew, especially in closed storage areas. I found a couple of wireless silicone dehumidifiers to place in the storage areas and hopefully that will solve the moisture problem. Other than that, the boat is totally cozy and I'm happy to living there, even on a cold November morning.

Foul Weather Bluff

I woke up on Saturday at 6am. No, that’s a lie. I reset my alarm to 6:15…then 6:30…then finally 6:45. Not that I wasn’t excited for the race – it was just that it was Saturday. Now it was almost too late. I rushed to find my clothes. Layers, Shayne had said. Wool socks, wool pants, wool shirt. Sweater. Sweatshirt. Foulies. Keens. Lifejacket? Check. I was ready to go. Shayne was here to pick me up.

The sun was rising, glinting off a forest of silver masts as we pulled up to the Edmonds marina. People were milling about, carrying things on and off sailboats. What beautiful boats! No two were even remotely the same. “This is Wagz.” Shayne was introducing me to someone. “And Wayne.” I shook their hands. “It’s a pleasure.” Then we were ushered into the yacht club’s meeting room for the skipper’s meeting, where the race was explained. I drank a cup of coffee and stared around me at the hundreds of sailors. I didn't bother paying attention to the race details. Not my job.

The boat, Bravo Zulu, motored into the harbor and swung around, nestling up to the fuel dock. I grabbed a line that was passed to me – it was soft and thick and new. A wiry man with a hoarse voice told me to wrap it around the cleat once before I did the figure 8. I followed his instructions.

“I’m Peter,” he said, shaking my hand. Clearly he was the one in charge.

I picked up a brush and followed Wayne around the boat, scrubbing the decks glistening white as he sprayed them with the hose. A few final preparations, as short speech from Peter, a few more introductions to the rest of the crew, and we were off, motoring after the fleet into the sound. Around us, sails were going up. Gold and black, they billowed outwards as the boats turned into the wind one by one and winched their sails to the top of the mast. A beautifully painted catamaran skimmed past us. “That’s the dragonfly. She wins every race,” Wagz said.

We sailed in circles, waiting for our turn to race. Every five minutes, the committee boat blew a horn and another set of boats took off. Five minutes to go. I was positioned on the windward side where they had told me to lie down. Code 0, the asymmetrical spinnaker used for light wind, was on the foredeck, ready to go. Denny, the boat’s owner, was talking to Peter. They were watching the boats in the classes ahead of us to see which sails they were using.

One minute to go. I tried to move my body off any lines that I might be holding down. “If you’re sitting on one of the lines, they’ll yell butt-cleat,” Shayne told me.

The horn blew. We were off. I heard a commotion on the leeward side of the boat. Peter was yelling, “Stand down. Barging at the line. Barging I tell you!”

“That’s it. They’re doing a penalty. They were barging.”  The “Absolutely”, a black and yellow boat in our class, had had to sail around as a penalty for barging. Our start had been perfect.

We zipped ahead with the full spinnaker. 6 knots and climbing. I waited, attentive, for them to yell “squirrel.” Squirrel was my task – to stand in the “sewer” and fold spinnakers as they were handed down to me. There were 5 different spinnakers and a drifter. There were also 2 different jibs, but it looked like for now we would only be using the jib for light wind. My other job was rail-meet. Basically, I had to use my weight to either weigh down the leeward side of the boat when we were going slowly and trying to fill the sails with wind, or to counterbalance the windward side of the boat when we started to speed up and the boat keeled over from the wind’s pressure. The force of the wind is an amazing thing. Even in the light winds and fair weather the 40 foot, 12,000 lb Bravo Zulu was being pushed fast enough to leave a wake.

We reached Bainbridge Island just behind Absolutely. A cluster of fishermen at the point were standing waist deep in water. ‘Don’t turn yet,’ Denny told Peter. The rest of the crew looked skeptical as we flew towards the shallow water at the point. We sailed within throwing distance of the waist deep fishermen without touching the bottom, saving time by not gybing. Now we seemed to be ahead of the Absolutely. The mark was just ahead, at Foul Weather Bluff. But the currents came into play again. We were caught in a bad breeze and even though we had been closer to the mark, Absolutely managed to round it before us. “Squirrel!”

They had yelled for me. I rushed below and grabbed the n.1 spinnaker. I heaved it to the deck.

Then I hurried below again to gather and fold the code 0.

As the ships rounded the mark they flew their colorful symmetrical spinnakers for the downwind leg. It was beautiful to watch them go up, like hot air ballons, puffing to full size, full of powerful wind.

The downwind leg soon became painfully slow. The Puget Sound currents were pushing outwards, and several boats with full spinnakers appeared to be standing still, pushed in one direction by the wind and the other by the tide. I was lying on deck again, weighing down the leeward side. It seemed like a good time for a nap, since I was on the sunny side of the deck. I closed my eyes and slept for a good twenty minutes. When I woke up we didn’t seem to be much further. There was one more marker to go around before we could head back. It was on the south side of Whidbey Island. Two fat seals and three slender cormorants had decided to use it as their personal platform. The seals slid into the water as we rounded the marker, splashing their fat into the waves. We didn’t have to take the spinnaker down, as we were still headed downwind. Denny, Peter and the crew were discussing again. The water in the direction of the finish line was too smooth, too calm. One boat had been ahead but seemed to be stuck in the calm water to the north of the finish line. We decided to sail south of the finish line, then tack north to avoid the windless section of water.

We were moving again, faster. I went up and down, fetching the jib and the code 0 in case we needed them again. We didn’t. We finished with the symmetrical spinnaker number one. As we passed the committee boat, they blew the air horn. No pistol for us – we hadn’t been first in our class. Absolutely had taken first.

We had been sailing for 8 long hours and covered 26 miles. It had been a slow race, but the unusually perfect weather had made it enjoyable and relaxing. Next time we'll hopefully have stronger winds...

Top 10 Reasons to Live on A Boat

I live on a boat. I have lived on a boat for four whole days. It's an unconventional adventure and I'm still figuring it out. I have no doubt that my decision to live on a boat is one of the best choices I have made so far in my life (ok, maybe that's not saying much, but baby steps, right?). Anyway, here are my top 10 reasons for living on a boat:

10. You can move anywhere in the world and never leave home

Okay, so maybe this isn't true if you want to move to the Midwest and there's no lakes to dock your boat there. But you can move anywhere worthwhile and not have to leave home (I'm kidding. Sort of).

9. You learn everything about boats

What better way to learn about boats than to live on one? When you're constantly having to take care of the boat (because if you don't take care of it, you might drown in your sleep) you're constantly learning  skills that will come in handy if you ever go cruising, for example, or become a sea captain, or sail around the world, all of which I plan to do if I live long enough.

8. You get really good at fixing things

...especially if you're on a limited budget.  On an older boat like mine, you have to learn a bit of marine wiring to make sure that your outlets keep working. You have to learn how to work an old-fashioned propane stove. You have to fix the finicky creature that is the boat toilet.

To use a geek metaphor, your apartment is Mac OS, where everything works as soon as you open it up and you don't really have to fiddle with anything, while living on a boat is Linux, where you're constantly tinkering and upgrading.

7. You get rocked to sleep

I love the feeling of being rocked to sleep. One thing I'm still getting used to is the fact that that rocking sensation stays with me for several hours after I get up. It's 10:30am, I've been off the boat for the past 4 hours, and I still feel like the world is rocking gently back and forth. Maybe it is rocking. Maybe the land is rocking, and the water is still. Hmmm....

6. You wake up on a boat

This seems obvious, but it's amazing! There is no better way to start your day than crawling out of the v-berth, heating up some water for tea, and doing a bit of yoga on the dock as the sun rises.

5. You can play "I'm on a Boat" constantly because it's always true.

In fact, I have my alarm programmed to play "I'm on a Boat" every time I wake up.

4. You have awesome neighbors

People that choose to live on boats are fascinating, colorful people who have plenty of stories. There is also a solidarity between boat-dwellers that doesn't exist in, say, your average apartment complex.

3. You become more mindful of what you waste

One of the main reasons I chose to live on a boat was to keep my life simple. I don't like having too many things. Having an uncluttered life helps me to have an uncluttered mind. Living on a boat certainly makes you re-evaluate what things are important to you. Also, you don't have room for a normal, American-sized trash can, so you don't buy cheap things that are going to break, and you only buy and throw away what you have to. When I bought the boat I made a resolution to make my boat a "trash-free" boat. Everything I buy must be either in recyclable or compostable packaging. I don't buy much, but even so, this is proving to be a challenge.

You also pay attention to the water that you waste. You can't use harsh cleaning products, because everything you put on your boat gets washed directly through holes in the floor into the lake that you live on. Instead, to clean my boat I use water from the lake and a lot of "elbow grease."

2. You don't have to clean the bathroom

I'm lucky - I live in a small, family-owned marina and there is a small bathroom that only a handful of people use. It is always spotless. It's nice to have one less thing to think about.

1. It's the best place to be in the Zombie Apocalypse

...hands down. You know Dawn of the Dead? How did they escape? On a boat. You know Day of the Dead? How did they die? They got off the boat. When the Zombie Apocalypse comes, I will try to save everybody like the hero that I am, but unfortunately that will not be possible. Instead, I will only be able to 8 of my friends on my boat. I really hope you make the cut.

Maiden Voyage

I shook the owner’s hand. "Text me when you get to Seattle !" She said. "I’m excited for you guys!" She pushed us off from the dock and threw me the bow line. The engine was warmed up, so with Andy on the tiller we backed up and started out on our journey.

Andy, John and I were headed from the marina of Port Angeles, Washington, to the Fremont Tug Boat Co on North Lake Union in Seattle. It was an 80 mile trip, and we had a chart of Puget Sound, several gallons of water, a cooler with turkey, crackers, chocolate and beer, and some other gear, including a propane tank and some ropes.

There were three of us. John was the most experienced sailor among us. He has a Laser and a 19-foot sailboat but he hasn’t done much distance sailing on larger boats. He had never dropped anchor or been through the locks. Nevertheless, I trusted him with my life. Andy is another useful person. He has experience fixing his jeep and he knows about motors and other mechanical things. He also is a lifeguard and has first aid and CPR certifications. He hasn’t really sailed since his sailing class sophomore year at Bainbridge High though.

And me? I’ve sailed my grandparents sunfish at their cottage a couple of times. I’ve ridden on my uncle’s sailboat on a tiny lake in Pennsylvania. In other words, I’m pretty much an expert. The first time I went to see my sailboat, the owner told me to take it out for a spin. I somehow managed to clear the slip. Then I ended up overstearing and doing a full 360 right in front of the fuel dock. A power boat drifting by joked to me, "Are you sure you have your boating license?" While attempting to dock the boat on the way back, I accidentally knocked the boat into neutral and almost drifted into another boat. Somehow (i.e. – with the help of a guy in a power boat who pulled me to the dock, and another sailor who grabbed my bow line and tied me up) I got the boat safely docked before the owner arrived. Naturally, I was confident that I could sail the boat 80 miles across open water.

The forecast told us that Saturday’s winds would be blowing at only 3 miles per hour, but thankfully they kept up at around 6. We were headed downwind, so John showed us how to jerry rig the jib open with a pole on port while the mainsail went out to starboard and keep the boat balanced directly in the center, thus catching more wind. We were flying across the sparkling sound, the dinghy tied to the back bouncing along the waves behind us. I turned the battery on and looked for a station on the radio. The only stations available were either arabic music or talk radio, so we settled for Arabic music and John and I bellydanced around the boat. The weather was sunny and perfect for sailing. Andy thought he saw an orca’s fin. He pointed it out and we kept watch until it surfaced again. There was definitely something there, whether orca or not I don’t know.

At 6pm we were still making good time. We’d passed Port Townsend and decided to cross over to Whidbey Island. Andy was asleep in the hold. The waves were getting choppier, and I asked John if I could take the tiller again. By now, the air was colder and I was dressed in long underwear, an underarmor shirt, and a complete set of rain gear, as well as a hat and sunglasses. The boat rolled in and out of the waves and I played with the tiller. There’s nothing like sailing a boat with the wind in the sails and the motion of the waves under the boat. And not just any boat. This was my boat and I was the captain. I was smiling ear to ear.

The sun was starting to set and the wind and waves were getting wilder. I had decided to anchor by the Keystone Ferry at Admirality Bay, since that looked like the most sheltered area on the map. The waves were pulling us toward Whidby Island, but the winds were pushing us in the opposite direction. Suddenly, the waves stopped and the ocean went almost surreally calm. The setting sun behind us cast a golden glow. We drifted along for a bit before I realized that this wind, or lack of wind, wasn’t going to get us to Admirality Bay by nightfall. "Maybe we should just anchor there," I said to John, pointing at the cliffs. "That looks somewhat sheltered."

I told John to get the anchor ready as we sailed in. There was a large anchor, two small ones, and a laundry basket full of rope – 200 feet of it. John sorted it out, took the jib down, and dropped the anchor. Just then, the waves picked up and the boat started to rock wildly again. Andy woke up and came out of the cabin rubbing his eyes. He exclaimed at the beauty of the setting sun, by now a ruby red sliver falling into a silver cloud. I didn't give him a chance to admire the spectacular sunset though, because I was nervous about being blown into the cliffs.

"Could you take down the mainsails? We just to dropped anchor."

Andy complied, sleepily fumbling with the ropes. I looked up to see the piece that goes in the top of the mainsail swinging in the wind. "Grab that!" I shouted.

"Grab what?"


Andy looked up but it was too late. We’d lost the main halyard (the rope that pulls the mainsail up the mast). The boat was rocking back and forth in the waves and there was no way we could reach it. The boat also seemed to be being pulled by the tide toward the cliffs.

"This really isn’t a sheltered area," said Andy. We all agreed. I hadn’t wanted to use the motor at all, but it was almost dark and Admirality Bay was still a couple of miles away. Besides, the next morning we were somehow going to have to retrieve that piece.

We reached Admirality Bay after an hour or so of motoring in the dark and the cold. We passed the ferry dock and I found a spot behind what must have been an abandoned pier. I dropped the anchor from the bow, letting the chain and then the rope slip through my fingers. Finally, we were anchored and safe. We went below deck and started to prepare for bed.

I had taken my rain gear off and was shivering under a blanket, trying to get warm. John was peeing off the back of the boat when we heard him shout down to us : "Uh, guys...why are we not where we were? We’re really really far from where we were."

We ran up the stairs to to take a look. The boat had been pulled by the current, anchor and all, about 100 yards from where we had been. We were directly in the path of the ferry. The ferry was just appearing, a white dot on the horizon.

"What do you want to do?" John asked. "I suggest that we sail into the harbor."

I nodded in assent and Andy took the tiller. We started to head in. On the map, there looked like there might be a harbor entrance behind the ferry dock. Unfortunately, as we got closer we didn’t see any harbor entrance and realized that what looked like a harbor on the map was actually an enclosed lake with no entrance.

"Doesn’t look like there’s anything here." I said. "You should turn around."

"Too late!" Shouted Andy. The ferry was right behind us, a white monster with a blaring horn.

"Pull in here," John said, gesturing toward the boat ramp on the side of the ferry area.

We pulled out of the ferry’s way and spun the boat around. There was a boat ramp with a sort-of dock. John and I jumped off the boat and tied it to the dock. It wasn’t hard for us to make the decision to stay docked there for the night. There was a sign that said "30 minute docking only", but I figured that the coast guard would let us be for the night, especially since we were having some technical difficulties. Finally, finally we were able to go down to the cabin and get under the warm blanket. Out of harm’s way, it was actually quite funny. I started to doze off. Then I heard John’s voice again.

"Uh guys? I think the tide is going out and I can hear the keel scraping on the gravel."

Once again, we jumped up. This time I valiantly let the two men drag us a bit further down the dock into deeper water as I stayed below deck with the blanket wrapped around me. I checked my phone. It was midnight. I turned my phone off. The gentle creaks of the boat, the fenders hitting the dock, and the swoosh of the tide were the only sounds. Oh, and Andy and John snoring.

I was in the main v-berth, and I’d taken the canvas off of the skylight above me. Since we were out of the way of other boat traffic, I’d turned the anchor light off to save batteries, and the only light came from the moon. And the blue and red flashing of police lights. Police lights ? Oh no, the coast guard had come for us. I heard loud voices and footsteps on the dock and jumped up. "Don’t give me a parking ticket," I was thinking in my head. "Please don’t give me a parking ticket!" We pulled back the hatch and poked our heads up. There were two coast guard boats and a small motor boat. The motor boat was tying up on the other side of the dock, and two men in their fishing jackets were stomping around looking frustrated. From their conversation, we caught on that they had just been rescued. The coast guard motored away, and once again and for the last time I closed the cabin door and went back to bed.

The next morning, John woke us up with an annoying morning person smile. I couldn’t be too angry at him though, because I was also somewhat of a happy annoying morning person this morning. I was a new boat owner, and thrilled to be alive on a foggy, chilly morning in the Pacific Northwest.

I pulled Andy out of bed and we rummaged through the boat’s extra gear until we found the mast-climbing harness. John climbed the mast first and brought the main halyard down. Holding it, I saw what was wrong. The cleat didn’t close all the way, so when I’d rigged the mainsail I probably hadn’t gotten it all the way closed, and a couple of jerks from Andy taking the sail down had been enough to set it free. Thankfully, a quick squeeze from John’s leatherman fixed it. Unfortunately, John had brought the line down on the wrong side of the spreaders. We tried to tie it to another rope and pull it back up, but that didn’t work, so Andy climbed the mast and threw it down the correct side. It was fixed. There was a little cafe above the dock, and they turned the "open" sign on just then, so we went in and had some coffee and breakfast sandwiches. The power boaters from the night before were there too, and they told us their story. The motor had died and they’d been adrift, floating toward Port Townsend in the dark, so they’d had to call the Coast Guard to come rescue them. This morning they’d realized that the only problem with their engine was the ground to the battery, which had come loose. They’d fixed it themselves, after paying the coast guard $640 for a rescue.

The fog gradually rolled away as we sailed south toward Seattle. We arrived at the locks around 7pm. I was terribly nervous for this part, as I’d heard horror stories of ships coming untied and damaging other boats as the water rushed into the lock. Before the locks, there was a drawbridge. The sailboat ahead of us sailed in just fine, and the drawbridge opened up for it. It went down again before we arrived though, so we sailed in circles, confused as to why it wouldn’t open for us. A couple of power boats passed us. I was getting more and more nervous about us either running the mast into the bridge or hitting the wharves on either side. We couldn’t just spin in circles for forever. John suggested that maybe we needed to blow a horn. I thought maybe we needed to radio somebody. "No, I think we need an audible signal," John assured me, pointing to the sign that said we needed an audible signal. The sailboat and motor boats that had gone ahead had already entered the lock and were lining up. We were still on the wrong side of the drawbridge.

I tried making horn sounds with my mouth, but nothing happened. I went below deck and looked around for a bit. In a stroke of genius, I thought to look under the flares in the cupboard above the ice box. Sure enough, there was a funny looking kazoo-like metal instrument, a bit rusty but usable. John blew on it a couple times to blow the dust out. Then he took a deep breath and blew a loud "toot!" and just like that, the drawbridge opened. We went through and into the locks. It wasn’t difficult at all. We tied ropes around cleats on our port side, the gates closed behind us, and we and the three other boats in the lock gradually rose higher as the water slowly trickled in. Tourists all around us stared and pointed. We waved. It felt a bit like being in the zoo. The woman on the sailboat ahead of us gave the lock attendant a bag of chocolate coins. Then the gates on the other side opened and one by one we motored out into the brackish water of Lake Union. There were two more drawbridges before Fremont, so I got a chance to toot the horn a couple more times. Finally, we were home. Except that I’d never left home. Like a turtle, I’d carried my home with me for 80 miles. The sunset was red over the Seattle skyline, promising a beautiful morning.

Boat Naming Contest

So that's it! I have my very own boat. I'll give more details in a bit. First things first though, I need a good name for her. And not just any name. I've decided that I want the name to be a computer science pun. For instance, a friend suggested "Sea++", "Sea#", or "C Shell." The dinghy also needs a name (preferably something that matches). To up the stakes, the person who thinks of the best name for the sailboat or the dinghy gets to christen them at the boat christening party on August 4th.

To help you out, the boat is a 1974 29' Ericson with light blue trim and green sail covers. The sails are white and the spinnaker is blue and yellow.