It’s hard to imagine that we’re already approaching our six-month anniversary of living aboard The Red Thread! It seems like only weeks ago we were sorting through our belongings and grappling with the exciting reality that the 550 square foot studio we were sharing was soon to be traded for a floating space nearly half the size. As we speed toward our six-month milestone this Friday, Neil and I spent some time reflecting on the things that have challenged us, things that we’ve appreciated, and just other nonsense about living aboard.
- Sleepless in Seattle: Every now and again, a southerly gale will howl through the marina, especially during winter months. The whistling of the wind through the masts, the creaking of dock lines, the banging of fenders, and the metallic clarion call of shackles banging against the mast can make for a pretty sleepless night. The most frustrating aspect of this challenge is not necessarily our own boat, as our clamor can often be tempered by donning our foul weather gear and making a few adjustments. It is the hundreds of boats around us whose cabins are often left unattended, sometimes for months on end, and whose rackety groaning is only noticed by the few livaboards scattered about the marina. As you might imagine, crawling aboard another’s vessel is frowned upon, regardless of the intention, so we deal.
- The commute from hell: “Thank God I like my car – Because I spend nearly 15% of my waking hours in it!” Neil’s commute is one that everyone hopes they never experience. Relocating from Capitol Hill to the marina means that bus access to the eastside of Seattle is aggravatingly inconvenient at best. For Neil, this meant a return to driving, rather than using public transportation. He currently spends between 2 and 2.5 hours in the car on work days, sometimes longer if there is a collision or a stalled vehicle on the 520 bridge. Of all the things he will not miss about our life in Seattle, his commute tops the list!
- Access to friends: When we lived on the hill, friends were a quick walk or bus ride away, and a night out ended with a stroll back to our apartment. Things are more complicated now, as late-night buses to our new neighborhood are inconsistent, and the half mile walk from the bus stop to the marina isn’t exactly ideal (especially if I’m flying solo). Neil’s long commute and my two jobs don’t help with fueling energy either. As a result, we’ve sadly been spending less time with friends, which is the last thing we want to do during our final months here…
The things we appreciate
- Nature beyond the portholes: Neil and I both agree that living so close to nature is the best part of calling our marina home. It is not uncommon for us to wake and to find seals snoozing on the docks around our boat, especially in summer or fall (we once awoke to a whopping 14 of these blubbery blokes!), and hardly a morning passes in which we don’t see a heron or a flock of ducks or pretty water birds. We spy empty mussel shells leftover from the early morning breakfasts of our seagull neighbors and, when the tide is out, we can count crabs and starfish on the seafloor. Occasionally, we even see a couple of mischievous river otters who are certainly up to no good. Sharing our life with these creatures is truly a gift.
- Raindrops on our hull: Seattle is known for being gray and wet, but pouring rain is far less common than the ever present mist that dampens the air. When it does rain, however, we can’t get enough of the sound of the raindrops falling like music against our hull. Curling up under a blanket with a good book or movie and a warm cup of our favorite steamy drink is one of the most relaxing things we experience. I suppose this perk is a compromise of the sometimes stormy nights that leave us sleepless.
- Where everybody knows your name: At the head of Elliott Bay Marina are two restaurants. Palisades is a fancy gem that we have rarely visited, given our budget constraints. Maggie Bluffs is a middle-of-the-road sailor’s pub [lacking in surly waitresses], with damn good food. You can always get a seat to catch Seahawks’ games, and they unfailingly acquiesce to our request to taken care of by our favorite server, Jamie. The appeal of feeling like “everybody knows your name” (cue Cheers jingle), even if they really don’t, is hard to resist….almost as hard to resist as Maggie’s chili-covered nachos or spicy wings (arguably the best in Seattle).
- The sense of community: Seattle isn’t known for being a warm and fuzzy place where new friends are made easily. Have you heard term “Seattle Freeze”? It refers to widespread cliquish behavior in the city; newcomers are met with a cold reception. Not that Seattle doesn’t warm up, it does, but it takes time and perseverance to build a social circle here. Generally speaking, we’ve experienced the opposite within Seattle’s boating community. We really like our neighbors on the dock and enjoy sharing a beer and chitchat, whether it be about the sailing we’ve done, the sailing we want to do, or the day-to-day of maintaining our boats. Our experience has been akin to that we’d hope to have in a rooted neighborhood, where mowing the lawn or checking the mailbox become opportunities to connect with friends across the street.
- The time to departure: We can’t say enough about how pleased we are with our decision to move aboard 15+ months before setting out for the South Pacific. We are learning more about The Red Thread and growing more in tune with her needs. We never cease to be amazed by the little surprises she has for us, like a large storage cubby that we didn’t even know existed until last week (we’ve owned her now for nearly 20 months). Seriously, this compartment is so well hidden that we plan to use it to hide our own secrets (e.g., the stockpile of booze we’ll surely transport illegally across international boundaries). We are also learning more about ourselves and each other. We are discovering what we don’t like in terms of our initial organization strategies and figuring out different ways of doing things. We are certainly not where we’d like to be six months from now, but our progress has accelerated by living with her intimately.
The other nonsense
- The walk and wash: One of the things that has surprised us both is how well we’ve adapted to schlepping our toiletries, like a couple of co-eds in a college dorm, up to the marina shower facility. Roundtrip, we walk about a quarter mile, but as long as it’s not excessively windy or rainy, it’s actually a surprisingly pleasant way to begin the day!
- We need meow money: Moving out of our apartment when we did was critical to continuing to build our sailing kitty. The last year brought with it major expenses, including our wedding and a month on the hard for new bottom paint and a few repairs. By cutting out the cost of parking (yes, we had to pay for parking in the city), rent, cable, and sewer/garbage, we’ve been able to make much greater strides toward our savings goal than we would have been able to otherwise.
- Provisioning skills: Before moving aboard, we were within just a few blocks of a grocery store. We had a bad habit of grabbing groceries our way home work and were less effective at meal planning. Now, we sketch out our meals for the week, and we shop more intentionally. This has enabled us to predict within $10-20 what our bill for the week will be, something that will be paramount when we are relying entirely on our savings and need to plan our food provisioning needs for weeks or months rather than days.
We have adapted well to boat living, and I dare say it’s been less difficult than we expected. Are there challenges, sure, but we have found that having less space teaches us more about what we don’t need than about we do. Even our 5×5 storage unit is starting to feel like a burden and, for financial and practical reasons, our goal is to get rid of it before we set off. Don’t get me wrong, when I see a proper bathtub or beautiful kitchen, I get a little envious, but I wouldn’t trade our home for any other. Who knows when or if this will change in the future, but I can’t imagine living any other way. This is a really, really good life for us.