Friday, January 30, 2009

Winter: Life on the dock

A recent email from Angela aboard Ghost, just across the dock from us, included this sentence: "We miss you guys. Can't wait for summer so we can have more gatherings."

G-dock, where we are moored, has 64 slips. At least 14 of them currently have liveaboards in them (the Marina arbitrarily holds the number of liveaboard slips to 20% of the total, or about 300). And in the spring, summer and fall, folks are outside a lot. There is almost always someone working on something, with a couple of beer-equipped guys "supervising". People are coming and going. People are sitting in their cockpits, or on deck, "Like crows on a wire" to quote Art from Phoenix Rising (pictured above, working on something). Everyone shouts hello as folks go by. There's always a BBQ going on at least one of the boats, and a trip down the dock to shore can take a long time because there are so many folks to talk to. Spontaneously (or at least it seems that way to me), a dock party will spring into existence - everyone contributes a dish, and its BYOB and lawnchair, and we spend the evening enjoying each other's company.

Ah, but not in the winter. In the winter, the trip down the dock is a lonely, dark affair. No one is outside. All are down below in our cozy bubbles of warm dry air. Lighted ports mark the boats that are liveaboards, but there are no laughing voices in evenings of these short-daylight days. To be sure, when the winter storms come, people are out checking each other's dock lines, and it is possible that the comment shouted in the howling wind might be the only face-to-face contact you have with that person for a month.

But we do communicate. Strange as it seems, I call the people in the boat next door to us on the cell phone, using an entire electronic system to bridge a distance of just a few feet. And we exchange email. And like Angela, we are all waiting for the longer days and warmer weather.

Reading back thru this, it is unrealistically dreary. There are dinners, and there is shared wine. There are occasional contacts with folks as we see each other in the parking lot. But it takes summer to bring everyone out.

It is coming.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Life is Not a Dress Rehearsal

Welcome aboard!

My intent with this blog is to try to give some feeling for what it is like to abandon everything and move aboard a boat. Living aboard a boat is different than living in a house (there is no grass to mow!), but in some ways it is similar. There is always something that has to be done. But perhaps the consequences of delaying that something can be more severe (most people don't have to worry about their house sinking). But there are joys that are simply not available to those living on land. It is my intent to highlight those differences and joys as I chronicle our life and times aboard Eolian, here in Puget Sound.

I'd like to think that I can put something up here weekly (or even more frequently...), and I think I have a pretty good idea of how to go about doing that. We will all see if I can live up to my own expectations... I will attempt to mix the past with the present generally, so we will mostly have two threads going.

But today, by way of introduction, we will start with the beginning:

In 1997, I quit my job in Spokane and we bought Eolian. That sounds pretty succinct, but a year had elapsed since our 25th wedding anniversary, which Jane and I spent at a bed 'n breakfast on Bainbridge Island - pretty exotic fare for us Spokanites.

We had had sailboats throughout our entire marriage, the largest being an O'Day 25, which had been ours for some ten years at that point. But I had always harbored a dream to get a really big boat, and then live on her. A couple of weeks after the anniversary trip, we were sitting on our deck in Spokane, looking out over the forest, and Jane said, "You know, this is not a dress rehearsal. If you really want to do this, you need to go for it." Jane is a really, really great woman.

That opened a yawning abyss of possibilities. As I began to realize what I was facing, excitement mixed with trepidation and that marvelous feeling of freedom and raw possibility that you get when you know you are leaving your current job.

I started two things: a search for THE boat, and a search for a job in Seattle, where we could use the boat as living quarters as well as a boat. We have (nearly) all done job searches, so I won't belabor that, except to say that along with the boat search, I was immersed simultaneously in the job search. Ah, finding THE boat. I know it seems like this would be fairly simple. I can liken it to a house search, except: the emotional ties with a boat go far, far deeper than with a house, and the technical requirements are much more complex. We knew that we wanted a sail boat. But should it be a sloop (one mast) or a split rig (2 masts)? Traditional styling or modern? Internal ballast or external? Iron or lead? And how large was large enough to live on?

We lucked out and found a good broker (Larry Hall - think of him as filling the role of the realtor). He stuck with us thru thick and thin for the whole year. We pored thru the internet listings, and all the local publications. We discussed the relative merits of Danforth verses Bruce anchors. Was an autopilot really necessary? I am pretty handy, so we were willing to consider "needs TLC", or even "needs work" as a means of increasing the size of the boat we could afford. However, since we planned to move aboard quickly, I ruled out "project" from consideration. We went back and forth with Larry over countless boats, and he arranged for me to tour every single Cooper 416 for sale on the West coast, over the year (I had a very understanding boss in the job I was leaving, who made this possible). This was the boat I had eventually judged to be a perfect match for us.

There were a lot of emotional ups and downs as new possibilities arose and then were abandoned for one reason or another. By the fall of 1997, I had become pretty despondent, fearing that we would never find THE boat, that my requirements were too strict, that my cost objectives were unrealistic. The only thing that was keeping me going at this point was that a real job possibility was materializing at the University of Washington.

Then in October I got another call from Larry. "I have a boat you have to see. Bring Jane," he said. We discussed it, but it didn't sound like a match at all. The drive from Spokane to Bellingham, where the boat was, takes 8 hours, so the decision to go see the boat, just on Larry's recommendation, was a significant commitment. In the end, we went, solely on the basis that we had been working with Larry for a year, and that he knew what we were looking for.

Arriving in Bellingham late in the day after the long drive, Larry ushered us down the dock. It was dreary and raining. As we walked down the dock, we both had our eyes on a traditional beauty tied up on the right. I remember thinking, "Boy, I wish it was THAT one we were going to see..."
Then Larry swung aboard her. Holy COW! It WAS that boat! After looking at literally hundreds of boats, we both immediately fell passionately and completely in love. THIS IS THE ONE!

The next few days were a whirlwind of paperwork, survey, and sea trials, and I ended up writing the check. Miraculously, Jane found us a slip at the south end of Lake Union, and then to top off everything, the University made me a job offer. So I gave my notice at my Spokane job. In less than month I had turned my life, and that of our family, topsy turvy. (The other three times that I had done this kind of thing to our family were all job-related relocations across country. So this wasn't the first one of these, but this was certainly the most profound.)

Now, all we had to do was get the boat from Bellingham to Seattle - we had full fuel tanks, what could possibly go wrong?
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