Springtime in Port Townsend…or I think we’re land lubbers again

So, let me catch you up. We docked in the Port Hudson marina, in early October, after nearly 5 months exploring Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. We were planning to stay for the winter, maybe get out sailing on good days, but mostly tuck in and rest a bit. As sailing/liveaboard newbies, (and newbies to PNW weather!) the last year had been challenging and we were tired….and damp.

Then fall storms and winter weather set in. Did we get out and sail on good days? Nope.

We have managed a few boat projects on the good days — stripping varnish, general maintenance — but mostly we’ve been growing a life in Port Townsend…and a lot of barnacles. But more on that later.

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We discovered one issue to some kind of surf and turf arrangement right away…housing. Port Townsend is experiencing that same insidious thing that many places are in the US …Air B&B! Many of the cute back houses, granny flats, and basement apartments that used to be rented out to young couples and little families are now being rented by the day to out-of-towners and business travelers, leaving a dearth of affordable housing for so many. It’s a real problem that the city is grappling with and attempting to actually do something about.

So, we knew we needed to continue to live aboard thru the winter and see what came of our housing search. We quickly found the Port Townsend EcoVillage — a co-housing community that strives to live in community, sharing lands, garden, meals, and life together.

We visited. We loved it. The “villagers” — for lack of a less-bizarre-to-modern-American-ear term — were open, welcoming, present, and interested in making real, tangible adjustments to work as a community and make a smaller impact on the environment.

They were in the process of building a duplex to house two new families, and they had prepared 3 tiny house spots for future (yet unnamed) tiny housers. We decided to apply for the duplex, feeling that finding/building a tiny house was out of our reach.

Long story short, there were many applications for the duplex and we decided to broaden our potential housing to the tiny house spots as well. The EcoVillage works on consensus, which means nothing happens unless each and every member of the group can get behind a proposed project. We’ve watched this process in action and it’s stunning how well it works. They’ve had many years of practice and they’re good at it.

But, it also means that things often move at a glacial pace. We applied in February, attended many meetings and waited and waited. All the while weighing our other local options — from long-term liveaboard/cruising to building a yurt in the woods.

So, fast-forward a few months, in early April we attended the EcoVillage retreat — a time of bonding and learning as a village — as members and future tiny house builders!

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The tiny house lot is just beyond the deer fencing, behind Rowan. Yes, there are a lot of deer in Port Townsend.

Having lived in roughly 150 sq ft (and none of it “square”) for the past 2 years, we are ready for some more space. We are planning a 400 sq ft “tiny” house — which should have everything we’ll need, just in smaller proportions than larger houses.

We’re excited about this new adventure. It’s daunting, as there is so much work still left to do in the actual building of the house. We are able to live in the duplex, sharing with another family, while we are building. There are many kids in the village and they enjoy playing together.

So, back to the barnacles…we hauled BRIO out yesterday. Whew! We knew she had growth — old bottom paint, mixed with a winter of sitting still = abundant sea food salad!

So, for now she’s on the hard. Awaiting sanding, painting, and some maintenance…and us to decide what her next adventure will be.

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Breaking the pattern…or My sneaky mid-life crisis

So, today is my 40th birthday. This is my time for a mid-life crisis, right? When I look back on this year, I feel I’ve already had one. A sneaky one. And it was enough, thank you.
What is a mid-life crisis? A time of reevaluation, reflection…revolution? People change their marriages, their wardrobes, their towns, their jobs…they remake their lives to reflect who they have become. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s a dramatic, splashy attempt to reclaim lost vitality, sometimes an adventure into something new. Sometimes, not even a crisis at all.
Not to say that one has to have a mid-life crisis. But, with the myriad options supposedly at our fingertips, the apparent ease of mobility, and the constant chatter about expressing our individuality, I’m surprised every American doesn’t have one…or many.
Those of you following my blog this year, you’ve heard stories of triumph (I learned to row in a straight line, cook while the boat is rocking, and process clams!), tales of woe and frustration (loneliness, mildew, spilling things in lockers!), and proclamations of joy (playing on beaches, sailing, feeling independent!).
But the greatest story and struggle of this year has been a private one, a struggle with regret. Regret for leaving a home I loved. Leaving our friends, our little house, our garden, our chickens, our washer and laundry line in a dry climate, thunderstorms and snow. With two little ones who were just beginning to find home. Finding “home” on the boat this year has been a struggle and I’m not entirely sure why. I like to nest. I’ve tried to make it homey. But it’s just not working.

I like sailing, I love the sense of freedom and adventure living off-grid (solar panels, anchoring out, wood stove) has inspired in all of us. The ways this life has brought out the explorer in each of our children.

I love being in a place, in a life, where I can walk almost everywhere. A place connected to it’s history, the sea, and growing things. A place where people smile at and talk to strangers. Community was what we were painfully missing in Denver.
But most of the things I miss about our life in a house, what created “home” for me were things like growing food, baking bread, caring for animals, a stable place where our children could watch things grow and change.
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After the kids were born, I had such a hard time slowing down from my teaching/acting/stage managing schedule.

I felt that if I loosened my grip, my whole career would go flying out of my hands and be lost forever. I performed in a world-premier while I was pregnant with Rowan.

Grip loosening is difficult for me.
This adventure was simply a desired change at a time when the opportunity presented itself. But it was also a drastic letting go. Not a rejection of the life a had, but perhaps a way to force myself to re-set, to learn and grow past the patterns I had found myself carving deeper and deeper into my days.
That was not a conscious decision, mind you. That’s why I call it sneaky. I think part of me needed a drastic resetting. That part just didn’t tell the rest of me.
This has been a year of feeling off-balance most of the time (and not just because I’ve been living on a boat). This dramatic shift has manifested itself in wild arguments with Gene, days of feeling overwhelmed about such little things, and days of epiphany and an incredible feeling of connection to the universe.
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We recently attended a Winter Solstice celebration with a marvelous bonfire. img_9193
The return of the sun, the lengthening of the days, the emerging from a time of inner reflection…all things I’m looking forward to.
So, here I am, regret or not and (boat life aside) I feel altered by this year. Altered by letting go and entering a new rhythm. I’m not together yet. I’m not settled or at peace with it all. I still have plenty of moments of crazy. But I am less regretful. This adventure has helped me grow and find so much. The potential for building a life, in the amazing community we’ve stumbled upon here in Port Townsend, is exciting. Growing roots here and having further adventures upon the sea.
Here’s to 40 more years of growth and evolution!
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Two months into winter…or Surf and Turf is looking pretty good!

We’ve been in Port Townsend for two months now. A blustery October and a wet November. It’s now the second sunny, but cold, day in December. Snow flurries are expected tonight.

I’m working at the local theatre in marketing and Gene has just finished two long weeks of building their holiday show set. They dubbed him “Gene, Gene, the Building Machine”. He’s also been working with a local sailmaker, lofting sails for a square-rigger. We are finding more and more of the kid-friendly activities in town and Byron is loving preschool. So, we’re starting to find our place here.

But, what to do? We want to do some more cruising. But living aboard through the winter, even with a cozy wood burning stove (burning off-cuts from the set), is tough. If it was just the two of us, I think we would be snuggled up beautifully. But our kiddos are struggling a bit.

They like the boat, they like sailing, overall. They loved playing on beaches and islands this summer. We are getting out and about as much as possible, even on rainy and blustery days. But, playing at home, having a sense of a play-space that is their own, is tough in 150 sq feet (and none of it “square”). We have to clean something up before we get something else out. We can’t just say, “go play in the backyard” or “go ahead and make a mess”. They can’t bring mud pies home and fill their space with found treasures and experiments. There just isn’t room. The crumbs, and scraps, and detritus that children create would bury us, if it wasn’t cleaned up everyday. And I find that, if I want to get anything done when they’re on the boat, I default to letting them watch a video, so I can work. And it’s happening way too often.

I recently found a book called Activities for Children in Small Spaces and I’m excited to see what fun projects I can come up with. They loved building with tiny marshmallows and toothpicks on a rainy afternoon recently.

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A 2yo and a 4yo would be challenging in any circumstance. They are too young to really be autonomous in their play. But so much less so when they don’t have their own play-space or yard they can rule.

We are looking into the possibilities of a “surf and turf” situation in Port Townsend. A place ashore to live, while keeping the boat for summer cruising and extended liveaboard times. But not all our eggs in one floating basket.

And speaking of eggs, if we had a place ashore — shared in some way with others — we might be able to have chickens again! And a garden. As you can tell, I’m missing so many things about a home on land, but not quite ready to let the potential of the boat go yet.

I’m just starting to feel at home on the boat. But, full-time living aboard, when we’re not moving is a real challenge. We had a taste of cruising this summer and hope for more. It will get easier as the kids get older and having a break and a different pace and space during the winter may be the key.

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Landing in Port Townsend…or Starting to soak it in!

We’ve been on the hook in Port Townsend for a few days and already things are so much better. I’ve meet with the local theatre and there are many possibilities for work, roles, and most importantly, community. Gene has spent a day happily repairing a sail sewing machine at the Community Boat Project — lending his expertise from our former life on land (where he made medieval tents for historical reinactors).  IMG_5952

I’ve attended a yoga class — something I’ve been missing sooooo much while cruising! And we’ve met some of our many neighbors — on land and sea — including a woman who built her own boat and sailed around the world!

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We don’t feel like such freaks here. Gene observed that there is more active boat use here, than in all of the places we’ve seen around the PNW. Now, we haven’t been all over, for sure, but here people will take a boat out just to toodle around and look at other boats. Or sail off to a nearby island for the weekend and back. Kayaks and rowboats are everywhere on a sunny afternoon. There is always someone sailing by us. It feels more alive and lived in than so many anchorages we’ve experienced. Not just a boat parking lot. Even if we don’t get BRIO out much this winter, we hope to do some crewing and sailing with others.

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IMG_8753So, as we catch our breath and settle in here, I decided to take a step back and list the skills I’ve learned during this year aboard.

Sailing: I would still consider myself a huge novice, but I understand so much better the forces at work (and what to do with that line and that winch) and I’m not jittery at my 27,000 pound home moving through the water (in the vicinity of solid rock objects, like islands) the way I was in the beginning.IMG_8660

Chart reading and Navigation: Most of the time I know what those little squiggles and tiny numbers mean. I can figure out where we are, where we’re going, and what might be in the way.

Rowing in a relatively straight line, in wind and choppy water: This is a huge sense of accomplishment for me. The freedom to go, with the kiddos even, under my own power, is wonderful. We left our car back in Seattle and I don’t ever want to own one again. There is an incredible connection to the world around that happens when you’re moving under your own power — be it walking, bicycle, rowing, whatever. It becomes about the journey not just the destination. And public transportation keeps that connection to the people around you, even if it has its challenges.

Processing fish, clams, and mussels: IMG_8161I’m not nearly as squeamish as a was in the beginning. I try to have a mindful appreciation for each animal. I am grateful to the sea for nourishing us in body and spirit. But Gene still does the crabs. IMG_8329

Baking in a pressure cooker: IMG_8701This has been essential to life for me. Not to mention getting vegetables into our son via carrot/zucchini bread and the like. Being able to bake, when we couldn’t use our woodburing stove in the marina. I first found bloggers from India touting their creations. Seems to be an important rite of passage for young women there. If you’re curious…you add a layer of rocksalt on the bottom of the pan and use it (lid on, but not under-pressure) to bake the contents of a smaller pan inside.

Living (mostly) off the grid, in 150 sq ft: IMG_8543The challenges of a tiny home still abound, but we are tripping over our stuff much less these days. With each new home improvement and each bag for the local thrift store, we are finding more space to live.

IMG_8153We have solar panels, water tanks, a woodburing stove, and a composting head, so we are mostly self-contained. I won’t say “self-sufficient” because being completely off the grid is, I think, a myth. We need each other and each other’s talents and energies. We can’t grow our own food aboard, obviously. And we need to fill those water tanks about every month. Which brings me to…

Using very little water: We have foot pumped, cold water. That’s it. No shower, no hot water on demand. And we use about 65 gallons a month. We are doing laundry and showering about once a week ashore, so that cuts considerably on water usage for sure. But when you pump every drop, not to mention carrying it often from shore in jerry cans in the dink, you appreciate every drop.

But what I’ve grokked more deeply than anything is how important community is to me. Shared work, shared interests, appreciating each other’s unique contributions. Coming from the collaborative world of theatre, you think I would have learned that by now. But, no. In the whirlwind of my life before — with a small child, many many jobs trying to make enough to get by, driving here and there around town — I was just moving too much to soak it in. My energies were for my work, not for the community encompassing the work. An important lesson for me.

I hope in a year I can write of all the new skills I’ve acquired: local farming and permaculture, cooking on a woodburing stove (some success so far, but need much more practice), knot work, more confidence at sailing, etc, etc. But moreso, I hope I can write of the human connections wrought of becoming involved in this magical community.

One year aboard and ready for a change…or Let’s rethink this plan!

We just spent our 100th night at anchor. And after a year living aboard and 4 months out cruising the Pacific Northwest, I’m ready for some refinement…some tweaking…some clarification of our plan.

I have been thrilled with all the extra time cruising has let us spend with our little ones! They just turned 4 and 2, a day apart. We had a little party on the beach with my mom and dad and my sister and her family (who were visiting on their way to their new station in Korea). The amazing driftwood here provided the party venue, structures for shade, and even an impromptu volleyball net. Then their cousins visited the boat and they all attempted to pile into Byron’s pilot berth!

Days here are usually full…with a morning exertion of some sort, IMG_8566

back to the boat for lunch and naps, and play aboard or on the coast in the evening. IMG_8702

 

But it’s all day…everyday. And I’m feeling it.

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Without daycare, preschool, babysitters, or friend’s houses to go to, it’s been stressful at times when I’ve just needed a break. Too much togetherness can be just as destructive to family harmony as too much time apart.

I do have blogging time at a local coffeeshop (there are some good ones in the PNW!), a night out to see a play now and then, or a solo stroll around town (to get groceries or do laundry). Gene and I got a whole afternoon out exploring Friday Harbor, sans kids, when my family was in town!

But, I am missing work terribly. Missing giving energy to something other than the boat and my family. The renewal creative expression brings to my bones.

Gene is having trouble with the routine too. Wanting more time for boat projects (his creative outlet) and to get involved with local builders.

We are planning to land soon in Port Townsend and tuck in for the winter there. So, that will give us the opportunity to rethink how we want to do this. And an opportunity to get involved in a community that has been nothing but welcoming so far. To get to know a place and see how we fit.

Being able to take your house with you wherever you choose to go is an incredible luxury. To have that mobility and freedom. To be able to live away from the electrical grid, with very little fossil fuel use, with a deep connection to the weather, the sea…all this is incredible. But, we are both missing community something awful.

The boating community has overall been welcoming and helpful (especially when someone was in need). But it’s felt disconnected and everyone is always going somewhere else (duh!). It’s a different kind of bond. Instant, for the mutual understanding of each other’s hardships and delights. A kind of shorthand. Built on mutual need to stay afloat (and rum), the sharing of stories and information…but then off you all go to your next port.

I’m just missing seeing the same people from day to day. People who are not my family. Who bring other flavors and scents into my world. Other stories and perspectives.

Hopefully we will find a bit of it this winter in PT. And come spring, we can decide what form our life aboard will take next.

 

Across the Strait…or Nothing turns out the way you expect

We crossed the Strait of Juan de Fuca, on a day that was supposed to have winds from 5-15kts. We wanted a bit of wind to keep us on track with the currents, but not enough to be too challenging on our first big water adventure.
Well, it turned out to be more like 5kts or less and we ended up motoring most of the way. The swell was larger than anything we’ve yet experienced, the view fantastic, but overall underwhelming. Much less drama than we’d predicted. IMG_8480
We headed for Orcas Island and then to Sucia — the most remote we’ve been so far. We were anchored in Echo Bay with 30 or so other boats, so it didn’t feel very remote.
IMG_8514But the mosquitos were tremendous. The size of small sparrows. Ok not really, but they were numerous and aggressive as we walked through the shaded woods.
Sucia is beautiful and had a unique feel to the rest of the PNW islands we’ve yet visited. I imagine it would incredible, if less crowded.
We then choose a day with actual wind — something that becomes illusive here in the PNW in summer — and crossed Rosario Strait to Bellingham. This was a rollicking ride! About 15-20kts of wind at F3-4 (except when we were suddenly becalmed now and then — in the lee of this or that) and it was lovely.
We are now in Fairhaven, near Bellingham and spending some time resupplying. My family is coming to town in a couple weeks, and we’d like to get a few more projects out of the way before they see the boat.
One of those projects was to switch the food storage in a locker under the settee on starboard to another on port. Easy right? Not with an almost 2 year old underfoot, rearranging all your piles of canned goods. And not when you find mildew fuzzing a bunch of the cans.
So, it was cleaning, rearranging, reorganizing, etc, etc, for quite a while this morning. Then, just as I had placed all the cans carefully in, labels out for easy identification…I spilled a bag of oats down into the locker! Ieieieieieiei!
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Out came all the cans. Sweeping a weirdly shaped locker is difficult at the best of times. I repacked the locker and turned to put the trashcan full of oats into the locker below the sink…when it tipped and splashed those tiny bits of annoyance all over the inside of the locker below the sink. Loud expletives! Many loud expletives!!!
Half an hour later…with the almost 2 year old still adding to the fun and disorganization, the project was nearing completion. Food was moved from one locker to another. Whew! Sometimes a simple task on a boat becomes a mammoth project that results in a sore spirit…not to mention a sore back!
But as we emerged from the boat later, as the kids were napping, we were treated to two 16th century Brigantines having a canon duel in Bellingham Bay. So, yeah, it’s not all mundane.

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Gene even rowed out to get a closer look!

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Catching up…or Our week of lost and found

We headed back to Port Townsend after the Great Dingy/Car Exchange, sold our old dingy, and planned for the bit of maintenance the “new” dink dearly needed.

Port Hadlock was the (mostly) perfect place to do it: less rolly anchorage than PT and with a wonderful organization we had just discovered — The Community Boat Project. All it is sadly missing is parks or comfortable beaches that aren’t covered in fishing/crabbing gear this time of year. So, finding things for the kids to do was a challenge.

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But the CBP is amazing!  Community pancake breakfast on Saturday morning, teaching, building/sailing with youth…

Check ‘um out https://communityboats.wordpress.com

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They helped Gene haul the dink up a steep and sidewalkless hill, let him unlock and lock up the place (after working with him for a day and determining he wasn’t nuts), loaned us a spare dingy, and gave him the space and scrap wood to repair Ciao’s gunwale…then the stern’s eccentricities…then some rot he found there…then the oarlocks…

Then we had to find the oars! They had gone on walk-about. Jury’s still out on how that happened. We found them (surprisingly…after much searching) in another dink at the dock. Down the road. No suspicion toward CBP, someone must have been around snooping  in their open work area after hours.

Anyway, we got them back.

While we were in Port Hadlock, we did some clamming and crabbing and made a fantastic chowder! Some new friends from the CBP completed our evening, as they sailed their  former ship’s lifeboat (recently modified into a colorful sprit-rig) out for a weekend camping trip. Rowan went nuts for their two dogs, who spent the evening jumping from their rafted boat into our cockpit and back again. (the dogs…not the baby 😉

Two days later, however, as we walked through town, Gene started to itch, then hives erupted, then his mouth and tongue began to swell. I know! Two days later! We couldn’t contribute it to anything but the crab (he had similar reaction years ago after a binge on Hooter’s crab legs). The worst part was that our little 22mo old broke out in facial hives the same day! She didn’t seem uncomfortable, but it looks like she might share her daddy’s allergy.

We’re planning to get them tested, as we have had crab one other time in the past weeks with no problem. But maybe it was an accumulation thing? The beach and area were clean and free of red tides. So, more research needed there. Needless to say…no crab for them till we know for sure.

So, that lost us a day or so during the week for attack, frantic dash to the drugstore for antihistamines, and recovery. Gene was feeling well enough the next day to attempt some hull scrapping though.

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After a week like this — keeping two young, energetic kiddos busy while Gene was involved at the CBP, the crab attack, the lack of anything interesting in Port Hadlock (aside from the CBP) — I was ready for a break.

A friend of ours from Colorado happened to be visiting Portland on business and it was too good to pass up the 4 hour drive to see our new life. He arrived Saturday night and promptly took me to dinner and a dip in the heated saltwater tubs at SOAK in Port Townsend. Heavenly! He and Gene had a breakfast and soak on Sunday, we were able to warm up, catch up, and we all felt rejuvenated. There are so many things one misses when doing something out of the ordinary like cruising.  I miss baths and old friends back in Colorado most of all.

So, we are back in Port Townsend now (yeah for the playground and nice beaches!) and planning to take a recon trip out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca tomorrow. This is a big deal for us, as it’s the biggest water we’ve seen yet. The wind is supposed to be light, and we’re making a careful study of the tides and currents.

Here we go!IMG_8435