The Cruising Chronicles: Part 16 (Moving aboard – for now)

The extent of my wardrobe for the next few months is in these bags, waiting to be unpacked.

Today is officially our first day as liveaboards — or to be more accurate, stayaboards.

We’ve long talked about living aboard but weren’t quite ready to sell our furniture, move out of our townhouse in Ballard and make the leap. But we were spending an inordinate amount of time in the summer schlepping our stuff back and forth to the boat and were rarely home anyway.

On Sundays, we’d arrive back at the marina and glumly head home, wishing we didn’t have to leave the boat. Even Lily Winston Churchill seemed bummed to go home, usually giving us the cold shoulder for a day or two.

At some point last winter, I came up with the perfect compromise: we’d list our place as a summer vacation rental, stay on the boat when we had guests and then live in our townhouse the rest of the year. Not only would that make it easy to pick up and go sailing, but we’d also be padding the cruising kitty.

I posted a listing on VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) at the end of April in May and the inquiries immediately poured in. Very quickly, we had reservations for most of the summer and into the fall.

That was terrific, but I suddenly discovered that managing a vacation rental is the equivalent of a part-time job. Between emails back and forth with potential renters, managing rental agreements and payments — while running Three Sheets Northwest and writing almost daily for the site — I was suddenly insanely busy. 

And getting the house ready for renters, I learned, was infinitely more work than simply moving out. Our worn-out towels and bedding wouldn’t cut it for guests and while our minimalist approach to decorating suited us, our townhouse seemed a little spartan.

Ye old homestead, which we won't be seeing much of this summer.

We’ve often joked that our home looks like we just moved in, though we’ve been there five years. With living aboard and long-term cruising always in the back of our minds, we didn’t bother much with hanging pictures on the walls or doing the kinds of things that make a place feel homey. I put off the container garden I wanted to plant, resisted buying frivolous items like vases and candle holders that we’d just need to get rid of at some point.

But suddenly, I was doing a lot of shopping, buying sets of fluffy matching towels and soft Egyptian cotton sheets. There were trips to Ikea, purchases of picture frames and furniture (and, horrors, a bit of faux greenery since we won’t be around to water real plants). It all felt a little counterintuitive, but the guests were coming and I didn’t want our place to look like, well, a rental.

We’d planned to move most of our clothes and personal belongings into our garage, but I severely underestimated just how much time it would take to scour our house from top to bottom to go through our things, organize what we needed to keep and toss the rest — meanwhile doing all the house projects that had fallen by the wayside, like installing that closet organizer we’ve been meaning to put in and finally getting around to recaulking the bathtub. As Marty put it, we were essentially doing a mini-renovation.

We pride ourselves on not being packrats, and I’ve been gradually getting rid of clothes and shoes over the past year. But still, I was shocked by just how much was in our relatively small home. There was just So. Much. Stuff.

Buh bye, books. Hello, Kindle.

We got rid of five large bins of books and whittled our wardrobes down to the basics. Our teeny office yielded an astonishing amount of needless paper. I filled a garbage bag with unused toiletries and old makeup. Over several weeks, we purged and sorted and purged some more. Yesterday, cleaners came and scoured our place until it gleamed. I can safely say it’s never looked so good in the entire time we’ve lived there. I almost didn’t want to leave.

But this morning, we took the last of our bags down to the boat and headed out to Langley on Whidbey Island for a few well-earned days of down time. The worries I’d had about living aboard — primarily, how I’d fit my clothes into a couple of drawers and how we’d store food and cook, which I love to do, in a tiny galley — dissipated as we headed out of Elliott Bay on Three Sheets, our Island Packet 38. At least right now, it feels like the start of an extended vacation. I’ll be working from our floating newsroom for much of the next few months, which seems novel and fun.

There are trade-offs, of course. There’s no two-sink bathroom with a tub, but we now have to clean only one head, not three. There’s no TV to watch our favorite shows, but there will be plenty to see from summer evenings in the cockpit. We don’t have three floors of living space, but we also don’t have to drag the vacuum up and down three flights of stairs.

Our first guests arrive tomorrow. There’s a guest book on the counter for them to sign, along with a book of information I put together about our favorite neighborhood hangouts and a few local treats — Theo chocolate, Beecher’s cheese and rosemary crackers from La Panzanella.

I hope they’ll enjoy our place (and not trash it), and when the last of them leave, I figure we’ll be ready to settle back in for the fall and winter.

But I got an email this morning from someone asking about renting our place for the month of December. The thought of being aboard in the dark of a soggy Seattle winter doesn’t sound overly appealing; on the other hand, it would pay for one or two of the boat projects on our list, and I can easily imagine cozy nights curled up on the boat, reading.

So who knows? Maybe we’ll go from stayaboards to liveaboards faster than we thought.

24 Responses to The Cruising Chronicles: Part 16 (Moving aboard – for now)

  1. Stuart June 5, 2011 at 9:48 pm #

    With timing like this, you’ve got a wonderful start to a great adventure. Three Sheets NW belongs afloat. We look forward to the broad coverage in your wake.
    Fair winds and folllowing seas to you!

  2. ron Hay June 5, 2011 at 8:10 pm #

    Congratulations, Deb and Marty. Your timing is perfect, just in time for the great weather after that slow, cool spring. Have a fine time in Langley. Whidbey Island is very high on our list of favourite holiday places.
    Wishing you calm seas and fair winds.

  3. Itsallgood June 5, 2011 at 9:04 am #

    Welcome to the rank of “landlord”. Just wait until stuff starts to break at the house, that’s a sure way to ruin the few nice days you have. But I am still jealous of your choice. Have fun!

    • Deborah Bach June 5, 2011 at 11:45 am #

      We’re prepared for things to get broken from time to time. I’m sure there will be a few more dents in the wood floor and the carpets will eventually have to be replaced. But that’s maintenance, and we don’t have anything breakable of value in the house. No fine china or things like that. As long as people don’t knock holes in the walls or burn the place down, things can be fixed.

  4. Carolyn,Derrill and Ashley June 4, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    Congratulations! you both worked hard for this and we hope you have a wonderful time enjoying your beautiful boat, bring on the sunshine and relax! fun days ahead, good for you both!(oops, miss Lily too)

    • Deborah Bach June 5, 2011 at 11:48 am #

      Thanks, guys! We’re glad all the hard work is over. It’s been so great to finally have a couple of days to just chill out and enjoy the boat in a beautiful place. I even manged to get some reading time in. And Lily looks completely blissed out. There are a lot of pigeons landing on the docks and they’ve been driving her mad. 🙂

  5. Capt'n John Aydelotte June 4, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    Congratulations! cruising is even harder than the fantacy, however its more rewarding than than u can imagine. the discoverys of our world and ourselves is the ultimate reward. please stop in Cornet Bay for some O’l Fashined hospatality and a gam. wherever you sail….yer at home!

    • Deborah Bach June 5, 2011 at 11:46 am #

      It is so rewarding, John. We do plan to stop in Cornet Bay next time we’re up that way. We’d love to see your place.

  6. Janice S June 4, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    Liveaboard in the winter is a challenge.. but there comes a point when you really feel like this is home and being on land is weird.. I almost can’t sleep if the floor beneath me isnt moving.. if only a little bit..
    Congrates and enjoy it..We do..

    • Deborah Bach June 5, 2011 at 11:41 am #

      Do you find it more challenging than living on land, Janice?

      I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I don’t think I’ve ever someone say they previous lived aboard and didn’t like it.

  7. Scott Wilson June 3, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    Congratulations! My prediction is that you will find it so addictive that you don’t have any desire to head back ashore in the fall. And I may be in the minority, but I actually like being on the boat in the winter… the crowds disappear, the wildlife comes back, and it is just as cozy below deck as it is in the summer. I suppose it’s the same sort of satisfaction most people feel while they are hunkered down in the cabin during storms.

    After two years we are STILL finding stuff tucked away that we realize we really don’t need anymore. That big culling to get aboard the first time… that’s just the first pass. 🙂

    • Deborah Bach June 5, 2011 at 11:40 am #

      I can imagine it being like that in winter, Scott. Winter in Seattle is gloomy, period, so I’m not sure it’ll be any better or worse on a boat. Maybe you’re right – we’ll find it so addictive we won’t want to move back ashore. We’ll see.

  8. Brooks June 3, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    As a fellow writer who recently gave up their on-land house to liveaboard, congratulations for making the move, even if it is temporary. You both know the challenges well, so nothing will come as a surprise.

    Good luck, and enjoy Langley, I just left there myself after a week enjoying that beautiful little town.

    • Deborah Bach June 5, 2011 at 11:39 am #

      Brooks, where are you living aboard? How was the transition for you? So far it’s been fine – but of course, it doesn’t hurt that we’ve had three days of gorgeous weather.
      Langley is lovely. It’s unbelievably pretty and had a few good dining spots, which I’ll be writing about soon on the tie.

  9. the filthy whore June 3, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

    winters are surely the hardest, but the summers more than make up for it. when you seem like the winter will never end (like this one) you just have to think about the summer ahead and all of the future winters that you will spend in the tropics…… sometime in the near future you will forget about what life was like on land and become accustomed to life in just a few square feet. then you will figure out how to incorporate a brewery!

    • Deborah Bach June 5, 2011 at 11:43 am #

      Joey, I spend winters thinking like that anyway, so it probably won’t be all that different on a boat (I hope).
      As for adding a brewery to the boat, I don’t know about that!

      Have you visited the little brewery here in Langley? If not, you should. You’d love to talk beer with the owner (and sample his brews).

  10. Bill Ray June 3, 2011 at 10:19 am #

    Congratulations! Be glad you are not both packrats like Jan and I.

  11. Brian H June 3, 2011 at 9:44 am #

    Winter crabbing is open all of December, so you could spend the month eating Dungeness! Dave said it best, but I’ll follow up with “gotta stop wishing, gotta go fishin’…”

  12. Dave Calhoun June 3, 2011 at 8:16 am #

    I had to laugh about the “stuff”. Like Jimmy sings: “Now times are tough and I’ve got too much stuff, can’t explain the likes of me”. (from One Particular Harbor).

    • Deborah Bach June 5, 2011 at 11:36 am #

      Stuff is a plague to me. It burdens me down. I can feel a psychic weight lifting as I get rid of it. It’s a great feeling. Living simply is very appealing.

  13. Bruce Blumenstein June 3, 2011 at 7:32 am #

    Whilst thy gloomy days of spring/winter pass, time of sunny weather aboard, will cast new energy. Fear not the soggiest winter…go with yonder cat who lives to be a steady hand in all seasons, with warmth of heart.

  14. TIM Robison June 3, 2011 at 6:03 am #

    Go for it – I winter aboard in Boston and you will save enough to pay for a midwinter vacation somewhere warm and dry!

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