Lessons learned from two years of cruising

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I’m not one to throw quotes around, but the oft-used quote above perfectly describes Jill and me and our life cruising aboard Yahtzee over the past two years. Many people we meet out here say, “We wish we’d done that when we were your age.” Or, “Good for you for raising your kids that way.”

We couldn’t agree more with them or Twain.

Two years ago this month, we pulled Yahtzee from her slip at Shilshole Bay Marina in Seattle and headed north towards the San Juan Islands and British Columbia. Our plan was to cruise the Pacific Northwest without a permanent slip or homeport to return to for as long as it worked and was fun. (Read our one-year recap here.)

Not only has it worked, our time out cruising has been an incredible adventure that we cherish everyday, learn an immense amount from and plan to continue. Here are a few takeaways from our two years of cruising the Pacific Northwest.

family cabin

We’re water people (no surprise there)

Boy do we love sailing. After four years of owning Yahtzee and two years of full-time cruising, there’s still nothing like getting the sails up in a fresh breeze, shutting the engine off and using the wind to take us where we want to go. Hopping from anchorage to anchorage or port to port with the wind is by far one of the best things about cruising, and even though we do our fair share of motor-sailing, if there’s a breeze, we’re using it. We also still love to race and after doing the Oregon Offshore Race, we are as enthused as ever about getting out on the race course with other boats.

Jill and Porter out for a sail around the anchorage.

Jill and Porter out for a sail around the anchorage.

Aside from all the sailing on Yahtzee, we’ve also come to realize that the more time we spend on the water, the more ways we discover to enjoy it. Over the past year, we’ve fallen in love with sailing our little dinghy and it’s great to see Porter learning to sail it, too. Surfing and standup paddleboarding have recently become favorites and it looks like we’ll be adding a couple boards to the boat in the near future. We’re always finding new places to explore on our trusty kayak and fishing is becoming a favorite pastime of the crew — even if we’re still working on the “catching” part.

Yahtzee's crew paddling home after a visit with friends at Bligh Island. (Photo courtesy of Pat and John Gunton aboard SV Endless Summer IV.)

Yahtzee’s crew paddling home after a visit with friends at Bligh Island. (Photo courtesy of Pat and John Gunton aboard SV Endless Summer IV.)

We’re always learning

One of the things we love most about roaming the Salish Sea by sailboat is how much we learn about its unique history and inhabitants, and about the immense amount of natural life on the sea and land. While roaming the islands, mountains, streams, forests and lagoons of the area, we’re always learning something new. And the more we learn, the more we want to keep exploring, meeting new people and teaching the boys along the way.

Porter and Magnus love tide pooling and learning about what they finding.

Porter and Magnus love tide pooling and learning about what they are finding.

We embrace living with less

When we left Seattle we sold our car, got rid of a few things, put what was in our dock box on the boat and set sail. After two years, we really enjoy not owning a car and all the things that go with it: no gas to buy, parking to worry about, insurance to pay or maintenance to take care of. We also embrace having less in general.

We know that whether we lived in a house or on a boat, we’d naturally tend to fill any space we had. On Yahtzee we try hard to keep life uncluttered of “stuff” and to mostly have things that we need. Of course, it helped a lot that when we bought the boat four years ago, we moved aboard with a backpack full of clothes each, some kitchen items and not much else. And even with kids, who can require extra gear, we’ve kept the boat manageable yet homey and are good at getting rid of things when something else comes aboard. Overall, we continue to be very happy with what we have and don’t have.

Porter opening a birthday gift from his Great Grandma. When the boys get a new toy, we donate an old one.

Porter opening a birthday gift from his Great Grandma. When the boys get a new toy, we donate an old one.

We roll with the challenges

While it can be easy to get caught up in all the great moments of cruising, there are definitely some challenging ones too. A sailboat is a relatively small place and when it has been raining for days on end, which causes us to spend more time inside, it can start to seem even smaller. This puts a cramp on everyone’s personal space and if we don’t find creative ways to fill our time, it can become an issue. And when boat problems arise that I can’t fix, it can be frustrating to figure out how to get them resolved while being so nomadic. But instead of complaining about things we can’t change (like the weather) or being bummed about things that break (like the engine), we’ve learned to make the best of these situations and move forward in a positive direction. That’s really all we can do.

Stopping to repair Yahtzee's saildrive was a bump in an otherwise smooth road.

Stopping to repair Yahtzee’s saildrive was a bump in an otherwise smooth road.

We’re taking our time

After spending two winters cruising the San Juan and Gulf Islands and loving it, we’re going to do much the same this fall and winter. We’ve found bouncing back and forth between these two archipelagos in the winter months to be an incredibly beautiful yet challenging experience, as it shows us a side of the islands that few get a chance to discover.

We have to wear a few extra layers, but winter cruising in the PNW is extremely rewarding.

We have to wear a few extra layers, but winter cruising in the PNW is extremely rewarding.

After that, we don’t really know. We take our cruising plans about a season at a time, so projecting past the fall and winter is tough. Our dreams have no bounds, though, and we have a spontaneity that can find us changing plans on a whim. Last spring we cruised down to the Columbia River and raced back north with the Oregon Offshore Race and are currently finishing up our three-month circumnavigation of Vancouver Island. We’ll see what’s in store for the spring and summer of 2017.

Looking even longer term, full-time cruising is what we love to do and how we enjoy sailing through this thing called life. We are going to continue making it work for our family, slow and steady, and if we need to pull into a port to refill the cruising kitty at some point, we’ll do it if it means keeping the dream going and us out here long term. In general, we prefer living in the moment to hyper-planning every aspect of the future, so stay tuned to see where ‘Rollin’ with Yahtzee’ sails to next.

Where will we sail next? Sometimes we don't even know.

Where will we sail next? Sometimes we don’t even know.

We’re loving life 

As we spend our days out cruising and exploring aboard Yahtzee we often look at one another and say, “Life. Is. Good.” We look at each day as a chance to experience and learn about the world in whatever form it shows up as, and to do it as a cruising family is incredibly rewarding. It doesn’t matter if we’re hiking a soggy trail in the rain or sailing on a sunny day in a beautiful breeze, every moment matters — good, great or otherwise.

Wherever we go, the boys are always up for a good sail.

Wherever we go, the boys are always up for a sail.

What we’ve discovered out here over these two years is that living close to one another and to the natural world around us is a journey that we wouldn’t trade for anything. If we had to glean some sort of advice from what we’re doing, it would be to make the most of every day. And that doesn’t necessarily mean selling everything you own, buying a sailboat and sailing off in search of sunny skies and sandy beaches. It means finding what you love to do in life and treasuring the positives of every moment that you spend doing it. Whether that’s going camping or backpacking as a family, playing golf with friends, creating art by yourself, remodeling your house with your partner, cooking with a parent and so on. Life is too good to go through it without doing things you love, with people you love. Make every day and every moment yours.

5 thoughts on “Lessons learned from two years of cruising

  1. Sailing in the Salish Sea for 30 years, Linda and I are on the other end of the age scale, and looking forward to using Helios as a spring and summer home, and spending a lot more time with areas we only got to sail by. You guys keep going and writing.

  2. Love reading about your adventures and seeing the pictures of your family enjoying life. Thank you for sharing your adventures!

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