How does life aboard Yahtzee work for us?

As we cruise and race aboard Yahtzee, we come across a lot of folks with a wide array of questions about what our lifestyle is about. Because we don’t have permanent moorage and are always on the move, people often wonder how we do everyday things like laundry or where we get our mail. And it’s hard for some to understand that this is our life and that we’re not on a constant trip or vacation with a house or homeport to go back to.

That said, here are some of the frequent and funny questions that we get asked along the way…

Where do you do your laundry? 

The quick answer is, wherever it’s convenient. Many marinas or yacht clubs have laundry facilities that we use when we stop to get provisions and take showers. And if those aren’t available, we’ll take it to a regular old laundromat. With two boys aboard, we try to get it done once a week, but that can be tricky.

Also, we’re often invited to bring laundry with us to friend’s houses — because nothing says “I’m a cruiser” like taking your laundry to a dinner party!

How do you shop for groceries?

This one goes with the laundry question in that we do it when we stop in port. Jill’s very good at provision planning, which allows us to go 5 to 10 days without needing a grocery store. But it really depends. Some places we cruise to have more convenient grocery stops than others. For instance, while cruising in Desolation Sound for 3.5 weeks provisioning options are limited, so we went to the store less and had to plan accordingly. But if we’re near places like Ganges, Friday Harbor, Port Townsend or Anacortes, then it’s much easier.

Porter and Magnus rollin' in Chuck Wagon on the ferry from Nanaimo to West Vancouver.
Porter and Magnus rollin’ in Chuck Wagon on the ferry from Nanaimo to West Vancouver.

As far as how we physically get there, Jill and the boys typically walk with the collapsable wagon (which Porter named Chuck) while I work. Or, I hang out with the boys and she goes, which can be much easier for everyone. We’ll also take public transportation, and Jill and the boys have even accepted a ride back to Yahtzee from a fireman on a gator.

Porter loved getting a lift from the fireman
Porter loved getting a lift from the fireman

How do you get around?

We get this one a lot because we don’t own a car, and the simple truth is that we walk … a lot. But it really depends on where we are and what we’re doing because our kayak and dinghy are like cars to us while we’re anchored out. And the wagon does a lot of the heavy lifting when we’re on land.

Our cars: the kayak, aka Spirit Bear, and the dinghy, aka Hornpipe.
Our cars: the kayak, aka Spirit Bear, and the dinghy, aka Hornpipe, carrying the wagon.

Other than walking, we use any combination of public transportation such as trains, buses, Ubers and have been known to hitch a ride here and there — which is common practice in many island communities that we visit. Occasionally we’ll also borrow a friend’s car or rent one, but rarely.

What about safety? Or as the question usually gets asked, “Do you worry about them falling overboard?”

Life jackets — or as we call them, boat coats — are non-negotiable. If Porter and Magnus are on deck and out of the companionway, they have to have one on. No exceptions. And if they’re not in a boat coat, they’re in a harness and tether attached to the boat.

Magnus eating a cooking in his boat coat just outside of the companionway.
Magnus eating a cookie in his boat coat just outside of the companionway.

Also, it is our duty to keep an eye on them while they’re on deck and to educate them about safety. We don’t “worry” about them falling overboard, but we teach them what to do if they did go overboard and talk together about what we would do in the event. The fact of the matter is that if they did go overboard, a life jacket is going to save their lives. Period.

On deck in their harness and tethers during the Oregon Offshore Race.
On deck in their harness and tethers during the Oregon Offshore Race, with lifeline netting as an added precaution.

And while safety equipment is helpful, so too is their familiarity with being on the boat in a variety of conditions. The boys joined us aboard Yahtzee when they were hours old, have spent many miles under sail and power, and learned to walk on deck and down below while the boat was moving. That comfort level doesn’t mean an accident won’t happen, but it does help a lot as they walk around the boat on a daily basis.

Do you have a shower on board?

Technically we do have a shower aboard, but we don’t use it. It’s not an actual shower stall, so everything in our forward head would get soaked and the amount of condensation that all four of us showering regularly would create would be immense.

Our shower routine is tied to the stops we make for provisions, laundry and fuel, so we’re typically showering at a marina or yacht club while the laundry is going. And in the summer we use a sun shower on deck.

How do you stay warm in the winter?

For starters, winters aren’t that bad while cruising in the Pacific Northwest. I can count on one hand how many times we’ve seen snow or ice on deck and I don’t even have pictures to substantiate that claim, it’s so rare.

Our diesel fireplace is great at keeping the boat warm and dry
Our diesel fireplace is great at keeping the boat warm and dry

When we’re anchored out, we have a Sig Marine 180 diesel fireplace that keeps the boat really warm and dry. It’s awesome. We run it off and on throughout the day and in the past two winters of cruising full-time, we’ve only kept it running all night a few times. Our Mr. Buddy propane heater is great for quickly taking the chill out of the air while we get the fireplace going. And our oil lamp is perfect for times when we don’t quite need all the heat of the fireplace.

If we’re at a dock we run a small space heater and a dehumidifier. Together they do quite well to heat and dry the boat; the dehumidifier pulls out the cold moist air and then the space heater warms up the cabin.

How do you fund this?

I work from the boat as managing editor for Three Sheets Northwest and also do some freelance writing and editing on the side. As long as I have a decent connection to the Internet for a portion of the week, I’m good. I use a combination of data from our cell phones and Wi-Fi to stay connected.

Where are you from or where do you live?

We get this one A LOT and though it isn’t a tough one for us to answer, it can be difficult for people to grasp. The easiest response is, “Wherever the boat is.” And if you ask Porter where he’s from he’ll tell you, “Yahtzee.”

Yahtzee's homeport says Seattle, but our home is really wherever happen to be at the moment.
Yahtzee’s homeport says Seattle, but our home is really wherever we happen to be at the moment.

Since we don’t have a permanent slip, storage unit or car tying us to any port, where we’re from really rotates with the seasons. During the winter of 2014-2015, we cruised around the San Juan Islands because Magnus was born in Bellingham in December and we needed to stick close for appointments before and after his birth. Then we went north into British Columbia for the summer and back down to Puget Sound all the way south to Olympia in the fall before returning north to the islands.

This past winter we mostly lived in British Columbia around the Gulf Islands, but also spent a fair amount of time in the San Juans and a few weeks in Puget Sound. We spent the month of April working our way towards and into the Columbia River and then returned north to Victoria in May in the Oregon Offshore Race. From Victoria we cruised around Vancouver Island for three months and are planning to explore Puget Sound this fall.

So I guess the more appropriate question would be, “where are you cruising this (insert season here)?”

When are you going south?

This is a funny one to us because for many Pacific Northwest cruisers it’s automatically assumed that you’re “getting ready” to head south to Mexico and beyond. And while, yes, we’d like to do that someday, it won’t be soon. We lived in and experienced cruising in the tropics for many years and are in no hurry to return.

Wait, sailing to the Columbia River from the San Juan Islands is sailing south, right?
Wait, sailing to the Columbia River from the San Juan Islands IS sailing south, right?

We love cruising the PNW, have only scratched the surface of what British Columbia has to offer and dream of cruising in Jill’s home state of Alaska for a few summers, so the tropics can wait.

How will you socialize and educate the boys!? 

This is by far the most frequent query that we get, and it usually comes with a look of consternation from the questioner. Though other people seem to be quite concerned about how the boys will be “properly educated and socialized” — which we appreciate — Porter and Magnus are only 3 years old and 18 months, so we’ve got a few years. Of course, that answer doesn’t sit well with folks who believe that hyper-planning every aspect of the boys’ futures is an absolute necessity. And that education and socialization mean plunking them into a seat in a classroom with 20 other kids and a teacher. (For an in-depth look at this, here’s a great post on the topic of socialization by a friend and fellow cruising family). So the party line is that we’ll do some combination of (gasp!) homeschooling and stopping to put them in school. We’re by no means discounting the possible value of formal schooling, we’re just taking it one step at a time to do what’s best for their educational and socialization needs as they mature.

The boys are all good!
The boys are all good!

Jill takes the boys to aquariums, story hours, kids groups and playtimes whenever possible, and Porter has participated in an early learning program in BC. But as far as preschool and then school goes, we feel like the outdoor education we’re giving him, coupled with working on letters, numbers, reading, art projects, etc, is working great. Talk to the boys, and you’ll find out fairly quickly that they’re doing well.

Where do you get your mail?

This is a great question, and is one that we re-explain on a regular basis. We get our mail through Dockside Solutions in Seattle. Our friend Angela started this service out of Shilshole Bay Marina and has clients all over the world. Basically what happens is that Dockside gets our mail, scans it and puts it into a Dropbox folder. We can then select to have it held for us, opened and scanned, trashed or forwarded to an address of our choosing. I typically grab it when I come through Seattle for work or we have friends stop by and pick it up for us if we know we’ll be seeing them soon. Since starting with Dockside, though, we’ve realized that we don’t actually get that much mail.

How do you stay fit, do you have a gym membership?

We seriously get this question, which kind of makes sense, as many people have gym memberships and stay fit in a variety of ways, so they wonder how we do.

Rowing is great exercise.
Rowing is great exercise.

We’re fortunate that many of the activities listed above are physically oriented, which keeps us in good shape. Swimming, hiking, beach combing, rowing, paddling and actively sailing the boat keep us in, as we call it, “boat shape.” But the lifestyle has its hidden rewards, too. Walking to and from the grocery store while pulling a wagon or wearing a backpack, or both, is great exercise. And simply hoisting the dinghy and kayak on and off the deck and beach is a workout in itself. We also try to get in some yoga on the beach or foredeck and just being parents of two active boys keeps us moving. Plus, I don’t even know where we would get a gym membership, as we’re not in one place long enough to use it.

How long will you do this for? 

It’s easy for us to understand that our nomadic, cruising lifestyle is seen by some as a short term adventure that we’ll eventually move away from or get tired of. It’s not the norm, and can be hard to think of as a full-time way to live if you’re not a sailor. Some cruisers have a set two, three, four or five year cruising plan that they stick to, but that has never been our goal. We don’t subscribe to timelines or “5 year plans.” When we moved aboard Yahtzee and then started cruising it was with the thought that if it worked for us, we’d keep going. And now, it’s working so well that we can’t imagine doing anything else.

We also get variations on the question, “So, when you’re done sailing, you’ll buy a house?” Our answer to this one is quick and easy, “No, probably a bigger boat.” The bottom line is that we don’t want to live any differently than we are now. Of course, nobody knows what will really happen and what different paths and incarnations our cruising life will take, but the thought of plunking down roots in one spot and buying a home, car and everything that goes with it is unsettling to say the least. At some point we’ll probably stop to top up the cruising kitty — which is common among world cruisers — but it will be with the purpose of getting back out here as soon as possible. Life is good, and we’re happy Rollin’ with Yahtzee. Or as Jill so aptly put it recently, “Life couldn’t be better.”

Sailing fast on a relatively calm sea inside the reefs.

Do you have a TV?

No, we don’t have a television. The reason is that we don’t really like TV and therefore have no need to sit in front of one. It isn’t that we’re anti-TV necessarily, it’s just not something that we want or find useful on a sailboat. I get plenty of “screen time” working on the computer and really the only thing I could think that I’d even like to watch on TV would be football. And for Jill, since housesitting this winter and getting hooked on the show “This Is Us”, she’s now hopeful to find a way to finish the season.

That said, we do have a computer with a disc drive to play DVDs and an external hard drive filled with movies from our Peace Corps days. But I can count on one hand how many movies we’ve watched in our nearly five years of living on Yahtzee. On occasion, we’ve streamed shows on the computer, but don’t really do that anymore. Porter’s a cartoon junkie when we’re at hotels or visiting friends and family, and he enjoys relaxing and watching a few kids shows on Jill’s phone while Magnus naps in the afternoon. But on the boat, he’d much rather be doing something else. Magnus has no interest in TV what-so-ever.

Have you ever thought about getting a full enclosure for your cockpit? 

This is a question and suggestion that we’ve gotten regularly since we purchased the boat. Though we get that having a full canvas enclosure for our cockpit would be nice for keeping out the elements, we still haven’t felt the need to get one.

With the Bimini up to block the sun, this is about as “enclosed” as Yahtzee’s cockpit ever gets.

The main reason is that it would be an awkward fit over and around Yahtzee’s cockpit. Also, we like to see the sails and everything outside of the boat, and an enclosure is too much of a trap. Plus, enclosures are super expensive and if we were going to drop that much money on canvas, it would be on a suit of nice sails. The dodger that I built has held up exceedingly well over the past 2.5 years and we do have a Bimini that we use in the summer to keep the cockpit shaded.

The dodger is all the windsheild we want.

What about all the rain?

We sure have had a lot of rain this fall and winter, and while many places have had floods or flood warnings, that is certainly something we don’t have to worry about. The rain question usually comes from those who are worried about nearby rivers overflowing their banks or basements filling with water. Every boat has a leak or two, but Yahtzee, knock on wood, is nearly devoid of leaks. And since we’re on the water already, flooding isn’t a problem!

Yahtzee scootin’ along on a classic PNW rainy winter day.

What we don’t do is let the rain close us up indoors or keep us from moving. If we did that, winter would be pretty depressing. Instead, we go sailing, hiking, paddling, rowing, beach-combing or out to playgrounds, and we tend to find things for the boys to do indoors such as library story times, children’s museums, swimming or, in Canada, attending their excellent early learning programs. If we do happen to be hunkered down in the boat to wait out weather, we do boat and art projects, play and listen to music, read, bake and build creative things from Legos.

Porter showing off a Lego creation.

Are you usually at anchor during the rainy season or do you move from marina to marina?

Great question. In the summer we spend the majority of our nights at anchor, but when the rain and wind of winter start moving into the Pacific Northwest, boaters are driven back to their home ports. That’s when transient dock space starts to open up. This winter while cruising the central sound, we used more docks because we had more available. But a typical winter has us at anchor for about three to five nights in a row, at a dock for a couple and then back out at anchor — which is a nice mix. Happily, we’re in that routine now.

We prefer to be at anchorages like Pirate’s Cove in the Gulf Islands.

When we do go to docks, it’s rarely at marinas where we are paying a full night slip fee. Being members of the Seattle Yacht Club allows us to use an incredible amount of reciprocal docks throughout the PNW for about five dollars per night, plus the club’s outstation docks, and we’ve figured out that if we use three nights per month at one of these, then we’ve more than covered our monthly yacht club dues. So it’s worth it. The helpful book, The Burgee, is a great guide to finding slips and since there are so few boaters out this time of year, the first-come-first-served moorage spaces are usually empty. One of the benefits to this is that we get to meet up with other SYC members and a lot of great folks at the various clubs we visit. We’re always welcomed with open arms and I can’t count how many times we’ve been invited up for a happy hour or potluck. The other thing we use a lot this time of year is our annual state parks mooring pass. The price is based on the length of your boat, but paying the yearly fee allows vessel owners to use the many moorings and docks at park facilities throughout Washington state.

Are you guys minimalists? 

No. Not intentionally anyway. This question always makes us laugh because we get that living on a 40-foot boat means that we have less things, so by its nature, I guess we can be considered more minimalist than other people. But we’re not the type who strive to actually be minimalists. To us, trying to be minimalists would be putting way too much thought and effort into living. Instead, we have a boat full of things we use, eat, play with and enjoy. We buy things and give things away and without a storage unit or car, we don’t have a place to stash lots of stuff.

The bottom line is that we have room for everything we need, and beyond that,  we have to be choosey about what we bring aboard and whether items are practical or not. Bikes, roller skates or skateboards for Porter and Magnus? Not realistic. An excessive amount of toys? Nope. Lots of clothing? Waste of space. Pets? Umm, no. Fortunately, the boys get exposure to all of  these things during visits to family and friends ashore and they seem perfectly content with that. Because after time spent away from the boat and what they have on it, they’re always eager to get back to Yahtzee — which is about all we can ask for.

Porter and Magnus getting bike and pet time while housesitting for friends in Seattle.

What’s your sailing background?

Over the past few weeks I’ve answered a number of questions related to how long we’ve been sailing, boating and cruising, whether Yahtzee is our first boat, and what our overall experience is. So, without getting too detailed into our sailing resumes, here goes.

I learned to sail with my family in Michigan at a very young age. I raced, daysailed and cruised boats with my grandparents, parents, siblings, uncles and friends, and when I was 19 I made my first offshore passage — a non-stop voyage from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to Newport, R.I. That experience hooked me on big boats and real cruising, and from then on I knew that — along with writing — sailing would be my life’s passion. It was around this time that I met Jill and we started to sail together. She was soon hooked too and we’ve now been sailing together for 15 years.

From Caribbean beaches to the great Pacific Northwest.

After college in Oregon and then Florida, I got a captain’s license and worked as an instructor and manager at Offshore Sailing School for six years in Florida, the Bahamas, Caribbean and anywhere else they asked me to go. Teaching every class they offered, I learned fast from incredible mentors and honed my cruising, racing and teaching skills. Jill was able to take classes at the school and join me for much of it. We also had the opportunity to lead flotillas in the Caribbean together and got to explore from the British Virgin Islands south to Grenada. But, as life goes, we eventually needed and wanted a change and moved to Seattle in 2012 after being in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia. Six months later we bought our first boat, named her Yahtzee, had two kids and the rest is detailed on this blog.

Besides sailing Yahtzee, though, we also love keeping our skills sharp by delivering and racing other people’s boats. Jill helped friends sail their boat to San Francisco from the Pacific Northwest a few years ago and this past October we got to deliver an awesome boat together from Maine to Maryland. Good times!

Jill and me while leading a flotilla in the Eastern Caribbean.