Sitting on the rocky beach of Watmough Bay on Lopez Island, I stared out on the water in quiet contemplation. Yahtzee bobbed on a mooring and Rosario Strait was calm yet sparkling in the summer sun. I reached down, picked up a small stone and threw it with no care as to where it landed. My mind was far away, searching for an answer to a question posed to me by a fellow cruiser I’d met just moments prior.
“What’s your inspiration for cruising as a family?” she’d asked.
It was a good question, but a heavy one. Of all the queries I get regarding our lifestyle, I’ve never been asked that particular one and in the moment, I couldn’t process it and give it the clear attention it deserved. I’ve thought about it a lot since, talked about it with friends and, sitting in the very spot where my love of sailing stems from, I’ve come to grasp the answer.
Born a sailor
As I type this from my parent’s house in Michigan, a warm northerly breeze funnels off the lake and through the trees. Just off the beach, our 1961 O’Day Osprey tugs at its mooring. In the garage are two Sunfish. Just three miles away sits a Hunter 39 in her slip. And an old Grumman canoe with a sailing rig and lee boards is still kicking around somewhere. When my great grandfather bought that canoe, he didn’t realize what he was starting.
Every summer of my life has included this lake, sailboats and time spent with family and friends. My siblings and I grew up racing with our dad and uncles in the sailing club that my great grandfather founded and as we got older, we’ve kept sailing.
Learning to sail is a gift that never goes away, never fades, never ends. I love it. And I have my family to thank for what I realize is the catalyst for my inspiration, but not the sole reason. There’s more to the story.
Make it a life
When I finished my sophomore year advisory meeting at the University of Oregon, my mind swirled with the existential emotions of a typical 19-year-old. The advisor had patiently urged me to find a major, but my personality has never liked finite things like choosing something so specific.
Also, I’d just returned to Eugene from a summer in which I’d delivered a sailboat non-stop from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Newport, Rhode Island and then worked as crew on a day charter boat in the harbor. I was more in love with sailing than I’d ever been and for the first time I’d realized that it wasn’t just the sailing, it was the lifestyle that captivated me. The freedom of cruising, the camaraderie of racing, the beauty of the ocean, the ability to travel and the responsibility of being the captain of a boat that could take me where I wanted was extremely powerful. It consumed me.
But what also pushed me was my passion for writing. Putting pen to paper came naturally to me as a child and from as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. The hard part was figuring out how to mesh it with sailing in order to turn my dreams into reality.
At the same time, I’d come to clearly understand that the path to cruising and writing wasn’t about getting a degree so that I could get a comfortable job to make and save the money to buy a boat and sail off. To me, the problem was in the job part. The grind. After working as a sailor, I couldn’t sit in an office. I couldn’t handle the typical nine to five, commuting and having weekends off and two weeks a year. No way. Not going to happen.
I needed more experience at writing and sailing, and that’s exactly what I set out to get. I got a degree and a captain’s license, sailed a lot, wrote a lot and became an editor — which is a story within itself — but that’s not the inspiration, either. There’s more to the story.
When I arrived in Newport after delivering the boat, the very first phone call I made was to the person I’d been thinking about the most. The beautiful girl I’d met at school three months prior. Jill.
She was working at a kids camp in New York for the summer, which was close enough for me, and we quickly arranged a way to meet up. Before leaving Newport, she came to visit me and we went sailing together for the first time. We’ve been sailing together ever since.
Knowing that I couldn’t make Jill fall in love with sailing and with the dream of cruising, we bided our time and bit it off in small chunks. She took lessons and learned as we went. When we moved to Florida, we sailed more and she eventually cruised the Caribbean with me for my job. Fortunately, if you want to fall in love with cruising, the Caribbean is a great place to do it, and she was hooked too. The dream became ours.
We had another shared dream, though, and it took us away from sailing to Ethiopia with the United States Peace Corps. The experience was incredible, life altering and among many, many other things, showed us that our desire to live on a boat and with fewer material things was in our future. When we returned to the States we wanted to move back to the Pacific Northwest and ended up in Seattle, which turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve made.
Six months later, we bought Yahtzee, moved aboard and turned our aspirations into reality. We raced and cruised every chance we got and never wanted to return to the marina. When kids came, living aboard and cruising worked better than expected and eventually we figured out how to keep going without the slip or a home base. Our cruising dream became everyday life.
Now, two years after leaving, we’re loving it more than ever and have no plans to stop. Cruising as a family is an incredible experience that we cherish everyday — and if that’s how attaining our dreams goes, we’re all in.
Throughout all of this, my inspiration to cruise with Jill and then as a family has come by following the things I love to do and working hard to see them through. My answer to the question, then, is that my true inspiration is in getting to do the things I love with the people I love and teaching our boys to do the same. We strive to live everyday in the moment with each other, and there’s no better inspiration than that.