We’ve been sailing as a family for three years, but until this last year, my son showed very little interest in being anything more than a passenger.
During passages (in our case, a day or two of sailing in Puget Sound to get from one gunkhole to the next), we had to demand he leave the cabin and come topside. We gave him “jobs,” like searching the water for sea life, or rules, like any eating had to happen in the cockpit while we were underway. He complied, but usually would cry boredom at some point and beg to go back into the cabin with a book.
Like many families in the U.S., our school year looks a lot different than it has in years past.
Gone are the days of getting up at 6:30 a.m. and rushing to eat, get dressed and in the car in time for school.
Instead, the kids get up when they get up. After breakfast, they usually head outside for some vitamin D and fresh air.
Once back inside, they don’t head to desks or any sort of designated learning space. Instead, we compare their schedules with my husband’s calls for work and figure out who needs to use the one table we have first. Some days, the kids don’t even crack the computer and we spend most of our time outside.
I have to admit, we’ve had it better than most since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
While most people were cooped up in their houses under shelter-in-place orders, we were stuck on a sailboat. Which is a shelter that by design moves.
Our summer looked like this: Cruising to remote islands, hiking in beautiful state parks, snorkeling in chilly, but crystal clear waters, kayaking in protected coves, beachcombing for critters … you get the drift.
Cruise the web for cruising families. You’ll see some differences: large families of four kids or more, sailing on a large catamaran; small families with a single kid, voyaging the world on a boat not much bigger than a daysailer.
They cruise in Fiji, Australia, Mexico, the Med, northern Europe and along both coasts of the United States.
In most cases, cruising families are made up of two married or committed parents and the children they have had together. And it makes sense. Balancing a weather-dependent cruising schedule with parenting plans, custody arrangements and divorce decrees requiring travel notifications is a formidable challenge indeed.
Our family has to manage all of those factors. My kids are from my first marriage. My husband is their step-father. Our boat is in Puget Sound and my kids’ dad, J, is in Portland. We have a 50-50 parenting plan.
As I write this, I am sitting on the back porch of my childhood home in Hutchinson, Kansas. I am supposed to be on Polaris with my husband and kids, cruising South Puget Sound.
But I got a text from my mom a little more than a month ago that she had been feeling short of breath and unable to even take a quick walk around the neighborhood. She was going to the doctor to see what was causing it.
The flood brought us to Sucia Island, pushing our speed over ground to 9 kts for most of our trip north.
Our goal was to grab a mooring buoy in Fox Cove. It’s a smaller and slightly more exposed anchorage near Sucia Island, but the forecast for the next few days was sunny and very light wind.
At high tide, Little Sucia—the tiny rocky island just a few hundred feet away from Sucia—works with its sister island to create a south entrance to Fox Cove. It’s a deceptive welcome that hides the abundance of rocks lurking just under the surface. We opted to round Little Sucia instead and entered from the west side of the cove.
On late afternoon of Tuesday, June 23, with a lingering list of boat projects, crap still piled up on the settee looking for a permanent home, we shoved out of our home marina in Elliot Bay and pointed for Bainbridge Island’s Port Blakely Harbor.
Seattle was warm and blustery, a rarity on a Seattle summer day. After I took us out of our slip and motored us out of the marina, C and our 12-year-old daughter, A, raised the mainsail. With the wind coming out of the north, we enjoyed a lovely beam- to broad-reach sail with A at the helm for most of the time.
In June, we got rid of 85% of our stuff and moved out of our house in Southwest Portland to move full-time onto our boat for the summer. We will spend three months sailing the Salish Sea with our kids. Our tentative plan is to explore:
I left my full-time job in April and am transitioning to freelance writing and editing in the fall. My husband will continue his current job, which he can do remote almost 100% of the time.
Downsizing for the future
My kids are from my first marriage, and they spend 50% of their time with their dad (big thanks to him for agreeing to let us take the kids for the summer!) He is based in Portland, so we aren’t leaving Portland completely. But once we return from our trip in the fall, we plan to split our time between Portland and Seattle. We’ll be in Portland when the kids are with us and in the Puget Sound area on our boat when they are with their dad.
We’re so excited to dedicate the summer to exploring this beautiful and rich body of water. I thought that cruising was something I wouldn’t be able to do until I was much older, certainly without kids in the house anymore, and probably closer to retirement.
This is the beginning of something new. Something, for now, that is only part-time. But something big, indeed.