Poop Deck: My 1976 Ranger 29, Sailing With Anxiety

What Boat Living is Like: Gratitude for Things Large and Small

As many of you know, I finally moved onto my boat in August. She’s still got tools scattered throughout her insides as the last of the complete electrical refit is being finished. As always, boat tasks take ten times longer and are five times more expensive than you think. I look forward to the final stages of arranging her living space to be cozy and functional. I super look forward to sailing again.

I still have the lease at my old apartment with my best friend and brother Andrew. I have a tiny bed at his place so I can spend part of the month over there doing laundry, watching TV, soaking in Wi-Fi and hang with my A team Appa and Andrew. This is partly to have the conveniences and company, and partly because Shilshole Bay Marina is waitlisted until 2023 now for full time liveaboard status. I’ve already been waitlisted for 2 years. Apparently, more people than just me realized living on a boat is more affordable in a city with apartments not much bigger than my Poop Deck renting for almost 3k a month. It is surprising how many young professionals are going for this and the sprinter van options for living in this city. I meet many who don’t even sail, it’s just affordable.

It’s strange going back and forth between land and sea. The contrast is palpable, sea legs notwithstanding. I wanted to share some reflections for those of you interested in what this alternative lifestyle is like. Let’s start with the romance; I am more connected with nature than ever. Our giant tidal range creates change over twelve to fourteen feet somedays. Tides are also semidiurnal, changing four times a day here in the Pacific Northwest. I am in a constant rhythm of floating up and down. My skyline changes with the tides and it’s a game of peek-a-boo with the Olympic Mountain range. Their peaks, almost 100 miles away, show off over the breakwater at high tide and clear skies only to disappear again with clouds or my boat sinking slowly down, safely attached to the floating dock. I live in less than 200 square feet, and I have the most immense backyard you can dream of. Best real estate in Seattle.

I have a seal friend named Spud. He might be multiple seals, but who is counting. The commercial fishing boats down the dock throw fish guts into the Salish sea and Spud and his friends come swimming by daily to munch them up. He sometimes snorts and splashes by my boat. The first time was at 5am and it scared the hell out of me, echoing right by my hull. There is only a quarter inch of plastic and resin between me and the 58-degree water. Sometimes when I fall asleep, I think of the sea below and around me. I wonder about the critters big and small living out their lives so close. I rest on an aquarium. I am also getting very astute at bird calls. Kingfishers, gulls, Osprey, Eagles, cranes, geese, ducks, all kinds of little sparrows and finches make their home around the wooded hillside and marina. About once a week I watch someone catch a fish right in front of me. I never tire of it. They leave presents, shells and poop from their constant foraging.

My dock is covered with invertebrates. Sponges, crabs, mollusks, razor clams, sculpin, tubeworms, tiny alien shrimp, egg sacs of all kinds of weird shit. I found my first nudibranch, a colorful sea slug, and immediately got my identification book to nerd out. It was a Variable dendornotoid and I named him Harry. Sometimes when it’s sunny, I just lay on the dock and watch the scene unfolding below me. It’s a good use of time to watch sea sponge grow and notice how the sun and temperature effect the algae.

My little Ranger 29 wiggles and wobbles constantly, rocking and lulling my nervous system like a good mother would. My body and mind, ever vigilant, find the constant movement relaxing. There is nothing better for me than sleeping on a boat, I haven’t slept this well in my life. I have gotten use to all her creaks and noises and am excellent at calling out how strong the wind is and from what direction simply by the sound and movement. I woke up at 3am once in a windstorm and said to Eric, “I think it’s gusting up to 35 from the northeast.” He pulled out his phone and the app sailflow. With a loving and proud nod to my salty-ness, Eric gave me the affirmative. I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night in a carebear onesie more than once to secure a cranky halyard or adjust a line for the conditions. It’s maybe not my favorite thing to do, but it makes me appreciate my cozy v-berth bed when I return.

In fact, most things about living on a sailboat bring me gratitude. The romantic part is easy to love. The day to day is what really cements boat life for me. When you live on land, with so many modern conveniences you rarely stop to relish in the fact that hot water comes pouring out of a spout at your easy command. It’s not a common thing to just stare at your washer and dryer, refrigerator, or vast countertops and soak in the appreciation for modern living. Flushing toilets are amazing! I have a composting toilet, which basically means I pee in a jug and shit in a bucket. The bucket is full of coconut husks to break down my poo, but unless cruising, it fills fast. To save on emptying them, I usually walk up to the marina head to take care of my business. I’ve got my unique peristalsis contractions down to the second to know just how long I can make it, walking up a long dock and up a huge ramp, and crossing a parking lot to poop. It’s inconvenient. Sometimes it is cold and wet. I love it. I love it because when I’m in an apartment I often hole up and never leave. I tend to cocoon in and not feel the fresh air on my skin. It’s refreshing to see all the birds and boats, sky and water on my way to a morning bodily calling. I wash my hands in warm water after and get kinda blissed out. Small things become so enjoyable. I must hand pump cold water to wash on the boat.

I also use way less water. Everything is about conservation on a boat. You try to use less resources out of necessity. I fill a 14gallon water tank to do dishes and wash hands. Every drop is used and counts. Sometimes I just do the dishes on the dock with a garden hose. I’ve only dropped one spoon in so far and Eric fished it out with a magnet on a pole. I fill an alcohol stove to boil water for my little hot water bottle that I snuggle up with each night. Everything has intention and takes time. Life is slower on a boat and has purpose. I got rid of giant yard sized trash bags of clothes to move aboard and I still find I have too many shirts, pants and socks. I only wear my favorites and need a few of each. Plus, more clothes require more laundry and I need to schlep it up and down the dock. I walk a fuck ton more now, up and down that goddamn dock. I love that too. My body moves a lot more in general. I just made soup before writing this and noticed how I had to balance while cutting and stirring as the boat swayed. It is second nature now, but tiny stabilizing muscles are at work non-stop compared to the more sedentary life I had on land.

Many people have these experiences of gratitude when they travel or camp and can relate to the feeling of a hot shower after roughing it for a while. Almost nothing is better than that fucking shower. I am learning to shower less. I shower at the gym when I work out 3-4 times a week. Otherwise, I’m getting good at wiping up the important bits and allowing my body to build up its own natural oils and healthy bacteria balances. I feel more connected to my body, to the natural world. Things are quiet here on Poopsie. I intentionally have no Wi-Fi, TV, and thankfully no noisy neighbors. I read more, listen to music, play my ukulele. I am more diligent about seeing friends or scheduling fun activities off the boat. When Eric is here, we have conversations about life or just lay around and snuggle. It’s very connecting and intimate. Soon we will also sail and explore.

I am deeply grateful for this experience. Living on a boat is teaching me more about what it is to be human. To be an animal living on the planet. Sure, we are animals with amazing frontal lobes that create, express and problem solve. We are not above nature though; we are part of it. We have invented a world where many do not have to know or pay attention at all to the weather, the tides, the detailed movement of their own bowels or balancing of their feet. We are sheltered to an extreme in modern day living. It’s a luxury for sure, and I appreciate parts of it greatly. I wonder though, at what price are we paying for the technology? Are conveniences which make simple things easier, but enforce an environment where we speed up and do more actually helpful? Are we forgetting how to just be? Are we devaluing our own natural rhythms and that of the planet we live on for more ease, distraction and entertainment? What would happen if you slowed down? When do you pause for gratitude in your life? What choices are you grateful you have made and what choices are taking you away from your true self or health? What do you take for granted? Who do you take for granted?

I know there are some people out there who are wired in a different way than me. Gratitude comes easier, general health is more accessible, they enjoy life more. For me, with chronic physical and mental illness and a HUGE negativity bias, I must work at health and appreciation. Self-care has been a full to part time job for a long while now just for functioning and sanity. Around ten years ago, in my mid to late thirties, several doctors told me: you need to find a different lifestyle, a more peaceful one. You have to slow down. You need to work less if you are going to be well. I had no idea how to make that happen, particularly on my own in a town with ever increasing costs, and in a country where my health care costs have consistently been astronomical in my adult life. It’s like a never ending cycle: work to pay for health care, need more health care for too much work. Health is such a privilege in the USA, when it should be a right.

This was before I was sailing, before I had the energy to even think of sailing. This was back when doing the dishes seemed an impossible task due to lack of physical energy from autoimmune issues and an underactive thyroid. All my energy went into running my business and attending to clients mental health. The rest of my life was spent mostly bedridden and depressed. I went two years with absolutely no sugar or carbs, no fruit or rice even, and cried over missing chocolate. I took lots of expensive supplements, meds and treatments to help heal my system and get inflammation down. I worked hard to stabilize my neuroendocrine system and cope with my mental illness. As I slowly found my way to greater health and finally, almost miraculously, had energy to spare: I looked over a bucket list I had made from many days in bed wishing I could do other things. I didn’t want to miss out any longer, I was determined to feel alive and take advantage of the energy I had gained. Sailing was on that list, so I took a class from a groupon. Little did I know that trying something new would lead me to the exact answer I needed to simplify my life and work less. This wasn’t something I planned or figured out per say, it was something I followed. I let my body and heart lead the way. In this way, I am even grateful for my illness, my journey of health, and now more possibility in the road ahead. I still have a lot of bumpy days in this body, but I relish in the ones I have energy and don’t take that for granted ever. I am also deeply grateful for the community who loves and supports me in so many ways, and who without, I certainly would not be writing any of this.

May we all sail in peace.

3 thoughts on “What Boat Living is Like: Gratitude for Things Large and Small”

  1. Hi Jenn, Just wanted to say that I enjoy your posts, they always give me food for thought. I have an R23, Sunfish and I always get a rush when I head down the dock, even if it’s a quick visit to make sure all is well. When we do cast off its always a moment of joy. Take care, Kate


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