Growing up on a boat

YouTube sailing channels are fun to watch. Usually young, beautiful, healthy, people travel to exotic locations and spend extensive alone time. Gorgeous sunsets, amazing sunrises, tropical breezes, and romantic locations all while wearing the least amount of clothes possible. Because it is freaking hot and humid. However, there is a “condition” that is going through the principles of each of the sailing vlogs. Whether it is Jessica and Ryan having a baby, the Daly’s having a baby, Elayna and Riley having a baby, or now the Bryan and Kazaa having a baby. Something is happening. A sailing channel known as Monday Never decided to stop sailing because of their desire to have a child. Two channels known as “The Sailing Family” one on a Halberg Rassy and another on a Outremer catamaran already have kids. The sailing Zitara family previously on a Beneteau and now on a Privilege catamaran had a passel of kids when they started. Kids and boats are a great combination. Then again I really don’t know a different path.

What is it like to grow up on a boat?

I remember sitting on my parents new boat. The boat was a 30 foot Revel Craft with a wide sweeping bow, and seat at the front of the cabin. The boat wasn’t really fast but with a single motor it would cut a nice wake. My dad had sold a wooden 25 foot cruiser with a in-board/out-board unit. The smaller boat was faster but didn’t have anywhere near the comfort of the new boat. The white hull, with white decks, and tasteful wood trim was brand new. We had looked at fly bridge boats, boats with bigger motors, but my dad always gravitated towards “sensible” boats.

We took that boat all 12 hours from Brownsville Washington to Port Townsend Washington. Now thinking back on the kind of travels I have done not much of a distance. Then with wide eyes and a feeling of adventure each bend in the Puget Sound, every wave, the markers and buoys slowly passing by were push pins in a map of adventure. I would sit with a cruising atlas and read the stories of points, passes, buildings and such as we would motor by into the future. I learned to navigate with binoculars, a compass, and sense of too much skill untested. I think back at the wide world of my youth and the experience I would pick up. Youth is a sense of immortality.

Where in the future did we go? We traveled to the San Juan Islands, up to the Gulf Islands, and further nearing almost but not quite touching Alaska on a few multi-week adventures. We would pull into little fishing towns and my dad would pay with travelers checks. Because, that is what travelers did. The boat we traveled on was a gasoline single engine. Every night my dad would peel back the floor boards, check the oil, check the stuffing box, wipe the back side of the cylinder head with a rag and sniff the bilge. Then we would barbecue something completely unhealthy.

I have no idea my ethnic or cultural background. I imagine somewhere between recalcitrant Irish and peeved off Scotsman, but yachting with style was definitely not in the cards. My mom claimed all kinds of ethnic background. My dad would look at me and say Scotch. I wouldn’t learn until later that it is Scots. That in fact he might be telling me something to the effect that I was made up of cheap Scotch. The food was always German with helping of fat and grease on every plate. Sausage, saur kraut (pickled cabbage), meats cooked until cinders, and sauces made from the juices of meat. Barbecue was sausages, meats cooked until cinders, and lots of oysters, crabs, and other highly cooked meats. My mom never saw a canned meat she that had enough salt.  Food in the wild was processed, canned, pre-cooked, and burnt. I loved it. I didn’t know any better.

Every morning my dad would check the oil on the engine, wipe the back of the cylinder head with a rag, sniff the bilges, and as a bonus check the water level in the fresh water cooled radiator system. I said if it was good last night shouldn’t it be good this morning. After cuffing me up the side of my head in what I thought of as a pass by head slapper. He said if you check it the same way every time you will know if anything changes. I didn’t point out he often skipped a step. He’d light up the blowers, start the engine, and we’d leave the marina. If nobody fell off.  That wasn’t always a given.

At least twice a season somebody would step off the boat, a sprawling quite obvious void between them and the water. There would be a splash of varying proportions. Lots of squabbling and yelling. Of varying danger whether the boat was left running, the chance a crush between boat and dock might happen, and the red faces of the plunger. The wet cursing abused would climb aboard the boat and change their clothes. Salty skin a punishment enough. People would walk by, laugh as an aside, and keep walking. Some would help drag the sputtering unplanned swimmer. Still, it is kind of funny. After I left home I only saw two or three people get sucked off docks into the water or knocked into the water accidentally by something.

I would sit in the bow of the boat in the forward hatch as we sliced through the water. In the v-berth below me the cruising atlas open to the page, my binoculars sitting next to my knee. It is kind of funny because now all these years later I would never operate a boat on open water with a large bow hatch open. I remember entering Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands for the first time. A crystal sparkling green water. Long wooden docks reaching out towards the entrance. In those days the docks were all wood. No concrete to be seen. With extreme tides the ramps to the floating docks were painful to crawl up as a little kid. Teetering at the top of the ramp was like standing at the top of a mountain. Floating docks in areas with 12 and 15 foot tides were always a blessing oh wait I mean curse. Pushing carts around and up and down those ramps was a kids nightmare.  As we entered the bay an older ferry would slide out past the docks. The names of the ferry’s I’ve ridden on his pretty long. Most people don’t care, but the boats each had character. I would listen to the shh shh shh sound through the hull of the big ferry boat prop slicing the water.

When I was younger we anchored out a lot. As I got older the number of times we anchored out became fewer and fewer. By the time I was a teenager my parents never anchored out, and their longer trips became very short trips. As I sailed and boated with friends playing the role of crew. I spent some glorious evenings swinging gently along with the wind in anchorages. In Friday harbor I remember the the wailing tone of bagpipes carried by the wind. It sounded like a small cat being strangled by a boa constrictor in a meth fueled rage after catching the cat with his sister.

My parents in later years would sell the power boat and buy a sailboat. The vessel Alar was a CT34 a cutter rigged Taiwanese boat. In some kind of perverse joke that is when they decided to double down and add two to three weeks of WINTER sailing to our adventures. We’d leave as soon (sometimes sooner) when I got out of school for winter break and we’d spend the time in the San Juan islands or Canada. The coal stove in the cabin would be burning, the smoke from wood being burned in it, drifting across the deck. The boat heeled over with the sails filled. For non-sailors there is a funny thing about this. The boat heels over in the wind and the CT34s are very tender boats. So the rail on the down side would get closer and closer to the water. The deck would soon be taking water and it came rushing down the side of the boat. If you were trimming the front sail you were on the winch. If you were on the winch you were on the down side, sitting in a puddle, in the middle of freaking winter. Guess what my job was?

Alar was tender but it was robust. Tender sailboat will lean easily, but often under sail they will also stiffen up giving a nice ride. We would go out in weather others would fear. Now to be honest my current boat would be the biggest boat in the marina where I grew up. The Atlantic passage from Charleston to Fort Lauderdale included waves that dwarfed most of what I dealt with in the Straits of Juan De Fuca. Our afternoon sail a few weeks ago include 4 to 5 foot waves in the Gulf Stream. EOTI made it seem fun and we at one point had full canvas up. If the rig had been tuned we might have stayed out there for hours. When I was a kid sailing in the Puget Sound there were those times that made you think just maybe living on a boat wasn’t the best idea.

I remember crossing the Partridge Banks coming around Point Wilson and the tide had shifted, the wind had shifted and a meticulously planned crossing wasn’t what my dad was getting. Sailors know it as a variety of things. The great sifter. The rearrangement crossing. Purposefully cleaning the closet. Everything empties, clears, and it all ends up in the center of the boat on the floor. Leaks appear from wherever leaks appear from. We came down off a rather large wave, screamed into the trough lost a bit of wind so we rounded up a tiny bit. As we rode the face of the wave to the top the wind hit with a vengeance. We pointed the spreaders to heaven and hell at the same time. I was kicked back on the lower bunk trying to eat some noodles or something.

My dad had been replacing the primary winches and had stored one each on the shelves port and starboard. Two inch fiddles held them in soundly. There was no way these behemoths were moving. Until the starboard stored winch jumped the fiddle and was falling. Towards my head. The boat was rounding and the keel brought us snapping upright as the wind spilled. The winch fell between my feet cracking the floor. Calmly …. No… With horror only a teenager can exhibit I turned around and picked the heavy winch up off the port sill and placed it gingerly on floor. I didn’t pee myself but my noodles were all over my lap. That’s ok I wasn’t hungry anymore. I was likely 14?

Everybody wants to hear about summer breezes, Caribbean islands, and the joy of sunsets with rum in hand. That experience isn’t really what a youngster gets. As a boat kid, dock rat, bilge scum, or name your favorite invective for cruising kids. You see a variety of the world. My experience was west coast United States so the water was dark, green, and cold. Fishing, sailing, and racing were the joys of being a kid. Skinny dipping, bikinis and sun dappled tanned bodies weren’t exactly how it was growing up. There is nothing sexier than finding a teenage female boat kid to chat up in some anchorage. After you pump out the dinghy, row ashore, fill the water jugs (every trip to shore), and you meet the young lass. If you can tell it is a girl? I mean you are covered head to toe in foul weather gear. It is raining if it hasn’t just stopped raining, it is just about to start raining. It is cold. You are likely both what my kids today call hangry. Between the effective assertion of boredom you might swap some stories. Those were the days.

I grew up before grunge was a thing. I think we were more interested in the ideas of showers than might have been let on, but a shower was a half mile walk to a dock facility. In the rain. I don’t remember anybody having a “shower” on their boat. At some of the more fun resort locations the showers were outside, you paid a quarter for 3 minutes of hot water, and some required a $1 minimum. To make matters worse the “hot” water might or might not show up. Reality was you lost the $1 anyways.

There is this guy called Wim Hoff. He is known as the iceman. He believes in cold water therapy and has done all kinds of crazy things like hiking mountains in shorts and shirtless. He has swam in freezing water. I kind of thought it was normal life.

Consider growing up as a kid living aboard in the Pacific Northwest long ago. This isn’t the story I walked uphill both ways to school kind of story. It depended on the tide. You parents give you a $1 for a shower every other day. You get $1 for lunch. If you played the margins, took a cold shower, and didn’t eat lunch you might score $8 a week extra. So, you find yourself walking barefoot in the dark, in the rain before school to take a cold shower. Since you are pocketing the shower money anyways you might take a shower everyday. Then you walk back to the boat for what might be a light breakfast. In middle school I drank coffee. I guess the Pacific Northwest coffee stories might be true. In high school they banned coffee at school and considered it a drug. I wonder if that is the case today?

High school was difficult for me. My dad…. Well let us say that 1960s Vietnam was not fun and I’m not sure all of him came home. Having two adultish males in the same small space of a 10 foot beam and 25 foot waterline had me looking for an escape. We had been cruising less and less as medical issues popped up. My choice to join the Marines drove a wedge, and between my first day of my senior year and my date to head off to Marine Corps boot camp. I got married, moved off the boat, moved onto a 47 foot ferro cement monstrosity and in general forked my life.

When I returned with wife (soon to be ex-wife) and lived on a boat I had a blast, but I lived like a land lubber would live on a barge. Not exactly great way to go cruising. I frittered away my savings, never went sailing and lost my way among the land locked for quite awhile. But, that is a story for another time.