It Happened to Me: I Live on a Sailboat in Alaska

This is the one people ALWAYS ask about: Where do you poop?
Publish date:
March 29, 2013
marriage, crazy, life changes, sailboats, Alaska

A little over a year ago, I did some crazy shit. Like leaving my open marriage of 8 years, quitting my Awesome Grown-up Job, moving 800 miles away from everything I knew and loved to live on a 30-foot sailboat.

With this hot guy I legit Internet stalked for a few years.

Oh -- and we drove there in my 1990 Subaru Wagon with my old cat.

Everyone was like “Wow, you make the best life decisions! Don’t get pregnant!”

I met this dude at a music festival; I had been creeping on him online for a couple of years. I was going to be in his town for the festival, so crafted a plan to "bump" into him.

We literally smacked into each other during the festival. I was pretty tipsy and I’m pretty sure I just started squealing in a way that only dogs can hear. He offered to escort my up the hill to an after party. I think I was too dumbfounded to say anything. And I had whooping cough ( ‘cause in Alaska it’s still the 1930s?) so homegirl had a side of honey 'tussin with her rum and coke.

Lots of flirting took place that first night. Within a week, I had flown home, and somehow had a kind-of Internet boyfriend. We chatted like two 13-year-olds on AOL in 1995. The more we got to know each other, the more it was apparent we should probably be together.

I went down to go sailing with him for a week, and it was just like the end of "Never Ending Story," when the weasels save the guy in the quicksand. Wait, that’s the beginning of "Beastmaster." Ever notice that films of the early 90s had a lot of quicksand?

In short: There were porpoises swimming under our dinghy (it’s like a little boat for your boat!), whales breaching, sunshine, white wine, mountains, bare feet and sunsets. We also hit some crazy weather, and I broke the steering wheel, and we did something to the engine. Oh, and PS, handsome stranger that lives on a sailboat, I’ve NEVER BEEN ON ONE.

Scott was an incredibly sweet and patient teacher, while I maneuvered his home around big scary swells of ocean. We then hunkered down through a little tsunami, playing speed scrabble and making out. Just like "Beastmaster."

Living on a sailboat seems incredibly romantic. And on the sparse sunny days in Southeast Alaska, it really is.

Stretched out on the soft teak deck, surrounded by the sounds of a busy fishing harbour, book and mug of tea in hand, with my cat perched nearby, I audibly moan with pleasure. Baby salmon and jellyfish scoot around the boat, fishermen repair their nets, and other boat-livers chat happily about repairs to charmingly archaic-sounding things like turnbuckles and bowsprits.

Then there’s the reality of it.

Space. When I say “30-foot-sailboat,” most people actually picture a 50 to 75-foot boat. This boat, in no uncertain terms, has about the same space in it as an ‘86 Econoline van. Low ceilings, two benches, a head (toilet) and the berth (bed).

Maneuvering the dog, cat, man and I is comical at times; Gibby can jump around for days without touching the floor, but the dog is constantly underfoot. If someone has to pee, we all have to shuffle around so the door to the head can be opened.

It’s close quarters, and it’s what I like to call "romantically" lit. I’m used to hosting, but if anyone came over, I’d basically be sitting on their lap. A little too intimate for new friends.

Mold. My fancy bamboo hair brush is green within weeks. I sit a book down, only to pick up a moist and dusty rag a few days later that literally melts in my hands. Clothing in the drawers becomes a solid block of mold, so I just wear the same thing all the time.

Privacy. I always love walking the harbours to gaze at boats whenever I’m in a coastal town. But it’s a wee bit different when it’s you hunkered down below deck, and a couple of octogenarians in matching visors are looking in your windows, watching you eat Spicy Cheezits and cruise Facebook naked. Or during fishing season, when eager beavers are running their boat engines at 4 am. Living in a habour is basically like living in a fancy parking lot.

Toilet time. This is the one people ALWAYS ask about: Where do you poop? Well, since pooping in the ocean is a big no-no, most people have septic tanks aboard. Not us though, cause that would be too easy. Being that our relationship was fairly new, it was awkward to be all, “Thanks for the coffee in bed, but I need to go somewhere warm and poop,” so we began to use the phrase “Let’s go get coffee” as a euphemism for “I would like to poop soon.”

There are also amazing and magical things, like how the boat rocks during wind storms. After awhile, I didn’t notice it at all, the boat pitching and rolling against its docklines; we’d be watching a movie and eating dinner like it was nothing.

Or how getting in and out of the boat in the dark sets the water alight with thousands of bioluminescent plankton. Like on "Ferngully," but way fishier.

Or the one morning when we awoke to a low, venomous growl. Scott’s old golden retriever was looking up at the skylight, her nearly blind eyes trained on something dark nestled there. I scrambled quietly for my glasses, trying not to rock the boat (it’s totally a thing. Don’t chop onions or dance.) I got right under the skylight to see an otter ass. A sea otter was curled up on top of the hatch window.

Ultimately, it’s not normal or easy living on a boat. But if I’m going to sail across the world someday (and I AM!) then I need to get comfortable, and I'm willing to give up things like space for art and an oven to pursue something I want more.

Plus, I've learned so much from it -- how few material possessions I need to live, how to establish my own space when I need it, how to tie a bowline knot...and also how to love. (My cat taught me that.)