Other Sailors: The Unexpected Family

Published in the Santa Barbara Sentinel under the pen name, Elizabeth Rose. Chris is known as “Jason” in the I Heart stories.

Our first stop in Westport, Washington came and went.

We left a few days later when the weather was safe enough to head out again.

Our next stop was about twenty-seven hours away so Jason and I split the time into three-hour watches or shifts. While one steered the boat, the other would eat, read, or sleep.

This leg of the trip was pretty uneventful:

Pea soup fog.

Damp, cold weather.

Three-hour shifts.

Rinse and repeat.

My time at the helm was spent checking the radar and narrowing my eyes through the heavy fog, mesmerized by mist billowing over the deck and through the open companionway door.

First State Down

The next morning we entered Newport, Oregon, motoring past fishing boats and crab traps through the busy and narrow canal.

The fog lifted as we crossed under the Yaquina Bay Bridge and we drove just beyond to the marina to find a spot.

On the dock, we saw a familiar face.

It was Chris, a new friend we met almost three hundred miles prior in Port Angeles, Washington.

He waved us over and I threw him the bowline.

After handshakes and hugs, Chris invited us over for coffee.

A few minutes later, after cutting the motor and hanging up our foul weather gear, we walked to his boat in the neighboring slip and climbed aboard.

His wife, Summer passed around mugs of fresh coffee, and their eight-year-old son, Tommy, blanket wrapped and bleary-eyed, joined us in the cockpit.

We spent the next few hours catching up on our travels since we last met.

Chris pointed to five other boats around the harbor heading to Mexico like us.

Eventually, the other sailors came over and huddled on the dock next to us with coffees in hand and even more stories to tell.

New Normal

This became our new normal.

Mornings were spent eating scones on one boat and potluck dinners on another.

My favorite part was connecting with other women, how they work alongside their spouse, what their lives were like before cruising, and what inspired them to take off and go.

Through these conversations, it was the first time I saw Jason and me as a real sailing couple.

It was also the first time we could talk about plans and received encouragement rather than looks that we were crazy.

Individually, we call each other by name but collectively, we refer to one another by our boat names.

Jason and I are Astrologer. Chris and his family are Westy. There’s a Tuwamish, a Rhythm, and a Goblin, too.

Some boats have kids and some don’t.

Some brought pets, others, none.

Some continue to work full-time, some plan to work for a few months next year to refill the kitty, and others saved enough for five years with plans to circumnavigate the globe.

But as Rhythm put it, “Because the get-to-know-each-other phase is in a time crunch, people just get right down to it. They give you one hundred percent, they build community, they see the commonality despite the difference, and it feels like home.”

Boat Life

There are a few things we have in common.

One, there are no obligations to be anywhere at any time.

Two, our lives are dictated by the weather (and obsessively checking it every hour).

And three, we’re living off the grid, truly free from the push and pulls of society.

We all wondered if it was normal to meet other sailors so early on or if by some Universally-planned coincidence, we were lucky.

We kept in touch as we traveled further South, chatting by radio or locating ships on our navigation systems.

When Jason and I hit bad weather, we found comfort knowing the others were dealing with the same conditions.

Our new friends almost quite literally in the same boat and if they could do it, so could we.

Eventually, after days or even weeks apart, our fleet would reunite and create a new hometown in a new port.

Our band back together, more weathered and accomplished, we’d dinghy to someone’s boat or meet at a bar onshore to welcome our adopted family home again.

We’d handshake and hug and congratulate each other on another journey well done.

Then someone would yell, “This is the life!” and we’d trade humble smiles, thankful to feel so alive.

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