All posts by suzannetwebster

Planning a Trip*

*Full disclosure here: we didn’t actually plan our first trip, it was planned for us & we jumped on it:

Ten months after purchasing our boat and putting in a little over 100 hours of cruising time (mostly winter & spring) in and around Seattle, we embarked on a two week cruise to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington and up into the Gulf Islands of BC off of Vancouver Island.

This trip was what we had hoped to do when we got the boat. Even though the surveyors told us the day of the sea trial that she was ready to go to Alaska, we certainly were not. The San Juans were much closer and therefore a more realistic (although still felt slightly lofty to us newbies) goal. Anyhow -in late spring we joined a yacht club and discovered that the (nearly) exact trip we had been wanting to do that first summer was on their cruising schedule. Bingo.

Even though the itinerary was all laid out, there was still much for us to do in preparation (which was all part of the learning experience that we were hoping for). After pouring over charts and cruising guides and debating about whether we’d go other places and just join the group here and there, and also making sure someone was home to take care of our 3 dogs (which we very easily decided were not coming with us due to the fact that we’d be at anchor for half of the trip), we finally decided to just do the whole damn trip, exactly as it was planned.

I totally studied the anchorages and marinas in our cruising guides, and bookmarked them with post its for easy and quick access when we were pulling in somewhere, (and it was a good thing we had several guides because they all weren’t in the same one – more on cruising guides in another post).  I reviewed procedures for crossing into Canada (several times – we are not Nexus Pass holders, so procedure is different from those who are), Steven did some last minute repairs and prep to boat, he bought a Samsung tablet for the sole purpose of having Navionics on it, and so we had something to bring up to the flybridge with us if we wanted, and he entered each of our legs into the program. We calculated the engine time and distance planned so we could figure out how much fuel we needed to get – a good rule of thumb is: 1/3 to get you there, a third to get you home and a third if it all goes to shit. We calculated that we needed 125 gallons. We actually already had approximately 400 gallons on board (most in the belly tank), so we just put 50 in each tank (port and starboard) and called it good. Fortitude cruises at 7 knots and burns 3.5 gallons an hour. We provisioned (harder than you’d think), packed and were finally ready to go. Everything at home was taken care of, all we had to do was call an UBER (didn’t want to leave our car in a city lot for two weeks!) to take us to our marina. You’d have thought we were moving onto our boat with all the stuff we piled into the trunk of our drivers’ car – including a full length mirror and a lamp I really wanted to put on the boat.

Pulling out of our slip that day was at the same time super exciting and a little scary. Which, I guess pretty much sums a boating in a way — probably wouldn’t be prudent to approach new adventures without a healthy dose of apprehension to keep you sharp and on your toes.




In Praise of the Yacht Club

We got our boat in late fall 2017 with the goal of taking her to the San Juans in the summer of 2018. At the time, it was a fairly random (and lofty) goal as we were new to trawlers and totally new to boating in the Pacific Northwest. We just figured – the islands are out there, we should go. We had no plan other than first cruising around Lake Union and Lake Washington for a while, coupled with some trips out to Bainbridge, to get a feel for the boat and figure out what the heck we were doing; but the San Juans (and beyond) were a big reason why we bought a boat over a weekend cabin, and we were looking forward to getting out there even if we didn’t quite know the first step.

On one of our first trips out to Bainbridge, we saw a completely empty dock and headed in to tie up – we had some friends on board and were looking forward to lunch and a little walk around Winslow Way. As we approached the dock, a man came out, frantically waving us off – and yelling in no uncertain terms that that particular dock was only for members of one of Seattle’s many Yacht Clubs, and we were certainly not one of them. We backed off and went to grab a mooring ball in the harbor.

And so, after we got waived off that gorgeously empty dock, I started to wonder if joining a yacht club was something we should maybe look into, even though we didn’t feel that we were yacht club people.  But we realized it might be a good idea to join a group of folks around here who had been there, done that and could guide us into the world of boating in the PNW.  Next up came the Google searches,  emails to clubs, and open houses to meet folks. There is no shortage of yacht clubs in Seattle – some offering cheap moorage, many offering none, some with great clubhouses, some not so much.  Short version here is that one day while heading from our slip out to Lake Washington, I noticed a neat little clubhouse tucked back along the shore just before a bridge and made a mental note to check them out – we went to an open house and found our people. Laid back, fun, diverse -not at all the marble-mouthed vision I had in my head, and next thing I knew we had joined a yacht club, and I still feel super weird about saying that – sometimes instead, calling it “our boat club”.

Anyhow – at one of the very first meetings at our new boat/yacht club, the cruising calendar was announced; and there it was, at the end of August: a two week cruise north to the San Juan Islands and Canada.  Sign us up. We are in.

This was perfection – we could go on this cruise and learn from others how this whole boating, cruising thing is done. That was the expectation. The unexpected part was making what I feel will be lifelong friends. I’ll post about our 2 week cruise on the blog,  but  for right now, cannot state enough how awesome it was to embark on such a trip with about 7 other boats. More stories of the trip to come. And I hope, many more over the years!

So, as someone who was more than a little anti-Yacht Club to begin with, here are my tips for finding your perfect Yacht Club:

  1. Feel like I’m really stating the obvious here, but research what’s available in your area.
  2. Know what you’re looking for. Moorage? Reciprocity? Social Scene? Cruising? This will help narrow your search down.
  3. Only in it for the reciprocity? Check to make sure the places you want to go are the places with which the club has reciprocity.
  4. If you’re looking for a club that cruises/sails a lot, make sure they have lots of trips scheduled, and that members actually participate.
  5. Read everything about the club when visiting the website – we were able to easily decide that some just weren’t for us based on website info alone, narrowing down the search, and saving a visit to an open house.
  6. When you find some that look good – do go their open house or event for prospective members, its the best way to see if there’s a fit. Are they your people? You’ll know it pretty quickly.

As reluctant as I was to join a yacht club, I definitely drove the bus on the whole endeavor. Steven’s got big plans for our future in boating – and sure, we could muddle through stuff and figure it out, but thought it would be more beneficial (and more fun), to make some new friends and learn from others along the way.



What’s in a Name?

  1. courage in pain or adversity.
    synonyms: couragebraveryenduranceresiliencemettle, moral fiber, strength of mind, strength of character, strong-mindedness, backbonespiritgrit, true grit, steadfastness;

    informal guts

We started thinking about names for the boat immediately after handing over a check for a deposit.  The boat had been very specifically named for the previous owners – a hyphenated combo of their first names that obviously had no relevance to us, so it had to go. That said,  I was nervous about changing the name, always having believed it was super bad luck to change the name of a boat.

After  researching the subject of renaming a boat, of which there is a great deal of information on the interwebs, I decided that if we said just the right blessing, and  gave Neptune a little bit of the best champagne we could afford (which wasn’t excellent, we did just buy a boat), we were good to go with a new name.

The problem was figuring out what that name would be. Again, I went to the internet for advice and started a list of options. There were certain “tests” it needed to pass. We didn’t want to have to give a lot of explanation for the name, we didn’t want to need to spell it out and it needed to sound okay 3 times if we ever God-forbid, needed to call Mayday. We tried anagrams of our kids names, anagrams of places that meant something to us, Latin and Irish words that I felt represented our family – the list (and languages) went on and on. Then, we invited our kids and extended family to join in and give us ideas, which was not a good idea. It’s like just asking a bunch of folks to help name your kid. We were completely stuck.

A few weeks after handing over deposit check and after a growing list of name ideas – all of which were a no-go, we headed back down to Olympia for the survey and sea-trial.  This was surprisingly fun and way more informative than I expected.  I think I had just imagined that inspecting engines and stuff would be boring. It was a busy day with lots of folks aboard: my husband, myself, our 22 year old son, the previous owners, our broker, an engine guy and our surveyor.

Over the course of the entire day during which everything was inspected and tested, hauled out and inspected some more – there were two words and a common theme that kept getting mentioned: Strong and Sturdy. “She’s got everything she needs to head to Alaska tomorrow”.

And that was it. We went home and realized we had the wrong idea for naming the boat all along. We didn’t need a name that represented us or the family, we needed a name that represented the boat.

There’s lots of information out there about what you need to do when de-naming and re-naming your boat in order to maintain good boating juju.  Some quite humorous and requiring lots of protocol in appeasing Poseidon. But we culled the lengthy ceremony and took the superstitions down a notch, yet feel we maintained a bit of reverence.  We invited our dearest friends over to the boat, made sure to have plenty of prosecco (and a bottle of the good stuff for Neptune) and read the following blessing which I edited slightly from another one I found online*:

Let this be our quiet place. 
Our small haven of escape and adventure.
Let us find within these walls of wind, water and sky
The joy of family togetherness, as well as individual moments
Of reflection, clarity and inspiration to rejuvenate our souls.
Let us cherish the beauty of the natural world beyond our doorstep,
And let the memories we create and share here, and the peace we find here
Give us hearts’ ease whenever we’re far from home. 
And may the Lord bless us with the protection of fair winds and following seas.
We Christen thee, FORTITUDE. May she stay ever true to her name. 

A toast followed and we went for an inaugural cruise on Lake Union and into Lake Washington. I think her name fits her – so far, (touch wood) she seems to have quite a bit of Fortitude for an ol’ gal.

*feel free to borrow the same for your own use if you’d like!

Communication on a Boat

Leaving and pulling into our slip is always a high stress situation. We are a 40′ boat – technically more if you count the swim platform and dingy hanging off the back, so lets say 42′ (which is the overall length – or LOA that I give to marinas when reserving a slip). We are also 13 feet wide, in a 15 foot wide slip. You read that right. We’ve got about a foot on either side of the boat. Basically – enough room for fenders.  (And don’t get me started on the A frame structure of our slip that takes everything to a whole new level). So, try to picture a 42 foot boat backing out, or heading into a 50 foot waterway and needing to make two 90 degree turn to get into or out of Lake Union.

It’s high stress.

The first time we ever came into our slip was the day we brought our boat up from Olympia.  Our broker had secured us temporary covered moorage (covered was key as our deck needed some work) on Lake Union. I don’t think our broker even knew how difficult it would be to get into our slip, because it was also the first time he had ever seen it.  I recall how dicey it was getting in and remember him uttering the words: “there’s nothing I can do about it” (referring to the winds and currents as we came in that were really blowing us off coming in cleanly). Which at the time, I couldn’t grasp how there was nothing you could do about it, but after a year of going into and out of this slip, I get it now. Sometimes there really is nothing you can do about it. You’re at the mercy of so many things: wind, current, small space and slow speed. Once in our slip, I thought – “Terrific. We own a boat and have a spot on the very coveted Lake Union, but will never be able to get it out of this slip again”. I seriously thought we’d have to hire our broker to get us out again whenever we wanted to go for a cruise.

The short version is that we did indeed learn to get into and out of our own slip, but there was a lot of yelling in between.

Our first few times in and out were comical (in hindsight, naturally).  Once the engines were started up, we’d need to close the salon door so all the fumes wouldn’t go inside the boat and trigger the smoke alarms. So, I’d be in the cockpit (on the stern) and then open the door and yell at the top of my lungs to Steven up in the helm anything from:

“looking good, babe!”

“turn, NOW!”

“you’re super close to the boat in back”

or any variation of: “holy shit!”, “oh my god!”, “stop!”, “go!”, “turn!”.

Always with our boat hook at the ready to fend off from whatever may be in our way or vice versa.

We had no idea what we were doing or how to communicate with each other, but it involved a lot of yelling over the engine noise when I was on the stern and hand signals when I was on the bow. We had some hand signals figured out while pulling up anchor, and heading into Lake Union, but mostly it was frantic estimation and yelling (on my part!).

We finally purchased a headset, which has been a life (marriage) saver. So now – whenever we are docking, undocking, anchoring, pulling up – basically, anytime we are working on the boat, we’ve got the headsets synced.  There’s no more yelling, we can just talk to each other with normal voices. As someone who talks to themselves way more than she’d like to admit, I love having the headset on -there’s always someone there to answer questions and chat with while I organize the stern lines and pull up (or put out) the fenders, or talk about the folks in the very little boat that are trying to get into the locks before the big boats.

Once we had the headsets and we weren’t just yelling nonsensical shit at each other, I understood that Steven wanted very specific distances from things – the dock, another boat, etc. My assurances of: “you’re good babe”, or “you’re kinda close” weren’t cutting it. He wanted to know exactly how far away we were from something.

This was actually super difficult for me. I couldn’t estimate distances. Seriously, could not give him an estimate.  Even with the headsets on, docking and undocking was still stressful – I couldn’t think fast enough when he’d say “how many feet away am I?”

And so while backing in to a stern tie one day in Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island, I’m on the stern so I can throw someone our line, and he says, as I knew he’d say –  “how far am I from the dock”?

And I’m looking, and don’t exactly know – but as someone who really, really loves rearranging furniture at home, I knew exactly what would fit in the spot between the boat and the dock and said,

“You’re a couch away”.

This made perfect sense to him, and a new unit of measurement for Fortitude was born. We sometimes joke now about what kind of couch – A loveseat? A large sectional? A club chair? Figure if I ever say a barstool, we’re probably too close.





The Delivery Run

We bought our boat in Olympia, Washington and needed to bring it up to Lake Union in Seattle. A 24 nm trip that took about 8 hours.  We brought along our broker who served as Captain and general hand-holder for the trip. He took us out of the boathouse in Olympia and through the Ballard Locks and into our home slip, but for everything in between, the boat was in our hands.

We had a quarter mile visibility for the first 4 hours of the trip. They say ignorance is bliss and that certainly applied to this situation. We probably should have waited for the fog to clear, but we were so excited – and our Captain assured us we’d be fine, so off we went. We were indeed fine as we had working radar and a working horn (which we used a couple of times signal oncoming boats that we saw on the radar). We’ve since learned that you are supposed to signal every two minutes in that type of fog. We’ve also since learned that we learn something new on every.single.trip.


The fog made the first half of the trip ethereal and otherworldly. It was so quiet except for the drone of the engine and an occasional horn. You couldn’t tell the difference between water or sky. It was wild to see the blip of a boat on the radar off in the distance and then watch the shadow pass by – only seeing the details of the boat as you passed each other. The first 4 hours passed by slowly at 4 knots. The fog lifted by the time we got to the Tacoma Narrows to reveal a gorgeous, bluebird day.

We pinched ourselves throughout the whole trip – seeing Mt. Rainier and then our beautiful city in the distance. Entering the Ballard Locks was completely surreal as going to the locks with visiting friends is a terrific and fascinating tourist activity here in Seattle; and now here we were – on the water in our boat, being watched over by tourists and good friends who came to see us come home.

We’ve now been through the locks a total of 19 times. Every single time we learn something new. This first time was at the same time exhilarating and supremely nerve wracking – especially for Steven for whom it took several tries to get his line around a bollard with a captive audience watching! They’d collectively sigh in defeat every time he missed, but gave him a nice rousing cheer once he finally got the line on.

First time through the locks! Once tied up the the small lock, you can relax a bit.
First time seeing the city from the vantage point of our boat

Once through the locks and the shipping canal, we turned south into Lake Union and I caught a glimpse of the very top of Rainier past the city, then the skyline and finally, the Space Needle — I was out on the bow jumping up and down at this point. Nevermind the fact that I still to this day (and certainly that day), pinch myself that we get to live in Seattle, but now I was pulling into Lake Union on.our.boat. It was unreal.




Dogs on a Boat

I wish we actually had some good advice about having dogs on a boat, but we’re still learning how to deal with them. All three of them! We’ve got two big German Shorthaired Pointers and a MinPin – all with very distinct and different personalities.

On the boat, our MinPin is pretty chill (which is very different from the way he is at home). He is old and ornery, but he always seems super happy to be out with us on the boat.  Our male GSP is also pretty chill, however he’s a big Mama’s boy and follows me everywhere I go, which proved to be pretty difficult those first few times in and out of our crazy tight slip, as he always seemed to be underfoot. Our female GSP is the most work and the most stress on the boat (for both her and us) as she has a tendency to get a bit bird obsessed.  She’s jumped off the dingy on little jaunts around the lake when we’re anchored to chase ducks — she swims after them barking like mad and we follow in the dingy and drag her back in only to have her jump off again if more ducks should swim by.  Naturally, we keep a doggie life preserver on her but are always watching her on the boat to make sure she doesn’t just jump ship while underway.

As far as during docking and anchoring, we have a friend hold their leashes, or we tether their leashes to the couch leg so that they are not underfoot as I move from the stern through the salon to the bow to work lines and assist in maneuvering. Once underway, they are “free to walk about the cabin”. Still though,  we close the door on the Portuguese bridge to keep Remy off the bow, because the thought of her jumping off the side is not out of the realm of possibility. So, needless to say, she’s a lot of work on the boat and far more high strung than she is at home.  I’m sure she doesn’t entirely enjoy the boat rides as much as the other two dogs seem to enjoy it.

As far as overnights with the dogs, we have taken them on a couple of trips where we knew we’d be at a dock, but we have yet to take them on a trip where we’re at anchor as the thought of late night and early morning potty trips in the dingy with two people and three dogs is a bit daunting.  In the meantime, we’ll keep it to day drips and docked locations with them.


We Accidentally Bought a Trawler

While sitting in a high school parking lot waiting to pick our daughter up from the SAT exams, my husband was scrolling through Yachtworld and saw a great looking boat on the very last page. He called the broker, who happened to be there and had just shown it to another couple. He said he could wait another couple of hours for us to get there.

My husband said, “You want to go look at it?”

We had been looking at boats for about eight months. We previously owned a sailboat in Maine, but trawlers (and the waters of the Pacific Northwest) were new to us, so these first few months of searching were purely educational. We had never really seen or been on a trawler, so had no idea what we wanted until we started touring the boats, and also figured we wouldn’t really be in a position to buy a boat for 3-5 more years, as we still had 2 kids at home and college tuitions looming.

So we walked the docks. A lot. Went through a lot of boats, all of which were starting to look alike to me. Steven would ask, remember “this that and the other thing about that boat we saw”? I couldn’t recall. That said, we asked a lot of questions, and came up with the list of wants:

  • True pilothouse
  • Around 40′
  • No cored hulls
  • Either a single with “get home” something & bow thruster or a twin (we bought a twin)
  • Steps over ladders (for our aging parents who we hoped would visit and cruise with us)
  • Flybridge
  • Portuguese Bridge
  • Front and back staircase (so anyone can wake up and make coffee without moving through someone else’s cabin).
  • Room to sleep up to six (ourselves, our 3 kids and a friend) but more often just us.
  • Midship master stateroom
  • One Head
  • Separate Shower
  • PNW tankage (1200 nm, 300 gal of water)
  • Well appointed (teak, galley, genset, etc.)
  • Mechnically maintained and in decent shape with DIY upgrades we can handle ourselves.

There are a lot of options out there and we found the winnowing process to be a challenge that took a lot of time and discussion as most boats with our list of wants were in the 50′ and $250K + range, which exceeded our budget and size needs.

While the entire list was important, in our case finding a Pilothouse at 40′ was one of the most limiting factors as there aren’t many brands out there in this configuration at that length. KK42 was the next closest contender but typically exceeded the budget.

So when we walked into the boathouse in Olympia to see the boat we had just found a couple hours earlier on Yachtworld, it took all of about 5 minutes to know we had found our boat.

It was like finding a classic old car that had been in someones garage for decades – really well maintained and low mileage. In this case, only 1100 hours on the engines. It was everything we had been looking for and checked off nearly everything on our list (still don’t have those bow thrusters though!).  There was work to be done for sure – it was a 30 year old boat, but we hadn’t seen a single boat yet that didn’t need work. We knew we wouldn’t see another boat like it, in the condition she was in at the price they were asking. So we put down a deposit and scheduled a sea trial.

Walking back from finding our boat … now off to find engine mechanics and surveyors!

The sea trial went well – there were no surprises or deal breakers, nothing that scared off my very DIY handy husband that knows how to fix anything and everything. We were able to come down a bit on the price, and that was it – we were suddenly boat owners, about 5 years earlier than planned.

There were a few sleepless nights between that day we saw the boat, the sea trial and delivery – wondering about whether what we had just done was really a good idea. But as with anything in life; buying a house, having a kid, having another kid, moving across the country, there is never a good time for any of these things. You’re never fully prepared. But somehow – it all works out. You just figure shit out and make it work. So far, do not at all regret accidentally buying this boat. It’s just opened up a whole new adventure to add to our lives.