We turned the corner of a long, dredged channel in the San Francisco Bay, which is just deep enough to accommodate the six foot keel of our double-masted sailboat. My boyfriend Tom cut the motor, and we hoisted a couple of sails, all ropes and winches, muscle and effort. The 41’ sailboat started to lean, catching the wind, pushing against the lines like a race horse ready for the track. In that moment, with our boat cutting through the water, I felt like I was somewhere far away from the hum of the San Francisco Bay area, the cars, the pollution, the endless torrents of people rushing from here to there. On the bay, our boat whispered through the water, and finally, no one else was around.
I had a feeling I’d love sailing from the get-go. I’m a girl who loves nature, who was raised on two acres in Oregon, one a stretch of green lawn fringed with fruit trees, the other dense forest, brush and wetlands to explore. I love backpacking and hiking, being in the quiet solitude of trees or near the roar of waves at the ocean. I thought I’d love sailing, too, and I was right.
When I lost my job as a news reporter in San Francisco in 2016, it just made sense for me to move onboard Tom’s sailboat. I needed to save money on ridiculous rent around here, which averages $3,300 per month for a one-bedroom apartment. Slip fees for the boat are just a few hundred dollars per month, utilities are $5. We get all our movies and shows from the library and shower at the gym.
Living on the sailboat hasn’t always been amazing. For two years, the boat has been undergoing a massive restoration so we can sail it around the world, and at first, it had nothing. No stove, no toilet, no running water. I cooked our meals by balancing a frying pan on a one-burner camping stove, and went to the marina bathroom. Slowly but surely, Tom fixed the boat up, and now it has almost everything we need. Things I will never take for granted again, like basic appliances and amenities. Living on the boat has taught me to be truly grateful.
What we lacked in amenities though, we gained in adventure. We could take the boat out of the marina whenever we wanted and anchor for the night somewhere beautiful. One hour to the north is a placed called China Camp, a California State Park, where we anchor out in the edge of the vast expanse of the Bay. At sunset, the colors ripple across the water and shade the white masts with orange. The boat rolls gently with the changing tides and the wakes of passing cargo ships, and I think it’s the most relaxing thing in the world. Now that we have a stove, I love cooking enchiladas in the oven, and we enjoy the smell while drinking a glass of wine on the stern.
Our plan is to sail around the world, and my outdoor adventures will morph from backpacking to scuba diving. I love nature in any form, whether I’m hiking the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada or swimming amongst tropical fish in the Sea of Cortez. I like witnessing nature at its rawest. The desert of Baja California is just as alive and gorgeous to me as an alpine lake. And if I’m lucky, Baja is where we’ll be this winter. Then the Pacific Northwest and Vancouver Island next summer. We’ll catch fish and dig for clams and learn to identify seaweed. I am itching for this adventure to begin so I can get out of the crush of people for good. After living on a sailboat for the last year-and-a-half, I’ve learned that city life isn’t for me. I like solitude and sunsets, rolling waves and dolphins cutting the water in front of the sailboat’s bow. I like living in a small space with Tom, where we move around each other like a well-oiled machine.
At this point in my life, I’m not sure when I’ll be ready to live in a house again. Even when I pet sit and stay in beautiful homes, I start to feel trapped, like a caged animal. I can’t imagine the responsibility, the mortgage, the debt, the endless cleaning. Our sailboat tiny home moves wherever we want, plus is small and easy to maintain. When there isn’t room for stuff in life, clutter stays at a minimum.
Sailboat life isn’t for everyone. I would never own one on my own. There’s work and know-how involved, like how to repair diesel engines or fix the rudder. I’m glad Tom is along to be the fix-it guy, and I’m along to keep the crew alive and well through meals and care.
Who knows where the sailboat will take us. Adventure and freedom wait. All I know is that wherever I go, I’m home.