The Transient Life

Storm Delay in Newport, Oregon

Traveling by sailboat is necessarily a transient lifestyle.  Rob and I now do things that many associate with the homeless population, and it is an ongoing social experiment to see how people treat us when they assume we do not have a home.  Many are kind, some overtly avoid interaction, and a few are rude.  

Our transient lifestyle is most apparent when we carry bags of laundry by bicycle to laundromats, when we use the U.S. postal service’s general delivery as our receiving address, when we shower in public park restrooms, and when we use private businesses’ recycling receptacles.  One time, as Rob was sorting our recycling into a marina’s receptacles after obtaining the marina owner’s permission to do so, a resident stopped Rob for trespassing.  After Rob explained his validity, the do-gooder apologized but added, “You look sketchy, but I’m sure that is the look you are going for.”  To be clear, “sketchy” is NOT the look that Rob was “going for.”  We endure some demeaning judgment because, most of the time, people are kind, plus the transient lifestyle makes us feel adaptive, capable, and salty.  

We, of course, are not homeless.  Our boat is our home and, although it constantly travels without a home base, we have means to do most things from it.  We can and will wash laundry by hand (with biodegradable soap) and hang it along the lifelines to dry.  We have a P.O. Box in Oregon, which scans and emails our mail to us.  We have a shower on the boat.  Admittedly, the shower occupies a cramped space and we do not have hot water.  But we can boil water to a comfortable temperature on our stove to use for showers.  When we get to warmer climates, we can use the ocean as our bathtub (followed by a fresh-water rinse to clean off the salt).  But, when given the option, we prefer finding full-size, hot-water showers on land.  Trash and especially recycling are the most difficult transient issues.  Unless we are docked at a marina, we do not have a trash service.  And most places around the world simply do not have recycling services.  We are, therefore, forced to carry our waste on the boat until we find responsible places to deposit it.  The upsides are that we are conscientious shoppers with regard to packaging and we find creative ways to upcycle.

The last boat log left us arriving in Newport, Oregon.  We anchored in Yaquina Bay, which is free to do.  Anchoring is permissible in most places, provided the anchored boat stays safe and outside of the channels (designated spaces for marine traffic).  Anchoring has traditionally been free, and it still is in many places.  But some local governments now charge per night and enforce time restrictions.  

In Portland, Oregon, anchoring in the rivers remains free with time restrictions.  Many resourceful people we know, who wish to avoid the ever-increasing rent in Portland’s housing market, manage the time restrictions per location and live on their boats in Portland rivers year-round.  The lifestyle is referred to as “living on the hook.”  And it is a thrifty and sustainable way to live as long as you can handle the detachment from land, an electrical hookup, and a potable water supply.  Rob and I manage the detachment from those things by maintaining a dinghy to ferry us to land, solar panels to recharge our boat batteries, and jerrycans to carry water to the boat.  

Many people think of sailors as rich yachties with crisp white sweaters tied round their shoulders and cocktails in hand.  But the truth is that most of us are frugal sea backpackers,  saving our cash by living on the hook.  On this trip, we plan to live on the hook as much as possible.  We do occasionally spring for a spot at a marina, reattaching the umbilical chords that are our dock lines to land.  It is certainly an easier way of life.  At a marina, we can run a hose to fill our water tanks, run a power chord to recharge our batteries, take advantage of marina showers and laundry rooms, connect our phones and computers to marina WiFi, and eliminate the dinghy-ride portion of a trip to town.  Tying to a marina may also provide security in a storm.  

While in Yaquina Bay, forecasters predicted a strong windstorm with gusts over 40 miles per hour.  We sought a slip in the nearby marinas, but each marina turned us away.  With every boat seeking a safe place from the storm and resident boats having priority over transient boats, there was no space for us.  Our only option was to take Mapache upriver to a place that offered more trees and land features on the banks, which we hoped would dampen wind gusts.  

Once upriver, we doubled up on our anchors, setting two in a “V” formation off of our bow.  And then we waited for the impending storm.  We tuned our VHF radio to the weather channel, which periodically broadcast a monotone voice announcing the expected wind gusts.  But we had no cellular signal to track the storm’s progress or to check in with others.  A few hours later, the air got hot and we could smell the familiar and usually happy odor of campfire.  The red sun quickly informed us that the smell was no friendly campfire, but the forest burning.  The strong wind was pushing smoke, soot, and flying embers from the Cascade wildfires over 100 miles to us on the coast.  I told Rob that we would have to turn our boat into Noah’s Ark if the fire got anywhere near us.  I did not realize then how appropriate that comment would become with our future seabird refugees. 

Visibility was poor, and everything had a cloudy orange glow as a thick smoke-and-ember blanket covered the coast.  The atmosphere and isolation made us feel like characters in a B-rated movie about life on Mars.  It added to the suspense of waiting for the wind to pick up—an eerie calm before the storm. We spent the night in the cockpit in order to keep a constant anchor watch.  The decision proved unnecessary, when our anchors held against the wind gusts that arrived in the night, and foolish, when we woke up to the boat and ourselves covered in a layer of ash, our skin and eyes dry, and our throats coated. 

The storm passed in two days, and we returned to civilization, again anchoring in Yaquina Bay.  We took the dinghy to a marina, where we had permission to use the pay showers.  However, we arrived after the staff had gone home and the restroom locks had automatically engaged for the night.  Rob used his knife to easily bypass the locks without harming them, and we each paid six quarters for five minutes of hot water.  We felt like salty sailors having figured out our way into the showers.  It may have even been a little “sketchy,” but the showers cleaned that “look” right off. 

Laundry day

Receiving necessary parts through general delivery

Two anchors set at the riverbend in preparation for the windstorm

Our view of the nearby channel markers, before and after the wind pushed smoke, soot, and embers to us from the Cascade wildfires

Mapache by wildfire-light (phase 1)

Mapache by wildfire-light (phase 2)

Our view on day two of waiting out the windstorm

Video at dusk on our first night upriver. The big wind gusts did not hit us until the middle of the night.
Video from the afternoon following a night of big wind gusts. The gusts returned the second night.

2 thoughts on “The Transient Life

  1. I love reading about your adventures with Rob. Your trip is so inspiring and your writing is excellent. I can’t wait to read your book one day!

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