Today is officially our first day as liveaboards — or to be more accurate, stayaboards.
We’ve long talked about living aboard but weren’t quite ready to sell our furniture, move out of our townhouse in Ballard and make the leap. But we were spending an inordinate amount of time in the summer schlepping our stuff back and forth to the boat and were rarely home anyway.
On Sundays, we’d arrive back at the marina and glumly head home, wishing we didn’t have to leave the boat. Even Lily Winston Churchill seemed bummed to go home, usually giving us the cold shoulder for a day or two.
At some point last winter, I came up with the perfect compromise: we’d list our place as a summer vacation rental, stay on the boat when we had guests and then live in our townhouse the rest of the year. Not only would that make it easy to pick up and go sailing, but we’d also be padding the cruising kitty.
I posted a listing on VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) at the end of April in May and the inquiries immediately poured in. Very quickly, we had reservations for most of the summer and into the fall.
That was terrific, but I suddenly discovered that managing a vacation rental is the equivalent of a part-time job. Between emails back and forth with potential renters, managing rental agreements and payments — while running Three Sheets Northwest and writing almost daily for the site — I was suddenly insanely busy.
And getting the house ready for renters, I learned, was infinitely more work than simply moving out. Our worn-out towels and bedding wouldn’t cut it for guests and while our minimalist approach to decorating suited us, our townhouse seemed a little spartan.
We’ve often joked that our home looks like we just moved in, though we’ve been there five years. With living aboard and long-term cruising always in the back of our minds, we didn’t bother much with hanging pictures on the walls or doing the kinds of things that make a place feel homey. I put off the container garden I wanted to plant, resisted buying frivolous items like vases and candle holders that we’d just need to get rid of at some point.
But suddenly, I was doing a lot of shopping, buying sets of fluffy matching towels and soft Egyptian cotton sheets. There were trips to Ikea, purchases of picture frames and furniture (and, horrors, a bit of faux greenery since we won’t be around to water real plants). It all felt a little counterintuitive, but the guests were coming and I didn’t want our place to look like, well, a rental.
We’d planned to move most of our clothes and personal belongings into our garage, but I severely underestimated just how much time it would take to scour our house from top to bottom to go through our things, organize what we needed to keep and toss the rest — meanwhile doing all the house projects that had fallen by the wayside, like installing that closet organizer we’ve been meaning to put in and finally getting around to recaulking the bathtub. As Marty put it, we were essentially doing a mini-renovation.
We pride ourselves on not being packrats, and I’ve been gradually getting rid of clothes and shoes over the past year. But still, I was shocked by just how much was in our relatively small home. There was just So. Much. Stuff.
We got rid of five large bins of books and whittled our wardrobes down to the basics. Our teeny office yielded an astonishing amount of needless paper. I filled a garbage bag with unused toiletries and old makeup. Over several weeks, we purged and sorted and purged some more. Yesterday, cleaners came and scoured our place until it gleamed. I can safely say it’s never looked so good in the entire time we’ve lived there. I almost didn’t want to leave.
But this morning, we took the last of our bags down to the boat and headed out to Langley on Whidbey Island for a few well-earned days of down time. The worries I’d had about living aboard — primarily, how I’d fit my clothes into a couple of drawers and how we’d store food and cook, which I love to do, in a tiny galley — dissipated as we headed out of Elliott Bay on Three Sheets, our Island Packet 38. At least right now, it feels like the start of an extended vacation. I’ll be working from our floating newsroom for much of the next few months, which seems novel and fun.
There are trade-offs, of course. There’s no two-sink bathroom with a tub, but we now have to clean only one head, not three. There’s no TV to watch our favorite shows, but there will be plenty to see from summer evenings in the cockpit. We don’t have three floors of living space, but we also don’t have to drag the vacuum up and down three flights of stairs.
Our first guests arrive tomorrow. There’s a guest book on the counter for them to sign, along with a book of information I put together about our favorite neighborhood hangouts and a few local treats — Theo chocolate, Beecher’s cheese and rosemary crackers from La Panzanella.
I hope they’ll enjoy our place (and not trash it), and when the last of them leave, I figure we’ll be ready to settle back in for the fall and winter.
But I got an email this morning from someone asking about renting our place for the month of December. The thought of being aboard in the dark of a soggy Seattle winter doesn’t sound overly appealing; on the other hand, it would pay for one or two of the boat projects on our list, and I can easily imagine cozy nights curled up on the boat, reading.
So who knows? Maybe we’ll go from stayaboards to liveaboards faster than we thought.