The author’s husband, Andrew, has spent his life around boats.

I wasn’t born with a love of sailboats. In fact, I would say that I still don’t have a huge passion for them, even though I’ve owned one since 2018. They’ve been growing on me the last several years, but it’s taken a lot of work to get to this point.

What I’m really in love with is the lifestyle that sailing can bring me. The boating community, the destinations, the refreshing minimalism, the connection with nature, and more. All of these things drew me in and continue to outweigh my fear of sailing.

Like many people, it’s the boat’s heeling motion that gets to me. Although at a cognitive level I understand the physics of sailing and that heeling is normal and even beneficial, there’s a deep, primitive part of my brain that sounds the alarm when my world goes sideways.

Muse, my 1992 Hunter 43 Legend, is my tiny floating world. It contains nearly every precious thing in my life. I live aboard in Tacoma with my kids, my stepson, my husband, and our two cats. It’s more than just a sailboat. It’s my home, and when it’s off kilter, my protective instincts go absolutely haywire.

The kids play on the bow while sailing toward Vashon Island.

Accordingly, I actually look forward to summer in the Salish Sea when I know the wind will all but disappear and we can lazily ghost along toward our chosen anchorages. I feel fairly comfortable in 5 to 10 knots, but anything above 12 starts to make me nervous. In 20 or more, I’m in full panic mode.

It’s something I’m actively working on, and the summer of 2022 was just the exposure therapy I needed. I didn’t get the calm, easy breezy season I had learned to expect. It was unusually windy, and I experienced more sporty sailing in those few months than I had since buying Muse in 2018.

So it was that, with a reef in the main and the genoa partially furled, we made our way north toward Vashon Island from Tacoma’s Foss Waterway in August. We almost always get southerly wind in these parts, but it seems to switch direction on us every time we make plans to head north. If I’m going to get away from the dock at all and experience the things I love about this lifestyle, I must begrudgingly accept all the upwind sailing practice mother nature sends my way. With a 65-foot mast and a monster of a mainsail, Muse is a tender ship. This makes her a delight to sail in light winds, but nearly petrifying for me in the 15 to 20 knots we experienced that weekend on our way to Quartermaster Harbor.

The kids help the grownups make friends in the boating community even more quickly than normal.

After a breathless (me, not the wind) sail of only an hour or so across Commencement Bay and into the harbor entrance between Vashon and Maury Island, I made the call to stop tacking up to our destination and drop the sails so we could motor the rest of the way in. Nervous that I’d disappointed my husband (who, unlike me, apparently popped out of the womb with a love of sailing), I was already on edge when we had a little difficulty setting the anchor. Although the wind was forecast to die that evening, it was still blowing like mad when we arrived, and Andrew and I couldn’t hear one another from opposite ends of the boat. My lingering self consciousness got the better of me and, once the hook was set, I let my pent up emotions flow freely. We were here to spend what precious free time we had having fun as a family, and I was worried I’d blown it.

Not only was I an emotional mess, the kids were already complaining about having no friends to play with. To help make cruising most enjoyable for my kids, I usually do my best to organize meetups of local boating families at different anchorages or try to bring one their friends along for a trip; but this time no one was available. Cruising tends to be a very social activity for us, which we love, and I was uncertain how this solo weekend would pan out. It seemed we were already off to a shaky start.

Throughout 2022, we didn’t have much time for casting off the dock lines. My husband’s employer only gave him two weeks of vacation a year, and we had used it all up within the first few months with a long list of haulout projects and a honeymoon. We had no regrets about those decisions — the boat was in much better shape after a good bottom paint job, rudder shaft bearing replacement, fiberglass repairs, and more. Any boat owner knows you have to roll your sleeves up in the offseason if you want it to be safe and operational come springtime, but this left us with only the weekends to take short cruises away from our home slip.

With the skills to do it, and the desire for more time with the family, Andrew has dreamed of starting a boat repair business.

Andrew, who had grown up living aboard various boats and had amassed all kinds of technical education and career experience, dreamed of one day owning a boat repair business and making his own schedule. When I met him, he was gutting a rotten old 1970s DeFever and restoring and refitting every inch to perfection while living aboard. If that experience didn’t kill his love of boats, nothing would. How sweet it would be to be self-employed doing something he was so passionate about, all while finding a better work-life balance and prioritizing time together as a family. The dream persisted but, for now, we had to make the most of our weekends. Thankfully, we have a few great anchorages close by for these short cruises.

That weekend, we chose to visit Dockton, which has become one of our favorites. The anchorage has lots of swing room, decent depths, and a relatively easy mud and gravel bottom to set the hook in. There’s also a great trail network ashore that leads to a defunct old gravel mining pit, which Andrew and I love dragging the kids to. I think the children would agree, though, that the very best part is the playground near the dinghy dock. During our previous visit, we noticed that Dockton Park has large fire pits for public use, so this time we brought a bundle of wood and lots of yummy things to roast. Friends or no friends, we were going to try and make the best of our weekend.

Saturday morning came, and we made a plan for the day’s explorations. The kids weren’t very enthused about doing the gravel pit hike again, so we set our sights on a dinghy ride across the harbor to Jensen Point. Pulling the dinghy way up onto the shallow beach and securing it as best we could, we set off on a walk through the beautifully forested Burton Acres Park. When you get halfway through the loop trail, it splits off and takes you out of the woods and into a neighborhood. Following this trail-turned-road brings you right into the charming town of Burton and straight to the Harbor Mercantile, or as our kids like to call it, “The ice cream store!”

A stop at Burton’s Harbor Mercantile is a family favorite.

We grabbed some goodies for everyone (including Beyond Meat jerky, which I was surprised and delighted to find, and thought other vegan cruisers might want to know it’s available here) and waited for the kids to finish their drippy frozen treats on the bench outside the store before heading back to the boat. The weekend was really starting to turn around, but we had no idea how serendipitous it would become.

Shortly after returning to Muse, a dad and his 5-year-old daughter came over on a SUP to introduce themselves. He had spotted us on the beach at Jensen Point and saw that we had potential playmates for his little girl. They were up from Oregon for a special daddy-daughter weekend on their new aluminum boat they moor at Harstine Island. We love meeting other boaters, and having a chance to connect with another kid crew was a huge plus, so we were excited to invite them to our campfire at the playground that evening. He paddled back, pulled up anchor on the other side of the harbor, and came to join us at Dockton. Friendships form so fast within the boating community, especially when you’ve got kids to help pave the way.

The younger generation played together while big plans were in the works for their parents.

We all headed ashore when the sun was disappearing over the horizon and started getting to know one another. The kids played happily on the playground equipment, and we grownups hung around the fire talking about parenting, boats, and other interests. In the course of the conversation, we learned that our new friend, David, owns a software company in Portland that employs over 200 people. He is an entrepreneur who has started six businesses with varying levels of success, and can’t seem to get enough of it.

Bashfully, we confessed our dream of starting a boat repair business, explaining that it was a long-term goal, maybe five or so years out. “Why wait so long?” he asked.

For starters, there’s business insurance, health insurance, all the different licensing, and capital to get started. So many things seemed to stand between us and our lofty goal. And the biggest, scariest concern of all, “What if we fail?”

With the ease and confidence of a motivational speaker, David assuaged all our fears and assured us that jumping through all the bureaucratic hoops to get started really wasn’t as difficult as it seemed. “Figuring out private insurance is easy. Get online and get a few quotes, then pick one. It’ll take you no more than a couple hours of your time.”

As the night went on, the kids periodically coming back to the fire for more toasted marshmallows, we divulged more and more information about our financial situation and our business plan. David helped us see that, not only was there a practical way to make this dream a reality, there were several viable paths to get there.

But what about the F word? He said that failure is not something to be feared. “You will make mistakes, but most of them won’t be catastrophic. You’ll screw up, and you’ll learn from it. You’ll course correct, and your business will become better because of it.”

As we dinghied back to Muse late that night, the kids were exhausted, but Andrew and I were buzzing with dreams and plans for the future.

In the morning, it was time to pull up the anchor, head back to our slip and our normal lives — physically tied to the dock and metaphorically tied to all our responsibilities ashore. But something had shifted, and we both knew it.

I got the windless summer day I had secretly been hoping for on the way back home. Even our asymmetrical spinnaker was deflated and lifeless. So we took the sails down and motored the 8 miles to Foss Waterway, watching for sea life, chatting, applying sunscreen, and enjoying our last bit of time together on the water. From the outside, it looked like a return from any old trip, but we left Vashon that weekend with more than just good memories and a new cruising buddy. We’ve met lots of wonderful people in the boating community, but this particular chance meeting was about to change our lives.

The boating community gives such extraordinary gifts.

Back in Tacoma, we ironed out the finer points of our business plan, took a hard look at our finances, and made the decision to move up our five year goal… to now. Right now. We took the leap and applied for a business license.

Was it just coincidence that we met David, and he gave us the exact push we needed to get past our fears and get going?

The following weekend, we decided to hike instead of sail, and it ended up being a dreadful “trail” — mainly a long, bare, dusty dirt road on a hot day. We turned around earlier than we planned and attempted to salvage the day by going to Tides Tavern in Gig Harbor for lunch. Watching the boats out the window while we ate, we spotted a familiar boat at the restaurant dock. It was David, our friendly Oregonian entrepreneur! We felt the tingle of serendipity as we headed down to say hi and to tell him the good news that we’d begun our journey into self-employment.

Author, Samantha McLenachen.

Cruising and the boating community have given me so many gifts, and our family meeting David is one of those. He was just a fellow boater who also has a passion for being on the water and came to introduce himself and his daughter; but he shared so much more. Sharing generously is remarkably common in the cruising community — skills, experience, and camaraderie; a wrench or a hose clamp; a sunset bonfire on the beach or the encouragement to pursue your dreams as soon as possible. Even the shortest excursion can offer you fresh inspiration or a new perspective… it might even change your life!

Just six short years ago, I knew nothing about boats, nor did I want to. Although I still struggle with the act of sailing itself, boat life still has an otherworldly pull for me, and the kindness and support of the boating community has only strengthened it. As long as we keep getting out on the water, even when it challenges or scares us, the gifts will keep on coming.