About Living Aboard a Cruising Powerboat

The entrance to Port Ludlow bay, our current home port

We’ve been living aboard boats for quite some time. It started back in the early ’80s… last century as it were. More specifically, during the last millennia. Our first live aboard vessel was a Westsail 32. It was a custom boat that came out of the factory mostly finished. The yard manager finished it to his specs. Twas a nice boat, that. Thick hull, overbuilt rigging, teak and ash interior… We lived aboard it at the Long Beach public marina in Alamitos Bay, Long Beach, California, and sailed it out to Catalina Island crossing the San Pedro Channel whenever we could get away. It was a pretty simple craft, and in terms of living aboard, quite spartan. At first we had to boil water if we wanted hot water for a sponge bath, and add ice to the icebox if we wanted to keep our food cold. We eventually put in a hot water heater and other niceties, but it was still a pretty basic life style, and we loved it. Les wasn’t so sure at first, but we we both very tired of living in our condo. It worked out better then either of us thought it would.

Picture of a sister ship to our Westsail, “Quiet Answer”

We traded that boat in for a Colombia 30 and some cash. In the interim, we’d taken a larger plunge and were heavily into horses. Les had horses when she was younger… Western style riding. She had always wanted to learn how to ride English style, so I bought her some English riding lessons at a local stable, learning how to walk, trot and canter… and… jump them over fences. None of that Western claptrap… She got hooked, and I… foolishly took some lessons as well and became hooked. That is another story altogether. Anyway, after living on the Westsnail (yes it was heavy and took a lot of wind to move it…) for three and a half years, we moved back to the beach and kept the Colombia in the Long Beach Downtown Marina. The Colombia was a Bill Trip design… It was fast and easy to sail compared to the Westsnail. Our move to land kept us there for a long… long time, tied up with careers, horses, ranches and other things. Eventually we got back to boats.

Our first foray that nudged us back to the water had to do with buying a Choate 37, an offshore sail racing thing-a-ma-jigger with 14 bags of sails, 4 spinnakers and all the go fast gear. What a blast to sail… And, it was my weekend getaway from work and the horses.

Sailing “Limbo” along North Island in San Diego Bay
Gliding past San Clemente Island on our Choate 37, “Limbo”

We sold our last house in 2006. A behemoth 3700 square foot marvel with a customized galley to die for, separate kitchen on the first floor just off the pool deck and a wholly unnecessary 5 bedrooms to house the two of us. It was an investment house… And, fortunately, that strategy payed off.

During that time as landlubbers, Les started working for her brother in Moorpark, so was gone, Monday through Thursday or so, whilst I upheld the fort in Ramona. It was an interesting period of our lives. The whole arrangement seemed a bit off, so we decided to sell the behemoth and do something different. Something that was not quite so long distance. Fortunately for us, we sold just before the housing crash. Our problem: we had nowhere to live, so I moved onto our 37 foot Choate while Les continued to work up in Moorpark several days a week, and was on the boat only a couple of days a week.

That did not last long. The Choate was a great man cave for one. It was not so good for two. We decided that Les should end her “responsibilities” up North and just stay in San Diego on the boat. So… to accommodate that plan we upgraded to a 45 foot Hunter Center Cockpit thing-a-ma-jigger. Great boat. Great space. New everything. That lasted for a bit (3.5 years) until we determined that bigger was better and found a new Hunter 49 at the factory back in Alachoa, Florida, flew back, saw it, bought it through a broker who took our 45 in trade, and moved aboard once delivered to San Diego.

“Heron” our Hunter 49 under spinaker

That was good. The 49 was a great boat for another 3.5 years. But… it was still a sailboat and one had to determine who was coming to visit by deciphering whose knees were moving down the dock past the portlights before determining who’s knees were coming to visit. That was one aspect. The Hunter 49 was a great liveaboard for a sailboat. Great storage, good sized genset, enough battery storage, a nice seaworthy galley, a comfortable cockpit, easier than most to sail, pointed well to weather while under sail… but, well, it was still a sailboat. That meant that the engine and gen set were not that easily accessed for servicing etc. not to mention the batteries, water tanks, pumps, and through hulls… all things that the Captain had to access and fix when warranted. It was a boat afterall…

It was now 2014 or so. We’d been living aboard boats for 8 years or thereabouts. Rumblings were occurring… deep rumblings… from the first mate. And so it began. Subtle at first, not so subtle in the middle and out in the open unsubtle towards the end. Powerboat or no boat. Powerboat it was!

The differences: Powerboats are pointy in the bow like a sailboat, but more squarish in the stern unlike most sailboats. That means more living and storage space. The machinery is accessible in a powerboat for the most part unlike how it is buried deep within the bowels of a sailboat. And then… there are the major differences in propulsion systems. Powerboats have big engines and burn lots, and lots, and lots, and lots of fuel, or so I thought. Sailboats have small engines, and sails which power the boat as well. There are problems with that though. Sailboats will not sail directly into the wind. Powerboats do not have that issue. They will go pretty much wherever you point them.

There have been studies done. Of course there have… about the costs associated with operating a powerboat or a sailboat.. It turns out, depending on engine size and how the powerboat is run between point A and point B, that the cost per nautical mile between sail and power is not as different as you might assume. Considering the cost of sails, running rigging, standing rigging, sail repair, replacement of said sailing stuff, and the cost of fuel for an efficient and well maintained power yacht… that it is a bit more expensive to power versus sail, but not that much more expensive.

Our boat holds 800 gallons of diesel. On that amount of fuel we can cruise for around 800 nautical miles, which equates to a pretty full cruising season for us. Now… about that $6000.00 spinnaker I bought for the 49. It was only good for sailing the boat downwind for the most part… Nuf said on that little sore topic except for the simple fact that the same cost would have applied to several years of fuel while cruising in a reasonably fuel efficient powerboat.

Enough of all that blather… Here is our current liveaboard platform, “Great Northern, a DeFever 53 Performance Offshore Cruiser:

Great Northern anchored in Todd Inlet, Vancouver Island, BC
Kai reviewing the Customs Dock in Sidney, BC
Great Northern anchored in Todd Inlet, Vancouver Island, BC
Dusk in the late winter on the Multnomah Channel off of the Columbia River
The view near Hornby Island from the pilothouse on a languid summer day in BC
The tight entrance to Gorge Harbour, Cortes Island, BC
Anchored in Gorge Harbor
Well earned libations at Gorge Harbour Marina, Cortes Island, BC
The general store at Refuge Cove, West Redonda Island, BC
Dusk at Squirrel Cove, Cortes Island
The anchorage behind Rebecca Spit in Heriot Bay, Quadra Island, BC
Sunset in Montague Harbor, Galiano Island, BC
Port Browning Marina, North Pender Island, BC
Port Browning, North Pender Island, BC
Great Northern in the Concourse Marina next to the Parliament building and the Empress Hotel in Victoria BC
Our view of the Empress Hotel at Christmastime 2019 in Victoria, BC
After a winter storm in Victoria BC, snow and ice-sickles covered the boat
The view from Rosario on Orcas Island, San Juan Islands, WA
Parorama photo of Rosario…
The entrance to Port Ludlow, Washington

We left Portland last June, cruised many of the islands of the Discovery Islands and visited the Westerly Islands of Desolation Sound. We spent the winter in Victoria BC and then Sidney BC, and due to Covid-19 left Sidney on 3/27/20 to return to the States before the border closed. We’ve spent the spring in Port Ludlow and will be leaving here on 7/1/20 to cruise Puget’s Sound. When we have wifi… I’ll be writing more about our adventures and posting more pictures…

This post was a pictorial taste of what Les, Kai and I have been up to in the Northwest over the past year. I really didn’t cover what it is like to live aboard a well found power boat. It seems the title of this blog post was a bit of a hook. Hmmm…

The more interesting questions about how one cooks, keeps warm, stays dry, and provision for months at a time need to be answered. Keeping a boat floating and mechanically sound is an ongoing exercise. Yes it is fabulous to anchor in a remote harbor among a few like minded cruisers, cook up a fabulous meal and sip a lovely old vine zin as the sun sets and the anchor lights start to sparkle on the water. But… preparation and gaining the knowledge to do it safely is key. There are many things to understand: knowledge of navigation so you don’t get lost, rules of the road to know so you don’t run into anyone, tides and currents so you don’t go aground or anchor in too deep or too shallow water, how to anchor so you safely stay anchored during gusty conditions, provisioning, mechanical repairs needed, spare parts to have on board, tools to have, clothes to wear… All those things are part of “getting there”. All in all, it can be a wonderful life!

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