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The Most Wonderful Time of Year ? ➡️ ?

The Most Wonderful Time of Year ? ➡️ ?

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

The summer plants are dying, or at least fading away. After a season of production, they’re slowly disappearing into compost. Brown leaves blow about and crunch underfoot.

Clouds of dust swirl around the dogs when they play chase in the garden, powdering them with invisible grains that dull the color of their fur and our floors. It’s noticeably cooler, but the sun continues to shine, sometimes through a screen of wildfire smoke.

According to my weather station, it has rained 0.83 inches since August 1st and it’s not an anomaly. Summers in the PNW are almost always bone dry, in part, because we don’t get hot enough to produce thunderstorms that would be a reliable source of rain.

Annual precipitation for our county

For weeks and weeks at a time, the sun shines bright and dries everything to a crisp, including the people.

I love a nice day in the sun, but by this time of year, I’ve had enough. The world outside is a tinderbox that needs moisture before it’s too late. Wildfire is our biggest risk. If we can get through September, we can relax with the knowledge that the rain will finally arrive in spades.

Right now, I’m a little anxious, or maybe just full of anticipation. Each year, I plan for the famous PNW rain to arrive by October 15th. Then, storm season commences and the sun disappears along with the risk of fire. It’s fascinating how quickly and reliably it happens.

I plan on the transition each year, and for now, I wait and watch for signs of change. The weather models are unsure of what will happen. It’s like the dry PNW summer is battling the north pacific currents trying to push into Washington for the winter. Forecasts this time of year often say there is a 58% chance of rain, which is frustratingly noncommittal. They might as well admit they have no idea.

It’s the forecast of rain that feeds my anticipation. I want commitment and confidence. I want a sure thing. For the last couple of days, I’ve been watching a prediction for rain on Wednesday. On Sunday, the Wunderground app showed an 80% chance of 0.20 inches of rain and it allowed me to relax. Rejoice! It’s coming! ?

Then, I checked the weather as soon as I woke up on Monday. Overnight the forecast dropped to a 74% chance of 0.11 inches. It ruined my day. ?

This morning it was 68% of 0.04 inches. ??‍♂️

At the time of publishing this afternoon, it’s down to 49% of 0.03. ?

I’ve seen this happen so many times. The models get you all hyped and hopeful, only to crush your dreams. At this point, I expect a perfectly sunny day on Wednesday without a drop of rain. What have we done to deserve this? Why do they torment us?

Perhaps, I am addicted to the drama of not knowing. Or, maybe I’m just fascinated by the machinations of weather and the difficulty of getting it right. What gets me through is the confidence that the autumn rain will arrive… eventually. It always has.

As much as I complain about the sun at the crunchy end of summer, I love and look forward to this time of year. As I’ve written here many times before, I believe happiness lives in anticipation. Right now, it’s bright and dry and the summer weather seems interminable. But I have so much to look forward to. The cool misty air, the sound of rain on the roof, and fires in the fireplace. I miss seeing our property in its more natural state: wet and verdant. For me, this is the most wonderful time of the year.

The Garden Gamble ?

The Garden Gamble ?

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.

When people learn that we live on an island that’s only accessible by boat, plane, or ferry, they sometimes conjure visions of Alaska-style wilderness and off-the-grid living. People who aren’t familiar with the region ask if we have schools and grocery stores. Despite our relative remoteness, Orcas Island does not want for amenities. In fact, our grocery stores punch above their weight and have prices to show for it.

But island life does have its inconvenient realities. A severe earthquake could cut off our power and disconnect us from the mainland for weeks. An attack (or accident) that affects mainland infrastructure could do the same. In these situations, we’d be on our own and this has imbued the island with a doomsday prepper ethic of self-sufficiency and self-reliance. We are not immune and always planned to move into the new house and start preparing.

While we don’t have a bomb shelter or a closet full of MREs, we are working to build up our knowledge and skills in feeding ourselves, and our friends. This summer was our first with a full season of gardening and catching seafood from the Salish Sea, and I’m fascinated by the possibilities.

We’ve enjoyed entertaining over 30 off-island guests this year. Some stayed for an afternoon, some for days. We want nothing more than for friends and family to have a memorable experience with us. Creating that experience from our effort is something we take as a challenge.

People who visit Orcas often prize the local, farm-to-table experience, including eating local seafood, like Dungeness crab, oysters, and spot prawns. They visit the farmer’s market to load up on fresh vegetables and bread. After a nice dinner out, they may order a cocktail or a dessert. Along with good company, food is a necessary part of any island experience.

We want to create a similar experience from home, based mostly on our own planning, time, and self-sufficiency. This summer has been a time to share what we’ve grown and caught. We’ve served many meals that featured crab and prawns we from our traps, tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, peppers, strawberries, and lettuce we grew, bread and pizza we baked, and dessert and cocktails we made, all overlooking the Salish Sea. That’s always been the dream and I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to see it happen.

Spot Prawns

Dungeness Crab

The average visitor, I hope, feels that everything is operating smoothly and we have it all under control. This is my hope because the reality is not so flattering. We are learning on the job and always trying to figure out how to solve problems. Growing, catching, and cooking food is a challenge that always evolves. There are always new problems to solve.

From the outside, you might wonder if so much gardening and crabbing is a chore. Do we really love it, or is it a means to a self-sufficient end? It’s a good question and I’ll answer it with an analogy.

If you’ve ever gambled on a football game, lottery ticket, or at a card table, you know the rush that comes with taking a risk and hoping that lady luck shines on you. Having fished for crab and shrimp with Sachi for a few years, I came to see that all fishing is gambling. You place bets in the form of lures, traps, and bait and then hope that you’ll get lucky. Some days you win, some you lose, but the rush keeps you coming back. Experienced fishers are able to beat the odds, on occasion.

Perhaps gardening is no different. There are no sure bets, especially when you’re just getting started. You plant, water, wait, and hope. Sometimes the soil and sun cooperate, and sometimes they don’t, but you keep trying. The rush comes, but it’s spread over weeks in the summer when the garden finally matures. Experienced gardeners, like fishers, are able to beat the odds.

Today the odds are probably still against us and our garden, in part, because we’re still getting a handle on our little microclimate. Wind, shadows, sun, moisture, humidity, and temperature are all variables that can impact the harvest. Understanding what works at a specific location requires entire seasons of experiments. When an experiment takes that long, you have to see vegetable gardening as a lifelong pursuit. We are currently 1.5 seasons into a very long game.

Sachi is our chief vegetable gardener and gambler. Starting early in the spring, she placed bets in the form of squash, pepper, and tomato seedlings in the garage under UV lights and over a heating pad. She planted seeds for lettuce, beans, and more in the garden. If it works, the bets pay off when dinner is served.

The garden did well this year, but there were failures. The beets didn’t really form – not enough sun. Half the beans didn’t mature, and the squash almost failed due to cool weather that lasted too long into the spring. Mother nature and our own inexperience didn’t cooperate with some plants. There is always next year.

The garden did well this year, but there were failures. The beets didn’t really form – not enough sun. Half the beans didn’t mature, and the squash almost failed due to cool weather that lasted too long into the spring. Mother nature and our own inexperience didn’t cooperate with some plants. There is always next year.

One of our experiments this year seems to have paid off. Peppers and tomatoes prefer heat and warm weather. This spring we added raised beds next to the south-facing side of our home. We hoped the sun shining on the black siding would warm the plants enough to make them successful. It worked this year; a jackpot that came from a new use of the sun’s rays.

In fact, it worked so well we’ve been able to freeze the surplus and give some away. Our neighbors weren’t so lucky with tomatoes, so we traded our tomatoes for their apples and a frozen loaf of homemade zucchini bread. I like to think, if things do go off the rails, that we’ll all combine forces to get through.

Now that autumn is upon us, dried squash plants are composting and the tomato plants are looking barer. We’re watering less and looking forward to transitioning to a more interior lifestyle. Before we know it, seedlings will be growing in the garage, the garden experiment will start again and we’ll be one step closer to getting it right, come what may.

Roots

Roots

Early this spring, I planted a tree called a staghorn sumac. It was about two feet tall and looked like a dead branch sticking out of the soil. We were promised it would grow to over 10 feet, eventually. (See mature version)

Nearby is a blue Chinese wisteria tree with a trunk as big as a pencil. (See mature version)

The sumac and wisteria trees are emblematic of our approach to the ornamental side of the garden that is my domain. We’re starting small. Sure, we could spend more and get mature versions of the plants we like, or we could watch their growth and savor tending them from a young and fragile age. 

When people visit, I often tell them they are seeing a miniature version of the garden and that, over time, it will change. I want them to remember this version for a sense of scale. Starting now, each year will bring another, fuller version of it. For the first time since 2017, we can plant a tree and feel confident that we’ll see it grow and mature. That feeling has been missing for too long.

This newfound sense of permanence is something we both feel deeply, having lived in the new house for over a year. It’s fascinating to develop a new rhythm of daily life with the knowledge it may stick. Twenty years from now, will I be taking out the trash, brushing my teeth, and making coffee just as I am today? If everything goes according to plan, there is a good chance I will. The accumulation of these permanent rituals will probably get boring and stale and that goes with the territory of permanence. We can only hope we get them right as early as possible.

Part of what has gripped me about the garden is the combination of permanence and change. The sumac tree may be here in twenty years, but it will have changed constantly in that time. Every day, I can inspect it and notice the little things. I can see it in different colors as the seasons change. 

There are some parts of the garden that I’m hoping will trend toward permanence, or at least long-term stability. As a result of construction, we have large and visible swaths of the property that consist of rocky construction fill. One of my first priorities this year also seemed like the most boring: planting low ground covers that will one day cover the troubled fill areas and create a dense groundcover mat that looks great and prevents weeds. 

Today, these plants are miniature, too. I planted creeping raspberry, kinnikinnick, thyme, and cotoneaster around the property and feel real joy from seeing them spread. Everywhere they go, weeds and future maintenance are being reduced. Within a couple of years, my work will hopefully be limited to trimming the edges into the shape I want. 

creeping thyme
kinnikinnick

Right now, the hundreds of new groundcovers, ferns, sedums, trees, bulbs, and shrubs require daily or weekly care because they are new plantings. They are young and need to get settled. Most need a year or two of regular watering to establish their roots. Once established, they can trend ever so slowly toward permanence.

We’ve opted for a number of drought-tolerant plants, which I know sounds odd for the pacific northwest. Our summers are very dry, with almost no rain July-September. The tolerant ones need to get established, so my watering duties for this summer are significant. In this, I’ve developed a ritual. In the afternoons, I start a podcast and spend an hour or more watering and weeding. It’s not much of a workout, but I find it meditative and a time to focus on just one thing. Every minute I spend watering contributes to the plant becoming healthier, more permanent, and lower maintenance. I have this summer to get it right.

In June, we declared our planting season to be over. I didn’t want it to end, but I knew it was time. Sachi wanted me to pause and leave some things for next year. She knows my happiness lives in anticipation and didn’t want me to use up all the fun planting and landscaping projects too quickly. I told her something I believe deeply: there will always be projects in the garden. Unlike brushing my teeth or taking out the trash, the garden changes daily. Soon enough we can transition from clearing, preventing, and preparing to a focus on developing, maturing, and beautifying. Maybe that applies to humans, too.

Today, the staghorn sumac is changing every day and has become an essential part of the garden. The groundcovers are slowly reaching out to one another in what I call the Sistine Chapel moment of development.

Every time I water, I imagine roots below the surface slowly becoming permanent parts of the landscape. And as I do, my roots become more permanent, too.

Interview with Belinda Ellsworth from Work From Your Happy Place Podcast

Interview with Belinda Ellsworth from Work From Your Happy Place Podcast

It was a pleasure to have a discussion with Belinda about Big Enough and the potential for businesses to be designed with happiness in mind. One of the subjects that came up was the idea of “drag” in a business and how easy it is for businesses to accumulate processes and details that create drag. Our goal was to always look for the most lightweight ways to solve problems and believed that reducing drag was one path toward the lifestyle we wanted.

You can listen to the full episode at Work From Your Happy Place.

The Time Capsule ?

The Time Capsule ?

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.


I’m ready for spring. I’m ready to be done with 2020, done with the election, done with the pandemic. I’m ready to feel a sense of hope along with longer, warmer days, with friends. And those days will surely come. The arrival of spring is a certainty and in the context of 2020, I’ll take any certainties I can get. 

I can’t help but feel a sense of momentum heading into the next year. It’s going to be a dark and frightening winter. The pandemic is out of control and millions of Americans are unemployed and stuck at home. But this isn’t the new normal. Vaccines look promising and by this time next year, our lives are likely to be back on track. It’s hard to imagine it now, but it may seem inevitable when spring arrives.

I am an optimist at heart. It’s a trait that I’m thankful to have, even if it makes me idealistic and perhaps naive at times. I find that it keeps my focus on the future and what can be learned from times of darkness. I tend to look at change and challenges as opportunities. The psychological term for this is “reframing” and I find myself doing it often; a secret weapon. 

There was a moment in early 2020 when I started to feel the uncertainties mounting. It was early in the pandemic and nearly every aspect of life felt up in the air. My book, Big Enough, was sent to the printer, which meant it could not be changed. Then, the bottom fell out of the economy and the book industry took a hit. We decided to change the release date from May to September, with the hope that the environment would improve. 

On top of all the normal anxiety that comes with a book’s release, I had to accept that I was publishing and promoting a book during a pandemic. All the time and effort I put into the book seemed like it could wash away in the flood of events. What if society changed to a degree that made Big Enough less relevant? 

After the initial shock, I started to reframe. All things considered, the book was complete, still relevant and the core message seemed to fit. I read numerous articles about people who had discovered happiness in a more home-based lifestyle and were looking for opportunities to start a business that would support that happiness. Could the pandemic actually bolster the book’s message? Could this change in perspective, over time, be a net positive? This idea gave me hope. 

Today the book is out in the world and doing fine. Above all, I believe that it’s a book people will find when the time is right. This winter may not be it, but by spring, we could be living in a different environment.

About two years ago, we moved out of our house in Seattle and filled a container with furniture, clothes, boxes and what felt like a million other things. Today, that container sits in a warehouse and I think of it like a time capsule. Our former lives and lifestyle are in that container, waiting to be released. A day will come, probably in January or February, when the container will be delivered to Orcas Island and we can reconnect with our past lives. This feeling of reconnecting and beginning again has become such a rich source of anticipation.

Perhaps we all have our own time capsules. Your belongings may not be sitting in a container, but your version of normal life may be on hold for a while longer. All the togetherness and freedom that we all miss is not gone, it’s just waiting to be opened again.

I, for one, want to believe that the spring of 2021 will be a time for us to open our time capsules and become reacquainted with our former lives. When we do, it won’t be exactly the same as before because we’ve changed. The optimist in me believes it could be better because we will have learned to appreciate what we formerly felt was normal.

That’s the core of this perspective. Bad things happen and change is inevitable, we can’t control it. It’s history. The best we can do is look ahead try to find the opportunity or hope within it, or use the change as a reason to push on something we can control and want to alter or improve.

If you find yourself feeling hopeful about spring, consider how you might use the transition to start on a different footing. There may be no better time than just after a shake-up.

I think about this from the perspective of our dogs, Maybe and Piper. They know nothing of pandemics or politics. They are unburdened by the economy. But they are about to experience a fundamental change in the new house and in that change is an opportunity to establish new behaviors and habits. 

For example, the house will have a large fenced-in yard for keeping dogs in and deer out. It will wrap around two sides of the house, creating space for them to play without our supervision. My hope is to use this change in their environment to begin new practices that start on day one.

For example, I’ve been researching ultrasonic dog whistles that we can use to recall them without neighbors noticing. On the day we move in, the dogs will begin to learn that amazing treats are connected to the sound of that whistle. If it works, it becomes the new normal for us all.

My hope is that Spring 2021 will mark a point in time when we can all start to leave 2020 behind and begin to restart, rethink, and reframe. We’ve been through a lot. Don’t let that change go to waste. Instead, use it to consider what a new normal could look like to you in the next year. 

The House Project: Flattop on Orcas Island

The House Project: Flattop on Orcas Island

In the spring of 2017, Sachi and I became consumed with an idea. On a camping trip to Orcas Island, which is off the NW coast of Washington State, we started to ask serious questions about the future. While drinking wine from a box by a campfire, we first started to consider getting property and someday moving to the island. 

By June, we were back on Orcas Island looking at vacant land with a realtor and Sachi asked if we could see a house. We figured we couldn’t afford a house, but what the heck? What we saw that day was a nice piece of west facing property with a water view. On the property was an odd, fifteen-sided house that was built by a family in the 80s. It was shabby, but livable and we soon made an offer.  

This yurt-shaped house became ours in September and was the only house we toured on the entire island. It all happened so quickly. We never dreamed we’d have a house on the island in such short order. It was available, in part, because no one looking for a vacation home would choose that one. 

At first we spent weekends, then weeks on the island. Thanks to a good internet connection, work was the same as in Seattle. Before long, we found ourselves dreading the trip back to the city and decided to make the big move. In early 2019, we committed to leaving Seattle and starting over on Orcas Island. The house we’d owned since 2003 hit the market that spring.

We moved to the island as permanent residents and started planning the biggest project of our lives: designing and building a new home for us and headquarters for Common Craft. Working with an on-island contractor and architect friend, the new house started to come to life on paper and then in three dimensions. 

Soon, the yurt-shaped house was gone and we moved to a guest house over a neighbor’s garage for a planned eighteen-month stay.  

Today, we are deep into the project and it’s taking everything we have to make it happen. The structure is built and we’re in the “rough-in” phase where plumbing and electrical is installed. Soon we’ll have insulation and drywall. 

Every day is a mix of our normal work and house projects. Sometimes it’s researching lights, others it’s painting or doing odd jobs that limit costs. Along with construction, I’m learning a lot about new products and ideas that focus on efficiency and sustainability. This will be our forever house and our goal is to get it right. 

I often say that happiness lives in anticipation and that anticipation is what gets us through. This project adds significant stress to our lives and can sometimes be exhausting. But it’s also satisfying to learn about the process and see the house come to life. The day we can move in can’t come soon enough. 

Spring 2020

You can find all house-related posts in the house category.

Big Enough: A Balance of Ambition and Happiness

Big Enough: A Balance of Ambition and Happiness

I love this quote by Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes, which I found through James Clear’s newsletter:

“…having an enviable career is one thing, and being a happy person is another. Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth. You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them. To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”

Source: Some Thoughts on the Real World from One Who Glimpsed it and Fled

In the years leading up to writing Big Enough, this perspective became more real to me. I have always been ambitious and I continue to be. What has changed is the focus or desired outcome of that ambition. I came to see that I could be happy and satisfied by defining my own measures of success and pursuing what made me happy. For me, it meant thinking smaller and more home-based. It meant becoming more satisfiable.

Stepping Away from the Seattle Bustle

Stepping Away from the Seattle Bustle

Mossy View Blog Header

Less than a year ago, I left Seattle, a city that had been my home since 1998. I always loved the city and especially the feeling that I was a part of a big, bustling place that constantly changed. Just being outside meant being among people and vehicles and busses. There were always things to do and it sometimes felt like a race when a new bar or restaurant appeared. If you discovered it early enough or knew the secret time to go, you could beat the inevitable crowds. FOMO was a constant part of my city life.

In recent years the city seemed to change, and more than that, I changed. I suppose it has to do with growing older, but I came to see that another kind of life was possible for me and that I could be happy in a different context. I loved the bustle, but it grew less attractive over time.

This change in attitude manifested in a number of ways, including a decision to leave Seattle and move to an island off the coast of Washington State in 2019. Along with the personal side of this change, I started to think differently as a professional. In Seattle, I have many friends in the tech industry who worked for big companies like Microsoft and Amazon along with start-ups of various stripes. In the city, success is usually valued traditionally. Executives earn promotions and shares vest over time. Startups attract VC funding, a growing number of employees and the potential to make it big. Some friends have seen big exits, some are still working at it, others have moved on. This, too, creates a sense of FOMO. I sometimes felt that, despite owning a company since 2003, I might be missing out on this traditional version of success because we chose to remain a small, home-based business. An IPO was never something we saw happening.

As the idea of moving away from Seattle became a daily conversation, I felt my perspective change and with it, my perception of what represented success to me. Instead of judging my accomplishments based on peers in Seattle, I started to see that I had a choice. What if, instead of a growing startup and/or the potential of an IPO, I had the freedom to choose how I spent my time? What if I could devote myself to a healthy and sustainable lifestyle? What if I only needed a fraction of my city income to be satisfied and lead a fulfilling life?

Now that we’ve moved and my life has changed in fundamental ways, I can’t help but see that there is beauty in stepping off the treadmill of traditional measurements of success and professional expectations, and reevaluating what success means to me. This feeling is still relatively new to me and it’s not been easy to put into words. That’s why I’ve included the video below. The last part of the video (set to start toward the end) from The School of Life does a good job of presenting this alternative way of thinking. The first time I saw it, it spoke to me. Maybe it will speak to you, too.

Seafaring with Our Boat, “Short Story” ??

Seafaring with Our Boat, “Short Story” ??

The post below was sent as an issue of my newsletter, Ready for Rain.


Seafaring with

It seemed like everywhere we went on Orcas Island, people who learned we were new residents asked the same question: Do you have a boat yet? For a while we just smiled and said that we hoped to someday. With so many plans for the house project, a boat seemed out of reach. 

These questions mostly came from long time residents who saw, in us, an opportunity to share something they valued about living on Orcas. Not having a boat in the San Juans was akin to living at a ski resort and not having skis, they seemed to say. People come from all over to boat and sail the San Juans in the summer, why not us?

Like so many experiences we’ve had here, boating found us. Our neighbor, Grant, (of potluck fame) texted me during our first summer on the island with an idea. He had recently purchased two boats, an older, smaller one and a larger, newer one and didn’t want both. He said that if we were interested, he’d sell us the smaller one, a 25 year old Boston Whaler, for what he paid. 

It seemed like an amazing offer, but at first, it didn’t seem possible. We had other priorities. But the more we talked about it, the more it seemed like a gift. We didn’t have to shop, or haggle. We could work with a person we trusted and it seemed the kind of opportunity that doesn’t come along very often. Our minds opened, just a bit more.

The idea of having a boat reminded me of a sign that used to hang at our family lake house in North Carolina. It said “A boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money.” The expense of having a boat doesn’t stop when you acquire it. It requires gas, moorage, maintenance and more. Did we really want to take on that expense? 

Within a couple of days we met Grant and took our first look at the boat. The first thing we noticed was the name. Emblazoned on both sides of the boat, in a design we’d never choose, were the words “Short Story”, and we both couldn’t believe how apt it was. For over a decade, short stories, in the form of educational videos, have been how we supported ourselves. It was kismet.

Short Story

Short Story was 15 feet long, with a center console, bench seat for two and enough room for two additional people. It had an older 55hp Suzuki outboard engine and a gas tank that held 12 gallons of gas. It wore it’s age with grace and seemed to be in working order, unless you needed a working gas gauge, horn, running lights, etc.

Grant, always a helpful soul, took it upon himself to install a new battery and do some other maintenance before handing it over. For us, it was perfect and easy to get up to coast guard standards. Within a couple of weeks, it was ours.

maintenance before handing

What made the idea work was our proximity to two marinas, only minutes away, in Deer Harbor. Most people moor boats in the summer and store them in the winter and that was our plan. By the end of July in our first summer, Short Story had a spot in a marina and we became slightly more seafaring people.

Our marina in Deer Harbor
Our marina in Deer Harbor

Having grown up around ski boats, I was comfortable on Short Story and ready for exploration. It was small and easy to drive. What I discovered is that Sachi and I were not on the same page when it came to where we could go and what we could do on the boat. Having grown up in Hawaii, a respect for the ocean was drilled into her from a young age. Her love of being on the water and exploring with Short Story was balanced with a consciousness of the very real risks.

Boating in the San Juans is notoriously dangerous. While it may sometimes look like a lake from the surface, danger lurks below in the form of reefs and sea mounts that come out of nowhere. Without proper equipment and/or tide charts, it’s easy to run aground. Further, the water is cold enough to cause hypothermia any time of year and the currents can be strong enough to overcome small engines. Boating in the San Juans is not to be taken lightly.

On one of our first trips out on the boat, we were with our friends, Darren and Julie. Prior to striking out, we didn’t discuss where we’d go. I figured we’d just explore and make it up as we went along; I was in lake mode.

After leaving the harbor, we entered the wide and rough channel to get a water view of the Yurt before crossing the channel to get a closer look at Waldron Island. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was a formative experience for Sachi. From her perspective, I was being reckless. She saw risk in my careless attitude and looking back, I can see why. We didn’t have a plan. We didn’t know the area. The waves tossed Short Story around more than expected.

We made it back across the channel safely, but that trip set the tone for the rest of our boating and specifically, my perspective. For us to be a team, I needed to show more respect for the situation and surroundings. I needed to account for weather and tides and charts. I needed to listen more and work with Sachi to understand how our seafaring adventures could be more fun and less stressful.

The biggest risk is not knowing what’s happening below the surface. In the best scenario, boaters use radar/GPS in combination with a map of the seafloor to navigate around reefs, rocks, and obstacles. These systems can be very expensive and we figured there must be a more affordable way to solve the problem. Surely, I thought, there’s an app for that.

I eventually found a $15 app called Navionics that worked on a used iPad. For very little money, we had a way to navigate, via GPS, anywhere that 12 gallons of gas could take us and more than that, have confidence that we weren’t going to run aground. The iPad and app became essential parts of our boating experience.

Navionics that worked

By the end of the summer, I was feeling more comfortable and itching to explore. The San Juans have 128 named islands and a number of them are preserves or parks. There are countless bays and harbors to visit. Our little boat could only take us on a limited radius, but from my perspective, we were missing out by not exploring more. My FOMO was in full effect.

end of the summer

In talking through it one evening, I learned more about Sachi’s perspective. Short Story is not a boat that can handle bigger waves and Sachi kept referring to swells and the fear of waves swamping the boat.

This is obviously a legitimate fear, but the reality of the Salish Sea is that it’s an inland sea and unlike the open ocean surrounding Hawaii, there are no swells. The waves we encounter are mostly from large boats. They can be treacherous for boats like Short Story, but they come and go. The other factor is the weather, as wind can create dangerous conditions. 

Where is the Salish Sea?
Where is the Salish Sea?

At the end of the conversation, we came to an agreement that set the stage for our seafaring future. We agreed to make fair weather a priority and always have a plan for our exploration. Further, we agreed that waves are a part of the experience.

Slowly but surely, we both became more confident and started to understand why people on the island feel so strongly about boating in the San Juans. It’s not simply a mode of transport, but means of self-sufficiency, autonomy, and exploration. It’s a chance to catch dinner, visit neighboring towns, hang out with harbor seals and see whales in the wild. As much as Orcas Island has to offer, there’s a whole other world just off shore.

Seals are just aquatic dogs
Seals are just aquatic dogs

The story of Short Story is still being written. We have a lot to learn and explore. But one thing is probably settled. Some day, we hope to have a bigger boat, with GPS and radar, that we can take out for weekends and cruise to more distant locations. That boat will need a name and naming it anything other than Long Story seems like a missed opportunity.