The Sailor Dress

Today I received an email from my mother about a long forgotten sailor dress. I’m not sure what brought this to her mind, but I suspect that it was mentioning my chance meeting with the Cross family in Reid Harbor the day before and how they were raising two babies on board their sailboat. It is hard enough for her to understand how I can live on a 32′ sailboat, so this was quite a mind bender. The following day I received a text saying “How is it possible to live on a boat with two babies?”  I replied that it was a 40ish foot boat, bigger than mine. Her response tickled me – I could hear the teasing tone of her voice, “we had a 50′ x 10′ trailer and it wasn’t big enough for two babies!” In reality, there was just the one baby, me, so I must have needed a lot of room.

children aboard

The Cross Family

Back to my email this morning. My mom said that she and her brothers were lunching at the Cracker Barrel in Tupelo, MS (where my family is from), and in the gift shop section there was a sailor dress for a little girl about 18 months old. She said, “You had one almost like it at that age. That was the only dress you would wear until you outgrew it. I was afraid all the people at church thought we could only afford for you to have one dress. So, why should I be surprised that you became a sailor?”

sailor dress

The Sailor Dress

I suppose she is surprised because I grew up in northern Mississippi, far from any sailboats or even the slightest thought of sailing. We swam and inner-tubed in rivers and water-skied in man made lakes. I graduated to a kayak when I lived in upstate New York, but didn’t start sailing until a year after I moved to Seattle, in 2008.  My transition to sailing, first as a hobby, and now a lifestyle has probably been more of a whirlwind for her than it has been for me. Like any mom, she worries. I take screen shots from my Navionics app of my location and text it to her a couple of times a day when I’m on the move, and she follows me on google earth almost as if it was in real time. It’s not the height of technology, but it works for us.  I occasionally get the “where are you” text which is what I suppose it’s like for teenagers today, and “on the boat” is not an acceptable answer. So although she doesn’t understand it, and she definitely doesn’t like it, she accepts it as part of me, and that’s why she’s a great mom.

Sailor Roulette and Submarine Surprises

One beautiful July weekend, my friend Jorge and I charted two boats through our sailing club for a trip to Port Townsend. I had a 38.5 Dufour and Jorge had a newer 425, both double wheel set-ups. This would be his first sail on the 425, but it was so similar to our other club boats he had no concerns.

At that time, there were two ways we would fill in a crew to share the cost of the rental. One was through the sailing club’s email system. The other was through a sailing group where we both got started sailing in Seattle. Both methods can be a bit of a sailor roulette, because you have no idea about your crew members’ sailing experience, personality

onality, or really, anything about them at all. I wouldn’t recommend filling a boat this way for the beginner, faint of heart or those not secure in their skills.

Jorge and I were brimming with confidence, which may or may not have been deserved at the time. The one benefit of picking a stranger from the club was the assurance that they have had at least some of the same training you’ve had and are likely to do things the same way. With the meetup group, you had no idea if the person had ever been on a boat before. That had been the case with me — I stepped on my first sailboat for a three-day trip through this group and never stopped.

I had several friends from the club aboard with me, so crew normality was definitely stacked in my favor. My one wild card was a petite woman in a long, lace-trimmed flowing skirt who sported a large, white, floppy, summer hat to which she had attached a blue ribbon to hold it on her head in the wind. The ribbon matched the skirt perfectly. She arrived with a small rolling suitcase and appeared ready to go pick berries and flowers rather than sail in 20 knots of wind. The entire logistics of the ensemble in question were contrary to traveling on a 38-foot sailboat. We named her Flora Fauna.

Jorge, on the other hand, had an entire boat of meet-up sailors, and not one familiar face. To say the least, his crew could be described as eclectic. There were two women who basically just wanted to be taken on a cruise and had no desire to participate in the operation of the boat. Then there was a man who could best be described by the cartoon character Pigpen on Charlie Brown; just make Pigpen 30 to 35 years old with cargo pants and flip flops over previously white athletic socks. The socks were sporting vents for the big toes, which hung out, earning him the moniker Camel Toe. His pants’ pockets held odd bits of food, including an entire bag of cherries, which he snacked on intermittently.

The most interesting of Jorge’s crew was a early 30s Russian man and his non-English speaking mother. Mom came outfitted with the regulation large Russian fur hat. (Did I mention it was July?) These two said very little during the trip. Jorge’s saving grace turned out to be a very pretty, very perky Southern woman named JP who knew her sailing. JP’s claim to fame happens to be Jell-O shots in orange rinds that could only be described as a work of art, which have incapacitated some of my crew in later trips.

The crews assembled and introduced, we headed north with great wind and blue skies. After a few hours I started getting texts from Jorge saying that he hated the 425 because it constantly rounded up no matter what he did with the sail trim, and this is a man that knows how to trim a sail. He just couldn’t understand it. Despite this, both boats made it to Port Townsend within minutes of each other.

Flora Fauna and her bonnet spent most of the sail seasick and lying down below, while another of my crew made cookies from scratch with a fairly consistent 15-degree heel. Meanwhile, on the 425, Jorge and JP had finally discovered that their boat’s rounding up problem could be directly attributed to the supplementary steering of the Russian man on the unused wheel. Apparently he had definite opinions on where the boat should be steered (in irons) and was exerting silent influence on the lazy wheel. After a stern admonishment from JP, in the way only an angry Southern woman can do, the boat sailed much better.

The two crews had dinner at Water Street Brewing, except for the Russians, who retired early, followed soon after by the vacation cruisers. The remainder of the evening was relatively uneventful other than the jockeying of the 425 crew to decide who did not have to share a berth with Camel Toe and his pocket full of cherries by playing cards and seeing who could keep from falling asleep. Jorge and JP ended up spending the night sleeping bent into an L shape on opposite ends of the U-shaped settee, while Camel Toe had his own berth.

Sunday morning both boats headed back south to Seattle. Flora was feeling better and had dressed more appropriately, in pants, sneakers and a ball hat. We had decided to go through Port Townsend Bay and under the bridge rather than sail around Marrowstone Point to shave off a few miles. Not being a local, I didn’t realize there was a naval base on the northwest side of Indian Island with a sign that said to keep 500 yards away. Of course, you can’t really read the sign at that distance. I picked a straight line on the GPS that would be the shortest distance to the entrance of the bridge canal.

Shortly after, a crew member on the bow called back, “You see that fishing boat in front of us, right?” As I looked more closely, the boat turned and on the side were the very clear letters P..O..L..I..C..E. There was also a large machine gun mounted on the bow. Uh oh. The boat maneuvered swiftly to come beside us, angling toward us to force us away, close enough to be scary. As I was veering off to the west, I now clearly saw the “Keep 500 yards away” sign just past the machine gun. The next thing I noticed was a submarine docked stealthily at the base. I now understood why the naval police had a bee in their bonnet, and I hailed Jorge to NOT follow our course and stay west.

The situation unfurling on the 425 was even more eventful than ours. Around the time the police boat was herding us off to the west, the unsmiling, non-English speaking, fur hat-wearing Russian mother pulled a leather wrap out of her pocket and unrolled a genuine brass monocular that she quickly extended to its full length and trained on the submarine. Soon, I got a text from Jorge: “We are going to jail. We are all going to jail and they are never going to let us out.”

But fortunately, Jorge and crew had already veered west when they saw the police boat herding me away from the base and were left to sail south unaccosted. The young Russian attempted to influence the steering again on the way home but JP was having none of it, and he was no longer allowed to sit behind the empty wheel.

Photo Credit Rebecca Sherwood

Photo Credit Rebecca Sherwood

The moral of this story: Taking on strangers as crew can be intimidating and even scary. You don’t know their skill level or how they will mesh with the other crew. Will they be a help, or someone you have to keep an eye on every minute? Will you have to run interference to keep the crew happy?

That said, I have met most of my best friends by taking on unknown crew or joining a sail where I knew no one. For me, the key is to make sure you have at least one trusted crew person. If everyone else decides to hunker down below in bad weather, who can you count on? More importantly, who could handle the boat if you were hurt?

One trusted crew member can make things more comfortable and safer. I have been with a group of boats when a skipper had a seizure and fell overboard. The fortunate part of that horrific situation is that someone onboard knew what to do and could recover him. Everything worked out, but it could have gone differently.

If guests are coming or you are taking on unknown people, it is acceptable to ask discreetly if there are medical problems that you should know about, and what to do if something happens (heart disease, diabetes, allergies. to name a few). Go over a few safety issues before you leave, such as location of fire extinguishers, first-aid kit, tool box, emergency tiller and PFDs. Make sure everyone knows how to use the head! Make sure people know on which channel the Coast Guard can be reached.

Do I always do this? No, not if the knowns outnumber the unknowns (other than the head issue). But if the unknowns are the majority, I absolutely do.

As seen in Three Sheets Northwest

April Adventures – Tiny and Logan

Logan and have been on an adventure for a few weeks now, and a lot has been learned. There have been many visits from friends, becoming a sort of regular in a townie pub, a random gift from a dock mate that was needed, emergency sail management and repair, creative transfers of goods on a mooring line, dinghy experiments, and general shenanigans. In general, the universe has not let the Challenger off easily, but she hasn’t been too harsh either.

Logan isn’t complaining under his electric blanket the eve before we adventure off again to a new spot – but he will likely complain tomorrow!


Although the environment and the routine have been different, he knows his home, he has known all his visitors, and other than one horrible weather day when he came out and wailed (I felt the same above), he seems to be hanging in there.

It looks like we will make our trip home solo just as we came up. A quick jaunt, a week of work, then 5 days to get home while deciding what I haven’t done yet.

Thanks to everyone for their encouragement on our first big adventure!



Ideas for Quick and Easy Meals in a Small Galley and Reheating Without a Microwave

When moving onto a boat there are a variety of things one must get used to. Limited space is an obvious change, and this also applies to the amount of storage in your refrigerator and freezer. For many, including myself, there is no room in the galley for a microwave and no way to use one without shore power, so reheating left overs becomes a new challenge. Limited counter space makes simplifying meals and using less dishes attractive. I can’t claim to be a foodie or a culinary genius, but I have found a few ways to adapt.

I have a small Nova Kool fridge for boats or RVs. It mounts into the wall and has 3.5 cubic feet of storage. There’s a tiny freezer like you would expect in a dorm fridge, but as you can see, there isn’t alot of space. Frozen vegetables are out because one package takes up almost the entire freezer space. I rarely need ice cubes, but if I do, I use a small flexible tray and just refill it each time. Mostly this space is used for meat and the rest of the refrigerator is used for deli meats, eggs, sodas, cheese and other dairy products and occasionally salad vegetables (although these usually keep pretty well behind the settee against the hull here in the Pacific Northwest).


Half Carton

Homemade Half Cartons

Although I know this isn’t a new discovery, I did happen on it by accident. I noticed that in the grocery store that were were some half cartons of eggs which looked like they would fit nicely in the fridge, and I go through eggs pretty quickly. I also noticed that the pre-made half cartons cost almost as much as a full carton of eggs, so I decided to make my own. I cut the carton in half (be sure to remove the middle eggs first!) and they stack nicely in the space beside the freezer. Since I’m not using an icebox or stacking things on top, this system works well. I save my half cartons to fill the next time without having to repeat the process every time. A stack of three (18 eggs) works well in the space that I have. If you are using an icebox or a top loading refrigerator where things could fall onto the cartons, I’d recommend the hard plastic type egg holders. Honestly I could keep the eggs in the area against the hull in a rigid  container if pressed for space. If going on a quick overnight with multiple people, we’ve also pre scrambled eggs in a ziplock which can fit pretty much anywhere in the fridge (thanks Cassie!)


Meat in the Freezer

Meat in the Freezer

A good Southern breakfast usually includes bacon and/or sausage – but honestly, who wants to deal with the splatter and the grease and the clean-up? I am a lazy cook and a lazier dishwasher (I like to blame on this on my tiny sinks, but it could be the lack of a dishwasher). I buy the pre-cooked “microwave ready” bacon. Yes, per package these cost more than a package of raw bacon, but I suspect by the time the fat and grease are cooked out of the raw bacon, on a weight-by-weight basis the difference is much smaller. Count the resources used to clean those greasy pans and for me, it’s worth it. Now if you want thick sliced bacon, you may want to try lining a baking pan with foil and baking bacon at your oven’s top temperature (around 400F0) on an oven rack.  You can throw out the foil with the grease when it cools and solidifies, and just wash the rack (not as bad as pans and splatter). My favorite pre-cooked bacon is made by Hormel because they come in a ziplock bag which I re-use for other items. The other brands are fine, I just like the re-use potential. I take the bags out of the boxes, crush the boxes and recycle them, so I can almost halve the space. I also buy the Jimmy Dean pre-cooked sausage which comes in two vacuum packed 4 piece units per box or a bag of 20 which are a bit thinner.  Again, I ditch the boxes to the recycle bin and whittle down the space.  If I’m not going to use all 4 sausages, I put the remainder in the zip locks I have left from the bacon, and the thickness of the zip locks holds up well to the freezer.

Save Almost Half the Space

Save Almost Half the Space

As long as we are talking about meat and saving space, Hormel also makes some fully cooked meat entrees like Beef Roast with Au Jus as well as Pork, Chicken and Turkey products (look for the $1.00 coupon inside the cardboard cover).  The packaging is a little bulky and I think they could do better with this, especially the plastic tray.  My solution for space is to discard the packaging (recycle of course) and move the meat to ziplock (from the bacon if I have it because the zip locks are thicker) and put these in the freezer as well.  They cook well on the stovetop as well as a short period of time in a slow cooker with some roasted garlic cloves or other precooked veggies and some broth if you want a quick stew – the meat really just needs to be reheated.  I’ve used this in beef stroganoff, as a beef side with vegetables, or on a roast beef sandwich.  Most recently I added a little to vegetable beef soup (there’s hardly any beef in there!) and it really made a difference. I’m a big fan of this product.  The trays are sturdy and do stack, so they could be used for other things – I’ve put left over rice or pasta in them and covered with aluminum foil or used them to marinate other meat.


I don’t do the potato-based meals often because of the space they take up, but if you were making yours from fresh potatoes which are easy to store, you could have them all the time. When I do use them, I like to buy O’Brien-style potatoes, which already have onions and peppers in them and are partially cooked.

I throw these in a baking pan with some meat (usually sausage or ham, but it could be anything) and diced, roasted garlic cloves after coating the pan with a smear of butter or a non-stick spray. Near the end of the cooking time, I add some shredded cheese and cover with tinfoil until it’s melted. It’s a twist on the old tinfoil camping recipe; I’ve used the tinfoil packets on a boat grill as well before I had my propane stove and it worked very well – just open the packet at the end and sprinkle the cheese and close it up for a minute and you have a very yummy breakfast. O’Brien potatoes also work well in a variety of casserole type dishes or as a last minute addition to a stew since they don’t need to cook long.


Breakfast Poppers

Breakfast Poppers

I have been a fan of canned biscuits since childhood, but I never need all the biscuits in the can and they don’t hold up well after opening.  If you can quickly transfer the unused biscuits (still in the can for their shape) into a ziplock and suck out all the air you can, they still work the following day.  They won’t rise as high or be as flakey, but they are definitely usable. You can also convert these left overs into a desert like Monkey Bread, appetizer cups like  Goat Cheese and Sun-Dried TomatoCheesy Florentine, or Mini Beef Pot Pies to be heated up later on. Recently I made breakfast poppers by splitting the biscuits into two pieces and stretching them out, filling them with sausage, bacon and hot pepper shredded cheese, closing them up and baking them in a muffin pan until the biscuits were done. These were shared with a few friends on a raft-up and they went over great.  You really don’t need the muffin pan, but it gave them a cute shape.



Reheating in a Steamer Pan

How to heat/reheat things without a microwave took a while for me to figure out. For creamy rice and pasta dishes, I put these either in a small foil bread pan that’s covered with foil (see photo) or just in a tin foil packet, and place this in a steamer basket with the lid on the pot. The creamy, steamy goodness remains with no crusty, dried out pieces, and again – no cleanup.

This one may sound a little kooky, but I heat a can of soup in the can in a pot of boiling water.  Just remove the lid (and the label!), place it in water that comes about halfway up the can, and put a top on the pot if you are able too.   The soup gets cooked right in the can and just needs a little stirring here and there to heat throughout.  I’ve used this with potato, cream of broccoli, vegetable beef and tomato soups. Once the soup is heated, pour it into your bowl, rinse out the can, toss in recycling – no soupy pot to wash.  Save the water in the pot for the next use or use the hot water to rinse dishes.

Again, I’m clearly a pretty simple cook, making small meals on a budget, and I don’t want a lot of cleanup. My next galley goal is learning to use my crockpot more so dinner will be ready when I sign off work and there will be less temptation to head out to a restaurant.  If you have other space saving, simple, or cheap meal ideas that don’t require a lot of kitchen gadgets, I’d love to hear them.  Email me at and I can share your recipes or ideas.

As seen in Three Sheets NW and Pacific Northwest Boater