Down the Downsizing Road-The Easy, The Difficult, and the Downright Hard

Thanks to for publishing this on their site!

I stood staring at three framed documents, mired in indecision. My veterinary school diploma, the certificate that acknowledges the completion of my residency, and my board certification in small animal internal medicine.  What was I going to do with them? I am nearing the end of a two year process of radical downsizing, starting as a big old house person, and now living in the smallest space of my life.


The process really started in 2007 when I moved from upstate New York to Seattle. The two homes I had owned were a 1890’s Queen Anne, and a 1920’s colonial. As a lover of old homes I had collected a large amount of antiques, many of which I had restored myself and those countless hours made them feel like a part of me.

I knew I would never be able to afford the same size and style of homes in Seattle, and the cost of the moving truck had to be considered. It was initially a painful process to part with things that I had put so much sweat equity into, but it started to get easier as the moving date arrived and the need to clear the house was immediate. The majority of the antiques were sold, with only a couple of pieces with strong sentimental value retained.


Despite liquidating rooms of furniture, I filled a rented two bedroom apartment to the brim, with barely any space to move around. Once I found a condo to buy, I purged even more items to lessen the clutter and I had created some space which felt good. I had gone from 2300 sf to 1200 sf,  but was starting to realize it was still fairly large for a single person.

Things changed in 2013 when I accepted a job that allowed me to work from home and have more free time. I also now had the freedom to chose to live wherever I wanted, which was closer to the marina. I had learned to sail since coming to Seattle and I was hooked. Moving into the city from the suburbs presented new challenges in affordability, and again a downsize was in order. There were more trips to Goodwill, items gifted to friends, shelves of CDs converted to digital music, and boxes of books donated. Parting with possessions had gotten a little easier, and living without as much clutter felt better. I was down to 1000 square feet.

Smaller and Smaller Houses

I never thought that I would be buying my own little sailboat, but within a year of the move I did.  I had been in a sailing club and chartered, which had been perfect for my needs.  I loved overnight and multi-day trips, and now that I was so near the water all the time, the need to have my own was intense.  The deal I made with myself was that I needed to make room in the budget for moorage, so that moorage and rent were no more than my current rent.

Apparantly another downsize was in order and I found a 350 sf studio.  I had some tough decisions to make. A family antique radio cabinet and an old barristers bookcase were placed with good friends. Couch, loveseat, patio and dining furniture were given away. Clothing and shoes had become very easy to pare down, but books were always far harder to let go, but I did it.

Parting With Books

Parting With Books


I loved my little studio, but I liked my 32′ boat more. I found myself staying there more and more nights, and working there during the day. I didn’t want to go back to my comfortable studio. I preferred sleeping nestled in my cozy V-berth.  I was essentially living aboard but with the safety net of a place on land which contained the last of my “stuff”, but it didn’t make sense to pay for an apartment I wasn’t living in – it had to go.

I am now down to less than 200 square feet with a 4′ x 4.5′ rented storage unit for boat related items, off season clothing, and some textbooks. The loss of my safety net is frightening, a little bit like a free fall, but at the same time it is exhilarating.

If I am very straight with myself, the diplomas and yearbooks serve no real purpose. When you live on a small boat, every item needs to have multiple uses and take up minimal space. Diplomas, yearbooks and old photos can be scanned.

My Shrinking Space

My Shrinking Space

I will be more mobile and more free than I have ever been, and that is what I need to focus on. Yes, I’m walking into the unknown, but it is definitely not going to be boring.

My Mobile Home

My Mobile Home

Logan Decides Living Aboard Also Means Going Outboard

Logan has decided that it’s ok to come above deck.

It started at Spencer Spit, on a mooring ball in the bright sunshine.  After that it was only a few forays at night, and although we all know I love taking photos of that handsome devil, a black cat does not photo well at night. Over Memorial Day weekend he came up to the cockpit on his own (a first) after hearing me chatting with folks on the boat next door. A barrier had been broken, a barrier I wanted, and didn’t want at the same time.

Logan Emerges - Spencer Spit

Logan Emerges – Spencer Spit

The next week, back in Seattle,  Logan joined me of his own accord in the evening and toured the deck, came back, and assumed the lap position. No big deal mom…  I blame Mikey Bamboo for cat calling him from across the fairway, but in the last week Logan has come out of the cabin on his own more in one week than in the last six months. Mikey does seem to speak the language (much to Mindy’s dismay).

I am so happy to have Logan join me above deck and curl up in my lap while I read, or write or socialize, but at the same time I am terrified when he is out of my sight. This must be how parents feel! I’ve wanted him to have the entertainment of the seagulls, ducks, geese, seals and of course Steve (a huge heron, or pterodactyl depending on if it’s day or night).

To have Logan above deck, comfortable, socializing in the afternoon, chatting at Mikey across the way, and playing with a dangling line, made me feel very grateful. Mostly I was grateful that I wasn’t ruining his life by making him live aboard! But I was also grateful that he seemed happy…it’s important to our settling in to our new home.

This Doesn't Seem So Bad

This Doesn’t Seem So Bad

However, there is always a however isn’t there?  Logan went on a walk about this week.  I was reading in the cockpit and he was exploring the perimeters of the boat.  That is, until he decided to explore the dock. He was gone for an hour.  I turned on all the lights (because clearly that’s what a cat needs to find his way back in the dark), and called him quietly every five or so minutes. I was already planning LOST signs in my head when I heard a thump and he strolled back into the cockpit and went down below for a snack.

I was practically on Amber Alert, and he just needed some late night munchies. Now that he knows there is a big world out there, his mom has some adjustments to make, not to mention a harness and name tag. The adventure just got a little more adventurous, for both of us.



Addendum…He went on a much longer walkabout recently and was gone for 24 hours.  He was back on the boat after a search party, exhausted, but intact.  I’ve preordered some Pixie locators and the harness and tag are on their way.  He’s going to be pissed….but that’s the price of freaking me out.  Also I must thank my good friend Sundee, Travis and Trey for helping me walk the docks and look for him, plus the boaters who have been asking me if he was found after that.

Lessons Learned From a Parrot

June 6, 2015 was definitely one of The Challenger’s more interesting days. It was my seventh Leukemia Cup Regatta, but my first on my own boat. It is a charity that I am passionate about and I was delighted to have a full crew that raised $3000-not to bad for the boat’s first ever race.  Granted, I am not a racer, in any shape or form, which may have something to do with why we did a parrot overboard after the second mark.

Team Challenger photo courtesy Mark Aberle

Team Challenger
photo courtesy Mark Aberle

This year the LCR had a pirate theme. I didn’t have any pirate gear (a real shocker for a sailboat, I must get into the spirit!), but we did receive a pirate party pack as part of our fund raising swag. This included a Jolly Roger, a small sword, two skull and crossbones bandanas, six eyepatches, and five, yes five packages of mustaches.  (If anyone needs some mustaches, let me know). But the best contribution of the day was the parrot Elena brought.

Parrot Aboard

The poor parrot was initially hanging by a red ribbon necklace from the binnacle because we had no other way to attach him. He had a gimpy left foot that was mostly useless. Shortly after being passed by a boat with a skeleton in a tube top strapped to the bow pulpit, I was feeling underdressed. After hearing Travis call over that their bow crew seemed underfed, I knew the parrot had to go forward. In retrospect, like any serious bow crew, he needed a harness.

As I mentioned before, I am not a racer, and in all honestly, the LCR isn’t a real race. The rules are: have fun, don’t hit anyone, and get back in time for the party.  This is my kind of race! We started near the end of the cruising division and weakly battled a few slow boats until we had to dodge a tug and barge that not only departed in the middle of the race, but did a 360 and went back in.  Even so, the sun was shining, the company lively, and we were having a good time. The wind was light, but started to pick up after the second mark.

Shortly after we felt the sails grab the wind, Ed calmly said “the parrot’s gone”. “What?! What do you mean gone?” I called from the helm. He informed me he just fell off the pulpit, and sure enough, I saw him float past. I had a decision to make. We could stay in the race (we weren’t going to place, but we could have finished), or we could get the parrot.

Parrot Overboard! Bottom of Photo courtesy Jill Kolod

“Bird OVERBOARD!!!” I bellowed as I threw the helm over. Elena called for a spotter, Micah and Jill went for the boat hook. Everyone asked if I had a net.  I don’t fish, so the answer was no.  We didn’t do too badly on the first pass, and Micah snagged the parrot with the boat hook and pinned him on the hull as Travis leaned over the aft quarter and came back with a handful of tail feathers.

This was going to be harder than I thought. On the second pass, the parrot again slipped from the boat hook handlers, but I could see it sliding along the port side. I left the wheel and leaned as far over as I could, but was still six inches from having my fingers touch water.

“Somebody grab my ankles!” I hollered as I strained to reach further because I was going to get this bird. I felt a firm grip on both ankles and I reached as far as I could, only to have my fingers slide over wet feathers and lose him again. Now it was getting serious, and the motor came on. Travis hauled me back into the boat, and Elena had taken the helm. My gearshift and throttle are backwards from most boats, so there was a learning curve. Ed, Micah and Jill were handling the crazy sails as we did donuts in Elliott Bay. We made several more attempts with the boat hook passing from Travis to Ed to Micah, while I put down the swim ladder hopping for a last minute grab. I climbed down the ladder enough to stand shin deep in the water while staying out of the way of the exhaust.

On our fifth try, a hard reverse and a firm boat hook handler brought the slippery bird within my grasp.  Success!  I was a little drenched, but the parrot required some mouth to beak and tiny chest compressions  immediately.  Fortunately Travis had saved the lost tail feathers which were reattached and Elena salvaged the dangling foot (a little 5200 and he’ll be good as new).  Overall the parrot looked pretty good considering we thought he was a goner several times.



Sporty New PFD/Harness

Given that our parrot was made of plastic and filled with air, a PFD wasn’t absolutely necessary, but this whole process would have been much better had he been wearing a harness or tether.  We were lucky that he was light, but someone heavier with nothing solid to latch on to would have been a big problem.  I’m working on a prototype harness for him until I can get one of the major companies to pick up production since he looks like he’s going to be a fixture on the Challenger now.

Logan Assesses New PFD

Logan Assesses New PFD


What’s That Smell?

Being a sailor frequently brings about surprises, and being a new sailor means there are more unexpected things than you could imagine — including, of course, unanticipated head disasters.

I had been leading all-female overnight trips for a couple of years through a sailing club and was well-versed in holding tank management, or so I thought. I could quote the size of every holding tank in the club fleet and made my boat choices accordingly. This particular trip was going to be with six women for a total of seven days from Seattle to the San Juan Islands and back, and my longest to date.

Cruising Sucia Island

Cruising Sucia Island

It was also going to be my first time without a flotilla. I had benefited from making a similar trip with the fleet a couple of years in a row and had learned to incorporate pumpout locations into our sailing plans every two to three days. Even with this planning, I had seen situations in which other boats had experienced a blocked head or full holding tank, which put a very big wrench into a few people’s day, and I was determined to be vigilant. After witnessing one of those situations, we all adopted a “no paper in the head” rule and lived by it religiously.

I had been on a few two- or three-day trips with the same number of people several times, and had chosen a boat with a 35-gallon holding tank. Theoretically, if we all drank a gallon a day and used a gallon to flush, three days would be just about right.

The first couple days in the San Juans were uneventful. On day three, we left Matia Island and headed to Friday Harbor to drop off two of the crew who needed to fly back to Seattle. We had planned to pump out there.

We were having a leisurely sail on a beautiful blue day with our morning mimosas and were just entering President’s Channel. Everyone was enjoying the peace of not having to use the motor when one of our more olfactory-sensitive crew came up from below to tell me the cabin smelled like poo water. Poo water was code for anything and everything associated with the holding tank. There are several statements that can be uttered on a boat that strike fear or dread into the hearts of everyone aboard, and “What’s that smell?” has to be one of them.

Mimosa Mornings in the San Juans

Mimosa Mornings in the San Juans

I went below to check it out, definitely smelled what she smelled, and started to look for the source. Although I knew the size of all the holding tanks, I was a little fuzzy on the locations, and even less clear on how the whole system actually worked. However, I was also the most experienced of our relatively inexperienced crew, which not only meant I was in charge, but that this immediately became my problem.

I checked the head and the smell was not emanating from there. The bilge was dry. The holding tank was my next place to look, and I followed the direction of the hoses to find it under the aft berth. When I lifted the access door it became clear where the smell was coming from. The tank was overflowing through a cleaning port on the top, and poo water was pooling on top and streaming down the sides. Although I was panicking on the inside, I had to keep a relatively calm exterior and figure out what to do next.

As I took a few moments to think, I was handed a roll of paper towels and tried to staunch the flow. There were no latex gloves aboard. Fortunately, all the boats had systems manuals, so I asked someone to find and read the instructions on how to use the macerator pump so we could dump a small portion of the tank to relieve the pressure. I hated to do it, but as it was, the contents were going to drain into the bilge and get pumped overboard anyway, so there wasn’t really any difference. If I could only relieve the pressure enough to stop the flow, we would be ok until we got to Friday Harbor.

We quickly formed a three woman, least-likely-to-vomit team and left the other three on deck with instructions to turn on the motor and head to Friday Harbor ASAP. Directions were found and the appropriate valves turned, then the macerator switch was turned on. I was the one with my head in the compartment, and when the macerator pump came on, instead of less pressure, the tank appeared to expand with a burp and I watched helplessly for a second while more black water seeped out of the top at a faster rate and rolled down the sides.

“TURN IT OFF! TURN IT OFF!,” I screamed.

So that plan was not going to work. Being a veterinarian, I tend to get the head-related jobs because it is assumed I must be immune to gross things, and honestly, as skipper, I couldn’t ask anyone else to do the dirty job. Forgetting to remove my sailing gloves, I furiously mopped up what I could from the top of the tank with paper towels and threw them into a garbage bag that had been placed beside me. Then we formed our plan.

The previous thought of the black water going out through the bilge gave me an idea. One woman filled the gallon orange juice jug, which had just a few hours ago supplied us with delicious mimosas, with seawater from a foot pump, while the other added a splash of Simple Green and passed it to me. I poured it over the tank while the bilge pump ran and it seemed there would be no end.

At some point I realized that the port that seemed to be leaking wasn’t faulty; the cap just wasn’t screwed in tight. A few turns stopped the stream. I had no idea that it was a usable port that opened and closed, and although I was overjoyed that the seepage had stopped, I kicked myself for not discovering it sooner.

A dozen or more gallons of simply green seawater later, the crisis was over and the boat smelled better than it had when we rented it a few days before. The pumpout in Friday Harbor was a sight for sore eyes. As two of my friends flew off into the sunset, my sailing gloves soaked in steaming hot water, dish detergent, and what was left of the Simple Green. Although personal hygiene may slip a bit on trips like this, that night we all went to the marina showers and probably spent a little more time than usual scrubbing before we even remotely considered going to dinner. We smelled better, we learned a lot, and we had a story to tell.

Logan Studies Plumbing

Logan Studies Plumbing

After that trip I always pumped out BEFORE we left, just in case the previous charterer considered their contribution too small to bother with pumping out, and I was surprised at how often that was the case. I kept a Ziploc of latex gloves in my bag, as well as a few spare bags for things I might not want touching the rest of my gear once I packed up. I knew where a boat’s holding tank was before I left the dock, and I tried to get a little more familiar with how the system worked in general.

One of the first things I looked at when I started boat shopping was holding tank size. I am happy with my 35-gallon tank, and since I rarely have more than two other people aboard for an overnight, it works well for me. I have had a couple of poo-water related incidents on my boat, but nothing major. All I will say is that the locking mechanism on the pump handle isn’t just for looks, and I am always looking for innovative ways to avoid the pumpout volcano, short of a hazmat suit. I would also say I am now far more familiar with my sanitation system than I had ever imagined I would be, I am still learning.

Do You Smell That?

Do You Smell That?

As seen in Three Sheets Northwest