Abe, Kate & Jonah on a Sailboat

I usually don't feature people living in more than 500 square feet, but I was inspired by this family who is sailing away from the traditional home. Not only are they living on a sailboat, they are also sustaining an off-the-grid lifestyle.
Now, after six months living at anchor around Orcas Island, they are taking a break on land as they await another child and offer others the sailboat-living experience.

Square Feet: 800

The boat is 60-foot long with a 16-foot wide beam in the middle.

Our floating island out at sea, happy as can be.

Make, Model, Year: Custom-Built Pilothouse Schooner

How did you find your rig?

Craigslist. We traded it for a Block Island 40-foot sailboat that we had at the time. It was a great sailboat and easy to handle, but less live-aboard friendly than the distant drummer.

We were in need of a place to live and it all just worked out.

Why did you choose a sailboat and not something on land?

We enjoy moving around and the freedom that the water provides. Being in the islands—it just makes sense to us. Land and housing is extremely expensive in the islands, and it is not really an option for us at this time.

Besides, everyone on land is always looking out at the beautiful view. Rather than look at it, we prefer to be in it.

Tell us about converting your sailboat into a tiny home.

We cleaned out the boat and moved in all of our things at anchor, so it was a lot of trips back and forth in the dinghy. We did a lot of painting and cleaning. It is still a work in progress.

It’s starting to go from a place that feels like camping to a comfortable place we don’t want to leave—a place we call home.

What did you learn from the process?

There was a huge learning curve with the boat as well as this lifestyle. Living out at anchor 100% off the grid has its challenges. It gave us a new perspective on what we need and consume.

Overall, I think it has bonded us even further as a family. We all need each other to fulfill our separate roles.

Tell us about this trip you are on.

We spent nine days exploring the Gulf Island in Canada just north of the San Juan Islands. It was great to watch the ship come alive in the open water and long stretches. Our favorite stop was the Butchart Gardens north of Victoria, Canada.

Rowing into the gardens from the water made it feel magical.

What was your past life like and why did you leave it?

I think life changed dramatically for us after we had Jonah. I worked seasonal kayak and ski jobs and went on long expeditions. I did a solo run across America, a 9,000 mile bike tour around all the border states. Here is a book all about it.

Having Jonah forced us to learn how to become a family and take on that responsibility.

It was very hard for a while trying to figure out how to provide for this new little guy when we were doing a questionable job just providing for ourselves.

When we found out we were pregnant, we were living in the Flagstaff mountains in a small yurt I built from scratch. Basically a couple of tarps buried in snow. It was honestly freezing.

After Jonah was born, we decided to try to move to Washington from Wisconsin where we both grew up. I was blessed with landing a job managing a small resort and restaurant out on the Olympic Peninsula. The resort gave us a place to live and a steady income. The Olympic Peninsula also fulfilled our exploring hunger during our first couple years out there. It was a great place for us to learn how to become a family and figure it all out. The resort and restaurant became too all-consuming and eventually we needed change. We took the unpractical leap of faith to try living in the Islands.

We had not planned on living on a boat, but that’s what happened.

Living on the boat seemed to be a good solution to meeting a lot of our needs. It feels good to have found some balance with the responsibility of providing a home and the need for daily adventure. The island work life is a lot more family friendly.

It all seems very balanced at the moment and we are so grateful for that, because it has been a long journey.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Kate is usually cleaning, cooking or making art. Jonah and I are usually working on a boat project or having cozy cuddle time. We like to row around in the harbor a lot and visit other people who live on boats or check our crab pots. We listen to talk radio around dinner time.

Sometimes we have dance parties that usually end up with Jonah having to take all his clothes off because he is so hot.

You know, that sort of stuff.

While at anchor in the summer months, we are completely off the grid, which presents a lot of challenges but also provides moments of complete freedom. It's also addicting. You are so in tune with the weather and the boat. If you use too much electricity, you have to wait for a sunny day for the solar panels to bring the batteries back up.

Fresh water can also be a challenge. We have gotten it everywhere from park spickets to waterfalls to our most reliable source: nearby marinas. I would fill up the inside of the dinghy with water about halfway full and then pump it into the boat. A watermaker is on my dream list, but they are so pricey.

How are you funding this trip?

I work full time as a marketing manager, and Kate works part time in a print shop on Orcas Island. Our dream is to sail up the inside passage to Alaska. We do need to work and make money to pay our bills at this point. I am working on an online platform to hopefully help solve this very issue among digital nomads.

Tell us a little about Jonah's schooling.

He currently goes to the cutest little island school you could imagine. We are completely open to homeschooling or alternative methods as he gets older.

We love the perspective that this lifestyle has given Jonah.

How has Jonah adjusted to this lifestyle?

He sincerely believes he is a pirate.

We keep a close eye on him, but have also given him the room to explore and figure it out for himself. On the boat, I trust him more than I do most adults.

He moves like a monkey around the place.

I don't know a lot of two year olds who could climb off a 70-foot sailboat at anchor into a dinghy and motor it into a dock. Or who would know that if a freighter ship passes, big waves are coming so lay down on your belly so you don't fall over.  

Have you had any moments that make you question living the way you do?

We definitely have had some low moments. I think tiny living is very photogenic and glamorous on the cover, but it is actually very challenging with many obstacles to overcome that are not photographed or talked about. However, if you stick with it you start to figure it out and master your space and how you interact with that space.

Once you stop fighting to simply stay alive, things start to slow down and you notice the sunset or the way the water illuminates at night or how the tide brings in the jellyfish. Those things all make it worthwhile.

What advice do you have for someone looking to live on the ocean?

We don’t regret any of it for even a second.

What’s next? Any news you want to share?

We are expecting our second boy in February and got a fancy dock for winter to break the new guy into life at sea easily. We have also had an unexpected, but as always, exciting turn of events that we jumped on recently. We signed a Lease-to-Own agreement on Orcas Island Blue Heron B&B. We and are living in the owner's quarters on the property.

We are planning to have the boat available through the B&B to rent this summer, which will be exciting for people who want to see what it is like to sleep on a boat like this.

Follow Abe, Kate & Jonah of Elusive Horizon

Produced by Kathleen Morton.
Edited by Kate MacDougall.
Photos courtesy of Abe Clark.