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November?! Already??!!

How did this happen?

Living aboard in Southeast Alaska is most sublime in the summer. The docks hum with all kinds of wonderful activity. The harbor I’m in has a mix of pleasure and work boats and some of those boats do double-duty as pleasure and work. There are a few liveaboards as well.

double rainbow harbor

This amazing double rainbow arced all the way across the channel to the mountains (that you can’t see in the photo.) We get a lot of rainbows. This one was particularly spectacular. My photo is a pale, pale imitation of the very glorious reality. I actually got a phone call to ensure that I stuck my head out to see it! (We do that here – we call people to tell them the aurora borealis and rainbows and orcas are out.)

All summer, folks to and fro with carts full of supplies, families with rolling suitcases, and dogs along our docks. Always dogs around here. Charter operators haul down food from Costco for their clients (the ones with the rolling suitcases!). Commercial fishermen have Home Depot and Western Auto stuffed in their carts with hoses and pipes and line and buckets and lumber- all manner of interesting accoutrements. Sanders and grinders sound off as evidence of people giving their boats the repairs and maitenance needed.

And I missed this. Well, I was here until mid-July (not including a quick trip in June) so I did get to see that rainbow above. But July, August and September are some of the best times to be in Southeast! I still feel like I’m shaking off winter until about mid June. But, family obligations kept me South for a long time this year.  And I never did get to really shake off last winter and put on summer contrary to some of the photographic evidence from May and June!

Einar & William Lake

Here are my two boys in May on a nearby lake. They got to try stand-up paddleboarding and also kayaking. They of course want a paddleboard and a kayak and, I, of course, AGREE with the desire!

And now, it’s November and I feel as though I didn’t get a summer but the temperature gauges are all in the 30s and the rain is cold and icy and it almost feels like snow, but not quite because it’s that time of year for the really miserable, soak-you-til-you-get-hypothermia rain. I feel a little lost.

I may have mentioned in another post that we homeschool. November means typically two solid months of school has happened. We’re more like 3 weeks. I feel so behind the 8-ball (where did that phrase even come from?? Oops, From whence cameth that phrase anyway? ((no ending with prepositions on this blog, no siree!)))

But here I am, in the dark a few days after the time change. My boys are still sleeping. We brought a dog back from our travels. My daughter lives down south now and we have her dog again. And I’m trying to assemble myself and my thoughts and grasp the reality that IS rather than the hope that isn’t.

This was the summer I was going to haul out, scrape the bottom, paint everything,  have a roof put on, add a tophouse.

When I purchased the boat, the roof wasn’t finished. It is raw plywood covered in a couple layers of plastic. It’s survived two winters with me. I thought that was probably pushing it enough.

But, it’s November.

And this isn’t the time to start roofing jobs.

Though my sweet friend says he’ll do it. I am skeptical of the wisdom of starting that project NOW. Especially if we find out there is plywood or other undergirdment that needs replacing. I cannot bear the thought of having my roof open to the elements. Nor can I bear thinking of just covering over a problem that will just need to be uncovered and fixed later

This summer DID see some positive changes and upgrades, however. I have a propane gas cookstove now rather than the Dickenson diesel stove. Two lovely young fisherman bought the Dickenson and supposedly put it on their gillnetter.

They were so adorable.

Earnest, hardworking young men in their early twenties. I get a little verklempt when meeting these kinds of people.

Stove Out!

This is my dear friend who helps me with so much pulling that Dickenson out! He manhandled it out the door and literally bicep-curled it up into the cart to haul it to his truck! I get nervous when he does stuff like that. I depend on him to keep that body of his working and injury-free.

Stove In

This is my pretty, shiny, brand new cookstove! See those four burners? You know what that means? That means someday I’ll be able to fry eggs and bacon. Seriously I am excited about that. The installation isn’t finished. I could use it right now, but it’s still a little jerry-rigged and ya know, I am just not going to go with jerry-rigged. I have enough of that in my life. So, I’ll wait until it’s properly installed. It’ll come. So yes, I’m still cooking in the toaster oven!

So yeah. November. I’m really struggling with it being November already.


Canvas, Covers and the Elements

A while back, I mentioned I was getting some canvas work done on the boat. Several folks were confused because they knew I didn’t have a sailboat and hadn’t really heard of using canvas for other applications.

The aft deck on my little vessel is enclosed with a custom-made aluminum frame and canvas. It has large “windows” in it that do great job of letting in light whilst keeping weather out.

But, it didn’t used to.

It used to have large windows that were cracking and holey, that did a great job of letting weather IN.

Over time, the vinyl of the windows gets brittle. With three active kids and one brain-full mama, well, sometimes brittle vinyl gets injured.

I did some jerry-rigging with Gorilla Tape and had moderate success. It’s REALLY hard to get the vinyl totally dry on both sides when there aren’t several days in a row of great weather. There’s so much moisture that condensation on the inside is nearly impossible to get rid of without many dry days. You can understand why little beads of moisture on the vinyl might not allow for super Gorillla Tape success, no?

I didn’t have the luxury of dry days.

I had a handy-dandy, reasonably absorbant towel.  And also, a sprinkling sky.

So, moderate success with the Gorilla Tape. It was also pretty ugly.

I’m going to step aside and indulge in some personal tale-telling.

If you know me from Facebook or in person, you know I’m not super big into appearances. I wear my worn out Xtratuf boots daily from October through March and change to flip flops sometime in April. I don’t wear makeup very often, or do my hair, or tweeze my eyebrows. I have yet to wash my car that I bought last September. Most of that stuff just doesn’t matter to me.

But. That ugly Gorilla Tape? It bothered me. A lot.

Even though I’m not super concerned about my own personal appearance, or appearances in general, that black tape criss-crossing my entrance really bugged and disheartened me! I’m super visual so I’m sure the trashy look was exacerbated, at least in my mind, by that.

Additionally, I know people judge so much based on appearance and I really didn’t want to be thouhjt of as the “jerry-rig”, “white trash”, “harbor rat” kind of girl, you know? I had worked really, really hard to get to here (still working hard!) and when something looks crummy, it devalues the effort and time you put into it.

So, the jerry-rigged fixes kind of made me feel bad. It was the best I could do with the means I had, but ugh. It looked crummy. And I had to do some self-talk not to get discouraged. And gentle reader, let me tell you, I just do NOT have the energy to spare on self-talk for something as silly as GORILLA TAPE! (Can I get an “Amen!”?)

My little fixes did help and we got through the season as we waited for summer to arrive.

Summer did not really arrive.

My plan had been to get the roof finished and hopefully add a loft and enclose that aft deck with something NOT canvas and a lot more practical for our needs. But, you need good, dry weather to do that, or, a covered space. (And a contractor, but that’s a different story.)

As the months wore on and fall approached, I knew I couldn’t let another fall/winter/spring season come and go with the vinyl falling apart. I needed that area to be free of too much precipitation excitement.

This is where the canvas repair comes in.

I found a guy who did canvas repair. AND HE CALLED BACK! RIGHT AWAY!! (If you’ve done home improvement work, you know getting folks to call back can be hard.)

I’m going to say up front that I love my canvas guy. He came and gave me an estimate and then took that sucker apart and repaired it and brought it back! Within a week or something crazy! He put in new zippers and new beautiful vinyl. It was a lot of money. About $1500.

Totally worth it.



You can see the opening where my friend is standing. I have one just like it on the other side. It zips in and has a clear, vinyl window just like the ones you see on the back. It actually zips around pretty snugly. I love that. Snug is good.

You see, in addition to the windows being not so awesome after more than a decade, the zippers on my door panels had quit working. Well, one side of that I got some help and managed to get them put together with clamps. But, the side we used to get on and off the boat could not be clamped shut.

And ooooohhhhh my reader – the wind howls sometimes and it scares me so! It lifts the flaps and makes them fight to stay attached. More than once I pulled a Scarlett O’Hara and hid under my covers just praying that whole canvas structure wouldn’t fly away.

Having those zippers fixed so the structure was more secure helps a lot. I am still crazily frightened of the wind. I’ve seen it do some tough stuff to others’ boat coverings and I just fear. (No lectures about not being afraid, ok?)

And my canvas guy? It turned out he’d been the one to custom build and install that sucker in the first place!

So, now you know that canvas is for more than sails and if you’re ever looking at a boat to purchase and it says it has custom canvas or covers, you know how expensive it can be if a couple zipper and window replacements cost $1500!


The Insanity Can Set In for Months!

We wrestle cabin fever with varying degrees of success from about October through March. Weather, daylight, schedules, finances and forgetfulness along with me being a single parent conspire against us.

Living on the boat with kids, at least for me, is a LOT like camping.




(Can you tell I’m not feeling the romance of it these days?!)

View from our windwo Saint Patrick's Day 2014

View from our windwo Saint Patrick’s Day 2014

Minimal space and minimal possessions create situations without simple, easy solutions. Getting our one pair shoes or one coat soaked may mean using wet or damp gear for a few days after. (You can imagine how awesome that is on a 20 degree day!)

Snow and wet weather gear are bulky (hello space issue) and difficult to dry out. There is no “just wear your other pair of boots”.  We don’t have room (or the amperage) for an on-site dryer I can just pop things into so they’re ready for the next day, nor do I have room to hang things to dry.

We had raingear, but found it to be bulky and hard to store properly without it getting mildewy. Mildew is super appetizing, no?

If it’s rainy or snowy AND windy, it can be downright miserable to be out and about. There is an indoor play area here but I have yet to figure out their hours and pricing structure in spite of calling, visiting, checking the website AND soliciting info from friends and strangers. I forget we have an ice arena (maybe because I don’t know how to skate?).

There are lots of team sports type things, but they’re costly and not really practical for our drop-in lifestyle.

Winter Trap Shooting League

Winter Trap Shooting League

The summertime is easier with the better (usually) weather and the additional daylight. Then it’s easy to load up and go explore the beach or play in a park. Catch, kite flying, frisbee are no brainers in the summer. But, the rest of the year…


In spite of all that, we have found some cabin fever helps that I DO remember (sometimes!) to do and can afford once in a while.


For $20, I can get all three of us (my oldest currently living out of state) in a comfortable, warm theater watching something we all enjoy. Our Costco sells $19.99 movie cards worth $25 in spending power. What that means is, we go grab a card (and sometimes a hot dog) and head to the late Sunday afternoon showing whenever there’s a PG- or G-rated movie. (The kids are 7, 12 and 14. At the moment, my oldest is with friends in Washington.) I don’t feel at ALL obligated to purchase soda or popcorn. Sometimes I do it, but often, I don’t.

I like the movies because I know exactly what to expect. The cost is reasonable and known upfront AND it isn’t a commitment. No signing up for a season of movie going. It’s not a club. It’s just week by week.


We are at our church a LOT. Our church is so nice to us. It is hard to believe how kind they are (feel free to comment on that). We attend regularly on Sundays and then once a month they host a movie night with a kid and an adult feature. It’s fun. It’s free. The bathrooms are awesome and so’s the leg room. Company ain’t so bad either. 😉 I go to a ladies Bible study and my oldest goes to Confirmation once a week. We actually utilize our church building a lot for daily living, too.


Hike is maybe a misnomer. I really like the British term “hill-walking”. It seems less strident and arduous. Hike always conjures up these super outdoorsy, fit, ooh-ahh boots and brand name jackets types of images and well, that’s not me. Hill walking on the other hand, seems much more casual, like most anyone could do it.

We don’t do a lot of walking because I do forget about it and the weather/daylight issue. And in the summertime, I worry about bears.

But, there are a couple places we enjoy going. There’s a beautiful Catholic shrine nearby. We enjoy the grounds there once in a while. We have a neat trail on the site of a historic mine. This area has the added benefit of a playground for the youngest.

Shrine in early spring

Shrine in early spring

Right by our airport, literally in the landing path of planes, we have a slick trail as well. The kids really like seeing the planes come in to land right above their heads.

Another trail we enjoy takes us around one of our lakes. I like this one because it’s got a variety of terrain but nothing too steep for too long.

I try to scope place out prior to adventuring out with the kids. I just really hate doing things “cold’. I really prefer to go new places with a companion and then take the kids. That’s how I discovered two of the four above.


This one isn’t as awesome for the kids as it is for me. We have three or four theater companies, a symphony, lots of live bar music opportunities, a dance troupe, an independent film house and some really cool programs hosted at the local university. And tons more. There is just a LOT of music/theater/writing/artistic/intellectual opportunity here. I try to do as much of that as schedule and budget allow.


Playgrounds present the same challenges as hiking so it’s not one utilized much in the fall, winter, and spring months. There is one just a couple miles away that my youngest really enjoys. It has lots of climbing structures, hiding places, swings, balance opportunities, slides… it’s just really great for physical play and imaginaton.

flying kites in March

At our local playground last spring. It was maybe 40 degrees. The lake behind was still frozen and people were playing hockey on it.


We also use our local McDonald’s for the indoor play area. I hate going there. It’s uncomfortable. And loud. And I feel obligated to purchase something since it IS a business. And… my kids are usually hungry. And I get tired of saying “No.” But, it has come in handy as a drop-in place and there are usually other kids there so my little guy enjoys that. It is totally a sign of desperation when I am there, however!


I don’t take advantage of this one as often as maybe I should or as I’d like. I can’t reciprocate by having people over since there just isn’t a place to put them. But I do have one friend with kids that I’ll ask if we can come over. This works better for my youngest than my oldest, but he’s usually the one chomping at the bit the most! So, he’ll play outside, or build with legos, or, play Minecraft with my friend’s youngest while she and I visit.


This winter was pretty abysmal for snow play. And maybe that’s why we struggled more this year with cabin fever than we did last. BUT, when we do have decent snow, I take the kids sledding. I love this activity. It’s cheap ($15 for each sled at Costco!) and easy to access and, if it’s cold, cold, cold, well, they don’t really get wet! Oh, and it’s something all the kids enjoy.

Skiing and snowboarding are popular here and we have a resort close by. It isn’t an activity I’ve been able to really encourage too much (gear and money), but the school my kids attended last year did some downhill and cross country ski opportunities. My older two are homeschooling this year and my middle child had the chance to do ski lessons with our homeschool group, but the derth in snow put the big kibosh on that. However, when we do have snow, this will be an activity the kids can definitely take advantage of more frequently.


In addition to the cultural events, we try to do the neat things offered in the community. Most recently there was a Winter Celebration with fireworks at the ski resort. That was really a fun time even though it was drizzly! We always see people we know at those things. I love the sense of belonging to this place as faces light up in greeting.

Wow. This is quite a list and there are so many opportunities here. This winter we really struggled. I am so glad spring is coming and the daylight is coming. Once the temperatures are consistently above 40, even with the rain, we’ll be outside a lot more!

I’d love to hear what you guys do for those times of cabin fever. Many of you have similar challenges with weather, transportation and finances. What ways have you found to combat the winter stir-crazies?!

How Do I: Keep Me and the Kids Clean

Ok. I have to admit, personal hygiene is kind of a tricky aspect of such small space living, especially since we are not exactly little people.

When I first looked at the boat, one of the reasons I jumped so hard at it is the fact that it had a toilet and a shower. It all looked so reasonable initially. And, those first months seemed just fine – challenging a bit, but just fine. Of course, I didn’t have the kids aboard yet. I had sent them to live with family while I got things such as enough bunks and a vehicle to drive squared away.

For me, alone, the only real challenge stemmed from the tiny water heater. It’s a bitty 4 gallons. My friend down the dock has an on-demand water heater. I think that would be an awesome upgrade. He also has a teeny tub. I’d love that too.

Anyway, washing AND RINSING my body well AND washing, rinsing, conditioning, and rinsing my hair was difficult to do before the water got too cold. Now as the season progressed to summer, it wasn’t so bad since the outside temperatures were pretty nice. Sometimes I even took a cool shower! The cooler you can tolerate, the longer you can shower by stretching the available hot water.

The water for the shower, and all our household needs, comes from 2 35-gallon water tanks. We fill them every 2-5 days, depending on our water use, with a hose we connect to a spigot on the dock. We get 2 showers and about 2-3 days of general water use (dishes, drinking, cooking) from that amount.

The shower stall is not quite as wide as a standard piano bench and maybe 2/3s as deep. It has a well the water drains into which is then pumped overboard. I don’t know if this is a normal set-up or not. I don’t know if other boats have a holding tank, drain directly overboard, or what. Probably all those and more.

The stall floor has a drain hole that is probably 5″x5″. I haven’t gotten a cover for it.

We don’t have to do anything special for showering except ensure there’s adequate water in the main tanks, turn on the pump and work FAST!  Oh, and remember to turn the pump off when we’re done.

The shower, like other things aboard, is SMALL. I You have to be careful not to spread your arms too far. Or really, at all. The faucet lever is too sensitive and one bitty knock gives you crazy cold or crazy hot water!

We’re not little people. I have gained a fair amount of weight this year and the difference in utilizing my shower is significant. I can still do it, but it’s just more energy consuming having to be more careful.

My oldest struggled with the size of the shower and the need to spread out to get clean. My middle struggled (still struggles) with getting a temperature that isn’t too hot or too cold (it’s super finicky) and not using all the hot water in the process. My youngest has yet to take a shower because of the large drain hole being scary. And, just last week, I learned my middle child’s head is hitting the shower head. Sigh. So, even though we have a shower, it’s still a daunting feat to get clean.

My oldest two and I use the kitchen sink to wash hair since we can get a much better cleaning and rinsing there. Sometimes I wash, rinse and leave conditioner in and then go shower and rinse the conditioner at the same time to get a deeper treatment. Sponge baths sometimes happen too – especially if it’s really cold outside.

To supplement, we have a couple good friends that help us out by letting us come and shower and bathe at their homes. We try to do that at least once a week to get a really good, thorough shower. It’s impractical for all of us to shower daily since the water tanks need filling after about 2 1/2 showers. And my youngest is still very, very much in the bath stage. He doesn’t get too dirty.

I’d dearly love to remodel the head (bathroom) and better utilize the space, install a small tub like my friend down the dock and an on-demand water heater.

How much of the year is cold?

Alaska is pretty vhow cold does it getaried in climate. I am in the Southeastern portion of the state which is really similar to British Columbia or western Washington. It is pretty warm in comparison to the Interior areas of Alaska. But, in general, snow starts falling toward the end of October and stops in March or April. It is not a constant snow. Lots of wind and rain during the fall and spring. Our first below freezing temperature is predicted for this Wednesday, October 1. That is the low, not the high. Freezing “highs” will be in November typically and last through February and into early March.

Welcome to Out of the Bilge!



My three bouy hammockchildren and I moved aboard a tiny houseboat in Southeast Alaska in 2013. It is an incredibly challenging way to live. This is not my first time living aboard, but it is my children’s first experience. Our friends and family have tons of questions and are often surprised by the things we take for granted as harbor denizens and what we do not. Enjoy learning about the mundane and exotic aspects of small-space and maritime living! Images are courtesy E~R~S Photography.