Chris’ Story – Part 2 – The Rock ‘n Row
This article continues the story of my passion for living in the San Juan Islands. You can read part one here.
Despite the fact that my first attempt was an epic fail, my passion for living in the San Juan Islands never wavered. From Orcas Island, my wife and I retreated to Anacortes, where we were able to find work and begin rebuilding our savings. We still had the Sea Muse and we were still able to enjoy life under sail on the weekends. For now, Anacortes was as close as we could get to the islands. During that first year I would look out over Rosario Strait every day, haunted by my failure and challenged to cross that tumultuous body of water to my goal.
Buying the Rock ‘n Row
One of the great challenges of living on Orcas Island was gas prices. Gas on Orcas is consistently one dollar more than it is on land. At the same time, wages (assuming we could have found work) are significantly lower, which creates a double wammy to the cost of living. It’s pretty much the same on all the islands (with gas stations).Also, as beautiful as the island is, I preferred the freedom and change of scenery provided by our boat. Living on a piece of land, staring at the same scene, no matter how beautiful, eventually gets old and taken for granted after several hundred glances. The idea of living on a boat was not a new idea to me, but there was no way I’d be able to convince my wife to live on our 25 foot sail boat.
As we worked hard to build our new lives in Anacortes and regain our financial footing, the idea of living aboard and cruising coalessed into determination. I read as widely on the subject as I could. I read The Essentials of Living Aboard, All in the Same Boat, Into the Light, and many other books written by people who had lived aboard. But our sail boat would not be the proper vehicle for reaching this new goal.
I had long admired Cruise-a-Home house boats. They had all the comforts associated with houseboats, but were constructed from a V-hull that had been heavily tested off-shore. They typically contained twin 250 HP engines and a top speed of 23 mph. There were about 500 of them made in Everett Washington in the late 70’s. They were specifically designed for this area – for cruising from Olympia, WA up the Puget Sound and Inside Passage to Ketchikan, AK. They are stigmatized with dry rot, and so have low resell value, but I knew I could repair anything. I scoured craigslist for months looking at prices and looking for a distressed boat at a rock bottom price.One day I finally saw it: The Rock ‘n Row, for sale for $7,200. The owner had tried for months to sell it and was getting desperate. All six of the bulkheads supporting the floor had massive dry rot and were caving in. The engines hadn’t even been started for 5 years and the boat hadn’t been out of its marina in 11 years. She was great! Neglected. But great… at least to me. I was literally the only person willing to buy her. …but I had a few aces up my sleeve.
Upon closer inspection, the engines looked like they had been ‘put away’ properly. She also had twin Chevy 350 inboards. The fact that they were inboards meant that dry-rot in the transom was unlikely. Also, my father had been a mechanic who worked extensively on Chevy 350 engines when he was my age. He took a cursory look at them and was confident that we could get them running again. Replacing the bulkheads would be labor intensive, but not impossible. The price was right, motivation was high, and I was able to convince the seller to split up payments of the boat over the next year. It was on!
The Rock ‘n Row was a lot of fun to restore, and she helped me to hone my fiberglassing skills. Over the course of two years I replaced five of the six bulkheads that supported the floor, as well as removed one of the gas tanks and installed a battery bank, electric outboard, and wiring. I also went on some amazing trips and managed to write a book about some of our favorite anchorages.As my wife and I attempted to transition to a live-aboard life and adopt a more minimal lifestyle, our communication declined and our tempers rose. Our original plans to wrap up our finances and set off in the boat became unwound, and in the aftermath we separated. Selling her the boat, I purchased the S/V Solace, a 27 foot US Yacht – the big brother to the Sea Muse. I am now in the process of making Solace livable and I am concentrating on restoring her on-board system and making her as comfortable as possible to live on.
At the same time, I am focusing on paying off all my debts and saving up as much money as possible. I don’t know what the future holds, but I have decided to continue down a path of self sufficiency and voluntary simplicity.