Life at Six Knots: What It Takes to Live on a Sailboat in the Puget Sound

Ever have one of those moments when you want to just give it all up and take to the sea? Jim and Stephanie Sutherlin of Life at Six Knots know how you feel. In 2016 they sold their house in California, bought a boat, and started a new life on the Puget Sound. After the couple visited Tacoma during the Festival of Sail, I tracked them down to learn more about what it takes to live on a 36 foot sailboat in the Pacific Northwest.

Every one of us has, at some point in life, thought about what it would be like to live on a boat. It’s romantic, adventurous, and at least symbolically rebellious. As with all romantic adventurous rebellions though, it can also be a major pain in the ass. The first time it rained hard, the old sailor’s saying, “All boats leak. It’s just a matter of where it’s coming from,” became all too real.

Last summer they had to pull out the 54 foot mast to replace the corroded metal plate holding it up. A faulty outlet melted and could have set the entire boat on fire had they not been there to pull the breaker. Then there’s the comparatively mundane annoyances like learning to live in less than 200 square feet of space, sleeping with all new sounds and movements, and making sure you have enough quarters to take a shower at the marina. Oh, and they’ve also developed the humorous tendency to sway back and forth while sitting or standing on land. The list goes on and on.

Even still, they haven’t once regretted it. The freedom to take your home with you anywhere you go is a rare luxury ordinarily reserved for retired vacationers and hermit crabs. “When you turn off the engine and all you hear is the wind blowing through the rigging and the water running along the sides,” Jim says wistfully, “it brings you back to nature.”

If you’re saying to yourself right now, “This sounds awesome but the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to sailing is a ferry ride to Vashon Island”, it may surprise you to find out just how inexperienced Jim and Steph were when they first thought this whole thing up. The plan was essentially laid out in a 13 hour car ride back to California after visiting friends on Bainbridge Island. They spent the following three months finding an affordable dream boat, selling their house and most of their worldly possessions, finding a place to moor their boat, and learning how to sail. Technically, the sailing lessons were only four days of that but hey, there’s no better classroom than the real world, right?

Jim wrapped it up nicely by saying, “You need to prepare and have a plan but don’t wait until it’s perfect. You can plan forever and never get it just right.” They had a number of setbacks along the way that would’ve put a lot of people off but in the end it was entirely worthwhile. Steph says of their motivation, “A lot of it was simplifying life, getting out of the desk jobs we didn’t like, slowing down, and enjoying life.” With a significantly pared down existence, they now have the freedom to concentrate on their photography business.

Living on a boat is not a fitting lifestyle for everyone but those who live it love it. See more of Jim and Steph’s adventures on their blog, Youtube channel, Instagram, and Facebook.

Photos courtesy

  1. I am 36 and make $4000 a month (almost half from disability) is getting into a 60ft used motor yacht for 150k a good idea?

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