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After School: Milestones at Sea

By Net Assets posted 12-17-2018 08:18 AM

sara skinner sailboat

Leadership |

Sharing just 200 square feet with a toddler and spouse required patience and problem-solving, but life on a sailboat was well worth it for this HR director.

Article by Sara Skinner, Lakeside School

From the November/December 2018 Net Assets magazine

Photo above: The author's Catalina 320 is named Wandering Star. 

When I was between sixth and seventh grade, my family moved to the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Sailing our little Sunfish there, off the beach of Lanikai, was the beginning of a lifelong love of sailing and a hobby that became a lifestyle.

College brought me to the Pacific Northwest and introduced me to an altogether different kind of sailing – much wetter and colder. With three additional layers of clothing, I was delighted to undertake day trips on the Puget Sound and enjoy gorgeous anchorages in the San Juan Islands and the open ocean off the west side of Vancouver Island. Through a sailing club I met my then-husband. We planned to buy a bigger boat and head offshore for some serious cruising.

sara skinner boat driving
Skinner at the wheel of her current boat, Wandering Star

In 2002 we sold the house and current boat, packed up our two and a half-year-old son and 18-year-old cat, and moved aboard a 43-foot center cockpit ketch, a sailboat with a large mast in the front and a small mast in the back. Life aboard was full of weekend trips to local anchorages, longer trips north to the San Juan Islands and strict rules about ensuring the child was always tethered to the boat. My son learned to walk on a moving floor, navigated the steep companionway stairs, perched himself on the boom, and managed to fall off the boat only once (yes, he had a lifejacket on).

skinner son at helm
Skinner's son when a toddler

Living full-time on a boat with a small child was not that much different than living in a house. Sunday mornings were spent making banana muffins. We had decorations and a tree for the holidays — but the tree was REALLY small. Chores included washing down the deck and filling the water tanks. The soft movement of the boat in the water ensured a good night’s sleep, except for the nights when there was a lot of wind.

I learned many lessons living on the boat. Sharing a total of 200 square feet among three people requires tolerance, patience and forgiveness. Mechanical systems break, and you have no choice but to problem-solve and figure it out. Resources such as water, fuel and power are finite thus warrant conservation and sacrifices — no long hot showers. When the weather is nasty, you set aside personal agendas and safety takes over. Rocks hide under the surface of the water, and when the boat hits them, there is no blame. When you leave possessions onshore, ingenuity wins; a lack of store-bought toys, for example, can be filled with sandcastles and driftwood forts. A beach full of kids from different families can turn into a barbeque with new friends. Sunsets are better when enjoyed for longer periods of time. Being in the moment took on a whole new meaning.

I now own a Catalina 320 sailboat, named Wandering Star, and she brings joy in different ways. No longer do my plans include cutting the dock lines and sailing south to Mexico, or doing without my washer/dryer and fireplace. Today sailing is about the joy of sharing the experience with friends, introducing people to the sport, and ensuring life is balanced. I participate in the local racing scene, which includes fundraisers such as the Leukemia Cup and casual races such as “Take Your Time Fridays.” While the thrill of maneuvering through a fleet of 80 boats positioning for the start line is exhilarating — and terrifying — the enjoyment of being able to offer the sailing experience to others is truly rewarding. If you’re ever in Seattle, let’s go sailing!

Sara Skinner is director of human resources at Lakeside School, a grades 5-12 day school with more than 850 students in Seattle. She serves on the NBOA Board of Directors.
We’d love to hear from you! In After School, business officers share a passion or perspective from outside their usual working hours. Want to contribute? Email In the subject line, type AFTER SCHOOL.
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