On The Hook With A Million-Dollar View
When Jim and I first became boaters together we had to decide what we wanted in a starter boat for our family. My only requirement was that it have a small v-berth so that, occasionally, we could try camping on it overnight. Jim and our three sons were probably more interested in speed and water skiing, but Jim was open to this idea and we soon found a small 21-foot Four Winns Sundowner with a cuddy-cabin. The small v-berth met my requirement and at the same time provided the speed and opportunity for some water sports for the boys. Little did we know, as we discussed this purchase and felt the excitement of many family outings and memories soon to be made, how that little v-berth would enable us to experience the outdoors and Mother Nature in ways we never could’ve dreamed had we not started out with that small cuddy cabin.
We started our overnights on the boat in some of the small inland lakes in northern Michigan — Torch Lake, Elk Lake, and Long Lake. We’re a blended family, so every other weekend we’d water ski, swim, or just zip around and cool off in a nearby lake with the boys, but then on the weekends they were at their other parents’ and it was just the two of us. We’d come home from work on a Friday and spontaneously decide to pack up a cooler of finger food, towels, and swimsuits and head out to the boat, which we kept moored in East Grand Traverse Bay at the end of our street in Traverse City, Michigan.
We started anchoring out in these smaller lakes where the elements would be a little more manageable for our little boat and for us. At the time Jim was studying for tests at work and I started reading again, something I hadn’t had time to do since I’d become a mother. We were starting to appreciate the simplicity of making the water our home for the night and getting by on just what we’d grabbed up as we hurried to get to the boat. We ate what we’d packed in the cooler, and had a little port-a-potty for convenience. We were in heaven.
There were many nights where we laid on the back of that boat in a warm embrace under the twinkling stars while swinging on the anchor close to shore. When I think of the romantic times the two of us have shared in all the years we’ve known each other, this is right up there on top of the list.
Many years and three boats later we’re still reaping the benefits of spending time “on the hook.” Our boundaries have expanded but our interest in the simple things to experience has not. Our boats have grown in size but now we almost exclusively live on board, having sold our house three years ago. What we’ve come to realize is that one of the tradeoffs we made for giving up the land-based life is the ability to have a “million-dollar view” for free and not just the same old view day in and day out. Oh no, we can have a different, priceless, panoramic vista every night if we so desire.
We’ve anchored in the middle of neighborhoods in southern Florida; in Seattle, Washington; and on the Tennessee River, surrounded by palatial mansions and million-dollar summer homes. And while those times have been interesting, the incomparable experience of being anchored surrounded by nature is almost indescribable. And guess what? No one lives there except unspoiled nature — birds, fish, and wild animals. Add to that the ability to watch magnificent sunsets almost every night. Really, what could be better?
We anchor to experience the quietness, to escape distractions, to gaze at the sky on a starry night, to be entertained by nature’s rhythms, the sound of the tide coming in and going out, and the amusing antics of the local wildlife. We’ve had many highlights while enjoying this type of lifestyle. We’ve seen bear, moose, snakes, alligators, dolphins, manatee, turtles, sharks, an assortment of birds and fish. We’ve seen shooting stars and been able to view the brilliant skies above with no other visible light present. All this and it’s free to boot! I’m unabashed to tell you that this has great appeal for us as well; we love saving money.
Aside from communing with nature, anchoring out has also brought us new friendships as we’ve motored over in our dinghy to other boats to introduce ourselves and say hello, or other neighboring boaters have rowed or motored their tenders over to our boat to do the same. Sometimes we’ll be anchored out in an inlet that’s heavily populated with homes or cottages and we’ll have a resident call us on the radio to welcome us, or one might venture out to our boat by some small craft to welcome us and hear about what we’re doing, or express their curiosity about where we’re going and our boating lifestyle. We’ve been asked to extend our stay in their cove so that they could put together an impromptu barbeque or breakfast. These moments are right up there with the thrill of experiencing Mother Nature in all her glory, because sometimes there’s nothing that warms the heart more than a connection made between one human and another.
Sure, there can be some downsides to this lifestyle. We’ve experienced a few sleepless nights when bad weather threatened, or we when we were uncertain about our hook holding through the night. We’ve had a few times when it didn’t hold and those are the times that we thank God for the person who invented the anchor alarm. Sometimes even though we’ve held tight, the wind blowing the boat around is a little noisy and makes it impossible to ignore.
Once when anchored on the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway, although we were in a small well-protected harbor, a windy rainstorm kicked up in the middle of the night. We could feel our anchor dragging and decided to pull it up, as there wasn’t enough room in this cove to be on a dragging anchor. As we raised it up we started to see that the problem was a small, four-foot tree attached to our anchor, roots and all, and wrapped around the tree was an anchor and small chain wrapped around the roots. No wonder we had a hard time getting a good hold!
We had to move over to a marina nearby to dock the boat so we could pull the whole mess off of our anchor. It was quite a production involving a lot of mud all over our boat — not to mention the interruption to our night’s sleep. We decided to just stay at the dock the rest of the night. It’s no fun to have to get up in the pitch dark in sometimes-nasty weather in the middle of the night to deal with an anchor problem. But the benefits of all the good experiences outweigh the few bad.
Another hazard of anchoring with Mother Nature is that it can be a breeding ground for insects. No-see-ums, mosquitoes, and flies are the most common culprits, each putting a damper on one’s desire to get close to nature. When you’re in an area with no-see-ums you must close all the windows as they’re so small that they can fly right through the screens. It’s kind of disappointing when you get to an anchorage at dusk and before you even get settled a swarm of bugs decides your boat is the place to be. You learn to keep a sense of humor in these situations, so these obstacles become insignificant in relation to the bigger picture.
As our hunger for expanding our horizons seems to continue and increase, we press on in our explorations of the country, and we seek out more and more priceless panoramas and experiences to store in our memory banks. Jim and I are constantly thankful for the opportunities that we’ve had while boating, and for discovering some of the pristine anchorages in this beautiful country where we’ve dropped our hook