From our boat in front of Covid, we can usually hear the drudgery of traffic on I-880, the planes coming and going from Oakland International, kids squealing in the marina playground, sirens and car alarms, and parties on neighboring boats. In short, it feels like we're living in a city. Despite my sailing background, I'm a non-apologetic city dweller. But during those first months of protection, the skyline was empty and calm, the playgrounds masked off, the harsh energy of the Bay Area silenced. It was deeply unsettling to stand on our boat deck and only occasionally see a car on the freeway, not a plane in the sky.
Even so, the forced separation from our collective business gave me room to breathe. With everything that happened in the world, I cannot imagine fondly remembering the early days of the pandemic. But in those moments when my mind went to the darkest dark places, I comforted myself in our boathouse and in all ways how it was the best possible place for us.
But life on board the Red Headed Stranger is not idyllic. Like life on a farm or in a remote corner of Alaska, it's both great and chaotic – a challenge that you won't fully appreciate until you've experienced it. For me, the learning curve sometimes felt insurmountable early on. Boats are complex systems. Marinas are special places. Tim and I had to learn about marine installations in a way that I wouldn't want anyone to do. We lost countless Legos, two iPhones and a high chair (long story) to the insatiable waters of the estuary. We installed a new washer dryer with the boat's built-in dinghy crane. A device worth 1,200 US dollars was swung across the open water.
And we regularly defend ourselves against the excesses of our boat colleagues who drive bumper cars around the marina when their engines or themselves are too impaired to be able to navigate. Even in normal times, life on a boat was more exciting – with higher ups and downs – than our life in inland housing.
The pandemic had already changed that reality. Then came the forest fires.
The fires burned one by one for months. Surrounded by water, we were fortunate enough to be spared the flames that were consuming so much of our region. But the fires created a blanket of smoke that forced us into the house for weeks. With two young, extremely active children, our boathouse went from a peaceful refuge to a filthy, claustrophobic shelter. We were the animals and we got wilder and wilder.
Without his openness to nature – the hours on the roof terrace, painting or splashing around or swinging the hammock, the grills and boat drinks on the back deck, the socially distant get-togethers with a dear friend who arrived with a dinghy or a paddle board – the boat became a goldfish bowl with a 360 degree view of a terrible orange sky. But the worst part was the heat. Old boats are drafty like old houses. You are built to breathe. Suddenly the airiness of the boat was not just another quirk of boating life, it was a real danger. To keep the smoke out, we sealed ourselves with insulated cardboard to block vents and gaskets around the doors. Our salon, as the main living area is called, reached over 100 degrees. The air was suffocating and stagnant. What we had loved about the room, its wall-to-wall loft-like windows, now made me feel like a fly trapped between double glazing.