Stroller in the Deep


It’s thirty chilly feet to the bottom at the end of F dock. The water is dark and thick, the muddy bottom littered with the drowned belongings of decades of sailors. Coffee cups, tackle, sunglasses, a tennis racket, plenty of bottles. The gleaming white hull of the Maillot Jaune II floats gently above, and Matt Nuffort in his swimsuit and goggles searches for his baby stroller.


Getting baby Maximus on and off their 50-foot Jeanneau sailboat is always a trick. But this time, with Maximus safely on board, Matt turned around and the stroller was gone. It took a couple of minutes to admit the obvious, and a couple more before Matt was at the bottom of Puget Sound tying a rope around the familiar crossbar of his son’s stroller.

Family life on board a sailboat has its share of adjustments. The occasional unplanned dip in the sea is one of them. But as a family grows the most difficult constraint is the tightness of space.

A sailboat, say the people who live on them, is either a tiny apartment that happens to float or a seaworthy vessel where you happen to live. The natural accumulation of truc, of STUFF we don’t need, can be a problem for any of us, but on a boat it’s particularly insidious entropy. Tiny spaces are quickly swamped with stuff. Sailors curse under their breath as they wonder how they ended up scraping barnacles off the side of their apartment.

Most who live on sailboats have a set amount of time they feel is reasonable to prepare to cast off. One hour, thirty minutes, fifteen minutes to rig the sails, disconnect the shore power and water line, to clear the counters and stow the dishes in their cupboards. Everything must have its place. A boat underway can pitch, roll and yaw like a bronco at a rodeo and anything that’s not fastened down is a potential missile. The more truc you have the longer this takes.

The day Matt and Robyn brought baby Maximus home to Seattle’s Shilshole Bay Marina they decided they would keep their boat a boat. A baby means more truc, but they would not let the Maillot Jaune II sink under piles of jolly jumpers, cribs, silicone spoons, baby food makers, noise machines. Quality over quantity. Only the necessary. Everything, still, must have its place. Houseplants are for houses.

Like any home, the Maillot Jaune II resembles the character of its owners. The name references Matt and Robyn’s shared passion for cycling. They are marathon runners and triathletes. Matt’s most recent company produces a hand-held camera mount for video, and Robyn is an attorney. Their shelves are filled with books on engineering and the outdoors and a small hold in the bow has been modified to perfectly house their road bikes. The Maillot Jaune is beautifully designed. Brighter than most, with windows and skylights and light wood finishes. Tall ceilings for tall Matt and a stateroom with a king size bed. Inside it’s sleek and clean, like a spaceship, but romantic. Like a sailboat.

The space constraints mean friends don’t even bother giving the gaudy, clanky kids toys that clog so many homes. No ride-on fire trucks or play pens. They can still prepare to sail in 15 minutes, and they often do. The nearby San Juans, a sparkling cluster of hilly, treed islands resting in the rain shadow of the Olympic Peninsula and protected from the Pacific’s swells and storms, are their favorite destination. With little effort they can untie from their spot on F Dock, point the bow north and spend a few days exploring the rocky coastline and pebbled beaches, floating peacefully at night in sheltered coves, asleep in their own beds.

As we sip coffee on the aft deck the rain patters softly on the canvas cover and it’s easy to understand why Matt and Robyn have chosen life on a boat. Outside, the palette is a mix of greys and blues, the soft white of fiberglass and painted wood and the smoky blue of the Olympic mountain range on the far side of Puget Sound. Seattle is a city of greens and sparkles like an emerald in summer, but two thirds of the year it huddles under a low blanket of thick grey clouds. In the soft rain the richness of diffused sunlight on the water is pure magic. It catches and glows on the shifting blues, the algae on the breakwater rocks and on the soft sailcloth. Gazing across the expanse of Shilshole Bay Marina, the largest liveaboard community on the American west coast, the masts of thousands of sailboats are a forest of limbless white  trunks bobbing gently with the rise and fall of the sea. The light ping of lines tapping at the masts, the cries of gulls, the creak of rope and the hollow pat of water against a hull are the only sounds.

Sitting on Matt and Robyn’s boat, you can feel the very real potential for adventure. The water underneath is the same water crashing in frozen waves against Alaskan glaciers, or washing warm on the palm-lined beaches of Papua New Guinea. The Maillot Jaune could loose her lines and carry you anywhere.

Standing at the helm, propping himself on the ship’s wheel, one year old Maximus looks ready to claim his destiny as a sailor. He is at home on the boat and has crawled his way into all of its corners, exploring and chasing Manalo the cat. He hates his lifejacket, but must wear it when on deck. He has his own little room in the front of the boat. His stroller lives on the dock.

There are few things that Matt and Robyn feel make family life more difficult than on land. Laundry is a long and often rainy walk down the dock. A dishwasher would be helpful. And they recently purchased a home in a mountain valley a few hours’ drive from Seattle so Maximus will have a place to stretch his legs as he grows. If he’s anything like his parents he’ll be tall, dynamic and very active. A boat might start to feel tight.